many stitches so much love
There are certain moments in our lives when in the midst of them, we know that we are witnesses to something beyond the ordinary.
Like beads in a garland, we collect and string them together to create the memories that we choose to cherish and carry close to our hearts. It is not that we don’t appreciate all there is to love about the routines and rituals of the ordinary instances of daily life, but these special moments I am speaking of seem to establish certain mileposts on the timelines of our lives, and in so doing, become as priceless jewels stranded together in a treasured necklace.
When we are in the midst of them, we know. We know that this is a moment to take hold of, and to let every part of ourselves absorb it into the depths of our whole being.
I have these moments that I collect. For me they always pass far too swiftly. Sometimes, despite my efforts to not do so, I can be very hectic and I can nearly miss the whole of them. There were moments such as this at FisherFolk this past summer, where I wanted to stop the clock and just not budge. It was hard for me, as I had many responsibilities and organizational things I needed to take care of, and I was afraid I would make a mistake or forget some important detail. Yet even in the midst of my bustling, there were these moments that I seized, attempting to pause and take it all in, lest I forget any part of it. To my chagrin, I am not the greatest at taking photographs, and often times am so immersed that I forget to take them, and so at the very moment I realize that I am in the midst of such a moment, I know that it is critical that I stop and really make a concerted effort to harness all that I am encountering, with every single one of my senses, lest I forget any part of it.
Just two weeks after FisherFolk, I experienced such a moment, wrapped into a short while. I have held this "short while" close, wanting to savor the thought of it, believing it to be so personal, and wanting somehow to keep it to myself, desiring to not subject it in any way to commercialization. It was too meaningful to me for that. I believe, however, that knitterly friends appreciate and celebrate for one another these kinds of moments, as it is in these times that we experience the passion and the drive to knit, and our stories encourage one another to press on to develop our already deep desire within to create and make things. It is in this light that I share with you now.
The weekend after FisherFolk , I flew out of town to see my husband, who no longer fishes in Alaska for the summertime. I brought along my unfinished gansey for son in law, Michael, and knit every chance I could. I had felt bad because when I first started the project I had made a schedule to complete the garment sooner, but despite my efforts, I was unable to keep the pace. I was sure I would have the sweater ready by the time fishing started in May, but with all the preparations for the event, I found myself occupied constantly with no time to knit.
While visiting my husband, I knit constantly, determined to have the sweater ready to give Michael as soon as possible, as he was already fishing and the season was fully underway. I still had to figure the last calculations on completing the sleeves, and the heart and the fish that would be inserted into the forearms.
My determination paid off, for just as the plane landed upon my return to Cordova a few days later, I was weaving in the very last yarn end, of which there were many, from all the joins and pick up places in the garment.
I remember distinctly breathing a huge sigh of relief in finally being finished, while at the same time feeling an enormity of mixed emotions as I tucked that last tail and faced the reality of the actual completion of Michael's gansey.
It had been over a year since I measured Michael for his sweater. I was at Tolt Yarn Shop, in Carnation Washington, there with Michael and Nelly, sharing about our project, our town, our fish, and fishing.
I had just finished knitting Nate's gansey, and had it there to show before mailing it to him. ( see PREVIOUS POST) Michael was next on my list and it seemed a perfect time and place to begin the process for Gansey Number Two. After taking measurements that day and recording them in a new journal, I was swept off into the busy-ness of trade shows and shop management. Days turned into weeks turned into months without a chance to give the project the time and thought it would require to begin.
Measured in January of 2017, I finally started my swatch in October. At last, I had some down time with Michael and had a chance to ask him some questions regarding his future gansey. From the very beginning he was excited, and glad we finally had this time for him to share his thoughts and give me the necessary input I needed to get started on calculating the elements he wanted incorporated into his garment. I did a rough watercolor sketch, including some ideas for ways to incorporate the name of their gillnetter, the Pelican, into a potential motif by designing an element that would resemble a pelican beak that would be repeated across the upper portion of the chest. He had already decided on the Cordova color in Frangipani for his yarn choice, so finally I was on my way.
