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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ethnic Knitting Exploration blog tour. Get the scoop from the author herself.

I am very pleased that I have a chance to chat with Donna Druchunas about her new book. In this book she takes us through three countries: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland full of rich history and traditions. Donna looks at these regions through the eyes of a knitter, designer, and the teacher. She also has a warm spot in her heart for Lithuania because one side of her family came from there.

I always was interested in the history of knitting. I love how Donna mixes together some notes about culture and knitting traditions in the region and the teaching of how to make a sweater, or some other garment using the techniques and the color work. You can read this book or you can study it.

So, here is my conversation with Donna.

FG: Donna, thank you very much for stopping by. Congratulations on your wonderful book. I am looking forward to hear about it. I loved the idea of this book. I especially liked the historic notes about traditions of each country. It is not easy to find much reading on history of knitting. I am sure you did not tell us everything you know. Are there any other facts or stories that are not in this book that you can share with us ?

DD: You're right! It was so challenging to cut the information down. In Ethnic Knitting Discovery and Ethnic Knitting Exploration, the plan was to give readers just a taste of what's available, just a glimpse of the knitting traditions from each region. Books could be written about each individual topic. I am, in fact, working on an entire book about knitting in Lithuania. I had a wonderful time visiting there for 7 weeks last summer. I went to sheep farms and museums, and to visit knitters and spinners, and to a folk-art school. Mostly I learned about the culture and history of Lithuania, and the people and their customs. Even though I am of Lithuanian descent (on my father's side), my grandparents were born in the US, so I am completely American culturally. Knitting wise, I am Eastern European, however. I learned to knit from my Russian grandmother (on my mother's side), who taught me what is often called the "combination method" these days. In one Lithuanian knitting book I have, Megzkime Pačios ("Let's Knit") by O. Jarmulavičienė, I found that the author provides the basic knitting stitches in the way I learned to knit from my grandmother! I'd never seen this presented as the main way to knit in a book before. In this technique, when your purl you wrap the yarn in the opposite direction than is normally done in America. This turns the stitches around so that on the right side, or the knit side of the work, the leading leg of the stitch is in back of the needle. On right-side rows in stockinette stitch, you knit in the back of the stitches so they don't twist.
Here are the illustrations for a knit stitch and a purl stitch.

This confused me so much when I was a teenager and I saw one of my friends knitting garter stitch booties! I never had knitted garter stitch. My grandmother taught me stockinette stitch first. It's really easy to learn for kids in this method. You just remember this: Knit = back/back Purl = front/front. That is, to knit, you hold the working yarn in the back, and you insert the right needle into the back of the stitch. To purl, you hold the working yarn in front, and you insert the right needle into the front of the stitch.
There are actually a lot of books on the history of knitting, but most are about a specific region and technique. Sadly, many are out of print and hard to find. I just had to pay $15 to borrow The History of Knitting Before Mass Production by Irena Turnau on interlibrary loan. I can't even find a used copy for sale, so I will probably photocopy the whole darned thing for my research. Usually it's free to get interlibrary loan books, so you can just borrow them again if you need more info. This question makes me think that maybe I need to create a bibliography on my website with a list of all the books on knitting history that I have collected and borrowed over the years. Good idea, but I have no time to do it right now!

FG: You know, I was taught to knit the same way. This method is used by many people in Russia. It is great for Stockinette Stitch. I had to change my style when I started to do some advanced stitch patterns because my stitches were facing the "wrong" way. But you can still knit with this method and turn the stitch in the right direction when you come to it.
This is all very interesting, Donna.

Was it easy or difficult for you to get people to talk to you about their knitting traditions? Did you have to learn their language?

DD: I haven't traveled to all of the places I've written about. I did a lot of "armchair travel" research for this series. I have been spending time in Lithuania, however. I have been studying the Lithuanian language and I've found it to be very helpful. Although knitters everywhere are very generous and happy to share their knowledge, it is a little easier to get by when you know the language! In the big cities in Lithuania a lot of people speak English, especially the young people. But a lot of the older people, particularly in rural areas, who grew up in the Soviet era, speak only Lithuanian and Russian. I know Nancy Bush, who has been studying Estonian knitting for years, does not speak Estonian at all. I can't imagine that for myself. I have found that learning Lithuanian has helped me understand the Lithuanian people and culture in a way I could never have grasped without any understanding of the language.

FG: Can you name one thing that you have never seen in knitting techniques before you went on this trip?

DD: Well, I only went to Lithuania. I would love to go to Iceland and Ireland some day, but I don't know when that will happen. I've been reading about different knitting techniques for a long time. I go overboard in just about everything I do, and knitting is no exception. I learned a lot about the patterns and fibers and dyes that were used traditionally in the Lithuanian National Costume on my trip, and I discovered a very interesting scalloped cuff for mittens and socks that I had never seen before. It turns out that this type of cuff is also knit in a region of Latvia. I couldn't find anyone to show me how to make this while I was in Lithuania (I will try again this summer), but I found a picture of a similar cuff on Beth Brown-Reinsel's website, and Beth told me that there are instructions for a very similar design in the book Latvian Mittens by by Lizbeth Upitis. So, sorry I am talking about Lithuania so much and not about Ireland and Iceland! I love the designs from those regions as much or more than the knitting from Lithuania (sorry Lithuanians!). I am TOTALLY in love with cables and have been ever since I was a child. The first thing I remember knitting was a swatch of yellow honeycomb cable, and that stitch has been one of my favorites ever since. That's why I featured it so prominently in the Aran chapter of Ethnic Knitting Exploration (it's also a very classic Aran motif). The memory of knitting that swatch was basically the inspiration for the garments in that chapter, and for this yellow poncho that was made using the project plan in Ethnic Knitting Exploration.

FG: In your book, you are teaching your reader to design a sweater with very easy and clear instructions. I think it is a great way to teach.
Do you have any suggestions to a person who is branching out for the first time from a fully-written pattern?

DD: Don't be afraid. Remember that knitting is not written in stone. You can always rip and start over if you don't like what you get on your first attempt. I used to think that ripping was terrible (and it's still not my favorite thing to do), but then I heard Sally Melville say, "What are you going to do after you finish this project? Knit more! So just rip if you make a mistake and then you get more knitting out of the same yarn!" I thought that was great. And so true.

FG: Are there any other trips planned for research purposes? Are there more books in works for you?

DD: I'm going back to Lithuania this summer to continue to work on a future book. As a long term project, I would like to travel to many other countries in Eastern Europe, especially those that are not in the EU, and learn about the knitting and textile traditions there. I could see this as a future book, but I have to find out what information is available first. This is a project that will probably take me at least ten years to explore and develop. Wish me luck!

FG: I am looking forward to more of your books, Donna. I think you are doing a great service for all of us who would love to know more about knitting traditions of other countries in the world. I cannot say I feel sorry for you that you have to travel so much :)
Thank you so much for stopping by and giving us a glimpse of what is in your book. I wish you could stay longer and tell us more, but we will follow you on your blog tour. Tomorrow you will be talking with Shannon Okey and we will hear more.

DD: Thanks for being part of my blog tour. It's been a pleasure talking with you. Best of luck on all of your own future knitting adventures as well!

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