Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Camborne Pullover and the History of Hemp

Camborne Pullover
It's a sweater.  It's a poncho.  No, it's a "Swoncho!"  Ok, it's actually called the Camborne Pullover, but since it's bulkier than a sweater, but more fitted than a poncho, we've been calling it the Swoncho around here.

The Camborne Pullover is knit in Rowan's Hemp Tweed yarn, a beautiful blend of wool and hemp in a versatile worsted weight . . .  But let's be honest here, "yarn" is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "hemp."

But perhaps it should be . . .

Hemp has been grown for fiber for at least 12,000 years.  Naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light, sailing ships used hemp rope for their riggings, and hemp fiber was used to make sail canvas.  In fact the word "canvas" is derived from the word "cannabis."  (Both hemp fiber and marijuana are products of cannabis plants, but different species of cannabis.)

"Garden Hemp" in a book published in the year 512
With sailing ships being the best method of long-distance transportation, hemp rope production was extremely profitable.  When The Virginia Company established settlements in the New World a 1619 law required all planters to grow hemp.  When the Puritans arrived in 1620 they initially struggled for survival, but by 1645 they were thriving - in part because they were profiting from hemp.

What did our founding fathers think of hemp?  George Washington grew hemp as a cash crop in 1765.  Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that produced hemp paper, and in 1776 Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

But in the 19th century Americans discovered Manila hemp.  Although it was new to us, in the Philippines they had been using fiber from the banana plant to make rope, paper and fabric for centuries (our modern manila envelopes and manila paper are made from Manila hemp).  Manila hemp is not related to the hemp plant, but Americans called it Manila hemp because the fiber's qualities were so like the hemp we were familiar with.  Hemp production in the US went down in favor of less expensive imported Manila hemp.  

Hemp stem showing fibers around a central core.
So how is hemp yarn made?  Fiber is made from the stem of the hemp plant.  Hemp grown for fiber is planted close together which forces the plant to grow tall and straight, with few leaves.  Similar to how flax is processed into linen, the cut hemp is left lying in the field for four to six weeks to rett.  The natural wetting and drying from the dew in the morning and the heat in the afternoon removes the pectin from the plant, a natural glue that attaches all those lovely fibers to the stem of the plant.  (And yes, pectin is the same natural plant glue that you add to your home-canned jelly).  The hemp is then collected from the field and baled like hay.  The hemp is rolled to remove the woody center core from the outer fibers, and then it is cleaned, carded and spun. And finally, we have yarn!

So should you smoke your Camborne Pullover?  Don't bother.  Hemp fiber is made from the stems, and the leaves (the smokeable part) rot away during the retting process.  In addition, species of hemp grown for fiber have less than .1% of THC and the smokin' variety has 20% THC.

But you should knit a Camborne Pullover!  The pattern is free with the purchase of Rowan Hemp Tweed yarn - and we've got the yarn on sale at 20% off!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The History of Knitting: Part I

Oldest Knitting: Sock at V&A Museum
The very first knitter in the history of mankind was . . . . well, nobody knows.

Very few examples of ancient knitting exist.  Since early knitting was made with natural fibers much of it naturally disintegrated on its own.  It is also likely that the earliest knitting was practical garments such as socks, caps and gloves.  And, seriously, do you save your old socks?  After ancient socks were worn beyond the mending point they were likely thrown away or tossed into the rag bag, just like today. 

But there is another reason that museums have so few examples of ancient knitting.  The golden age of archaeology was the 1920s.  Great tombs and fascinating pyramids were discovered and investigated.  In the race to acquire extraordinary mummies, valuable pottery and fascinating gold masks, ancient knitwear may have been tossed aside as worthless (A shocking concept to knitters like us!).  In addition, most of the early archaeologists were men who were unfamiliar with knitting, and as a result many nalbinded pieces were incorrectly identified as knitting, further confusing the history of knitting.  (For a fascinating look at rediscovering ancient knitting read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber).

Nalbinded Socks in V&A Museum
This was the case with a gorgeous pair of red socks made in Egypt approximately 250 - 420 AD.  For many years these socks were thought to be the earliest known knitting, and it was only recently that they were discovered to be nalbinding.  These were excavated in the burial grounds of an ancient Greek colony in Egypt in the 19th century.  They were given to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1900, and have remained there ever since.  The silly looking split toe is so that they can be worn with sandals.

So what is nalbinding?  Nalbinding is a method of connecting loops, similar to knitting (and often called single-needle knitting).  Nalbinding uses one needle with a hole in the end, like a huge a sewing needle, and like sewing it is done with a short length of yarn.  At the end of each length of yarn you must splice the end of one piece with the beginning of the next piece instead of working continuously from a ball of yarn.  It is thought to be a predecessor of knitting, but because it is so much slower, knitting became much more common.  There are still nalbinders today - but not many!

