04 December 2007

How Did I Get So Lucky with My In-Laws?

We went to visit Hubbster's grandparents and aunt in a suburb this past weekend. They got me a present in honor of my successful dissertation defense.

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Are they awesome in-laws, or are they awesome in-laws? They bought me *yarn*!!!

Let's look a little more closely at the yarn (click for slightly bigger).

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It's 100% wool, 2-ply, approximately a worsted weight at a guess. 9 balls at 151 meters per ball.

The biggest letters on the label say, "Yarn." And it says it's made in...the RSFSR. That stands for the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (er, or something like that...I may have mixed up the S's?).

Actually we think the yarn is probably not that old, just the labels are, but it's super-cool nonetheless. I thought I'd completely lost my chance to see the old-style labels. Not that the new ones are all that much more informative, but this one is just nutty. Here's a direct translation:

For sale to the population [presumably as opposed to factory use?]
Length of thread in the ball calculated at 151 m.
Weight of ball in conditions of 18.25% humidity, 100 gr +/-6
Do not wash yarn in the ball.
RSFSR "MosSherst'" ["MosWool"]
Moscow Industrial Cloth Union
Moscow Order of the Worker's Red Sign [I've never been able to properly translate Soviet official babble of this type]
Cloth Factory "Wool-Cloth"
105023 Moscow, Medovyi pereulok ["Honey alley"], 5

It's also stamped with a price of 12 rubles. Since that would have been way, way too high back in the old days, we're assuming that's the current price (we forgot to ask Hubbster's aunt to find out for sure). That's about 50 cents.

The yarn has a delicious lamb-y smell and isn't particularly scratchy at all (it's not butter-soft, but I would say it's comparable to KnitPick's Wool of the Andes - a basic wool).

In further news of my in-laws' thoughtfulness, I've been dying to show you all my new knitting/spinning nook.

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This is the nook (again, click for slightly bigger).

A - the Dutch Fisherman's sweater in progress. I'm about 3 inches above the point where I separated the front and back for the sleeves.

B - Random remaindered spinning wool of indeterminate derivation which I got dirt cheap while on Long Island. Like, less than $1. I'm using it to practice Navajo plying.

C - Beautiful old wooden box I'm using for tools - calculator, measuring tape, scissors, etc.

D - Ugly plastic toolbox I bought at Walmart in Michigan before I left, to hold my spinning stuff. I think it's going to have to get hidden somewhere because it's so ugly. (NB: if you're looking for plastic organizers at Walmart, look in the "men's" sections like tools, cars, and fishing. Same crap as in the "women's" crafts sections but half the price!)

E - Large vase in which I've stored spindles and long knitting needles. Also a secret new spinning tool that I'll tell you about in another post. My PVC niddy-noddy is behind the vase, leaning against the cabinet.

F - Little glass vase (not visible) in which I've put crochet hooks and two little spindles.

G - Bookstand holding my pattern for the Dutch Fisherman's sweater.

H - Mp3 player containing the audiobook of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Suzanne Clark, which I got free through the NYPL. *Highly* recommended.

I - Beautiful, beautiful wooden box containing my fiber stash. Yes, it all easily fits in there. So far. >:->

J - Drawers emptied by Hubbster's aunt so I could use them for knitting stuff. I'm keeping the sock in progress and some more spinning in progress in those.

K - Very bright lamp conveniently placed for maximum effect.

L - Clock stolen from the kitchen so I can tell how much time has passed while I've been knitting if I really want to know, but conveniently placed *behind* me so I can not know if I don't want to.

M - Funky Soviet wallpaper. Just so you know - there often wasn't a whole lot of choice in wallpaper, furniture style, etc.

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When sitting in the knitting chair, this is the view to my left - it's the edge of the desk (where Hubbster is usually sitting while I'm knitting), which has a convenient shelf on the side for some more of my knitting paraphernalia.

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This is the cupboard on the other side of the room, which houses the stash (yes, of course I already have a stash here, why do you ask?) I haven't yet put the new yarn in there - lucky there's room!

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And finally, I continue to gradually catch up on pictures of FOs from the fall. Here's what I made out of that blueish merino handspun I showed you last time:

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It's a neckwarmer and matching wristwarmers. First it was going to be just a neckwarmer. Then as there was a surprising amount of yarn left, I started wristwarmers. I kept going and going...and the yarn just wouldn't end. Lucky I have really long hands/fingers!

29 November 2007

Pictures - A Start

I know, I know.

I'm a total blog failure lately.

And it's not really because I'm preparing for a campus job interview (yahoo!) which means writing a presentation/lecture, researching the school, and trying not to worry myself to death. It's really all about spending too much time on Ravelry.

My alpaca leg-warmers. This is what I ended up doing with that KnitPicks Decadence I didn't know what to do with. Very handy here.

Some spinning:

The blue-ish stuff is the gradation-dyed merino I got at the Allegan Fiber Festival. When I bought it the seller warned me that the dye could make it difficult to draft. It's true - I really needed two hands to do it. So, with the help of this video (and all those weeks of practice with the supported spindling), I finally learned to successfully use a drop spindle!!

More soon, I promise!

29 October 2007


So, Beth tagged me for an 8 random things meme. This finally woke me out of my stupor, so I'm going to post 8 random reasons I haven't been updating my blog. (Those aren't actually the official rules of the meme.) The official rules are:

8 Very Random Things

Once tagged, you must link to the person who tagged you. Then post the rules before your list, and list 8 random things about yourself. At the end of the post, you must tag and link to 8 other people, visit their sites, and leave a comment letting them know they’ve been tagged.

1. I've been sucked into the great time warp that is the Ravelry "Big Issues Debate" group forum. If you don't already know what this is, don't ask. And no, don't get antsy because you're still on the ravelry waiting list - I mean, no, get antsy, 'cause Ravelry rocks, but not because you're missing out on this one particular forum, because either you won't care or it will eat up all your time, so no need to get there any sooner than necessary. For those who've been there, I only need to say three words: pinny porn, and pie.

2. While I was out in Long Island (where I was headed last you heard on this blog), my wireless card for my laptop suddenly decided not to work anymore. So I was limited on internet time on a public computer, and I had to spend every moment I had on job search stuff. It sucked!

3. I was totally buried for the first week or so after getting back to NYC in visa stuff. The good news is, my visa will be here on the 2nd!!!! yahoo!!!! And trust me, you do NOT want to know how much insanity, time and money was involved in finally getting it. Suffice to say it wasn't pretty, and I wasn't in a good place from which to post. (btw, the less than great news is that the earliest flight I could get after that was the 8th, but at least I'm finally going!!)

4. Since the visa thing got more or less under control I had to frantically bury myself in the job search thing as there were a bunch of deadlines right around now. I'm still busy, but it's under control as of late last night after I pulled a 12-hour stint in the campus computer lab to finish getting the last bits together.

5. I haven't been knitting or even spinning. Not one single bit since I got back to NYC. Too much other crap going on, and lots of exhaustion, and not much space. I did do some cool stuff while on Long Island and even have pics sitting on my camera, but I can't use my laptop at all where I'm staying at the moment, and it's a pain to bring to the campus computer, and yadda yadda. Sorry. Will catch up when I can.

6. I haven't properly read a blog in a while either, for all the reasons already mentioned. I hadn't realized before quite how much you all inspire me all the time. I can't wait to get back into it!

7. I have a crick in my shoulder from too much web browsing. Seriously - it's the mouse clicky-clicky action, as opposed to typing. And it's not all Ravelry's fault - the job search stuff is at least half of that.

8. I think I'm out of random reasons. Much less good reasons.

I'm too lazy to tag properly, but here are 8 blogs I've discovered thanks to Ravelry (not that there are only 8 that I've discovered there - ha! - a far cry, but the number works with the meme and I have my shoulder to think of. Maybe I'll add more later, and/or there's my nifty new blogroll in the sidebar, which somebody on ravelry showed me how to do.)

Recent Ravelry-Related Finds:

Knit Exploits
The Knit Mongrel
Everybody Else Is
Lori's Knitting Blog
The Missing Link (a podcast on the history of science, medicine and technology by a Ravelrer)
Worm Spit (by a guy who spins silk and has incredibly awesome videos about it...)

*Off-topic, but if you're open to the idea of a Harry Potter fanfic, she's writing one that kicks total popka, so you might want to introduce yourself to her and ask her where to find it.

01 October 2007

Spin Out!

So I managed to attend Spin-Out! Well...sort of. Actually, it went like this. I was going there with two friends, and we planned to eat lunch in the park, enjoy the spin-out for a couple hours, and then I'd go straight to the bus (a mere 20 blocks away) which would take me to Long Island. Sounds like a great plan, right? Except for the part about dragging all my stuff with me during this whole outing, including the 20 blocks of half-running to make the bus on time. And we started out late. And got delayed again picking up food at Fairway (why do I always think this will be a matter of only a few minutes' delay??).

Here I am trying to coordinate with friend Meg who was also late, though for different reasons, and surrounded by my stuff (half of which you can't see, but note the KIPer bag on lap). (Also note that all photos in this post were taken by friend Aline, because I was too lazy to take my camera out of my bag. Also because Aline is a better photographer than I am - you'll notice.)

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That was in Strawberry Fields, about an hour later than when we'd intended to get there. I was already totally exhausted from dragging stuff at this point, and one leg was going a bit numb for some reason. Not good. All this, and I wasn't even carrying a spinning wheel (unlike, it seemed, everyone else in the park).

Moments later, we had finally made it to Spin-Out:

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At first all we could do was plop ourselves on an open patch of ground and breathe. Then stare at the pretty view. Then ravenously devour our lunch. That taken care of, I suddenly realized that Nishanna was right nearby with her lovely Ashford Traveler wheel (look at the bobbin go!):

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You guys remember Nishanna from the first Yarn Harlot event I went to, in Brooklyn? It was great to see her again - it's amazing to feel like I have old friends when I go to a thing like this. And just as soon as I'd spotted Nishanna, Spinning Spider Jenny appeared! I met her at the same Yarn Harlot event. She was spinning silk on a tiny tiny spindle at the time, and I couldn't take my eyes off it. Afterwards, I started reading her blog and found out she's a famous spinning teacher. For months I read her blog, not comprehending most of it but totally in awe of spinning. Then I finally learned, and went back to her archives and read through it all again with constant waves of "a-ha!...now I get it!" washing over me...and here she was again, in the flesh!

Of course, just as all this is happening and I haven't even yet stood up and actually seen the rest of what was going on (and just when friend Meg had arrived, with whom we were supposed to be lunching and whom I probably won't see again until next spring...) I realize that I have all of 20 minutes before I have to move to make that bus. Damnit!

So Aline and I, the ones who had at least eaten, took a quick turn around the spin-out to ogle the wheels and rovings and talented spinners:

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It was such an amazing sight! And everyone there was so *great*. One woman (in the bottom picture, above) was spinning a "core yarn," i.e. a boucle made by spinning a commercial yarn with mohair locks held perpendicularly so that they wrap around the core in little twirls and bobbles. I also got to see nearly every type of wheel that I've been surreptitiously researching online in recent weeks (don't tell Hubbster). The hitchhiker is really cute. Okay, they're all really, really cute, but the hitchhiker is affordable and cute. I also recognized Cara and Kay but was too shy and star-struck to approach them. It was just surreal to be surrounded my buzzing conversation from which words like "etsy" and "blog" and "setting the twist" float up over and over...I'm used to those words usually coming up in real live conversation in the context of me explaining what they are to someone who clearly thinks I'm nuts.

And then...I had to run. With all my stuff.

Here are some pictures Aline took after I left, which accurately reflect the glorious day in the park that I ran through on my way out:

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I did manage to make it to the bus stop on time, sweaty and sore but otherwise fine. And I made it safely to Long Island, where for the next few weeks I get to enjoy this:

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Life is not so bad, really.

25 September 2007

A Recommendation

I'm afraid I still don't have my camera cord, so no pictures yet, and this post also won't contain any knitting, but I do have something quite special to tell you all about.

My dad has started blogging!!

I've been pushing him to blog for a while now, and for a long time before that I was pushing him to write a book (the blog is intended to be a sort of trial before getting into larger-scale writing).

No, it's not about knitting.

But I think some of you might be interested anyway, and I personally know it's going to be fascinating and great because I've been the audience for these ideas for many years, and it's exciting stuff.

