The Patron Saint of Lacemakers

Where was lace invented?  No one really knows.  Some claim the first lacemakers were in Italy.  A 1493 Italian will and testament for a member of the Sforza family mentions lace, so the first lace must have been in Italy, right? But the word "lace" also means something to tie around your neck. So did the will mean a lace lace, or something that was worn around the neck?

Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England by William Segar, 1585

Elizabeth I in 1585, wearing a lace collar
and lace cuffs. Painted by William Segar.

There's also a good argument for a Flemish claim to the first lace.  In about 1485 Hans Memling, a painter working in Flanders, painted priests gathering around the Virgin and Child, and one of the priests has an intricate white decoration on his purple garment.  Is it lace?  Or just some kind of embroidery that looks like lace?  Again, no one knows. 

But what we do know is that in the 1500s and 1600s everybody was familiar with lace.  Lace collars were high fashion in royal courts, starting small and sensible initially and then growing to wild and crazy proportions.

Saint John Francis Regis, born in 1597, certainly would have been very familiar with lace.  As a well educated young man from a wealthy and noble family, Saint Regis would have been surrounded by lace-collar wearing friends and family.  It was said that even at a young age Saint Regis was plain and unpolished, so we can't say for sure whether he actually wore a high-fa-looting lace collar himself - but certainly many people around him did. 

In 1616, at age 19, he joined the Jesuits and took his vows two years later.  He taught at several collages while also studying philosophy and theology, and in 1630 he was ordained as a priest.  The church sent him to Huguenots provinces in France, thinking that his great faith, teaching expertise and simple man-of-the-people style made him an ideal candidate for the very difficult task of bringing the Catholic faith to the Protestant Huguenots.

He did well with the Protestant Huguenots, and was especially interested in serving the marginalized.  He worked with bubonic plague victims, the poor and orphans.  But he is best known for his work with wayward women and girls, and was realistic enough to understand that it wasn't enough to ask a woman to turn away from prostitution - he had to give her another source of income to replace her prostitution fees.  With the lace collar fashion in full swing, St. Regis taught lacemaking to former prostitutes and established factories to employ wayward women as lacemakers.  Lacemaking provided a good, reliable income.  A single lace collar takes several yards of lace, and while the details of the lace collars changed with fashion trends, the fashion for lace collars lasted about two hundred years - great job security!  In addition to providing a source of income, Saint Regis also also established safe houses for the women to live safely, off the streets and without fear of their former pimps forcing them back into prostitution.   

Saint John Francis Regis

Saint John Francis Regis

He rarely stopped to rest, and St. Regis died of exhaustion at age 43.  He was canonized as a saint in 1737, and is today known as the patron saint of lacemakers.

Building with Lace by Michelle Hunter

Do you want to learn how to knit lace?  If Saint Regis was around today I'm sure he would have a series of lace making instructional YouTube videos, but since he is not we can offer you the next best thing:  Michelle Hunter's new Building With Lace skill-building book.  With the patience of a saint, Michelle has created a carefully designed sequence of patterns that will introduce you to lace work starting with the basics and working towards more difficult patterns, all while creating a gorgeous shawl to show-off your lace making skills!  All of the patterns are supported by Michelle's excellent, and free, online video instruction.

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Spice Market Socks

When Christopher Columbus found America he thought he had landed in India.  He was hoping that by sailing west he could find a quicker​ (and less expensive) route to the Far East.  Why?  For spices!


The vivid colors of a Spice Market!

India was known for its spices, especially black pepper.  No one outside of India knew exactly how black pepper was grown or processed, and India not only kept the process a secret but circulated rumors about pepper being guarded by dragons and magic spells along the trade route.

Whoever found a cheaper, easier way to bring pepper to Western Europe would be rich!  Instead Columbus was very disappointed to find that America grew absolutely none of the spices that were sought after by Europeans at the time. 

It's likely that herbs (leaves, flowers and stems of a plant) and spices (seed, fruit, root or bark of a plant) were discovered by ancient people by accident.  When ancient hunter-gatherer people killed a large animal it would have been difficult to transport a large carcass back to camp.  It would be much easier to butcher the kill on the spot so that the meat could be split among the hunters to carry.  But raw meat is slippery, so perhaps they wrapped the meat in some nearby leaves so they could get a firmer grip.  Later, when they ate the meat they realized that if it had been wrapped with certain leaves, dried berries or bark, it had a better flavor.  The first spiced meat had been discovered

Flavoring food was the most obvious benefit of using spices, but medicinal properties were discovered as well.  Spices were eaten to improve health and applied externally to heal wounds, but their strong odor was also thought to drive away evil spirits.  Susruta, a physician living in India around the 4th century BC, suggested that spices be used in bed to ward off evil spirits overnight.  Pharaoh Ramsses II of Egypt died in 1213 B.C., and his mummified body was found to have black peppercorn in his nostrils, which may have been to help him keep bad spirits away as he journeyed to the underworld. 

