I got home from my weeklong, double-header trip Tuesday night, planning to write a bit about it for yesterday’s post. But in addition to being exhausted and wanting to hang out with my husband, my mind was just too full from the trip. I needed a minute.
I wrote a very short Craftlands post about Knitting With Company back in June, when I was first invited to be a featured guest at their October event in Minnesota. It overlapped with the Nordic Knitting Conference in Seattle — an every-other-year occurrence that I had planned on attending since missing the 2014 event — and I decided to do both, because I’m a crazy person. But sometimes crazy pays off, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss either of these events — especially because both wound up feeding my Slow Fashion October brain in various ways.
Knitting With Company is ostensibly just an opportunity to hang out in a lodge setting and knit with some well-known designers — and a bunch of other wonderful knitters — for a few days. While there are no classes, though, there are talks by each of the four headliners (for lack of a better word), which are always Julie Hoover and Catherine Lowe plus two special guests. At this one, that was me and Norah Gaughan, who is as delightful as can be. I absolutely loved hearing Julie, Catherine and Norah’s talks. Each discussed their path as a designer, showed examples of their work and talked about their motivation and their process — each of them so different as designers and presenters, but so exceptional when it comes to the thoughtfulness and knowledge and experience they pour into their patterns. For my part, this being October, I wanted to find a way to talk about slow fashion and Slotober without it being a “lecture” in any sense. So I decided to show slides of 12 garments from my wardrobe (knitted, sewn and mended) and talk about the lessons I’ve learned from them — skills, sentimental value, longevity — that variously highlighted slow fashion principles while also, hopefully, maybe, giving everyone something to think about with regard to choosing projects and yarns well. (Mostly a learning-from-my-mistakes scenario!) So for me, those few days were casual and relaxing yet thought-provoking and inspiring.
And of course, I like knitters and enjoy being surrounded by them — and especially enjoy being a curiosity to the other guests in an establishment. I witnessed one of my favorite knitterly moments ever, too. A woman named Tammi, who I was instantly fond of, had just finished Julie’s Ludlow scarf pattern and wanted to know if Julie would be in a photo with her and her scarf. Julie hates being in pictures but is one of the best photographers around, and so she offered to take Tammi’s FO photos down by the water. Not only was it amazing — the very idea of the photgraphically gifted designer shooting a knitter’s FO photos — but Tammi owned that little impromptu photo shoot like nothing I’ve ever seen. She was striking poses and smiling radiantly and my heart fell out in a puddle as I watched from the balcony. And yes, Julie also submitted to the joint selfie. Everyone was just lovely, and if any of the attendees are reading this: I loved meeting you.
Nordic Knitting Conference was the opposite of Knitting With Company. Held at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, it’s a tightly packed schedule of classes and lectures, and I definitely nerded out on how focused and academic it was. Arriving late, I only got to take three classes: one on the Skolt Sami* people and their unique style of colorwork; one on a specific Sami woman named Skaite-Maria who was something of a minimalist going her own way; and a looser survey of Nordic styles and traditions and their influences. I ate up every minute of it and can’t wait to go again in 2018.
But here’s the thing — between the two events, I found myself in the midst of multiple tangential conversations about how, historically, much of one’s wealth was tied up (no pun intended) in the textiles one owned. Think of pirates stealing people’s chests of cloth and clothing, or of the traditions of trousseaus and hope chests. We talk a lot about how many fewer items of clothing people used to have in their closets (in, say, the first half of the 20th century), but long before that people spun and wove and tatted and knitted and crocheted. Farm folk pored over their lace borders and collars, tucking the finest of them away for their future lives, and rich people invested in brocades and tapestries and bespoke clothing. What we take for granted and amass thoughtlessly and toss off without a care, our ancestors placed incredible value on.
In the Nordic survey class, the teacher, Susan Strawn, talked a lot about museum collections — how they are built and cataloged and viewed. She mentioned that what gets donated tend to be special occasion clothes, worn once and not all that descriptive — wedding gowns, christening garments. What academics and researchers and curators long for are the everyday clothes that were worn and darned and have stories to tell. (I could talk about that green child’s sweater up there for hours.) Isn’t that what we keep saying in #slowfashionoctober? What I’ve learned from my clothes these past few years — what I was driving at in my talk and have written about so often — is I want every article of clothing in my closet to have a story to tell.
I also got to thinking, over the course of those three classes, about mending — and the fact that people not only made their clothes, historically, but that they were conceived with wear and mending in mind. The Sami mittens are one great example among many: The teacher of my two Sami classes, Laura Ricketts, was talking about the braided cord that hangs from each Sami mitten, which is used to secure them (to your waistband, your reindeer, whatever!) when you need to take them off for any reason. When she first began knitting replicas of mittens she’d seen in museums, for teaching purposes, she thought it would be clever to use her cast-on tail for the braid, to save time and yarn. No no, the locals told her — it’s attached separately, because if the braid gets damaged or worn, you want to be able to replace it without compromising the mitten itself.
There was an older Norwegian woman in the Nordic traditions class — a museum volunteer, who was dynamic and saucy and had the most awesome voice and accent. She was a child in Nazi-occupied Norway and had heart-wrenching stories to tell about life during the war, including the ways people had of removing the lower part of a sleeve to re-knit it when the cuffs wore bare, sewing clothes for the children from the worn or outgrown garments of the grown-ups, her father’s suit that was “so shiny and so thin” from wear. We, the general public, do not know how to darn our socks or elbows, or re-knit our cuffs. Store-bought clothes rarely even come with extra buttons stitched inconspicuously to the front placket or side seam anymore, because who ever replaces them? A shirt with a lost or broken button is one for the donation bin — where, ironically, the lost or broken button will likely get it sorted into the landfill pile rather than resold in the charity shop.
I feel this more intensely all the time: It’s not just knitting, what we’re doing. Not just sewing. Not just mending. It runs so much deeper than that.
Also: I got a lot of knitting done. ;)
*You may know the Sami as Laplanders, but that’s apparently considered a pejorative term. The things you learn!
PREVIOUSLY in Craftlands: Cordova, Alaska