"Blog"

Canterbury Socks, Fit for a Queen!

Elizabeth Woodville & Henry IV - Canterbury Glass

King Henry IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is known as the ecclesiastical center of England and is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England.  The original cathedral was built by the order of St. Augustine beginning in 598 AD, then mostly destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1067. 

The most beautiful parts of the cathedral are the famous stained glass windows, created in the late 1100s and early 1200s.

Stained glass was developed in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Like tinted windows on a car, the original purpose was to let in some light, but not so much light that churches got too hot. The early stained glass makers had an artistic flair, and rather than just simply installing colored glass they created designs and figures.

At Canterbury Cathedral they have more than 1,200 square meters of stained glass.  The Cathedral has eight highly trained conservators and glaziers on staff to conserve and maintain the fragile windows.

It's hard to pick a favorite window.  It's not surprising that a tribute to a woman said to be "... the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain" would be an impressive stained glass figure.  The window showing Elizabeth Woodville certainly is spectacular.

Elizabeth was born about 1437. Her parents had scandalized the court when her father, merely a knight, had secretly married her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Jacquetta had already started tongues wagging two years earlier when at age 17 she married her first husband, the 44-year-old (and in poor health) Duke of Bedford, the brother of King Henry V. When the Duke died just two years later, the pretty 19-year-old was a very wealthy, childless widow.

Jacquetta was required to seek permission from her brother-in-law the king before remarrying – but she didn’t! She married her knight-in-shining-armor and was charged a fine for her “crime” of marring beneath her, which was easily paid. Elizabeth was the first child for the socially unequal couple, but despite her father’s low rank, her mother’s wealth and close ties to the king meant Elizabeth and all of her siblings grew up living a life of privilege.

Elizabeth married her first husband in 1452 at age 15. He was killed in battle nine years later, leaving her with two sons.

Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville

Meanwhile, King Edward IV became king during the War of the Roses, a tumultuous time in England.  Plans were in the works for him to strengthen his position by marrying a French princess. Instead, the king secretly married Elizabeth!   Although Elizabeth was wealthy, well educated and her mother had close ties to the previous king, by rank Elizabeth was still a commoner.  It caused a scandal when the marriage was revealed, but the people liked the idea of him marrying a commoner – and her beauty was legendary!

Elizabeth was a Queen Consort, which means she had the rank equal to the king but would not inherit the throne upon the king's death. When Edward IV died n 1483, possibly from pneumonia, their son Edward V became king and Elizabeth became Queen Dowager (today this title is affectionately known as the Queen Mum).

Her son was only 13 years old when he became king, and the Duke of Gloucester (her husband’s brother and the young king’s uncle) and Elizabeth both struggled to control the young king. The Duke gained custody of the young king and was appointed Protector of the kingdom. But Protector wasn’t good enough, the Duke wanted to be king so had young Edward declared illegitimate and the Duke crowned himself King Richard III. Young Edward and his younger brother became known to history as the Princes in the Tower when they were both imprisoned in the Tower of London, never to be heard from again. The princes were believed to have been smothered to death at the command of their uncle, and Richard III became infamous as one of history’s greatest villains.

Life was difficult for Elizabeth under King Richard III, but when Henry Tudor invaded England and defeated Richard III to become King Henry VII, life got much better for her.  Henry agreed to marry Elizabeth's daughter, Elizabeth of York.  Elizabeth had been the Queen Dowager when her son was briefly king, now with her daughter as England's new queen Elizabeth was once again the Queen Dowager.  Done with court life, Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey where she was treated to all the respect due to a queen dowager. 

Regardless of whether you were born common or royal, you will look like a queen forever immortalized in the Canterbury stained glass while wearing the ​Canterbury Socks, the newest addition to our Sock of the Month World Traveler series. The cables on the leg of the Canterbury socks were inspired by the Cathedral's cloisters built in the 15th century - and the end result is simply royal!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

The Tiny Ouessant Sheep

The Ouessant (pronounced we-sahn) sheep is said to be the world's smallest breed of sheep.  Their homeland is the island of Ouessant, a small French island at the western end of the English Channel.  The legend is that they are the descendants of sheep left by the conquering Vikings.  Wherever they came from, the island's harsh weather and grim grazing caused them to evolve into a small, hardy sheep.

Black Ouessant Ram - ouessants-blogspot-com - Photo 911

Ouessant ram looks like a mini Big Horn Sheep.

And when I say small, I mean small.  Smaller than most dogs!  Rams stand about 19 inches tall at the shoulder and ewes are about 17 inches.  Mature weight is about 25 pounds, and lambs are typically about two pounds! It's said that lambs are so small you can fit one in your pocket.

Their small size makes them pretty much worthless for meat production.  Sure, you can eat any sheep (and the Ouessant islanders do eat them), but their daintiness makes the lamb chops so small it's hardly worth the effort.  In addition, they almost always have single births, and a commercial meat farmer wants his sheep to have twins or even triplets with each lambing.

So why bother?  For their wool!  Because of their small size they don't require much feed or space, but that little 25 pound sheep can produce a hefty three pounds of wool ... that's a lot for such a small sheep!  The wool has a long outer coat with a dense, soft undercoat. 

