Knitting like it’s 1995

Some time in 2014 I stopped knitting. It happened about the same time that I received a hand-me-down laptop and, soon after, in the evenings after the kids fell asleep, I began a habit of sitting by the fireplace (no longer by my cold office’s desktop computer) and getting lost in Internet surfing – that common, modern-day refrain.  I fell asleep many nights exhausted, a few hours past my ideal bedtime, my eyes still twitching and searching in the dark and quiet after the fire had simmered down to the embers and the screen had gone blank and the battery had died.

Thankfully, a few moments have since then saved me from a complete fall from knitting grace. Like this summer when I learned that my best friend was pregnant with her first and only baby. Nothing, not even the most thought-provoking political commentary circulating on Facebook, could stop me from making a baby sweater for her (knitting grace returns), albeit in a pattern that I had used a few times before (there’s the backsliding), and certainly not in time for the baby shower (some things will never change).  The baby sweater forced me to knit again, despite the pull of the Internet and its answers to life’s questions. The matching baby blanket is taking longer of course; the baby’s Kindergarten graduation might be a more realistic deadline for that.

When I think of my fall from prodigious, devoted knitter to inveterate web-surfer, I recall an essay by Rebecca Solnit. “In or around June 1995 human character changed again,” she writes in her August 2013 essay on modern-day life and the Internet in the London Review of Books, referring to the year that restrictions on commercial traffic on NSFNET – the backbone of the Internet – were loosened, and Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay began. After that, usage of the Internet grew and then ballooned, forever changing the way we live. Not without consequence, of course.  Solnit writes, “Nearly everyone I know feels that some quality of concentration they once possessed has been destroyed” since we began our devotion to the devices that now constantly prey on our time and attention.

Solnit’s writing is a salve for my Internet-drained spirit. I am not alone in this unhappy transition from committed knitter and creative designer to anxious,  interesting-article surfer.  Of the time before the Internet, she writes, “That bygone time had rhythm, and it had room for you to do one thing at a time…” The year she cites tugs at me: 1995. A watershed year for me personally, too: that fall in college I went to study in St. Petersburg, Russia, where I fell in love with the language, the Brothers Karamazov, European cosmopolitan living, and a fellow foreigner.  I had no Internet access in Russia, not even an e-mail address. To communicate with my family in Minnesota I yelled into a Soviet-era rotary dial phone in my host family’s apartment. Correspondence with my friends was hand-written on lined paper. That year, my parents wrote me, Minnesota had the coldest winter ever on record – colder even than in Siberia, my Siberian-born grammar teacher reported excitedly.

I regretfully returned home in the summer of 1996, leaving my foreign love and that happiest place behind. I cried the whole way home.  Back at school that fall, I eagerly logged onto the brand new Gopher protocol system to send e-mail messages to my sweetheart overseas.  I thought it would save us, this new-fangled, convenient, and immediate contact at our fingertips. And it did, at first, but soon e-mail became mundane: it was used for school work and quick messages to friends in town. So instead, we wrote letters. Long letters in messy writing and big cursive D’s for Dear and on all different types and sizes of paper – lined paper, scratch paper, napkins, etc. My letter writer had European handwriting which was cursive and sometimes different (like the crossed 7), and his English had mistakes. He would cross out wrong spellings of words or phrases (or the right spellings, too). His handwriting became messier as he forged on until, by the fourth or fifth page, the words stretched out and leaned heavily to the side, the ink of the blue pen faded and was replaced with black. Without even reading the words, you could see the evidence of time passing, of ink blotting and slurring, of a person yawning and getting tired, of a person living and breathing.

The letters were like life-saving medicine for our love, although for us it was more akin to the unnecessary-intervention kind of medical treatment, the kind that keeps you going much longer than you should. After I moved to Latvia for my Peace Corps service, our relationship had thinned out (though the letters continued) until finally he wrote to tell me that he had fallen in love with a Russian. To which my Latvian friends said without hesitation: “Vīriešiem un tramvajiem nav vērts skriet pakaļ, Sariņa, jo noteikti atnāks nākamais” (Nither men nor trams are worth chasing, dear Sarah; because with both you know for certain that another one will always come along). Little solace for my broken heart, but comforting to have had the support of sympathetic friends, at least. But those hand-written letters… what an artifact! What a different world from today: we might as well have been driving horse-drawn buggies! They seem old-fashioned today, but in 1995 they were the norm. Today, I struggle to remember how it felt to take the time to sit down and write a four-page letter on a legal pad, both sides, my hand cramping half-way through, all in the effort to maintain a relationship, no less. I only wish I could see what my own hand wrote, what was neatly folded up, stamped, and sent away. Alas, there is no fetching them from my sent folder.

Solnit writes in her article that now, post-2010, many people are trying to return to the pre-1995 era in an effort to regain our attention spans and strengthen our concentration again. She writes, “Some of the young have taken up gardening and knitting and a host of other things that involve working with their hands, making things from scratch, and often doing things the old way. It is a slow everything movement in need of a manifesto that would explain what vinyl records and homemade bread have in common. We won’t overthrow corporations by knitting – but understanding the pleasures of knitting or weeding or making pickles might articulate the value of that world outside electronic chatter and distraction, and inside a more stately sense of time.” Feeling a stately sense of time: this must be even more satisfying than surfing the web aimlessly next to the fireplace. It sounds like it is.

Of course, the notion of getting back to the pleasure of handmade and to a time long passed is not new to the knitting world. In the Winter ’99/’00 issue of Vogue Knitting, hand-knitting designer Norah Gaughan wrote her forecast for knitting in the next millennium (“2000…The Year 2 Knit!”):  “I see knitting becoming increasingly important as a tool for self enrichment…The feel of wonderful fiber in one’s hands, the meditative rhythm of the work, the challenge of new techniques and the pride of completion, will be motivations for the knitter of the 21st century…. Enlightened educators are finding that by knitting, students are quickly transported to a ready-to-learn state… Get them hooked now and knitting will be the thinking person’s craft of the new millennium.” Gaughan’s knitting experience meets Solnit’s written wisdom.

Ironically, it was also in 1995 – only five years earlier – that the same magazine was touting a different refrain. VK, Fall ’95, explained for the upcoming season that “stitches are less important than texture, color and shape… [and] since there is so little leisure time for making handcrafts, it’s necessary to have yarns that do more of the work for us” (my emphasis). The three-page section featured piles of beaded, glimmering, variegated yarns. “Man-made fibers like polyamide, polyester, acetate, viscose and metalloplastics are mixed or twisted with contrasting yarns for reflective flashes of light.”

Novelty surface effects more important than knitting technique? Yes, indeed, human character had changed. The Fall ’95 Vogue Knitting predictions may have properly highlighted the convenience of the new mixed media yarns, but hailing them as the medicine that could save knitting in the new age of busyness was misguided. They failed to acknowledge the needs that the new era would generate, like the need for something slow and handmade that takes lots of rich, grandiose time, something that makes us feel connected to the earth and to other real people.  Knitting something that takes a long time and cramps your hands half way through and can come only from you may just be the medicine that keeps us fulfilled, satisfied, and left not feeling empty and alone. The new manmade yarns mirror a high-tech, busy, distracted world, while the time-consuming projects that depend on good stitch definition and the naturally perfect stretch of wool help deflect all that our Internet-consumed modern world is throwing on us.  Knitting designer Debbie Bliss gets this: her 2013 book, “Knits For Your and Your Home,” is divided into blissed-out, anti-modern-technology chapters entitled “Indulge,” “Cocoon,” “Pamper,” and “Detox.” While some patterns require only one (beautiful, natural, high-quality) skein of yarn (like soft cashmere or lofty angora) and are incredibly quick to knit up, others are intentionally time-consuming, like the cable-knit chair back covers that mock all overflowing, attention-greedy email inboxes the world over.

I do feel a renewed desire to knit more now, though less for achieving a stately sense of time than for the sake and honor of all lost or dying hand-made arts (hand-written letters and complicated stitch patterns, both; I am a martyr to such causes). I have yet to post anything knitted here though. I am currently stuck on the second of a pair of socks for my mom, made from yarn so dark that I am defeated for months every time I lose some stitches on the size 1 DPNs. The baby blanket is now on the final row. All hope is not lost.

For the record, the man I eventually married, an American, is a good writer, though we’ve only known e-mail writing.  As nice as his e-mails are, I must admit that I don’t keep them in a special inbox folder, categorized the way my work messages are. But my husband’s hand-written cards? I definitely keep those.




