Sunday, March 25, 2007

Knitted counterpane redux

Rosemary asked how many squares were in good shape, so I spread the counterpane out again and took a close look.

Oh, dear.

Almost every square has at least some tiny problem. The corner at the stem end of the leaf is a common area of trouble -- I think it might be the cast off. And although most of the damage is to the threads holding the squares together, often a thread at the edge of the square is damaged, too -- maybe just on one row. Fewer than a quarter of the squares were in good shape.

Since there are a lot of squares (18 rows of 14 squares each, or 252) that does mean there are perhaps 50 that are in good shape -- I stopped counting after a while. But all those squares that are almost okay are nagging at me.

Honestly, I don't want this to overwhelm me, especially because it isn't my favorite of the embossed pattern. I'm reminded of an article in Spin Off by a man named Charles Black. He wanted an oriental rug but couldn't afford the kind he loved unless he bought a damaged one. He did, with the provision that the gallery's restorer had to show him how to fix it, which she did. But after repairing the rug he bought he decided that it would just be easier to weave a rug. So he bought a wheel and learned to spin, and to dye, and built a loom and learned to weave. Then he spent a couple of hours a day for a year or so to weave a truly beautiful rug -- and that's what he thought was easier than doing repair.

That's what I'm afraid this repair job would turn into.

Right now I'm thinking of using a sewing machine, fabric glue, and maybe some kind of binding to turn it into something for one of the children's beds. But that seems so sad that I think I'll put it away for a while. The back of my brain can ruminate on it while I work on other things, and maybe I'll come up with a better idea.

Besides, I've just been consumed by the need to needlefelt my daughter a Blue's Clues "Paparika." And if I make Paprika, I'm pretty sure a Baby Cinnamon is not far behind.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Arctic Lace, a review

Donna Druchunas' Arctic Lace is an intriguing and frustrating book. It chronicles the history of musk ox domestication -- a surprisingly recent event -- and the development of a Native Alaskan lace idiom and qiviut knitting cooperative. This part of the book is fascinating but all too brief, in part because of Druchunas' firm respect for the privacy and intellectual property rights of the knitters who belong to Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers' Co-operative.

The history of the coop reminded me very much of the development of Bohus knitting. Both were a response "from the outside" to economic hardship -- attempts to provide jobs for women who needed a way to make money and care for their families at the same time. Both involved the development of special yarns, designs, and garment patterns. The Oomingmak patterns, unlike the Bohus patterns, are linked with traditional art and clothing patterns. This gives them an angular style unlike other familiar lace knitted in more familiar traditional styles. It's also knitted at a larger gauge than Shetland or Orenburg lace, which gives a different effect.

The first 60 or so pages of the book are given over to the history of the coop and the people who knit for it. Each village that belongs to the coop is profiled; these profiles include clear photos of the patterns produced by its knitters.

This is followed by 20 pages on the biology & natural history of musk oxen, their domestication and the beginnings of the coop. It was surprising to me to learn how recently they were domesticated (20th century) and how few there are in captivity (a few hundred). It does explain the scarcity of the fiber. Much of Oomingmak's supply comes from the hides of animals killed by hunters, but non-native knitters like me are limited to buying from the very small domestic pool.

This is followed by a 10 page discussion of qiviut as a fiber, including comparisons to more readily available fibers. There's even some information on spinning it, though not much.

Next is the Lace Knitting Workshop. This is a nice, thorough introduction to lace knitting and to the charting system developed for the use of the coop. Druchunas has developed three practice swatches, using increasingly finer yarns and more complicated charting. She even tells you which swatch to start with depending on your previous experience knitting lace. The many photo sequences should have anyone knitting lace in no time.

The penultimate section of the book contains patterns and instructions for 11 projects. These are not made from the lace patterns used by Oomingmak Coop, but are Druchunas' own designs. I must admit I was disappointed by this. But she has done what the original designers (themselves non-native) did when creating the Oomingmak patterns -- she started with native clothing and art and developed lace patterns from them. In many cases she shows the original inspiration, and the designs are quite similar in feel to Oomingmak designs.

A determined reader could chart the Oomingmak designs from the photos in the village profiles. Would that be ethical? I think that would depend on your intended use. If you were knitting for yourself or for a gift, I think it would be considered fair use. If you were knitting for sale, I think it would be a clear violation of copyright. (Note that I'm just interested in copyright issues, I have no expertise at all.) I think the sticky question is whether it would be ethical to, say, chart out the Nelson Island Diamond pattern and post it on a blog for free distribution. I don't know about that. Would it harm the coop economically? I will never buy one of their garments -- they are just too expensive -- and I suspect that most readers of knitting blogs wouldn't do so, either. But perhaps the people who now DO buy lace pieces from Oomingmak Coop would be less likely to do so if knitting a copy were all the rage. Or maybe there isn't much overlap between buyers of knitted qiviut and lace-knitting bloggers, and the activity of one group wouldn't affect the behavior of the other. I just don't know.

The last chapter of the book, Designing Your Own Projects, is an ambitious introduction to developing both your own lace motifs and to using them in a garment. Druchunas provides a collection of lace stitches, and a discussion of using them to create a motif. It's an interesting but too brief treatment of a complex topic, though certainly enough to whet someone's appetite. More likely to be useful is the section giving what she calls Pattern Templates: skeletal outlines of shapes (headband, scarf, shawl, wristwarmer, etc.) with basic knitting instructions and hints on choosing an appropriate lace pattern.

I like this book very much, and would recommend it to anyone interested in regional lace traditions. There's enough introductory material here that it could be used by someone who had never knitted lace before. (In fact, she covers casting on and the basic knit & purl stitches so thoroughly that someone who had never knitted before could learn from this book!)

Friday, March 23, 2007

A tale of woe ...

... but not mine this time.

At a garage sale yesterday I found this for a dollar:

It's a knitted counterpane, made by the great-grandmother of the husband of the woman who sold it to me. His sister put it in the washer & dryer. Can you imagine?

She also told me that it was made of handspun cotton that had been grown on her husband's great-grandparents' farm, but I don't think that's true. The yarn is a four ply, and I just can't imagine a handspinner doing that. Maybe the great-grandparents grew cotton, and maybe she spun some of it, but I don't think this is where it ended up.

Here you can see the pattern & the damage a little clearer. It is a very simple pattern -- a leaf in one corner, ridges in the other. Most of the damage is just the seams coming apart, although some of the squares are in bad shape, too. And the edging is pretty much trashed. There's enough left to figure out the pattern but not enough to salvage.

I'm thinking of taking the squares apart and reassembling them. Maybe a crib blanket and a little pillow? Who knows when I'll get around to it -- but I just couldn't pass it by. I've had Mary Walker Phillips' book for about 15 years now, and this is the closest I've gotten to knitting a counterpane!

I can't decide if this is some kind of cosmic warning about not putting too much time & effort into a project -- look how this one ended up! -- or just a cosmic reminder to attach cleaning instructions to a finished project. Either way it's sobering. (Or maybe there's nothing cosmic about it, and this is just one more falling-apart textile that I've hauled home, with no Inner Meaning. You think?)

(P.S. Some folks have asked about my weaving project. I'm slogging on but it's kind of depressing to write about now. I'll post either when things are going well or when they're going Really Really Badly. Right now it's just tedious.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Everything was going so well last night ..... I had finished the threading (that was a tale in itself -- out of six and a half repeats of 74 threads, I did six perfectly. Unfortunately they were the LAST six. The first half was completely screwed up, which meant I had to rethread all 496 threads to find a home for the 28 threads I had left the first time I "finished". Want to know the pattern repeat? I can tell it to you -- I know it by heart now.) Anyways, my threads were all threaded in the proper order, my bundles were tied onto the apron rod; the only thing left was to beam the warp. No problem, I thought. I'll just wind it on and then we can watch a movie.

Hah! I couldn't even wind an inch. I thought something was broken, or my crank wasn't working. Finally I looked at my beautiful threads which were KNOTTED around the heddles.

When I wound my warp, I used two cones of yarn. I held the two yarns together and strung them back and forth around the pegs of the warping board.

Turns out I should have kept a finger between them to keep them from winding around each other.

To make things worse, I threaded two groups of two threads into each dent. So I had four threads to put into the heddles, and sometimes I took two from one group, then two from another, but sometimes I just took them one-two-three-four as I happened to grab them. That's where the worst tangles were.

You understand, I didn't figure this all out at once. It took about an hour of trying to sort things out, retying broken warps, looking at the warp chains, etc., etc., for me to realize just what was going on. Dean suggested using hair detangler on the warp and combing it, which we did. It helped but just not enough. We managed to wind about a yard on, an inch or two at a time (only 10 more yards to go), but when a huge group of threads went SNAP just after we had combed and combed and combed out all possible tangles I gave up.

I might have thrown a few things and stomped around and ranted. Or I might have cried a little. I might have done some whining about my BIRTHDAY and I just want to weave with the KIDS and why is this so HARD? I am GOOD at this kind of stuff. Or maybe all of the above. Or I might have been calm and rational and looked on it all as a Learning Experience. You decide. (Here's a hint: a calm and rational person would have taken pictures.)

I did have the sense to post to the yahoo weaving group, asking whether I should toss the whole thing or if I could reclaim it. One person suggested combing the warp. Been there, done that, not again, thanks. Laura Fry suggested tossing it, and she's probably right. But someone else suggested threading the groups of two threads as one through a single heddle. I think I might try that.

But not today. Hey, it's my birthday. Why ask for trouble?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


The new heddles arrived, and I put them on yesterday afternoon. Each harness has 140 heddles now.

Last night I started threading. It has been a long time since I've put on a warp, and I had to figure out what stool to use, how to sit, how to hold my hands, etc., etc. I was discouraged when I realized it took me an hour and a half to thread 1/6 of the warp. This morning, though, I managed to do another repeat in about 45 minutes. At that rate it will all be threaded after another three hours' work. I can live with that.

George is in a fever to start weaving. I want to have the warping finished before the weekend, and then we can weave the towels together. I hope this is fun for us both!