Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knitting History

     Over the past few weeks a couple of the podcasts I listen to have featured stories about how the pod-caster's started knitting.  Honestly, most of them are fairly new to knitting, and really new to spinning.  On the other hand, I have been knitting for many, many years, probably at least 55 years, maybe longer.  I don't quite remember ever not knitting.  I came from a family of knitters.  My mother was an exquisite knitter, knitting beautiful, all-over cabled sweaters, lovely socks and really nice earflap hats.  Obviously she knit during the decades that knitting was not particularly fashionable, the 40s and 50s.  There were yarn shops around, and a few magazines and books, but several of her patterns were hand written, and others, I believe improvised.
      I am not sure where my mother  learned to knit.  I don't believe that her mother knit, but possibly another relative taught her as both her grandmother and great grandmother lived in her house when she grew up. Every summer my grandmother and my mother and her siblings traveled back to Brantford, Ontario to visit my Grandfather's family.  It is also possible that she learned to knit during the years she lived in remote parts of Canada with her first husband, or when she lived in Gotenburg, Sweden during the Second World War.  I am pretty sure that knitting was a bit more prevalent in both Canada and Sweden than in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spent her first 13 years, and as the wife of a Royal Canadian Air Force Officer she may have belonged to a knitting group in some of the places that she lived.
     But, my mother did not teach me to knit.  She was an absolute perfectionist, and would have never tolerated the inadequacies of a small child learning to knit.  My Aunt Irene, one of my father's sisters, taught me to knit when I was about 5.  I clearly remember sitting on the couch in our living room , with Irene beside me, and knitting first a garter stitch strip, then a little hat, and eventually small sweaters for dolls.  They were all knit in the same grey yarn, which as I recall was a Shetland type wool, probably sport or fingering weight.  I remember knitting mittens with Fair Isle-ish snowflakes, but I think Aunt I knit the thumbs for me.  I continued to knit, and believe me, knitting was totally NOT cool in the 60s, but I think it may have become a bit cool in the Hippie days, when I was in college during the late 60s and early 70's.  As a cross-country skier in college I had plenty of opportunity to knit and wear Scandinavian type hats and gloves for myself and for friends.
    When my children were born I started knitting pretty obsessively, in fact I have two big plastic bins of small knitted items that I made for them, and I can think of a number of items that I made as gifts or items that I knit for my own kids and gave away.  In the early 70s I started quilting as well, but quilting is not as portable as knitting, so I usually had a hat or mittens for travel somewhere handy.
     I got my first drop spindle in 1974 as a gift from an old boyfriend.  We had a small yarn shop in Canton NY that had some spinning items, and had really lovely yarn as well.  I never learned to spin very well, though I would get the spindle out every so often and give it a try.  When we moved to Vermont in 2002, I met a few spinners, signed up for a class at Fletcher Farm Craft School in Ludlow, VT and bought my first and second wheels, possibly the same week.  Wheel One is a tiny upright "cottage" wheel, probably locally made, that I got in a little, kinda junky Antique mall.  It was certainly not a good beginner wheel, though I enjoy spinning on it now.  Later the same week I saw an ad in the paper for a spinning wheel in a yard sale not too far away.  I went up to check it out, but it was a very large, ornate Kromsky Saxony wheel.  Not something I could sneak in the house easily. It was obvious by the amount of yarn and looms, etc in the yard sale that the woman was an obsessive knitter and spinner, so I asked if he had, perhaps, a smaller wheel for sale.  She took me downstairs into her cellar bathroom, which held three very large, very furry, and very energetic Australian Shepherds, and one Majacraft Rose Spinning wheel.  She quoted a price that I though was exorbitant until I went home to look up Majacraft wheels on the internet.  I called her right back and drove back up to her house and bought the wheel.  The Rose is still my workhorse wheel, the wheel that I use every single day.  Of course I now have more wheels, and enough drop spindles of every sort to sink a ship, but honestly, I am not a drug addict or and alcoholic, so what harm is there in having too many wheels?

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Tour de Fleece spinning
    This year I decided to join the Tour de  Fleece on Ravelry.  Generally speaking, I am not much of a joiner.  I like to do my own thing at my own pace and I don't particularly like rules.  TdF is pretty straight forward.  During the Tour de France, this year from July 2 until July 24 one makes a spinning goal and tries to attain that goal.  There can be rules, lots of them,  and there are also prizes for  following those rules and reporting to Ravelry about one's progress; but I decided to just set a goal and try to reach it.  There are also teams, lots and lots of teams.  Although I seriously considered the HelloYarn/ Spunk Eclectic/Southern Cross Fibers Team, because I belong to both the HY and Spunky fiber clubs,  instead I joined Team Trindle.  I have a couple of Trindles, a rather innovative top whorl spindle, and I really enjoy spinning on them.  Also I planned to be on vacation in Rhode Island during a good portion of the TdF, so wheel spinning was out of the question.
Trindle spinning, merino silk

Jenkins Kuchulu spinning, cormo...for a sweater!

Navajo Churro

Spunky Eclectic Periwinkle , organic Merino

Hatchtown low whorl, not sure what fiber

   My goal was pretty straight forward.  I wanted to finish a couple of projects that were currently on spindles; to finish the current wheel project, a Spunky Club project, and to learn to  spin silk caps and hankies, using my trindles.  Did i meet those goals?  Well, in a word, no.  But I did spin A LOT, and I did spindle spin, A LOT. Did I learn to spin silk caps and hankies?  Not a bit.  Much of the time I concentrated on knitting the wedding shawl, particularly the technical difficulties that I had with the bride's shawl.  But I enjoyed my TdF spinning, and I accomplished quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Canadian Production Wheel

  Last week a Canadian Production Wheel came to live at my house.  She is a beauty and she spins like the wind.  I have been fascinated by these lovely wheels for over a year; they are relatively available, reasonably priced and spin well.  Finding a wheel is not  a problem, I see them at The Merlin Tree booth at fiber festivals, on Craig's List and on Ebay.  This particular wheel came from the long time owner of the wheel who happens to own a small Antique shop in a nearby town.  The wheel was not actually for sale, it was just in the shop so that the owner could spin while the shop was quiet.  And she had spun on it for may many years, I am guessing since the 30's.  Over a year ago I was in the shop, which is rarely open, and I asked about the wheel, she let me spin on it, and honestly I was not impressed.  I asked if she would sell it anyway, though I was not seriously interested, and the price was, honestly, unbelievably low.
Tilt tension

Wheel hub

Mother of All

  Over a year went by, every time I went through the small town the shop was closed, and I thought perhaps that the woman had passed away.  Then, early last week the shop was open so I went in.  The wheel was still there, still not really for sale, and was a lot dustier; in fact, part of a plaster wall had collapsed in it, so we had to dig it out.   I asked if it was for sale ( and I knew it would probably be the only sale that week, if not that month) and the owner quoted the same low price.  I bought her, brought her home, bathed her in Murphy's Oil Soap and made a new drive band.   Then I sat down to spin and I am in heaven.  She's fast and smooth and spins fine, smooth yarn in a flash.  I posted her picture on Ravelry and within minutes found out that she was built by Fred Bodura in St Hyacinthe, Quebec, probably in the early 20th century.  She is an unmarked wheel and a tuplet ( past a quintuplet and sextuplet...) there are many just like her attributed to  the same family of wheel makers.  Since many CPWs have names, hers is Annette.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The finish line

Three of the bridesmaid's shawls
     THE WEDDING is fast approaching, and lest anyone doubt my ability to knit 5 shawls in about 5 months, including the spinning of the yarn for one of them; as well as the total destruction and reconstruction of one, I am on the home stretch.  They are gonna happen.  The wedding is gonna happen ( I hope) and the bride as well as 4 bridesmaids will be wearing hand knit shawls.  I will not bore you with the harrowing events leading up to the completion of the shawls; the two emergency, last minute trips to Webs, the washing and rewashing the silk/cashmere shawl to get out that silk cocoon smell, the total change of patterns, twice, and the current conundrum of two of the bridesmaids shawls being considerably larger than the other two ( never fear, they will be ripped back to the 10th pattern repeat and the lace edging reapplied.)  Traumatic, yes, appreciated, I damn well hope so.  Will I ever knit another shawl?  Actually, I took a break from wedding shawl knitting while I was on vacation and knit a small shawl for myself as well as a baby sweater for one of the bridesmaids.  Will I do this again?  Yep, and I will most likely have that opportunity sometime  in the next few years.  Pictures, you betcha'
Blocking bridesmaid shawl # 3

Blocking the edge

Beads instead of nupps on the lily-of-the-valley pattern
After blocking