Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pomp and Ceremony

[Photo:From the left: Dr. Richard Umeek Atleo, Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo,
moi, Dr Nancy Turner, Dr. Ralph Nilson.
In front is the paddle that Chief Atleo presented to VIU
when he was installed as chancellor.  It is a steering paddle,
which helps guide us during important journeys.
It is now part of our convocation ceremonies.]
This was a busy week, being convocation week and I had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Nancy Turner to the audience as the Honorary recipient of a Doctorate of Science. Nancy is one of the world's top ethnobotanists. She has worked with First Nations Elders and cultural specialists for over 40 years, helping to preserve and bring to the broader world their traditional knowledge about plants and their ecosystems, their management and enhancement. Her CV is 60 pages long and she has been recognized with many awards (Member of the Order of Canada, Order of BC, ....the list goes on and on). She is an incredibly humble person who acknowledges those who taught her and shared their knowledge with her. I know who to ask when I have a question about native plants or things like, which plant was used by First Nations to dye wool yellow, or black? She was a great inspiration for those students who were graduating and to the rest of us. Here's a news release about her.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Victoria Inspiration

[Photo: Jean Betts showing her splendid coat
made from many scraps of  various textiles
she has woven]
I attended the Victoria Weavers and Spinners Guild on Thursday having heard that one of their best weavers, Jean Betts was giving a presentation on some of her recent work. I had to be in Victoria to do some research anyway so I added this to the schedule and come away inspired. Jean recently took a workshop with Dorothy Field, poet, writer, artist, intellectual extraordinaire. Here's a documentary about Dorothy.
The workshop was intended to push the artist and extend their creativity and Jean felt she was able to do that. She has woven for years and getting bored with the same old same old and this was a chance to try new things. Her theme was reuse, reinvent, recycle and rejuvenate. Napkins from Value Village were dyed, textiles, cut and added, Japanese rice wax resist, stitches adding details..well, you get the idea and the pictures tell the story. Jean discusses the workshop in more detail on her blog OneSmallStitch
Jean also showed a book on 'Boro' a Japanese word meaning rags. Impoverished people in the 19th and 20th Century patched and patched and re-patched their clothes creating beautiful textiles. They are now collectable and sell for a lot of money. Do a google for "Japanese boro" and you will find some interesting images and information about boro.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Knitting from the heart, err, colon.

[Photo: untitled (heart lungs)
knitted human hair
courtesy, private collection, sydney
photographs: danny kildare]
You have to admire this knitting!  I mean, look at it.  First, the idea of knitting underwear is a little far out but a, well, an intestine, a colon, lungs even, now that is different! And after the shock of the idea comes the realization that these objects d'art  are knitted (stocking stitch if you are curious) with ...better sit down for this... human hair.  Artist Helen Pynor even confesses 'It's an act of madness'.
[Photo: Underneath 2007
knitted human hair, courtesy, private collection, paris
Photo: danny kildare]
Thinking about the women who wove their lives into the Afghanistan rugs (see the blog of Dec 26th) certainly connects you in a much more meaningful way to their work, but think about knitting the hair of many women into something. say a colon, is a whole new level of meaning between the shorn women and the knitter.  Read more about Helen Pynor at her website:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Distaff Day in Duncan

[Photo: Pat's home grown linen and Iris leaf
place mats done for the Salt Spring 100 mile
fibre challenge]
Apparently, the first day after the Twelfth Day of Christmas (January 6th) is known as Saint Distaff Day (January 7th). A distaff is the tool spinners use to hold long fibres, usually flax/linen, while the fibres are spun. Distaff Day is the day spinners would pick up the distaff and start spinning again after the holidays. Consider that in the hey day of St Distaff's Day, i.e. when most people knew what a distaff was, most women were occupied with spinning. Hence, Distaff Day is the perfect excuse for a bunch of spinners to congregate and spin and spin and spin.
[Photo: Yarns dyed by local
[Photo: Anna's lace
 twist socks]
The Tzuhalem Weavers and Spinners Guild host a spin-in on this day which was attended by people from Deep Bay to Victoria. A gathering of spinners. Never, in my early years, did I ever imagine that I would be found spinning all day with a group of women. But it was fun! We went around the room, each person introducing themselves and doing a show and tell, followed by spinning, then pot-luck lunch, then spinning and chatting. Such a good way to meet people. For others it was a great way to reconnect.
What St. Distaff Day has to do with a saint, I have no idea. There doesn't seem to have been a saint called Distaff or a saint associated with Distaff Day...although many women are unacknowledged saints.
The Victoria Guild contingent,
4 women, 4 spinning wheels and a ton of fibre.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year, Old Spindle

[Photo: Spindle whorl found at L'Anse aux
Meadows, Newfoundland.
Image from:] 
This spindle is a most unusual spindle, one that tells a story and proves a story.  The picture on the left is the Norse spindle whorl found at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.  This is the oldest spindle whorl to be found in Canada and is over 1,000 years old.  According to two Icelandic sagas that talk about the Viking settlement at Vinland (now proven to be L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland), this spindle probably belonged to Gudrid (aka The Far Traveller), wife of Karlsefni, and mother of Snorri, the first European baby to be born in North America, and my great-great (27 times great) grandmother.
In 1960, Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine Moe, an archaeologist looked for and found the Vinland of the sagas in Newfoundland. The site also proved that the Norse people had been to North America 500 years before Columbus.  It was the whorl (along with a knitting needle) that helped confirm that this location was indeed the Norse settlement that until then had been the Vinland of two Icelandic sagas. The Greenland Saga and Eric the Red Saga, which both spoke of Gudrid having lived in Vinland twice and the second time for three years where she gave birth to Snorri. At that time, only women spun hence the whorl indicated that a Norse woman had been there.  Gudrid was not the only woman to have been in Vinland, from the sagas we know that Freydis also lived there for one of the voyages.  She too most likely spun, but since Fredis had a reputation of being ferocious and a bit unlady-like, I like to think that this whorl belonged to Gudrid.
The whorl is made from soapstone and is very similar to the ones seen at the National Museum of Iceland in the picture here.

[Photo: Icelandic spindles in
 the Icelandic National Museum]
Eva Anderson in her dissertation research on Viking era textile production confirmed that the whorl weight and diameter of the whorl determines the rate and duration of the spin, the amount of tension and hence, the fineness or thickness of the yarn spun.  Often various whorl sizes would be found close together in Norse archaeological sites which reflect the variety of spindle tools needed for the variety of textiles produced.  From Norse archaeological sites, whorl weights range from 4-100 grams with 5-29 g being typical.  Whorl diameters range between 5-45 mm and the height of stone whorls is 5-20 mm, with a 7-12 mm hole.
The shafts of that era were almost always thinner at both ends and thickening in the middle.  Shafts would typically be 98-215 mm in length, with diameters from 5-13 mm, with 7-8 mm diameter most common (Andersson, 1999). 
In the museum (see the picture above) the spindles are displayed with the whorl at the top, but they were probably used as bottom weighted whorls.

See also: