Thursday, July 21, 2016

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Friday, July 15, 2016

History of Knitting: Part V, Civil War Socks

Christmas Boxes in Camp, 1861 by Winslow Homer *
Before automobiles, the easiest way to get an army from Point A to Point B was to walk.  Civil War soldiers typically walked 10 to 15 miles in a day ... it was hard on their shoes, but also hard on their socks.  While both the Union and Confederacy army issued their soldiers with socks, the men quickly learned that it wasn't enough.  They needed more socks!  Letters from both sides in the war, contain pleas to their wives, mothers and sisters to send more socks!

Union soldier L.W. Wolcott wrote to his mother on September 22, 1862: 
If this reached you in time I wish you would send me my rubber blanket, two pair of homemade socks (they are so much better than we can get), a good stout tablefork and a spoon as it is impossible to get them here.  The socks Mrs. Lockwood gave me are about worn out but the towel does good service yet. 
It warms any knitter's heart to hear someone say that a pair of homemade socks are "... so much better than we can get," and I can imagine Wolcott's mother picking up her knitting needles the second she put down his letter!

Private Joseph Saberton of Company C, 25th Indiana Volunteer Infantry wrote to his brother on November 20, 1862: 
Those socks you sent me came in just the time.  Our boys are mighty hard up for socks, they have neither socks, or drawers.
Side Note:  So what are "drawers"?  Underwear.  Men in the 19th century didn't wear the briefs or boxers of today, instead they wore long cotton pants under their wool trousers to keep clean (drawers were washed more frequently than the trousers) and to prevent itching in delicate areas.

Six and Eighty-Six Knitting for the Soldiers, 1865 **
Take a look at Winslow Homer's engraving of Christmas in a Union Civil War camp above.  How many pairs of socks do you see?  One soldier is so excited to receive new socks he is gleefully waving a sock over his head, and two soldiers are putting on their new socks right now!  The sock-wearer in the center didn't even bother to cut the two socks apart; he is putting on one while its mate is still attached at the toe.  

Want to try knitting a pair of Civil War socks?  Here is an original pattern from 1865, posted by the Atlantic Guard Soldier's Aid Society (a Civil War reenacting group).  It's fun to read, but hard to knit - primarily because knitting terms have changed over the years ... you'll feel like you're reading a foreign language.  However, all is not lost!  The March / April 2009 edition of Piecework has wonderful patterns for both a Union sock and a Confederate sock, written for the modern knitter and available on Ravelry.

Need help with your socks?  The staff at FiberWild! have knit many socks, both modern and historic patterns.  Give us a call, we're happy to help!

Civil War woman knitting.  Perhaps socks?
Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

* "Christmas Boxes in Camp - Christmas 1861" by Winslow Homer and published in Harper's Weekly on January 4, 1862.

** "Six and Eighty-Six Knitting for the Soldiers" is from The Tribute Book:  A Record of the Munificence, Self-Sacrifice and Patriotism of the American People during the War for the Union (yup, that's the whole title) by Frank Goodrich.  Published in 1865, it highlights the aid societies and volunteer work done by many, and especially women, during the Civil War.  Click here to see a digital copy of it in the Hathi Digital Trust.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Mount Rainier's Paradise Inn and the Paradise Meadow Socks

Female Skiers in Norway, 1890s *
Humans have been traveling over snow on skis since at least 5,000 B.C., but the idea of skiing for sport or recreation has only been around since the mid 1800s.  Our earliest ancestors used skis primarily on flat ground for transportation, hunting, or military expeditions (what we call cross-country skiing today) ... so the first recreational skiers did the same.  But what skier doesn't like the thrill of gliding down an unexpected hill?  By the 1880s recreational skiers were shifting to downhill skiing.

In 1899 President William McKinley signed a bill authorizing the creation of Mount Rainier National Park, the nation's fifth national park.  The park encompasses all of Mount Rainier, a large active stratovolcano that is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range and the highest mountain in the state of Washington.

