September 16, 2004

Once upon a time...

there lived the most patient woman in the world. She never yelled at her children, she never sat tapping her foot while she waited for her chronically late husband. She never, ever dyed fleece pink when she wanted red because she couldn't wait for the dye bath to be exhausted. She answered stupid questions without ever mocking people once, and legend has it that she taught her cat to stop scratching the bannister through a careful and delicate process that took years and years. She was indeed the worlds most patient woman.

We know very little of this woman. I can't tell you how many children she had, or if she was tiny or big. I can't even tell you if she taught 3rd grade (which is, of course the natural occupation for the worlds most patient woman, well that or astrophysics. Both very tedious.) We will never know what her secret was or if she lived in a hut or a condo. There is only two things that I can tell you with absolute certainty about the worlds most patient woman.
She was a knitter, and she was, without a shadow of a doubt....LATVIAN.

Look at these mittens.


There are no words. You don't know. Until you've knitted that little braid thingie will never know what it is like. It is so quiet, it is so extraordinarily finicky that your teeth itch. Time stops while you knit braids. The universe ceases to expand and shrinks down to the distance between you and your needles. You do not look up. You do not speak. You do not take your eyes from the braid, lest you loose track of the pattern and put a yarn under where a yarn should have gone over. Your world becomes only the braid. It would be kind of Zen if it wasn't for the teeth itching. I tried and tried (you will note that there are two of the braid things) to find some kind of rhythm, some kind of simple system that would make the knitting of the braids fly. There is nothing.


Fine. I take that back. There may be something. I have been knitting Latvian mittens for less than a day. What do I know. Nothing, that's what. What we need here is for someone who has been knitting Latvian mittens for longer than a day to drop me a stinking line about the braids. (I have a suspicion that there is nothing. I have a creeping feeling that the Latvians are simply the most patient knitters in the world. I theorize that the help I am going to get, even if Lizbeth Upitis herself phones me and tells me all about the braid will be something like:

Relax. Make tea. Enjoy the braid.

I just hate that. Acceptance, ease, patient learning of a new process. For crying out loud I want to know now! I don't want to be part of a learning curve, I just want to knit the braids and I want to knit them with the speed and ease of a 83 year old Latvian mitten knitting genius.
Did you know that this book says that mitten knitting was so central to a Latvian girls life and wedding that she would have needed to knit between one and two hundred pairs to fulfill her obligations? When did she eat? When did she sleep? Was someone assigned to feed her? Did she have no other purpose? For the love of sheep...the braids! The time! The insanity! I've done two braids, each mitten has four. That's eight in a pair, so these Latvian brides would have knit 800-1600 braids before her wedding day. (Ok, ya got me. Maybe they made some without braids.) You know what kills me? They still got married. I'm telling you, I've knit half of the braids to knit one mitten and if somebody told me that I had to knit 800 more there is very little chance that I would see any advantage to marriage. No freaking way.
(Note to self: must do yoga more, must rave over knitting like a crazy woman less.)

All of this said, even though these mittens are clearly going to become a "thing" in my life, even though I am very tired today because I "just one more row"ed myself into staying up way late last night, even though I am raving about braids and Latvians and the whole mitten insanity...I am liking them. Oh, yes.

About thrums....

Questions? I got answers.

Q: How much fleece/roving am I going to need.
A: This much would be tons for an average pair of adult mittens.


I have included my omnipresent coffee cup for scale. I can't tell you how much this is for sure, but It's less than 60g. (For the Americans, that's like maybe 2 ounces. By the way...did you know that there are only three countries in the world that have not officially adopted metric? The USA, Liberia and Burma. Actually, that's not strictly true. Liberia and Burma use metric somewhat, just not officially. Freak you out? I thought so.)

Q: Will acrylic or an acrylic/wool blend be ok?
A: I don't think so. Morally, I'm opposed because of tradition, and authenticity demands wool. On a more practical level than just appalling Newfoundlanders everywhere, wool has real advantages over synthetic here. Wool is warm even when wet. (Big mitten advantage) Wool yarn will stick to the wool thrums holding them in place. (Big thrummed mitten advantage). Wool will eventually felt slightly on the outside of the mitten thus making the mitten more wind and waterproof, thus contributing to superior hand warming, which is the purpose of mittens after all. Finally, wool is nice. If anybody needs cheap wool that would cost the same (or less) than an acrylic/wool blend, I recommend Briggs and Little. Which make really nice mitts (that's what my last pair were) and can be bought on-line a bunch of places.
In the end, it is of course, your mittens and your decision. You might want to remember about the mocking though.

Posted by Stephanie at September 16, 2004 11:24 AM