Friday, January 27, 2012

Top Ten Reasons Knitting is Better than Therapy

Saw this on Knit Purl Gurl and thought it was very funny and so true!

10) Yarn doesn't nod and ask you how you feel about that.
9) You don't have to work through your issues... you can just poke things with pointy sticks.
8) You can get more than one hour of yarn therapy for that $350.
7) You don't blame your mother for all of your knitting mistakes.
6) It is perfectly acceptable to conduct your yarn therapy at Starbucks.... psychotherapy, not so much.
5) The only shock therapy you endure is with wool, metal needles and a fast hand.
4) The only chemicals you put in your body are tea, coffee, martinis, or chocolate.... and you can take them DURING therapy.
3) Your insurance premiums won't increase.
2) You can yarn therapy on vacation; in your jammies; in bed; on the train/bus/subway; in the park; or at work (secretly).


1) You can't fondle your therapist.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Heroic Explorers and their Knitwear

Crew of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition wearing
Fair Isles knitwear. Source: Images for All
I got quite excited when I came across this image from the 1902 - 1904 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.  The Fair Isles pullovers worn by the three men look amazing. They were supplied by the Paisley firm of J & P Coats Ltd, the main financial backers of the expedition.  The company also supplied the expedition crew with Fair Isles caps and mufflers.  The black and white image gives a hint of the rich variations in design described by Pirie, Mossman & Brown (1906) as extraordinary and meaningless. 

"Fair Isle jerseys were universally worn, of which, by the generosity of Mr James Coats jun., we had a large supply on board. They are thick jerseys, handknitted in wool of every brilliant hue, red, green, and yellow  side  by  side  in  endless,  different,  and  all extraordinary  and  apparently meaningless  designs. We also  had  caps  and  mufflers  of  the  same  material  and make, and all proved of wonderful wearing quality."
Pirie, Mossman & Brown (1906)

Christine Arnold (2004) notes that the crew all seemed to wear garments with high necks, a design that would have necessitated the customary shoulder fastening of a fisherman's jersey to allow a snug fit.

Arnold, C (2004) An Assessment of the Gender Dynamics in Fair Isles (Shetland) Knitwear. 

Pirie, J.H., Mossman, R.C., and Brown, R.N. (1906) The Voyage of the Scotia. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Inside Out Woolly Tree

My friend has sent me details of a community arts project to create a whole new species of tree. Taking their patterns from nature the Falkland Centre for Stewardship aims to knit and crochet the insides of a tree so everyone can see the hidden beauty of what lies beneath the bark and underground.  Here's a chance for me to indulge two of my passions - trees and knitting.  See The Inside Out Woolly Tree for more information.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Whaling and Whalers

The fascinating thing about researching is you just don't know where you will end up.  You start exploring one interesting thread which then leads to another and before you know it you are knitting together the words for your next post.  Well that's how this post started out.  I initially set out with the intention of identifying my next destination for my world in stitches journey, but before long I found myself propelled back in time once again to the heroic age of exploration. This time embarking with Ernest Shackleton and his five companions on their epic rescue journey from Elephant Islands in the South Shetlands to South Georgia.

Launching the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island, 24 April 1916
Why I'm retracing this route, I'm unsure.  Their traverse of the roughest seas on earth in the 22.5ft long open  whaleboat James Caird and their gruelling trek over South Georgia's mountains and glaciers was a truly remarkable feat but what were the connections to wool and knitting.  My gut tells me there is a story here but at this stage in my journey I'm unsure where.  I decide to persevere.    

South Georgia I discover is "a real oasis in the stormy southern oceans". It certainly must have seemed like that to Shackleton who travelled 800 miles to reach it, surviving freezing temperatures, gigantic waves and fierce storms.  The island has no permanent human population but is home to sea and land birds, seals, and oddly, Eurasian reindeer.  In the early 20th century it was the whaling capital of the world and it was whalers who first greeted Shackleton at the end of his epic rescue journey.  

I start to read about whaling and find myself recalling haunting images from my childhood of whales being slaughtered and butchered.  I am relieved that the photographs I encounter on the web are mainly black and white.  I struggle to comprehend the sheer scale of the whaling industry.  At its peak numbers slaughtered exceeded 45,000 a year.   It must have turned the sea red.  I examine a couple of photographs more closely.
Five men around open mouth of beached whale at whaling-station
Source: Imagesforall  
South Atlantic whaling - harpooner
Have I discovered a connection - whalers and their knitted pullovers?  Time to explore further.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Knitters and weavers named Penelope

I have just discovered another knitting Penelope and fellow blogger. AMAZING! Its got me pondering how many more knitting and weaving Penelopes might be out there in cyberspace.  Let me know if you are one and if you have any stories to share about your name.

My friend has just lent me a copy of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood after reading my piece on Living up to your name.  Looks an interesting read.  As my motivation for writing my CBT essay has now completely evaporated (not that much existed in the first place) I think its time for some literary distraction. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Wonders of Wool

Thanks to a much welcome comment about my Antarctica post (welcome on two accounts (1) its nice to know someone is actually reading my blog and (2) it interrupted my somewhat tedious essay writing on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) I have been expanding further my knowledge of wool.  The Wonders of Wool  article on Andy Kirkpatrick's website is a good read - both witty and informative. Well  I guess I should get back to my essay writing following a short detour to see if I can find a copy of Invisible on Everest: Innovation and the Gear Makers.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Antarctica - unshrinkable in the face of adversity

As I cast on the stitches surrounding the South Pole and commence my increasing circumnavigations of Antarctica my thoughts are drawn to those heroic explorers who first ventured into this harsh, hostile and desolate wilderness.  Images of the expeditions led by Scott and Shackleton start to flood my mind.  Men clad in thick woollens going about their daily routines.  Huddled round stoves beneath lines of neatly paired drying woolly socks. 

Copyright - Freeze Frame

Wool together with cotton formed the basis of polar clothing during the heroic age of antarctic exploration (late 19th to early 20th century).  Wilson, a member of the British Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904, rated wool over all other fabrics. 

“It is a golden rule to avoid anything but wool as far as possible. All furs are far too impervious, and, instead of allowing the free evaporation of moisture from the body, collect and absorb it all, and become heavy and wet when frozen.”

But experience proved this to be incorrect.  The tightly fitting layers of woollens worn by the explorers became damp during periods of heavy physical exertion.  Once wet the wool acted as conductor rather than insulator taking heat away from the body.  Men soon became cold and clammy and cases of frostbite were common.  In extreme temperatures clothing would freeze greatly impeding movement.

Two main companies dominated the Antarctic clothing market during the early 20th century. They were Jaegar and Wolsey.  Shackleton chose Jaegar clothing and blankets for his 1907 and 1914 expeditions whereas Scott chose Wolsey to supply his 1911 expedition.  The Wolsey company, a then market leader in the manufacture of unshrinkable wool, supplied Scott's party with essential under and outer garments.

Wolsey brand wool thermal top © AHT/ Sarah  

The Norwegian-British-Swedish Expedition of 1949 -1952, was one of the last to rely heavily on natural fibres.  Like their heroic predecessors the intrepid explorers once again opted for Wolsey underwear, the same type as worn by Scott and Shackleton.  Lightweight hand-knitted Shetland wool jumpers and/or heavyweight Norwegian sweaters were also a feature of their apparel.

By the latter part of the 20th century wool was declining in popularity as a fibre for polar clothing. New high performing synthetic fibres were becoming the preferred choice.  A trend which now appears to be reversing.  In the last decade a new kid has appeared on the block. Merino wool is being hailed the new miracle fibre. Proponents of this fibre claim it is not only soft and warm but can be worn for days and days without getting smelly.  One convert to the fibre is Professor Jane Francis of Leeds University.  Her comments about a geology field trip to our southern most continent first amused me, then reassured me that the story of wool in Antarctica is not finished.

