Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vintage Gifts: Apron and Potholders

Really, they are more the size of coasters. 
Was there ever a need for such diminutive potholders?  Maybe to be dainty with while drinking tea. I made three additions to my treasure trove of family needlework this Christmas. Two potholders six and a half inches square, and a fabulous apron with a distinct 1940's feel. My mother wrapped these up and handed them off to Santa to leave under the tree for me. I have never seen them before as technically they aren't really related to me. My Aunt's husband's mother had these! The apron was machine stitched on a sewing machine, but the potholders were hand made at a gauge of 8 stitches per inch. Did Helen make them? Somebody did. They were crocheted out of cotton thread in white and a color of blue I find particularly beguiling as it is the flat baby-blue color I associate with the 1930-1950's and perhaps into the 1960's. Helen was a lawyer, unusual for a woman of her generation, the wife of a lawyer and the mother of a lawyer. She died some years ago but the recent death of her daughter may have turned these up when things were sorted through. When people in my family come across textiles to be dealt with they know where to send them. Nobody else in my family gets excited about old baby clothes, table runners or crochet potholders the way I do. It's a relief for them actually. Grandma's needlework isn't something they feel comfortable getting rid of, but on the other hand if it isn't what makes you squeal and jump up and down, what do you do with it? That may be the dilemma my own children will face someday, unless I can convince some grandchild otherwise. Though they don't even exist yet I'm already working on how to convince my grandchildren beyond a shadow of a doubt that hand made doilies are treasure. Judging from my own children's general lack of interest in the subject it may be a verdict I will need Helen to intervene on from above using all her lawyerly skills to help win the case on my behalf. Miracles do happen. 

      How would it be possible not to fall in love with something like these two cuties!

What you can't see in this photo is the charming little pocket in the skirt of the apron. I love the slight wear the machine made lace shows along the lower rim. This apron had a life and a story to tell. That is what all wear and tear on an item tells us. It's the hint of a story. 

The fabric is buttery soft and rather like a sturdy flannel. The print is adorable. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

Peace on Earth and Happy New Year. May your holidays be full of friends and family.

Some views of the neighborhood. . . . 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Baby Dress

A close-up of some of the machine stitched embroidery

Exquisite! This lovely confection makes the textile lover in me quiver! Imagine dressing babies in cloth as delicate as this! It feels light as breath and makes me think of things like butterfly wings and flower petals, morning mist and angel voices. This little dress is part of the trove I inherited, but it comes from the paternal side of my family, unlike the handmade needlework I have of Great Grandma Ragna on my maternal side. It was perhaps what my Grandmother Millicent Johnson Martine wore as a baby as it was amongst her things and arrived in my possession with others like it. I am thankful for the mother's sentimentality that caused her to save the little garments her child wore. This is yet another example of how women and textiles understand each other and how interwoven in our lives they are. This dress is made out of organdy, a very light weight textile prone to wrinkles but delicate feeling. It is lovely stuff once fairly popular in Victorian days. I believe it's what makes up the blinding white clothing we see children wearing in old time photos. I must make a study of organdy for myself and I will post what I find. It isn't something we see around these days. To me this dress, and those like it, speak of the emotions a mother felt who thought it was a good idea to dress her child in such thin, white fragility. She loved her little girl and by dressing her in this dress she was saying, "You are as beautiful and dear to me as butterfly wings, flower petals, morning mist and angel voices." What a priceless thing to say and it was spoken in the language of cloth.
Layers of cloth on cloth, like a dress over a dress, make me swoon. Here is a view of the hem on the the baby dress after I folded the dress over upon itself. Such layers of wonderfulness! All my life I have loved the description of Heidi climbing up to see her grandfather wearing all her dresses at once to save having to carry them! Enchanting!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Looooong Project

A very Scandinavian flavored project. Ragna would be pleased.
I thought you might like to see an update on the cross stitch project I told you I wasn't going to go into detail on because you'd think I was a crazy lady to even begin. And I told you that I'll finish this project when I'm 100 years old (an exaggeration). It's large but I love a long project. I was talking to a fabulous weaver the other day that just finished a seven year project. Thirteen tapestries, and each one so detailed telling a story. She said, "I love long projects," and I know what she means. Long projects make me feel stocked up. I always have several needle work projects going on, and one long one at least. The economy may be terrible, storms may rage, friends and family may go through crises and we may be experiencing difficulties, but with needlework in hand I can face almost anything. Give me needles, fiber and cloth and I'm set. I can take them with me in my pocket anywhere. They are inexpensive, and yet there is no end to the possibilities they offer to the imagination and creativity. The repetition of stitches is rhythmic and soothing as each stitch passes through the fingers like Rosary beads. No matter what happens during a day I always feel I have something to show for it in the end if I have done at least a few stitches on what will invariable turn out to be something useful or warm or beautiful. . . and maybe even all three. Little bits of a whole always add up and its funny how I get attached to projects and even the stitches on my needles become like tiny characters to me, like friends. Sometimes I actually am sorry to see a project end. So there, I'm not so crazy after all to welcome this large cross stitch canvas into my life to work on bit by bit, even if just a few stitches each day, and someday it will be done and a thing, I hope, of beauty that my own great granddaughter might cherish the way I cherish Ragna's needlework projects. . . . especially the crazy long ones. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More from Ragna

Ragna was a voracious crocheter. Her small white crochet hook in my possession is well used. In her later years, toward the end when she suffered from dementia and was living with her daughter Esther, I am told she couldn't remember many things, but when one of her crochet bedspreads needed repairing and she was given her hook and thread. She went right to work hooking the stitch pattern where it needed the repair and she did it perfectly, tension design and all. It was so ingrained in her memory. The lovely web of needlework from the treasure trove of Ragna's I am posting today is nothing I can identify. It looks woven in two different styles and has a crochet edging. It is made out of thick, crisp cotton thread and its rectangular shape and its size of 11x35 inches suggests it was made as a dresser scarf. What I particularly love about this piece are the end threads that show where the end of the working thread was tucked when the needleworker needed to anchor one thread before threading her needle with another. Some of these could also be where some threads have come loose, though the piece seems in relatively good shape. Its an elegant thing and looks rather as if it were a web or net of cotton thread that the design was added to by weaving with needle and thread. Or, could this be some kind of pulled thread work where some of the threads of a piece of cloth are removed to form designs? I plan to search for an answer, take it too the local university and see if anybody there knows or to local needle groups. Maybe you know. Can you tell me? 

Up close. Notice the two type of woven effects and some of those end threads.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Done

Shhhhhhhhh. . . . Here it is, the qiviut hat. I finished it earlier but I am just now getting the 'hat for certain people" posted to the blog. You can see it being modeled in the photo by the lovely Doris who helps me block most my hats. I am now at work on something I can't tell you about until after Christmas but which arose just today and constitutes a challenge and must be done by December 27. There is no telling who will win, the calendar or me. The race is on.

There is a slight purl pattern above the ribbing that is meant to represent wings as the person who requested this hat has a love for flying.

What doesn't show up here is the flower shape the double decreases make. Actually it looks a lot like a starfish which represents the love for the sea.

I have to dash away now, time is ticking!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Inherited Treasure Part 1

Ragna with her husband, Adolph Krabbe
My Great Grandmother, Ragna Espenson Krabbe was born in Aalborg, Denmark. She married in Paris in 1900 and immigrated to the United States in 1904. She eventually settled in Bellingham in the state of Washington where she raised four children, the youngest of which became my grandmother, Esther Ragna Krabbe Smith. Great Grandmother Ragna was an accomplished needlewoman and my mother, Sylvia and her sisters remember Ragna working for hours on various needlework projects over the years as she created lace and embroidery, need point and knitting by the hour. An early photo of Ragna taken while she was still living in Denmark and which I have include here, shows a parlor scene in which a family of mostly women are seated around a table. Ragna is the one to the far left stitching on a white piece of cloth. I feel a special connection to Ragna, not just because she is my great grandmother, but because she so obviously enjoyed spending time with fiber, needles and thread. I have inherited many of her hand made pieces all ranging from cutwork embroidery, to bobbin lace, crochet and even a beaded purse. I have her small white crochet hook and the stiletto she used in her cutwork among other items she worked with. I thought I'd share some of her work here on my blog and share a bit about her needlework and the woman she was since history, family connections and needle work are all so closely connected and what universally has linked women together all around the world no matter what country or culture.

This is a photo of the photo I own so it is a blurrier than the original but you get the idea. These are Ragna seated with her sisters and her grandmother, so I guess that makes the lady in the white lace cap my great-great-grandmother. Ragna and her siblings (which included one brother) were raised by their grandmother. Incidentally, the two sisters standing behind the group are winding yarn.

The frist thing I would like to share with you from the trove of Ragna's work are the four bedspreads Ragna made out of thin cotton thread and a small crochet hook, perhaps a size #10. They are approximately 82 x102 inches and I believe they were made in the 1930's as I still have the pattern book she used as well as a skein of the thread. I can imagine her crocheting through the depression and the war. Did she crochet on these while listening to war reports on the radio? When Pearl Harbor was bombed and her daughter, Esther, came home in tears afraid for the husband stationed there on board ship, was this the work Ragna stood up from to comfort her? Later, my grandmother Esther inherited the spreads and I remember them on the beds at her house when I was a little girl. Now I have them and on a bed in my house now rests one of these Grandma Ragna's spreads.

The pattern book is full of beautiful blocks to crochet into spreads and table cloths. Ragna crochet the pattern on the right.

There is one unfinished spread and a pile of blocks waiting to be added. I picture them here next to Ragna's sewing machine. When I look at each of the stitches in each one of the blocks and then through out the thread I feel as if I was looking at one individual moment in Grandma Ragna's life. It is as if each stitch makes the time visible, time that was part of her life. Maybe I will learn how to attach the blocks to one another and finish the last spread. I can see on the backs of the finished threads how Ragna herself got better at this, though all of the behind the scene threads connecting the work together is nearly invisible and hard to detect. That isn't what you'll find about the threads that connect Ragna and me. 

The front cover of the pattern book. The publishing date on the inside is 1935

More of Ragna and her other needlework to come in future posts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What I'm Working On

Dear Edwina (for an explanation of who Edwina is, please scroll down to "The Quiet Little Voice" post) I know there is a countdown until Christmas! I know the person who requested a qiviut hat is going to arrive in four days time! I know I should be focused on knitting around and around in plain stockinette stitch, but let me show you some things that distract me. . . . 

The texture in the vest I am knitting. I am following the pattern for "Clock Vest" in Cheryl Oberle's wonderful book Folk Vests published by Interweave. I highly recommend this book. Look at those fun cables that swirl! There are four of them and one big, completely different cable worked up the back of the vest. Who can resist the fascination of knitting and knitting just to watch those beauties grow?

Then there is my "Lace Experiment" in which I am attempting to knit lace for the very first time. This scarf is also out of qiviut. Though this lace pattern was described as a good beginner's pattern, I have come to believe the person who made that statement is more gifted in lace knitting than I. In knitting this I am also learning to extend my boundaries of patience with myself as I suspect I might be lace knitting challenged. It is immensely engrossing however. This photo doesn't show the whole length of my completed work, but this morning I celebrated the "almost half way point". Whew!

Then there is this, which I am not even going to get into defending because if I tried I'd have to explain how huge this tapestry is and that I expect to be 100 years old when I'm done and you will think I am crazy, so. . . moving on. . . 

This is one of my best friends. Her name is Priscilla and she is a Lendrum wheel. Together we are working on a lot of Shetland fleece with the help of some combs and a drum carder. On Thursday we have a date to go over to spin on the farm of one of our wool guild friends. We plan to drink lots of tea, spin more Shetland, and stroll amongst the flock of sheep that live on her farm.

And lastly there in Jenny. Look at those eyes. She knows how to use them to get what she wants. What more needs to be said here?

So you see, any one of these is more interesting than this. However, you are right again, as usual, Edwina, and so today I resolve to work steadily onward. You can see I have made some progress in the last day or so. I work a bit on each project every day and do have a good track record for completing projects. So, with four more days until I have to knit in places where certain people won't be able to see, like in closets or while sitting in the car in the parking lot on totally fictional trips to the store, I leave now to go knit that hat. Hmmmm. . . in another inch or so I think I will work out a double decrease closure.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cold Mornings

Cold Fog
This is what it looks like outside my windows this morning. What you can't see is the fine layer of sheer ice on the road on the other side of my house nor the fine sifting of snow that's there in the grass in this picture. We have had the wood stove going all day and the pipes in this old house might be acting funny and we are calling the plumber today so I believe winter is here. I don't really mind winter all that much. Alaska certainly had its cold, and our new location is cold too, though not as cold which I do admit is rather nice. But I could never live in any place where there wasn't any winter weather. I believe that is the wool lover in me. I not only love to knit it, I love to wear it. I was thinking the other day that there are other things in life not made of wool but with wooly values. A steaming bowl of oatmeal in the morning is one of those things. It is natural and warm. Those are two of the characteristics that make anything even a bowl of oatmeal in sync with the integrity of wool. Therefore, I embrace oatmeal. It seems to me to be a very wooly sort of a breakfast. Oatmeal with berries saved from my own garden last summer, that's even wollier!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Quilters Do It

Behold! The sweater as art!
 I am decorating! For the first time in over 20 years I am truly living in my own house instead of a school district owned house. It turns out that the thing about decorating is you get to show what it is you like best about the world. Personally one of the big pluses this world has going for it in my books is the fact that sheep live in it with me, and that sheep like to get their hair cut. After they get their wooly covering sheared off them they don't really care all that much what we do with it. It's a huge added plus that their cast off clothing is this miraculous, beautiful stuff! It keeps us warm even when wet, comes in a variety of natural shades of lovely, as well as a variety of textures long and short, AND it turns out to be an artistic medium the limits of which have not been reached! Knitters, weavers, spinners and crocheters are constantly finding new ways of creating beauty out of the stuff. Lock a knitter in a room with a box of wool and two sticks for a year and when you come back to check on her you will find her very busy and possibly wondering why it is you are interrupting her. Chances are it is something wonderful she is busily working too. With that said, why don't we see more of these wonderful creations which we spend our time doing hanging on walls more often like the true masterpieces they are? Quilters do it. Quilts are given great credit. How many times have you walked into a local bank or dentist office and seen the wonderful works of quilted art? Those endless arrangements of tessellation or the charming pictures of applique done with needle and thread are a constant delight. Why can't a soul be equally delighted by wool twisted into the many pleasing configurations of texture and color? Why don't we see the work of so many talented fiber artists hanging on the walls of offices and waiting rooms as well? With this in mind I set aside one wall of my house, not for a framed print as usual, but as a mini gallery that will showcase my knitting. Borrowing the idea from our quilting sisters and brothers of hanging the work from a removable rod, I have hung my sweaters by threading them through the arms. They don't all hang the same. Yoke and drop shoulder, raglan or fitted sleeve will all behave differently, but I decided this is part of what is interesting about the construction. I have only the one rod, it is the sweaters themselves that come and go upon it depending on what I want to see above my writing desk that day or what I want to take off the wall and wear around on my own back instead. So far I am pleased. I am always looking for more ways to live with wool. I have a small bit of track lighting with two bulbs I can spotlight the art with in true gallery form, but that is not completely necessary. I have found that as the light through the windows changes throughout the day the color and textures in the sweaters show their different hues and fassets. If you worry about moths a little sachet of moth deterrent can be hang inside the sweater, but moths are less inclined to nibble in the open. They tend to seek out the closets one curator of textiles told me. So come on, lets all showcase our knitting and crochet on our walls! And bravo to your weavers who already do it. After all my knitting sisters and brothers. . . you are true artists. Why not treat your work as such?

Friday, December 7, 2012

That Quiet Little Voice

See this bit of ribbing? Once upon a time (yesterday) it was a hat, or nearly so. I was happily knitting away on it. It went with me in the car to Pendleton and it is the knitting you see in my hand in my last post posing with me in front of the Pendleton Mill. As you can see in the photo the hat was a ways along, and what you see in the photo doesn't even account for the knitting I did all the way home either. Knit along I did, ignoring the tiny elfin voice in my ear that had been whispering all the while, "Do you think you should have increased above the ribbing?" I knit on. "Isn't the gauge in the ribbing a little flabby?"the voice persisted. I wasn't using a pattern. A devotee of Elizabeth Zimmerman's percentage system, I had simply taken the measurement of somebody's head close to the head-size of the nameless person for whom this is meant as a Christmas present. Not listening, I knit on. Then suddenly the other night the little elfin voice, perhaps concerned about my willful muleheadedness, sat right down beside me on the bench at the ball game I was watching my son play. "Lynn," the gentle voice said, "We need to talk. It's about the hat." Perhaps you have a little elfin voice as well. Some people call it a gut feeling. I call it Edwina. I thoroughly enjoy Edwina when I'm mapping out a new project or admiring complex knitting pictures from Nordic countries in books. And I enjoy her when she looks on with approval in the middle of one of my projects as I work. However when she persists to express her doubts and concerns I think of her as a rather smart-ass skeptic and I knit faster hoping to reach that eventual point in the knitting when I can smugly say, "See?" and prove her wrong. The trouble is that I've noticed that eventual point almost never turns out to exist. Edwina isn't infallible, but she pretty nearly is. This is what she said to me about the hat, "Are you happy with it?" "It's fine I answered defiantly, I noticed I was knitting faster as we spoke. She was quiet a moment, watching me, then said, "Isn't this Qiviut you're knitting with?" "Yes." I might have been a teeny bit disrespectful in my tone when I answered, but it was a dumb question we both new the answer to."So," she went on patiently, "remember how you stood outside in negative degree temperatures in an Alaska winter combing this beautiful fluff off the still bloody hide of a dead musk ox while your fingers grew numb?" Damn it! She had me there, I knew where she was going with this. "Is this hat really worthy of your Qiviut?" she asked. The answer to that, I had to admit, was "no" and no amount of faster knitting could let me escape it, so last night I frogged it all the way back down to the cast on edge, eliminated several stitches and dropped a needle size, and today I began again. Here is what I knit this morning, pictured against the red striped fabric I am particularly fond of on the seat of a favorite rocking chair. "Eight days left to get this done before 'certain people' arrive for a visit," I reminded Edwina rather testily. She only laughed her gentle, good-natured laugh and told me she thinks that will be plenty of time. It's a small project easily done so time isn't an issue yet if you don't get distracted by your other more interesting projects. She's probably right. I know she's right. She usually always is. 

And you know what? Don't tell Edwina this but. . . . I like the hat better already.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pendleton Oregon Woolen Mill

I am heartened by the number of page views I seem to have since I started this blog and so now I feel rather ashamed of having been relatively lapse in the keeping up of this blog. It really did feel like talking into the wind, but now I resolve to work much harder. So, onward into my Fiber Life and my endeavors to make life woolier in all ways. And now about a short trip I took. . . .

