Keep Calm and Knit On

This is the big week, folks.  After months of preparing, negotiating, stressing, packing, stressing, phone calling, form filling, stressing, organizing, and, oh yeah, stressing, the week has finally arrived.

I get possession of my house this Thursday.  My parent’s living room has been taken over by boxes, and totes, and random bags filled with kitchen items, movies, books (my book collection always seems to surprise me), and my bedroom is also being consumed with boxes and odds and ends.  I’ve packed away most of my yarn, leaving what I’ll need for the shawl I started last week.  Every so often, I’m hit with the urge to knit a particular project, and last week, I NEEDED to start a shawl.  But I digress.

It’s such a surreal feeling, and I’m still filled with stress and doubts, but I’m also very much looking forward to moving into my own place, regaining a sense of independence.

In a time when I am filled with such stress, I’ve naturally turned to my needles, and I FINALLY finished the Sontag last night, while also finishing the newly released third season of Orange is the New Black.  The reassurance of knitting and the humour from this amazing show helped keep my mind off the big life moment happening later this week.

It will all work out.  Everything always does.  In one way or another, it will work out.

I was able to have my awesome co-worker take a few pictures of me in my newly finished Sontag (link to the project on my Rav.).  We snapped these photos in the house we have displayed as a traditional Victorian home.  The house is exhibited c. 1865, and the house itself is believed to be built c. 1840.  The dress I’m wearing I also made, that time with the assistance of my grandmother.

Sontag, from the back
Sontag, from the back
Sontag, front view
Sontag, front view
Sontag, from the side
Sontag, from the side
Trying to capture the detail of the basketweave texture
Trying to capture the detail of the basketweave texture
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In My Other Blogging Life

For a number of months, I have been maintaining this blog with a new post every week.  It’s a fun way for me to share my love of knitting, of crafting, and of generally sharing select aspects of my life.  This blog in and of itself is another creative outlet for me, and to those who take the time to stop and read my posts, I thank you.  This is what I write about in my personal time about my personal life.  Professionally, however, I have been blogging for over two years.  Perhaps that’s how I first got bitten by the ‘writing bug.’

I work for a small community Museum, and we maintain a blog also hosted here on WordPress.  Somehow, over the 4+ years I’ve been working at this site I love, I have become, among other things, a social media co-ordinator, and the blog maintenance falls to me.  We have a monthly feature looking at newspaper headlines from years ago, we have students throughout the year who help share their experiences at the Museum, and we have dozens of previously written historical articles that make for perfect blog content.  But, every so often, original content needs to be written, and I happy sit, research, and write.  I studied history in school, so writing new posts for the blog brings be back to those days when I was writing dozens of essays for my various classes.  This time, it’s better because I’m not stressing about what grade the writing will get.  I write for the sheer enjoyment of writing about topics I am truly passionate about.

My WordPress reader really is a funny space because it is a great mixture of knitting and handicraft blogs to history and museum blogs, very aptly reflective of my life and interests.  I loved writing my post about the Sontag because it combined my love of research and knitting, and it’s made me want to find more historical patterns to knit and learn more about.  The Sontag is still on my needles, but I’m nearing the finish line!  Once it’s finished, I’ll share pictures of the finished object, along with me in my Victorian finest!

My First Knitting Bag

Two weeks ago, I shared the contents of my knitting bag.  This knitting bag is my go-everywhere, anytime, workhorse of a knitting bag.  I love it, but it is not my first knitting bag love. My first knitting bag is very special to me.

My first knitting bag
My first knitting bag

Many years ago, when I was shakily and diffidently muddling my way through my first project, I told my grandmother that I had taken up the craft.  Not long after that, she presented me with her knitting bag, along with an assortment of yarn.  She was a knitter many years ago but had not picked up her needles for a long time. “If you can use it, then it’s yours,” Grandma said to me, gifting the knitting bag to me. According to my grandmother, the bag was sewn by my great-aunt, Auntie Pat, a woman who in her late 80s is still an active knitter.  The wooden handles were made by my great-grandfather, Grandad Jack.  I was only 6 when he passed away and had only met him twice in my young life, but I have very fond memories of him.  I remember his garden in England, and I remember him teaching me the rhyme ‘Little Jack Horner,’ a nursery rhyme that holds a special place in my heart.

My needle roll from my grandmother
My needle roll from my grandmother

Along with the knitting bag, Grandma also passed along her collection of knitting needles, complete with a needle roll case, also sewn by Auntie Pat.  For a beginner knitter, the difference in British needle sizing and American needles was incredibly confusing! This knitting bag does not see a lot of action, but it holds a treasured place in my collection of knitting paraphernalia.

We Are Canadian.

Today, I was a part of something amazing.  The more I’m thinking about it, the more amazed I am and the more honoured I am to have been a part of it.  I was able to witness a Citizenship ceremony, where 43 people became Canadians.

I was invited to be a discussion host for a citizenship discussion that happened before the actual swearing in, and I chatted with three individuals and their children about what becoming Canadian means to them, and it truly opened my eyes to things I have taken for granted.  Having a passport.  Being able to travel.  Free healthcare.  Voting.  Living in such a diverse, unique nation.

After the discussions, the Citizenship ceremony took place, and I stood and reaffirmed my oath as a Canadian.  Being born here, swearing the Oath of Citizenship is something I had never done before, but I proudly raised my right hand and said the words alongside those saying it for the first time as Canadians.  All together, at the end of the ceremony, we sang our National Anthem, and it was sung loud and with great pride.

Today was a happy day.  I left and my cheeks were sore from smiling so much.  I was honoured to play even the smallest role in this very important ceremony.  I am forever grateful that my grandparents and great-grandparents made the choice to settle in Canada.  I love my country, and today reminded me of the many reasons why I love it.  I have never been more proud to be Canadian.

What’s In Your Knitting Bag?

Have you heard of Eskimimi Makes‘ Annual Knitting And Crochet Blog Week?  I hadn’t before this week, but I have been enjoying following the tags and reading the posts that all of you creative blog folks have been sharing.  I was too late to participate, and 7 new posts in a week seemed like a BIG commitment for me and a little intimidating, but one of the topics sparked my interest: Day 4: Bags of Fun.  I’ve previously written about my beloved knitting bag, my proverbial safety blanket, and while I shared the anecdote of my father and his apparent shock at the message, I didn’t delve into the bag’s contents.  Well, here goes!

Mary Poppins may have carried more around in her carpet bag, but I feel like my knitting bag may give her a run for her money!  The most obvious contents: my latest projects.  This past week, I’ve had three projects on my needles: The Sontag, a cowl that I’m quasi-improvising for my cousin, and what I’ve dubbed the Cunning Fingerless Gloves.  I’ve taken the basic pattern I used for the Warmer on the Inside gloves but changed the colours up in yet another geeky homage.  They are for my amazing co-worker, and I know when she walks down the street wearing these gloves, along with her equally cunning cap, people will know that she’s not afraid of anything.  Shiny.

Top: The Sontag; Left: Cunning Fingerless Gloves; Right: The Cousin Cowl
Top: The Sontag; Left: Cunning Fingerless Gloves; Right: The Cousin Cowl

Helping me with my current projects is my knitting journal.  It’s kind of a scrapbook/smashbook that I cut and paste patterns in, use to take notes as I’m knitting along, or I keep notes on patterns I’m improvising on the fly.  This is the second such journal I’ve filled in just over a year and a half.  I apparently knit a lot…

I'd be lost without this journal!
I’d be lost without this journal!

Also in my knitting bag: My DPN holder/crochet hook holder/scissor holder/catch all.  Many months ago, I was struggling to find a good solution for storing my DPNs.  You all know the struggle – so many DPNs, never a good way to keep them organized.  My local dollar store has provided me the best solution in a pencil case.  Sometimes it’s a search to find four of the same size needles, but they are together in one spot, they won’t get lost, and I can also keep essentials in there too, like scissors and the gauge ruler.  Love my DPN case.

My case and its contents
My case and its contents

Along with trying to keep my DPNs organized, I also struggled with my notions.  The more I knit, the more notions I have managed to buy.  Funny how that works.  Once again, my faithful dollar store gave me my solution.  These simple stacking containers are perfect for stitch markers, a measuring tape, row counters, and darning needles.  They are sorted and easy to grab when needed.

Organized notions are a beautiful thing!
Organized notions are a beautiful thing!

What else did I find in my knitting bag when I emptied its contents?

Size 7 needles, and a hair tie.  For two random items, they really aren’t that random at all.

Not so random
Not so random randomness

So, that’s my knitting bag.  What’s in yours?

The Story Behind the Sontag and My Sontag Frustrations

Okay, I’m going to say it… for a historian, someone who is passionate about history and the preservation and promotion of history, I thoroughly dislike historic knitting patterns.  Maybe this isn’t fair; I’ve worked with exactly two ‘vintage’ patterns, but both have been less than straight forward.  Both, however, have given me the chance to do some reading and research into the history of these patterns, and the history geek in me has loved every second of it!

The first pattern I made was a World War I sock, based off a pattern I found in a local newspaper in 1916.  It was the second pair of socks I made, and the directions were clearly meant for someone who was not a sock novice.  Instructions for the heel flap and the foot gusset were lacking, and I had to rely on common sense and my knitting circle friends for advice!  Newspapers from that time period are scarce – hard copies that have been donated the the Archives are what is available as they are not available on microfilm.  We are lucky that the papers we have have since been digitized.  I was able to read through the papers from the First World War and I loved reading about the 116th Knitting Society who worked hard to send socks overseas to the Canadian troops.

The second pattern I’ve tried is the one I’m working on right now – the Sontag.  This pattern was first written in 1860.  It is a lovely piece, a wrap/shawl combo meant to provide warmth to the torso without adding extra layers on the arms, leaving them free to work as needed.  This piece, also called a Bosom Friend, was likely named for Henriette Sontag, a noted German opera singer who was popular during this time period.  The pattern first appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1860, although they do not explain why it has been given the name ‘Sontag.’  The Bosom Friend makes sense, knowing, ahem, what the garment covers and how it crosses over, but why Sontag?  Did she wear something similar, or was Godey’s making an inference to Sontag’s anatomy?

So, I got to searching.  Archive.org is a fantastic resource with many primary sources available.  Simply by searching for Godey’s, I was able to look at this woman’s magazine from the Victorian Era and search within individual issues for Sontag.  The first instance of Sontag that I found was in 1852, when discussing the operatic singer who was making appearances in New York.  Later in the issue, they made note of the following under fashion:

As was predicted in an earlier number, velvet ribbon has become the favourite style of trimming for all heavier materials, whether formed into cloaks or dresses.  We give a beautiful cloak, the sontag, trimmed in this way

Godey's Ladies Book, Vol XLV, 1852
Godey’s Ladies Book, Vol XLV, 1852

From the illustration, this looks nothing like the piece I am currently making.

In 1856, I stumbled across the following passage, written by the editors in response to correspondence they received from readers:

Miss B of Fair Haven – We do not know the material of the title given, but presume it is a style of poplin.  Such fancy names are usually invented for country towns.  A Broadway or Chestnut Street mantua-maker would but smile if you should ask her to make you a ‘Parodi,’ a ‘Sontag’, or a ‘Eugénie,’ when you meant a certain style of basque.  As regards the second inquiry, poplins are never flounced – the material is too heavy.

There were a whole lot of textile references in that quote that I hadn’t heard before.  Poplin is a strong fabric; mantua-maker is a historical sewing pattern company; Parodi, well I’m not 100% sure what that is referring to; Eugénie is likely in reference to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III who would have set standards for popular clothing, much like celebrities today – she greatly popularized a coat known as Eugénie paletot; and, basque, in Victorian fashion, refers to a closely fitted bodice or jacket extending past the waistline over the hips (thank you Wikipedia!).

From the sources I could find online and through Archive.org, it looks like the first knit pattern for a Sontag appeared in 1860, and it is the basket-weave pattern I am working on currently.

Originally from Godey's; image from http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2013/06/28/sontag/
Originally from Godey’s; image from http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2013/06/28/sontag/

In 1861, a second pattern is published which would be more straight forward for a novice knitter, but it does not have the basket-weave fabric that the 1860 pattern produces.

Godey's Lady's Book 1861
Godey’s Lady’s Book 1861

And again, in 1862, they published another image of a Sontag, this time more rectangular than previous and without a pattern to accompany the image.

Godey's Lady's Book 1862
Godey’s Lady’s Book 1862

Godey’s never outwardly states that this style of wrap was named for Henriette Sontag, but she was known to them and was well regarded.  It is likely that she wore something similar, it became popular and has been named in her honour.

Once I cast on and started knitting, I am enjoying this project, but the initial start was frustrating.  The directions for the basket-weave, as written in 1860, aren’t straight forward, and everyone who has tried to ‘interpret’ the pattern has a different way of explaining the directions.  I am a very visual person so to knit something, it is helpful to me if a) I’ve made it before, b) there are clear instructions, or c) there is a video or someone to help explain it to me.  I cannot look at the written words and know immediately how the finished piece will look.  I’m more of a ‘trial and error’ kind of person – I try to figure it out and if it works, great, but if not, then we frog and start again.  After reading 3-4 different interpretations on the construction, I simply said, to hell with it, I’m going to muddle through.  And muddle through I did.  In hindsight, I would have altered the way I’ve knit the pattern at the sides when increasing, but it won’t bother me so much to want to start over.

The basket-weave is ultimately working up to a lovely fabric, and the deep purple colour of the yarn is making me very happy.

Sontag - Work in Progress
Sontag – Work in Progress
Detail of the basket weave
Detail of the basket weave

Adulting

Earlier this winter, I posted about a Quebec tradition, where a basket of slippers are left by the door, encouraging visitors to remove their heavy winter footwear and exchange them for woolen slippers.  I left that post with the thought that if and when I buy a place of my own, this is a tradition I would adopt.

Well, I guess I have to start knitting more slippers!

A made a very grown-up decision a few weeks back when I put an offer in on a house, and it was accepted!  I now own a small townhouse, and a little part of my hometown’s history.  The townhouses date to the 1910s, and co-incidentally, my grandfather was born in one of them and grew up in that neighbourhood.  These houses have always been special to me for that reason, and now, I am the owner of one!

It’s still bazaar.  I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that I now have a major asset.  Education excluded, I have never made a purchase so large in my 30+ years.  I’m excited and scared and proud and nervous and happy and anxious and so much more.

This is overdue in all honesty.  I have been living with my parents for over three years, having moved back after a relationship fell apart.  If the right house didn’t come up soon, I would have seriously looked into finding a place to rent, an idea I had put off because I’d much rather be paying into a mortgage than into someone else’s pockets.

And this house is the right one.  I first saw it a few years back but didn’t have my ducks in a row and was not quick enough.  This house became the measure against which I judged any other townhome.  When it came on the market about a month ago, I made sure everything was ready to go.  Ducks were all lined up.

I’m a huge local history enthusiast – working for a community museum it’s rather appropriate, don’t you think?  There is a fantastic photograph of the houses being constructed in the 1910s, with the houses merely wooden frames, and the men who are building them posed in front with their work horses and carts alongside.  I plan on enlarging this image and hanging it proudly in my home.

The only question is, how will I be storing my ever growing yarn stash?

 

 

*I also have to add, to all the Star Wars aficionados out there, May the Fourth be With You!