You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

Another year has passed and it is again Remembrance Day here in Canada.  11/11/11.  We’re in the midst of a fierce storm of wind and rain, so much so that many of the activities scheduled for today have been moved indoors (though the roads seem too dangerous to drive, at least for me).  We here will take our minute of silence, probably accompanied by Peter Mansbridge and the CBC.


I have a couple of interesting things to share today, on the theme of Remembrance Day.  First of all, the new movie “21 Brothers,” filmed in Kingston Ontario, about Kingston’s 21st Battalion. There is a short documentary about the making of the movie available on youtube.

My husband’s great grandfather, Edward Charles Maidman, was a member of this unit during the First World War.  There is also a fantastic website about the 21st here.


Another interesting link I have to share is this article about knitting as part of the war effort.  This article specifically deals with the United States, specifically Washington State, but many of the things discussed apply to the entire allied war effort.  Here are some interesting sections:

The propaganda effect of hand knitting cannot be estimated in terms of hard cash, but it is considerable. A sweater for a bluejacket. A helmet for a flying cadet, made by some devoted woman in a small town far from the war, is sure to arouse interest in the navy or Air Force among the friends of the woman doing the knitting. And she herself feels that she has an active part in this vast conflict; she is not useless, although she can do nothing else to help win the war. (The New York Times, January 22, 1942).

I also found it very interesting that people started learning to card and spin their own yarn due to shortages:

Like meat, fats, sugar, and gasoline, wool was in very short supply during World War II. The war interrupted wool production worldwide. Wool produced was difficult to ship. The War Production Board set strict quotas on how the available wool could be sold and on what could be made from it.  The Seattle Red Cross responded to the yarn shortage ingeniously: “Red Cross leaders are being trained at Lowell School in the old-fashioned arts of carding and spinning yarn from wool … enabling the workers to produce articles for the fighting forces at a savings of more than $3.00 a pound in original cost of wool. Arts and Crafts leaders from the Works Projects Administration at the school are teaching the Red Cross workers the technique of spinning” (The Seattle Times, June 3, 1942).

The amount of knitwear that a dedicated group of women could manufacture in their spare time is staggering:

In Enumclaw a group of knitters met from 1 o’clock to 4 o’clock each Tuesday afternoon….  Between January 1, 1943, and March 9, 1944, this group knitted 65 sleeveless army vests, 19 women’s service sweaters, 25 army helmets, 3 navy helmets, 1 navy vest, 4 army scarves, 10 heavy coat sweaters, 4 afghans, 56 children’s sweaters, 8 turtleneck sweaters, 5 pairs navy gloves and 1 navy scarf. The children’s garments and afghans were for citizens in war torn countries.

This poem is from the Khakhi Knitting Book, edited by Olive Whiting, and published by Allies Special Aid, New York, in 1917:

Knit Your Bit

by A. M. D., October 1917.

Swiftly, to and fro,

Let your needles fly!

Be not yours to know

Pause, for tear or sigh.

Stitch by stitch they grow,

Garments soft and warm

That will keep life’s glow

In some shivering form.

Sweater, muffler, sock,

For the soldiers’ wear!

List to pity’s knock —

For those “over there.”

Children’s voices too,

In the sad refrain,

Weing our hearts anew,

From that world of pain.

Banish for a while

Tints of brighter hue,

Welcome with a smile

Khaki, gray and blue.

Days are cold and drear,

Nights are long and bleak,

Thoughts from home are dear,

Where the cannons shriek.

Let some simple thing,

That your hand employs,

Cheer and comfort bring

To our gallant Boys.

May there be no end

To what love supplies!

Thus their share we’ll send

To our brave Allies!


And this one just cracked me up:

(Works Projects Administration poster, 1942).


Back at the end of August and beginning of September my hubby and I went on an amazing trip to Europe.  Over ten days we visited Reykjavik, Amsterdam, and Paris.

I’m finally getting around to going through all the pictures from the trip (though I haven’t even started on the ones on hubby’s i-pad), and I thought I’d share some of the better ones here.  So today, we start with the magical city of Reykjavik, specifically some fiber-related pics.

These pics are all from the National Museum of Iceland, which I heartily recommend to anyone visiting Reykjavik.  It houses an amazing collection (though fewer items from the pre-Christian era than I expected) and I only wish I’d had more time to explore it.

Iceland is well known for it’s woolens industry even today.  In fact, every tourist shop we saw was just full of hand-knit sweaters and other knit-wear.  It was nice to see handmade items being sold at their actual value (though it meant that I wasn’t able to afford anything, LOL).  So often those of us who make handmade items for sale have to undervalue our items just so that they will sell.

This is a Scandinavian warp-weighted loom.  Back in university I actually wrote a paper on Viking-age weaving.  Surprisingly, archaeologists know quite a bit about fabric from this time period.  Very little actual fabric remains, but there are impressions of the weave of the fabric in other items, specifically the round metal brooches which were a part of women’s clothing.  To a modern weaver, this set-up looms rather primitive, but looking at my own loom which was manufactured in the 1970s (behind me as I write this), not much has changed.  It’s a little more slick and there are a few more bells and whistles to make the weaving faster and easier, but the essential parts are still the same.  The biggest change is that the warp is wound around a breast beam to provide tension rather than tied to stones (a vast improvement time-wise).  As a comparison, here is a schematic from a modern loom (similar to my own, except that mine is a counterweight loom and this is a jack loom):

To give you an idea of how labour intensive fabric production was in Viking-age Iceland, the spinning wheel was not introduced in Iceland until the 18th century.  All the yarn you see on the warp weighted loom above, and all the yarn which would have been used to weave that warp, was spun on a drop spindle, by hand. If a cow was worth 90 ells of cloth, and a woman could weave half an ell (aprox. 25 cms) of cloth in a full day’s work, that is 180 days of weaving for one cow.  This does not include the time it would take to prepare the yarn for weaving, including picking and washing the fleece, carding it into rovings, and the act of spinning it into yarn.  And then there was also pregnancy, childcare, cooking and cleaning.  Not to mention the fact that Icelandic wives were among the first so-called “navy wives.”  Suffice it to say, a woman’s life was not easy.  The spinning wheel must have been revolutionary.

The harshness of the Icelandic climate is evident in this 19th century house called a Badstofa.  It was very small with a sharply peaked roof, but would conceivably have been cozy in cold weather.

And by cozy, I mean cramped and claustrophobic…  let’s just go with cozy.

Here you can clearly see the spinning and winding equipment that would have been used by the women of the house.

Iceland is a hard place to live even today, more so than I realized before I visited.  We were there at the end of August and already people were wearing what most of the world would consider winter-wear.  The landscape is very bleak and the people are very resilient because of it.  It is very very beautiful.

One of the best things we did was go horseback riding.  Icelandic horses are simply amazing.  They are extremely calm and affectionate, almost like big dogs.  They’re quite small, almost like a large pony,  and their gait is extremely smooth.  They grow long coats in the winter to cope with the cold.  Our ride was very enjoyable, even though I threw up on my horse (poor Rieker was so nice about it, too.)  I kept riding, which impressed our guide to no end, even though I had to stop several times to be sick.  She told me that there was something very strong about me, something Icelandic.  I was extremely flattered.

Iceland was very very beautiful.  We went to the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa in Grindavik.  This place is so amazing it’s hard to describe it.  Picture a pale milky blue lake wafting with steam.  The water is bathtub-warm, and there are currents of warmer water throughout it.  The first thing you notice is the strong, rich smell of salt in the air.  The depth goes from about waist-deep to chin-deep (on me, though I’m quite short).  The bottom of the lake is volcanic rock covered in a layer of clay.  There are boxes of this clay at various intervals and you are encouraged to smear it over your face and any other exposed skin.  The atmosphere makes people more gregarious so everybody is laughing and talking with one another.  The swim-up bar helps too, I think.  There is a waterfall of warm water that you can stand under for a lovely massage.  There are steam rooms and dry saunas as well.  The Blue Lagoon is simply the most famous of such spas in Iceland, and there are even undeveloped places in the wild that the locals know of where you can go for a long, free, soak.

I know this was quite long, but I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Iceland and it’s fiber-related history.  I’ll have some items made from Icelandic wool up in the shop as soon as I get around to crocheting them.

In Frigga’s name,


About Me:

Ellen, a crafty homemaker with two kids and a penchant for correcting other people's grammar.

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