Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Amigurami Irish Dance Doll: Jigs, Slip Jigs, and Slip Stitches

Crochet is not my first language.  Nevertheless, needing an outlet for some excess time and creative energy sent me reaching for my hook.  One of my sons is a Irish Dancer.  For years I drove him to lessons, to feises (competitions), and more recently even on international trips for bigger challenges at major competitions.  This past summer, adolescence, an enormous growth spurt, and repetitive stress-related injury combined in a perfect storm of misfortune, resulting in my son electing to stop dancing.  At the time he stopped, it was unclear whether he would quit forever, or take a break.  What WAS clear was that we both suddenly found ourselves with an immense amount of newly discovered time on our hands.  Afternoons, nights, and weekends which had previously been booked solid with dance commitments were now wide swaths of emptiness and stress about the future.

Not unlike 2009, when I found myself knitting an oversized ear because I was trying to pass time whilst my eldest son was undergoing surgery on that important sense organ (you can read all about it HERE)... I once again found my myself perseverating on dance... and a resultant dance-related project on which I could focus... occupying my hands and and stilling my mind.

This doll was the happy result of that uncertain period in our recent history.  I elected to make a female dancer because the costumes are more distinctive than the boys'... and I was intrigued by the prospect of making the characteristic oversized curly wigs worn by female Irish Dancers.  I began with the yarnpaint's wonderful Jane Austen Inspired Regency Doll pattern (available on Ravelry HERE).  I altered the pattern considerably... shortening the dress length (making the sides longer than the mid front/back so as to create the flat appearance of Irish Dance costumes), adding long sleeves, a cape, and ghillies.  The hair was great fun.  I used metal chopsticks as my form and (as per instructions) wrapped yard-long lengths of acrylic yarn tightly around them, wetted them with water, and then dried them in the oven for an hour at 200 degrees.

The end result of my labor was this talisman... a lovely doll which will be raffled off at the Dance School's benefit ceilli ... AND a son who has resumed dancing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mardi Gras Cycling Hose

Inspired by my last historic knit [Yachting Jersey], I decided to undertake another pattern from Weldon's Practical Knitter... the "Cycling Hose" from Volume 12 34th Series.  I chose this pattern because I was intrigued by the so-called "Plume Pattern," which is a fleur-de-lis pattern iconic in my former hometown of New Orleans.  The pattern calls for three yarn colors (navy, fawn, and light blue), which I changed to purple, green and gold... and though this pattern is decided English and not French, this easy substitution results in the PERFECT Mardi Gras costume stocking. 

[For information about yarn particulars/project notes, check my Ravelry Project Page HERE]

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Joar Awesome" Dog Sled Hat... Let the Iditarod Begin!

Though obscure to many Americans, I follow the Iditarod as passionately as most people follow the Superbowl.  My obsession with this trans-Alaskan dog-sled race stems from at least four factors.

I was born to a Norwegian father, and as a result, I am drawn to all things Arctic.  The Scandinavian countries have a long tradition of Mushing and Dog skijoring (X-country skiing pulled by dogs, ponies, or snowmobile).  In fact, in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen used sled dogs in a race to become the first person to reach the South Pole. *

"Skijor worlds" 1

The second factor which makes the Iditarod so fascinating to me is the medical history.  As I am a physician, I am particularly interested in the dire story which inspires the Iditarod. 

"The children of Nome were dying in January 1925. Infected with diphtheria, they wheezed and gasped for air, and every day brought a new case of the lethal respiratory disease. Nome’s lone physician, Dr. Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic that could put the entire village of 1,400 at risk. He ordered a quarantine but knew that only an antitoxin serum could ward off the fast-spreading disease.  The nearest batch of the life-saving medicine, however, rested more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage. Nome’s ice-choked harbor made sea transport impossible, and open-cockpit airplanes could not fly in Alaska’s subzero temperatures. With the nearest train station nearly 700 miles away in Nenana, canine power offered Nome its best hope for a speedy delivery.
Sled dogs regularly beat Alaska’s snowy trails to deliver mail, and the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the best drivers and dog teams to stage a round-the-clock relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome. On the night of January 27, 1925, a train whistle pierced Nenana’s stillness as it arrived with the precious cargo—a 20-pound package of serum wrapped in protective fur. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the parcel to his sled. As he gave the signal, the paws of Shannon’s nine malamutes pounded the snow-packed trail on the first steps of a 674-mile “Great Race of Mercy” through rugged wilderness, across frozen waterways and over treeless tundra."2

The third appealing aspect of the Iditarod is the relative equatability of male and female mushers.  Nobody seems to care about the gender of the musher very much ... may the best man OR woman win.  There have been many important women racers over the years... one of the most notable from Massachusetts.  Susan Butcher, the second woman to win the Iditarod, was born in Cambridge, MA in 1954.  She is one of only 6 people who have won the race four times.  This year 25 of the 78 mushers are female. 

Susan Butcher 3
Lastly, but not insignificantly, is my love of dogs.  The dogs of the Iditarod are the true athletes of the race.  While my spaniels are content to sit on the couch and are more likely to pull a Max than actually PULL a sled, the dogs in the Iditarod are born to run.  You can see it on their smiling faces at the start of the race.

The race itself was created by Joe Redington who hoped to save the dog-sled culture and the vanishing Alaskan husky, by clearing the trail and establishing the race in 1973.  This noble dog, as exemplified by the hero lead-dog from the original 1925 expedition, Balto, is immortalized in this bronze statue in Central Park. 
So for all these reasons... and a love of sport and knitting... I decided to knit a Mushing hat.  I was inspired by Nowegian musher, Joar Ulsom's hat from 2014... so it is admiringly called the "Juar Awesome" Mushing hat.
Juar Leifseth Ulsom and his awesome hat

I couldn't find a pattern online, or a chart... so I made my own.  I simply CO 84(child)/ 98 (adult) stitches, used 2x2 ribbing, knit the chart, then finished with a 6 (child)/7 (adult)-petal peak (K12 K2tog...).  Should you wish to use it... here is the chart.  Enjoy, the knit AND the race!

*  Notably, Amundsen succeeded at reaching the pole while his competitor Robert Falcon Scott, who had instead used Siberian ponies, did not.
 1.  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skijor_worlds.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Skijor_worlds.jpg
2.  History in the Headlines, Accessed 3/4/2015
3.  Photo from Mental Floss, accessed 3/4/2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yachting Jersey: Finished! [Part V/V]

I've participated in knit-alongs, and enjoy knitting from current Vogue Knitting... but no knitting thrill has been as great as the feeling of possibly having been the first person in a hundred years to knit from an antique pattern.  The uncertainty of not knowing if the final product will resemble the printed image as one slowly works, line-by-line, through the mysterious pattern is tremendously suspenseful.  The process feels a bit like receiving a secret code from a friend from long ago, and deciphering that code helps bridge the gap of time.

The big reveal took five posts on my blog, which may seem like overkill... but bear in mind that it took me nearly two years of research and steady work.  Though most gansey sweaters were knit with dark blue, I chose natural (more in the aran tradition).  As it turns out, as you may have gathered from Part IV/V, though a gansey, this particular pattern was clearly meant to be a less-utilitarian type... and so I hope will not be too bothersome for the purists out there.

I was lucky that, at this time in history, snug-fitting sweaters are in fashion.  This works well with the tradition of the gansey, which is meant to have negative-ease so as not to interfere with one's work.  I am also fortunate to have a handsome model living right in my household who is willing to work for food (lots of it!).  Here's hoping it's not the only time he'll ever wear it! 

See it on Ravelry here:  Yachting Jersey

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yachting Jersey: How to Put a Spin on a Fisherman's Sweater [Part IV/V]

Fishermen Saluting Mrs. Buxton, from the Norfolk Museum collection of Fishermen Ganseys
As previously mentioned, the "Yachting Jersey" is somewhat pompously described as "specially intended for yachting and boating, may yet be worn for football and other athletic sports."  The jersey is, in point of fact, of a type known as a Guernsey (or Gansey) sweater.  Guernsey sweaters were anything but jaunty collegiate sweaters.  Though named for the Isle of Guernsey (a British protectorate), they were worn for hundreds of years (from as early as the 15th century) by North Sea fisherman of many nationalities for utilitarian warmth. By the 1900s, the Gansey had been adopted as the official uniform of the Royal British Navy.

On a website where one can still order a traditional Gansey sweater, Flamborough Marine describes verbatim how the Yachting Jersey is constructed *

A Gansey is a distinctive woollen sweater, originally designed to provide protection for fishermen from wind and water but which is ideal for all outdoor activity. Using a tightly spun 5-ply worsted wool (popularly known as "Seamen's Iron") the intricately patterned Gansey is knitted in one piece on five steel needles. The patterning to back and front and, in some cases, the upper part of the sleeve provides an extra layer of protection, while the combination of seamless construction, fine wool and tight knitting produced a garment that is both wind and waterproof. Indeed, every part of the garment is designed with practicality in mind. The wool is knitted tightly so as to "turn water"; the lack of seams ensures greater strength and impermeability; the underarm gusset allows freedom of movement; the lower sleeves where most wear is sustained, are left plain so the worn part can be unravelled and re-knitted, while the patterning across the chest provides extra insulation.1

Weldon's Woollen Guernsey Frock
     The most basic elements of the basic Guernsey are a tight fit and not-quite-full-length, tightly fitting sleeves, a band of garter stitch bottom wet, a ribbed sleeve top, and a vertical garter stitch panel on the upper chest.  Contrast stitching was applied only to the upper sleeve and upper torso (Again, the utilitarian reasoning behind restricting the more complicated stitching to the areas least likely to be damaged, so elbows and edges could be unraveled and repaired). These elements can all be seen in Weldon's pattern for the Woollen Guernsey Frock (above).  It is said that the farther north one traveled from Guernsey, the more elaborate the designs.   And here, on a blog featuring images from an archive of Shetland Patterns for Gansey sweaters one finds images quite similar to our Yachting Jersey (and with a good imagination, I believe one can almost see the hint of a block pattern on the chest, though not on the body):

Wayside Flower: Shetland Pattern Gansey Sweaters, "From the Archives - Island Life North of the border, Och aya."

By the 19th century, the Gansey sweater would have been widely recognized on sight (much like blue-jeans in America), and many British Isles knitter had likely committed the Gansey sweater to memory. By the time the Yachting Jersey was printed in the refined notepaper of Weldon's (in other words, NOT given to a young knitter by her mother/grandmother as her youthful chore), the Gansey was, for many,  part of the knitting vernacular.  Thus, I suspect that the suggestion that one should utilize a fancy pattern (The Block Pattern) on the arms and body, might have seemed rather frivolous... Not unlike the way I feel when someone tells me that young people are spending $250.00 on blue jeans because they are produced by "7" brand rather than "Levi's." 

...although they do say their handknit sweaters are made "...in one piece in the traditional way, using 5-ply WORSTED wool." ... not fingering as described in our pattern.  The use of worsted wool is corroborated by the Norfolk Museum Gansey Sweater Collection, where they write, "Of all the Norfolk fishing ports, Sheringham is particularly noted for its ganseys. They are extremely fine, being knitted in size 16 or even size 17 needles with three-ply worsted wool. This gives a stitch count of 13 stitches and 19 rows per inch"

1 Flamborough Marine, Ltd. (Accessed 2/24/2015)