Sunsets and Sweaters on Kihnu Island.

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Estonia 330-002In 2011, I had the good fortune to be part of a textile tour of Estonia led by Nancy Bush. I had traveled a fair swath of Europe and the UK previously–as far south as Crete and as far north as the enigmatic Old Man of Wick at the northern tip of Scotland–but the Baltic region was a totally new adventure. My friend Susan Markle and I also spent several days in Helsinki, Finland, to complete our three-week Finno-Ugrian expedition. We arrived in early June, so the weather was beautiful. It was sunny and warm nearly every day. The lilacs were blooming in every direction, and I learned that in Estonia, “white nights” near the summer solstice means that the golden sunset lingers through until morning.

Each day was packed with unforgettable food, new friends, and vivid textiles. The most memorable part of the trip for me was our time on Kihnu, a small island that lies not far off the southeast coast of Estonia in the Bay of Riga. We stayed at the Tolli Turismitalu, where I slept in a traditional log barn with a thatched roof. It was perfect. I didn’t sleep much while I was there, as I watched the sun not quite set over the bay only a few hundred feet away.

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When we were not biking, we travelled by truck. Perfect for all the beautiful sunny weather.

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My wonderful friend Susan Markle knitting in Kihnu Roosi’s front garden.

DSCN2310-001Kihnu has a unique men’s sweater tradition. The Kihnu Troi, as the sweater is called, is knit using the color-stranding technique in white on a dark background. Indigo-dyed blue was typically used in the past. Black, brown, and occasionally green are used, with black being the most common color of the modern Troi sweaters that I have seen in shops and displays in Estonia. Many sweaters also incorporate red bands into the hem, cuffs, and neck edge, which is believed to help protect the wearer from danger. When the sweaters were newly knit, they were worn to weddings and special events. As the sweater aged, it was used as a work garment and is often associated with the island’s fishermen.

While in Estonia, I eagerly searched out every Troi I could find. With Nancy’s help, I was able to get a close look at three older examples in museum collections. I love looking inside old sweaters. One of my favourite Troi sweaters had armholes cut into the body and sleeves sewn in place with fine handspun linen instead of wool. From the ferry returning me to Helsinki, I watched Estonia fade into the distance. I pulled out my needles and began swatching and sketching a Troi sweater, incorporating all that I had learned in the past weeks–and here it is!!

My husband, Olaf, looking very northern European in my handknit Troi. I used Elemental Affects fingering weight yarn.

My husband, Olaf, looking very northern European in my handknit Troi. I used Elemental Affects fingering weight yarn on a US #2 needle.

Inspired by Bohus Stickning

 

Exciting news! Judith MacKenzie and I will be offering a workshop at The Tradingpost in Pendleton, Indiana on April 26-28th, 2013. I am really looking forward to it! If you have any questions about the workshop, email me at katelarsontextiles@gmail.com. To register for the workshop, see Susan Markle’s contact info at the end of this post.

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Inspired by Bohus Stickning

Spinning and knitting a treasured textile.
With Judith MacKenzie and Kate Larson.

The fine, hand knit garments produced by the Swedish Bohus Stickning workshop are truly unforgettable. The workshop’s fleet of rural knitters produced couture pieces for shops in Paris with a distinctive texture created by combining fine wool and wool angora blends in an abundance of shades with well placed purl stitches and subtle color shifts. Join Judith MacKenzie and Kate Larson as they explore the history, techniques, and possibilities of the Bohus Stickning style. Working with a variety of fibers, you will not only learn how to spin for the gauge and texture of Bohus yarns, but finishing techniques to bring out the vitality and character of the fiber. The stranded knitting style used for Bohus Stickning differs from other traditions in many ways. We will talk about knitting with more than two colors per row, managing floats, reading charts, and more. With this workshop’s tips and techniques in hand, you can go on to spin and knit your own Bohus-inspired piece.  If you can spin a continuous yarn and both knit and purl, join us for a fun weekend exploring color and fiber!

Skill Level: All levels welcome. If you can spin a continuous yarn and both knit and purl, join us for a fun weekend exploring color and fiber!

Supplies: Spinning: Wheel in working order and its parts; extra bobbins; lazy kate; handcards; niddy noddy. Knitting: sets of 5 DPNs in US#0, 1, and 2; stitch markers; scissors; other needle notions you typically use. Optional: DPNs in US#00 or 000. Some needles will be available to purchase.

Workshop will be held April 26-28 in Pendleton, Indiana. Conact Susan at 765-778-3331 or e-mail tradingpostfiber@aol.com to register or if you have questions.

