When I was a little girl, we used to go shopping at this one department store. In those days, going shopping with my mother was a special occasion of sorts, and for times such as these, we dressed up. Mary Jane party shoes and party dresses were the attire...Dresses with petticoats and wide bows behind the back, hair curled and fastened with with satin or grosgrain ribbons. I remember even now how beautiful my mother looked to me back then when she dressed to go shopping.
Visiting the fancy department store also meant going out to lunch in the store’s upstairs "Lotus Tea Room". Upstairs was also where they had special events and activities, and I think this was where we assembled each year for the beloved Santa photos, as well. This one below was before my sister was born as I clearly remember her crying through the ones of us with her with us in later years.
I can barely recall being upstairs one time at a very young age, and having to stand very very still, while a woman, delicate sharp scissors in hand, carefully cut a silhouette of my brother and my four year old self, creating a lovely papercut image of that place and time, and so perfectly encapsulating those faint memories into something visible and tangible in a way even more perfectly than simply an old photograph.
I look at this image now and I think how amazing it was how the artist was able to just cut it freestyle right then and there on the spot as we stood before her eyes, capturing the essence of my brother and I, side by side, as well as the elements of the clothing such as the smocked dress with its starched white PeterPan collar and puffy sleeves that I remember oh so well. It is evident even now, that this portrait artist was a skilled craftsperson with a perceptive eye as well as precise cutting skills.
I remember liking these hand cut images, as well as the childhood silhouettes of my mother and her brother in my grandmother’s home. My mother also loved Scandinavian papercuts and would hang them in our windows. There was a Danish shop in our town that had a lovely selection of them which were made from a heavier paper with images of flowers and birds each packaged in a cellophane envelope. I loved visiting the shop with my mother, and seeing the array of them displayed in the windows. She would carefully choose one and we would enjoy the sight of it hanging in the window for some time after as they brightened the view.
I continued to fancy silhouettes, and in high school I used to frequent the tiniest little shop that hardly had room to walk around called Tomnoddy Fair, filled to the brim with all sorts of little treasures. I especially liked the little packages of gummed stickers, as well as sheets of antique seals you had to cut or tear apart. I remember being excited in this little shop when I spotted packets of little miniature silhouette seals.
Thinking on this, I managed to find some of those old seals in a covered cigar box in my collections of keepsakes that have endured the years. I also found some of the treasured little squirrel seals that I also remember finding at Tomnoddy Fair, which I used to save and use quite sparingly as I only had a small handful of them that had come in a teeny tiny box. I recollect having an ample supply of the silhouette seals and using them profusely on letters and in my camp photo albums which I loved putting together, predating what we now call scrapbooking.
Silhouettes continued to capture my interest, and eventually when back east visiting my husband’s relatives, I spotted a large papercut in a little shop in Pennsylvania. I hadn't ever seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the silhouette paper cuts that I had always liked, but it was larger, cut from parchment and tinted with watercolor, and filled with elaborate images of animals and wildlife. They referred to the framed pieces as examples of Scherenschnitte, founded in Switzerland and brought to the United States in the 1800’s. Below is an example by Pamela Dalton that reminds me of the ones I saw that day long ago in the Pennsylvania gift shop.
A few years later, after The Net Loft was started, I spotted some paper crafting booklets at a trade show. Some were similar to the Danish Designs like the ones my mother used to hang in the window, and others were simplified versions of the style of images I had spotted in the shop in Pennsylvania. I started carrying them in the shop, and learned how to create several pieces. I found paper cutting to be a calming craft amidst my growing family of small children, but as life got busy, although I still loved the craft, there was only so much time, and my cutting time fell by the wayside. I found an old one of the window hangings I had made, stained and faded, wedged between pages of an old cookbook, I am guessing to be from twenty five or so years ago, a simple, yet sweet design, in thoughts of my older son Matthew who loved climbing and spending time in the treetops.
A few years ago, when I began a pinterest page, I began seeing some wonderful paper cutting images, and it brought back my paper cutting memories. It was exciting to see how the designs had evolved and I was fascinated by the beauty and artistry, often multidimensional. I began following some of the artists on instagram and enjoyed watching the photographs of their work appear in my feed.
As I first began brainstorming for FisherFolk, one particular artist, Annie Howe, released a photo on her instagram feed with a fishing boat off in the corner and forested mountains in the distance, and it set me thinking.
I thought to myself that I wished I could have a papercut image with boats and fishing, but mixed up with yarn, plus I also loved the floral images she integrated, and some mushrooms and ferns, as well as fish that I liked, so I thought, why not mix in my favorite Cordova woodland and seaside surroundings into a composition that would reflect our region and our knitting.
As stated in my previous post, for every idea, there is a person. It is one thing to have an idea, but it takes a person to bring an idea to life. I began reading and viewing more of Annie's work, and the more I saw, the more I knew she was potentially the right person. The key would be if she took commissions AND if she would be interested in taking this one on AND if we could fit into her full schedule and have it done in time.
In January of 2015, I wrote to Annie, proposed my idea, and waited to hear back. Her answer was yes, and she gave me the information on commissions. Life got busy, and a year later I was ready to initiate the commission and she was willing to take on the project after she finished some other projects. We went back and forth with ideas and plans, including her rough sketches, and then, one day in March, I received an email with a photo of the image and I was so happy. She sent me a quick view of the cutting, unframed and laying on some planks of wood.
The image was beyond my expectations. It had combined all of the elements into one cohesive design. Lupine, blueberries, Queen Anne's Lace, knitting needles and yarn, ribbons, rope, ferns and forests, fish and fishing boats, and of course, our dear gansey.
My hope was to take the image and use on totes, and there was no time to lose, I quickly sent off the image to be screened on bags that would be ready in time to have for FisherFolk.
The image also made it in time to be made into a knitting needle gauge which was hung on the waxed canvas tote bags of the FIsherFolk attendees and we had more made up so they would also be available for purchasing in our online store, HERE, also a great gift and includes the smaller sizes and half sizes, perfect for the gansey knitter.
Printed copies would be used to generate funds to help finance the Moray Firth Project. I was able to use the negative and positive images to create two different versions. The light image version may be tinted for those interested in hand coloring before framing. These and the bags are available for purchase on our online store and make wonderful gifts as well.
My papercutting silhouette history had found a home with Annie Howe's Cordova, Alaska design. If you look closely there are many elements that reflect our local environment and lifestyle.
Annie also cut for us these sweet little pair of sheep, that Melina Meyer used for creating the hand cut stamp which we used to print on the linen bags filled with our Shawn the Sheep project, but that is another story for another day... and until then, thank you Annie Howe for your contribution and paper cutting skills that came to fruition in your Follow the Fish, Follow the Knitting piece. You were the person who brought this idea to life in a most wonderful way, and for that I am grateful. I would love to have Annie come to Alaska one day and teach some classes. We'll have to see about that....
I had this one last thought....
I think it is interesting that in papercuts there is this intentional process of elimination that eventually unveils the design, and the taking away of that which is not important reveals that which defines the essential,
and in doing so,
the loveliness appears.
A thought to ponder.
Until next time... Hope you are having a pleasant season of holiday crafting...my favorite part of this time of year. After reminicing, I may even be inspired to do just a bit of papercutting again. That would surely be fun, don't you think?
For more information on Annie Howe Papercuts, her website is: http://www.anniehowepapercuts.com/
Pamela Dalton - Scherenschnitte Designshttp://pameladaltonpapercutting.com/
Brother/Sister standing Silhouette by Merle Prince Silhouettes
In a life with a million frayed and loose ends, for those close at hand, it must be hard to imagine that despite my constant whirlwind state, I actually crave and seek out the calmness that comes with completion. In a life that contains multiple lives, I ache for actual closure, and the satisfaction felt in finishing.
A few weeks ago, despite the fact that I had a million things to do, and endless lists of unfinished business and uncertain plans and ideas for the coming week, when my husband asked me to join him alongside the ocean for a gathering, I said yes. I would be late, but I would be there.
That night, while around a campfire in California, on the eve before my early morning exit to return to Cordova, I was asked which life I liked better, and did I wish I was someplace else in the midst of being where I was. I thought of earlier that day and my drive back from the airport to drop off air freight bound for the shop in Cordova. Though in a hurry, I couldn't help but smile at the sight of the yellow gold autumn leaves on the mountain road, the morning light hitting the trees just so, as I wound my way up and down the back woods road. I watched intently, soaking in the beauty as I rushed along, but I didn't NOT see it, or miss that opportunity to catch the sight of it, nor the sunset that was spread so elegantly before me as I attempted to answer her question.
