Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story March 16 2015, 7 Comments
The First Tap
This past fall, October 2014, I had a wonderful journey to the Shetland Islands for Shetland Wool Week, a week long celebration of the legacy of Shetland sheep and fiber arts. When I first entered the arts center, where registration was taking place, there was a great exhibit on display of Scottish Ganseys, traditional single color fisherman sweaters .
The Shetland Islands are the northernmost region of Scotland and have a rich history of fishing in addition to their sheep farming. The large posters in this "Fishing for Ganseys" display featured old photos of the “herring lassies” and gansey clad fishermen, and as a previous fishing industry worker and present commercial fishing family member, I felt an instant affinity to the girls in the photos with their huge smiles and knitting in hand.
For those who don’t know the origins of The Net Loft, it was born in a fisheries bunkhouse room in Cordova, Alaska with an old wooden salmon egg box filled with cross stitch kits, and often inspired by knitter Bonnie Morris Phillips, the net mender who taught me how to hang fishing nets.
Bonnie would knit in her offtime, and would often be wearing one of her hand knit sweaters on the docks where she worked mending nets. She would invite me to her bunkroom for tea and her delicious home made sourdough bread toast with jam, and show me her latest knitting project, most often of her own design, and first and foremost, all about function and fit, but always with her extra special touches.
Fishing is what brought us to the old cannery bunkhouse where I met Bonnie. My husband had been a commercial salmon fisherman/deckhand in Prince William Sound, Alaska, since 1964. We were married in 1978 on our first fishing boat (the one shown above with me in a headscarf running the hydraulics). These days (37 years later) two of our four children, as well as one great son-in-law, are fishermen as well, so it was an unexpected special connection I felt from the moment I walked into the museum and saw the exhibit of ganseys there on the wall.
My mind drifted as I studied the display and looked into the eyes of the girls in the photos, and in that moment, I wished I could go back in time to share and exchange fishing and knitting stories. I felt such a commonality to their lives and lifestyle. They had no idea the part they played in the passage of patterns and design. I jotted down the name of the gansey exhibition which was “the Moray Firth Gansey Project”, rushed off to the registration desk, and conciously felt just the slightest tap on my shoulder. Onward…
To be continued…
photo of Herring Lassies courtesy of Moray Firth Gansey Project