KRISTIN BAIRD: INHERITED
RECEPTION: MAY 31 6 - 8 PM
"At the young age of 9, I stared intensely at my grandmother’s hands as she crocheted an afghan, then jumped at the opportunity to learn her craft. Since then, my interest deepened while I eagerly watched knit and crochet shows on public television and furthered my knowledge of the history of fiber arts. Knit and crochet spans the entire globe; each culture adapting the patterns to their needs and desires. These patterns were kept alive through each generation teaching the next the required techniques.
"In this digital age, so much personal communication has been lost. Although there is a wealth of information on the internet, to truly learn a skill one needs to spend time with a master. This form of learning takes precious time that should be valued, however, in our fast-paced world, these talents are cast by the wayside.
"This series juxtaposes a common, disposable material with an ancient craft and, in some cases, cultural identity. Since the dawn of the digital age, it is much less common for children to learn valuable skills at the knee of a grandparent or parent. We have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but at what cost? What skills and culture are we passing on to the next generation?" - Kristin Baird
Lace in Estonia was derived as a result of the fine yarn spun from a breed of sheep specific to the region as well as a lack of indoor space for a weaving loom. Long winters provided time to pass down this tradition that was learned visually, as in no written patterns. Inspiration was gained through nature and most families had “samplers” of the patterns they developed. These motifs were turned into delicate, cobwebby shawls and scarves that gained popularity around the turn of the 19th century.
The demand for the lace ebbed and flowed during the 20th century, declining during the World Wars and political unrest, but increasing with tourism to Estonia and exposure through various exhibitions. The economic value of this handicraft was so valued that even during the Soviet occupation, when travel was limited, the shawls and scarves moved freely outside of Estonian borders. This demand could not be fulfilled by hand knitting alone and so knitting machines were sometimes used to create the centers of shawls. Eventually, the most desirable quality of the lace became the “nupp”, a small bobble, which helped to identify hand knitted items.
Today, Estonian lace is still treasured and valued as a cultural identity for many Estonians, especially in Haapsalu, where the shawl first gained popularity. Courses for knitting this delicate lace are taught at the Haapsalu High School and the Haapssalu Center of Vocational Education. The hope is that this tradition will live on through the Estonian youth.
The development of Shetland lace came about as a result of poor farming conditions, trade with passing ships and harty sheep with fine fleece due to harsh winters. Industrious Shetland women realised that the more complex a knitted piece looked, the more money it would fetch. They developed simple pattern repeats that could be combined to create a more complex look. Less complicated motifs along with thin yarn created fine shawls and scarves that were more desirable than basic jersey knit items.
Shetland lace really took off at the beginning of the 20th century, when a few rich women bought some pieces and sent them to friends as gifts as well as to sell in Edinburgh and London. Eventually, Queen Victoria was given one of the shawls as a gift and the popularity of the lace increased from there.
During this time, there were no ferries between the Shetland Isles, so the women living on the the most northerly islands had to be more creative. They created finer shawls with thinner wool to gain a higher price. These gossamer shawls (generally 6’ square) became known as wedding ring shawls as they could be slid through a wedding ring. Not many people could spin or knit this gossamer wool, which made the pieces even more valuable.
The ever industrious Shetlanders eventually developed a belt to hold their knitting. These were worn every day, creating ample opportunity to knit in between various chores or looking after children.
Today, the tradition remains, however, the patterns change based on demand. It is still possible to buy a hand knitted Shetland shawl, however, it would most likely be made from a commercially spun yarn.
Off the coast of Ireland are the Aran Isles, where, long ago, the most common commodities were fish and wool. When men weren’t fishing, braiding ropes or tying nets, they could be found knitting cabled sweaters. The harsh environment required practical clothing for outdoor labor and fishing. These sweaters were often knitted from course, unscoured wool, which retained the natural oils from the sheep making the garment waterproof.
Many of the patterns reflect the Celtic culture and each motif represents a different symbol of importance. Legend has it that specific patterns were knitted by each family and these various motifs were used to identify the bodies of men lost at sea. However, this myth has never been proven.
Cabled attire gained popularity during the 1950’s when Vogue magazine featured an Aran knit sweater. The Irish government recognized this increase in demand and sent knitters and designers to rural areas to help develop the craft as well as encourage the use of standardized sizing methods.
As with many popular things, industry took notice and Aran sweaters began to be manufactured. The construction of the garment changed due to mechanized methods, however, the timeless beauty of the various cable patterns has maintained a hold in the fashion world.