As I have stated in previous posts, I intentionally choose (with more effort sometimes than other times) to take the moments as they come and to try not to miss what is there for me at whatever place and time I am in. It is not as trite or easy as it sounds, and although it sometimes takes extra effort, with eyes wide open, I do all I can, despite the challenge and frustration of feeling half undone, to see and not miss out on what is there for me moment by moment, instead of feeling bad or resentful for what I am not getting done or accomplishing at whatever place I am not in, or wanting to live a different life than the one I am in the midst of. It is the grand dichotomy of my life. Life often neither here nor there, often among the clouds, airborne and between time zones, bits of my heart torn and scattered between multiple places and people.
In light of this, I am wanting to at least finish tales of FisherFolk to just close that page and move forward with all the NetLofting that came after and continues to be taking place. At this point it seems that there have been enough different people who have shared and told about our days together, that I almost feel as though enough has been said, and it is now November, almost December, and June is quickly slipping farther and farther into the distant past. Although FisherFolk is past tense, the gansey project for me is still very close at hand. At this time, I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of my son Nate’s gansey. Hopefully less than one month of knitting to finish it up. I am just about to the elbows on both sleeves.
Since the event, in regards to what was inspired from those days together, I have joyously seen many works in progress, and many works completed, knitters knitting, spinners spinning, and dyers dyeing. My hope continues to be realized when what was ignited in those concentrated days together has been bearing fruit as each of us goes our own way, taking with us what we learned and taking the opportunity to put our new knowledge into practice.
I decided that I would like to have a little show and tell about some of the special touches we had as part of the event , and then share a bit on some of the workshops we had for the rest of the summer. As I share with you some of these details and photos, I think this will help me feel the closure I have been seeking for these last several months. Some of these projects are still ongoing and able to be joined in with, and some of the items we have available in our online store, so even if you didn’t make it to FisherFolk, you can join with us from afar. I thought I would make it not quite so long, and share just an inkling every day or so. As the year gradually comes to a close, 'tis the season of gratitude and giving, and I have a such a sense of gratitude for each of the details and those who made them come to life as FisherFolk came to fruition.
I have this thought, that for every idea, there is a person, sometimes more than one.
There is a thought, and then, there is person that takes that idea and turns it into something concrete. Sometimes it is just a matter of manpower, as some ideas are too big for just one person to accomplish. Others require a unique skill or attribute. Regardless of the reason, for me, each idea has a person attached to it. Some ideas are like a tiny spring of a thought, starting with just a notion.
I am often amazed how seemingly unconnected happenstances weave together to fulfill a concept, and how all these separate puzzle pieces that seem unrelated come together to create a whole. Each piece somehow is it's own long story, and so here we go again...
I will start with an idea that happened during a distracting moment. I like art and I like etchings and I like images that are fish related. Long before the thought of a trip to Shetland, or FisherFolk or ganseys, I was meandering through Pinterest, most likely when I was supposed to be working on my bookkeeping.
Who knows how I ended up there, but I stumbled on an image of a girl holding a fish.
I was struck immediately of how much she reminded me of my daughter Nelly, and the images in my mind of when she was a little girl out on the boat.
It reminded me of the days when the children would dress up and play “olden days” in the third floor of the warehouse where the old Net Loft resided. Nelly had long braids and often resembled someone more likely to live in the mid 19th century than from modern times. We were homeschooling during those years. The shop was closed in the winter and one of the ways we studied history was through literature. We read books and books as the children colored timelines and put their lives in historical perspective. There was a lot of living history dress up going on and when I saw that image on Pinterest, all I could think of was "Olden Days Nelly" with her long braids, and the young woman she had become continuing to embrace fishing as her livelihood as an adult.
I followed the link that took me to the artist's site, and lo and behold there was still a copy left of the etching. The artist was Nicola Slattery from South east England. I sent her pictures of Nelly and told her my story and she shared with me hers. The etching was inspired by a photo of her own daughter holding a fish in rural England. I bought the etching and our relationship began.
When I decided to take a trip to the UK for Shetland Wool Week in 2014, I started making reservations in the spring. I had purchased the etching a few months earlier, and remembering that Nicola was in England, I sort of dawdled around and I thought if there was a way, wouldn’t it be nice to see if there was an art class or something to take while on my adventure. I ended up back on Nicola’s site and saw that the weekend before wool week she was teaching a class on etchings and collographs. I had always wanted to learn this type of printmaking, and the timing was perfect. In October of 2014, I landed in London for the first time in my life, hopped a couple trains until I arrived in Norfolk, then rented a car, and holding my breath the entire way due to the newness of driving on a different side, made my way through the countryside to the little community where she was teaching the weekend workshop.
After a night on a hog farm b and b, I drove to our class, which took place at the Starston Jubilee Hall, and met Nicola for the first time.
Surrounded by her work, I was utterly excited and engaged, fully inspired for the printmaking retreat, something I had always wanted to learn and do.
It was a great weekend. Nicola was a fine instructor, and I was captivated by the expressions of the people in her framed images on the walls that surrounded us. There was a sense of whimsy yet thought in her designs. The people in her images often looked at you eye to eye, and the renderings often included fish, birds, as well as sheep.
Although I felt quite rusty in my drawing, I loved the weekend immersed in art and ink under her care and guidance, as well as the fine tea, treats, and the delicious lunches she provided.
After the full weekend together I had a few different pieces, my default images being harebells, my favorite mountain flower, high bush cranberries, and of course, blueberries.
My time with Nicola had been a fine way to start my time in the UK and it was funny to think that it was all from a distracted moment of bookkeeping and that Pinterest had brought me to that place and time... a wonderful detour. From there I was off to Shetland and on to my wool week adventure.
The following year, as FisherFolk started to take form, I thought of Nicola once again. First of all, I had this art piece, the Girl with the Fish, that I thought would somehow be incorporated into an inspiration for a yarn, but I needed a design for the event, and kept coming back to the girl with the braids as a fisher lassie of sorts. I wrote to Nicola and asked permission, and at that time was struck with the idea that wouldn’t it be nice if Nicola created something expressly for our event, one of her etchings that would be created for both FisherFolk and the Cordova Gansey Project. She responded. We could use the girl with the braids for our event AND she was up for creating a new image, and there it began.
I emailed her photos of salmon and fishing, and then, one day, she was done, and what would become the entrance piece for our exhibit of the Moray Firth ganseys in our little museum in Cordova, arrived in the etching, “Knitting for Salmon”. It was interesting as she had not meant for it to look like the girl was wearing a kuspuk, a native dress, but it worked out that way when she colored the gansey and the skirt adorning the girl in the boat. It was an added touch that made her even more special for our region.
This is Cordova’s own gansey girl, knitting a net with salmon, and perfect for welcoming everyone in a grand entrance to our new museum, chock full of a fine display of ganseys from Scotland for our FisherFolk event. In honor of the original fisher lassies, it was fitting that the artist would be from the UK as well. It was a most perfect fit and a wonderful visual representative alongside her friend, the "Girl with a Fish" for those coming to appreciate the fine display of ganseys that had traveled to see us from afar. overseas, and around the globe.
SO here she is. The Cordova Gansey Girl. Thank you Nicola for your workmanship, and for being just the right person to take this idea from concept to reality. So grateful the path led me to your "door". I loved having your hand etched fisherknitter in our event, and for justly representing our local salmon and our own local fisherknitters of today. A long story with a nice ending, that really is just now becoming its own beginning.
Those interested in learning more about Nicola, purchasing her art, or taking her fine workshops may find more information on her site.
More to come...
ps.. I would love to have some cards made of the image, but will have to work this out with Nicola, so stay tuned.
Museum photo with gansey and etching by Melina Meyer.
Sometimes life leaves us speechless. We are left with no words to describe all that is going on within and around us, while other times there are so many words that we don’t know where to start, or how to sift and sort the tangled collection of them so they may be communicated with some sense of order.
At times like this it seems that we have to remove ourselves from everything and wait. Wait for the emotions to settle, for the piles and busyness to be out of reach, and, in the quiet, wait for the words to come. Some things just take time, and we have to allow ourselves this time for the turbulent waters and sediment to calm down, so we can see things more clearly.
Accompanied by my mother and sister, after almost three years of not being altogether in one place at the same time, I view in the distance the Teton Mountains, a view I have not witnessed for over 40 years. Far away from The Net Loft and all of its busy life, I can somehow feel the words that have been hibernating begin to awaken. As I start to write, I listen to the gentle hum of the voices of my mom and my sister, a comfort felt deep down in my soul. This comfort calms and settles this chaotic mind of mine, which has had difficulty these last several months quieting down enough to even begin to think about the thought of returning to the blog, especially when I wasn’t sure where to pick up after I finished writing the “Long Story” about the Cordova Gansey Project origin.
As I continue to listen to the quiet voices and their long awaited up close and personal conversations, my eyes take in the expansive view. It is stark and dry, with craggy mountains in the distance. In the foreground, the wind sweeps across the valley of subtle shades of sage interspersed with gold and reddening grasses.
Fall is in the air, and the colors of the trees in the distance seem to be changing right before our eyes from green to brilliant yellow gold, as chokecherry bush leaves cry out with hints of rose and scarlet.
And so the message is not from me, but to me. The brilliance of the changing colors reveals a message and not so subtle reminder that time is marching on, and there is no holding it back. Time presses on. Our compliance is non-negotiable. Either we leap into life and observe and embrace each moment of it while we have the opportunity, or we will simply miss it. This moment will pass, the colors will fade, and the leaves inevitably will fall, with or without us. There are times such as this that we have to stop and let every part of ourselves experience and appreciate this moment, the views, the company, the sounds, the smells, regardless of everything else vying for our attention.
Along these same lines, if I had to describe anything about this time since last writing here, it has been something of this sort. There have been these opportunities that have continued to present themselves to me, and although I often feel incapable in so many ways, I have learned that I cannot let my inabilities keep me from doing what I am meant to do, and for that which I am actually capable of doing, even if it is a little difficult or challenging. It isn’t always simple, or easy, or without complications. I have also learned, however, that just because we face barriers, or stumble along, it doesn’t mean we are not supposed to be doing something. I think I have mentioned this before, but I keep going back to an old “Trigger Bill” camp motto, “You cannot let what you cannot do keep you from what you can”.
And so, it is with this attitude that I flung myself full force into FisherFolk, our event that was aimed towards honoring the heritage of the fishing and knitting connection. It was an idea and opportunity handed to me, and so I obediently followed its lead. As the year progressed, FisherFolk began to take shape. As I followed along caring for the details, the ideas grew and began to take on a life of their own, as each person involved embraced the concepts and ideas and injected their own inspirations triggered from within, prompted by the mission and goals of the Cordova Gansey Project and FisherFolk gathering.
After an intense season of planning and preparation, June 24 arrived, and our ten day FisherFolk event took place here in Cordova, bridging the gap between dream and reality, and creating an outward manifestation of past knitting and fiberart traditions entangled with our here and now actively engaged fishing community. With a bustle of activity, the arrival of old and new friends began, as we all joined together to celebrate the fishing and fiberart connections.
Event bags were packed, tables were set, classrooms were staged, baked goods prepared, and one by one details unfolded thanks to the many helping hands who brought life to the lists.
From my perspective, there seems to be an ongoing truth that I have witnessed throughout the years at The Net Loft, and I am sure it exists elsewhere as well. It is the life within people that bring things to life. Knitting patterns are just lifeless pieces of paper without the knitter’s hands that bring the instructions from concept to reality. Yarn is lovely, but it is that human touch behind the needle that create form and function. And so, in like manner, ideas and events such as this cannot or would not want to be performed singly, as it is in the group effort that community is found and experienced. Thank all of you who made this come together. You all know I could not have done it without you.
I suppose it is true wherever we are in the world as we come together to celebrate life via the fiber arts and handcrafts in general, that it is this commonality we share that create these special bonds of friendship. There is also this collective interaction that takes place with the dynamic of students and instructors multiplying ideas and instilling a special energy that is conducive to creativity and new ideas that happens when we are physically in the presence of one another.
Despite my busy role, there were so many moments of this event I will remember. I am grateful for the new Cordova Center for providing the space for our dinner, classes, and evening programs. I tried ever so hard to soak every bit in. As I ventured from class to class to check in on things, I remember sitting in with handspinning instructor, Elizabeth Johnston from the Shetland Islands, as I walked into the room with those old wooden planks in the Pioneer Building.
I loved hearing her soft Shetland accent to the hum of the spinning wheel whir, smelling the fragrance of raw fleece, and then, as I left, sneaking off with a fresh baked blueberry coffee cake with homemade icing taken from the table with the big bouquet of wildflowers, made by the class hospitality helper, Kristi. I was in heaven….
So many moments. It all came together (despite my many fears) and I reflect on it all, it was this lovely bow, tied from the golden ribbon of all my years….
