Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Armenian Knitting by Meg Swansen and Joyce Williams

These designs are gorgeous. The technique looks interesting and not too hard, but as someone who hasn't mastered intarsia yet, I wonder if I ought to even attempt this first. Or maybe it's a good thing to learn this first so as not to confuse it with skills I might have already learned. (I'm thinking about a more advanced knitter than I--someone who does know intarsia.) My favorites are the Cat Hat at the beginning, a good way to practice the skill the authors suggest, and Meg's Diagonal Monarch sweater on p. 29. I might give this book 5 stars only I haven't tried any patterns yet.
Also interesting, and just scratching the surface here in the introduction and on the last page (the Stop Press), is the world of Armenian women (I guess, mostly) who escaped or fled the 1915 Armenian genocide and ended up in France where they made a living with these handworking skills for established designers like Elsa Schiaparelli.
The letter and photographs from Rose Dolarian on the last page of the book are just a peek into a time that I'd like to know more about. She sent examples of her mother's work, a dress and a vest, to the authors two days before the book was to go to press. My mother was in Birds' Nest, the Danish orphanage in Beirut when it opened in the early 1920s, from the age of eight years old until she was sixteen. She worked as a rug weaver and worked in a hospital until the age of eighteen when she went to Paris where one of her uncles lived.
We do not know who taught her to knit. She was abandoned in the wilderness at the age of four during the Armenian genocide, so we know she did not learn to knit in her home. We grew up hearing about the fancy clothes she knitted in Paris for a woman who would regularly bring samples for her to knit. She supported herself with that income: paid the rent for a one-room apartment and a diet of olives and bread. She would visit her uncle's home for treats like chocolate.

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