Sometimes life leaves us speechless.. October 04 2016, 7 Comments
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.)
Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #9 Down River December 10 2015, 0 Comments
It was just over a year ago that I returned to the states after my Shetland Wool Week and Fair Isle excursion. If it is true that "tradition is a river that flows towards new ground" *, then I was headed downstream, afloat on a vessel of its own accord, surrounded by satchels of unformulated ideas and plans, and a seed of inspiration held close in hand and heart.
It is an interesting habit and tradition that we name our waterbound vessels. Sometimes we may name ranches, or cottages, or even cars, but water vessels are most always named, and proudly painted on bows and sterns to identify and admire . Sometimes one may inherit a boat name, and other times one gets to choose their own. In 1980, when we had our first boat built, we had the opportunity to give our new boat a name of its own. My husband wanted to call it the ORION, the mighty hunter, after the constellation, and consequently, the ORION became a part of his personal identity and that of his crew and his fishing operation. He even named his next boat the ORION as well, wanting to maintain the identification that had attached itself to his persona and commercial fishing life.
And so, in like manner, the "vessel" that I was aboard and headed downriver was deemed officially "The Cordova Gansey Project", whose home port of call would be Cordova, Alaska. The project would not necessarily be limited to our town, nor represent the migration of just a single pattern or knitting style, but would rather be a broader collection of traditional handknit working gear borrowed from those in other regions with a shared fishing and knitting history, and would hopefully extend its reach to anyone who was interested and grasped its vision.
As I began to move forward, ideas emerged. First, as an American, I thought this project would ideally be integrated regionally , and I knew of an American author Beth Brown-Reinsel who had a book, Knitted Ganseys, that we carry in the shop. Awhile back, we had hosted a small study group workshop on the book, taught by one of our local knitting instructors, Valerie Covel. Even though I wasn't able to be part of Val's group, it still interested me. Beth was my first inkling and first stop. I started emailing her to initiate a conversation about this idea that was brewing.
Through my emails and phone conversations with a very kind, helpful, and receptive Beth, I began to formulate a plan. We would start with a core group of knitters who were interested in knitting a loved one a garment designed specifically to suit the modern fisherperson. My thought was..
- I have fisherman son in law (who I had promised to knit a sweater for over two years ago)
- I have a fisherman daughter married to the son in law
- I have a fisherman son
- that I would love to enrobe each of them in a functional handknit made-to-fit garment that they could work in that would actually be superior to its synthetic counterpart. This would be the “working in wool” component.
- I love the thought of taking fishermen sweaters back from fashion to function, although there is nothing to say that these would not just be functional, but I hope that they would be fashionable as well.
- perhaps others might want to join me in this project, and we could be work on this project together....
The plan would be to start in June 2015, and it would involve Beth and begin with a Fiber & Friends Gansey Workshop.
The initial workshop with Beth was set for 20 students to be predominantly locals that were interested in creating a “working in wool” garment, whether it be for fishing, forestry, or other outdoor use. For two days we would work on constructing a reduced size model and for two days we would design a garment specifically geared towards a specific person, with the goal of completing the garment by the first day of the gillnet opening in May 2016. At the same time we made these arrangements, I had this idea in my mind that we would bring her back again the following summer and start a new group, as well as invite other instructors and build a symposium style event centered around the fishing/knitting/fiberart connection, and so the Net Loft Fiber & Friends:FisherFolk event was sketched into the calendar for 2016. It would be an opportunity to launch our first set of ganseys and share this concept with others, as well as celebrate our local fishing fleet and community.
An important element to be figured would be our yarn choice(s) for the project. One advantage the United Kingdom had was the great sheep close at hand, and since we have no flocks of sheep in Cordova, I began to research who was making gansey yarn in the United States. Beth Reinsel-Brown referred me to Upton Yarns on the East Coast, as they sell an American 5 ply naturally hand dyed sturdy gansey yarn. I initiated a dialog with Sarah of Upton Yarns, hoping we could make our initial set of garments for this year with her yarns, but there just wasn’t enough available at this time. Sarah was good to talk with and we made a plan for her to have some of her yarn available in gansey quantities spun and naturally dyed with indigo by June 2016 for our planned FisherFolk event. We decided people could choose the yarn they wanted, but also had available a wide selection of Frangipani traditional gansey yarn from the UK, which the majority of the group chose. I had spoken to Russ at Frangipani, who was also very helpful, and even shared stories with me of his time as a commercial fisherman whose boat went as far as Greenland years ago. He shared his story of how when he first got there, they gave him a close fitting gansey to be worn right next to the skin, and though a bit rough, it "did the job".