In retrospect, because I had felt a prodding to explain the origins of the gansey project, I found myself writing and sharing these thoughts in what became “the Long Story” which is an important read to make sense of how things came about, as well as the heart and soul behind the project, and the event as well. All those blog chapters, one by one, each building on the last, and as the tale unfolded of its own accord, chapter by chapter, I realize now that something happened within me as I began to connect the dots of my own life in a way that I had not previously taken time to reflect upon, and in that, I was able to see that amidst this fractured life, there existed a golden ribbon that connected a lifetime of seemingly random events and encounters, and I gained a wide view perspective of meaning and purpose, especially in regard to my life as a “fisherknitter” and craftsperson. And so, as I have said, FisherFolk was the bow that tied the ends together, and wrapped up this lifetime of craft, fiber, and fishing into something concrete, while at the same time intangible, and I in the midst of it did my very best to absorb every drop of it, with thanks to all who helped bring it to life.
To be continued….
I would like to thank Karen Templer for her interview and posting on our gansey project and event on her excellent blog for Fringe Association, released today in conjunction with photos and post from one of my favorite yarn shops, Tolt Yarn & Wool's Anna Dianich, who attended our event with gracious project and event photographer friend Kathy Cadigan. Always so nice to meet these fiber friends along life's path whose friendships enrich our lives.
Papercut designed and created for us by Annie Howe Papercuts.
(Story to follow at future date.)
#5 of lockers and fishing boats, fishermen and those who love them ...part B (for part A, please read first)
And so, alas, 'twas in the Shetland Islands, after I walked down the cobblestone path through the narrow village walkway from atop the hill that fine October day, that I reached the harbor in the town of Lerwick and made my way excitedly down the modern dock to the F/V Swan LK243, the boat on which my next Shetland Wool Week knitting class would take place.
I just remember walking along the planks of the wooden ramp that early morning and taking a big long deep breath just to really take it all in. I was so happy and grateful to be where I was right then and there.
And then, there it was, as clear as could be, "the diesel and the docks", and though half way around the world in an unfamiliar place, the fragrance spoke to me like the voice of a familiar friend. Just like that day of Nathan's hug, I was somehow reminded of other places and other times, and there was something quite endearing and comforting about that and the start of this very special day.
Grinning from ear to ear at this point, I joined the group as we were aided on board by the crew with our satchels of yarn and knitting. One by one we climbed onto the boat and down into the cabin. Here to take a class on Dutch Ganseys with Stella Ruhe, pictured below, the group of us from the UK, Europe and abroad arranged ourselves in the galley on benches squeezed around a small wooden table, rocking slightly with the lilt of the ocean, even though we were still tied up to the dock for the day.
Knowing nothing about the boat, its history or much about the fishing industry in Shetland, I assumed the Fishing Vessel Swan LK243 was still actively being used for fishing. At one point, as we were getting settled, I asked the skipper more about the boat and fishing life. Of course I wanted to know more about “his” boat and what he fished for and how they fished in the Shetland Islands. I thought myself somehow a compatriot of sorts, though I truly had no idea. I was wide eyed in general about being in this new place and so much to soak in, but so eager to connect to this place at 60 degrees latitude (just like Cordova) and what we held in common, ie: fishing for a living. Besides that, it was such a charming little boat, and I was somehow caught in this romantic nostalgia enhanced by the atmosphere and surroundings.
Ah yes, without a word at first, in answer to my question, the skipper patiently motioned me back up the stairs and up on the deck. In all honesty, I thought he was taking me up to show me his nets or something, but instead, he simply pointed in the direction of a VERY large vessel, at least 300 feet long on a MUCH larger dock off in the distance, and explained to me that although the Swan LK243 was at one time used as a herring boat, that these days, the herring fishery was performed by a few mega boats such as the one off on the distant dock and all is accomplished in just a few days of the year. He told me that the boat we were on was actually owned by a historical trust and that it’s fishing days were long gone. So sad I thought.
With that I returned down the stairs and back around the table, reflecting on the skipper's news and listening to the mesh of voices and accents from Shetland and Fife in Scotland, London, Suffolk, and Cullercoats in England, the Isle of Man, Denmark, and New Zealand as we all handled and studied Stellas's swatches and discussed the pattern ideas and were inspired by her stories of the Dutch ganseys that grew out of the herring fisheries in the UK.
Her words “follow the fish, follow the patterns, follow the herring trail and you will find the trail of knitting patterns that spread through this region" sunk deep into my heart and mind.
As mentioned before, Stella is an enthusiastic speaker. She is genuinely excited about her topic and what her research has revealed, and even now in the midst of a second collection of ganseys collected from Holland. She was a diligent detective and investigator, hunting and searching out photos and digging up clues as to the origins and evidence revealed by these garments she so eagerly sought. With little physical evidence left behind, she relied on the photos she uncovered through her research, and reknit them based on what she could see in the photograph. One reason she cited for so few being around, at least in Holland, was that they were worn until they were worn out, and that once a gansey became no longer able to be worn, the fisherman would often use it as a deck mop at the end of a stick.
One of my favorite stories and photographs she shared with us concerned the pompoms that were on the end of some of the men’s gathered gansey collars. It was odd and amusing to see these grown men with pompoms hanging from knitted strands tied in a bow on the front of their garments. As she explained the reasoning for the pompoms, I had to laugh to myself, as they weren't a decoration as I had assumed, but rather they were there to wipe away the jellyfish that would land in their eyes as they brought up the nets, and the drawstring were there to help draw up and secure the neckline. Beginning with the basic elements they found in the UK sweaters , these Dutch women who had knit the sweaters had added practical special touches of their own at the request of their fishermen husbands to help them as they worked, implementing their own tradition and creating a Dutch gansey knitting heritage.
As she spoke, still caught in an emotional fishing memory state, I was once again mentally transported to the days on the back deck of our seine boat, stacking the leadline, one of my jobs, and to the unforgettable memory of the hurtful sting from the jellyfish as the net came over the power block splattering jellyfish bits into our eyes. Right then, glancing at the photographs I felt an immediate connection to the gentlemen in the old photographs, for we shared the sting of the jellyfish, as well as the connection to their knitting wives with their desire to care for their loved ones via their knitting. If you look closely in the second photo below you can see the bits of peachy gold in the net, which are the bits of jellyfish.
The class was wonderful and halfway through, we all shared a delicious potato and smoked haddock soup with home made bread cooked for us by the "galley girl". After Stella's introduction and history lesson concerning the Dutch gansey version and how they came about, she further elaborated on the graphic designs that were incorporated via knit and purl in a way that varied from gansey to gansey.
These ganseys were "a reflection of life, fishermen, and their families". I think I continued to be most struck by the willingness of the Dutch women to make it their own and to comfortably adapt the patterns in a way that genuinely personalized them as they interjected their own motifs and that which they held important as translated graphically into their designs.
In light of this, as part of the workshop, instead of merely copying their ideas, Stella invited us to think about what we felt was important in our lives, and how we might graphically translate those values and images into simple patterns. WIth graph paper and pencil, then yarn and needles, we set about to reflect on this and bring our own ideas to life.
She also spoke about the garment she was wearing which wouldn't be immediately identified as a gansey, in the traditional sense, for it incorporated the essence of a gansey, yet looked completely modern and contemporary. In the quiet moments that followed, as I began to knit my swatch, I mentally wrestled with this myriad of thoughts concerning traditional, contemporary, fishing, fisherman, fishing boat, fishing towns, old patterns, new patterns then, now, now then...I wondered if anyone else's head was spinning as fast as mine was right then.
What rattled around in my mind was the thought of this fiber (ie:wool), this wonderful fiber with these wonderful qualities and how it was incorporated into a garment and personalized via the handknitter and worn by loved ones. I thought again as I had the night before when Stella had given her talk, that the Dutch gansey, in regard to actual fisherman was shrouded by these words, “was” “in the past” “historically” “traditionally”, and yet Stella was weaving together past and present in regard to ganseys.
Yes, it is true, ganseys ARE still around, and I do see ganseys and their influence all the time in the knitting fashion world, modified and unmodified, but what about the fishermen? If these were fishermen sweaters originally designed and worn by fishermen, then why weren't more fishermen still wearing them? The first realization, at least for today, was that at least here in the Shetland Islands, there weren't a whole lot of independent fishermen anymore.
Hmm....The pat I had felt earlier was no longer a pat, it was a lump in my throat. This is precisely what went through my mind.
- We are a fishing town. It is our proud identity.
- We bring a healthy sustainable product into the hands of the consumer.
- We are more than historical, and we are continuing to make history.
- We are an active, living, and thriving coastal fishing community and state in an industry where independent fishermen in small boats are presently harvesting an unadulterated product that is nutritionally superior than its farmed counterpart.
- We are knitters by choice and desire.
- We love to knit and we love to knit for those we love.
- Wool is a superior fiber with superior qualities, ideal for those working in cold and wet environments and we are a cold and wet environment.
With all this in mind, why could we as handknitters not put all these together once again in a way that was somehow new and different and incorporated our unique and special Alaska harvesting heritage?
