Sunday, December 16, 2012

Almost Deleted and The History of Knitting In Canada At Least

You know, for a while there, I lost sight of why I blog. I didn't think anyone gave a good whoop about whether or not I blogged, but then someone very dear to me reminded me that if I was enjoying it, that's what mattered. So because I enjoy it, I'll carry on.
So, I can't chat too much about gardening and homesteading and living off the land too much in the winter. Around here, it's the season for knitting and crocheting. I don't crochet, although Betty and my mother keep trying to get me to pick up the hook. Once again over the next few months, I'll be knitting for the homeless. We have a soup kitchen in town, and I've been told they'll take all the scarves, mitts, socks and hats I can knit. So you'll be hearing a lot about all sorts of knitterly things over the coming weeks. One thing in particular has caught my attention, the history of knitting here in Canada. We have a few American friends that tease us about living with polar bears, all in good fun of course, but we tend to have a lot of winter in our corner of the north, so I figured there has to be a pretty extensive history of it, right? So I've begun to dig into it. Today I found an archived version of "Canada Knits:Craft and Comfort in A Northern Land", by Shirley Scott. It's fascinating stuff, believe me! Oh, here's some for you to read!

"Despite their excellent needlework skills native Canadians did not knit before Europe an contact. They worked with skins, grasses, and other animal and vege- table fibres; weaving, sewing, embroidering and ornamenting their clothing and
household objects with intricate skill. In fact, one of the reasons why the first intrusive Europeans were not more positively repelled was the native people's interest in the trade goods that the Europeans brought. Their fine metal sewing needles easily replaced the more awkward bone needles and were among the earliest and most prized trade goods.
Native Canadians did, however, have some skill in woolcraft. They made use of the wool of wild animals that was shed in spring and found caught up on twigs or blowing loose across the land. Inuit women today, for example, tuck bits of qtvtuq, the underdown of the musk ox, into their sealskin boots for added
warmth. We may safely assume that such an opportunity for warmer feet would
not have been neglected in past centuries. We know too that the hair of
domesticated dogs was used by Pacific Coast Indian tribes to make clothing and that these people also had spinning skills. Anthropologists tell us that the
Salish people, who have a rich textile tradition, were skillful blenders of dog hair, duck down, and vegetable fibres, which they twisted and spun into
yarns and wove into blankets. Some spinning whorls and blanket pins have
been found that are two thousand years old. The adeptness of native women at needlework, their skill in shaping garments, their love of ornamentation and
their eye for design meant that when they were finally introduced to knitting they seized upon it and became some of the most dedicated practitioners of the art. Knitting skills were passed on to many native people at the same time as religion and the other fundamentals of European culture . The missionaries saw the teaching of knitting as a means of avoiding idleness and of building
character rather than as a form of artistic expression. Nevertheless, the tools that they gave to native people were valuable indeed.
Canada ' s first kni t t e r s did not s t ay. The first Europeans to establish a
settlement in Canada were the Norse, who came from Scandinavia via Iceland
and landed at l'Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. They did not leave any actual knitting behind them. However, we do know that they worked with wool.
Excavators at the s i t e of l'Anse aux Meadows have uncovered a small number of artefacts that offer a glimpse of the woolcraft of these Norse colonists. A spindle whorl of soapstone, a small needle-hone of quartzite, and an elongated bone needle were found. All of these objects are indisputably Norse and were not known to the local native Canadians of the period. They were part of
a woman's tool kit. Socks and mittens were probably knit using the single-ne edle nalbtndnlng technique, a form of knitting that predates the two-needle method. The yarn used at l'Anse aux Meadows was probably wool, although the Norse occupants did not practice agriculture here as they did in their other colonies where sheep and cattle farming dominated the economy.
The settlement at l'Anse aux Meadows was short lived. Perhaps, as Birgitta Wallace suggests in The Norse Atlantic Saga, it was merely a stopover point for trading voyages. The journey south may have seemed too long, the season too short, and the goods no more exotic than those easily obtained from Europe. For whatever reason, the outpost was abandoned. and with it disappeared
the opportunity of leaving knitting knowledge behind.

The e a r l i e s t known knitted piece found in Canada did not come from
settlers at all but from seasonal workers who probably brought it with
them. It is a fragment of a knitted cap found at the late sixteenth century
Basque whaling site at Red Bay. Labrador. The Basque people harvested our
rich coastal waters for many years before the French and the English
established themselves here. but the Basques were economic opportunists, not empire builders. They were happy to return home when their work was done. Their most lasting legacy is the place names that remain on the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, not the art of knitting.
What an interesting glimpse me at least! What did you think?


CallieK said...

I've been slacking on the blogging front too but winter seems to leave more time for things like writing, and knitting too.I'm back at the needles these days so blogging can't be too far behind. Thanks for the history notes!

farmgal said...

I add my voice to I read every single post you write and I always smile when it appears in my mail box, often I am unable to get blogger to let me post comments.

Loved the info on the knitting very interesting indeed, and I look forward to all the news, I am working on cowls, New Lucet Halters for the horse and cows and for a few sheep.