The Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #8C November 04 2015, 1 Comment
Like a sailor from a journey to a far away place, I came back from New Zealand with treasures to be shared. I returned to Cordova with a myriad of yarn, fiber, wheels, looms, and a further hunger to learn everything I could in hopes of sharing a taste of what I had experienced on my trip.
I took the hanks of beautiful naturally colored and hand dyed wool yarn and hung them on nails in rows along the walls of our net loft. SO much for hanging fishing nets. The wide boarded doors which were meant to swing open to allow the full length of the net to be "flaked"and repaired, or stretched to hang new ones were now covered with yarn and knitting needles. What I had envisioned as a corner cabinet whilst I work on nets had suddenly expanded to fill the room and vertical surfaces..
I became friends with a woman in town named PJ who not only worked with children, but was also an avid knitter, and I solicited her to teach a knitting class around a simple round table and a handful of folding chairs that were centered on the plywood floor. Upstairs in the net loft, gathered around the table, we had to bundle up to stay warm, as there was no heat and it was often times damp and cold, but we were all so excited we didn't mind. As the rain poured constantly on the tin roof making its own sweet music, we drank tea, laughed and shared as we worked our way through the hat and yoked sweater in Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Workshop book, and I was beyond amazed as I knit and completed my very first sweater, and absolutely stunned when I found myself knitting with two colors. We forget when we have done something for so long how important these milestones can be. Thirty years later, my daughter now wears it, a natural brown corriedale DK with pattern work in hand dyed yarns from Anna and her sheep who I had met on the trip, who I still keep in contact with, and who has dyed yarns for me for many years.
In addition to PJ and her great willingness to teach and share, at that time many of my teachers were the books I read. Often times these were referred to me by friends who lived in isolated places with limited information and the books had been their main source of education as well. When I was introduced to a new author, I felt as though I was making a new friend, and felt a kinship and care for them as my companion and guide in my quest for learning. I was constantly on the lookout, hunting for literature that could help fill my huge knowledge gaps and insatiable appetite to learn all I could . I was new to all of it, there was so much I didn’t know, but there was so much I was determined to learn.
I wish I could remember exactly how it went, but somehow someone in those early days had mentioned the author Sheila McGregor, and I obtained her address and we began a correspondence. She signed some copies of her book for me, The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting” and we spoke back and forth of the possibility of having her come to Alaska, and then between the births of multiple children, multiple businesses, and just the busy-ness of life in general, I lost touch. I sincerely regret losing contact with her, as I loved her letters. and haven't been able to track her down since. I have always felt so disappointed in myself for missing out on having her come for a visit and getting to know and spend more time with her in person.
I remember at that time how entranced I was with the old photographs and the pages and pages of knitting charts. It seemed too much of a fantastic idea to even think about visiting this far away dreamy knitting land in person, but my imagination certainly longed to set foot on the island someday somehow which held the namesake as the origin of what had become one of my most favorite knitting styles. My love of cross stitch merged with knitting as I combed through the designs reminiscent of motifs and images in the samplers I had loved stitching.
Around the same time, I discovered St. Martin's Press, and another Fair Isle book by Sarah Don went through my hands and onto the shop shelf. Once again, I was transfixed by the pages of charts and patterns, but most drawn to the photographs of island life.
Books such as Knitting from the Nordic Tradition captured my attention, especially loving the photographs with hiking knitters knitting up the wildflower laden hillsides, and the older women with balls of yarn pinned to their chests.
For me, seeing the faces and surroundings of those in similar environments were as important as the patterns they were knitting. I remember touching the photographs the author's shared, having a sense that as I was touching the people and knitted objects in the books that I was somehow reaching out to them across the miles and back in time. The circle had widened, the authors who my friends had introduced me to had now introduced me to an expanded fellowship of kindred knitters whose stories they shared through their writing. I felt it unfortunate that I would most likely never meet these friends in person, and yet in some way, I felt that I "knew" them somehow, because of our "knitterly" and often "fisherly" connection.
Eventually the Book of Fair Isle Knitting from Alice Starmore was released and when I ordered it, I received a wonderful video cassette of Alice speaking about Fair Isle, the knitting, and her book. I watched that video over and over again. I remember that I was absolutely mesmerized and felt captivated by the words and photos of her books that were steadily being printed and all the future knitting I imagined as I combed through them.
It wasn't just me alone. I remember looking at these books with friends and how we would ooh and ahh over the pictures together in the old Net Loft, and in doing so our appreciation was not just the sum, but rather multiplied the joy in our sharing of the treasures we found inside those pages. It is wonderful that Dover has republished these treasured books and has made them available for a new generation of knitters, and glad that we can carry these "old book friends" in the shop.
I know this still happens today. A new book, a new pattern is instantly appreciated by tens, hundreds, and thousands on instagram and such. A technological mass of shared excitement. Same idea, just on different scale, but no less valuable or significant. I think the good part about the slower rate of release of books and information back then was that it gave you a little more time to savor and digest what was coming out. Even so, it seemed and still seems like there was and is never enough time.
Time passes so quickly, and for us it has been marked and remembered by the fishing seasons, and what kind of "fishing year" we have had... good season, bad season, low prices, high prices, oil spills, and crew members, long boat line ups, water hauls, deck loads, brailers, boat scales, brooms in masts, and the final back to town trip and putting away of nets and gear until the next year . Our children spent their summers between Net Loft life and our boat, the Orion. Like other fishing families, they learned from an early age the world encapsulated on a fishing boat, and the ebb and flow from set to set, as the net went out and the net and the fish harvest came in, as well as the explorations found during the in between times in Prince William Sound soaking in the surroundings and life with their father and fellow crew.
For me, my visits to the boat via float plane offered a break from busy shop life and I would watch everyone out the window as I knit away, listening to the hum of multiple conversations and fishtalk coming through on the string of radios in the wheelhouse, and even sometimes venturing off for a kayak ride.
And so, although I had been inspired by all those wonderful books and their lessons, I was also very busy with these aspects of raising children, running the shop, and "fish wifing" and despite my love for the books and all the patterns held therein, I could only soak in so much. I was squeezing in as much knitting, spinning, weaving and dyeing that would fit, but eventually and unfortunately, as time went by, with the advent of the internet and a flood of knitting publications and patterns being produced, this collection of specific books became still, except for occasionally referencing them as needed. I think of how they just sat there patiently and quietly, just waiting for my return. Although relatively undisturbed on my bookshelf, busy as I was, I still held these books near and dear, and the island of FAIR ISLE never lost its place close to my heart.
Now it was nearly thirty years later from when I had first became "a knitter" and followed that winding trail that led me hither and yon, that just as I decided I would be going to the Shetland Islands, I concurrently made plans to step foot on the distant island of Fair Isle. I really knew nothing more than that and it had been so many years since I had read through my books and too busy to research beforehand, that I simply stepped on the small plane that day open to whatever adventure lay ahead.
Once airborne, I soon realized, however, that I was experiencing a massive surge of adrenalin, fueled by the tucked away memory of those books and old photographs. Suddenly the pictures and patterns I had treasured from those earlier days flooded my mind, taking me by surprise. It wasn't just the books, but also the thought of the friends, both known and unknown, and old Net Loft/Fishing times that had brought me to this place and time. I felt this feeling of anticipation, as though I was on my way to visit an old, dear, and long lost friend that I had somehow lost contact with, but had missed for a very long time, and my excitement could not be contained, nor the smile upon my face.