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  • reading, thinking: seawomen of iceland

    The Sun Voyager, photographed in 2012 in Reykjavík

    Jess's Swatch of the Month post over on the Fringe blog today got me thinking about a book I read a few months ago. Her swatch this month is in Icelandic wool, the Lopi we all know and love, and her post includes a really fantastic short history of Iceland. Several lines caught my attention, among them the following:

    "I’m telling you this not because it’s related to knitting, but because it’s central to understanding who Icelanders are."

    I'm someone who's been interested in Iceland for awhile. I fell in love with Iceland through music first, listening to a lot of Sigur Rós and Múm when I was in high school (Múm's Finally We Are No One is still my desert island record after a decade and a half of listening to it). Later in college, when I started knitting more than just scarves, I began to get interested in Iceland's knitting as well (the 2007 Sigur Rós film Heima helped - it documents a series of free outdoor concerts they gave in Iceland and it feels like every third person in the film is wearing a lopapeysa). I'm lucky to have been to Iceland several times now and I've done a lot of reading about Iceland's history, its language (which I've studied), and its literary tradition. I completely agree with Jess that this kind of knowledge lends a much deeper understanding of why the Icelandic sheep are the way they are, why the wool is so practical and useful and holds a place of such importance, and how much more beautiful its place in society is because of all of that.

    Following that line of thought: I recently read a book that increased my depth of knowledge about Iceland in a very different way. This is not a book about knitting. But this book taught me so much more about Iceland's history and Iceland's spirit than I knew before I read it. 

    Jess's post features a quote from Árni Árnason on the lopapeysa: "It resembles the country’s rugged nature and reminds us of the history of farming and fishing when it provided its wearer with a vital shield from the disastrous weather one can encounter in the wild." Farming and fishing. Sheep, of course, are a vital part of Iceland's farming history, but I'd never spent much time thinking about Iceland's fishing industry beyond harðfiskur or fish leather, particularly given the challenges presented by the harsh climate. So I was very intrigued when I came across Seawomen of Iceland by Margaret Willson, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Washington who once worked on fishing boats herself (hat tip to Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum, which is how I found out about the book).

    I appreciate this book so much for the glimpse it provides into the history of women in Iceland's fishing industry (which it seems is often overlooked even by Icelanders themselves), but also for its recognition of how dramatically Iceland's industry and cultural landscape has changed in the previous decades. The mass migration of people from the rural countryside to the city is staggering to think about when considering the ripple effect on the towns that get left behind. So while it's not a book about knitting, those of you interested in Iceland might find something to interest you here. It's available on Amazon or directly from the UW Press.

    Even if the book isn't for you, I do hope you'll enjoy this poem by seawoman Björg Einarsdóttir which is featured in the book, translated with great care by Margaret and her friend Ágústa:

    Thanks to Jess for such a wonderful post today over on Fringe and thank you to Margaret for such an incredible work of research.

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  • inspiration: this thing of paper

    "Who is ignorant of the difference between writing [scriptura] and printing [impressura]? A manuscript, written on parchment, can last a thousand years. How long will print, this thing of paper [res papirea] last?"
    — Johannes Trithemius, In Praise of Scribes (De Laude Scriptorum)

    When I was in high school, my mom worked in the office for the Women's and Gender Studies program at one of the local universities. The office was sent copies of Bust Magazine and mom always brought them home for me to read. If memory serves me correctly, it was in one of those copies of Bust that I first stumbled into a tutorial for how to make your own journal using some pretty basic bookbinding techniques. I was hooked after that first tutorial - all my high school journals from that point on were little simple books I'd bound myself (you can see a few of them in the photo above). I went on to make a set of journals in 2006/2007 for my friend, musician John Vanderslice. The books had canvas covers and I painted album artwork from his catalog on them - it was a pretty immense project that to this day I am proud of. And while I've always remained a dabbler, my interest in making books has held (the most recent one I made was a birthday gift for my husband for his birthday before last). 

    I think it's easy for fiber artists to be interested in books. The physicality of crafts like knitting or crocheting or spinning is central to them. We learn our way around the physical properties of wool and other fibers, the crunch or heft or twist. We learn to follow the feel of the knitting in our hands instead of relying on our eyes alone to see if we've dropped a stitch or made a mistake. And we really love beautiful pattern books. 

    So perhaps it's not surprising that we've gone a bit mad over Karie Westermann's upcoming project, This Thing of PaperYou've likely heard about it already, but in case you haven't: the project is inspired by Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press, and the fascinating era of transition in bookmaking that transpired. This collection is going to be a physical book - a beautiful physical book - with 10 patterns for garments and accessories as well as accompanying essays. Karie's funding the project via a Kickstarter, and thanks to the intense enthusiasm for this project she was 100% funded in just 25 hours (!!), and at this point she's raised an incredible sum of £21,641, absolutely blowing her original goal of £9,700 out of the water. If you haven't yet pledged your support but you'd like to, you can still do so on the Kickstarter page until Wednesday at 10:45AM central European time - just about 42 hours to go at the time this post goes live. I am so happy to help spread the word about this project, because the finished product is going to be something that I'll be very excited to hold in my hands - and obviously, as just one of Karie's many backers, I'm not alone in that feeling.

    Not shockingly, I'm most looking forward to the colorwork patterns, but this collection will feature more than just colorwork and I can't wait to see how Karie's own aesthetic as a designer interacts with her inspiration and source material. I'm also really looking forward to the essays - how can I not love a book that excites the academic in me just as much as the knitter? If you find yourself curious as well, you can back the project, check out Karie's mood board on Pinterest to get a peek at her visual inspiration, or peruse the stops on the blog tour for This Thing of Paper, of which this is the final stop. Highlights from the tour for me included JacquelineM's tutorial for binding a booklet to keep notes for projects from This Thing of Paper (not unlike that first journal tutorial I encountered in high school) and Felix's interview with Karie that went live last Friday, but the whole tour is absolutely worth checking out - the links below will take you directly to the blog posts:

    May 26: Naomi Parkhurst

    May 27: Meg Roper

    May 30: Natalie Servant

    June 1: Jacqui Harding

    June 6: Woolly Wormhead

    June 8: Tom of Holland / Tom van Deijnen

    June 10: Ella Austin

    June 13: Leona Jayne Kelly of Fluph

    June 15: JacquelineM

    June 16: Felix Ford/KNITSONIK

    June 17: Clare Devine

    When you've finished with that, be sure to check out Karie's own wrap-up post, which also has some great practical info regarding when the book will be available and how it can be purchased for wholesale, etc. Congratulations, Karie! We can't wait to see what you've come up with.

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  • 42 norske kofter

    Today I'm thinking about kofter. This ubiquitous Norwegian word can feel difficult to properly translate, as it can describe several different pieces of clothing. Today I'm writing about it in the sense of "knitted cardigans" - you may have heard the word in connection with the famous lusekofte, or "lice jacket," from Setesdal. Kofte is the singular form, while kofter is the plural.

    Kofter are beloved here in Norway, and one glance at the knitting shelf of any bookstore will show it: titles like Kofteboken, Kofteboken 2, and Koftefest peer out at you. Last November another hit the shelves, called 42 norske kofter: fra Lindesnes til NordkappI saw it everywhere I went, and I finally picked up a copy for myself.

    This book was a project from Sandnes Garn, reworking many of their classic kofte patterns published in the mid-20th century by modernizing the fit, changing the sample yarn, or playing with the colors (while I don't have any of these old patterns in their original form, I do have a handful that were published by Husfliden and they're great fun). It also reflects the fact that patterns were often affiliated with specific regions in Norway, hence the subtitle "from Lindesnes to Nordkapp" (Lindesnes is at the southern tip of Norway while Nordkapp is the northermost point on the mainland). I've had some time to sit down with it this week and overall, I think it's pretty fantastic.

    Aside from the patterns, there's a lovely bit of introductory text at the beginning about kofter and their place in Norwegian history and society (seen in the photo above, with the heading "Kofter, yarn, and production"). It celebrates the resurgence of popularity these cardigans have experienced, and provides a nice quick historical overview as well as some information about the yarn production (specifically the production of Sandnes Garn, as they published the book). I love it when this type of information is included in pattern books, as it gets knitters thinking more about the production and sourcing of the materials they purchase at the yarn store, which can only be a good thing. Within the introduction, this quote stuck out (translation is mine):

    "Even though kofter are a Norwegian national treasure, the history of the kofte is actually quite international."

    I appreciate the acknowledgment that what's considered traditional to a place can often have far-flung roots. The authors write about the fact that the generally accepted origin for the word kofte is the Persian word kaftan, and they also note that the motifs and patterns used in these knitted cardigans sometimes came from or were inspired by people and traditions from abroad. 

    The patterns themselves are great, too. The forty-two patterns are effectively for 27 different cardigans, some of which are written up for both men and women, others of which are written up with two different constructions (one option for a drop shoulder cardigan and another for one with a round yoke). You get a glimpse of the original pattern photos and styling, which I think is fantastic too. 

    Eventually I'd like to knit at least one of the cardigans in this book, though I have a lot of knitting on my plate to finish before I can do that. Fortunately that means I have plenty of time to ruminate on my favorites and decide which would make the best addition to my wardrobe. (You can see photos of all the different cardigans on the Sandnes Garn page for the book.)

    The technical aspects are also fun to look at. Since this is a book full of cardigans worked up in stranded colorwork, you may have guessed that steeks are involved, and you'd be right. In the Norwegian tradition, though, two lines of reinforcing stitches are sewn by machine before cutting. In the case of a cardigan, it makes quite a lot of sense - machine stitches are excellent reinforcement for a button band that's going to see a lot of handling, and it's less bulky than a crocheted reinforcement. 

    Other technical information points to the self-reliance of Norwegian knitters. Having seen several patterns from the mid-20th century, I can say it's no wonder that the Norwegian word for a knitting pattern (as in "set of instructions to knit something") is oppskrift, the word for "recipe." The patterns in this book definitely contain more information than their original forms must have done, but still, only stitch gauge is given, not row gauge, and yarn quantities are listed in grams, not yardage or meterage (leaving the knitter to do some quick arithmetic if they plan to substitute yarns at all). I haven't actually worked from Norwegian patterns yet, so I find it interesting to compare these details with what I'm used to from the US.

    All in all I'm very excited about this addition to my knitting library!

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  • farm to needle: stories of wool

    If you’re familiar with Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington, you can probably imagine how I felt when I received an email from Anna Dianich earlier this year … there was a book project she was putting together, and would I like to be involved? It was a no brainer, of course - YES, I said, even though I knew I had an international move on the horizon and a pretty packed to-do list. Some things are easy to make time for.

    Anna described her idea for the book - a focus on yarns with that could be traced to the source, made from American grown wool, spun and dyed at American mills, often coming from single flocks. I’ve come to know some of these yarns through visits to Tolt and I’m so excited for the stories of who makes them to be shared in book form. I think many knitters have become increasingly interested in yarns from smaller producers over the last several years as they begin to ask where their fiber is actually coming from, a trend that parallels the farm-to-table trend in the food industry. When Tolt began producing their own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn (whose wool comes from a single flock of BFL/Clun Forest sheep), it was fitting that the labels said “farm to needle.” To me, this book project feels like such a natural extension of what Tolt does as a yarn store and as the core of a community. And appropriately the book itself, which will be released around Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7, is titled Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool.

    Here’s a short blurb from farmtoneedlebook.com:

    "When we pick up our needles, cast on the first stitch, we become part of something much bigger than the project at hand. Farmers, shearers, spinners and dyers are working hard not only to produce the yarn we love, but to preserve a way of life that is at real risk of being lost. Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool invites you to join us on a journey; to peek behind the scenes of some of our favorite producers and gain a deeper understanding of the people, places, and animals at work. Discover Aspen Hollow Farm, Green Mountain Spinnery, Imperial Stock Ranch, Thirteen Mile Farm, YOTH, Saco River Dye House, and Twirl through patterns by Dianna Walla, Tif Fussell, Veronika Jobe, Ashley Yousling & Annie Rowden, Karen Templer, and Andrea Rangel. Photography by Kathleen Cadigan."

    I can’t tell you how thrilled and honored I am to be part of such a stellar lineup. We’re all looking forward to sharing more of the book with you in the near future - I’m quite proud of my pattern and I can’t wait for you to see it (it is, unsurprisingly, Norwegian-inspired, but that's all I'll tell you for now!). Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool is available to pre-order now at farmtoneedlebook.com and I hope some of you will be able to attend Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7!

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  • vintage knits

    I enjoyed Karen's post that went up today over at Fringe about the vintage sweater booklets sent to her by a friend. I had to smile to myself, because yesterday I'd pulled out what is probably my oldest piece of knitting paraphernalia - and I was largely inspired to do that because of the waistcoat Karen's currently knitting from a vintage pattern.

    The booklet I pulled out to look at again was published Bear Brand & Bucilla in 1922 - it belonged to my great grandmother, who taught my mother to knit, and was passed down to me by my mother, who thought I'd enjoy it (and she was right). Like the Jack Frost booklets Karen wrote about, the booklet's near falling apart (in fact, the cover is completely detached) and there's ancient yellowed tape holding together pages that were torn long ago.

    I don't know much about Bear Brand or Bucilla yarns, but apparently they were both under the umbrella of the Bernhard Ulmann Co. As you can see, my booklet is volume 41. I love that this was early enough they were spelling it "yarnkraft" (cursory Google searches seem to indicate that this later became "yarncraft," as we would now expect).

    I also love how very twenties this whole booklet is. There's a heavy focus on sportswear, with scenes of golf, skiing, and bathing at the beach worked in, but I think a lot of the pieces included are absolutely wearable today. Designs for women, men, and children are included (and there's even a dog sweater), in both knit and crochet. Here's a sampling:

    (click this one to make it larger)

    How contemporary is that beautiful striped pullover? I adore it.

    Knitters of the twenties would appreciate my current obsession with garter stitch, I think.

    But perhaps my favorite piece in the whole booklet is:

    "A practical sweater which successfully meets the demand for both sport and general wear," with optional shawl collar version. Practical indeed.

    I've never actually knit from a vintage pattern but I'd love to someday, regardless of the challenges they present for the modern knitter (how to substitute yarns, how to make sense of terminology and abbreviations that may have changed over the decades, how to achieve the right size, etc.). I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Karen's finished waistcoat, and I'd love to see any projects you all might have knit or crocheted using vintage patterns.

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