Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Friday 14 October 2016

My Newfoundland crafts safari

I promised to tell you more about my Newfoundland adventure, when I'm on holiday I love hunting out the local handicrafts and especially the local yarn/knitting shops as skeins of the local yarn make perfect holiday souvenirs.

I knew that there is a tradition of knitting in Newfoundland, although yarn is no longer produced locally the traditional patterns for warm mittens, hats and socks is kept alive. 

Of course selling the knitted accessories to tourists is what keeps the tradition alive, I took these photos in a shop attached to an extremely popular restaurant in Rocky Harbour, while waiting for an hour for a table!

I somehow failed to take a photo of the 'thrummed knitting', here's a link to give you an idea of what it's like. Roving (carded but not spun fleece) is looped along the reverse side of the work making a thick fleece lining. It is used to make EXTREMELY WARM gloves and slippers! I put my hand inside some thrummed mittens and almost overheated (we were there in a heat wave! so I wasn't tempted to buy them). I regret this now, but I'm sure I could find the materials needed and have a go at making some one day.

We did a good bit of research before travelling to Newfoundland but somehow I missed appreciating how significant 'Grenfell' is to the town of St Anthony at the far end of the Great Northern Peninsula. By luck we'd booked a room at the Grenfell Heritage Hotel and Suites which is right next door to the Grenfell Interpretation Centre, so we had a chance to find out all about Dr Wilfred Grenfell.

Briefly, Dr Grenfell was a newly qualified doctor from England who travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1892. He was shocked by the poverty and lack of medical services - there were no hospitals or doctors; so he made it his life's mission to bring medical services to NW Canada and his legacy still serves these remote areas today. You can read more here.

Dr Grenfell and his wife Anne and their children lived in a lovely 'arts & crafts' style house on the hillside behind the present day hospital in St Anthony. I could have stayed there for hours looking through the original photo albums and letters in this beautiful gallery/verandah running the length of the house.

Dr Grenfell needed to raise money for his plans to set up hospitals and fund nurses and doctors to cover the remote settlements. One of his main fund-raising ideas was to teach people to make things using traditional handicrafts and sell these to raise money and get lots of publicity. The crafts had to be high quality so patterns were designs for the makers to follow - although they were encouraged to interpret the designs and make them unique. Embroidery, beadwork, carvings, leatherwork and most famously rag-rags, made the Grenfell Mission famous.

High quality materials were in short supply, so Dr Grenfell asked women in England and the USA to send their laddered silk stockings to Newfoundland to be dyed and cut into strips and made into intricate rag-rug pictures. Dr Grenfell became an international celebrity - his daring exploits made him an action hero - and tirelessly worked to make the lives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador better and healthier. 
I particularly loved this map design and it reminds me of our Newfoundland adventure.

Also at the northern end of the Great Northern Peninsula, not far from St Anthony, is L'Anse aux Meadows where 1000 years ago, Viking adventurers built a staging post where they could repair there ships and gear.

In the museum there is a spindle whorl and a broken bone Nalbinding (a fore-runner of knitting) needle which is evidence that the Vikings were doing some kind of wool-craft. I read somewhere that this is evidence that women had been living in the settlement, as Viking men would never had spun wool or made socks. I'm not convinced, I suspect that a Viking far from home could have spun some thread and mended his socks is the need arose.

Intrigued by this and by the reproduction woolen caps the 'Vikings' at the msueum were wearing, I wanted to know more about Nalbinding. I found a small kit in the museum shop, consisting of a birch wood needle, some yarn and a page of instructions. This turned out to be 'Coptic stitch' which didn't make a fabric like the Viking caps, more research was needed!

Back home, and determined not to be beaten! I've poured over YouTube videos of Olso Stitch and eventually managed to get the hang of it. A breakthrough was using Twool instead of wool, the stiffer yarn makes learning much easier and I managed to make a little storage bag.

Practice makes perfect ... maybe not perfect but an improvement at least ... and I've Nalbinded a bag, the button was bought in Alaska 2 years ago and is made of Moose horn ... which I though apt.

More souvenirs! Patterns to make traditions Newfoundland mittens and a book about Rug Hooking in Altantic NW Canada. I really want to have a go at rag rug making, or even just make a small hooked picture panel.

Our adventure began and ended in the Newfoundland capital and only large town, St Johns. But being weekends and with most shops shut on Sundays, shopping opportunities were limited! However I managed to find a lovely yarn shop, Cast On Cast Off, that I'd checked out online before the holiday – it was a good walk out of town! I bought the grey and red skeins of Briggs & Little Heritage so I could knit some Newfoundland mitts. And then treated myself to the gorgeous hand dyed sock yarn in blue/green/ochre to remind me of the island, it's by Fleece Artist from Nova Scotia. Also I couldn't resist a small skein by Rhichard Devrieve - just because it would have been wrong not to! and the colours reminded me of the painted houses of Newfoundland.
The terracotta and the black skeins are also Briggs & Little yarn bought as souvenirs from the Grenfell Handicraft Centre in St Anthony.

I have yet to decide what I'm going to make with all the lovely yarn; but when I do use it, it will bring back some wonderful memories.