The words, “working in wool” came to my mind. Just as the Moray Firth Gansey Project was about ganseys of the past, why couldn’t we have a project that clothed the fishermen of the present. Just as the Dutch women modified the patterns that they came in contact with that followed the fishermen on the herring trail and integrated them with their own designs and modifications and had implemented their own tradition, why couldn’t these patterns follow the fish once again and come to OUR fishing port and OUR fishing fleet, and be modified by our local hand knitters for an active present fisherman?
Simply put, why couldn’t we put fisherman sweaters back on the backs of the fishermen?
Wouldn’t it be ideal to not only knit my fisherman son, daughter and son in law each a gansey ( I promise, no pom poms...), as I have thought and wanted to do for awhile now, but also to pull together and collectively knit as a group wool gansey sweaters that we designed ourselves for our fishermen and outdoorsman loved ones to work in. I know this is nothing new and that there have been those in our town who have knit for their fishing family members for years, but this would be something we could do together as a group, just for fun as well as function, and maybe not just for us, but eventually we could ignite from Cordova an idea that could spread amongst this next generation of other Alaskan fishing communities as well.
The one thing that is taking place in our industry is the attention drawn to the care that our fishermen are purposely tending to the fish they catch in order to preserve best the quality of their product. What better way to care for these harvesters than to clothe them in that which is made with care and purpose. As I continued to knit, my mind mulled over all these thoughts. Sitting on the benches of that boat, rocking gently with the water, I felt both calm and excited at the same time.
As class came to a close, I climbed up the ladder and out of the cabin of the F/V Swan LK243 and into the ocean air. Once again, the diesel and the docks swept over me reminding me of the fishing life back in Alaska, and more questions filled my mind. With all this talk of ganseys, I wondered if ganseys were ever worn long ago by the fishermen in Cordova, or anywhere else in Alaska? And for now, would there be a way to combine these ganseys with our wonderful local Copper River Fleece gear in a way that would bring out the best of both worlds?
And so from all the taps on my shoulders and pats on the back, and beyond the lump in my throat, I began to put to words what had been stirring within all week, now grown from concept and idea into something tangible, so much so, I almost felt I could touch it..
I traveled back to my little cottage that night full of ideas and wrote in my travel journal about the day's adventure. I looked over my notes from Stella's class as I wrote and came across these words that I had written down, which she had shared concerning the growth of her idea and what was going on in her mind as she was just getting started. As I reread them, I felt a bit of myself in them, "...but if I don't do it, what would happen?" How I could relate. These words seem to be what has kept me doing so much of what I have done over the years in The Net Loft, and although inadequate in so many ways, I always have thought to myself, "it might not be perfect and someone else could probably do it a whole lot better than me, but if I don't do it, what would happen?".
What was even more interesting were the next words in my notes that I had jotted down and put in quotes from her sharing. It was just a phrase..."With enormous joy in my heart". I wrote this down because she was so beaming in describing the journey she had taken in making the Dutch Gansey Project happen. I believe it wasn't just an impersonal and technical study on sweaters, but rather it was the stories about them and the people in and around that brought them to life that brought her joy. It was the joy she found of the human experience and the people she met along the way, those from then and those from now, as she unraveled the Dutch gansey story.
Stella's excitement and passion concerning her project is that which happens when we follow that inkling, that tap on the shoulder, that pat on the back, that lump in the throat, even when we are not so sure always what we are doing or where it will take us. Thank you Stella for an inspiring day...
Finally, before dropping off to sleep, touched and inspired again by the hand knitters who came before me, and from all that led up to this day in Shetland and in my own fishing and knitting life, the closing words I wrote at the bottom of the page of my journal posed a simple question... "What about a Cordova Gansey Project?"
As a sidenote, from a recent correspondence with Stella, she now has 125 sweaters in the Dutch Gansey Collection that are hand knit reproductions of Dutch ganseys found in old recovered photographs, and is just as excited about her second book in the making as she was the first, which promises more stories of life and living conditions on the herring boats in the early 1900's, and further history of the life and times of these fishermen and their families. To be published in the future initially in Dutch, here's hoping an English translation will soon follow.
top photo from: http://www.historiegaasterland.nl/Sites%20hist.archief%20%20HWG/Haringvisserij.html
bottom photo: http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/nl/items/ZZM01:F021570/&p=44&i=19&t=911&st=breien&sc=(breien)/&wst=breien
all other archival Dutch Photos courtesy of Stella Ruhe Dutch Ganseys
#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/