You know that feeling of learning about something that you should have/could have learned years ago but didn’t…something that affects your thinking in such a profound way that you feel like Saul on the road to Damascus.
That’s what happened to me last week. I’m still thrilled.
Ten days in the Maritimes. Five days cabining on Cape Breton on the red sandy beach at Margaree Harbour. Sharing a cabin with Elizabeth May and John Kidder. Eating great seafood (thanks Cate for the best chowder). Visiting Elizabeth’s family and friends. Who gets to do that?
Tex and I just got home from this wonderful holiday. Okay so it wasn’t fully a holiday. We started out at the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs meeting in Fredericton attending national housing meetings. I worked everyday editing the book I’m writing on Elizabeth’s childhood and I had to keep teaching my Vancouver Island University on line courses.
But it was the Maritimes and its extraordinariness alone is enough to call it a holiday. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Frederiction. Great food with housing friends from across the country. Visiting Farley Mowat’s widow, Claire, in his house in St. Peters, Cape Breton.
A road trip. Tex drives and I knit. Packing for a holiday means clothes, etc, work materials, etc and a knitting project. Usually packed in the reverse order.
I can knit with my eyes closed so it’s easy to absorb the miles of Atlantic forest, the small towns and peacefulness of the place and knit at the same time. It was a dream vacation for a knitter…miles of no-need-to-apologize-I’m-just-going-to-knit time.
My exciting discovery?
Waulking. It’s not just a great Scrabble word, it’s a real thing. You might already know about it but it’s new to me and adds an important element to my knitting story.
Geoffrey and Rebecca-Lynne (Elizabeth’s brother and sister-in-law) are students and practitioners of all things Gaelic. The language and history, the songs and social activities and Rebecca makes wonderful scones (no one knows for sure whether scones are from England or Scotland but her’s are definitely Scottish).
On Friday night we attended their event at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on the Cabot Trail. They hold a Gaelic night every Friday evening during the summer. We sat around a table with other campers and Geoffrey and Rebecca, all hands holding on to a wet blanket in the center of the table.
We lifted the blanket and slapped it down and sang waulking songs with a rhythm close to “We will, we will, rock you” (only in Gaelic). That’s how the Scots got the original Harris Tweeds so perfectly waulked…I would say fulled. By hand, a table full of women for between 1 and 5 hours depending on how waulked they wanted the final product. The lead women measured the progress until the size was exactly as required.
That’s fun and enlightening you might say but, Sylvia, it’s not life altering—not exactly as profound as Saul-turned-Paul’s epiphany.
Maybe not life altering but it’s story altering and for me that’s close. You’ve heard the history I tell of the original fusion the Coast Salish women accomplished when they used their wool working skills to adopt, adapt and acquire new European tools, materials and form—the weavers became knitters. The Indian, Salish, Cowichan Sweater was born and had its heyday throughout the 20th century
A few years ago my kids, Joni and Adam, and I started using Custom Woolen Mills yarns, and employing an old knitting machine alongside our handworking skills and we added a new tool—an old wringer washer and a new twist—fulling. We loved the fabric it created…totally different than the original sweater but somewhat the same.
We called it Salish Fusion. The products were different than the earlier Salish knits and they were unique and fabulous.
You know where I’m going with this now. It wasn’t so new. Fulling is simply circling back through the Fusion cycle and picking up another one of my Gaelic ancestors’ processes and adding it to knitting with some of the Salish processes from the kids’ ancestors that were fused into their wool-working.
I don’t know about you but I find it very exciting to think about the ways humans express their cultures and economies in material form. I have only just begun to think about this one…there will be more later.
Perhaps a waulking—fulling party at my place. Maybe we’ll write some new lyrics “We will, we will, waulk you,” put on Queen and make new beautifulled knitting products.