The oldest known knitting is a remnant of a sock made in Egypt around 1100 - 1300 and now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (pictured at the top).  A gorgeous two-color cotton design from an obviously experienced knitter, this is the oldest known surviving relic, but certainly was not the first-ever attempt at knitting. 

Knit Cap, 1500 - 1550, at V&A Museum
Through the centuries knitting spread from Egypt throughout Europe, but while China's culture was flourishing at this time there is, sadly, no evidence that the Chinese had adapted the craft.  Their strict trade and immigration policies meant that their culture remained uninfluenced by the outside world.  Knitting wasn't introduced in China until the early 1920s when anti-Communist Russians fled Russia after losing the Russian Civil War and settled in Shanghai.  The Chinese admired the Russians' warm knit caps and mittens and their beautifully knit military sashes, and the history of knitting in China began.

ChiaoGoo Bamboo Sock Set
Early knitting needles in Europe were metal, but in China - where bamboo is so abundant - bamboo needles were and still are very popular.  Some of the best bamboo needles come from ChiaoGoo, a company that is the result of three generations of bamboo craftsmen.  Grandfather Zheng was a bamboo craftsman who traveled from town to town with his bamboo kit making chairs, tables, barrels and baskets.  Father Zheng followed in his footsteps, but later quit traveling and built a permanent workshop.  He continued to make bamboo household goods, but also made bamboo knitting needles for Mama Zheng.  Mama Zheng was the original "ChiaoGoo" which means a "highly skilled and crafty lady."  She tested the bamboo needles and made suggestions, and soon Father Zheng's primary product became bamboo knitting needles.

In honor of Mama Zheng and all of the "crafty ladies" throughout history, we've got our ChiaoGoo needles on sale at 20% off now through February 21st, 2016.   

Stay tuned!  More on the history of knitting will follow in another post. 

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rowan - From Rug Yarn to Luxury Yarns

Oldest Surviving Rug - 5th Century BC Pazyryk Carpet
The oldest known surviving carpet in the world is the Pazyryk Carpet from the 5th century BC.  Unearthed in a frozen Pazyryk grave (in Siberia), the wool rug is in remarkable condition.  The design has flowers along with horsemen, griffins (a mythical half lion-half eagle beast), and deer woven in rich reds, blue and yellow.

You know Rowan as a knitting yarn manufacturer today, but did you know they started out making rug yarn?  Nearly 2,000 years after the Pazyryk Carpet was made (in 1978, to be exact), Stephen Sheard and Simon Cockin set up shop in Yorkshire, England to sell rug yarn.

Now the thing about rug yarn is it has to be a sturdy, durable yarn and able to withstand a lot of use - but not necessary pretty.  Rowan's aim was to change that standard by developing colorful rug weaving yarns in vibrant colors.  Their rug yarn was targeted towards designers and rug weavers who wanted to create rugs that were exciting!

Rowan Pure Wool Worsted
Kaffe Fassett was (and still is!) a painter, knitter, and needlepoint designer who loved vibrant colors when he teamed up with Rowan in 1981.  He consulted Rowan on rug yarn colors, but with Kaffe Fassett egging them on it wasn't long before Rowan shifted its focus away from rug yarn to the luxury handknit yarns that we know Rowan for today.

And that's good news for knitters like us!  We carry 42 different Rowan yarns. For the month of January we have all of them on sale at 20% off!

That's a lot of fun yarn to choose from, but I'd have to say my favorites are Pure Wool Superwash Worsted and Pure Wool Superwash DK.  They're both good, solid staple yarns in an impressive range of colors (55 Worsted colors and over 30 DK colors!), plus I like that they are machine washable and maintain their wool features better than other superwashes.
Max's Adventures with Rainbows Sweater
Of all of the staff here at FiberWild! only Karen has grandchildren, so we all swoon appropriately over her grandkids - and especially over things she has knit for the grands!  Karen was just giddy over two-year-old Max's sweater, knit with the Adventures with Rainbows pattern by Jennifer Steingass (available on Ravelry) with Pure Wool Superwash Worsted yarn.  Karen said it was a simple knit that went quickly because of the weight of the yarn - because there's nothing worse than finishing a child's garment only to find out he outgrew it before you finished it!

Kaffe Fassett KAL in Pastels, by Ladymay

Psst!  Did you join in the 2014 Kaffe Fassett Mystry Knit-Along?  We have a great shopping list of the Rowan Pure Wool Worsted yarn needed for each of Kaffe's four suggested colorways - and they are all on sale at 20% off!  Plus, since the pattern is no longer a mystery, we have photos of the completed projects!  Yay!

Happy Knitting . . . . Amy