Science Corner:  So what is a stratovolcano?  Also called a composite volcano, a stratovolcano is the most common kind of volcano.  They tend to be very steep mountains, built up by many layers of hardened lava.  The lava from a stratovolcano cools and hardens before traveling far and spreading out, which creates the very steep sides.  Think of one of those wine bottle candles decorated with many, many layers of candle wax.

Mount Rainer National Park **
But back to the park ... the area had already been designated as a forest preserve (called a forest reserve at that time), but designating the area as a national park gave it additional protection.  Paradise Valley, on the slopes of Mount Rainier (so named because the area was so beautiful it was like being in paradise!), was already a popular hiking, climbing, skiing and a camping destination.  Soon, the national park designation increased visitorship even more.  Locals began to worry that the number of tourists would attract rampant private commercialization and unregulated development.  As a result, local businessmen joined together to create the Rainier National Park Company and were granted a 20-year lease that allowed them - and no one else - to build a commercial building on the site. 

Paradise Inn, about 1933 ***
Started in 1915 and opened in 1917, the Paradise Inn was designed to be a rustic piece of paradise.  Built of native logs and stone, the inn had an enormous lobby with massive river-rock fireplaces and a gorgeous dining area.  But while the public areas were impressive, the original 37 guest rooms were only 8 feet by 8 feet and lacked private bathrooms.

Visitors flocked to the Paradise Inn!  Almost immediately bungalow tents were built to house additional guests, and three years later (1920) an annex was constructed with an additional 100 rooms (58 of which had their own private bathroom!).

Paradise Inn reception desk, about 1933 ***
The Paradise Inn benefited from the interest in recreational skiing.  The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 and included cross-country skiing, then downhill skiing was added in 1936.  The Paradise Inn hosted Winter Olympic ski trials in 1935 in preparation for the 1936 Olympics.

The Paradise Inn installed a ski tow rope in 1936.  So how did skiers get to the top before the tow rope?  They had to walk!  While anyone could do cross-country skiing, only the extremely athletic were able to walk to the top, ski down, then walk back up to the top repeatedly.  After the first skier tow rope was installed in Quebec in 1933, resorts everywhere started using tow ropes and interest in downhill skiing increased.  

The Paradise Inn has had it's ups and downs but continues to operate today.  Downhill skiing is no longer allowed because it is damaging to the vegetation beneath the snow, but cross-country skiing is encouraged - and said to be the best way to experience the lush beauty of Mount Rainier under the new-fallen snow!

Is it possible to design socks that are as pretty as the Paradise Valley of Mount Rainier?  Well, we sure tried!  Check out our Paradise Meadow socks that combine the green of the valley, the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds and the purple of the blossoming wildflowers.

Happy Knitting . . .  Scout

* Women skiers in Norway in the 1890s. Note that they are shown with a single pole, the most ancient method of skiing.  Prehistoric petroglyphs (drawings carved into rock) show figures on skis with a single pole, not two poles as we ski today.  For more on ancient skiing click here.

** Stunning photo of Mount Rainier with wildflowers in full bloom, taken by Judi Kubes and posted on the U.S. Department of the Interior's Facebook page.  The photo was entered in their Share the Experience photo contest.

*** Paradise Inn photos are from a collection in the Library of Congress, most taken around 1933.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Founding Mother - Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams in 1766, age 22 *
It's Fourth of July weekend!  Time to think about our Founding Fathers . . . but what about our Founding Mothers?

Abigail Adams was the wife our second president, John Adams, and the mother of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams.  She was far more than just a pretty face!

While the country was new there was no skimping on the education of boys and young men.  Boys were taught reading, arithmetic, foreign languages, business and science.  Harvard began in 1636, the College of William & Mary in 1693 and Yale University in 1701.  Of course, they only admitted male students.

