The Podcast 99% Invisible as described on Stitcher:
“Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture.”
As summaries go, this one is a bit dry, but it’s probably impossible to summarize the joy of a podcast devoted to delving into all the random elements of our world that are so taken for granted that most of us never even think to ask about how they came to be, if we notice their existence at all.
Last week’s episode, and the prompt that got me to finally write the recommendation that I’ve been meaning to write for years, was an interview with Kassia St. Clair, about her book The Secret Lives of Color. The book is a collection of essays, each about a given color, from ones that I have previously never heard of (isebelline - a light dun) to the ubiquitous (a history of beige). Sometimes she writes about the historical cultural associations of a color; sometimes she writes about the chemistry of a pigment or the history of its use. Whatever she chooses to focus on, the results are fascinating.
Working with natural dyes (spending two to three days to produce a green yarn, never mind the time required for scouring and mordanting before dyeing, and rinsing and drying afterwards) has given me much time to meditate on how I, and most of the modern world, take the easy availability of color for granted. The price of dyeing or coloring an item is so minimal relative to the cost of production, or so much considered to be part of the production process itself, that the cost and time required disappears entirely into the final price. Dark blue items do not cost more than light blue items. Undyed items are rarely cheaper (if they are available at all) than their dyed counterparts. We still have strong cultural associations with different colors (national flags, sports teams, high school colors etc) but unless we work in specialized fields, we rarely think about what is required to produce the color in question, or how amazing it is that we can so easily create it.
So we forget how much the quest for color has changed human history. As the host of 99% Invisible summarized in what has become one of my favorite quotes, our love of color is a “...real human pursuit: basically food, shelter, and the brightest color imaginable seem to be ingrained in our DNA”. Or, as Kassia St. Clair puts it, “We love shiny bright colors and we are prepared to do all sorts of weird and wonderful things to have them.”
Listen to it here, or on your favorite podcasting service.
In which I am already a day behind. Sigh.
For several years now I have seen the Wovember posts on my Instagram feed, celebrating all things wool and wool related. I love reading about other people’s relationship to sheep, wool, and wool craft, and I love the writing prompts that make me examine my own relationship to wool, yarn, and sheep. I’ve never actually done the actual writing part before though. This is going to be the year!
Wool means too many things to me to encapsulate it all in an Instagram post. To the archaeologist I meant to be, wool is probably the result of a random mutation in the genome of feral sheep and became one of the major (often overlooked) elements in the toolkit that got us to where we are today. Wool is wealth and trade routes, an economically valuable crop that changed the landscape of Europe (literally, among other places, I‘m just most familiar with the European context). Wool is a display of wealth and prestige, but also a utilitarian comfort. Personally wool is a feeling of connection to the six or seven or eight millennia of wool workers, and also a feeling of home and safely.
Which doesn’t really capture it all. Hmm.
Anyway, my inner archaeologist found this fascinating paper about the history and development of wool, published on eTopoi:Journal for Ancient Studies. The Textile Revolution. Reasearch into the Origin and Spread of Wool Production between the Near East and Central Europe
For the archaeology/history of wool production and craft I also reccomend many of the books by Elizabeth Wayland Barber , Women’s Work- the First 20,000 Years especially.
I am usually the last person to hear about things, so I suspect that the entire sheep-interested world has already heard about this, but I just found about it and I am ridiculously excited.
According to this article in the Washington Post (to name one, a quick Google search shows that many other news organizations also ran the story) the topography and lack of roads in the Faroe Islands make it impossible to photograph the islands for Google Street View using the normal cameras mounted on cars. The folks at Google were just willing to let it go, but the Faroe Island tourism board very much wanted to add their islands to Google Street View, and so they strapped solar powered cameras to sheep. Which is honestly just the coolest solution. (Although it actually turns out that sheep are generally too focussed on grazing and therefore move across a space too slowly to be much good at photographing an area - so most of the footage of the Faroes that is currently on Google Street View was actually taken by human hikers).
The Sheep View footage is available on the tourism board website, and a lot of it made it onto youtube.
On a more knitting related note, I have been longing to knit Kanoko Socks by Mary Jane Mucklestone, published in Making Magazine No. 3, ever since I saw her wear them during the Wool Scout Retreat at Bradford Camp this August. As usual, I got a little sidetracked and my knitting queue got in the way, but when MJ’s Instragram post came across my feed announcing that the pattern was being released for individual sale on Ravelry they immediately jumped to the head of the line. I started knitting them a few days ago (using my Straw’s Farm Island Sheep fingering weight) and am thoroughly enjoying them. The four rows of dots are charming in cream, but they would also be charming in different colors. Yup, I’m plotting kits….
In addition to hosting a podcast (FiberTrek, available on iTunes) and facilitating the introduction of designers, crafters, and yarn producers to each other and to knitters at large, my good friend Sarah Hunt puts on lovely, cozy, educational, yarn/knitting retreats in Maine. In her podcasts and personal knitting she is interested in the relationship of wool, yarn, and knitting to landscape and a sense of place. For the last couple of years she has been bringing these ideas into focus during her Tidal Tours knitting retreats in collaboration with Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts, but even more exciting, this year she is also drawing on her background as a Maine Guide to bring interested knitters into the wilds of Maine.
From August 13-17 Sarah will be hosting the Wool Scout Knitting Retreat at Bradford Camps on Munsungan Lake, in Township 8-Range 10. The camps may be reached by logging road, but a float plane is the recommended mode of transport. Mary Jane Mucklestone will be holding classes in Fair Isle knitting (!!!!!!!) Sarah will be teaching classes in starting fires with flint and steel, and also in working with rare and primitive breed wools, Jani Estell of Star Croft Fibers will be leading a class in making Viking Chatelaines (an organizer for small tools) and Igor Sikorsky will be teaching fly fishing and map and compass skills. And, boat schedule willing, I will be there as well with my indigo pots, introducing interested folks to the magic of dyeing with natural indigo. I am giddy to be included in such company, and also just really looking forward to getting to be part of the retreat.
For more information, and to register, go to fiber-trek.squarespace.com
I have fallen right back under the metaphorical rock thanks to spending last week in a class necessary to maintain my Coast Guard License (long boring story, also a long boring class, but my fellow participants worked on drill rigs and tug boats and that bit was fascinating) but now I get to spend the morning sipping my first cup of coffee and catching up with my favorite blogs.
I was thrilled to discover that The Fringe Association published a really lovely interview with Dotty Widman of the Netloft in Cordova, Alaska about the Cordova Gansey Project. Dotty's series of posts on her own blog have become some of my favorite writing about knitting generally and ganseys specifically.
(You can find the yarn I created for the #cordovaganseyproject listed here at the Netloft's website).
Now that I am finally done with the Coast Guard class I will have time to work with the 2016 Coopworth gansey yarn that arrived while I was away (I could not be happier with how it turned out!). For those of you on the wait list for 2016 Coopworth gansey yarn, I am trying to put together a newsletter to inform you that it is finally here, and that I am beginning to work with it. I would rather spend time working with yarn than trying to create a pretty newsletter about yarn, so I may just give up on the newsletter and send a quick email. If you are on the wait list and you read this, feel free to send me a quick email about your order.