June 18, 2007

Back at Alaska

It says a lot about you guys and my family that two days after coming back from Alaska, you can all make a birthday a very good time. I had a wonderful day, fully appreciated all the wonderful comments ( especially from those of you who also have trouble with keeping track of your age) kicked off the night before at Knit Night, full of good wishes and cake and my favourite Indian restaurant and new yarn which I am happily knitting up.

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Yarn from Lettuce Knit (a gift from Joe) hand dyed by Laura. (Who is good at so many things you'd want to smack her if she weren't so nice.) I'm knitting it up into Monkeys. (I know. It's Cara. She makes it all look so beautiful that you don't even notice it's peer pressure.) The lace pattern is sort of lost in the colour, but I don't care. Just made a mental note to knit them again in something plainer.

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Before the birthday partying, I was in Alaska, and I still owe you a post about that. (I'm sort of glad that this is the last one before I get caught up. Blogging in the past tense is weird.)

I landed in Anchorage at about 11pm, and I couldn't stop laughing. It was light as day! The sun shone and shone...the lady at the hotel gave me a little lecture about using blackout curtains and paying special attention to AM and PM (good tip, since there is no difference in how 10am and 10pm look) and I went up to the room and laughed and laughed. It simply didn't get dark. Unbelievable. I took these two incredibly dorky pictures.
This is my hotel clock radio at

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AM - and this is the view out the window at that time.

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and I don't even care how dorky that makes me. That's a BLUE SKY. A blue sky at 1:44 AM. Unbelievable. (Yes. I had a little trouble sleeping.) I kept looking out the window as I lay there and all I could think was "If I lived in Alaska I would get SO MUCH DONE." My esteemed husband - when I phoned him to tell him about how efficient I would be if the sun shone all the time, had a one word rebuttal. "January." Point taken. I suppose that how energizing and thrilling this light is, is exactly as draining and hard to bear as the lack of light would be for me on the other end. I'd like to see the dark days though. I think it would be just as interesting.
The next morning I had a little time, so I went into Anchorage to see what I could see. For the first time I wished I drove enough that I could rent a car and go see some stuff a little further out. (Like a glacier. I really wanted to go to a glacier.) I settled for this instead.

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The sock and I went to the Cook Monument.

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Mount Susitna (The Sleeping Lady) is the mountain you can see there. It's pretty darned big. If it had been a clearer day than it was, then I'm told I would be able to see Denali, the highest mountain in North America. (I know some of you are going to protest the name, claiming "Mt. McKinley" is right. However, my rule...when these things are in debate, is "When in Rome...." and Denali is the official name recognized by the State of Alaska and the people who were there first. Good enough for me.)
I saw some other mountains:

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Most interestingly, I went to Oomingmack.
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Oomingmack is a cooperative of qiviut knitters. The knittting is done by more than 200 native knitters across Alaska and the cooperative owns herds of Arctic Muskox. The fiber is gathered, then sent to a mill to be turned into yarn, then sent to the knitters. The knitters all pay a $2 annual membership fee. This entitles them to the qiviut yarn supplied by Oomingmack, and they are then paid by the stitch for the knitting that they do. When they are finished they send the scarves, hats and nachaqs to Anchorage, where the staff block and sell their work. At the end of the year, because it's a cooperative, the knitters are paid a share of the profits.

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This is Regina, she works at the shop in Anchorage. Behind her you can see the blocking boards they use. This is Portia and Jonathan:

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Great tour guides. Jonathan showed me this fantastic map with pins for all the herds of musk ox and the villages with the knitters. Each of the villages or areas uses a pattern relevant to their history. Qiviut is a miracle fiber. This downy undercoat of the Arctic Musk oxen does not have scales like wool, so it is never itchy and doesn't felt. (This also means it has no "memory" so things made of qiviut will "grow". It's a reason it's so good for lace.) It's hypoallergenic and like wool, it stays warm even when wet...though it's 8 times warmer than wool.

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The scarf above is the "Harpoon" pattern, trademark of the first village to join the co-op, Mekoryuk, home of the Cup'ik people.
My favourite is "Wolverine Mask", from Unalakleet. Unalakleet is said to be the firs settlement in all of North America, having been settled in about 200 -300 BCE. In Donna Druchunas terrific book Arctic Lace, she tells of how only 13 members survived a smallpox epidemic there in 1938. The early Christian missionaries banned the Yup'ik and Inupiat people from making their traditional masks, and now that the culture is in recovery, the "Wolverine Mask" pattern for these lace scarves is especially significant.

The co-operative is not a knitting shop. They don't sell yarn (except for bulky yarn sold in a hat kit.) and they don't publish the patterns, since both of those activities would undermine the profits of the co-operative, or fail to protect the cultural property of the knitters. It's a fascinating place, and if you're interested in knowing more about it then I really suggest investing in the Arctic Lace book. It tells the stories of the native knitters of Alaska, provides patterns in the family of what they are doing (without violating their own patterns) and is a completely fascinating chronology of how knitting helps to shape these peoples world. I love it.

From the co-op I went to a lovely knit-in at the town square, then over to Title Wave books for the talk. There are a lot of knitters in Alaska, let me tell you.

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This is a whole knitting family.

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Well, baby Rachel doesn't knit, but she's wearing knitted pants, and that's her knitting mum Casey and her knitting Dad Jay (holding his 1st sock) so I have high hopes for her future.

This is Heather with her awesome Alaska washcloth

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and Katie, the Prairie Knitter

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(I love meeting imaginary friends- which is always how I think of far-away bloggers, especially out of context, which Katie certainly is. She's far from home.)

This is Jodi (If my handwriting is to be believed, and I don't know that it is)

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Who has finally come up with a knit-blogger use for the commercial sock. (Camera case)

This is Holly: (But not this Holly- who was totally there too.)

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Holly is holding her sister Mandy's book and a note from Mandy requesting not that I sign her book (which was implied) but that I hug Holly, since she really doesn't get to see her enough. It was really charming. (Mandy - I delivered that hug for you.)

In return for the hug -

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Alaska Summer ale in felted beer cozies (Which is a darned good idea, especially in a state where, like my home, your hand could freeze to your beer if you weren't careful.) Sorry you two look so manic in that one.

Anne:

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with the washcloth that proves that everything really is bigger in Alaska, and our wonderful Anchorage Hat lady Linda,

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who collected a staggering 95 hats. Which means that (as expected) Anchorage totally overachieved.
Finally, we rolled out of the bookstore and off to get some beers, and when we staggered into the parking lot I took this picture.

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Knitters. Near midnight, in daylight.
Let me tell you. Alaska is one freaky cool place.
Back to blogging in the present tense. Whew.

Posted by Stephanie at June 18, 2007 2:04 PM