Tag: history

What I’ve Got For Today 8

So you know I’ve been knitting, but I don’t have much to share in the way of photos. The best I can come up with is today’s car knitting. The weather was rainy and surprisingly cold for May.

But the stripey blanket did me right. It kept me entertained AND cozy!

To distract you from the lack of exciting knitting photos, how about some baby goats? We got to see these precious angels last weekend at our friend Marcia’s. It was heaven.

These are angora goats. Their fiber will make to-die-for roving and yarn when it’s blended with a bit of wool.

Blackberry here is the mother of the little black baby and his brother. Twins!!

In the spirit of further distraction from the lack of knitting excitement, I’ve been meaning to share some interesting fiber related links with you. Here’s some good stuff I’ve stumbled across online recently.

  • No Wool, No Vikings  This is a fascinating article about a high school program in Norway where the students spend nine months learning what it might have been like to be a Viking. The fun part for us fiber people is that it involved LOTS of wool. In particular, the Viking ships used woolen sails. To outfit one boat required a thousand sheep or more! And the amount of fiber work involved was insane: “Building a boat might take two skilled boatbuilders a couple of weeks . . . but creating its sail would take two skilled women a year.” Crazy! (Thanks to Dorothea, dear friend and captain of my awesome Tour de Fleece team, for turning me on to this article!)
  • The mystery of knitting . . . remains a mystery  Just hilarious.
  • Yoga for Knitters and Crocheters  Did you know Lion Brand Yarn has a whole playlist on YouTube focused on yoga for knitters and crocheters?
  • Why Farmers and Knitters are Fixated on Icelandic Sheep  Are you sensing a theme? I think this might be another of Dorothea’s recommendations. Love me some lopi.
  • Stitch by stitch, a brief history of knitting and activism  Pretty much like it sounds with some cool pics.

That’s what I’ve got for today . . . except for this sweet picture of Frankie sleeping.

What kind of knitting goodness is going on in your neck of the woods?

Help A Knitter Out 10

A couple of weeks ago I went to a class on small fruit trees hosted by our local Master Gardener group. I brought my knitting, of course, and this attracted the attention of a fellow class member. Turns out, this gentleman (my new friend David) had been looking for a knitter. Go figure!

David’s dad was in the service during WW II and spent a good bit of that time wearing the army issue sweater pictured above. Dad eventually passed the sweater along to David who still wears it. ALL THE TIME. (He also wants to learn to knit. We’re both happily married, or you know I would have been a goner.)

Anyhoo, the sweater is clearly a little worse for wear, and David would like to have it repaired. My question for you, friends and knitters of the blogosphere, is what’s the best way to go about such a thing?

This has clearly been machine knit at a very fine gauge, so while I could mend it well enough to stop the unravelling, I’m doubtful that the results would be cosmetically pleasing. I’ve googled hand darning machine knits and all kinds of WW II sweater things, but so far I haven’t come up with a good solution. I feel sure this wheel must have already been invented. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

On the homefront the rain has been unrelenting.

So I’ve decided to sit by the fire and knit until the sun comes out.

Or until I have to wake up and get back to real life. Ha!

Be well, my knitters. And please let me know if you have any advice about how to help David with his sweater.

Synchronicity 2


If you haven’t read Kate Davies’ blog post today, I highly recommend it. The whole post is excellent, as always, but one detail blew me away. Kate is interviewing Mary Jane Mucklestone, and she asks if MJM has a favorite piece of historic Fair Isle knitting. MJM goes on to describe a fair isle sweater that a soldier named Ralph Paterson was wearing when he was taken prisoner in Hong Kong during World War 2. It had been knitted for him by his wife, and he wore it for the entire five years of his captivity.

There’s a photograph of the sweater in the blog post. And if you become obsessed like I have, you’ll be happy to know that Susan Crawford apparently spends a lot of time on it in her forthcoming Vintage Shetland Project. Aaaand there are good number of additional pictures of the sweater on Tom of Holland’s blog here.

I titled this post “Synchronicity” because I spent quite a bit of last night watching a documentary on what the slow declassification of military documents from WW2 has revealed about the almost certainly avoidable bombing of Pear Harbor. We’re coming into a strange kind of omniscience relative to that time, and the knowledge is frightening. It was a comfort to me this morning to read about Ralph Paterson’s sweater.

The picture at the top of the post is one I took in response to Dana’s #widn tag on Instagram last night. Knitting and snuggling was clearly the thing to do. 🙂



Happy Friday! 0


Since the current state of knitting here at Chez Knit Potion is mostly my looking longingly at my WIPs while I remind myself to get back to work, I thought I’d take a page out of last week’s book and share some of the  fun links I’ve come across online over the last few days.

The number one best discovery has to be The Secret History of Knitting.



I found this documentary by reading a post on Little Golden Notebook (another new-to-me knitting blog that’s full of interesting stuff). If you’re a knitter, the film is big fun to watch. It’s loaded with great visuals, and while most of the knitting highlights are things I was familiar with, there are a few surprises. There is actually a pretty convincing explanation of the origin of the Kitchener Stitch, one with more detail than I’d heard before (would love to know the source of their info), and there is a fascinating section on the secret codes women stitched into their knitting to pass along details of railway activities to the Belgian Resistance during WWII. In addition, there are interviews with knitting superstars and a satisfying overview of the ups and downs of knitting for the last thousand years or so. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.

The number two interesting thing was a post on the UK Hand Knitting blog about scrap yarn. Apparently, it was the thing the most knitters absolutely wouldn’t be without in their knitting kits. I’ve used scrap yarn for all of the things mentioned, but it was fun to see the run-down and, of course, the yarny pictures.

And in the news . . . I enjoyed this article about how a run on handknit Icelandic woollen sweaters is causing a knitting wool shortage in Iceland! And this one about a jaw dropping, knitted field of poppies created for the Chelsea Flower Show in the UK.

Finally, do you know about Twiddle Muffs? This is the article that sparked my interest. Twiddle muffs (or twiddlemuffs) are hand muffs with interesting textures and attached bobbles, and they are said to have a soothing effect on people suffering from dementia. It’s apparently common for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and similar conditions to need something to do with their hands. Having a plush muff with buttons, ribbons, zippers, and other small points of tactile interest to run their fingers over helps keep their hands busy which makes them more at ease overall.

I had never heard of such a thing, but it makes a lot of sense, especially in light of what I’ve seen myself in a few people close to me. There are a number of free patterns online including these:

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/twiddle-muff (crochet)

For anyone who’d like to knit for charity but hasn’t found the right project or for those who have someone close to them who is in need, this might be just the thing. I will definitely be making a few.

In the meantime, it’s back to work and fitting in my knitting where I can.


Happy weekend, my knitters!

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Whatever Gets You Through the Night 4

Don’t you just love to see people knitting in unexpected places? Thanks to news aggregators and sites like Pinterest, images of knitting in extremis are increasingly easy to find. Especially if you look for them. Which I do.

It’s not just that I’m curious about when and where people knit or that I like the odd sense of community such images provide. I also like to be reminded that people reach for knitting when they’re stuck in the hard middle. Across history and across cultures, the idea that knitting can help you make it through to the other side appears over and over again.

This man is a maximum-security prisoner in a Brazilian jail (click on the picture for the news article):


Brazilian Prisoner


These women of the Free French ambulance corps are knitting on the Italian front in 1944:


12 26 13 French Ambuulance Corps Knitters WWII


There are many similar images of soldiers knitting—each moving in its way. These American troops are knitting as they recover at Walter Reed in 1918:


12 26 13 Soldiers at Walter Reed 1918


This soldier is knitting on a military flight during the Korean War in 1953 (sorry, no link for this one):


12 26 13 Soldier Knits on Military Plane Korea 1953


Here is a group of soldiers knitting at Victoria Base Camp in Baghdad a few years ago:


12 26 13 Staff Sergeant John Sorich front rt


Knitting your way through to the other side happens in the most mundane circumstances as well, of course. Here are people stuck in the New York City subway during the  Blizzard of 1947. The knitting lady and her friend definitely seem to be having the best time:


12 26 13 NYC Subway Shut Down  Blizzard of 1947


Here is a woman waiting for Zara Phillips’ royal wedding procession to pass in 2011:


12 26 13 Generations wait 005


And here’s a guy stuck in traffic:


12 26 13 Trucker Knitter


All these people know that knitting helps. But why does it help? No photo raises the question more strikingly than this one from 1947 of a woman knitting in the middle of the ruins of Berlin.


