Thursday, March 29, 2012

Last night I sat up late working on one of these little lovelies:

I have enjoyed the heck out of stitching these little girls, my own interpretation of Sunbonnet Sue. I started this project when I was living out in the Aleutian Islands, isolated and a long way from any quilting help. That was 13 years ago! I have thirty of them and I have been working on them on and off ever since. Each one is fairly small, about 7 inches. We lived out in the Aleutians for four years and I had quite of stack of appliqued sunbonnet girls by the time we moved from there to begin a stint in Palmer about an hour out of Anchorage. It was there, in Palmer, that I showed them to a quilter who said, "But these are just basting stitches. You have to make much tinier stitches than this if you want them to stay on for a quilt." I thought they were quite small stitches, but I leaned that "tiny" is the work for any quilt stitching. Well! I took them home and commenced going around each one of the thirty darlings with needle and thread again, this time making the stitches TINY. That finally done, I have been embroidering. I get them out from time to time and submerse myself in embroidery, learning as I go. These blocks, and hence this eventual quilt, will be a veritable record of my emerging growth as an embroiderer, something I would like to know more about. They also are a record of how I learned suitable stitch length as I left my larger stitches in when I made the tiny one, though nobody will ever get to know that story once the quilt backing is on. Surface embroidery is yet one more thing I look forward to learning about first hand from real people rather than books and videos once I leave Alaska this spring. That is another way needlework will help me emotionally make the change from isolation to civilization.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dog Textiles of the Iditarod

This week Unalaklee has had a lot of visitors of he canine variety. Dog teams and their mushers have been passing through along the Iditarod trail, and most of them have paused to rest after 754 miles of bitter cold and nearly constant travel. They all start near Anchorage and each team of mushers and their dogs have high hopes of mushing all 979 to Nome. Most of them  do indeed make it, but some of them drop out of the race for various reasons. It's a long trip and they carry in their sleds everything they will need along the trail. With it being so bitterly cold, negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, how do dogs and mushers dress for the trail? What fibers and textiles come to their aid? The answer includes very few natural fibers, actually, though down, wool and cotton play a part. Synthetics are the answer for most the layers worn by dog and human except, interestingly enough, the layer closest to the skin which for humans is wool: wool socks and thin under layers of soft merino, insulating and moisture whicking. For dogs their own thick coats of canine fur which includes a downy under coat of fluff. I can't pretend to be an expert on Iditarod garb, but what never fails to touch me about  textiles in general is our intimate relationship with them, how much a part of our lives they are and how we take them along to experience right along with us, all we do, endure and enjoy. They are our protection first and foremost, but also a source of expression. During the Iditarod sled dog race the mushers have used textiles to assist their teammates with dog booties to protect their feet from the ice and cold and the many miles traveling on both  for so long to make the trip to Nome. These booties are really just little bags made out of a single layer of cotton secured around the leg with a gripping cloth like Velcro. A thin, insulated, coat-like blanket is also put on the dogs to keep them both warm and dry as needed and I noticed this year a cotton layer in the form of a child's t-shirt was put on  by slipping it on over the dog's head and drawing the front legs through the armholes as another layer of protection. In addition to the the t-shirts this year, sled dogs sported stockings made of an insulating nylon that fit tightly with no apparent fasteners and went from ankle, over the elbow or, in at least once case, as high as the shoulder. These dogs are athletes and their muscles' warmth and flexibility on the trail is a concern which textiles are there to assist. It's nice to stop and think that the comfort we have experienced with textiles we extend to our animal friends as well. In an upcoming blog I plan to explore this topic further.Think of horse blankets, or dog beds or the little sweaters people knit for their pets!
Here you can see the short purple sleeves sticking out from under the coat.

Cotton dog booties
On to Nome

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring, Sort Of

We may be on spring break here, but its cold here, very cold. And it doesn't look much like Spring either. A few scenes  of what knitting helps me to weather every day.. . . . 
Brrrrrrrrrrrrr. And that's with no wind.
 Still there is a kind of stark beauty in winter. There is texture and line though the color palate is monochromatic. 

I love the way they hold the shape of the wind, even on a calm day.
Evergreens, they keep their chins up.
Can't you imagine snow trolls in the twisted shapes of drift wood stumps?

And then these show up. Such bright color.

 A breath of spring that arrived on the plane with my Mother-in-Law who came to visit. She is also a needleworker and a great inspiration to my knitting. Here she is with her embroidery. She is adding embroidery to the edges of pillow cases for her granddaughters. They will be treasured forever the way needlework of Grandmothers always has been through the ages. I feel lucky. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Not your Grandmother's Knitting

Not too long ago when I was telling somebody how much I love to knit, they made a comment that essentially said, "Well, what else do you have to do up there in Alaska all winter?" I want to tell anybody who isn't aware of the revolution knitting has undergone in the the last ten years or so that this isn't your Grandmother's knitting! We modern knitters are an active, social lot with a presence on the web and out in public. Though most of us love a cozy knit indoors with a pot of tea on a cold day, we by no means restrict the project on our needles to a life of indoor confinement waiting in its basket for us to be sedentary with it. We knitters take our knitting with us these days. We knit on hikes and bike rides, on boats while out fishing and up in the air while flying. On a recent walk with my husband, Randy, I took my knitting with us for a stroll on the Bering Sea. The sea is frozen this time of year and makes a good walking surface. But when a sea freezes it isn't smooth like a skating pond, it is rippled and warped. There are cracks and pressure ridges push upwards and large blocks of ice form. I couldn't resist. Ice blocks make a great place to knit.
Knitting on ice

It is a little harder to knit in beaver mitts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Picking Up and Putting Down

I have several projects underway, each one of which I will show in a later post, and everyday I have the intention of making at least a few fairly medium-sized steps towards completion on these items. Though I am aware that the probability of a wife/mother/teacher/friend/daily-walk-taker to log in enough time to actually make any real measurable progress on all of these three or four items (and five or six smaller ideas she wants to experiment with) is rather slim, I still rise out of bed each morning with a simple faith. I have risen out of bed as much as 45 minutes early to work on needlework before the regular day begins, thus increasing the likelihood of of those medium-sized steps coming into existence, but lately that is not what I have been doing

How I face the work day: Wool tights,socks, skirt, boots, sweater, scarf, coat, and hat (hat handspun). 
 in the mornings. Lately I have been trying to steal more sleep. Once I arise and the day begins, my faith turns to struggle as work gets in the way of all other plans. Then, after work, smaller things creep up and take over, for instance, taking my friend's very friendly dog home and having a wonderful visit, a long, lovely chat on Skype with my college attending daughter, and a shorter Skype Chat with my fantastic younger sister, and then there was the bath I took with a Jane Austin novel I couldn't put down. However, the grand thing about needlework is that it's made out of little stitches, little stitches that can be done one at a time if need be, picked up and put down as necessity arrises. So, by a little perseverance and a lot of picking up and putting down I accomplished several rounds on this:

Qiviut hat for my husband

and I turned this:

into this temporary mock collar creation so I could wear it today during parent teacher conferences: 

It goes to show that a stitch in time really does measure up.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The Alaskan bush is the perfect place to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with wool. It gets cold here, very cold with temperatures down around minus 20-30 degrees F for weeks, even months and a kind of darkness and monotony in winter only prisoners can know. Through my 22 years living and raising kids in the bush after arriving here as a young woman fresh out of university to teach school in rural and remote areas, wool has been by my side as warmth, and outlet and a true insulator from the psychological as well as geographically stresses of living here. Next year, after all these years we are making a change. We are heading back to more populous regions, back to Washington state on the Idaho boarder where we recently acquired a house that it waiting for us, our first house, one that isn't teacher housing owned by our employer, and I wonder how much wool can help me make these changes. Our children growing up and leaving the nest, our Big Move as we let go of the adventure Alaska has been, our semi-retirement and our uncertain financial future there in the lower 48 states. This blog is to help me document my Alaskan bush past and my Washington/Idaho future as I look back and as I go forward, and it is to help me document the role natural can play in a life, how much needlework can mean to a person's life, how much of a friend and indeed, how much of a life can be made out of wool.  Onward! 
Unalakleet, Alaska