The mill and me. . . .and of course my knitting, which I take EVERYWHERE!
We took a trip to Pendleton, Oregon last weekend to tour the woolen mill there. It is but a three hour drive there from our house, but we opted to stay the night. I was like a kid in a world made of candy during our two hour stay at the mill. I half expected Willy Wonka to come popping out from behind a stack of wool blankets and show me around. The Mill is rather small with only a half dozen looms or so looms, computerized now, but the old shuttle looms they had in operation until around the middle of last century can still be seen. It was Saturday so the floor was quiet, but our very nice guide, Angel, lead us around, and since there were only my husband, son and myself it was like a private showing. All the wool is cleaned an scoured at one of their other mills elsewhere in Oregon, but they card and steam and spin and weave there at the Pendelton. The mill is still owned and operated by the Bishop family, the original owner/operators. In fact I was very enthralled to learn that the mill grew into what we know today thanks to a woman in the late 1800's, Frannie Kay Bishop, which was unusual for her time. Frannie was born in Shipley, Yorkshire England in 1857 and came to America with her parents at a very young age. Her father was hired to revitalize a wool mill in Bownsville, Oregon and youngster Frannie, who was fascinated by the processing and manufacturing of wool, passionately learned all she could by listening and watching. Later, after Frannie married and had two sons of her own, she guided and encouraged her boys to take over an old mill in Pendelton Oregon that had several unsuccessful starts over the years. But Frannie and her sons got it up and running successfully and it continues to be successful today. The Pendleton wool label is synonymous with good quality wool clothing and blankets, and they now include a line of house hold items as well.    Pendleton Website   Frannie's advice to her sons in a letter dated 1910 tells her boys that, "The only thing needed for any success is confidence, harmony and patience. . . . without that there is no use to struggle on as there can be nothing but ultimate failure." Good advice for all of us. Frannie not only was the driving force behind the mill's success, but she went on to campaign for the state legislature early in the 20th century. In addition to Frannie's story I was struck by the mill's close workings with Native American tribes to produce a line of heritage Blankets, Legendary Blankets, that honor the importance First Nation people have placed on the use of blankets in their cultures. Legendary Blankets   If you go to the Pendleton Mill you can visit a small museum of Native American art that belongs to the Bishop family, many of which were gifts given to the Bishops by various native tribes. One of my favorite was a Navajo blanket woven by the skillful fingers of a woman of that Southwestern tribe using all the techniques and traditions I so greatly admire in Navajo weaving. I wish I had a Navajo grandmother teaching me to weave in the old way since babyhood! It was a wonderful journey, one that lead through the grassy hills and prairies of North Eastern Oregon through and into so much Western history as the Lewis and Clark trail, the Oregon Trail, and the famous Pendleton Round Up, a large annual rodeo in the heart of town every year and an event I'm told time an again not to miss. But what I love most about the Pendleton area is the wide open, windy expanses, the far vistas edged by the Blue Mountains, the farms and ranches which are every bit as interesting and beautiful as the isolated crofts and farms in Ireland, England and Scotland we traditionally minded fiber enthusiasts love to read about. I am truly excited by the potential this area I live in has to offer one like me searching fro a wooly life. I came away from the mills with ideas brewing which I may include in my blog. And, I also came away with to new blankets, a wool dress and a length of wool fabric I hope to entice my mother-in-law to put her considerable sewing skills to work on  for me to turn it into a lovely new wool skirt. I hope you enjoy some f my pictures of the day. 

Wide, windy open expanses of beauty. It's what the covered wagons saw.
The striped hills of cultivation. The green is winter wheat which starts and then sleeps until spring. The gold is last season's cutting.

Along the way. Small towns in the American west. Every bit as pretty as places in pictures of the Shetland Islands.
Lonely all by itself in the miles of open fields
Spinning wool at the Pendleton mill
The spun singles. I was surprised they didn't use plied yarn.

The weaving of a beautiful blanket.

The woven wool cloth. Oh so lovely!

Warm, woolen beauty for sale.

Me in the shop, in love with all things Pendleton wool!