But their most striking feature is their color.  Most sheep breeds are primarily white, with an occasional black sheep.  But the Ouessant sheep are almost all black.  Deep, dark, gorgeous black!  This is the result of selective breeding by the islanders.

Married women traditionally wore black clothing in poor rural villages in much of Europe until the early 1900s.  Throughout the world most shepherds preferred white sheep because only white wool could be dyed using natural dyes (chemical dyes weren't invented until the mid-1800s).  Sure, the poor island women could have dyed white wool black, but why not just start with black wool to begin with!  So while most shepherds butchered black lambs before they could breed and pass on their recessive trait, the islanders kept the black sheep and allowed them to breed. 

Black Ouessant Lamb

A Ouessant sheep showing off
her fabulous coal black fleece.

Today the number of Ouessant sheep has dwindled.  Most Ouessants are kept as pets in groups of three or four sheep, not large commercial breeding flocks, and they are considered a rare breed.  But Ouessant owners insist that it is a great big pleasure raising those tiny frames!

ChiaoGoo Mini Twist Set

The folks at ChiaoGoo agree that great things come in small packages!  Their newest knitting needles, the "4" Twist Mini Set," is the tiniest interchangeable needle set available.  The versatile 4" needle tips give you the flexibility to make a 16 inch circular needle​.  And like the Ouessant islanders' selective breeding, ChiaoGoo has improved this "next generation" of needle tips with a solid (not hollow!) stainless steel needle, which makes the tips and threads stronger. 

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

The History of Yarrow Tartar?

Yarrow - Kohler's Medicinal - 1897

Yarrow as illustrated in Kohler's Medicinal, 1897

The worst part about going to the dentist is when they scrape the tartar from your teeth with that tiny little scraper.  ​I hate the way it sounds.  I hate the way it feels.  I hate everything about it ... 

Scientists have scraped the tartar from the 50,000 year old teeth of five Neanderthals found in Northern Spain.  Like your dentist, they used a scalpel to scrape the tartar, but instead of wiping it on your dental bib to be thrown away they used an electron microscope to study the tartar.  

We think of Neanderthals as meat-eating beasts, but they found little evidence of meat eating in the tartar and much more evidence of plant eating.  ​It could be that Neanderthals (or at least, this tribe or family) ate far less meat than we had suspected, or it could be that the meat just didn't leave a mark on their tartar as well as the plants did. 

They also found that many of the plants had been roasted.  Now, you're not going to go to the trouble to make a fire just to cook plants, so the roasted plants suggests that fire making was easy and common in the Neanderthal household.  You can imagine one Neanderthal saying to another "Hey, let's roast these veggies to make them tastier, since we already have a fire going anyway." 

Of the five Neanderthals, one had evidence of yarrow in his tartar.  The yarrow plant is a bitter herb with no nutritional value - so you wouldn't choose yarrow just to snack on.  ​But yarrow has been used medicinally for centuries ... dating back to ancient Greece.  In Western Europe and China it was used both as a healing herb and as a magical herb used for divination. So while we knew that yarrow had a long history, no one knew how exactly how long, until now. The yarrow in the tartar of this 50,000 year old Neanderthal's teeth is the oldest direct evidence of herbal medication.

Which makes you wonder why this Neanderthal was eating yarrow.  Yarrow is an astringent and anti-inflammatory herb.  Taken internally, yarrow aids in digestion by acting on the gallbladder and liver.  It also improves circulation and can help urinary infections.  We don't know the sex of the yarrow-eating Neanderthal, but yarrow can also soothe menstrual cramps and reduce excessive menstrual bleeding. 

Yarrow, by Walter Siegmund

Pretty yarrow flowers!
Photo by Walter Siegmund.

But yarrow is best known for its use as a battlefield medicine and is sometimes called the "Soldier's Herb" for it's ability to stop a bleeding battlefield wound (and by "battlefield wound" I mean knife and sword injuries, not gunshot).  When applied externally to a wound, the plant's feathery leaves slow the bleeding and help with clotting, while the herb's antibiotic and anti-inflammatory compounds prevent infections. 

In France yarrow is known "herbe de St. Joseph."  According to legend, St. Joseph injured himself while working in his carpentry shop and young Jesus brought him yarrow to stop the bleeding.  The scientific name of yarrow is "Achillea millefolium," named after the Greek warrior Achilles.  Achilles himself was invulnerable to any wounds (except, of course, for his "Achilles Heel"), but he was said to use yarrow to stop the bleeding of his fellow warriors after a battle. 

"Millefolium" means thousands of flowers, because on top of its legendary history and medicinal properties - yarrow is just plain pretty!  With the delicate feather-like soft green leaves topped off with a cluster of tiny white flowers, you'll wish you could wear yarrow.  Well, now you can!  FiberWild's new Yarrow Tunic is a summer-weight pullover with feather-patterned lace at the neckline and bottom. 

P.S.  We call the Yarrow Tunic a "full coverage" garment, which is a polite way of saying that your bra won't show through a bunch of lacy holes across your chest.  The Yarrow Tunic has a stockinette stitch body, with lace only on the neckline and bottom. 

Happy Knitting! ... Scout