Fiber Find: A stash of crochet and Bulgarian embroidery

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To bolster his Bulgarian skills, my husband volunteers at a charity center that helps single mothers. He makes needle felted crafts with the other volunteers, mostly older women, listens to their stories and pushes himself to tell his own stories.

The ladies know I’m into knitting, and invited me to join Lorenzo one day, and to paw through a bag of scraps. Someone’s grandmother had passed, leaving behind her craft stash, and anything I didn’t want would end up in the trash.

There’s something very intimate about going through a stranger’s unfinished crafts after they’re dead. The bag contained sharply creased linens, half-embroidered with pixellated traditional designs. One corner of the linen might be completely filled in, the motif fading outwards into a single thread.

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Besides embroidery, this person also crocheted breathtaking little bits out of stiff cotton thread.

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When she was tired of one, she’d stuff it into an empty candy box (which, post-Communism, are now artifacts in their own right) and start a new one.

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There’s also an unbelievably exact little handkerchief with samples of different hand-stitched patches, which, according to the tag, might have been stitched by a third grader.

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"V. Noshkova 3a class No. 14"
“V. Noshkova
3a class No. 14″

Sifting through this treasure trove has inspired me to blog more examples of local textiles. I’ll be carrying my camera around, so stay tuned for more fiber finds.

I look for crafts
I look for crafts
Emi looks for pigeons
Emi looks for pigeons

Inspiration Everywhere: The Rugs of Chiprovtsi in HAND/EYE

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my favorite of Yulka’s rugs

Last weekend Lorenzo and I went to Chiprovtsi, a little town in the Balkan Mountains famous for its handwoven rugs. The trip happily came just before this piece I wrote about Chiprovtsi carpets was published on HAND/EYE Magazine‘s website.

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back in September, learning how Yulka’s loom works (and wearing my featherweight)

Our first visit was in September, with my in-laws, to see Chiprovtsi’s famous carpets and meet some of the people who still make them. Going back this weekend was a little poetic. Back in September, it was warm and green. Everyone’s red peppers were hung out to dry and the farmers took their goats out to graze every morning. Lorenzo and I weren’t even planning on getting married that year, and I was writing a piece on Chiprovtsi in the hopes that HAND/EYE would publish it. Yulka and Yordanka, the women we met there, were anxiously waiting to hear from UNESCO about whether Chiprovtsi’s carpets had won the intangible heritage award they applied for.

This time, we arrived to a layer of fresh snow. The goats were snuggled in their stables with their new babies, and instead of fresh salad we ate pickles, sausage and potatoes. Chiprovtsi had won its UNESCO status, and we were there to pick out a carpet, handwoven by Yulka, a present from my mother-in-law in honor of our hasty wedding in November.

wintertime goat snuggles
wintertime goat snuggles

You can read more about Chiprovtsi, and see more photos of their beautiful traditional rugs here on HAND/EYE. Here’s our perfect kitty enjoying our new kilim.emiChiprovtsi

Quickies: Little Yellow Chushki

left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка
left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка

My friend Lora has knit some adorable little Chushki with a kind of maryjane vibe. Chushki is part of my Woodstove Series, four fast, toasty little accessories for the chilliest part of winter. Here’s what she says about her mods:

I did a single crochet seam on the outside – I think it’s quite pretty. Sewed up the toe side for only about 8 selvedge stitches. Then folded the slipper and sewed from the top of the heel side for about 8-9 selvedge stitches. So it makes a cute little elfin slipper.

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I bet these elfin Chushki would be great slippers for sitting out on my balcony on a sunny morning. As an awesome bonus, Lora shared a little glimpse of her Bulgarian childhood:

There’s a whole variety of ‘terlici’ [Bulgarian for ‘slippers’] that can be created from this lovely, quick, and easy pattern… In any case, I absolutely used to abhor terlici as a child – my great grandmother and grandmother would knit endless piles of them, from home-spun wool that I had probably helped to clean earlier in the year. Despite how romantic this all sounds now, I used to think they were prickly and horrendous looking, and as a young person with good circulation, simply could not understand why my feet had to be constantly swaddled in thick wool (the draft of course, the dreaded draft!).

It seems the younger you are, the better your body is at keeping itself warm, and the more your elders will worry that you’re cold. Many many times in Bulgaria, particularly on the train, an older person has remarked on how “naked” I am (post-Communist Bulgaria is not a particularly prudish place, but in winter, Bulgarian grandmas will accuse you of public nudity for having your collarbone exposed). If I assure them I’m warm enough, they bob their heads from side-to-side and say it must be my “young blood.”

Check out Lora’s project page for her “Zholti Chushki,” and see all of her gorgeous knitting here. Thanks for the story, Lora, and happy knitting!

 

 

Knitting Is A Right, Not A Privilege

my inspiration
my inspiration

An article has been circulating that has fueled a lot of discussion among knitters, entitled “Never Say This To a Knitter. Really, Just Don’t Do It.” What exactly are you never supposed to say to a knitter? You might think it’s a remark about him/her having too much time on their hands, or an ageist joke about who, stereotypically, is “supposed” to knit. It’s neither of those. The author, Anne Miller, argues—and many knitters agree—that the comment she least wants to hear (and does hear, often) is “You should sell your knitting!”

The first thing I noticed is that the article was published by Yahoo! Makers, which is apparently a thing that exists (neat, I guess). The headline is classic clickbait, designed to compel and stir up discussion. But the article’s thesis, that knitters are tired of hearing well-intentioned randos insist that they should commodify their craft, is familiar and resonant. I’ve heard, and felt, the same sentiment many times.

When someone tells me I should sell my handknits, I take that for what it is: a compliment. But sometimes the complimenter persists, and wants to know why I haven’t pursued this brilliant business plan already. This might be someone who, earlier, told me they never spend more than a few dollars on a t-shirt, or that they think $100 is way too much to pay for a pair of jeans. Since textiles have become one of the cheapest commodities on earth, and the people who make our clothing are increasingly denied living wages or safe working conditions, I don’t know where someone would get the idea that making clothes, by hand, is a smart moneymaking venture. That’s when it veers into uncomfortable territory, when I have to explain how much money and time actually goes into a handknit item, and how much such a thing would have to cost in order to bring in even a small profit. When I explain that I do sell patterns for my designs, and that I’m happy to teach anyone to knit who wants to learn and will pay for my time, that’s usually where the conversation ends.

So I very much relate to this piece, as did plenty of people on the WEBS Facebook page, where I first saw the article posted. Most people who comment on my knitting are not interested in having a conversation about their role, and moral responsibility, within the garment supply chain. Knitting, like any textile art, draws you closer to the beginning of that chain. Making a garment changes your perspective on clothing, and about how much of yourself you’re willing to invest in something you love.
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