Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Archeology and knitting meet at Dura Europos

In graduate school one is bound to bump into other craftspeople in general, and knitters in particular. One especially distinguished contact is our former Western European Subject Librarian (a medievalist, no less!), who not only has helped me with research and navigating Yale, but is a wonderful person to get together with and talk about knitting and books and all kinds of things.

Obviously my librarian friend came to mind when reading Nancy Bush's Folk Socks. The History & Techniques of Handknitted Socks. (Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1994) I came across the following texts: "The oldest surviving examples of what has been identified as knitted textile fraghments date from A.D. 256. They were discovered at the site of the ancient Syrian fortress city of Dura Europos ... Three wool fragments found there, now in the collection of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, are made of what appear to be knitted stitches." (p.11) There is an image on p. 12, but here is a better one:
Source: Yale University Art Gallery e-catalogue (accessed March 21st, 2012).

I brought up the possibility of going to see these fragments with her, and another knitting Yale library friend of mine, Missknitter, and brainstormed a bit where these fragments may be kept. I was thinking the Peabody Museum of Natural History, but my librarian friend floated the idea of the Yale University Art Gallery. We agreed that I would scan the relevant pages for her and we would get on to locating the pieces. But lo and behold! Before I could even get to my computer, she had sent out queries, and located the fragments: indeed The Yale University Art Gallery! The super helpful associate curator informed us that "The knitting fragment will be on view in our new Dura-Europos gallery, which we are just about to install. The official opening date for our renovated galleries is Dec. 12, 2012, but the Dura gallery and ancient Mediterranean may well be open sooner, by late summer or early fall." (e-mail correspondence on March 21st, 2012).

Field trip! I am so excited, and amazed at the efficiency of the librarians and curators involved. Amazing people!

The excavations of Dura Europos were conducted by a French-American team of archaeologists (Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters) in the 1920s and 1930s. For an informative tour of the excavations, see the Yale University Art Gallery website on the project.

Maybe I should try to reproduce the stitches in the fragment? It looks like textured knitting with button loops in crochet, no? However, Julie Theaker at Knitty has written an article arguing that the Dura Europos "knitting" is in fact nålebinding! See her delightful 2006 article among Knitty's featured articles here, complete with visual evidence of a pair of socks that very much look like they are knit, but are, in fact nålebinding. I cannot wait to see the pieces in person, and maybe look up some more information on the textile while I am at it...

So, look for updates on Circia Fortuita meets Archaeology!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Svale BSJ and the Ducky Sweater

Back in 2010 I decided to venture on the famous Elizabeth Zimmermann Baby Surprise Jacket (aka BSJ on Ravelry). I made one for Johanna, the daughter of Grad school friends, and for Elmer, the son of dear friends back in Finland. I used some lovely yarn left over from other projects. For Johanna's I used Dalegarn Svale left over from some dresses I had made:

The cotton/rayon/silk blend is lovely to knit with, and I had so much fun! The buttons were from my LYS (Local Yarn Store), when Yarn LLC still had a branch on Whitney Avenue, within walking distance of both home and campus. I did not know if Johanna was going to be a girl or a boy when I made this, but decided that if I loved the colors for the Hillmans, then chances were they would appreciate them, girl or boy. Besides, Mum and Dad Hillman are not very gender hysterical at all, and especially not with colors I imagine... I finished Johanna's Svale BSJ in May, according to my Ravelry archive, and apparently knit it in seven days! It was fun and fast, I remember that!

In fact, only a few months later I knit Elmer's BSJ from more leftover yarn, this time a gift from Laura of Lankadontti fame: Novita Nalle. Hence the Ducky Sweater came to be:

I of course love, love, love the colors here (wild!), and the hood with the I-cord. For the buttons I had duckies in mind - rubber duckies being the cultural emblem of us Swedish-Speaking-Finns, and the family this went to are part of the Duck Pond, just like me. OMG: there is a Wikipedia article on the pondishness!!!

Anyways. My friend Missknitter and I went to Stitches East just about the time I was ready to think about buttons, and found these AMAZING ducky buttons:

I wish I had grabbed a card from the merchant - or put it in a logical place to find later - so I could a) give credit here, b) get more! These are so much more articulated than the duckies from JoAnn, my usual button haunt. I love buttons here in the US! Not something you see listed as one of the benefits to immigrating to the US, that: "Upon moving to the US, a marvelous plethora of over-the-top and often sickly cute and utterly desirable buttons will become available to you at ubiquitous stores like JoAnn crafts and Michael's..." Too bad, really. The crafting culture, wildly different from Back Home (I sense a future post in this...), in North America is really fascinating. A big part of it is the commercialization of crafting, which has produced such magical things as the ducky button.

I mailed Mummy and Daddy Johanna and Mamma and Pappa Elmer the sweaters, and of course they very much appreciated them. Johanna's Mum showed it to a knitting friend, who commented on the interesting design. Yay! It made me, and still makes me even though the kids have outgrown the sweaters ages ago, so happy to think of them wearing them.

That is always one of the highlights of knitting stuff for Finns - they all automatically appreciate handmade items. It is just such an ingrained part of our culture. Not to say peeps here in the Americas don't. Many do, and I dare to claim ALL my friends and relatives very much appreciate handmade gifts and items in general - Johanna's parents are great examples! But there is an amazing amount of individuals who actually prefer store bought to hand made in the Americas. I know, shocking. I should have given warning before making such a terrible disclosure. I don't think I actually associate with such people, but I have met them. I should have taken photographs and done interviews...

OK. Enough cultural analysis!

What did I like about the BSJ and making it, I hear you ask?

I should have taken WIP (Work in Progress) photos to illustrate this: I love how the sweater is knit in one piece and then origamied into a sweater!  The only seams are across the shoulders. I, of course, love colors, and I love the way the striping emphasizes the structural design of the sweater. You can see in Johanna's Svale BSJ how the stripes go straight across the back, and then come and "turn a corner" on the sleeves and the front.
I also love the ease with which one can use up leftover yarn for it in fun and creative ways. Many BSJs are knit in self-striping or self-patterning yarn, according to a quick Ravelry browse of the 16908 projects, in 3891 queues, and while the results are marvelous, I really like the opportunity to use stash yarn and be all creative with it. In fact, I might have to start a new BSJ pretty soon, just so I can revel in the origaminess and destashiness of it all!