I was able to take a workshop with Beth at StitchesWest in February. Such a wonderful teacher, just being with her that day and seeing her in her gansey cardigan made me look forward to our summertime sessions in Cordova with excitement and anticipation. I was assured that she was the perfect person to help and guide us with our project.
We warmed up to Beth's gansey workshop with a knitalong where those interested could knit a gansey wrister designed by Beth. Particants could use Frangipani, and Sarah from Upton made some of her yarns available for those interested in working with a domestic 5 ply yarn. Beth met us online for a Ravelry chat online, and we were off and running. I was really glad for this opportunity to practice the channel island cast on and to practice some of the techniques we would be learning more about in her upcoming class.
Beth came to Cordova in early June, and our pilot group had 4 days with her lessons and instruction in traditional gansey knitting.
The days were filled with knitting, planning, studying reference books, calculating, and charting.
Using our swatches, measurements, favorite garments, and input from our end users, we began the design process for our individual garments.
Our new gansey knitting knapsacks would hold our yarn cones,
and there was a little exploring around the area thrown in, just for fun, for those from out of town.
As far as who would receive the first gansey from me for the project, I decided on my son Nathan, who was excited about the prospect of a custom fit sweater and I obtained his measurements to help with the process, and already had ideas on ways he wanted it customized to suit his particular practical needs as a fishing sweater.
I was amazed to see how each of the participants embraced the spirit of the project and watched as they each brought their ideas to life as they began to chart and create their own unique gansey sweater blueprints.
Finishing off our time together with a shared potluck feast which included fresh grilled Copper River Red Salmon was the perfect ending to our fisherknitter four day "Traditional Gansey" workshop. We are continuing to meet periodically in town, and also stay in touch via Ravelry and a Facebook Group which you can join if you are interested in following along with our progress.
This was Part 1 of the plan that emerged and focused primarily on the history and knitting of a Traditional Fisherman's Gansey. Part 2 focused on another version with a contemporary twist, and I will share more on that coming up...For those who would like to join in, you can contact us and I can get you started now using Beth's book, DVD (excellent), and Frangipani yarn, OR you can take Beth's workshop which we will be repeating again next summer. It was a wonderful experience, and loved seeing all her knitted samples, and having her close at hand to answer all my questions. We will have online registration available soon.
I would especially like to thank Beth Brown-Reinsel for her guidance and expertise as we embark on this journey to help an old tradition flow into new territory here in our commercial fishing village of Cordova, Alaska, and we look forward to her return next summer for Net Loft Fiber & Friends 2016: FisherFolk when she will start another group of FisherKnitters on their way.
credits: Painting by Jen-Ann Kirchmeier Copper River
* see previous blog entry #8G
The Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #8E Fair Fiber Artist November 28 2015, 4 Comments
Today as I was writing, I was feeling bad for taking so long to tell this story. It is just that so much life goes on imbetween my telling of it, and each little part plays a part in it and hard to leave those things out. Isn't that so true of life itself.
Each little part is part of our stories and each little part has value. I think of The Net Loft and how for me, each and every person that walks through the door, or for those who find us from afar online, each of you is important and has value, and I thank you for finding us. So onward with the story, which for The Net Loft, for now, is ongoing, and glad to have you listening and following along. We appreciate you.
And now....back to our story and my first afternoon on Fair Isle...and a special afternoon it was for me.
Tommy dropped me off at a home just around the bend from the Auld Haa Guest House, and I was greeted most pleasantly with the warmth and hospitality of Fiber Artist, Kathy Coull. Kathy is a spinner & knitter and instructor who has her own sheep and small yarn production. She recently had completed coursework for a BA in Contemporary Textiles with honours at the University in the Shetlands, but was now back on Fair Isle and her life here. In no time I found Kathy to be a kindred spirit with a sharing heart. On her wall was a large cross stitch bearing the words, "Laughter brings sunshine into the home" and that certainly was so, for in each moment her joy overflowed and filled the room.
There were so many jewels I wanted to hold on to and not forget. I had thought so much about everything while on this trip as I had spent so much of it alone driving or in the quiet of my down time as a solitary traveler. I wanted to take down so much of our conversation, as she had such a wisdom and appreciation for handcraft, and found myself taking notes and scrawling down bits and pieces of her sentences so as not to forget.
These conversations were timely and memorable. With all the taps on the shoulder, pats on the back and lumps in my throat up until now, I was prime for these days of mental sorting and one on one discussion versus my days in Shetland racing from one workshop to the next. Things were beginning to gel for me and this idea for the “Cordova Gansey Project” was taking a literal shape in my mind. The idea was no longer just a slight tap or nudge, it felt tangible somehow by this point, be it small, more like the size of a very tiny seed that I could almost feel being carried in my pocket. Like any other seed I felt it had a true possibility for growing into something far bigger. As I talked with Kathy, it was as if I brought the seed of of my pocket to show her, and watered by our shared conversation and discussion of thoughts and ideas, I could somehow feel it swell as our dialogue deepened and ventured from the practical to the philosophical aspects of handcraft, which I found we both shared a high regard for.
In the midst of our discussion she brought out her current commissioned project, a pullover of finely spun naturals knit in bands of traditional Fair Isle design. Beautiful inside and out, we analyzed the spinning, pattern, and structure of her work in progress. The practical interwove with the philosophical as we ventured into the topic of "tradition", and her perspective on the subject. I had this question, "What REALLY is Fair Isle knitting, and what features distinguish it from other stranded colorwork?" I was trying to understand the distinction and details that set it apart, which led us into a deeper discussion on tradition, and the conflict and controversy that sometimes comes at the juncture of tradition and the progression of pattern and design.
It seems like no matter where you are there exists an interesting relationship, and sometimes tension, between traditional and contemporary, and yet it seems they are interwoven and dependent on one another. Contemporary builds on the past and tradition is dependent on the present here and now to carry it into the future. Sometimes those who have a high regard for tradition desire to preserve it intact unchanged.
Kathy talked about how sometimes traditions may not necessarily be an institution from the faraway past or surrounded with pomp and circumstance. A tradition may just be someone deciding to do something here and now. It could be started by any of us. It is interesting to me having lived for a little while now, to see how traditions cycle and how they sometimes are made new possibly having been disregarded for some time or on the verge of being forgotten.
We talked about this in light of the gansey project, and how I might show honour to the past while at the same time starting something new and relevant for our current generation of knitters and fisher folk. Right now I see so much of the older styles of knitting being given a rebirth as they integrate and find new life superimposed on newer and updated styles as well as how they were, being appreciated by a new generation, and this is what I see for our project as well.
As we looked through her notebooks we talked further on these topics of contemporary versus traditional concepts. Much food for thought. I felt as though she had helped me sort out some things, just being able to talk and discuss them, thanks to dear Kathy, with many smiles and much laughter.
At one point, as we talked, I looked out the window and there was Kathy's "catty" wistfully looking in on us, as only cats can do, and it dawned on me, that here I was sitting at a kitchen table peacefully having tea and a chat with a kitty peering in the window on the island of Fair Isle, and the thought of it just made me smile and laugh a little to myself. There is no place in the world I would have rather been than just right then and there.
After showing me her yarns that she has milled and produced from her sheep, and her wonderful upstairs loft filled with an array of spinning wheels, including one three hundred year old flax wheel named "Lady Haddington" that caught my eye, we agreed to meet again the next day for more time together which I really looked forward to.
Several hours had passed and I walked home in the quiet of the approaching twilight along the single lane path and eyed the glow in the window of my Fair Isle home that welcomed me in the distance. The gentle sound of the wind and lapping waves along the rocky coast was the only sound, and though far around the world from where I had come from, for tonight, this home was where I felt I belonged and felt grateful for where life had taken me this day.
Cordova Gansey Project - The Long Story (cont.) #4 March 21 2015, 3 Comments
#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/