Flavor and medicine certainly ​contributed to the popularity of spices, but show a knitter a picture of spices lined up in a market ready for sale, and you can't help but be captivated by the color!  Not surprisingly, spices have been used as dyes for centuries.  The deep orangey-red of saffron, the dark brown of cinnamon, the bold golden yellow of tumeric ... these became the inspiration of our Spice Market Socks, the newest sock in our World Traveler Sock of the Month series. Like colorful baskets in a market, the Spice Market Socks use entrelac to create basket-like rectangles of color, lined up in a row. 

Spice up your knitting with the spicy hot Spice Market Socks!  Happy Knitting! ... Scout

The Great American Solar Eclipse

Are you ready for the Great American Solar Eclipse?  On August 21 there will be a total solar eclipse.  They happen all over the world, usually about once a year and sometimes as many as five times in a year.  So what's the big deal with this one? 

First Solar Eclipse to be Photographed - by Berkowski - 28 July 1851

The first solar eclipse ever photographed,
taken by Berkowski on July 28, 1851.

There have been solar eclipses that were visible in some part of the U.S. before, the last one was in Hawaii in 1991 and the last one visible on the U.S. mainland was in 1979.  But Everyone in the United States (even in Alaska and Hawaii) will see this eclipse as the moon's shadow passes across the entire United States.  No matter where you are in the U.S., you will see at least a partial eclipse, and most people are within less than a day's drive to see a complete, total eclipse.  Awesome!

So what's going on?  The Earth circles around the sun and the moon circles around the Earth.  ​Sometimes the Earth, moon and sun line up in a straight line, and then BINGO! we have a solar eclipse.  The moon sandwiched between the Earth and the sun appears to block out the sun, and we little Earthlings will be in the moon's shadow, unable to see the sun.  In a nutshell, it will be dark in the middle of the day!

So where are you viewing it?  Here at FiberWild! in Galena we will see the moon cover 88.4% of the sun at 1:14 pm (please don't call the store then - we'll be out on our front sidewalk looking up!).  We won't see a total eclipse (that happens further south from us), but it will still be pretty awesome!  To see how much of an eclipse you'll see at your house type in your zip code here

The sun is really bright, and even with 88.4% of the sun covered up it's still very bright.  So you must wear protective eye wear.  Very dark sunglasses are not good enough.  NASA recommends that you wear eye protection that is compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard and NASA has a link to the American Astronomical Society's list of reputable vendors who sell the viewers.  The glasses look like the cheap 3-D glasses you get from the movie theater, except instead of a blue and red eye both eyes in your eclipse viewing glasses look like they are covered with tinfoil.  They're so dark you can't see anything but the sun, but look directly at the sun and you'll see a perfect orange ball.  

So what did they do before our modern eclipse viewing glasses? A newspaper article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat printed on July 26, 1878 prepares readers for the 1878 eclipse with "A piece of smoked or colored glass will be found a valuable adjunct. Those who were victims of the blue glass mania may find useful employment for that material at last. Those who have not this advantage may take a strip of ordinary window glass and smoke it beforehand."​

Eclipse through Bowl of Water

Viewing an eclipse by looking at the
reflection in a bowl of water.
It may feel safer than looking
directly at the sun, but it's not.

So what will happen?  If you are in an area of totality then the sky will go dark and it will look like twilight in the middle of the day.  It won't be pitch-black-middle-of-the-night dark, but more like the amount of darkness you get on a night with a full moon.  The air will get cooler and wildlife and livestock will get quiet as they settle down and prepare for bed.  If you are in the line of totality you can take off your protective glasses and look directly at the sun once it hits totality.  You'll still see the corona (the "glow" around the sun), but the sun itself will appear to be gone, replaced by a giant black hole. 

We know that the sun will be completely covered for about two minutes and then will become visible again ... but what a scary event an eclipse would be for ancient people who looked up in the sky and believed that their sun had been swallowed - never to return!  Throughout history most ancient cultures viewed an eclipse as a bad omen.  Homer's The Odyssey described an eclipse of 1178 B.C. with "The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist hovers over all."  Sounds more like a horror movie than an astronomical event!

Are you road tripping to view the eclipse in an area of totality?  If so, good for you!  Have a friend drive while you knit our Sierra Sun Hat and Mittens set.  A tribute to the sun in a classic southwestern style, the hat and mittens use three colors - but only two colors are used at a time, making it a fun and easy colorwork project.  And you'll have cool bragging rights this winter when you tell your friends you were knitting your Sierra Sun Hat and Mittens Set on the day the sun disappeared!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout