Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fever River Lite Yarn and Galena's Fever River

If it's a Monday morning, don't expect us to get any work done until we have thoroughly discussed Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones.  We are obsessed!

We've had our exclusive Mountain Colors' Alpaca Blend yarn for a few years now, but when we saw the similar sport weight yarn we had to add it to our collection. We named it Fever River Lite and created four new colorways, also inspired by Game of Thrones.

Small Wild Bean
Thrones fans will recognize the Fever River feeding the inlet Saltspear in the North, but the name has a local connection to us Galenians, too.  The Galena River runs through the center of our town of Galena (and is visible through the FiberWild! back windows!) before joining the Mississippi River.  Before it was named the Galena River, early French fur traders named it the "Riviere aux Feves" which meant the "River of Beans," simply because a number of wild beans grew along the river's banks.  English speaking fur traders corrupted the "Riviere Feves" into "Fever River."  Fever River is a terrible name that conjures up images of fever and sickness, so in 1911 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (yup, that's a real agency) officially named the river the Galena River.

Terrible name or not, the name holds a historic charm and many locals continue to call it the Fever River.  A quick look through the phone book today still shows a number of businesses and organizations named Fever River.  In the early 1990s the U.S. Board on Geographical Names proposed changing the name back to the Fever River, but the proposal was rejected and the name Galena River officially remained.  Wisconsin, however, proposed and passed a state bill to rename the Galena river north of the Wisconsin state line back to Fever River.

Anyways, back to the Fever River Lite yarn, which will not make you feverish or sick.  Although you may call into work sick just so that you can spend an uninterrupted day at home knitting with this gorgeous blend of soft merino and alpaca!

The exclusive yarn is available in four Thrones-inspired colors:  Dragon Blood, Little Lion, Green Dragon and Ice Wall.  And, yes, we also have Thrones-inspired patterns to go along with the new yarn:
  • The Dragon Tooth Shawlette features a rhythmic all-over tooth-like texture that's simple to knit and gorgeous in the Dragon Blood colorway.  
  • The Lion's Mane Cowl is full of cables, with more twists than the Game of Thrones plot!  Fit for any mighty house in Westeros, the brown, yellow and gray of the Little Lion colorway will remind you of Tyrion Lannister's tresses.
  • More to Come!  Stay tuned to see what interesting patterns Amy has come up with for our two remaining colors, Dragon Green and Ice Wall!
Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park & Continental Divide Socks

Bighorn Sheep, native to the Rocky Mountains
Going on a trip to the Rocky Mountains?  Well, you won't be the first.

The first tourists to visit the area of the Rocky Mountain National Park were the Paleo-Indians who visited about 11,000 years ago.  The Paleo-Indians left behind lots of stone tools, a familiar feeling for any modern camper who returns home to unload the car and yells out "Has anyone seen my (fill-in-the-blank)?  I think I might have left it behind at our campsite."

Later the Ute tribe inhabited the area that became the Rocky Mountain National Park. While the park area was never their permanent home, the Ute tribe dominated the area until the late 1700s (the state of Utah is named after the Ute tribe).

Ute Chief Severo and Family, 1899
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson agreed to the Louisiana Purchase.  The eastern boundary of the giant Louisiana area was obvious - it was the Mississippi River - but the western boundary was a bit fuzzy.  Did it include all of the Rocky Mountains, or just the eastern edge of the mountain range?  And who really knew much about those mysterious, unexplored mountains, anyway?  Did we even want them

Jefferson's answer was to explore the Rocky Mountain region and map out the area to be prepared for future boundary disputes that he, wisely, knew would be coming one day.  In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition left on their journey to become the first to scientifically explore and map the Rocky Mountain area.  Their vivid descriptions of beauty and wildlife brought mountain men who hunted and trapped in the Rocky Mountain area throughout the 1800s.  Trapping beaver peaked from the 1820s to the 1840s, when beaver fur hats were being replaced by silk hats, and at the same time the beaver population was declining.  In the 1860s homesteaders were moving into the area, building farms and communities. 

Mountain Man Seth Kinman, 1860
But as mountain men were disappearing at the end of the 19th century, the desire for the mountain man's legendary open-air lifestyle remained strong.  It had seemed that America's wild open spaces would last forever.  Thomas Jefferson had predicted it would take 100 generations to settle the west - boy, was he wrong, it took only about three generations!  Open spaces were disappearing, and by 1900 the growing national conservation and preservation movement advocated for an appreciation of nature and open spaces.  Camping and hiking became popular pastimes.  Homesteaders who had found the Rocky Mountain area difficult to farm found they could make more money by catering to tourists by building lodges, trails and roads.  

America's first national park was Yellowstone National Park, declared in 1872, although there was no national park service to take care of it. Yellowstone was maintained for many years by the U.S. Army, and later by the Department of the Interior.  As additional areas were declared national parks they were maintained independently as completely separate units under the Department of the Interior. One and a half years after the Rocky Mountain National Park was established, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill to create the National Park Service to conserve and maintain all of the national parks.

In 1909 Enos Mills, a Rocky Mountain nature guide and lodge owner, presented the idea of protecting the Rocky Mountains with a new national park.  Mills hoped that "In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park."  After a six year campaign he was successful, and 101 years ago (January 26, 1915) President Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act to create the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Continental Divide Socks
Now we're not asking you to copy Enos Mills and his six year battle to designate a new national park, we just want you to go to any park and knit.  Knit the Continental Divide socks (the first sock in our new National Parks Sock of the Month Series!), or any other sock pattern and then take a picture of your socks in any park to win monthly and quarterly prizes!

So what's the Continental Divide?  You learned about it in third grade, but can you still remember it now?  All water flows downhill and will eventually reach either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. The Continental Divide is the line across the Americas (in the Rocky Mountains) where snow and rain on one side of the mountain will flow towards the Atlantic and snow and rain on the other will reach the Pacific.

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Friday, April 8, 2016

The History of Knitting: Part III, English vs. German

German / Continental Knitting *
Do you knit English (throwing) or German / Continental (picking)? 

German / Continental knitting is the older style.  Holding your yarn in the left hand and using your right hand needle to "pick" the yarn through the loop is a faster, more efficient way to knit than the English method of using the right index finger to throw the yarn around the needle. 

What?  So now all the English knitters are saying, "That's not true - I knit English and I knit very fast!"  I like to compare it to qwerty typing vs. hunt-and-peck typing.  If you lay your fingers on the middle row of the keyboard (called "qwerty" typing because the q, w, e, r, t and y keys are visible in the row above your left hand) it takes some time to learn, but the arrangement of the letters and the mechanics of human fingers are such that it is the fastest possible way to type.  If you look at the keyboard and use your two index fingers to find each letter (hunt-and-peck) you can still type extremely fast, but the fastest hunt-and-peck typists will never be as fast as the fastest qwerty typists.  The same is true for knitting.  Some English knitters knit very, very fast, but because of the physics of the movements the fastest English knitters will never be as fast as the fastest German knitters.

William Lee's Knitting Machine (1589)
The change in knitting styles is directly related to the invention of knitting machines.  The first knitting machine was invented in 1589 by William Lee, but when he asked Queen Elizabeth (the first) for a patent she refused because hand knitting provided so much needed income to her subjects.  Nearly 75 years later (1663) the London Company of Framework Knitters was granted a charter.  The knitting frame was a bulky machine and much too expensive for most people to buy, so knitting frames were purchased by wealthy investors who hired them out to knitters to use in their homes and then paid the knitters by the piece.  It was a middle ground between hand knitting and machine knitting in a factory (which came much later), but most knitting was still done by hand at home.

Improvements were made to the knitting frame here and there, but it was another hundred years before the next major change, and that was not a change to the knitting frame itself but a change in spinning technology.  The Industrial Revolution increased the amount of yarn that could be spun with the invention of the spinning jenny (1764), the cotton gin (1783) and the spinning mule (1779).  With a dependable supply of yarn, it was now not only possible but practical to establish factories that could knit by machine.

Knitting English, 1860 **
The purpose of machine-knit garments was to make as many as possible at a low cost in order to sell them at a profit.  As a result, machine-knit garments often were a lower quality than hand knit garments.  To increase profits "shoddy" was often used in knitting machines.  The word "shoddy" originated early in the 19th century and referred to shredding old wool fabric, then re-spinning the shredded wool to create new yarn and a new garment.  (Shoddy is the opposite of "virgin wool," which is wool that is spun into yarn for the first time).  The shredded, shorter shoddy wool fibers make an inferior product that wears down quickly, and today the word shoddy means an inferior item.

Hand knit garments were a higher quality than machine knit, not because of the knitting process itself but because of the materials used (virgin wool vs. shoddy).  But, the simple fact that machine knit garments were available changed the face of knitting.  No longer was a woman knitting as fast as she could to provide desperately needed socks for her family, since cheaply made socks could be purchased at a store.  Whether you bought your knit goods or made them at home didn't matter, the fact was that you could purchase them if you wanted to.  Now women were knitting to show that they were industrious women who were not prone to laziness (she doesn't have to knit, but she does anyway), a trait highly valued in the 19th century, and especially important when looking for a wife.  Knitting was slowly evolving from a necessary chore to a hobby.

As a result, the way a knitter knit was also changing.  German knitting is efficient, but English knitting is prettier and more graceful.  The actual knitting looks the same, but it is you, the knitter, who looks more delicate when gracefully winding the yarn around the needle with the right hand (especially if done while the little pinkie is extended up in the air!).  The Workwoman's Guide (1838) and Decorative Needlework (1846) both give instructions for knitting using the German method, but by the end of the 19th century The Art of Knitting (1892) gives instructions using the English method.

A favorite quote is from American Agriculturist Magazine, May 1864 (reprinted in Commend Me to A Knitting Wife): 
I will live in hopes one of these days of getting married; and if I do, I trust it will be to a woman who is a great knitter.  Of all the many accomplishments which adorn the gentler sex, I do assure them, from the very bottom of my heart, that I esteem knitting among the greatest.  . . . . Commend me, then, to a knitting wife – a gentle being whom I hope it will yet be my happiness to possess!
Today both English and German are accepted.  So which do you use?  Well, we don't care, we love all knitters here at FiberWild! (and we have both English and German knitters on our staff, to help fellow knitters of every kind).

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

*  "Girl Knitting" by Albert Anker (1831 - 1910).  You can tell she is knitting German because the yarn is held with tight tension in her left hand - she is just about to "pick" the yarn in her left hand with her right-hand needle.
**  "Young Girl Knitting," 1860.  Original is owned by the Walters Art Museum.  The yarn is loosely held in her right hand, without any tension.  She either just finished "throwing" the yarn in her right hand or is just about to. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Industrial Revolution and Berroco Yarns

Bobbin Girl by Winslow Homer, 1871
The Industrial Revolution was the period from around the 1760s through the 1850s (the exact dates are debatable) when there was a shift from home production to automated, machine-powered, factory made products.  At the heart of the Industrial Revolution was textile production.

For most of human history textile production was done in the home.  A woman produced what her own family needed, from spinning the wool to knitting garments or weaving fabric using primarily her own raw materials.

If a woman needed extra income she could hire herself out for piecework.  A merchant would provide her with raw materials then return later to pick up the finished products.  Pieceworkers set their own hours and were free to include their children or other family members as additional helpers, and were paid a price "per piece" rather than a set hourly wage.  It was an inefficient system, with some producing more than others and merchants never quite knowing how many completed pieces they would receive.

Mill Girl, 1908
Everybody needs clothes, and with such an inefficient system to produce clothing it's not surprising that entrepreneurs realized the value of increasing textile production efficiency ... and invent they did!  The spinning jenny was invented in 1764.  While a handspinner could produce one bobbin of thread at a time, the first spinning jenny produced eight spindles at a time and later models spun 120 spindles.  The spinning mule was invented in 1779, which combined the spinning jenny and the water-powered spinning frame to spin 48 spindles of long, strong fiber suitable for the warp threads on a loom.

Why the silly names?  "Gin," "jen" and "jenny" were common slang terms for an engine in the 18th century.  But my hands-down favorite silly name is the spinning mule.  Really, a mule?  But the name is not as silly as it seems to us.  In a world that depended on animals for transportation, everyone knew that a mule was the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse.  Horses and donkeys are two separate species, but together produce an animal that is in many ways better than its parents - more sure-footed and hardy than a horse, while faster and less stubborn than a donkey.  Combining the best features of the spinning jenny and a water frame and calling the new product a "spinning mule" sounds funny to us but would have been a perfectly understandable name for people of the 18th century.

An early cotton gin, about 1790*
All this automated spinning was great - except for one problem.  The first step in spinning cotton is to remove - by hand - the seeds that are tightly entwined with the cotton fibers.  With the ability for one spinner to only produce so much, thread manufacturers soon discovered that cotton couldn't be picked clean fast enough.  Within a generation, the modern mechanical cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney in 1783, which mechanized the seed-removing step.

With textile production automated to be faster and faster, it's no wonder that other industries picked up on textile inventions and modified them for their own industries.   

Photo from the Berroco Archives, 1950s
Textile production was the dominant industry of the Industrial Revolution - and Berroco was right there at the start!  In 1810 Jerry Wheelock, the great-great-great-grandfather of the current Berroco president, Warren Wheelock, joined one of the first mills in the U.S. to produce woolen cloth.  In 1905 Stanley Wheelock established his own mill, the Stanley Woolen Mills, in Massachusetts.  The family continued to produce exceptional wool cloth through two world wars, depressions and recessions.

My favorite part of the family history is 1968 - when the Wheelock family formed a new handknitting subsidiary called Stanley Berroco.  There was never anyone named Stanley Berroco, so why the funny name?  "Stanley," of course, was from the parent company name "Stanley Woolen Mills."  "Berroco" combined the first syllables from the last names of two sales agents, Mr. BERglass and Mr. ROsenberg.  Add a "CO" for company, and you have "BER-RO-CO."  Later Stanley Berroco was reestablished as Berroco, Inc., and it has become one of the largest importers and wholesalers of handknitting yarns, patterns and supplies in the United States and Canada.

For the month of April we've got all of our Berroco yarn - that's over 30 brands! - on sale at 20% off. 

Happy Knitting . . . .Scout

*Although this cotton gin engraving shows an idealized scene of slaves using a cotton gin around 1790, it was actually engraved some 70 years later and published in Harper's Weekly, December 1869.