onsdag 5 oktober 2011

Faroese textiles

Sometimes you're just lucky - like I was on Monday this week. I went to town to buy something small and nice to send in SWAP packages. In Loftet I met Anna-Maija who had a book for sale, or to be exact, she didn't know she wanted to sell it until she saw me :)

The book is in Faroese, a language I don't know at all. I soon found that I understand the essence of almost everything as I can read Danish and Norvegian without bigger problems. Faroese is closely related to these languages.

The book is a journey through the history of Faroese sheep and textiles, a golden treasure written with love and knowledge. I have actually met the author, Nicolina Jensen Beder. We sat beside each other at the Nordic Knit Symposium in Vaasa ten years ago. The class we took was Domino Knitting and our tutor was Vivian Hoxbro. Keeping up with both Viv and Nicolina was an ordeal... they were both talking all the time in what we call "Scandinavian", a mix of Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese, and Nicolina wanted me to teach her to knit Continental as she only knew how to knit English. And she wanted to learn it at the same time as I was trying to learn Domino Knitting! Viv kept looking at us with wrinkled eyebrows... but honestly, I had not the nerve to stand up against Nicolina, she's a person with great authority and she sat closer to me than Viv did...

Later I have been thinking Nicolina was joking. During the hours we sat together I understood she had more textile knowledge than anyone else I had met. It's therefore not surprising to me that she wrote this book, but considering she's now 83 years old, I find it an achievement of even more huge proportions.

"Seydur, Ull, Toting" was published 2010. It has 378 pages, illustrations, is printed on good paper (the book weighs almost 2 kilos), and has a good lay-out. ISBN 978-99918-71-21-9.

The book can be bought from the netshop Sprotin in Faroe. An e-mail to the shop would answer questions about shipping abroad: sprotin(at)sprotin.fo. Sprotin has a short presentation of the book, and if I can read it right it says that Nicolina is not afraid of telling her opinion on things :) It also says she got the M.A. Jacobsen's award for the book in 2011.

Nicolina was worried about the Faroese sheep already in 2001, and had been for some years. As so many other sheep the breed is being "improved" by crossing with other breeds. The result may be bigger lambs and more meat, but very often the wool is changed also. The typical long double coat of the Faroese sheep has become shorter and the quality isn't as good as earlier. The Faroese sheep belong to the northern Short Tailed group. In the photo below you can also see white Cheviots, one of the breeds that has been used.

Beautiful spindle spun singles skeins and examples of spinning wheels:

The vegetation on the islands is sparse, but you take what you have to produce dyes:

Nicolina and I changed a few words later in letters. She wrote to me about Faroese sheep, and sent me three locks that made me marvel. I still have them. Here they are beside a lock of shorter wool from Åland sheep, the old breed from the group of islands between Finland and Sweden:

The Faroese guard hair is very long, longer than anything I've seen, and the brown and black colors are deep and strong. These locks are of the old Faroese type, and as I understood among the last of the kind, so I value them very much. I still have to find out if there are any efforts to save the Faroese sheep. The Åland sheep is also threatened, but I'll return to that later when I start spinning the samples I have.

I didn't know much about how to prepare such wool, but I've gotten some hints from Deborah Robson's and Carol Ekarius' book "Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook". Nicolina shows how it is done. Here's a pic of how you can separate the long guard hairs from the soft underwool:
On the following pages Nicolina goes through the different ways you can work with this wool. Separating the guard hair from the underwool is of course not the only way you can do it.

She then proceeds to spinning, knitting, weaving and dyeing, and making furs and hides. She shows garments, spinning mills, equipment, shearing, crofts. All through the book there is history and as I have understood by only browsing so far, lots and lots of cultural history.

Nicolina Jensen was born as a farmer's daughter. She learned much about textiles from her mother, and when grown up she became a textile teacher. Her husband was a priest, so they lived in the vicarage where Nicolina was able to raise sheep, shear, prepare wool, spin, dye, knit and weave.