Days Gone By

Puget Soud

Last Friday, I traveled to Edmonds, Washington, a sweet little town only 35 minutes by train from Seattle. I was invited to come to Edmonds by a woman from Indonesian descent. Her name is Bianca and we were both linked together by that tall man wearing a batik button down shirt who stepped into the yarnshop several months ago and held in front of me a mirror of Javanese Heritage.

Before I write about my Edmonds adventure I would like to talk a bit about knitting. I haven’t done that in a while and it is about time.

Gauging Eco Alpaca by Cascade Yarns

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Lately, I haven’t really been captured by a particular yarn…In days gone by, I would be tickled by yarns continuously, but it seems that nowadays it is harder to please this knitter.

Several months ago, I went to a yarnshop over at Sellwood in Portland with my friends and co-workers Adrienne and Jenni. I was scoping the yarnshop for some yarn that would tickle my fancy and when I almost gave up, my eye fell on this beautiful natural colored alpaca yarn.

It is called Eco Alpaca by Cascade Yarns, and let me tell ya… it is delicous!

More than anything I am so very taken by the fact that this Eco Alpaca is not dyed at all. All these natural colors… I am so incredibly drawn to it.

Making my swatch

Regular readers of this blog know by now that I am an avid swatch knitter. See, when you knit, and especially when you design your own, it is very important to make a swatch.

A swatch will give you so much information about how the yarn will behave once knitted up. What you are doing when you knit, is you make a fabric. When you knit, you make a fabric AND you  construct a garment both at the same time.

Once you realize that, you must understand that making a gauge swatch is very important. Without my gauge swatch I am utterly lost. I don’t know how many stitches per inch I have and this is crucial for making calculation in order to design a garment.

Having this said, I just made two gauge swatches with my Eco Alpaca. I used two different needles: US5 and US7. Not only do I make swatches, I wetblock my swatches too before measuring my gauge.

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I give them a 5 minute soak in cold water, then gently squeeze all the excess water out and roll them in a towel. Once rolled up in towel I press firmly on the towel to get even more excess water out.

Finally, I lay my swatches flat to dry.

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Tomorrow, my swatches will be dry and ready to be measured. Why do I make two swatches with two different needles you might wonder?

Here’s the answer:

Again, I am aware that I am actually making a fabric. I want to see what kind of knitted fabric I produce against two different needles.

I want to know how this Eco Alpaca yarn behaves and hangs, gauged against two different needlesizes. Once I see how my little knitted fabric behaves, I can determine what type of garment I will design with it.

The Dutch Indies – Photos of Days Gone By

Bianca and me met during a dinner party organized by Mike (the tall man wearing a batik button down shirt and who walked into the yarnstore). After this dinner party we staid in contact and last weekend I visited her.

Reason for my visit was to talk about the Dutch Indies and colonialism. See, me and Bianca have one thing in common: both our families have lineage to Indonesia. And allthough under very different circumstances, both our families left Indonesia against their will.

The Dutch-Indies, what was to become modern Indonesia, were occupied  by the Dutch for about 350 years roughly between the 16th and middle of the 20th century. The Dutch also colonized a little country in South-America called Suriname.

From 1863 to 1930, the Dutch shipped 33.000 Javanese people to Suriname to work on the plantations. Among them were my great grandparents. According to history, these Javanese people were “contract workers”.

I don’t want to go into further details about this period in this post. All I want to show you are some pictures I found in a book at Bianca’s place. These pictures were taken during 1870-1920 in the Dutch East Indies and are of value to me with regard to painting a picture how things looked like right about the time my great grandparents were shipped.

No words…just pictures.

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Thank you for reading and until the next entry.

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8 Responses to Days Gone By

  1. Vanessa! says:

    Hi there! I haven’t had much of a chance to comment, but I have been reading and enjoying your adventure into history and discovery! I love seeing the photos you posted as well as learning about this chapter in history through someone who is so personally connected. Thank you for sharing!! And I can’t wait to see what you knit with the Eco alpaca!

  2. Rebecca Z. says:

    Another habitual swatch knitter, here.

    As a lace knitter, I may not be concerned with gauge on a project, but that swatch is still essential. It’s how I learn my lace pattern; I can’t design with it until I understand it completely.

    If gauge is not an issue, I’ll knit swatches in a cotton, and make dishcloths, towels, etc., until I’m certain I understand the pattern.

    I truly feel sorry for the beautiful women in you photos; imagine having your waist squeezed like that? I’m so grateful fashion has embraced the concept of comfort — except with women’s shoes. Still waiting for comfort there.

  3. Susan says:

    Thanks for posting the photos–they are amazing!

    One question about your blocked swatches–do you simply lay them out without pinning, just smoothing the fabric flat?

  4. Bianca says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Do you have a scanner ? How did you get such good images uploaded from the book ? I’m so technologically impaired ! I forgot to serve you fruit like the big pink grapefruit staring in my face right now, feel bad about that…was talking too much 😉

    Groetjes & hugs,
    Bianca

  5. Bianca says:

    By the way… Paco says “hi” !

  6. Sondra says:

    Having been a knitter for oh these many years (maybe 60?) I have never thought of knitting as “making fabric” Eureka! I love that and that you make the fabric and item at the same time. You’ve just given me a great gift of understanding.
    THank you, N.
    The pictures are another window for you I’m sure.

  7. Maria says:

    I think it is a very nice thing to try to trace ones roots back in history, but in doing so, one must also be honest to one self and be prepared to face reality. And in doing so, I just wonder, isn’t it about time to step away from the, probably for the descendants comforting, but nevertheless, historically very wrong idea that our ancestors were taken from their country of origin against their will?

    Almost every person of Javanese, Hindustani, etc. origin, living outside the country of origin of his ancestors, that I have heard explaining his/her heritage almost always has the wrong idea that their ancestors were tricked into signing up for contract labor and that their ancestors had a very nice life in their country of origin.

    It is well known that those who signed up as the so called contract laborers during colonial times did such to escape extreme poverty in their countries of origin. Just imagine it for one moment, all the shiploads of people signing up as contract laborers being taken against their will? Impossible!

    History shows that indeed in most cases, those poor people were given a much nicer idea of what they were signing up for, but fact is that they did sign up out of free will, trying to build a better life for themselves and their family, which is very human and very admirable of this brave people. They were not chained together on those ships and deprived of all privacy and stripped of their human dignity like the Africans were. The Africans were the only people really taken against their will to work as slaves.

    Besides, the pictures that you show here are pictures of groups of people who were from a very different class than the poor people who had to sign up for contract labor. Most people in these pictures are Caucasians and the few Javanese in the pictures (first and third picture) are clearly rich, high class people, probably Javanese royalty, who could afford to have their picture taken. In the last picture there is also a Javanese guy who is most probably a servant and in this case clearly the umbrella bearer of the white guy he is in the picture with.

    As I said at the beginning, it is a nice thing to try to trace back ones heritage, but in doing so, be honest, check the historical fact and be prepared to face reality, no matter how much this reality interferes with the idea that we have built in our mind through the years because of the nice story that came to us through oral tradition.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I second Vanessa’s comment. I have been reading and thinking of you as you embark on this journey. And, I’m intrigued by those lovely swatches and can’t wait to see what you design next!

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