News

Cordova Gansey Project - The Long Story (cont.) #4

#4   a spin of the wheel and a pat on the back

The reality of my time in Shetland for Wool Week is that basically I had just signed up and so I showed up. I was too busy with life to really take time to figure things out too much beforehand, and so everything was an adventure and a surprise, and I was open to whatever came my way, with few expectations.  I just showed up each day in each place that I had just sort of picked out without much thought.  I knew what I liked and what I was interested in, and that I wanted to make the most of every moment, so I had a full schedule of a variety of classes in a variety of subjects that I had quickly chosen last April, so I wouldn't miss out. I was so busy with planning and executing Fiber and Friends that I didn't have the time or energy to invest in much research.  There were, however,  some classes I had thought I would have liked to register for, one in particular,  but that one was full, and I felt grateful for the classes I was able to get into, so I was mostly content. 

It was now Thursday, and I was registered for a  spinning class in the southern town of Sandwick,  and providentially  found myself in class with Suzanne, another American and a kind and dear soul, who happened to have joined us at our Net Loft Fiber and Friends event in Cordova this past summer. What a great surprise!

 

Oh my goodness, this was a delightful class. Our excellent instructor,  Elizabeth Johnston of Shetland Handspun, was a wealth of information and had a wonderful sense of humor.   Suzanne, our classmates, and I had a fine day learning about the remarkable  and special qualities of Shetland sheep. 

I felt excited and grateful to be having this intense learning experience and took careful notes of  Elizabeth's teachings.   We cleaned and studied a variety of Shetland Fleeces, examining the details and unique qualities of the fleece from these sheep and what  make them special.  This was followed by demonstrations of a variety of techniques, all of which reinforced the joy of handling and transforming fiber to yarn, and further strengthened my love for wool, and especially for this primitive breed that I had had no previous experience with.

It was a great day, and I was delighted to be spinning again.  I was so enthused from the class experience with Elizabeth that I actually purchased a few fleeces, which is a tale in itself.  I was able to get them in a variety of colors with hopes of spinning enough yarn for a natural colored Fair Isle jersey for myself someday in the future.

It is hard to put into words, looking back at how this all fit together, but what I find interesting is that my love of spinning placed me there that day in that particular place at that particular time.  The chain of events in all this and what followed is one of those serendipitous times that makes life and its circumstances somehow come together in a way one cannot always plan or expect.  

My love of spinning, The Net Loft Fiber and Friends and meeting Suzanne last summer. My involvement in fishing.  My presence in Shetland. My years at The Net Loft. My love of handcraft.  Generally not having time to think or reflect on such things,  looking back I see that these elements  of who I am and who I have met and where I have been and what I do  and what I like and what I want to know, were at that time converging  in the same way spokes of the drive wheel on a spinning wheel come together and intersect in one spot, and how that coming together is where it finds stability.   In the whirl of life, things often seem to be spinning  in mad constant motion in a million different directions,  but now these different components were actually meeting  and coming together in synchronicity. 

This being said, Suzanne and I, after having been reacquainted during our class  decided to have dinner together. During dinner I  mentioned to Suzanne that I had been interested in this "Fishing for Ganseys" class that was supposed to happen the next day.  I  had been explaining to Suzanne this connection I was experiencing inside me concerning  Fishing and Knitting, and that I had originally  wanted to sign up for the class, but that the class was full.  I shared with her about the taps on my shoulder, and how something unknown was stirring inside me that I couldn't explain.  As it turned out, I was surprised to hear that she actually had a spot in the class, and I was excited for her to be able to participate, as I heard  the class would take place on an actual Shetland fishing boat, which sounded fun to me. Even though I wouldn't be able to take part,  I looked forward to her return and hearing more about the class and her adventure.

That night, together we both went to hear the evening program, which included a lecture from Hazel Tindall, who  had been my instructor for the Fair Isle yokes class, and another, as it turns out, by Stella Ruhe, the author of the book, “Dutch Ganseys”, and the teacher scheduled for the class on the fishing boat the next day.  

Stella was genuinely excited about her Dutch gansey project and book.   My mind opened further as she further unfolded the story of the transport of knitting patterns that followed the herring fishery in the North Sea. As she spoke, the auditorium screen revealed larger than life images of fishermen donned with the Dutch version of this fisherman’s attire. The words HISTORICAL and TRADITIONAL were a large part of the conversation. It was as though the words historical, traditional, fishermen and knitting, were somehow entwined and closely bound together.

Looking back, I had always been fascinated by ganseys and those that knit and wore them, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Years ago, I had corresponded with Mary Wright in Cornwall, England, because I loved the photos in her book on  Cornish Ganseys that we carried in the shop, and she had actually helped me get copies of several of the photographs printed from her local museum to hang in the store, like the one below which has always been one of my favorites, because I loved the look of the fisherman leaning back on the stone in the background looking at the fisher girl knitting . If you have been in the Net Loft, you may recognize this picture we have had hanging since the days in the old Net Loft. It just seemed like a perfect fit and was nice of Mary to help me get a copy.

 

In the past, I hadn't really paid much attention, or grasped the extent to which historical, traditional, and fishermen were bound in regard to working in wool ganseys.  As I was listening to the lecture, and after my day with Elizabeth, I felt like I was literally being pulled even moreso into this tangle of fishermen and knitting and wool and my own personal connection to it all. Day by day it continued to grow stronger.

After the lecture, to my surprise, Suzanne offered me her space in the class for the next day, as she could see I was feeling this strong connection. She would not let me refuse. I have to admit I was very excited. 

Then came more than a tap; this was definitely an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and I felt grateful for Suzanne’s gift of her class space, for how it all came about, and really looked forward to the next day and what more lay waiting to unfold.  A fishing boat and knitting.... the perfect combination... 

Follow the fish...sail on to #5 to find where it leads you....

 

Cornish Gansey Knitter from http://www.thatsmycornwall.com/stitch-in-time-cornwalls-knit-frocks/

Jan 01, 2019

These entries are alive with love and passion for the craft of knitting. I have decided to knit a gansey in 2019, my first,
and along with preparation, I have been reading the story here by Dotty. You certainly are amazing at writing and I am sure double amazing at knitting! The readings are giving me insight to the history of the gansey as well as visually seeing the areas where the sweaters originated. I love the photos and am saving them on my files. I am hoping to fill my craft room with photos and pictures of knitting – past, present, artsy, and cute. Thank you for allowing all of us to partake in this wonderful adventure! I decided to comment now, as I still have much to go! Happy New Year!

Deborah Mindick
Mar 24, 2015

Charlie,
Thank you for your words which so beautifully and eloquently express and articulate the connection we have to one another as knitters and as friends that reach around the world and extend through time. I appreciate you taking time to comment and share your heart. I love the thought of my hand reaching back to touch those hands of those knitters who came before us, and for each of us as knitters, our stories and our knitting become intertwined. Thank you for writing and for your years of teaching knitting and sharing this legacy.

Dotty Widmann
Mar 24, 2015

You’ve captured the essence of a quest for the connection between the history and beauty of the Shetland Islands. You’ve given us a delicious taste of the intertwined threads of knitting for the fishermen of old and the lassies that lent their hands to industry while creating beautiful sweaters for us to admire and gain inspiration from………(too long a sentence, but speaks from my heart). In teaching knitting for years I have always felt that we were extending our hand back in time to grasp the hand of knitters before us. That we were held together by yarn and needle to a time we did not know but was somehow familiar. We experience it still, as we come together with our individual histories and blend them together with fellow knitters, sharing easily, hands busy and talk flowing without effort. I am so pleased that you have taken the time to share your traveling experiences with us, and look forward what your next post!

charlie hada
Mar 21, 2015

You are amazing, Dotty! Wonderful writing here.

Claudia Weaver

Leave a comment