It’s been a busy spring so far—full of workshops, writing, and woolly beasts. Here are a few highlights:
I had such a wonderful time teaching with Nancy Bush in March. It was a full weekend of spinning, knitting, and embroidering Estonian-inspired handcoverings. Nancy brought a breath-taking pile of embroidered textiles which she has collected during her many travels in Estonia.
I have a new pattern coming out soon. Secret for now, but here is the gorgeous fiber that inspired the project—combed polwarth/silk top from Copper Corgi Fiber Studio. This was a happy spin. More on this soon!
And this is where I can be found right now—in the lambing barn! Most of my sheep have their lambs without assistance, but when they need help, I’m at the ready. So, I try to check on them about every four hours during lambing. Nearly all of the lambs have arrived now, and I’ll post pictures and a video soon. After I get a good night’s sleep, that is!
When I visited Estonia several years ago, I fell head over heels in love with the embroidered textiles I saw in museums and private collections. Estonian embroidery can be found on woven fabrics like linen shirt collars and cuffs, fulled woolen coverlets, and aprons. Other examples adorn knitted pieces, such as mittens, gloves, and the button bands on fitted jackets. It’s fascinating to look carefully at these pieces and see how different types of yarns were used to knit or weave the base and stitch the embroidery. Often the embroidery alone will incorporate several different yarns. Creativity and thrifty use of materials combined to express cultural identity in endlessly captivating ways.
I’m thrilled to announce that author Nancy Bush and I will be offering a workshop in March:
Estonian Island Weekend
The Trading Post for Fiberarts in Pendleton, Indiana March 27, 28, 29, 2015. Join Kate Larson and Nancy Bush for a weekend visit to the world of Estonian spinning and knitting. Our days will be focused on creating Gloves, Mittens or Mitts (your choice) which include interesting Estonian cuffs and can be embellished with traditional embroidery motifs from southern Estonia and one of the most traditional islands, Kihnu. Learn how to spin a wool yarn close to what the Estonians use for their base yarn, and then how to spin several wool embroidery yarns for the embellishments. We will use a variety of different wool fibers from Estonia and closer to home. The course will also cover several Estonian cast ons, some traditional cuff patterns which include colorful lateral braids, and other uniquely Estonian techniques, thumb and finger construction for gloves, as well as mitten and mitt construction, and how to decorate and finish each item. Included in the class will be enough commercial yarn to complete each pattern offered. $345+materials fee. For more details visit the Trading Post. To register, contact Susan Markle at email@example.com.
Skill level: Comfortable knitting in the round on double pointed needles or circulars and beginning spinning skills. No embroidery experience necessary. If you would like to take class with Kate before the workshop to expand or brush-up your skills, join us at the Trading Post on Saturdays. See the schedule here.
In 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.
Kihnu 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!!