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
All three are current fisherfolk (although we call everyone male and female fishermen here) and part of a group of young fishermen who have recently entered the fishery
- 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.
As we were working in the classroom, I looked around and I thought about my time in Shetland and more specifically the fisher lassies and the old photos that had drawn me in. I thought about the friendships and the smiles on the faces of the women in the photos with their knitting in hand. I was reminded of this as I scanned the room and watched the faces of the women who "hopped aboard" and joined me on this venture, and feel grateful for their friendship and willingness to take part.
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
Back to our story...
(For those who are just dropping in, start here to read the full story)
A place to stay and a way to get there... that was the extent of it.
Pressed for time, once I decided that the island of Fair Isle would be on my itinerary, I did a little searching, wrote off some emails, and ended up making arrangements with a gentleman named Tommy at the Auld Haa Guest House, built for the island's Laird in the early 1700’s. Tommy kindly made my flight reservations from Tingwall to the island, so I was set.
A place to stay and a way to get there.
I had heard repeatedly that the flight to Fair Isle was weather dependent, and there was always a chance that if the weather wasn't right, then the trip would be off. This being said, I was delighted when the storms of the previous week had passed and appreciated the blue skies I awoke to on the morning of the flight. Knowing that this wasn't always the case, I was grateful for the clear and wonderful view of Shetland as we lifted off from the runway. I loved that I could see below many of the places I had traveled to and from throughout Shetland Wool Week as we passed across the islands and headed southward.
I was in the far back seat and could see the view on either side of me. On my right I could look back towards my little home at Vementry Farm off in the distance, and to my left I could look out and see as we nearly flew right over the bridge and the village where I had traveled to weave in the evenings with Emma Blain of Aamos Designs.
Continuing south I spied the outline of the lengthy Burra Island where I had silversmithed with Mike Finney, and could see in the distance the ridge and on down the east coast where I had taken the spinning course at Hoswick. What a wonderful week it had been.
Soon the Shetland Islands were behind us, and as we flew across the deep blue waters, I reflected on these present times and this little lone crossroads island I was headed for that at one time was only reachable by sea. Once an important way station for North Sea seafarers, now not so necessary. How swift the changes come and go through time as inventions that create new opportunities sometimes cast shadows on those they displace.
As we flew, I knit and thought about this tug of war between traditions and the need/desire to keep them intact and the inevitable forging forward into the future and allowing of ourselves to break free from the traditions that somehow might possibly limit us.
I thought of Joan Fraser, the designer at the town hall Makers Market just a few days previously in Lerwick, and her fine gauge machine knit merino cowl I had bought from her that incorporated traditional patterns into a contemporary piece, yet still made and designed in Shetland. In contrast to this refined "high tech" accessory was the handspun handknit mushroom and lichen dyed hat I had purchased from Elizabeth Johnston that same day, which has since become my favorite day by day cap. Though very different, I love them both.
Fodder for future conversation…but for now, we were sweeping around the island preparing to land. This was it now, the island of Fair Isle right below me, where the trail of years and friends and fiber had led me...
Which takes me to the idea of expectations...I hadn't had a chance to form many concrete expectations, and believed I was wide open for whatever lay ahead, especially since I had so little preparation. But preparedness isn't always an indicator of how much or how few expectations one may hold within. And sometimes they are deeply embedded, and we don't even know we have certain expectations or assumptions until they are not immediately realized. Perhaps it is like the person arriving for the first time in Alaska and thinking to themselves, even though perhaps they may know better, "Where are the igloos?"
I stepped out of the plane and although I was just barely above sea level, as I my foot rested on solid ground, I felt as though I was taking a step on to the top of a mountain peak. Like my old camp days, the view and perspective from above was akin to my view back through time and what had led me here, and in all of that, my heart swelled with emotion. My host, Tommy, greeted me donning his Fair Isle knitted cap. As we drove to my new "Fair Isle home" I peered out the car window scanning the countryside, and found myself looking for what I didn't realize that I was thinking and expecting to find. Maybe down deep I thought I was going to see the road lined with cottages with rows of hand knit jumpers (sweaters) on wooden stretchers drying on their porches and alongside the fences. I didn't know that I expected to see them until I didn't.
Perhaps it was the scenes in the Alice Starmore video I had viewed so many times so long ago that had made a long forgotten impression, or possibly I had been influenced by the photographs in those Fair Isle books cast away on the shelf at home. All seemed very very very peaceful and still, except for a random birder binoculars in hand ( or "twitcher" as they called them) here and there, walking beside the stone fences harboring grazing sheep, but other than that, not a soul or sweater in sight.
Like I said, it is funny about expectations, sometimes we don't know we have them until things are different than what we sometimes don't even realize we are expecting.
We arrived at the Guest House and I loved what would become my "Fair Isle home" for my days here, a two story building with worn wooden floors and deep window sills resulting from the thick stone walls, and a large fireplace with coal burning insert and mantle topped with Tommy's wonderful handmade wire & carved cuttlefish creations.
Tommy knew I was a knitter and that I was interested in seeing the "knitting sites" on the island because of our shared correspondence. After a light lunch, he kindly showed me his personal knitted examples, his Fair Isle hat collection. Each hat a story, some were handknit, some were hand spun, some were natural Fair Isle Wool, some were hand dyed colors. I soaked in all the stories which wove into the history of the island itself, and through them, tried to get a feel for what the current state of knitting was here on the island.
There was something settling for me about seeing all the knitting and patternwork. Down deep, I think it was because this was Fair Isle and I was primed to see "authentic Fair Isle knitting". I guess you could call me the epitomy of the "knitting tourist". Knitting...could you show me your knitting? Embarrassed to admit..Such a tourist. My expectations were calmed and quelled by this handful of handknits.
What is interesting is after looking at all those patterned hats, and studying them so carefully as we set them on the floor to photograph, I looked beyond and over to the rug on his floor and noticed how several of the shapes on the rims of his hats bear a close resemblance to this motif on his rug. It was an innocent observation, but interesting to note and observe, knowing this rug was more than likely from a faraway place, and loved thinking about how from makers hands, through craft and pattern, distant cultures may find common ground and connection. This, of course, rekindled my own personal curiousity about the trail and movement of patterns that have followed migrating cultures, especially when worldwide communication was more difficult. This was not just about the movement of people, but also about the traveling objects of their making, even when they didn't, and that part of them that unbeknownst to them influenced others as they melded and mixed with the designs along the way.
I also loved his use of worn Fair Isle jumpers which still had some usefulness left in them in these seat cushions, pillows, and even in his whimsical wired bird creations.
But what I liked most were the stories he shared entwined in the knitting. I was listening carefully to Tommy's tales and really appreciated the foundation they provided for my time here. With only 55 permanent "Islander" residents and several of those away at school, it was a small world here, and because of its geography, somewhat like Cordova, but on a much smaller scale, limited and isolated in the flow of passing through traffic. It wasn't always this way, for in the days when ships were the main mode of transportation, Fair Isle was an important stopping place, and frequented by fishermen. He mentioned that the hat he wore and several of his hats were actually traditional fisherman caps or as they called them, "keps". I had seen photos of them in the books long ago, but it just never really clicked, and now that all my gansey thoughts were stirring, I was more in tune to hear that this hat style he had was another fishing, fisherman and knitting connection, especially I would find out later on my trip, in regard to Fair Isle knitting. Aha....
Because of our emails back and forth, Tommy had so kindly pre-arranged for a knitterly focused visit and had planned meet ups for me with certain people on the island. While on the phone to someone I was scheduled to visit, I overheard him say, "I have Dotty the knitter here to see you", and as I heard him speak, I felt somewhat intimidated by the title he was referencing me by. In my head I thought, perhaps I would consider myself "Dotty a knitter" but certainly not "Dotty THE Knitter".
I had two instant thoughts. First it reminded me of when I was homeschooling our children and when we were studying history through literature and how we read this one book which we all loved which told the story of Leif Eriksson, called Leif the Lucky and how his father was known as "Erik the Red". It just felt like that same sort of title.
Then I thought back on this concept of the worthiness we sometimes wrestle with in our lack of confidence concerning our abilities, like those I spoke of earlier who I ask those that come in the shop if they are a knitter and they question if whether or not they are REALLY a knitter. In my own self consciousness, I just didn't believe I was anything special to deserve any such title.
I had to laugh at myself, however, as I soon realized that this was merely a reference to what had brought me here. I was simply being referred to as “Dotty, the knitter” in contrast to "Dotty the birder, or ticker or twitcher", the names they give the birders who bring the greatest number of visitors to the island. Silly me...
But for now, Dotty the knitter had people to see and places to go, and I couldn't wait to see where the rest of the day would find me, and Tommy was preparing to drop me off at my first stop. And so from my new two story "home", the Auld Haa Guest House, we left down the lane, and I was on my way to my next adventure...
6B: The CORK LINE
From Behind the Green Door with Felicity Ford to Beyond the Distant Shore
( a continuation of a LONG story starting HERE and most recently with 6A HERE)
Sitting down alongside my classmates around the table at Jamieson and Smith, I was overwhelmed by the tabletop piled high in yarn colors and choices of Shetland fingering yarn. I was so sorry to have missed the beginning, but with my morning adventure behind me, I jumped right in, with help thankfully from those seated on either side of me. Fortunately Knitsonik, Felicity Ford was still sharing and showing her examples and techniques for her Quotidian Stranded Colourwork.
Felicity's excitement and enthusiasm was contagious.
Still hungry for an understanding of the "right way" to put colors together, I found it interesting that Felicity, like Stella, after presenting her process for developing patternwork, gave us the same type of opportunity to put this process into practice. With Stella, the day before, we had used a monochromatic format using texture as a means to interpret pattern, but now, with Felicity Ford we were instructed on the interpretation of a visual idea that incorporated both pattern AND color into the design.
I found a common and valuable link between these two classes that I felt related to the ideas that were now brewing in my mind of a "Cordova Gansey Project". Here I was in Shetland, trying to learn about these two types of knitting, gansey and colorwork, both rich in history. This was especially in the forefront for me, as I was literally sitting there in the geographic hub of historical and traditional knitting. What I was learning, however, was that there was more to this process than merely duplicating previous patterns or attempting to create an authentic and historically correct garment.
This was about taking the past and letting it be an inspiration and guide for something new. A fresh perspective, a new vision, a new idea, a personalized version in the hands of the knitter.
The concept involved reflecting on the symbols and visual elements that held meaning to one personally, and taking those designs and elements and incorporating them into patterns in one’s knitting. In both of these classes, it wasn't just about studying and learning traditional patterns, copying them and integrating them into one's knitting, perhaps shuffling them around in different order, but rather, for me, it seemed to be starting from the questions,
- What do I love?
- What is important to me?
- What do I want to communicate through my design?
- What images define me or who I am going to knit for?
- What images in my surrounding environment resonate with me?
This is surely not a new concept, as patterns and designs throughout time have had such originations. Yet in my case, however, in love with the traditional and buried with life, I have ended up defaulting for the most part to traditional charts and designs. This is not to say that I haven't wanted to try something new. For years I have fawned over photos in certain books which align scenes and colors into knitting designs, such as Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting, and deep down have wistfully yearned to do so as well.
And so, I was embarking upon a journey to a place I had longed for, but never made the time for. Now was my opportunity. The wrestle between what I wished I could do and what I ended up doing was no longer. I was in the right time and the right place with the right person being told to do something I had for years wanted to do, but only dreamed of. I have to admit, mixed with my excitement, I felt a little pressured, especially since I had arrived so late and I didn't want to "mess up" what I regarded in my mind as a special moment in time.
Like the day before, I was presented with yet another chance to be creative and to reflect upon a graphic interpretation of an aspect of my life and surroundings. Yesterday, In Stella’s gansey class, I had chosen the images of nets and fish. In Felicity’s workshop, I selected the cork line of a fishing net.
Another fisherknitter image, the corkline seemed a natural choice. The cork line: afloat on the waterline and of dire importance to fishermen for keeping the net buoyant and carefully secured in such a way that the net not only hangs correctly, but also comes back with minimal tangles.
As I began to experiment with ideas and chart my pattern on graph paper, I reminisced and reflected on the simple element and image of the cork line and it's meaning in my life. My mind drifted to the days before the shop, and to the fishing times after the birth of our first daughter and first child Rosemary.
This was the summer I didn't go fishing on the boat, and learned how to hang fishing gillnets from Bonnie in the APA net lofts. I was able to find an old wooden crate box that I lined with blankets and cushions, and there, as well as on a cushion on the warehouse floor, Rosemary slept while I worked on nets.
During that time, I remember the nice gesture of a dear wife and mom of father and son fishermen who lived in the bunkhouse who offered to take Rosie for walks now and then in an old stroller frame she had found and had put blankets in to make it more comfy.
She and Rosemary would stroll in this makeshift buggy along the wildflower lined road that went out to what is now Orca Lodge, and though unpaved at the time, it was a peaceful walk along the water's edge and allowed me time while Rose was awake to still keep working on the nets and would often be just what she needed to put her down for a nap.
When Bonnie started me out working on my first net, I was quite green and not famililar with gillnets as we had a seine boat and the nets are completely different.
I remember the instructions she gave me when I first started out. The net had to be hung "just so" she explained, describing its likeness in seamstress terms akin to a giant skirt of sorts. The distance between hangings and where you tied your knots was very critical and had to be so precise that if you were off by even a slight amount, the whole 150 fathom long net would be thrown off and the hang of the "skirt" would be affected, sort of like a knitters gauge and its effect on the final dimensions and fit of a garment.
Fishermen have formulas for their net hanging and these vary from fisherman to fisherman. I had to be very careful lest when the net was reeled in it would roll up or wind on improperly and I would be to blame, as it could cost the fisherman time and money.
Hanging and repairing fishing nets is an art and craft of itself. Even now, most of this work is still all done by hand. At the time I learned on a board that had markings along the surface to determine the spacing, but it is also done on a hanging bench. This NET HANGING VIDEO taken this spring of my daughter and her husband will give you a quick glimpse of both methods. It is a handcraft of rhythm and repetition, not unlike knitting.
The nets catch the fish, but the cork lines allow for buoyancy, aligned vertically by the weighted leadline. I thought about that which is necessary in my own life to provide structure and shape to my goals and dreams, and that which holds me up and provides buoyancy in an ordinary life that sometimes feels adrift or sinking. Without the cork line the net is just a heap of mesh.
Sometimes life gets full and just like a full net, the corks begin to sink from the weight of the load. During these times friends come alongside and keep the net from sinking and spilling the fish, as friends help us stay buoyant when life pulls us under. What would we do without friends.
As I continued to chart out different ideas for my cork line image that day with Felicity, my mind continued to conjure up these pictures of the past and I could almost hear Networker Bonnie's voice gently speaking to me as I filled in the boxes on the knitters graph paper provided for the class. It had been interesting that this trip and this time when I was off and so very far away so rekindled these memories encapsulated in these simple images such as the cork line and the nets.
With this added element of color to contend with, I began to swatch my charted design. To me, one of the most helpful things Felicity shared was about the value of swatching, and that it was important to remember to just keep trying different combinations and to experiment with them until you liked the results, and especially to not be discouraged by unsuccessful attempts. All of the attempts were an important part of the process.
As Felicity said and showed us in her swatches, sometimes designers may only show you a small part of their swatch and only the one that worked in the end, and you don’t see all the attempts made before they got there. For me this meant you have to start somewhere, with an idea and be willing to flounder a little before getting it right, and that thought held with me as I ventured into thinking of this gansey project that was taking form in my mind.
I thank Felicity for the thoughts she shared and for these reminders, as sometimes I can feel discouraged and lose confidence. I jotted down these quick notes around the borders of my charted design as I listened to her talking.
- doesn't have to be perfect from the start
- don't give up... keep trying different things and different ideas
- the WHOLE swatch with its seeming failures and multiple attempts has value
- EVERY ATTEMPT IS IMPORTANT TO THE FINAL DESIGN.
- ALL attempts are part of the process and the only way through it or to get to where we want to go or end up is to swatch and swatch again
As I looked at Felicity holding up her long swatches (she had a wonderful stack of them), which of course to me looked delightful as a long collection of pattern and color and design, I thought that perhaps with some of these attempts we might think we don't like, in the big picture, incorporating some of them may actually make the final design more interesting. Therefore, in these swatches it seems important to keep going and not take out everything we think we don't immediately care for, and how it helps for us to visually see everything right next to each other, good and not so good, just for comparison, so we can clearly see the difference of what works and what doesn't so much.
I loved hearing this and instantly thought of this "messy" life of mine where I have so many attempts that seem inferior in so many aspects of my life, and it is easy to lose perspective and feel discouraged instead of seeing the big picture. Again, it is ALL important, and it ALL has value. As far as this developing gansey project, it means that we will have to get in there and get started and be willing to experiment and try new ideas, and some ideas and attempts may not be as successful as others, but that is ALL part of it.
And so I left with my not so perfect cork line image, sketches, and swatch, and a reinforcement of the concept of the integration of lifestyle and handcraft, fishing and knitting. The corkline image was my connection to all fishermen throughout the centuries; a particular element relevant to our fishing family in our present lifetime as well. It is an image I hope to develop and keep working on, and eventually incorporate into a color and patternwork piece. And more colourwork understanding is where I was headed next, to a fair island rich in mariner and color knitting history.
My question for you is, what images resonate and tell your story, and as I heard once from a weaving instructor, I believe it was Anita Luvera Mayer, "there are over 10,000 mistakes to be made in weaving, so you better get started." Same applies all around to a lot of things... wouldn't you say?
Enough for now...Off we go... more to come...
Thanks to Felicity Ford for an encouraging and inspiring workshop.
Felicity's Book KNITSONIK COLOURWORK & SOURCEBOOK is wonderful, and in stock at the shop, and may be purchased onlne at The Net Loft via THIS LINK.
NetHanging Video courtesy of Drifters Fish Co
Piet Klaasse "Gillnetter" Watercolor used with permission from Artists for Nature. Thank you, Ysbrand Brouwers
The Long Story continues...Chapter #7 link
#6 the corkline
(for previous posts start with Cordova Gansey Project The Long Story Introduction)
After several weeks and a busy reprieve, the long story continues, and now... back to the Shetland Islands, where our story finds us on the last Saturday of Shetland Wool Week in October 2014. Following a wonderful week of classes scattered around the islands, the icing on the cake was that my final class would be a color workshop with Knitsonik Felicity Ford.
I was still reeling from the "Fishing for Ganseys" class on the fishing boat from the day before, where Stella Ruhe, our instructor, had shared her expertise with us on Dutch Ganseys and the Dutch interpretation and modification of the traditional ganseys of the United Kingdom. She had given us the opportunity to convert our own ideas and imagery into patterns and graphic charts. Using knits and purls, we designed, then created swatches to test these ideas and how well they translated into actual knitting. (see blog #5 A & B )
Dressed and ready to face this last class day with plenty of time to spare, I was a little sad leaving the cottage at Vementry that beautiful morning, yet proceeded to pack up my car for the days outing. I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could spend the WHOLE day right HERE just soaking it in; so peaceful with the calm water wrapping around the spaces between the sunlit hillsides dotted with Shetland sheep and ponies. With my full schedule of classes, it seemed like each day it was already dark by the time I got "home", and that I had hardly had the time to explore much around the property.
Be careful what you wish for. I quickly took some photos and jumped in the car to find that my petite lime green rental car had a dead battery. Now what? I asked myself. I knew the kind woman, Marion, in the cottage immediately up the hill who had been my lodging hostess had gone off to work for the day. I realized I had to explore the "neighborhood" for help, and in reality, I knew there was only one other house on the property which was where Marion's family lived, and no other options for at least a mile or two away.
I hiked up the little hill and around to the two story house. I first hesitantly knocked on the door, as it was still fairly early in the day, but no one answered. There was a boat engine idling on the dock down below, so I then wandered down the muddy path to the boat dock and shed, but unfortunately found no one there.
I walked back up the hill and tried knocking on the house door once again, this time a little more forcefully. I heard noises and giggles, and then two sweet little girls with the cutest faces answered the door. They went and fetched their mum. Although I felt bad disturbing her morning, I was grateful for her offer to help. She tried calling her husband, who was off attending the mussel beds. After unsuccesssfully attempting to reach him on his cell phone, she took off on the four wheeler to go find him, leaving me with the children. While she was gone, I had a delightful time visiting with her girls. They were quite friendly and wanted me to have some of their "lollies and biscuits". I loved hearing their sweet voices and accent as they showed me their "catty" (kitty), their trophies, and their big screen tv.
It is funny, for me, as I drove around Shetland, seeing these charming crofts scattered on rolling green hills, in my mind somehow I imagined walking up to the door of one and maybe finding an 18th or 19th century family living inside. This house at Vementry in particular with the stone walled garden full of giant cabbages and vegetables, and Shetland ponies wandering about, and from the way the building itself in all its charm looked on the outside, I half expected in my imagination that the inside would be a step back in time as well. I thought on this as I listened to the girls chatting and sharing their stories with me in their little Shetland voices, looking out through the foot wide window coves as we pet the cat. Eventually their father returned and helped me get my car going and I was off and on my way.
Although I was VERY late to class and embarrassingly so (once again), this unexpected morning walking around the property up and down to the dock and into this home with the delightful children was as a much a part of the wonderfulness of the day as the rest of it that followed. If not for my dead battery, I would not have had that chance for those moments with the young Shetlanders, or an eyeful of the giant, beautiful, bright orange carrots with huge fluffy green tops overflowing from the edge of their kitchen sink, petted and scratched a Shetland catty behind the ears, or had the very much desired hike I was longing to take around the property.
I reflect now on that time where I had no other option but to just sit and visit with those girls as we waited for their mum and dad to return for my auto rescue. Such a good example of the priceless incidental and accidental adventures that we encounter and savor as we look back on our days. The extra bonus was that I was able to speak with the father after he helped me get my car started, as I had hoped somehow to purchase a fleece from the farm there, and when I returned that night I found on my doorstep a most beautiful prize fleece. A treasure indeed from a mishap morning.
Perhaps when we are in a faraway place we are more prone to be open to appreciating these unstaged moments, but it is a good lesson for me to remember about making the most of the opportunities to appreciate what is there to be had in the midst of inopportune times.
All this to say, that when I FINALLY arrived at my class with way too long of a story to explain, I just crept in hoping to not be too disruptive, and squeezed in around the full table of knitting students at the Jamieson & Smith Yarn store where the workshop was taking place.
That is all for now...The Cordova Gansey Project and the Long Story continues when we find out what happens next...
Behind the green door with Felicity Ford.
#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.
#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/