Archive for the ‘What I Read’ Category

Forest Mushroom Mittens

All of my favorite knitting books follow the people’s history of the craft. Michael Pearson’s Traditional Knitting is, as far as I’m concerned, the best social history of knitting ever written. Nearly all the others on my list of top knitting books are primarily concerned with mittens: Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis, Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush, Selbuvotter by Terri Shea, Mostly Mittens by Charlene Schurch, Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski, Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg, Favorite Mittens by Robin Hansen. And what about the Ukrainian folk story, The Mitten?

I love mittens with a story, don’t you? Mittens are the most fascinating article of knitted apparel because no matter where they come from, they always seem to reflect the cultural and religious values of those who wore them. As contemporary knitters, we have lost track of the tradition of our craft. We knit for enjoyment, for fashion, to make gifts for friends and family; we drift from stockinette to cables to fair isle and back again, dabbling in all sorts of styles and techniques along the way with little regard to those who came before us. People like Lizbeth Upitis and Nancy Bush bring us back to the roots of our craft with their research in the folk art of the humble mitten.

Last winter, while rereading Lizbeth Upitis’ book, I followed a footnote to the text Latviesu cimdu raksti. Ornaments in Latvian gloves and mittens, by Irma Lesina, a text Upitis noted had many wonderful plates of mitten designs. Published by a small Nebraskan press in 1969, the book was long out-of-print. In fact, there were so few copies left in circulation that it took my university’s inter-library loan service a month to track down a Canadian copy for me; needless to say, it was most certainly worth the wait!

I pored over hundreds of traditional designs from Kurzeme, Latgale, Vidzeme, and Zemgale, recharting many stitch patterns that interested me. I created a large Excel file of stitch patterns, mixing and matching different ones as I went along. I remained faithful to regional distinctions, trying only to pair up patterns originating in the same region.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

My Forest Mushroom design in Twist Collective Winter 2010 (Ravelry link) is one of the fruits of this lovely labor, combining several different motifs from the Kurzeme region of Latvia to be knitted with more contemporary colors at modern gauges.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

The cuff is elaborately detailed and includes three distinctive brown and white braids before breaking into the mushroom-like pattern of the upper mitten. Unlike a traditional Latvian mitten, the top rounds off instead of coming to a hard point.

The peasant thumb is placed with waste yarn and knitted in the mushroom pattern to blend in with the mitten body.

Some designs you love more than others and these are one of my favorites; they combine everything I love about knitting: gorgeous colors, Latvian braids, long mitten cuffs, and old, complex, crafting traditions. Every knitter needs to make a pair of Latvian mittens in his or her knitting life, perhaps these will be yours!

The pattern is available at Twist Collective for $6.00.

I left my heart in Philadelphia

Last Friday, I took my last exam then promptly drove to the airport to meet up with Ashley, Caro, Christy, Diana, Jennie, Julia, Maritza, Megan, Minty, Nova, Pam and Specs in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Nova hurt her back and Jennie got sick (and then got a PhD!) so I missed them, providing plenty of reasons to plan another knitting weekend. The rest of us communed over good food and even better yarn for a weekend of knitting-related silliness fun.

KBC v1.0

(check out Flickr for details and photo credits)

I scored an amazing cowl in a little swap we planned. Diana knit me the most beautiful, silky blue cowl in a traveling rib pattern.

cowl by bestitched

Would it be in bad taste to wear it every day? I cannot stop looking at my lovely cowl; the color is very striking!

lovely silk

Look at the stitch definition! Stunning! The yarn is Tilli Thomas Fil de la Mer and its content is 70% silk and 30% sea cell.

eye catching stitch pattern

I knit a cowl for Minty out of Blue Sky Alpacas Alpaca & Silk held together with Plymouth Royal Llama Silk. Actually, I knit three cowls for this swap (more on the other two later). I could not decide which one she would prefer so I brought all three and let Minty choose.

A cowl for Minty

She picked the first one I made! I admit to liking this one the best, even if it is the simplest of the three. Here’s Beatrix modeling it before I left.

Minty's Cowl

Pattern: modified Gloria Cowl

Yarn: Blue Sky Alpacas Alpaca Silk (in Mandarin) and Plymouth Royal Llama Silk (in #1880)

Needles: US 8

In the interest of brevity, I will save the other cowls and the pair of socks that I started and finished over the weekend (incredible!) for my next post. After Maryland Sheep & Wool this year, Lolly commented the dread she felt about the post-festival blog post: there is so much to say, so many pictures, so many links. I feel the same way about my weekend in Philly. For that reason, I will let Flickr do the rest of the talking. Needless to say, it was great fun and I look forward to a sequel!