After completing the circular swatch that we have outlined in our Cordova Gansey steps, and laying out my thoughts and figurings on charting paper and in my gansey journal, I was, at last, ready to begin knitting the actual gansey. I had started swatching the project thinking I would use a knitting belt and extra long double pointed needles, hoping to knit as the originals had been done, but just found it challenging on airplanes to maneuver the long needles, and not being proficient with this method, I saw gaps appearing, and so opted back to my previous method using two long circular knitting needles. I had experimented with a variety of ideas for the motif that would represent the pelican beaks which Michael had requested, and decided on the one I liked the best.
Over the next several months, the gansey, Beth’s book, and my folded chart and journal, together in my navy and cream gansey knapsack, went with me everywhere. Like a steady and faithful friend, I carried it along with me, knitting whenever and wherever I had a free moment. Each round of the body had nearly 300 stitches and 10 rounds made an inch. For every inch three thousand stitches, making the armless body alone contain over 80000 stitches. Adding the arms, I was surely over 100,000. Fingertips touching the yarn at all times, human contact in every stitch. Thoughts of family, prayers for safe voyages, journeys, prosperous seasons, future endeavors, uncharted paths, hopes, and distant dreams flowed from heart to hand.
In between each lapse of seeing Nelly and Michael, I would take the opportunity to check my progress and figurings.
And then I simply knit...
and knit... until I was too busy, and then when I could again, I knit and knit some more.
until . . . it was done.
I washed and blocked it that same night that I had flown back to town, and it dried as I continued my tying up of loose ends of FisherFolk while getting things caught up around the shop. In the meantime, several storms and rainy days stacked up, and despite the damp weather, eventually the gansey was finished drying.
And then came a wonderful sunny day. After several stormy days, the skies were clear. In all that blue, I knew that that day was THE day.
When skies are blue in Cordova, you act promptly. I booked a flight on our local air service, Cordova Air, packed the gansey up neatly, gathered up my paints and journal, and headed over to the lake where the float plane was waiting.
Dave Erbey was my pilot, and it was a day and flight like I hadn’t had for a long time. It had been awhile since Bob, my husband, had stopped fishing, and from the days when I used to catch a float plane and fly over to visit him in the Valdez Arm, when he was fishing there for the hatchery.
I actually remember one of the last times I flew out to see him there, how I saw all the boats milling around one another as we approached and thinking how much it felt like I was encountering something akin to the last of the wild west. All the boats circled up out there away from town and in their own world, before cell phones and constant contact. They seemed so much farther away back then somehow.
The flight that day in the sunshine and scattered clouds was breathtaking. Dave is such a wonderful pilot, and the views from Cordova to the Valdez Arm through the mountain passes literally took my breath away.
The frozen lakes on one side and snowfields and green mossy mountainsides with waterfalls dropping to the sea on the other, were so beautiful and added to the excitement and anticipation I was feeling within of this gansey delivery to the fishing grounds. I could see that silty bluegreen Cordova Frangipani color in the waterways as I looked below from my vantage point in the sky.
In the small plane, like a soaring bird, we flew so close to the landscape, right between the mountains and clouds and sunshine beaming on the deep green banks, lush from the rain and storms. It was so breathtakingly beautiful and green and aqua and rocky and icy, all at one time. I felt this inner sense of utter privilege to be seeing such sights, to be where I was and where I was going at that very moment.
Once past the mountains and passes that we wove our way through and around, the arm opened up, and there in the distance were the fishing boats, and my first destination, Michael’s seine boat, the Bounty.
We had said good bye to them a few weeks previously during FisherFolk when they swung by one of the docks for a sendoff wave on their way out of town.
Dave now called on the radio for them to prepare for our arrival. It was merely a quick drop off, as the charter plane needed to be on its way, but it was a very special one, regardless of the duration, and my final destination would be to see and spend time with my daughter who was fishing at Esther which was still many miles away.