Some of you might remember some nostalgic posts I've written about my childhood, in which I mentioned that my parents, though very young and on a tight budget, were (are) absolutely brilliant parents. My dad is also a brilliant teacher, recently retired from a career in the public schools in Michigan. I tried recently to sum up, in very few words (and you know how hard it is for me to use few words), the influence my dad has had on me. This summary was for the dedication in my newly finished dissertation. I'll quote it here, but first I have to explain that it contains a Russian word that's of central importance in the dissertation: vospitanie. The word is untranslatable because it refers both to education and to moral upbringing: it is the process through which a child becomes a knowledgeable, mature, moral, civil and generally well-rounded adult. (My dissertation is a microhistory about a single Russian gentry family in the mid-nineteenth century, and focuses on gender and ideas, especially vospitanie). Here's the dedication:

This dissertation is dedicated to my parents, who set me on this road and have been unfailingly supportive throughout. In particular, I thank my mother for teaching me to be always alert to how gender affects experience and ideas. And I thank my father for engaging me in discussions of education and history nearly as soon as I could talk, and continuously ever since. I could not have asked for a better vospitanie.

That's the best explanation I can give for why you should check out my dad's new blog, which will be a way for him to record, explore, and reflect on what he's learned in his several decades as a father and teacher. Help him get going by asking him questions! Join the discussion!

Teaching Our Children Well

23 September 2007

A Good Cause (and good prizes...)

I just donated my little bit to Heifer International as part of the Spin-Out charity drive. You can do it too, even if you can't make it to the actual Spin-Out in Central Park, NYC on Saturday.

By the way, Heifer International is this really cool thing - not only did it teach me how to spell "heifer," not only is it a really good cause, but the way it's set up just tickles me. Cara from January One started a Spin-Out "registry" - and it works exactly like a gift registry. Imagine the Spin-Out event is a wedding. All the guests want to bring gifts, so they go to the store where the couple are registered. In this case, Heifer International. There you can shop for all the wonderful, useful things that people need in the world (including sheep and warm woolies!). There are items in all kinds of price ranges, and what you buy is gifted to someone who needs it desperately. Nice, isn't it?

Oh, and you should see the link to the Spin-Out page above to see the prizes on offer. Every $10 you donate gets you one entry in the raffle. There are tons of prizes and they are AMAZING - including at least two spinning wheels!!! There's also yarn, so if you don't spin and you win, I bet Cara could arrange that you get yarn instead of fiber or spinning tools.

And I should be digging up my camera cord soon, so I can go back to regular posting!

15 September 2007

Thanks, guys!

Wow!! That's certainly a record number of comments on my previous post!! Thanks so much, to all of you, for all your support - this blog definitely played no small part in helping me to finish, by getting my popka in front of the computer every day and putting me in a good mood for the day's writing. And it has been wonderful beyond words to get so many lovely messages of congratulation from so many people!!

PS - oh, and did you see the new knitty? First, I'm just so glad there's *one* knitting magazine that isn't being forwarded somewhere I'm not this year! Knitty is always right there where you want it. Isn't muir totally going to be the next It pattern? I want to make it, anyway...(Beth & Erika, don't you think the Briar Rose would be perfect??) For the record, I also love neiman and cinderella, and am impressed as hell with henry (because of the finishing details) and Q (Hubbster will probably make me make henry and I'll die of boredom but it will be worth it in the end: a prediction). And I love love *love* back to basics. Will certainly be making that one, too.

07 September 2007

First Ph.D. in the family!

I just passed my dissertation defense - with distinction! It was great - way better than I even let myself hope, I feel great, everything is great, I'm going off to drink champagne. More soon!!

30 August 2007

Review: Gossamer Webs and Richard Rutt

(you thought I'd never really get around to posting this after promising it for so long, didn't you?)

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Actually, first I just wanted to say to those of you who are reading on Bloglines or some other reader to totally go check out the comments on the last post. The discussion of the terms "flax" and "linen" continues, and there's lots of cool new information there. You guys rock! Also, goodies from Beth came in the mail today, and I spent the whole day dyeing with kool-aid. Details to come! Also possibly that video of the sheepdogs from the fiber festival, since blogger has conveniently just added a button for inserting videos. That'll have to wait till I have wireless access for the upload, though. Onward!

Okay, I'm finally ready to give you a full review of the wonderful Gossamer Webs: the History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls by Galina Khmeleva and Carol R. Noble (available from your usual sources or from Galina herself at Skaska Designs). I'll also explain what's in the companion book, The Gossamer Webs Design Collection and then go into a rant about Richard Rutt's A History of Handknitting (Interweave Press, 1987).

Wait - what? an unrelated book from 1987? Yeah, I know - trust me, they're connected, I'll get to it.

First, Galina's book. As you know if you've been reading this blog, I just took lessons with Galina Khmeleva on Orenburg lace spinning and knitting, but I got the first book, Gossamer Webs, before taking the lessons. I bought the Design Collection book after taking the lessons, and I'll explain why below.

Those of you who have been reading will also know that I've been getting more picky about knitting books of late, and that the ones I really feel are worth investing my money in these days are books that provide not just patterns and pretty pictures (both of which I use largely for inspiration, as I follow patterns straight from books fairly rarely), but books that provide solid, detailed, well-researched information that isn't available elsewhere (i.e., for free on the internet). That is to say that I'm no longer content with generalized run-downs of basic principles, and I'm completely out of patience with the sort of book that is 1/3 how-to-knit and 2/3 very unoriginal patterns in expensive yarns. I've given you some examples before of the kind of knitting book I want and love (Big Girl Knits, No Sheep for You, Victorian Lace Today, etc), and I'm happy to see that the knitting book market does seem to be shifting in this direction as the huge numbers of people who started or re-started knitting have acquired a vast range of new skills very quickly with the help of the internet. All good stuff, which makes me so excited sometimes that I tie myself up in knots of excitement and joy.

Gossamer Webs, though not at all a new book (1998!), is a perfect example - perhaps even the apotheosis - of what I now look for in a knitting book.

(Oh, I know, I'm totally a sucker for anything historical and anything Russian and anything about knitting, and this is a book about historical Russian knitting. But really, I'm about to explain why it's a really great book for other people, too.)

First, Galina really did her research. She is a native-born Russian whose career has always been in textiles, and who has been researching Orenburg lace knitting, specifically, since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (and the subsequent closing of the Orenburg lace cooperative in 1995). She has spent a considerable time in Orenburg, getting to know the knitters and earning their trust. In the years since then she has painstakingly interpreted, recorded and disseminated the techniques that have been taught orally in Orenburg for centuries, so that they will never be entirely lost even if the original Orenburg lace tradition is unable to continue (though at the moment the knitters are still hanging on, with the help of those like Galina who bring attention to their work and, to the small degree that is possible, bring the authentic Orenburg shawls to Western buyers, as Galina does when she travels for teaching and fiber festivals).

Gossamer Webs is an extraordinarily comprehensive book, admirably covering the historical, social and economic aspects of the Orenburg lace tradition as well as the technical details of spinning and knitting the shawls while sharing throughout a palpable sense of who these knitters were and are.

In order, the chapters cover:

  • a brief overview of the history of the Orenburg region - this will easily and comfortably orient readers who don't have any previous background on Russia;

  • a history of the Orenburg shawls in particular, with a somewhat mythical account of where they began (because nobody knows) and a very well-documented and fascinating narrative of their popularity in the Victorian period (one shawl hangs in the Victoria & Albert museum) and the ups and downs of the industry after the 1917 revolution;

  • profiles of muligenerational current Orenburg knitters, whose stories themselves serve as a history of their region in the - shall we say "eventful" - 20th century, as well as of the evolving tradition of the shawls, including the circumstances in which they were and are created;

  • a translation of an excerpt from a Russian-language book on the shawls which offers a lively account of how shawls are sold by the knitters in the Orenburg market;

  • a brief account of Galina and Carol Noble's own "shawl-buying party" in Orenburg;

  • a chapter on the goats and their special down (it's not cashmere because Orenburg didn't join the cashmere association -- it's goat down of a quality equal to or better than "cashmere," depending of course on the goat and how it's been processed);

  • a chapter on spinning, on unique Russian spindles (this might be enough information for a very experienced spindle spinner to replicate it, but the rest of us really need to take the lessons);

  • a chapter on shawl design explaining the traditional motifs and structures and how they are manipulated by individual knitters;

  • instructions for a swatch shawl that teaches basic construction (again, there's enough info here for an experienced lace knitter to make a beautiful Orenburg-style shawl, but if your ambition is to make it just the way they make them there, including the same grafting and corner techniques, etc, you should take Galina's classes);

  • a stitch and border dictionary (Orenburg shawls are designed as permutations of a small set of basic motifs, so this is a dictionary of those motifs, which you could re-arrange in infinitely varied patterns in your own shawls);

  • instructions and charts for one large medallion shawl (it's very big);

  • and finally some reference material, including sources for recommended alternative fibers available to Western spinners and knitters, a bibliography, and two pages of photos showing an imaginative variety of ways to wear the shawls.

In short, it's meaty, comprehensive, unique, and inspiring. Here are a few things that get me particularly excited about it:

  • I love hearing about the knitters, in detail and often in their own words. These are not superficial, "oh, I've been knitting for 50 years and I love it" kinds of profiles, but rather really gripping stories about women of different ages, ethnicities, different levels of education, different careers and different life experiences who all share a lifetime of Orenburg lace knitting, and the profiles taken together offer a substantive, if open-ended, discussion of what that shared tradition means, to the knitters and to their community.

  • The knitting is presented in context: not only is there history here, but we also learn about the goats, and how they are tended, and how their fleeces are processed (by the whole family), and how the women first spin the yarn they need, and then how the finished shawls are blocked, worn, used, and marketed, both within the Soviet-era cooperative and through what was once a black market and is now an open and unregulated market (with the advantages and disadvantages of the change fully covered in all their ambiguity).

  • I love these pictures:

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    If a girl of this age can do all this so confidently, surely I can too?

  • As a book about a particular regional tradition, it's important to me that the region in question is not simplified, sentimentalized, idealized, or demonized - as western "popular" works on non-western regions sometimes are. This book takes its subject seriously, covers it in depth and without prejudice (more on this below). Since I've been studying Russian language, literature and history (going on 15 years now) and living in Russia (a total of about 2.5 years now, and I'm off for another year in a few weeks) my family and friends are often puzzled by my very mixed feelings about Russia. Western accounts of Things Russian are often either very rosy (i.e., rhapsodizing about the culture and art while closing all eyes to the more complex economic and social context) or very, very demonizing (i.e., it's an Evil Empire, or more recently a third-world backwater, and everything there must be shoddy, or shady, or both, etc). The thing is, it's a complicated place, and it's history is complicated and it's hard to talk about any of it fairly in a western context because what little information Americans have about Russia is limited, at best, and totally wrong at worst. Of course, this can be said about any place, and there are certainly countries with even more frought histories (and presents). But because of the Cold War and the capitalism-communism clash of ideologies, Americans and Russians in particular sometimes have more than the usual difficulty in seeing each other clearly.

    I very rarely see an English-language, popular, non-scholarly work of any kind or any length about Russia that does not make me want to puke, strangle the author, or at the very least shake my fist pointlessly and spew bad language.

    Galina's book, however, does a simply stunning job of letting the ambiguities be ambiguities without sacrificing clarity for an audience that has not been to Russia and that has gotten its information hitherto from pretty poor sources. Of course, you might expect this from a book written by a Russian who has lived a long time in the U.S., but it's more rare than you might expect - the emigre experience carries its own baggage, and it's just plain not easy to maintain any kind of balanced perspective while being clear at the same time.

    So, in other words, this book doesn't pander to a Western audience by making us feel all warm and fuzzy and cleverer than some backward peoples who let their traditions almost die for lack of political sense ('cause god knows Americans are full of sound political sense...r i g h t...? er, sorry). It also doesn't pander to Russian sensibilities or nationalism by inflating the Orenburg tradition to make it the greatest, most innovative and complex lace tradition ever (again, see below), or by pretending that the Soviet-era lace cooperative (and modernity in general!) didn't play a significant role in bringing on changes that were ultimately destructive to the lace tradition and to the knitters. In reality, the book shows through its historical narrative and the profiles of the knitters how the 20th century, with its official state-run cooperative, brought with it social and economic security for knitters during difficult times and a means of reinvigorating lace design (i.e., one knitter who worked for the cooperative invented a system of charting to help teach other knitters and to streamline the knitting of more shawls) even while, at the same time, the same cooperative brought on other steamlining methods that reduced the quality of the fiber and robbed the knitters of important means of control over their livelihoods. Even more stark, though, is the change brought on by the collapse of the Soviet government and the mis-managed transition to quasi-"capitalism" in the 1990s - in reality, it's a free market run by robber barons in which the little people like Orenburg knitters are left with unprecedented freedom to knit as they like, sell where they like...but no security, no access to most markets, and increasingly expensive raw materials, leaving them prey to unscrupulous middlemen with an interest in quick profits for low-quality goods.

