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).

Friday, June 3, 2016

Here Comes the Bride!

Nicki and Jeremy, May 28th
What did you do over Memorial Day Weekend?  I bet you can't top Nicki's weekend!  Our Marketing Manager, Nicki, was married on Saturday, May 28th!

Nicki has been at FiberWild! for 8 years, back when she was just one of two employees (not counting the owners, Sean and Amy).  She started in the position we jokingly call "Yarn Monkey," which is the person who goes up and down the stars fetching yarn on the fourth floor for customers in the store on the first floor (Maybe one day we'll get an elevator . . .  Nah, probably not).  As the store grew Nicki's tasks grew as well, she progressed into customer service and now she manages our online marketing.  If you've ever contacted the store at any time since 2008, you've probably talked to or e-mailed with Nicki.

You will likely recognize her face as well.  Nicki is our model for our Little Flower Cowl and the Ellipse Cowl Kit.

Nicki modeling the Ellipse Cowl Kit
Since she looks so good modeling cowls you'd think Nicki would wear a cowl to the wedding.  She didn't!  But she looked fabulous in an A-line ivory dress decorated with gorgeous crystals and topped off with a cute short lace jacket.  Her veil was tucked under her up-rolled bun and held in place with a sparkly silver comb (plus lots of hairpins and hairspray!).

Nicki's new husband Jeremy is currently a member of the Air Force National Guard serving with the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin - and he looked dashingly handsome in his uniform!  Jeremy doesn't knit, but he's learning to put up with Nicki's numerous baskets of yarn and needles stashed all over their home.

The Happy Couple
Nicki is back from her "mini-moon" in the Wisconsin Dells, so stop by the store to say hello and wish her congratulations!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout