Yesterday and today I went down to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We had two good weather days in a row on a weekend. I can't remember the last time that happened.
Saturday, I made it down around noon and headed straight for Scotland. I spent five hours in Scotland looking at the demonstrations, talking to the craftspeople, and listening to the music. One place I went to repeatedly was to the knitting tent so I could talk to the knitting demonstrators. All three were so open, gracious, and willing to talk about their knitting despite the heat and the throngs.
The first knitter I talked to was May MacCormick who was knitting gloves in the black & white Sanquhar style without a pattern or chart. She was knitting a man's glove using doubled lace-weight merino on approximately size US 1 needles. Women's gloves are knit on smaller needles.
Not only are the Sanquhar gloves notable for their distinctive black & white patterns, they also have a unique three-sided finger construction with tiny little salt & pepper gussets at the base of each finger. [Sorry, no detail shot].
Here's a sample of various patterns used; some are named in commemoration of an event or VIP, but others are traditional and remain unnamed.
The pattern on the glove below is named Rose. The card reads,
"Miss Wilson has been credited with compiling the Rose pattern when Princess Margaret Rose was born. This pattern was certainly 'all the rage' in the 1930's."
Knitting patterns for Sanquhar gloves can be obtained from the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes for approximately $1 US plus postage.
The next knitter I met was Ann Eunson, who was demonstrating Shetland lace knitting.
You can't see it in this picture, but she's using a knitting belt [scroll for picture on this link] to hold her righthand needle. Using the belt, she was able to knit incredibly fast and she tucked the finished portion of the shawl into the belt on the left to keep it out of the way. The shawl she is working on in the picture is of lace weight wool. She also had silk shawl in progress.
I asked about the wool she was using. She said that the shawl she was knitting and the ones on display were not handspun.
However, she sprang up and went back to her container of supplies and pulled out some shawls she had knit using handspun from her own sheep. She also brought out some very, very fine lace knit from wool thread only slightly thicker than human hair. [No pictures at this point because the shawls were like a magnet drawing everyone over to look at them].
I stuck around to listen to her answer a few more questions. One person asked how long to make a shawl. She estimates about 60 hours apiece to spin and knit. [Use that as a goal]. A mother there with her tweenage daughter mentioned that the girl was learning to spin. Ann immediately urged the girl to sit down and give it a go on her spinning wheel and was very encouraging of the results. They really have managed to get some of the nicest people as demonstrators.
The final knitter I talked with was Anne Sinclair who was demonstrating traditional Fair Isle knitting.
On my TagBoard, Sharon mentioned that she talked with Ms. Sinclair for a long time. I'd be interested to hear what you talked about. I only got to speak with her briefly, but it was quite interesting.
First, I asked her about steeking. She quite promptly answered that 'steek' was a term made up by AS, she never used them, and didn't know many Fair Isle knitters who did. [Hee! I don't claim to know the truth of the matter; I'm only reporting what Ms. Sinclair said]. She stated that she worked in the round only up to the sleeve openings, after which, she worked back and forth up to the shoulders. It was her opinion that with practice working back and forth was no great trouble. I guess for her, given all her experience, it's not.
The colored yarn in her basket and in the samples was Jamieson & Smith. The sweater she was working on was in Shetland 2000, the same undyed Shetland yarn available in the US through Yarns International.
I must admit that I didn't spend as long talking to Ms. Sinclair as I might have liked so this entry is a bit sparse. I'd be curious to see how far she's gotten on her sweater this week and to see if she's working back and forth yet or perhaps has even moved onto a sleeve. The high temperatures tomorrow are supposed to be only in the 80s, so maybe I'm get off my backside and pop down for the last day of the festival. I hope none of the demonstrators have succumbed to the heat.
To answer a questions from a previous report: Melissa asked if there was anything noteworthy about May MacCormick's knitting technique. Not that I could see. She held one strand in each hand as you might see many knitters do. Alternatively, Anne Sinclair held both strands for her knitting in her right hand (you'll also note that she is not using a knitting belt).