Early American girls, however, were taught far fewer subjects, with the emphasis on reading, knitting and needlework.  The idea wasn't to produce well-educated women, but rather to raise women who were capable of running their household.  Abigail Adams was appalled by the "trifling narrow, contracted education of the females of my own country."

Abigail Adams in 1810, age 66 **
... and who better to be unimpressed with the education of American women!  The daughter of a minister, Abigail Adams was noted for her extraordinary education - an unusual accomplishment for a woman of her time.  Educated at home, her mother taught her how to read and write.  From there the vast libraries of her father and uncle educated her in English and French literature.  A devoted reader, she studied philosophy, theology, Shakespeare, the classics, ancient history, government and law.  Family dinners often included her grandfather, John Quincy ... a member of the colonial Governor's council and Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly.  Double helpings of daily politics were typically served.

Abigail and John Adams were third cousins and had met as children, but things didn't click until the two met at a social gathering in 1762 when Abigail was 17 (John was about ten years older than her).  Three years later they married, and nine months later their first baby was born.  They had six children in total, four of which lived to adulthood.

Abigail and John Adams were frequently apart during their marriage.  Adams is best known as the second President of the U.S., but he also served as Vice President under Washington and served terms as ambassador to England, the Netherlands and France.  For much of that time Abigail was at home to manage their farm.  While separated she sent frequent long letters to Adams, detailing her life at home, comments on their children, and politics.  Today over 1,000 letters between Abigail and John Adams are in the Massachusetts Historical Society where they give us a personal look into domestic and political life during the revolutionary era.

My favorite quote is from an April 5th addition to her letter of March 31, 1776.  She says she will try to find some time to make saltpeter (a component of gunpowder, no doubt for the ongoing Revolutionary War), at Adam's request.  But she also says "I find as much as I can do to manufacture cloathing for my family which would else be Naked."  The idea of making homespun clothing in revolt against the Wool Act of 1699 and the Stamp Act of 1765 instead of purchasing wool and clothing exported from England was a lofty goal - but she was finding that it was very difficult to clothe herself and her five children entirely in homemade garments!  The letter implies that she has vowed to clothe her family in homespun or have them go naked!

However, her most famous quote is from the same letter when she urges her husband and the other members of the Continental Congress to remember the importance of women in the founding of their new nation:
I long to hear that you have declared an independancy—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
Written almost 150 years before women were given the right to vote, the letter would have invoked a patronizing pat on the head and an "Oh, isn't she cute!" sort of response from most men at a time.  In fact her own husband replied with "As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh."  Her preposterous suggestion of giving some power to women was treated as a joke at the time, but today it is viewed as the first effort in a long line of women who fought for women's equality.

Abigail Adams was almost certainly a knitter.  While I found no reference to her knitting, it was such a common part of a woman's everyday life that it would have been noted if she was not a knitter.  So when you knit this weekend think of Abigail Adams and her silly little suggestion that the new laws of the land be more favorable to women!

Looking for a new knitting project?  Or just want another one?  Give us a call at FiberWild, we are glad to provide lots of new project ideas - or perhaps two or three!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

* Painting by Benjamin Blythe, 1766

** Painting by Gilbert Stuart, 1810-1815.  Yes, it took him five years to finish the portrait!  The original is in the National Gallery of Art

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Hairy History

The Seven Sutherland Sisters, 1911 *
For most of American history women had long hair.  Period.  Through the centuries it was worn in different styles of buns and curls, up-dos and braids, but a respectable woman always had long hair underneath.

The epitome of long hair was the Seven Sutherland Sisters - who wouldn't want their gorgeous hair?  A singing group that was said to be mediocre, each of the seven sisters had long dark hair that reached the floor.  Their manager-father soon realized that it was their hair and not their voices that attracted the crowds, and he capitalized on it.  They started their show with each sister's hair tied up with a ribbon. After a few songs they turned their backs to the audience and simultaneously pulled out their hair ribbons so that a cascade of dark hair fell to the floor.  They credited their locks to the secret hair tonic their mother made for them, and ended up making more money selling their own brand of hair tonics than they ever could from singing alone.

Irene & Vernon Castle, 1914 **
Early in the 20th century some women cut their hair short, but it was primarily actresses and prostitutes - not respectable women!  However, the aversion to short hair changed during World War I (1914 - 1918).  Irene Castle and her husband Vernon Castle were a famous American dance couple who appeared on Broadway and in early silent films.  They popularized the foxtrot, ragtime and jazz on stage and opened dance schools, giving social dancing a new respectability.  Irene became an icon of fashion and style, and in 1915 appeared with her hair cut into a short bob.  The straight cut level with the lobes of the ears soon became known as the Castle Bob.

By 1920 short hair was all the rage among the young, and cutting your hair into a short bob was seen as a sign of modernity and independence.  In F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (1920), Bernice goes from being dull and boring to becoming popular with the boys just by talking about bobbing her hair.  The older generations still felt that short hair was a passing fad.  Many hairdressers, trained to dress long hair, refused to accept the new styles so young women shocked society even more by going to men's barber shops to get their hair bobbed.  (It turns out barbers, used to cutting short styles on men, were great at cutting bobs!)

Doris Kenyon in turban, 1920s ***
Short hair was here to stay, and while today it is acceptable to wear hair long or short, when we think of the 1920s, we think of short hair.

One of the advantages of short hair is that it is so easy to wear a hat!  Hats and bonnets in the 19th century had to be designed with room to stash buns and braids, but the new hats of the 1920s were sleek and close fitting - a style that is only possible when the hair is short.

The cloche, a tight-fitted cap, was popular worn low over the face so the eyes were just peeking out - very sexy!  Turbans were also popular, adding an exotic and mysterious flair to the new short hairstyles.

Fortunately, 1920s style hats are easy styles to knit!   And the knitted versions look great whether you have long hair or short hair.  Check out our new Abalone Shell Hat and Nautilus Shell Hat turban style patterns (for a limited time both patterns are free with the purchase of the yarn!), or our Modern Cloche pattern or the Simple Crocheted Cloche with Flower pattern - then put some ragtime on the Victrola, grab your mint julep - and get knitting!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Abalone Shell Hat
* One of many, many, many publicity photos of the Seven Sutherland Sisters promoting their hair (and their hair tonics!).
** A page from Irene & Vernon Castle's book Modern Dancing, published in 1914.  The title is "The Tango of Today" and they are demonstrating a hands-free tango. Irene's hair is bobbed and in a turban style hat.
*** A silent film star who later performed in movies and even TV, Doris Kenyon's career spanned from 1915 to 1962.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The History of Knitting: Part IV, Colonial Knitting

The Mayflower (knitting needles on board?) *
The first knitting machine was invented in 1589, so when the Mayflower set sail for America in 1620 the Pilgrims on board surely knew about knitting machines.  But there is no record that any knitting frames were brought along - and it's not likely, since space was at a premium and knitting needles take up a lot less space than a giant, heavy, knitting machine frame.

So the Colonial family's knitting was done at home.  The first record of a knitting machine frame in America was a full 150 years after the Mayflower landed, in a 1771 ad in the Virginia Gazette for a "newly invented instrument for knitted, knotted, double looped work, to make Stockings, Breeches Pieces, or Silk Gloves, Cotton or Worsted."

Knitting at home fit along perfectly with the colonial mindset.  Colonists abhorred idleness and laziness, and diaries of the period are often a dull list of the tasks accomplished each day instead of the juicy gossip and guarded secrets that we modern folks think a good diary should contain.  The greatest compliment was to say that one was an "industrious woman."  A good woman should be busy at all times, and in her idle moments waiting for a pot to boil or the bread to rise, she should pick up her knitting needles!

Girl Knitting by André Bouys **
As the Colonies were established and trade routes became more dependable, Colonists were able to purchase knit goods and other items that were shipped to the Colonies from England.  While it increased the variety of goods available to the Colonists, it also increased the taxes the Colonists paid.  The Wool Act of 1699 forbade Colonists from selling wool, wool yarn or wool cloth outside of the colony where it was produced, and also restricted the importing of wool produced within the British Empire.  All British citizens (including the Colonists) could only buy wool from or sell wool to their fellow British citizens.  The Wool Act increased the taxes of the Colonists (wool was taxed upon importing and exporting), and by restricting the markets where they could sell their wool it also potentially reduced their wool profits.  

The 1765 Stamp Act required paper products such as legal documents, magazines and newspapers to be printed on "stamped" paper, meaning paper that was printed in London and had received a stamp certifying that the paper tax had been paid.  Some had suggested a boycott of English goods after the Wool Act, an idea that gained greater momentum after the Stamp Act. 

When the Sons of Liberty was formed to boycott English goods and resist the Stamp Act, women followed with the Daughters of Liberty, vowing to forgo all British goods and instead spin, weave and knit all of their families clothing and wear nothing but homespun.

Martha Washington knitting ***
While a simple “spinning bee” used to be a social affair where women gathered to gossip and chat while spinning, spinning and knitting was now a political action.  Churches hosted spinning bees, and preachers preached while the women spun and knit.  Often after a day of spinning the men joined the ladies for picnics and rowdy renditions of Sons of Liberty ballads.  The amount of thread and yarn spun at the spinning bees was often published in the local paper as towns and congregations established rivalries to produce the most. 

Wearing homespun became a political statement.  At the first commencement of Rhode Island College (later Brown University) in the 1760s, the president proudly wore homespun clothing while conducting the ceremony.  At Harvard, the faculty and students all wore homespun clothing. 

Women were now in an unusual situation.  Women were not allowed to vote and it was considered inappropriate for a women of the time to be involved in politics, but in their role of maintaining their homes and purchasing or producing food and clothing for their families, they had the ultimate say in whether their family would purchase British goods in loyalty to England or produce homespun clothing as a show of independence. 

Knitting, 1793 ****
Martha Washington herself was a fierce knitter and was said to never be without her knitting needles.  During the Revolutionary War she spent many months in camp with General George Washington.  She was called “Lady Washington” and was said to be a grand lady, America’s own version of royalty, yet when Mrs. Troupe had the honor to visit Mrs. Washington in camp she said “We found her (Mrs. Washington) knitting and with an apron on!  She received us very graciously and easily, but after the compliments were over she resumed her knitting.  There we were without a stitch of work, and sitting in state, but General Washington’s lady with her own hands was knitting stockings for herself and her husband.” (No Idle Hands, page 39)

You may not knit as a form of political protest today (hey, I just knit because it's fun!), but whatever your reason for knitting, at FiberWild we're happy to help!

Want more?  My favorite book on the history of knitting in America is No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L. Macdonald.

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

* The Mayflower in Harbor, painted by William Halsall in 1882 and now at the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
**   Girl Knitting by AndrĂ© Bouys, a French painted who lived 1656 - 1740.  This had been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and was sold in 2014.
***  A gorgeous lithograph of Martha and George Washington.  Unfortunately, I don't have any more information than that.
**** The caption on this 19th century costume plate says "Tricoteuse, 1793" which translates from the French as "Knitting Machine."  So is she the knitting machine?  Note that her yarn is held in a "pocket" on the outside of her skirt.  The original is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mount Olympus, Athena and Arachne - Oh My!

Athena with her Sword and Shield *
The next sock in our Sock of the Month Club: Park Your Socks series is the Fern and Forest sock, named after Washington's lush rain forest (the only one in the U.S.!), gorgeous mossy green trails, and the spectacular views of Mount Olympus at Olympic National Park.

Mount Olympus in the US, you say?  I thought it was in Greece?  Well, it's not that Mount Olympus.

The Olympic Mountains is a mountain range in the state of Washington, and Mount Olympus is the highest point of the Olympic Mountains.  With a long approach, heavy annual snowfall and difficult terrain, it is known by mountain climbers as a particularly difficult peak to climb.

And yes, indeed, it was named after the legendary home of the Greek gods. The local Native American name was Sunh-a-do, and it was later given its first European name "El Cerro del la Rosalina (The Hill of the Holy One Rosalia)" by a Spanish explorer in 1774.  But just four short years later in 1778  British explorer Captain John Meares was so astounded by its beauty that he named the mountain Mount Olympus and said "For truly it must be the home of the Gods."

In Greek mythology, the peak was the home of the Twelve Olympian Gods, but of the dozen my hands-down favorite Olympian god is Athena.  The goddess of war who was also the goddess of handicrafts, she was known for her spinning and weaving and was sometimes shown with a distaff in her hand.

Girls learning to spin and hold their distaffs. **
A quick tangent for my non-spinning friends - So what's a distaff?  A distaff is a pole to hold your flax as you spin on a drop spindle, and the best distaffs are long enough so that you can hold it tucked into your armpit to keep both of your hands free to spin.  A distaff can be as simple as a long stick you pick up off the forest floor or it can be an elaborately carved piece of art.

A distaff is used for flax and other plant fibers, not wool and other animal fibers.  Today in legal terms your mother's side of the family is called your distaff side, because your spinning skills (and your distaff) would have been handed down from your mother's side.

But back to the goddess Athena ... the favorite Athena myth among fiber friends has to be the legend of Athena and Arachne.

Athena weaving on the left and Arachne on the right. ***
Arachne (a mortal) was a student of Athena, and learned to be a wonderful weaver from the goddess.  But Arachne grew vain about her weaving skills, and bragged that she was a better weaver than the goddess.  Athena heard rumors of Arachne's bragging, and disguised herself as an old woman to visit Arachne to hear the bragging for herself.  Arachne told the old woman (not realizing that it was Athena) that she could weave better than Athena, and said that if Athena would agree to a contest she would prove it.  The old woman revealed herself as Athena, and agreed to the contest.  Both weavers set up their looms and both set to their work.  But this was no ordinary over-under-over-under weaving, both women wove intricate storytelling tapestries.  Athena wove a stunning scene of her victory over Poseidon, but Arachne wove a tapestry showing 21 scenes of the infidelities of the gods, including many showing the infidelity of Zeus (Athena's father!).

Fern and Forest Socks
Both tapestries were flawlessly spun and woven, but Athena was enraged by being equaled by a mortal and offended by Arachne's subject matter.  Athena threw her spindle at Arachne's tapestry with such force that it broke the loom and destroyed the tapestry, then she turned Arachne into a spider and declared that she and all of her descendants would spin and weave for all eternity.

Note to self:  If you are ever challenged to a weaving competition with a goddess, stick to weaving scenes of rainbows and butterflies - not a subject that is going to enrage a goddess!

Today spiders continue to spin and weave flawlessly, and the scientific name for spiders is arachnids, named after the great spinner and weaver Arachne.

If you feel inspired by Arachne, you are welcome to spin your own yarn for the Fern and Forests socks, but if you are short on time we suggest the gorgeous colors of Rowan's Fine Art Yarn.

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

* This figure of Athena is one of many gorgeous statues at the Academy of Athens, Greece's national academy.  The city of Athens was named after Athena and she was their protector goddess.

** Painting by Swiss painter Albrecht Samuel Anker.  It shows a medieval domestic scene of a woman teaching spinning to young girls, although it was actually painted much later, in 1888.

***  I could not find the original source of this intriguing photo anywhere - so if you know where it came from please let us know!  Athena, on the left, weaves a scene of herself before the chariot of Poseidon, and Arachne's weaving on the right shows Zeus, in the form of a white bull, seducing and abducting Europa (yup, it's creepy).