Dave landed on the water and we pulled up to the Bounty. I climbed out of the plane and traversed the float, with my package in hand. I handed it to Michael and he handed me a bag of shrimp that they had pulled from their shrimp pots for me to take for Nelly and I to share for dinner that night. It was a fishing grounds sort of trade. As I let go of the bag with the gansey within, a part of me went with it.
He had been trying it on all along the journey of making this, but this time when he put it on, it was the culmination of much effort and emotion. When you carry with you a project every where you go for so long, with stitches here and stitches there, knitting in every available moment, you can't help but feel some sense of attatchment. But deep down, I knew that it was home now where it belonged, out at sea with a fisherman, and this was the best possible send off I could imagine.
For Nate’s gansey it was the way I felt when I put his gansey in the mail, but different because this time I was able to make the delivery in person. This was so much better than packing it up and putting it on a delivery boat from one of the canneries, which I thought I might have to do to get it to him. This was so very much better.
Out there with mountains and sea, and on the back deck with the familiar net pile, with smells of fish and fishing, the pass off was complete, and with float plane waiting for my next leg of the day’s journey, it was time to leave, and back on the plane I went with a hug, shrimp in hand, and a wave goodbye, off westward to find Nelly for a drop in visit, fishing for Prince William Sound salmon on their gillnet boat, the Pelican.
After about 15 minutes in the air, a text arrived. It is funny being up in the air and these days, in the middle of Alaska wilderness to be receiving a text, but parts of Prince William Sound is able to receive cell service. In the days gone by, there were just side band calls and marine operator calls. For entertainment we would listen to the marine operator calls as they were broadcast and everyone could hear. If you were ever on the other end, you never wanted to get too mushy as you knew the fleet was listening. But these days there is privacy and texts and even helped the pilot find where Nelly was fishing with an ap that Michael had that he relayed to me via text as we were flying west towards Esther Passage. But the text that meant the most to me that day was simply a photograph of Michael in the wheelhouse of the Bounty, the Captain in his post in his gansey.
The joy and satisfaction of completion and in the giving. It made all those hours and all those stitches more than worthwhile, ever remembering that it is the person nestled inside the knitting that is the most treasured of all.
My time out in the sound with Nelly after the dropoff, was also especially memorable for me, as I don't get out there as much anymore. I had some very special time with her, and loved seeing and being with her at work out on the fishing grounds, along with our delicious special delivery shrimp dinner to celebrate "Gansey Day".
I look forward to knitting her gansey over these upcoming months and savor the thought of being with her in spirit via a handknit created just for her to her specifications.
It had been literally only a matter of a few minutes that I was there with Michael for the drop off, but my flight, those moments passing it over to him and watching him try it on, watching him wearing it on the deck as we took off, and the time I spent after with Nelly, were the "short while" moments of a gem that I will long treasure in this lifetime.
Later this summer, Michael and son Nate were rafted up next to one another out on the fishing grounds, sharing fish talk, and sent this photo off to me so I could see them together in their ganseys. Fishermen in their fisherknits in an impromptu photograph from my daughter who had joined them later in the season for seining. In some small way, I hope you will see the reality of the preservation of and honor to the fisherfolk gansey legacy and tradition of the North Atlantic, both those wore them and those who knit for them,
It isn’t like I think everyone will want to make one of these or that everyone in town is walking around in them, because in reality there is only a handful of us who have done it here.
But for all of us who knit, or quilt or sew, or make things for those we love, it is the same. We put a part of ourselves in it. We handle the materials with our bare hands, and something of us is incorporated into that thing. We contemplate, we plan, we dream, we hope, we love, and in doing so, we extend a part of ourselves that stays with those we love even when we cannot.
so much love
More FisherFolk tales to come…stay tuned.
Photo at Tolt taking Michael's measurements by Kathy Cadigan
Last photo of Michael by Gabe Rodriguez for Kitchen Unnecessary
NOTE: repeating again that Beth Brown Reinsel author of Knitting Ganseys has a knitalong taking place this month. Follow her group and KAL in her Ravelry forum for more information.
Another NOTE: elements of Michael's gansey. motifs form bottom to top.
pelican beaks and eye of God for protection
winds of prosperity that send gentle breezes
AND another NOTE:
Another gansey tale of another knitting mother in our group worth the read for those who are looking for more Cordova gansey tales:
For commercial fishermen here in Cordova, the preparation for fishing may take many months in order to be poised for a good day or week of actual fish being caught in one's net. It may take days or weeks to have a net put together or repaired and ready to fish, or to get the boat in good working order and ready to set the net and haul them on board, even though potentially the actual act of bringing them in might at times only take less than an hour.
The net goes out and comes back in the same manner with a load of fish as it does with a water haul. One just has to stay at it and be prepared, for when the fish come, it may be for just a short window of time, in comparison to the many months it took to get ready. When the season is all over, it takes time and effort to clean up the boat, put everything away, and make lists for the jobs that must be done in order to be ready for the next season. So whether one is bringing in a net, delivering a load, repairing a broken power block or putting it away, it is all called "fishing".
Many months have passed since writing here, much of it spent “fisherfolking”, as in preparing, doing, and then picking up the pieces following our FisherFolk event. But alas, the silence of many months is broken, finally ready to write again, and FisherFolk seems a good place to start.
Months of preparation to be ready for a mere seven days, it was all FisherFolk... before, during, and after, and in the midst of it all, was my second gansey coming close to completion. My desire for the gathering was to create an event that not only dealt with fiber arts, but that also focused on taking time to appreciate our local natural wilderness surroundings, while spending time with friends, old and new.
land & sea
As already mentioned, the focus for the event was not only on the knitting and fishing connection, but also on our local region where land and sea are so closely connected to our FisherFolk lifestyle.
We are not a fancy community, but more like the home of a friend who you visit, and with whom you can simply be yourself and still be loved and appreciated. As I get older, I feel I need more grace than ever from those who surround me. I am becoming increasingly forgetful, tire and become distracted more easily, and in addition, am often even more disorganized than ever. I have many ideas, and am amazed at how many actually come to life, often at the last minute or close to it, thanks to those who catch the vision. For now, this is just hello again. Thanks to those who joined us for FisherFolk, and for those who joined us vicariously by the pennants they knit and sent to us to hang in the atrium and for the kind letters and cards that wished us well for the week.
I was trying to explain to someone how these events come to life. Some people are much better planners than I. I feel as though many of my plans are "gifted" to me. I am just willing. Willlng to listen and willing to act on short notice. Willing to try. Willing to look foolish should I fail. Willing and also blessed. Blessed by those who say, "What can I do to help", and thus manifest the many ideas and details for the week.
I would like to thank the many volunteers and helpers who offered their time to help take all the components and prepare them for the week's activities. I could not have done it without you.
In regard to FisherFolk storytelling, I thought I would begin with our logo for the event. It was based on a painting by English artist, Debbie George. I had seen her illustrations on Instagram, based on her collection of mugs that she fills with flowers and stages in front of various landscapes. I love her work, and also thought it was perfect that she was from the UK, because of their rich history, origin, and deep connections between fishing and knitting.
I requested a painting that would represent our land and sea theme geographically as well as representationally. The landscape and sea scape were the literal geographical representations of the land and sea, while the mug with the gansey as the sea and the wildflowers as the land, represented what we hoped to experience during the week, knitting instruction, along with outdoor activities amidst the wildflowers, shared with friends which I thought seemed symbolic in the mug, as in a shared cup of tea or coffee.
I was so happy to see her painted interpretation as pictured above.
This motif was on our name tags as well as the booklet we produced for the event. For the event, the painting hung in the entryway to the Dutch Gansey exhibit in our local museum. Thank you Debbie George for your artistry.
For those who also like this motif, and the story it tells, we have cards, a small print, sticker, and a very limited number of the booklets available on our website for those interested. There is a great pattern in the book called the Grass Island Cowl by Valerie Covel. We are carrying this wonderful Merino, Cashmere, Silk from Sweet Georgia Yarns which is a dream to knit, in Cordova Land & Sea colors especially to go with this pattern, which is also available as a single pattern.
Personally, I love the forget me nots and buttercups. Forget me nots, because they are the Alaska state flower, and a reminder to keep both old and new friends, near and far, close in thought and deed. Buttercups, because their bright yellow color on grey rainy days lifts our spirits.
The reality of this visual image was the inspiration for our special Three Irish Girls "Cordova Rainy Day Buttercups" yarn color way, which was the yarn used by Evelyn Clark for her Buttercup Shawl that she designed for the event and workshop that she would be teaching.
This pattern is also available on our website and in the shop . All items available from the event may be found in the FisherFolk Collection. Proceeds of the print are continuing to help offset the expense of bringing Stella Ruhe and the gansey exhibit from the Netherlands to America.
So there, I have begun. A good place to start, and I will continue to share more on our week and the different elements that made for a special time very very soon.
I appreciate all of you so much. You are the richness of my life.
Thank you for listening. More stories, very soon...
#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
#5 of lockers and fishing boats, fishermen and those who love them ....part A
Years ago, before we built our fishing warehouse at 6 1/2 Mile Copper River Highway, we kept and stored our gear in an equipment storage locker in the Alaska Packers Association warehouses. APA, as it was called, was where our newly purchased first fishing boat had been stored by its previous owner, and so became our inherited new home of sorts.
In order to get to our storage locker, there was a maze of steps and corridors that wandered through the multiple story old metal and wood buildings which were connected by enclosed wooden catwalks. At one time, these structures housed a cannery that used to pack salmon and later clams, but these days, the old buildings were storehouses for boats and fishing nets.
At first, because we were new, they gave us a locker on the uppermost level of the buildings. At that time, we lived on the boat and didn't have a bunkroom yet, so whatever we owned in our fishing life either was on the boat or in the locker. In order to take things on and off the boat, we had to first climb up and over the rails and across the decks of all the boats we were tied up next to, at either the pilings or the floating dock at the end of the buildings.
From here we had to climb up a precarious rusty ladder, or up a wooden ramp, depending on where we were docked, and then follow along on a very narrow wooden plank boardwalk under the warehouse structures along the rows of pilings that supported and were just below the warehouses. From under the buildings you emerged and continued around the dim walkways, winding through narrow passageways and multiple stairs until you finally arrived at the locker. Although some of the details are a little fuzzy, I just have this recollection that at low tide it was quite a journey, especially with boxes or armloads of gear.
I do remember, however, that at that time, everything I owned seemed to reek of diesel fuel and mechanical fluid. We (mostly Fred our mechanic and crewman) had put a new engine into our "new" 35 year old wooden boat before launching it for the season. I remember standing there passing tools back and forth, when I wasn't busy repainting the exterior and letters of the boat name. Launching it was an adventure in itself, as the whole building seemed to quiver as it was lowered into the water. Mechanically speaking, it was one thing after another, and from that point on it just seemed like everything I had was drenched, and I mean drenched in the fragrance of oil and fuel, hydraulic fluid, mildew from the dampness of endless rain, and the lingering aroma of past fish harvests.
As it turned out, the roof above our first locker leaked profusely, and consequently, we were given a new and different locker on another floor, and so we proceeded to haul our soaked gear and goods down to our new spot. Now, if my memory serves me right, it seemed that from then on, Captain Bob, my husband, was in search of the perfect locker. Somehow, he would find that someone was moving out of their locker, and had us crew move everything to this new spot. Of course, these new lockers were never close by or on the same floor. And so, it seemed, that over the next several years of our time at APA, when we weren't out on the fishing grounds, we crewman experienced an endless parade up and down the stairs, and around and about the warehouses hauling our gear from boat to locker, locker to boat as well as from locker to locker...buckets, ropes, oil cans, net mending supplies, raingear, clothes, and a myriad of odds and ends.