    This tells us a great deal about much more than Orenburg lace knitting, and in my humble opinion as an academic historian of the region and an occasional American traveler in Russia, it's a masterful book.

Okay, now for a quick break I'll tell you about the companion book before going into rant mode:

Theoretically, Gossamer Webs contains everything an experienced knitter and spinner would need to know to create an authentic shawl on their own. Between the swatch, the stitch dictionary and the one sample pattern, I thought at first that I could do this (although, strangely, I wasn't anxious to start right away). Then I got really lucky, and had the opportunity to take Galina's classes. The classes gave me the confidence to know that I could, indeed, make an Orenburg shawl of my own (though perhaps not from handspun just yet), and all the skills I needed to make it the way it's done in Orenburg down to the smallest detail. However, seeing as how I don't really enjoy frustration and confusion that much, I ultimately decided to also invest in the Design Collection book as well. This book re-prints the swatch instructions and the stitch and border dictionary that are in the main book, but also has detailed, text-and-chart instructions for three finished shawl designs: a triangle, a palatine rectangular 'scarf' (stole, really), and a medallion square of the same type, but different design, than the one in the Gossamer Webs book. Sure, I could probably come up with a pretty combination of the motifs from the stitch dictionary on my own, and I could probably work them into the triangle shape with some effort (I thought at first that I wanted a rectangle not a triangle, but then I learned how big these suckers are), and I could probably more or less maintain concentration while knitting both the border pattern and the interior pattern along with the new techniques for shaping corners and edges and everything...but then I could also probably be a brain surgeon if I really tried hard enough. But since I faint at the sight of blood and have no hand-eye coordination, it would really be better for everyone if I didn't, ya know? I feel that way about designing my own Orenburg, too. I think I'm going to make a couple from instructions first, then start playing with designing. So I bought the design collection, so I can follow the charts for a basic, traditional triangle pattern and have the written instructions to fall back on when I forget the details of what I learned in class about how to deal with corners and how to join the border on the long side. So...I wouldn't say that either the classes or the Design Collection are essential, if you're experienced and confident and intrepid. But your loved ones might really appreciate it if you did indulge in just a little extra information to fall back on.

Okay, now what does all this have to do with Richard Rutt's classic book, A History of Handknitting?

Rutt's book is to date the only one that attempts a comprehensive history of handknitting, and it is indeed an useful compendium of the technical historical details known at the time it was written. For that, I really do appreciate it very much. If nothing else, there's a great deal there to serve as a starting point for other writers who, I hope, will someday synthesize the huge amount of material on ethnic knitting traditions that has been compiled in the last couple of decades together with emerging social histories of textiles and other information to someday write a true comprehensive history of handknitting. However, Rutt's book, with the exception of only a few pages, is actually only a history of British knitting, and possibly just of Shetland knitting - its attempts to treat other traditions are appallingly inadequate and sometimes downright offensive (for some reason such sections almost always conclude in an unfavorable comparison to the Shetland tradition with which the author was clearly much more familiar than any other).

I know that publishers usually choose titles, and they usually push to make books as general as possible in order to garner a wider audience. So I don't entirely blame Rutt. But there's also a rather long history of what I call "British armchair historians." It's not that I have anything against amateur historians. There's no reason a person can't train themselves in the habits, methods, sources and literature required to write reliable, rigorous history. Having myself taken the traditional route of the PhD program, I can and have ranted at length about how many important skills formal training doesn't give you. So, when I toss off the term "British armchair historians" I'm not talking about amateur historians - I know of several good amateur historians who I rank among the best historians generally, British and not. Rather, I made up that term to describe a particular type of historian (with or without a degree), who is recognizable according to the following characteristics:

  1. They write history for popular consumption, but instead of interpreting this kind of writing (as I would) as requiring the same accuracy and rigor as academic writing but greater clarity, larger context, and better style, they instead interpret popular history as being free of the constraints of accuracy, fairness, respect for intellectual property, and sometimes rationality while being rather inconsistent as regards clarity and style.

  2. While sometimes telling a good story, they usually dispense with an explicit argument. This may sound like a point in their favor at first, because arguments are usually set out so clumsily in academic prose. But they don't need to be clumsy, and the truth is that a story without an argument is a story without a word as to what the story means. This may be okay. What is not okay is that in practice there's almost always something in there - even if it's between the lines - as to what the story means, and if it's not explicit, it's implicit. An implicit argument is insidious, because it affects the way the author presents the story without telling you how and to what degree. A particular perspective has been employed in selecting which parts to tell and how, but the reader has no idea what the assumptions were. The reader is being told to believe a tale that is purported to be "real" without having any sense of what the tale is based on or what was left out.

  3. They are unduly prone to think of England as the center of the universe and the rest of the world as a series of quaint little backwaters either ripe for the plucking, in need of civilizing (i.e., Anglicizing), or both. I assume this is a legacy of the Empire, but it's disgusting. (And yes, I know the English are not the only ones to take on this attitude by a long shot - I live in NYC after all! But even New Yorkers, when they write a history of NYC, call it "a history of NYC," not "a history of the world")

The implication of my term, then, is not that the historian in question is an amateur, but that the historian, metaphorically speaking, never leaves his or her comfortable armchair.

Sadly, Richard Rutt is a classic example of a British armchair historian, most especially as regards the third characteristic.

But here's my particular beef, which brings me to the connection with Gossamer Webs. Rutt's book contains a little over two columns of one page of text on knitting in Russia, which makes it one of the most extensive sources on the subject available in English. Some of this text is useful, but you should be aware that the author's unwarranted assumption that knitting probably did not "flourish" in Russia before Catherine the Great's "Volga German" immigrants brought it with them in the eighteenth century is simply false, and actually rather offensive, too (obviously, he doesn't think people as barbarian (read: Eastern [cf. Edward Said on Orientalism {ooh, flashback to freshman lit, sorry}]) as Russians could possibly come up with knitting without some help from a few nice Germans. Oh, lord preserve me from the British. (Except when I'm in an anglophilic mood - I do love my Jane Austen!)

Later research into knitting traditions around the world has firmly established that handknitting has a long, complex, and fascinating parallel history nearly everywhere on the planet, and Russia was not excluded.

Rutt mentions the tradition of shawl-knitting from the Orenburg province of Russia, adding little other than that such shawls feature "uncomplicated patterns." For those who have not yet been privileged to see a traditional Orenburg shawl in person, I recommend that you take a look at Galina's book next time you see it in a store or the library, and then think about what Rutt said (and mind you, he must have been able to see an original shawl in the Victoria and Albert museum). Here's my theory as to what made him say this (never mind that the statement is utterly gratuitous and could simply have been left out if he just didn't know anything). Having read Rutt and Victorian Lace Today and various other works on lace from an Anglo-American perspective, I know that historians trace a development in English - usually Shetland - lace knitting from patterns with only unidirectional decreases to those with matched decreases. Now, one of the very first things historical training is meant to teach you is to watch out for the word "development." Before the professionalization of history and many other changes in 20th-century scholarship, people (mostly privileged, white, Anglo-American people, but also a lot of others) tended to see "development" as a movement upwards and onwards, from something less 'good' to something more 'good,' rather than as simply movement...along...but not particularly directional. So, an armchair historian of this school who knows the history of Shetland lace and knows how to identify the age of a shawl design by whether it has unidirectional decreases (older) or matched descreases (newer), might look at a shawl from another part of the world and, seeing only unidirectional decreases, that armchair historian might conclude that the shawl in question is of a type less developed, and therefore less 'complicated', than shawls that feature matched decreases.

Does this sound like shoddy logic to you? Like laziness? Like not ever leaving your mental armchair?

How about this instead:

Anglo-American lace is marvelously complicated because the matched decreases, not to mention other techniques, like 3-into1 and 3-into-2 decreases, stockinette versus garter backgrounds and other variations culled from many foreign influences, make it possible to do just about anything a designer could wish. It's particularly lovely for mirror-image small motifs and is very easily (not to say necessarily) adapted to charting.

Orenburg lace is superficially simple in that it's always done on a garter ground, the borders are always edged with 5-hole teeth, and the decreases are unidirectional. Designs are almost always permutations of only about 10 basic elements, themselves made up exclusively of YO and k2tog. However, just as knitting itself is the act of infinitely varying only two basic stitches (or one stitch and its reverse) the mathematical simplicity of Orenburg lace principles forms the groundwork for infinite variation. Because there are only YOs and k2togs you can count by holes rather than stitches and rows. Because there are only 10 easily memorizable basic elements, you can (with experience) design on the fly, almost painting in lace as you move up a shawl, improvising combinations and recombinations of elements, because you are thinking, knitting and counting in elements rather than in stitches and rows. Because the elements are so simple, just like the knit and purl stitches themselves, you can combine them into any kind of pattern: representational, geometric, organic, etc. Because all borders are reducible to the mathematically perfect 5 holes (with the 5th hole of one tooth as the first hole of the next), the knitter can vary the width and complexity of the border design adjoining the teeth to an infinite degree, on the fly, without affecting the structure of the shawl or the method of turning corners.

Oh, and because Orenburg is so bloody cold, Orenburg goat down is among the warmest and softest fiber in the world.

And because Russia has long been a much poorer country than, say, England, traditional Orenburg techniques and tools are marvels of efficiency.

Sure, Shetland lace knitting is amazing. I can't wait to do more of it.

But it ain't all there is in the world, folks.

The following is a short bibliography of good books on knitting history. It's not at all complete - these are just the ones I've actually read. Most of them I own and love well.

  1. International Knitting History

    The best and most up-to-date supplement to Richard Rutt's work are the many books published in that last two decades on various ethnic knitting traditions. Each offers a different perspective on the history of handknitting that, though particular to a given region in each case, when taken together constitute a substantive narrative of how handknitting and its particular techniques have evolved around the globe (I know there are many others not mentioned here like Arctic Lace and the works of Nancy Bush, but I haven't added them because I haven't had a chance to look at them yet. There's also the wonderful Victorian Lace Today, which, though covering roughly the same ground with less detail than the Rutt book as far as historical information goes, is a much better book on every level, not even including the incredibly gorgeous patterns!).

    • Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Knitting in the Old Way: Designs and Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters, Nomad Press, 2005.

    • Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Ethnic Socks & Stockings: A Compendium of Eastern Design & Technique, XRX Books, 1995.

    • Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Salish Indian Sweaters: A Pacific Northwest Tradition, Dos Tejedoras, 1991.

    • Lizbeth Upitis, Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs & Techniques, Schoolhouse Press, 1997.

    • Galina Khmeleva and Carol R. Noble, Gossamer Webs: The History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls, Interweave Press, 1998.

    • Annemor Sundbø, Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile, Torridals Tweed, 2001.

    • Ingrid Gottfridsson, The Mitten Book (also published as The Swedish Mitten Book: Traditional Patterns from Gotland), Lark Books, 1992.

    • Henriette Van Der Klift-Tellegen, Knitting from the Netherlands, Traditional Dutch Fishermen's Sweaters, Lark Books, 1985.

    • Beth Brown-Reinsel, Knitting Ganseys, Interweave Press, 1993.

  2. Knitting in America

    • Anne L Macdonald, No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, Ballantine Books,1988.

      This is an engaging history written by a professional historian with scholarly rigor and intentions (yet without sacrificing readability). It places handknitting within the tapestry of American social history in the nineteenth century, focusing on how and why Americans have chosen to knit or have used their knitting for charitable and other purposes, rather than on techniques or technical history. It provides wonderful historical context for the upsurge in knitting we are seeing today.

    • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth, Vintage, 2001.

    • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

    • Catherine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South, Pantheon Books, 1982.

    • Jane Carson, Plantation Housekeeping in Colonial Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg, 1975.

    • Jane C. Nylander, Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

      These books are all scholarly works that contain knitting content only in passing, usually in the context of arguments about women's work and the place of textiles and needlecrafts in early American economics and society. You may have to search a bit to find the knitting content, but all of these books are rich in references, if only oblique ones, to fiber crafts of many kinds and do an excellent job of analyzing how colonial and early American life were deeply interwoven (pun intended!) with all the fiber arts.

I can ply!

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Yes, indeedy, practice makes perfect, or nearly so. Look at this!

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This could actually be some really rather nice sock yarn! That I made all by myself (and with the help, advice, and instruction of friends!)

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I realized after blocking the two hanks of the grey Hampshire/mohair, with which I learned to draft, that I was plying much too loosely. I was trying to ply the way Galina taught us, but (a) I was doing it with much thicker singles and overloading the plying spindle and (b) the cool Orenburg way of plying requires rather more coordination and control than I presently have. So this next time around I instead left the singles in two wound balls, then plied them onto the turnip spindle slowly, checking how twisted each arm-length was before winding it onto the spindle (checking it by holding it loosely and seeing what it did when left to its own devices - nothing so anal as counting twists per inch or anything). Having noticed with the two grey hanks that I had spun and finished first that my overspun singles seemed alright in the finished yarn and that those hanks had seemed much more loosely plied after finishing than before, I deliberately continued to overspin a bit and this time also slightly over-plied these new hanks (of red alpaca/mixed wool - when hanging loosely, they twisted back on themselves just a wee little bit). Then I panicked and ran to Beth to see if I was crazy and whether this had been a bad idea - she reassured me that indeed you lose about 30% of the twist from the singles when you ply, and a bit of the twist from the plying when you finish the yarn. Yay! You always know you're getting somewhere when learning a new skill when you can accurately identify what's going on. This made me feel about 10 times more confident than I'd been moments before reading Beth's email. Phew.

And so the yarn is lovely, and I'm so, so psyched! Now to try the last and final chunk of mixed grab bag roving, and then tackle the merino top Beth gave me. If I can make the latter into a semi-respectable and knittable yarn, I'm going to declare myself Much More Coordinated Than I Thought. And maybe even A Spinner in the Making.

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Someday, I want to spin and knit a whole gansey like the Yarn Harlot (thank god Hubbster is not nearly so huge as her Joe, though).

Meanwhile, I had to draw ya'll's attention to a fascinating discussion from the comments on my previous post. I mentioned that it's totally weird of the English language to call flax flax, then change its name to linen after it's spun, while in Russian they sensibly call it the same thing no matter what form it's in - "lyon." Specs, expert in Old English and Norse literature, stepped in on the etymology of "linen":

"I know it shows up in Old English and is probably from an old German(ic) word, but beyond that I'm stuck. Although it is curious -- to me, anyway, it's probably completely wrong-- that the word for "rope, cable, or line" is "line" (pronounced lin-ay). Could be that "linen" comes from that?

Anyway, I couldn't help looking up some other OE words about linen and found some really cool sounding ones:

linenhraegl: linen cloth
linhaewen: flax-colored
linwyrt: flax
linland: "land in flax" (what the heck does that mean?)

(1) I'm TOTALLY using the word "linwyrt" instead of flax from now on: sensible, and entertaining! That's how language should be.

(2) Is "linland" a field full of flax linwyrt? I have no idea, but it reminds me of something kinda cool and kinda sad: when we were driving around random backwater corners of central Russia three years ago, looking for the villages formerly owned by the subjects of my dissertation, we saw many, many fields covered in flax linwyrt. That region had been a major textile center since the 18th century, and flax linwyrt. was by far the biggest crop (there were also a lot of sheep), but since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, what little agriculture was still going on out there has ceased. There are very few young people left in villages at all, since most went to cities for education and work, and there's little to no living to be had off Russian textiles in that region since the textile factories of Ivanovo have all closed to be replaced by garish and horrible shopping malls selling imported goods at inflated prices (even though there's wonderful linen goods to be had in Russia even now (from other regions) and there used to be much, much more - sob!). Anyway, so there's still flax linwyrt. growing in the fields linlands here and there...but nobody's doing anything with it. The fields linlands are abandoned.

(3) Erika, aka historicstitcher, aka an expert on historical textiles, added this note:

old ropes, cables, and lines, at least those used on sailing vessels, were all made from tow, the shorter, rougher flax fibers not used for clothing. Could be that the words derived congruently, coming from the same source, but used differently?

So, it seems, the word linen may have come from some Germanic root and be associated with ropes, lines, hence thread, yarn and cloth. Perhaps it just meant rope/line, but because this was made from flax, the words became associated. Interestingly, the Russian word lyon sounds close enough to maybe derive from the same root, or possibly be a later borrowing from a German(ic) word (Russian has significant borrowings from German, Dutch, French as well as Central Asian languages). So the real question seems to be...where the heck does the word "flax" come from?

You know how English has different words for an animal (e.g., cow) and the food that comes from that animal (beef)? And how usually the coarser word is Germanic(ku, kuh - or is that Norwegian?), while the almost euphemistic word we use when we don't want to think about the animal we're eating is Franco-Latin ("boeuf")? I was always taught that this was because of the waves of influence from different languages, with German(ic) coming first, and therefore being retained in the simpler words. So what if the linen/flax thing is analagous? Except wouldn't it make more sense for flax to be the German word and linen a Franco/Latin thing?

I dunno, but if Specs were to do some more playing with the OED and wherever else she's looking these things up, that'd be cool. (hint, hint)

And I'll leave you with a pic of this beauteous beach towel made from linenhraegl that I bought in Moscow - it's perfect for lying on the beach because it wicks away moisture and stays cool in the sun!

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PS - Beth - I need to see that book!!! Greet - thanks for mentioning it!!

27 August 2007

I Can Draft!

(and for once I'm not talking about revising anything, least of all the diss, thank god)

Since my last post, I have been to my first fiber festival ever, and I learned how to draft with my new supported spindle. I haven't gotten much progress made on my WIPs, but I can only take so much excitement at one time!

First, the Allegan Fiber Festival. I first heard about this last year, when I just missed it, even though it takes place every year just a half-hour drive from my dear mother's home and even though she knew about it (but didn't mention it, not imagining that I was that into livestock and not realizing there might be anything else there). Soon after that devastating moment of realization almost one year ago, I discovered Beth's blog, because she posted about having been to the Allegan festival, and all the lovely things she bought there.

She reacted well to my jealous rampage in her comments, and we've been friends ever since. And now, just one year later, I've been to the festival myself, with Beth, and I brought home my own goody bag(s) full of - among other things - fiber to spin, which I never thought I'd ever be bringing home since I didn't think I'd ever be able to spin it.

(BTW, yes, now I'm lusting after a spinning wheel. I thought the one advantage to not being able to spin was that I wouldn't have to long sighingly for spinning wheels, but so much for that...)

The festival was much bigger than I expected (of course, I haven't seen Rhinebeck or Maryland). Lots of vendors (over 100 according to the directory), lots of sheepies and goats and alpacas and bunnies.

Hubbster and I ran into Galina's booth right away, and not long after converged there with Beth and one of her spinning students, Becky (in the photo below, I'm on the left in desperate need of a haircut, Becky's in the middle, Beth's on the right. Husbands and children are hovering off-camera, trying not to be embarrassed by the weird knit bloggers and their strange habits).

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Beth helped me pick out yarn to make Galina's Orenburg-style shawl, Lily of the Valley (from Knitters, Summer '04). Beth has already made a prize-winning version, and I'm going to use the same yarn, an angora/silk blend.

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The shawl is for my Grandma, and it's got to be done by her birthday in May. Hmm!

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Beth also brought me some goodies I'd asked for from her shop - my first Addi Lace needle (I hope not to be the last - it's great!) enough pink Jaggerspun Zephyr for an Orenburg shawl for myself (which I'm going to do first, so I can work out the kinks; it's already started).

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Also some tweedy-pink Jaggerspun 100% wool fingering weight, which I had thought was also Zephyr but wasn't. It's awfully pretty, though, isn't it? I'm thinking I have way too many shawls in the hopper and should use this to make some Nancy Bush socks I've been thinking about.

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Then we proceeded to explore...Beth introduced me to some of the fleeces she bought (still being carried around by the animals that produced them). Here she is picking out still another fleece:

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And we had lots of fun petting adorable sheep and goats with Beth's even more adorable kids, Ryan and Maggie. Here's me and Ryan and a goat exactly Ryan's age (and same height, too!):

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(Whenever Ryan wants to show you something, he grabs your hand and says, "Come here, I need you." Is there anything cuter than that?)

Here are some of our other new friends (you'll have to ask Beth to know what they all are - all I can tell is that they're cute and their fleeces are lovely to pet, which is enough for me):

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Throughout most of our wanderings, Hubbster was following me around, reading his detective novel and holding onto my sleeve so as not to get lost and accidentally end up going home with some other knitter:

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However, he admitted later that he actually really enjoyed himself. He loved touching and smelling all the undyed fleeces and admiring the beautifully carved spinning wheels, looms, combs, etc. Most of all he liked the animals, and especially the sheepdogs, whom he watched demonstrating their prowess with the sheep while I was off in a barn making purchases (I'd post a little video of the dogs if I knew how to do that kind of thing).

He was equally amused by all the other husbands, most of whom looked as awkward and out of place as I would at an airshow. I made a point of calling his attention to several males who were spinning or learning to spin, and he admitted that this was very cool, though not necessarily as "masculine" as could be desired. (Someday, I'm going to spin flax, and let him beat the raw flax for me [see below]; this has been pronounced a suitable activity).

I was most amazed by the Briar Rose booth - so much gloriousness in one small space! There was beautiful fiber everywhere, of course, and lots of beautiful examples of masterly hand-dyeing, but I thought the Briar Rose stuff really stood out. Beth pointed out that people tend to think Briar Rose is based in Wales because it's a sponsor of Cast-On, but actually the founder is here in Michigan.

One of the most special things for me about the festival was the lady demonstrating flax spinning. I'm uncommonly interested in this process due to having spent the last several years of my life studying the 19th-century diary of a Russian gentrywoman who spent a great deal of her time spinning (mostly flax, some wool), supervising serf weavers who made the flax into cloth, and knitting (it's not clear whether she ever knit the flax, or just wool). She left out, of course, all the details that she took for granted like what kinds of tools she used, what garments she made (other than stockings and sometimes scarves). Mostly she wrote "I spun all evening" or "I knitted a stocking." But often she wrote "the women beat the flax" or "the women scraped the flax," and sometimes "So-and-so warped 3 spools; more than yesterday!" I didn't know the process involved in preparing flax for spinning, and had quite a bit of trouble translating terms from Russian to English when neither I nor the dictionaries and various people I consulted on the Russian terms really understood the process.

Now, most of the terms have suddenly been made clear, and very real, to me:

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(the tough outer part of the flax stalk is beaten, then scraped off with a blunt wooden knife, so the inner stringy part can be combed for spinning)
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And of course after it's been spun its name changes to 'linen' in English, god knows why (it's called "lyon" in both forms in Russian)

All this thanks to Virginia Handy of Flax Craft. I love that someone out there is keeping these skills alive. And yes, I'm totally going to look for spinning wheels, and flax, as well as wool when I'm in Russia!

At this point we'd seen just about everything, and eaten our elephant ears, and said goodbye to Beth and her family, and it was time to get back home for dinner with mom.

But wait. Could I leave without buying more?

Of course I had to buy more. I'm learning to spin - I need fiber!

I lucked out, and on one last quick run through the vendor stalls found some really pretty grab-bags of very inexpensive mixed wools, perfect for playing with (from Orchard Hill Fleece Farm). I got three chunks of roving, one labeled Hampshire and mohair, another red alpaca / mixed wool, and the third cream alpaca / black border leichester / white mohair.

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Um, and then, just on my way out, I was seized by this:

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It's merino, it was only $6, and can't wait to play with those colors.

Oh, and I begged Beth to send me undyed silk hankies, so I can play with kool-aid dying and spin more hankies, since up to that point that was my favorite thing to spin.

But things have changed.

As soon as I got home from the festival I got out my turnip spindle and tried to spin the Hampshire/mohair roving from my grab bag. I was going along just like I did with the merino top that Beth gave me, which was working pretty well as you saw, and then all of a sudden the tension of my arm holding out the yarn as the twist was going in accidently drafted the fiber out into a really nice, smooth, nearly perfect single. I couldn't believe my eyes. It did it all by itself! This blend just seems to want to be spun into just that size yarn, and it will do it almost no matter how hard I try to screw it up. Now that I've been playing with it awhile, I can even get it to draft properly with my left hand before I let the twist get into it (though I still can't possibly get both hands on the fiber without stopping and holding the spindle against my leg; if I lift up my right hand while it's spinning the spindle immediately drops sideways and the fiber breaks)

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The main thing is, I think I finally get the concept of drafting. That is, I still don't have very good control, but I can see and feel how it's supposed to happen. It felt like a light-bulb turning on, really!

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The first hank of Hampshire/mohair is on the right above, the second, last, and much-improved hank is on the left. I'm going to try to apply these newfound skills to the other grab-bag fiber now before going back to the beautiful merino top, as now I've become more ambitious and am hoping to make a reasonably decent usable sock yarn from the merino!

Meanwhile, I've started some legwarmers which I forgot to photograph, and a quick little scarf in broken rib out of the silk yarn Beth gave me, which my mom has laid claim to because it's her color. I have to admit it looks much better against her skin than mine, so I will give it to her (see, Beth, I'm not a totally selfish knitter!)

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