German Woman Knitting in Ruins of Berlin 1945


Why? What could she be thinking? The thing is knitters know the answer. In our hearts we know exactly why she’s knitting. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to understand more about why it does us so much good?

At last year’s Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago, Stephanie Pearl McPhee gave the keynote talk, “This Is Your Brain on Knitting.” It was about exactly this sort of thing. She talked about everything from “the relaxation response” (described by Dr. Herbert Benson), to brain chemicals, to the implications of the idea that the body prioritizes what it sees and feels. She explained that when you touch something, your brain has to shift its focus to the input from touching, which  can lessen input from the other senses (such as internal indications of pain). So knitting and other tactile pursuits are good ways to manage chronic pain. They put what you see and feel above what’s going on inside your body.

This was all interesting, but the most fascinating part of the talk had to do with the results of a study done at Cambridge. The study set up three groups of people and asked them to watch the film of a traumatic event (car crash videos, as it happened). One group did nothing while it watched. One group of participants talked to each other while they watched. And one group did a simple, repetitive task (like hitting one key and then another on a keyboard) while it watched.

The researchers then measured the degree to which the different groups were traumatized. As it turned out, the group least traumitized was the group working through the repetive task. The group most traumitized was the group that talked. The group that only watched the videos was in the middle.

Researchers theorized that we have two brains—not the right and left, but the reptilian brain (known as the brain stem) and the cerebral cortex (what we think of when we picture the brain). The reptilian brain’s job is survival: I will live, or I will die. The cerebral cortex’s job is reasoning: it thinks its way through situations.

Repetive tasks calm the reptilian brain. So the panicky part of the brain was kept busy with the keyboarding, and the people in that group could use their reasoning brains to realize that what they were seeing was a horrible thing but that they were not personally theatened by it. Talking to others uses the cerebral cortex, so the group that was talking had their reasoning brains engaged while their reptilian brains were reacting in panic.

So . . . the reseachers decided that people who use worry beads or rosaries (or who knit!) have always known what they were doing—calming themselves through stress with a repetitive task. Apparently, at the end of the study, as they were speculating about how to use the information they’d discovered to help people, the researchers joked that it was unfortunate  that  people couldn’t carry “emergency knitting” with them. Someone should have shown them the photo of the woman in Berlin.

In the Brain Cell that Used to Be Occupied by News of Mariah Carey’s Dog Walking Attire 6

Today, I finished my grading for this term, and I took a shower. I refuse to let the fact that I changed from one pair of pajamas into another pair of pajamas detract from these accomplishments in any way.

In addition to these highlights, I drank a lot of coffee, ate ambrosia, and thought about the fact that even though the entire English speaking world talks every day about “worsted” yarn, it takes reading Mary Thomas from 1938 to learn that the word is derived from Worstead, an English village.

How is it that I know that Mariah Carey took one of her dogs for a walk in the Aspen snow today while wearing nothing but a red bikini but until last night I had no idea where the word “worsted” came from?

I thought and thought about this as I was supposed to be grading student essays. Between Eric’s paper on “Females in the Armed Forces” and Philip’s, about violent video games (I’m truly horrified by what I learned about a couple of games called Postal One and Postal Two, by the way), I looked it up in the OED. Sure enough. There it is in 1293:

Pro xj. ulnis de wrstede ad caligas haciendas.

What this actually means is beyond me, but if it has anything to do with Latin, it’s something along the lines of using worsted to make some article of clothing, with “wrstede” being used as shorthand for:

A woollen fabric or stuff made from well-twisted yarn spun of long-staple wool combed to lay the fibres parallel.

Now that’s starting to get interesting.

The town of Worstead has been around since at least the time of Cnut the Great which was a LOOOONG time ago, back before the Normans did their thing in England. In fact, the oldest Act of Parliament that exists in the House of Lords Record Office is “The Taking of Apprentices for Worsteads in the County of Norfolk” Act of 1497. Who knew?




It turns out that in the 12th century Edward VIII married a Flemish princess and started talking up Norfolk to the weavers from Flanders. He wanted them to come “exercise their mysteries in the kingdom.” Can you blame him? A lot of them apparently thought it sounded like a pretty good deal and settled in the area around Worstead. They liked the countryside, and the sheep produced the kind of long-staple wool they wanted for spinning in what came to be known as the Worstead, or worsted, method. The rest is history.

As a knitter my brain has always gone kind of fuzzy when the words “woolen” and “worsted” start to get thrown around. Recently, I’ve started spinning, though, and for a spinner these are important concepts. I’ve begun to have a clearer idea of what they mean in terms of fiber preparation, but I could have substituted broccoli and banana for all the sense they made as words with any history or context.

Now, though, I know that when we talk about “worsted” we’re talking about wool with particular characteristics, processed according to the traditions of a particular place and era. And that is something I can get behind. Rock on, Mary Thomas.

Where Have You Been, Mary Thomas? 0


Knitters. Are you familiar with Mary Thomas? If not, then get thee to the library or book store and grab a copy of Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book. Holy cow! Here’s the first sentence:

“If all the looms in the world ceased to produce cloth, and the art of spinning and knitting alone remained, we could still be clothed, both warmly and fashionably.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but me? I love that sentence. I love how it cuts right to the chase. It says a true thing. Knitting is fundamental. We’re talking food, shelter, clothing. Fundamental. I know that, and I feel it all the time when I knit. I find it immensely comforting that even if the virus strikes, the economy tanks, or the EMP stops the forward march of civilization dead in its tracks, knitting will remain. Practically speaking, this fact might turn out to be entirely irrelevant for my life. But I like knowing it. And I love that Mary Thomas says it.

And that’s just the beginning. This book is an awesome little package. It opens with a satisfyingly robust history of knitting (I might not ever get over the fact that Charles I wore a hand knitted shirt to his execution), goes on to cover the basics with clear explanations in the kind of plain language you’d think any introduction to knitting would use but that most don’t, and then follows this up with a selection of “advanced” tips that are entirely useful – like how to “reheel” a sock and how to add a pocket. Socks and pockets! I love her.

How did I not know about this book?! The truth is I do remember Franklin Habit’s mentioning it on his blog several years ago, but when I looked it up, I’m pretty sure I rejected it out of hand because of the scary orange fingernail on the front cover (I know, I know). Later, I took a class with Franklin, and we struck up a conversation about  our mutual admiration for Maggie Righetti, whose comprehensive basic knitting book has long been one of my sentimental favorites. So I should have at least known then to follow his lead on Mary Thomas. It wasn’t until I came across references to her by both Jean Miles and Eunny Jang in the same week, however, that I finally ordered the book. Don’t make my mistake! It’s a gem.

Off to the Pokey, Knitter! 0

What would you do if knitting were against the law? Can you imagine?! It was once. I just learned this fascinating bit of information today. Apparently, in the early 1600s, Channel Islanders were forbidden by law from knitting during harvest season. On the Island of Jersey, knitters actually had to turn their knitting over to the authorities when it was time to harvest the corn. And the seaweed. What the what?! The mind reels.

Was it that the community was so small and interconnected that the legal system could afford to be personal in this way? Something along the lines of, “We’re all in this together, so your knitting might affect my supper.” Or was knitting so widespread and all-encompassing that legal intervention was considered necessary? As in, “With everyone off knitting, there’ll be no one left to mind the store while civilization crumbles.” Imagine! It certainly turns the image of the mild little knitter person on its head, doesn’t it? It fits, though. Personally, I’ve always felt a bit subversive when I knit.

And speaking of subversive. . . In the knitting-while-I-should-be-grading category, we find the cutest ever doggy sweater. It’s all but finished. Just a couple of ends to weave in, and it will be ready for action – and pictures! I didn’t actually manage to get it done on Sunday (see the post on “The Book in the Drawer”), but almost.

Meanwhile, I’m working on the third and final section of my Lin-Lin Shawl. The Lin-Lin Shawl is extra special because I’m knitting it with yarn from Nicki the Llama, someone with whom I am personally acquainted. We didn’t have first-hand knowledge of llamas in Chicago, so this has turned out to be one of the joys of moving to the country. We know the llama who grew the fiber (and her person, of course), and we’ve also gotten to meet the owner of the mill where the fiber is processed. Incredible stuff.

Putting all of these pieces together—llama to fiber to mill to yarn to me . . . to shawl—has been immensely satisfying, so much so that I purchased a fleece at SAFF this year with the goal of processing it myself. This will be practice, but someday I’d like to do the whole thing and take a fleece from the animal all the way to the finished knitting with my own two hands. Can you imagine? I certainly won’t be the first person to do it, but I may well be the most excited. Hopefully, there will be no need for the police.