 

Common Dress

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Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion 1840-1900. Joan Severa. Kent State University Press 1995.

I have a fairly short list of things without which my life would be greatly diminished–such as sheep, tea, travel, textiles, and books (not necessarily in that order.) The very best is when more than one not-to-be-without item can be found in one place. Tea drinking sheep, perhaps not. Historical textile books with a unique perspective on material culture, yes! I found Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion 1840-1900 at my wonderful local library branch, Kennedy Library in Muncie, IN.

In looking at old photographs, I always have a great awareness of how much information is held within the photo–and how much of that information is inaccessable to me. A full understanding of the broad historical context of the sitter, in addition to the minutia of daily life and dress, is needed to truly unlock the secrets of an old daguerreotype. There are certainly aspects that are always left unknown. Did the sitter borrow clothing or wear her own? Did the photographer rearrange her shawl or does she typically wear it as photographed? But how a sleeve is cut or a bonnet trimmed can tell us so much about the social context and personality of the sitter. One of my favourite photos from the book is by photographer Charles Van Schaick (pg. 513.) The image is of a Norwegian couple in La Crosse, Wisconsin, walking along a storefront surrounded by town life. The woman strides out ahead of her husband with a sure step and gives the camera a level gaze. On her manner of dress, Severa shares “The entire costume has an ‘Old Country’ flavor not in its cut and fashion but in how it is worn. For one thing, she wears the mannish hat in an uncompromising manner, without any trimming whatsoever, which, in the New World, certainly marks its wearer as ‘different.’” I would love to have met this uncompromising, un-corseted woman.

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Book is broken in to sections covering each decade from 1840-1900.

This book is like having costume expert Joan Severa sitting with you, looking over photos and filling in the gaps. I have learned so much and have not gotten through half of this tome of nearly 600 pages. So, if you have requested this book at the Muncie Public Library, you will just have to wait a while longer–I’m not done yet!

A Snowy SOAR in Lake Tahoe.

Snow RSOne of my favourite things about traveling is revisiting places made familiar years earlier. I just returned from SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) 2012, held at the Granlibakken Resort at Lake Tahoe, California. SOAR changes location each year and was last held at the Granlibakken in 2006, when I attended as a scholarship recipient. SOAR is a fast-paced, fiber-filled week of workshops. Experiencing SOAR for the first time that year, I was immediately swept into the current of the event. New people, fascinating conversations, fiber everywhere—and my first brushes with those individuals that would become, and forever be, my mentors.

Six textile-obsessed years later, the stars aligned and I was invited to participate in the 2012 event as a mentor. Amazed and thrilled, I was! Now that it has come and gone, I am left feeling as I usually do after SOAR—creatively energized and brimming with new and renewed friendships. I’m still digesting the experience, but here are some highlights:

Snow. When I arrived it was seventy degrees. By the next day, this is what was outside my window. It snowed for days and then the sun came out—spectacular!

Snow at the Granlibakken Resort, Tahoe City, California.

Amy Clarke Moore, the lovely editor of Spin-Off and Jane Austen Knits, took some pictures of my three-day workshop. My classroom was amazing: huge windows on three sides looking out into the snowy trees. We spent the afternoons knitting round the fireplace—really. I had so many wonderful people in my classes all week. I hope they had as much fun as I did!

Amy Clarke Moore took some great pictures of workshops in progress. View more on Facebook.

Cover RSUnexpected bonus: my colorwork bag was on the cover of the SOAR event booklet. Yay!

One of the high points of the experience was getting to know some of the other mentors a bit better. They are such an amazing group of interesting folks. Now back at home, I know that I will continue to carry the creative inertia of the SOAR community through my year.

Two of my fellow first time SOAR mentors: Diane Gonthier and Amy Tyler (left to right). Photos by Amy Clarke Moore.

Rebuilding Judith’s Studio

Judith collecting lichens for the dyepot. Orcas Island, Feb 2012.

The effort to help Judith MacKenzie rebuild her studio following the fire in Forks, WA, is well underway. I delayed posting this until I had plenty of info. I have met two of the three wonderful people who have created this website and they (all three) are an important part of Judith’s network in the northwest. As many of you know, Judith is not one to ask for help, but she does know about this relief effort and the organizers are working with her to determine her needs. It was a horrible fire—I am so thankful we are talking about replacing looms and no lives were lost.

Judith has been a tremendous force in my life and I am happy to have a way to help in the rebuilding of her textile studio. 

Visit Rebuild Judith’s Studio to make a donation, add an item to the online auction, or leave a note for Judith.

Naked sheep.

Three bags full. This clip will yield about 200 lbs of wool.

Shearing day. The flock started this week as fluffy, wool-laden beasts and are now sleek, shockingly white, and shiny. The sheep actually quite like shearing day. Our wonderful shearer, Matt Kennedy, sits them on their rumps and quickly shears them. Matt then lets them roll off the shearing mat, leaving a huge pile of wool behind. My sheep usually walk themselves back to the holding pen to join the rest of the flock. What happens next is of great delight to any shepherd: they ruminate. Sheep who feel safe and contented ruminate (a more delicate term for chewing their cud). It is a blissful and meditative state. So, they spend the rest of the afternoon with sleepy, half-seeing eyes, chewing their cud and satisfying itches formerly inaccessible through their full fleece. And they sigh. A lot.

What to do with all that extra wool?

Anyone who buys fleeces or raises sheep ends up with a pile of wool that isn’t good enough to use. Fleeces are skirted after they are shorn to remove unsavoury bits and pieces. How much is removed depends on how dirty the fleece is and the expectations of the person doing the skirting. Typically though, this means removing the neck, belly, and britch (back leg) wool. This leaves the best parts of the fleece ready for washing.

 

What to do with all of this unwanted wool? I compost most of my skirted wool, but my favourite way to use it is in the making of kitten nests.

Our farm has twelve barns, so barn cats are a necessity. Outdoor cats without enough to do can disrupt native ecosystems, but our cats usually stay busy patrolling grain-stores and hay-mows. So, I often put piles of skirted wool in the places used as nurseries by the mother cats. Right now, there is a little cat family living in The Office. My great-grandfather, Urbane Carter, used this space to settle sales during livestock auctions held on the farm during the 1950′s. The cats find it is a grand place to hide kittens.

Norway via Iowa

Water Street, Decorah, IA.

Decorah, Iowa, has been on my Must See list for quite some time. Located in the hilly northeast corner of Iowa, Decorah is home to the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum. This extraordinary museum has over 24,000 artifacts in its collections, making it “the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group.” (Vesterheim)

For me, there is something so special about the moment I first step into a museum collections facility. The storage areas typically have a deep silence, are a bit dark, and are brimming with stories I have yet to learn. Laurann Gilbertson, Chief Curator at Vesterheim, gave me a wonderful introduction to the knitted pieces in the textile collection and allowed me to spend time looking over the artifacts at my own pace. I’ll share two of my favourites:

1978.027.001. Fana Sweater: Purchased in Norway in 1951. Image used by permission: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

1978,027.001. Inside of the Fana Sweater. Image used by permission: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

Often, the most important information we can gather from a knitted artifact is on the inside, or what a knitter would call the wrong side. This Fana Sweater (a style of sweater that is identified with Fana, Norway) has sleeves that are knit from the shoulder down. The longer stranded floats of yarn from the two-color knitted pattern are woven in, and the buttonholes have been carefully sewn by hand.

1980.003.027: Indigo gloves with embroidery. Image used by permission: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

This glove and glove fragment were very densely knit in wool and then fulled, before being embroidered. The pattern is a beautiful rosemal design. While at the museum, I was also able to see some of the trunks that the immigrants brought from Norway, many of which are also painted in a rosemal design. The Vesterheim has some of the trunks featured in its online collection database. If only there were a few more hours in a day so I could learn more about embroidery, too! Alas.

The main museum also has a nice textile display and spinning wheels in nearly every room. The Fladager Library at the museum has an amazing collection of out of print knitting and weaving books in both English and Norwegian. Definately worth a trip!

Want to learn more?

In Their Own Words: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants. Edited and Translated by Solveig Zempel

Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities. Edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum.

Sheep + Heat = Unhappiness.

Gerald is not happy.

As Indiana makes its way through another week of excessive heat warnings, my sheep are beginning to wilt. We didn’t have a drop of rain at the farm for most of May and June and the pastures have been dry and unproductive.

The sheep were not happy with the situation, but tried their best to remain positive by learning new tricks—unlatching gates, knocking all five hanging grain feeders off the fence twice a day, etc. Clever Jane (see final picture) was involved in all this tomfoolery, no doubt.

Mutiny being hatched around the watercooler.

Now that we have had some rain, heat in the upper nineties has promised a very humid week. This morning, I moved the sheep to a new pasture with a large, shady tree near the woods. As the sun sets in the afternoon, deep shade from the woods moves towards the pasture to offer our wooly friends some respite.

A lovely old Ash to investigate.

But, they are still not pleased, as you can see.

Sue is simply sad.

Jane peering suspiciously out of the corner of her eye.

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