Maybe being bound in that little space had something do with it, but regardless of the location, upstairs or downstairs, our locker never ceased to contain this distinct "fragrant" concoction of dampness, diesel, and fish. Anything you put into storage would quickly absorb the fragrance of the locker, and I was always reluctant to store in there anything I really cared about, but often didn't have the option, and the same went for that old wooden boat, whose old wooden hull seemed like a sponge to every fluid it ever came in contact with. I thought about that in terms of all the people that had come in contact with that old boat and these buildings once astir with the rattlings of a cannery and cannery workers, and then and moreso now, the hum of fisherman's voices and their discussions on fish prices and dreams of better boats, with a hint of secrecy about how many fish they actually caught. I often wondered if somehow a bit of them lingered as well.
Eventually, we purchased our first fiberglass boat, and a few years later bought land and built a warehouse, and even farther down the line, opened up the shop in the net loft of the new warehouse. Everything was new and fresh, and although I missed my friends and life at the bunkhouse, I appreciated having a fresh environment for my possessions. It wasn't long after opening the store out the road that I started carrying lotions and perfumes in the shop as part of our repertoire. I knew first hand the need to smell something of a different sort of fragrance even more so while working on a boat or in the cannery.
Fragrances are known to stir memories, and although as years go by, one may sometimes forget what they have forgotten, a whiff of a scent can somehow bring it back to mind. And so it was one day last summer, that our fisherman son, Nate, wandered into The Net Loft for a hug and a hello. Surrounded by the usual Net Loft fragrances of lavender, lemongrass, perfumed Lollia lotions and candles, interlaced with fresh chocolates and wool yarn, Nate reached out and gave me a long hard hug, weary from working on his boat, which he had been tearing apart learning and figuring out how to fix and maintain.
To my surprise and without a conscious thought, in that moment of embracing him, loud and clear, I was instantly catapulted back to that old fishing boat and APA locker. I felt myself hesitate and had a sense of time collapse as past merged with present. In those brief seconds, I didn't want to let him or the memory go.
Having been recently out on the water for a fish opening, and then without stopping to change, as is common in fishing life, working on his boat for the last few days changing hydraulic hoses and doing engine maintenance, Nate's clothing and body had accumulated and become saturated with that distinct strong aroma and combination of just the right formula of diesel, dampness, engine fluids and fishing.
As I breathed in its "perfume" it had transported me back in time 35 years, and all the memories of those early days came flooding in and filled me with nostalgia. One more hug please, I thought. What once was something I willingly tried to avoid but could not get away from, I now longed for more. It wasn't so much for the buildings and the boat, but rather the friendships formed and the lifestyle lived while being in the midst of them...of weddings on boat decks, babies in the bunkhouse, conversations in the cookhouse around the big black iron eight foot diesel cookstove, exploring attics and finding "treasure", of youth and vitality, new love and a new life.
Our boat these days is down a dock, rather than at the end of an old cannery, and yet as you walk the docks you can still catch a whiff in the air in the Cordova Harbor of diesel, boat mechanics and fishing.
Though not quite so intense as that found in our old boat or locker, it is still a distinct combination, and evokes the thought of fisherman astir throughout the season. Perhaps one could simply call it the aroma of "the diesel and the docks", even though it really is so much more. And those who know it can tell you, indeed so very much more...
Soon to follow...Part B the docks of Shetland
Watercolors by Karl Becker , Cordova, Alaska
Oil Painting of Fisherman at the Dock by Jen-Ann Kirchmeier, Cordova, Alaska (there a few signed glicee copies of this fisherman at the docks painting available which may be ordered directly from Jen-Ann)
On a side note, our Net Loft Custom Colorway from Three Irish Girls Yarns was derived by the watercolor painting shown above by Karl Becker of the old APA Cannery. Though not in our online store, these yarns are available in a variety of bases at the shop. You can now understand where this color comes from and why it is so special to me. Yarn inquiries for yarns in shop but not online may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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…
Follow along to The Long Story #2
photo of Herring Lassies courtesy of Moray Firth Gansey Project