Friday, March 25, 2016

Sock of the Month - From Outer Space and Back to Earth

NASA's Scott Kelly
When NASA's Scott Kelly left the planet Earth for his year in the International Space Station, we launched our Launch Pad Socks, the first in our Sock of the Month Space Series.

Scott Kelly was truly inspired by his year in space.  He said "The space station is such a complicated facility and was so difficult to build and such an achievement.  If we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything we want, whether that's curing cancer or going to Mars, we can do it, we just have to put the resources behind it."

I like to think the same thing is true about knitting socks.  Totally achievable.

Now that Scott Kelly is back from his Strange Orbit in Zero Gravity, and back on Terra Firma, it seems like a good time to end our year of space exploration.  But that doesn't mean we are done with the Sock of the Month Club.  Not hardly.  

Railroad Travel Brochure, 1921
We are ending our exploration of space and will be exploring our own planet then through the natural wonders of our National Parks - our next theme in our Sock of the Month Club.

When our country began, the wide open spaces were endless.  Thomas Jefferson predicted it would take 100 generations to completely settle and populate the new country.  With such a vast, wild country to explore there seemed to be no need to preserve areas for natural habitat.  The thinking was that the western territory would continue to be a great, untamed area.  If not forever then at least for a very, very long time.  But just three generations after Lewis and Clark set out to explore the great unexplored west, there wasn't a whole lot of unsettled areas left, and Americans started thinking about preserving unsettled areas as public parks.  In 1872, President U.S. Grant signed the law that created Yellowstone National Park as the first national park in the U.S.  In 1881 the U.S. Army established a fort in Yellowstone to protect and maintain the park.  Later, the Department of the Interior maintained parks, and finally in 1916 the National Park Service was created to maintain a growing list of national parks and monuments.

We'll have more history and fun facts on our national parks with the release of each new sock in the upcoming Sock of the Month Club: National Parks Series.  Get out your camping gear, pack your knitting needles, and stay tuned . . . .

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Thursday, March 17, 2016

ChiaoGoo New Twist Mini Interchangeables - And Mini Skirt History!

ChiaoGoo Twist Mini Interchangeable Set
This is something BIG!  . . . . Well, no . . . actually it's very, very small.

This spring, ChiaoGoo is releasing the smallest-sized set of interchangeable circular knitting needles to hit the market! The new Twist Mini Interchangeable Set will contain five sizes of surgical-grade stainless steel needles from US 000 to US 1.5, three standard cable lengths, and all of the standard accessories that you'll need to put them to immediate use.

It's a big deal because they're so small.  Sometimes you want the speed of chunky yarn and big needles, but for fine projects like knitted lace, super-luxurious socks and baby garments with teeny tiny stitches, you simply must have the smallest possible needles.  Until now fine gauge knitters could not enjoy the flexibility of interchangeables.  Well, mini-knitters, "Welcome to the club!"
Egtved Girl's Clothing, National Museum of Denmark
Say "mini" and I can't help but think of miniskirts, the icon of fashion of the 1960s.  But did you know that miniskirts actually have a very important place in the ancient beginnings of fiber-wearing history?

The string skirt may be the oldest form of textile clothing.  Early carved figures show women wearing string skirts of various lengths, including miniskirt length, and examples from the Bronze Age (1700 - 500 B.C.) still survive.   

One of the best preserved examples is the string skirt worn by Egtved Girl.  Egtved Girl died around 1370 B.C. when she was 16 to 18-years-old.  Her grave was discovered in 1921 near the village of Egtved in Denmard.  Buried in a hollowed-out oak log, her bones were completely gone but her hair, fingernails, clothing and burial goods were amazingly well preserved.  She (still in her log-coffin) lays in repose in the National Museum of Denmark, and made the news last year when strontium isotope testing revealed that she was no home-girl.  Egtved Girl was extremely well traveled, a German girl from the Black Forest area who in the last two years of her life traveled to Jutland (part of Denmark) for 9 or 10 months, then back to the Black Forest for four to six months, and back to Jutland a month or so before dying near Egtved.  (For more details on her travels click here and here.)

Reproduction of Egtved Girl's Outfit
The mini string skirt of the Bronze Age is a wrap-around skirt (Egtved Girl's skirt was wrapped around her twice) that ties at the waist.  The waist band is a woven belt of wool threads, but on one edge the weft threads are extended before bringing the weft back through the warp threads again, leaving long loops that make up the skirt.  A skirt of loose loops would become a knotted mess when you walked, so another thread was brought through the individual loops to secure them along the bottom.

Egtved Girl's shirt was a woven wool garment short enough to expose her midriff.  Imagine the shock to the formal world of 1921, at the very beginning of the "Flapper" era, when Egtved Girls' tummy-revealing miniskirt outfit was revealed!

But I digress ... Back to the ChioGoo needles ...

The ChiaoGoo Mini Twist Interchangeables will arrive in April, but there has been so much interest that we suggest you pre-order them now.  And if you want to use your ChiaoGoo Mini Twists while wearing a string miniskirt, well, you go Girl!

Don't like sets?  Prefer to mix and match yourself?  Each of the items in the Twist Mini sets are available individually as well so you can pick and choose what you want.

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Egtved Girl in her Log Casket

For more information on ancient string skirts read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. 

The photo of Egtved Girl in her log-coffin and her clothing are both from the National Museum of Denmark, which owns and displays the Egtved Girl. 

The reproduction of Egtved Girl's outfit is from Science Nordic.  The photo is by Lejre.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The History of Crochet

Elizabeth I in Lace Ruff, 1585 *
So how old is crochet?  It turns out that is a controversial question.

During the 1500s and into the 1600s, lace neck ruffs were all the rage. They started out small, but became larger and more outrageous over time.  Is it possible that the English "chain lace" mentioned in the 1500s is actually crochet, developed as a poor-man's lace - a faster and easier way to copy court fashion?

Making lace is a slow task, whereas crocheting is much quicker, and crocheted lace can look so similar to true lace that they can be difficult to tell apart.  The basic difference is that lace is made with multiple threads, while crochet is made by connecting loops of a single thread.  (For a more detailed explanation of lace vs. crochet click here).

There are no patterns or surviving examples of chain lace from the 1500s, so was it truly crochet?  Authorities on the history of crochet disagree.  Annie Louise Potter, author of "A Living Mystery, the International Art & History of Crochet" argues that the chain lace of the 1500s was indeed true crochet, but most authors, including Lis Paludan, author of "Crochet History & Technique" claim that crochet first appears in the 19th century.  As for me, I'm going to be like Switzerland and claim neutrality.

Gorgeous lace collar, undersleeves and cuffs, 1857 **
But whether they were crocheting in the 1500s or not, crochet appeared with a vengeance in the 1800s.

The earliest known crochet pattern was printed in 1824 in a Dutch book, "Penelope."  However, it was not yet popular, and Miss Lambert, in her 1846 "Decorative Needlework" very firmly states that crochet "did not attract particular attention until within the last seven years." 

What really made crochet take off was the combination of the Irish Potato Famine, the fashion fad of wearing lace collars and cuffs, and the work of Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere.

Between 1845 and 1852 the Irish Potato Famine killed about one million people in Ireland.  Desperate for survival, many Irish turned to crochet (which they called Shepherd's Knitting), with men, women and children all selling their beautiful crochet work to support their families.  Fortunately for the Irish (or perhaps because of the Irish), lace collars and cuffs were very fashionable in the 1840s and 1850s, and since crochet was so much faster than making lace, crocheted lace-like collars were a popular substitute.  Queen Victoria herself is said to have bought crocheted collars and cuffs from Irish crocheters.

Irish Crochet Lace Collar, 1850 - 1853, V&A Museum ***
At the same time Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere published her first book in 1846, the first of 72 books she would write on various needle arts.  She had a particular knack for reproducing old world lace in crochet, which made lace-like trims available to any woman with a crochet hook.

By the 1860s the fad for lace collars and cuffs was gone, but the passion for crochet has remained, and while crochet began as a poor-man's version of lace, it very quickly became a respected art in its own right.  Queen Victoria herself was a crocheter, and one of eight scarfs she crocheted in 1900 to be presented to distinguished solders is on display at the at the Canadian War Museum.

