Old Crafts on New Videos

When I go to the weddings of my younger friends and relatives, there’s always a videographer on hand, recording every little detail. My original response was to scoff at the notion of turning a solemn life passage into a media event. But then I thought, what if I had a video of my grandparents’ weddings? Wow. That would be such a powerful connection to my own past. Such a fascinating record of the details of life in those times.

Patent for radioactive glow-in-the-dark knitting needles, from Susan Strawn's Knits of Yore.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have videos of women knitting for the troops during World War I? Or women in Eastern Europe or Russia spinning and knitting mittens and shawls? It would be like taking a time machine back to archaic knitting circles, seeing how they made stuff, how they interacted, what they talked about.

Well, too bad. Too late. We’re lucky to even have old black-and-white photos. However, bringing the past back to life is the mission and passion of some of the women we’ve worked with in recent years in our video studio. Case in point: Susan Strawn. Susan is a textile scholar with astonishing research skills and a passion for knitting. In Knits of Yore, we hear of the heavily guarded “silk train” that carried imported Chinese silk from the West Coast to Belding-Corticelli mills in the East. We learn the highly personal stories of women whose lives were built around knitting in the 19th century. We see the products of clever patent applications— including radioactive knitting needles, for carrying on during wartime blackouts. You laugh with Susan in recognition of the knitting quirks of our foremothers— quirks we share.

Lithuanian distaff with folk art carvings of symbols representing the sun, from Donna Druchunas' Knitting Lithuanian Socks. 

In Knitting Lithuanian Socks, Donna Druchunas takes us on a trip to her family’s homeland and into the street stalls and country homes where sock knitters incorporate ancient motifs into their footwear, and employ a couple of heel turns that you probably haven’t seen before.  And Galina Khmeleva – well, her native Russia comes to life in Orenburg Spinning (soon to be followed by Orenburg Knitting). She shares so much more than the how—her stories make you feel the cold of this little corner of Russia just south of Siberia, and the treasure of cashmere goats, and the  need for the warmest socks, shawls, and mittens.

Detail of one of Galina Khmeleva's Orenburg lace shawls.

I guess my point is that, while a modern video isn’t the same as time travel, it’s the next best thing. And maybe you should be videotaping yourself next time you sit down to knit. Someone, someday, will be fascinated.