"After a week's rest under my pillow (the Antarctic equivalent of a wash cycle!), I wore them again and they were still comfortable - they did not go too baggy and they did not smell too bad."

As I add the last stitch to Graham Land I find myself marvelling at the worn, patched and grubby items of clothing from the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration.  The colours of the yarns chosen for these garments may have been limited (brown, grey, khaki, black and dark blue) but the yarn each garment has to tell is truly rich and unique. Within each worn yarn and darned patch are tales of battles won and lost, of perseverance, endurance and extreme hardship, of comradeship and ultimate sacrifice.   They are a memorial to those explorers of the heroic age and a permanent reminder of the lengths that man will go to in the pursuit of adventure and scientific knowledge.

Knitting my lines of latitude I reflect upon my own unique adventure.  I am embarking on an adventure that will link knitting and wool to individuals, communities and continents around the globe. I'm travelling much lighter than my heroic ancestors.  My chart will be my map guiding me on my journey,  my needles my vessel of transportation and the yarn my route log.

2012 is the centenary of Scott's epic Terra Nova expedition so why not mark the event by knitting a pair of vintage explorer socks or something with an Antarctic theme. Here are a couple of suggestions to wet your appetite:

Pattern available from The Vintage Knitting Lady
© The Vintage Knitting Lady

Emperor Penguin Family Crochet Pattern from PlanetJune
© PlanetJune

Happy Knitting in 2012.  Let me know how you get on.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Moray Firth Gansey Project
Listen to the coastal communities of Moray Firth discuss the importance of preserving the gansey at BBC Radio 4 Open Country

From a knitted travel-log to a world in stitches

In December I decided to sign up for The Wheel - Shamanic Foundation Studies with The Little Red Drum . The year program focuses on exploring the medicine wheel.  We are currently exploring "The Way of the North" and "Earth".  Although I am creating a written record of my journey I thought perhaps it would be a nice idea to create a knitted travel-log.  And as so often happens when I start musing about knitting, one thought led to another.  Before I knew it my initial idea of knitting a little planet earth evolved into something far more complex.  A new an exciting pattern was starting emerge.
The World in Stitches - A Travel-log of knitting is born
Planeeetta Maa by Soile Peltokangas
© Soile Peltokangas
Finding a pattern for a knitted earth proved straightforward.  A search on google provided two great options - Keychain Globe  and Home.  Armed with pattern, yarns and lots of enthusiasm I cast on my stitches and started to knit Antarctica.  As I added the last stitch to Graham Land (for those of you not familiar with Antarctica - its the northern portion of the Antarctic Peninsula which juts out into the Scotia Sea) I noticed something odd about my emerging world.  It appeared my earth was morphing into something new.  Was it an earth from a parallel universe? No, I wasn't  destined to embark on some Sci-Fi adventure with Dr Who to learn about the mysteries of the universe.  My lesson for the day concerned something far more complex - knitting charts or more precisely how to read them. 
I must confess I am quite astounded to discover I have knitted for over thirty years without ever encountering a knitting chart.  Or perhaps I've subconsciously avoided them.  Whatever, I opted to follow some advice from the Dalai Lama, namely:
  • stop procrastinating
  • believe in yourself
  • and don't give up and don't give in
Armed with these words of wisdom I enlisted the help from one of the many online knitting gurus, appropriately named - Read Knitting Patterns.  With basic rules and guidelines understood I cast on my stitches for a second time and proceeded to revisit Antarctica.  It was on this return voyage I had one of those light bulb moments.  Rather than knitting earth as quickly as possible why don't I go for a slow knit approach and contemplate the links between my stitches and the continents I'm knitting.  This approach will then allow me to indulge in my other passion - reading and researching about knitting.   So that's how my story of the world in stitches was born, more of which I'll share with you over the coming weeks and months.

Graham Land is named after Sir James R. G. Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of John Biscoe's exploration of the west of Graham Land in 1832.   It is claimed by Britain as part of the British Antarctic Territory.  A claim rejected by Argentina and Chile.  In March 2009 politicans from both countries visited the freezing continent to stake their own claims over the region