Irish Crochet, 1850-1860 ***
Side Note:  If Queen Victoria could crochet herself, why did she buy collars and cuffs from Irish crocheters?  Giving money to the poor was discouraged in the 19th century, but wealthy women were commended for purchasing hand-made items from poor women as a way to provide them money without encouraging idleness.

Another Side Note:  Crochet was a way to reproduce the tedious handwork required in lace making, but today lace making can be easily done by machines, and most of the lace we buy today is machine made lace.  However, crochet can not be duplicated by machine, so if you buy a crocheted item today you can be certain it was hand-made.

River Stones Wristlets
Are you up for some crocheting?  Try the recently released (and very easy to read) crochet pattern River Stones Wristlets written by FiberWild's own Amy Zimmerman (who you may know by her shop nickname, Vera).  The River Stones Wristlets pattern is free with the purchase of Zen Yarn Garden's Serenity DK.

Want more crochet history?  Check out the Crochet Guild of America's history page here.

Happy Crocheting . . . . Scout

* The top portrait is "The Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England" painted in 1585 by William Segar.  The original is in a private collection.  

** The photograph of the lady with the gorgeous lace collar, undersleeves and cuffs is Antonie Halberstadt as a bride in 1857.  The original is at Zeno.org, a German digital library.  

*** Both of the Irish Crochet Lace photos are from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum - and they have many more examples as well.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mountain Colors Yarn Makes Mountainy Colored Yarn

Awesome Colors!  Blodgett Canyon in the Bitterroot Range
The Mountain Colors Yarn company is located near colorful mountains, in the  Bitterroot Valley of Montana between the Bitterroot Range and the Sapphire Mountains.  Owners Diana McKay & Leslie Taylor are very proud of the fact that their yarn colors are inspired (and often named after) the colors of the mountains around them.

But Diana and Leslie weren't the first to enjoy the beauty of the area.  In September 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition followed the Bitterroot River and camped in an area they called Traveler's Rest, then returned to the area on the return journey in July of 1806.  Today Traveler's Rest looks pretty much the same as it did during Lewis and Clark's visit, and the area has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2002 archaeological research uncovered latrines with traces of mercury and fire hearths, making the site the only place with archaeological proof of the explorers' camp.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Squeamish Side Note:  So what's the big deal about finding latrines with mercury?  Mercury is an extremely rare chemical and not naturally found in the area.  Lewis and Clark took with them a medical kit that included 600 of Dr. Rush's Bilious Pills. The pills were a cure-all of sorts, and often used as a laxative.  The pills were 50% mercury, and while mercury is a toxic chemical it was in a form that was not easily absorbed by the body.  The result was that most of the mercury . . . ahem . . . passed through the body.  So a latrine with mercury is proof that the latrines were used by explorers who took Dr. Rush's pills, which told the archaeologists that it truly was Lewis and Clark's camp and not a Native American camp.

How did we get down that path?  Back to Mountain Colors Yarn ...

Diana McKay & Leslie Taylor
It was 186 years later (in 1992) that Diana and Leslie started Mountain Colors Yarns.  They were knitters and dyers with new babies (they met in a Lamaze class while both pregnant) and were looking for fun jobs that would allow them the flexibility to spend time with growing families.  They taught a dye workshop together, and when class participants were eager to buy their dyed samples the light bulbs went off in their heads, and the idea for Mountain Colors Yarn was born.

Their first dye kitchen was literally a kitchen, the ivory colored sink in Diana's home (yup, the sink was permanently stained and had to be replaced).  The business grew and in 1994 they moved out of the kitchen and into an old creamery building, then in 2004 moved again to their current location.  They now offer their yarns in over 100 different colorways - and every single one is hand-dyed in their mountain-hugging location. 

Spring Eclipse
Do you like to read while you knit fabulously colored yarn?  "Not My Daughter" by Barbara Delinsky is the story of three high school girls and their mothers.  The mothers are three best friends who are hand-dyers, and the novel includes a number of descriptions of the three mothers dying their yarns.  The author asked Diana and Leslie if they would produce a special color for the book, and they did - Spring Eclipse, a pink and purple blend.  The special color makes an appearance in the book and is available today as a special order color. 

Spring Eclipse, along with all of Mountain Color's yarns, patterns, and kits are on sale at FiberWild! at 20% off until March 31st. 

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout