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