history nrrd · jaywalkers · lace sampler scarf · patterns are for sissies · socks

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Agh, it’s been more than a month since I posted and I have…well…not much to show for it. Haven’t had much luck with projects of late, though that may be because I have way too many. I’ve been working pretty steadily on a pair of Pine Tree Toe-Up Socks by Kim Salazar, my kind of pseudo-Jaywalkers. The stitch pattern makes the same kind of chevron pattern as the Jaywalkers, but each pattern repeat uses a smaller number of stitches. I decided I might as well, as considering the two sizes in the Jaywalker pattern weren’t big enough, I was going to try doing those toe-up anyway as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough yarn to make the cuff as long as directed in the pattern. Besides, I’ve only tried toe-up socks once before and those didn’t work out well–I ended up ripping them back if I remember correctly–and I wanted to try again.

I’ve kind of fiddled with the pattern a bit though, adding 2-stitch purl welts inbetween each repeat to hopefully give it a little more stretch, and I’m doing a short-row heel instead of…well whatever kind of heel is mentioned in the pattern. A short row heel, is basically symmetrical, and I’ve done them on top-down socks as well, so why not?

As for other projects, the sampler lace scarf is still on the needles. I finally got around to picking up stitches around its edge, and tried starting to work the edging while watching the BBC’s North and South on DVD last week, but out of nowhere I got a monster headache, and in the end I gave up. Too bad, as it’s while watching British period dramas that I especially want to knit, particularly anything historically inspired. Which is, well, often.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that as a history and Museum Studies major, I’m particuarly fascinated by the history of knitting and historical patterns. Or, considering the fact that I’m Canadian, and knitting was, for a long time, a particularly essential skill for chldren (male and female) to have. Though I doubt she did a survey, I think there is some truth to Catharine Parr Traill’s assertion in her 1855 book The Canadian Settler’s Guide that “[t]here is no country where so much knitting-work done as in Canada…”, even if I imagine citizens of other northern countries would be inclined to disagree. But that it was an essential skill at the time is true; particularly for those that were moving to the bush, as the Traills were, near Lakefield, Ontario. It can be hard to imagine not being able to but anything as simple as socks or mittens by running to the store when they wore out, or got lost.

Interestingly, she also mentions a kind of limited financial independence knitting could bring for women of the time; she mentions a couple instances of cases where young women were able to fund the stocking of their hope chest by selling things they’d knit, often from yarn they’d spun themselves. Not to mention the general increase of the family’s finances by the production of mother, daughters and possibly sons.

I do have to wonder at some of the rosy view she gives (there’s very much a tone of “yay, work!” to it, not surprisingly, considering the context), as well as some more modern writer, though. I have to wonder for how many women, knitting wasn’t a means to a modicum of independence or a means of creative expression. It was another task, one that was crammed intbetween marshalling children, mending, unending laudry or food preparation. Traill mentions it filling the time “between twilight and candle-light” which, though people of the time would have been used to it, is still awfully dim light to be working by.

I’m sure for a lot of women at the time it was a way to be creaitve and something that was both necessary but that they also enjoyed doing. I also just have to wonder for how many it was a chore. I’ve met a couple people that learned to knit as a child but gave it up later because it was always something they had to do, not necessarily something they wanted to do, and this would have been as recent as the 1950s.

Maybe that’s one of the best parts of this resurgence of knitting, quilting, and other traditional skills. For most of those in the Western world, at least, it’s something people do because they want to, not necessarily because the family economy requires it. The people who knit are the ones that want to, and while knitting can be undervalued, the fact that it is a means of creation and expression, not a complete chore, has to be a good thing for the craft.

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