On bacon fat and poetry

When I first arrived in Aloja after three months of language training in a nearby city, I was hosted for a few days by a well known poet, writer, and translator named Daina Avotiņa at her home in the countryside. Staying with Daina was my first exposure to the real Latvia: we drank milk straight from the cow, ate homemade caraway cheese, and slept under coarse olive green and heather yellow woolen blankets inside her old, wooden cottage. I was almost completely unintelligible at that point. I remember trying my shallow conversational skills with her family at the rustic wooden dining table; my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. As a departing gift, Daina handed me a large hunk of bacon fat from one of her farm’s pigs. I probably looked like a deer caught in headlights when I received it; I didn’t have a clue what do with it. At least I knew the words to thank her for it.

I ended up eating most of that fat throughout the following winter.  Despite – or because of – my broken Latvian and general dumb innocence as a foreigner, my downstairs neighbor Nora took it upon herself to take care of me. Which meant, that she fed me.  If I could capture my whole two years of living in Aloja, in Latvia, of my life in the Peace Corps, it would be this: getting called downstairs for dinner by Nora (“Sariņ, nac est!”) to eat mashed potatoes a la bacon fat along with a glass of fresh milk and then watching, late into the night, re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210 dubbed in Latvian. (Nora claims that she never fell asleep watching 90210 even though she had been up since 4am to milk the cows; she says she was able to watch the shows “ar vienu aci cietu,” with one eye closed.) And as the steps between Nora’s and my door became worn and more familiar, the coarse Latvian woolen blankets became warm and inviting to me and dinner was no longer complete without bacon fat.

Daina’s name came back to me some time in my second year when Nora lent me her mother-in-law’s sewing machine. It was a hand-operated black Singer from the early 1900’s, decorated with gold filigree and still a solid and smooth machine. It had survived the March 1949 deportation to Siberia with Nora’s mother-in-law and her two small boys.  One day while I was rummaging around inside a drawer of the well traveled machine (I had been fixing up my finds from the Scandinavian Humanitarian Aid clothing pop-up store, which Nora mockingly called the “Humani” or “Humpali,”),  I found a folded up, aged yellow newspaper clipping alongside some fabric and thread scraps. On it was was a poem written by Daina called “Tu jau tālāk aizvedīsi,” or “You will continue to carry.” Here is my translation. (If you are a Latvian speaker, corrections are welcome!)

Par ŝo zaļo zemes malu,
Ko par Dzimteni es saucu,
Cilvēki ir atdevuŝi
Mūžus daudzus.
For this edge of green land,
That I call my Native Land,
People have given
Many lives.
Pūsdzīvotus. Nedzīvotus.
Neprasot, vai atlīdzinās.
Neprasot, vai viņu vārdi
Paliks talākceļu mina.
Half-lived. Not lived.
Not asking for anything in return.
Not asking if their name
Would be remembered down the road.
Protams, katram sava daļa.
Dzīves sauciens. Aicinājums.
Es jau arī nebūtību
Savā esamībā krāju.
Of course, everyone has their own part.
Life’s calling. An invitation.
I also count nothingness
In my own existence.
Bet par to, ka redzu sali,
Redzu zālē rases zibu,
Redzu bērna tīro smaidu –
Kādam paldies sacīt gribu.
But because I see the sun,
I see the glint of dew on the grass,
I see a child’s pure smile –
I want to thank someone.
Dzimtene, lai Tev tas paldies.
Kad par tavu zemi kļuŝu,
Tu jau tālāk aizvedīsi
Baltus manu bērnu mūžus.
Native Land, let you be the one thanked.
When I am a part of your earth,
You will continue to carry
The brightest of my children’s lives.

We figured the poem must have been written some time in the mid to late 1980’s when it was relatively safe to publish something nationalistic (referring to this “edge” of the Soviet Union, I would surmise). It had to have been Jacis, Nora’s mother-in-law who had been deported, who put the poem in the sewing machine.  I wish I knew which newspaper it was published in and when exactly it was published; did it not raise any red flags for its nationalist message? Was it a local paper that was able to avoid national attention? Or was the content considered subtle, as it doesn’t mention Latvia specifically?

To me, the poem is so very Latvian – a paean to land, to the soil. Eschewing the German Lutheran God that only tenuously erased the ancient Latvian pagan way of life, she thanks the land for her life.  Why is the land so important? In Latvia, it is what has given most of the Latvian people their surnames: Bērziņŝ, Ozols, Kalniņš, Liepiņš, Avotiņa – birch, oak, hill, linden tree, a spring. It is what has given the natural dyes and the wool to the classical woolen blankets; it has provided the bacon fat that gives flavor to Latvians’ rustic, traditional foods; it has given the reeds that shape Latvians’ straw table coverings and wall hangings; it has provided the flowers that are given at every celebration.  This is a country where I was publicly laughed at – where I almost lost my credibility as a human being! – when I casually referred to a pine tree (“priede”) as a fir tree (“egle”). Trees are things you do not confuse in a country that highly esteems its nature and soil. No, these natural things from the land are a part of life.

This poem and translation are posted in honor of November 18th, Latvia’s Independence Day, celebrating independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. Sveiks lai dzivo!

First Quilt


My 2nd-grade daughter is learning about America’s Pioneers this fall at school. Soon the kids will take a field trip to a one-room school house, for which they get to dress up in pioneer clothes if they like. Their study culminates in the presentation of a pioneer-based project that they’ve done at home.

I know a bit about these kinds of school projects from my daughter’s study on the raccoon last year.  The teacher asks that the children do the projects on their own, but really, where is the line between guiding a frustrated child and just assembling the raccoon artwork into the mobile yourself? This year’s project on Pioneers has seemed no different. From a long list of the teacher’s suggestions, my daughter chose to make a covered wagon out of paper. I found several plans for cardboard-based pioneer wagons that exacted directions offering little room for originality; the whole plan indeed was darkened by a vision of myself gluing together the wagon while my daughter looked on, bored and impatient or just coloring the wheels with crayons. Fortunately for all of us, my in-laws came for a weekend to visit and my mother-in-law rescued the Pioneer project with a little quilting work.

While my mother-in-law was raising her family she was an avid quilter. She has given us a handful of quilts (some of which she made herself, others of which were made by family members).  For my daughter’s Pioneer project, my mother-in-law drafted a simple nine-patch quilt square pattern. All day long the two of them traced squares, measured, pressed, and cut fabric, and sewed on the machine to piece the square together. I couldn’t have been happier with my daughter so involved in her school project, besides so thoroughly enjoying the close company of her grandma. Every so often I stepped in to preach about the relevance of Pioneer-like thriftiness in using leftover scraps of fabric and how quilts were needed to cushion the hard, uncomfortable seats of the covered wagons and to keep safe during dust storms, among other things. The busy quilters mostly ignored me, the constant din of my informative chatter floating above the hum of the sewing machine. By the end of the day, grandma and granddaughter had almost finished their imperfect, colorful handmade square, lastly bordered with “Prairie Points” like in the Prairie Queen quilt, one of the many beautifully named patterns that were popular during pioneer days.

Tracing, cutting, sewing on the machine, pressing – it all came naturally to my daughter, who insisted on doing more sewing the second day.  It couldn’t have happened without the gentle guidance of my knowledgable and skilled mother-in-law. While my daughter was sewing at the machine she looked content, carefully finishing each piece and moving the needle up out of the way before she lifted the foot and removed the fabric to cut the thread. She was focused, deliberate, calm. For a girl whose favorite color is “all the colors of the rainbow, even black,” this patchwork sewing gig is right up her alley. She is a bit doomed to it, I suppose: her dad’s side of the family awash with quilters and her mother obsessed with saving and writing about the beauty and meaning in hand-made things.

Which brings me back to the preaching: I want so much for my daughter to learn about the importance that quilting and handcrafts have played in women’s lives in history.  While she and my mother-in-law were working, I briefly looked up “quilting in Pioneer America” and found a rich history. One site, “Patterns from History,” wrote that “Pioneer quilting had come full circle from making quilts in anticipation of the journey to the opportunity to express creativity through quilting in the new land.” (The history on pioneer quilting has been fleshed out pretty well in several books and websites devoted to quilting history and I now have a couple of titles waiting in my library request queue!) Before we started the project, as I worked on convincing my daughter to try out the patchwork quilt instead of making the cardboard wagon, I heard myself repeating the things I believe about why people continue to hand-knit: that it’s not just to make clothing or blankets because we need them to survive, but we make them carefully by hand to have something beautiful and meaningful for our everyday lives.  Machine-made items can be beautiful and wonderful and much, much easier and cheaper than hand-made items, but so many machine-made things are also quickly and poorly made and just as quickly disposed of. I know because I frequent all of the used-clothing stores in town and they are often full of junky, machine-made clothing and housewares. What a dangerous cycle for ourselves and our planet! Just because we CAN produce tons of clothes for cheap things doesn’t mean that we should. Oh, it all drives me crazy, this kind of waste.

I also can’t help but wonder what my daughter’s take from all of the sewing and talk of handcrafts is, besides being a wonderful bonding time with her grandma and getting her school project done. Does she think that sewing is women’s work, or that sewing is just another medium for an artist?  Like my own mother wanted for me, I want my daughter to not be restrained by the old, sexist constraints and stereotypes as she plots out her life.  I want her to travel and see the world and to pursue whatever work or goals she needs, regardless of whether it is a male-dominated profession, regardless of whether our culture or individual people tell her it is appropriate for a woman.  My daughter’s goal in life right now, though, is to become an artist – it has been for over a year – and her favorite art projects are often crafts. She is a little confused by what it means to be an artist, too, and last night inquired at bedtime about how much money artists make.  Trying to keep awake as we lay there in the dark, with the big pink ceramic shell nightlight (that my grandma made) on in the corner of her room, the barley bag warming our feet under my mom’s homemade down comforter, I murmured the line, “Find what you love to do, honey, and the money will come.” But she didn’t go for it. She said worriedly (and with new non-sleepy vigor) that she had heard from other people that artists don’t make money and she wants to make lots of money to buy things like lego sets and iPads. Our conversation drifted slightly into the meaning of life and the role of money before trailing off into sleepy silence.


Oh, how my heart aches for her – she’s only seven years old!  For my budding artist, here’s to more creative, thrifty, even feminist quilts. May she and all of our family – and yours – be always blanketed with warmth, beauty, and meaning.


Between Two Suns

I got shivers yesterday when I heard President Obama promise that NATO would defend the Baltic States no matter what.  Mostly, because it’s politically hard to justify such a promise, at least to those with isolationist tendencies (e.g., libertarians, CATO Institute).  Each of these three countries has a small population (Estonia at 1.3 million, Latvia at 2 million, and Lithuania at about 3 million; for reference, the population of Chicago is about 2.7 million). The countries have little strategic benefit to the U.S. with no real resources to mention (if you don’t count amber, sprats, and Skype; though Riga is a major transportation hub and port). Yet, the three little countries are independent democracies and NATO allies and were supporters of the coalition forces in Iraq, and as such they have sent and lost troops to Iraq and Afghanistan along side American and other countries’ troops. And, they are at the European doorstep to Russia.

This geographic and political situation of the Baltic countries brings to mind a catchy song by the Latvian rock band Prāta Vētra (Brainstorm), called “Starp Divām Saulēm,” (translated officially as “Among The Suns” but a more literal translation would be “Between Two Suns”). The suns to me being the many foreign powers that have driven Latvia’s fate for the last several centuries: Germans from the 13th century on, Swedes for a period, and Soviets or Russians and Europe and the West in the 20th century.   The band, lead by Renārs Kaupers, is beloved in Latvia.  The song came out while I lived in Latvia 1998-2000 and was incredibly popular. 

Lai no kādām tālēm nācis, Liekas tikko elpot sācis
Starp divām saulēm izvēlēties – Spožāko un neapdedzināties
Virs mums ir divas, divas debesis
Pa vienām ienākt, otrām atdoties,
Vienām tuvoties, no otrām – izvairīties
Virs mums ir divas, divas debesis
Un vēl virs mums ir divas zvaigznes
Zem vienas dzīvot, pēc otras ilgoties
Ja pirmā kritīs, tu priecāsies,
Bet varbūt liktenis atspēlēsies,
Virs mums ir divas zvaigznes
Lai no kādām tālēm nācis, Liekas tikko elpot sācis
Starp divām saulēm izvēlēties – Vēsāko un atveldzēties
Lai no kādām tālēm nācis, Liekas tikko elpot sācis
Starp divām saulēm izvēlēties  Mīļāko un iemīlēties

From whatever distant places you’ve come, it seems you just started breathing
Choose between the two suns  the brightest one, and don’t get burnt
There are two skies above us
Come through one, surrender to the other
Approach one, avoid the other
There are two skies above us
There are also two stars
Live under one, long for the other
If the first one falls, you celebrate
But maybe fate will retaliate
There are two stars above us
From whatever distant places you’ve come, it seems you just started breathing
Choose between the two suns  the coolest one and get refreshed
From whatever distant places you’ve come, it seems you just started breathing
Choose between the two suns – the loveliest, and fall in love

*I looked at a Russian translation of the song (“Между двух солнц”) to check my work, and “lai” was translated as “неважно,” which led me to use “whatever.” Otherwise “lai” could be “be it” or “let” or “in order to” or “so that,” etc.

The first line is haunting: it makes me think of Latvia’s brief taste of independence between the two world wars, after Latvians had gained independence from the Russian Empire on November 18th, 1918.  Democracy and the economy struggled but grew, while land, for centuries owned by the minority Baltic German landowners who were the governing elite, was given to the Latvian peasants to farm. The country lasted like this for barely a couple of decades before being consumed and corrupted by the anxiety preceding World War Two and the world economic crisis.  In August of 1939 the Russian-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact relegated the Baltic states to the Soviet sphere. By June 1940, Soviet troops occupied the country; within a month, fraudulent elections declaring new Communist leadership led to the country’s assimilation into the Soviet Union as a republic.  By the end of 1941, the Soviets had deported, mostly to Siberia, 35,000 Latvians (including minority citizens such as Jews, Germans, Russians) who were accused of being Anti-Soviet.  But there was more: By July 1941, Nazi Germans occupied Riga; then, the killing of Jews started – 85,000 in Latvia by the end of the war. The Soviet Union won back the country in the fall of 1944. 

Despite the violence, by the end of the song Kaupers calls for choosing the loveliest, the sweetest sun and falling in love with it (iemīlēties; no subtle dipthongs here, but instead: ee-ye-mee-lay-tee-yes, he croons again and again).  And who knows? Maybe the song doesn’t have to be so literally about politics and being bandied back and forth between two heavyweight neighbors;  maybe it’s about the beauty found in choosing between two divergent paths.  A bit of Frost’s road less traveled by, perhaps, minus the nostalgia and confidence. 


I’m guilty of believing that the Soviet Occupation, as awful as it was – deporting and imprisoning and killing so many, trying to wipe out a people’s language and culture and self-expression and voice, destroying an economy and democracy – is also responsible for helping preserve one of the Baltic States’ greatest treasures: their skilled, creative, expressive, artistic knitting.  Today, people still knit, but there isn’t the absolute necessity.  I really, really don’t want to romanticize this, and I see that I am on the verge of it here; instead, I mean to point out that knitting was a source of national and personal expression by thousands of Balts, which, in turn, I believe helped them hold onto a bit of their national identity during the Soviet Occupation. Knitting mittens and hats and sock in their town’s particular style or colors or designs was a small, somewhat safe way of expressing self and nationality in an oppressive police state.  (I say “somewhat safe” because of a story from one of my former school students in Latvia: her father’s mother had knit two hats in the colors of the Latvian flag for her two sons; it was only a matter of time before the one brother called from the police station, caught for expressing nationalism, to warn his little brother not to wear the other hat.) 

Not only could knitting be an expression of nationalism, but a personal expression too, an expression of beauty and creativity and vanity and self. The communist, authoritarian state did not promote these values. It was hard to find a really beautifully made sweater in the Soviet Union. If you did, after waiting in a long line to purchase it you would probably end up finding it being worn by someone else with better connections. Instead, many people in the Baltic states used skills they had learned over the past centuries from the Baltic German landowners, and they knit for themselves. Keep in mind, these are countries that are obsessed with flowers and beauty: at almost every celebration people give flowers, and during the Soviet Union it was the Baltic republics that supplied Moscow and St. Petersburg with flowers, not the more southern republics with warmer climates.  

Meanwhile, during this same period in the 1950’s-1990’s in Capitalist Western European countries, knitting became a hobby, a fringe of society in consumerist economies that easily provided affordable, beautiful sweaters.  I don’t want to disparage knitting as a hobby either. I am a hobby knitter myself and I love how knitting has become more popular in the last decade or so.  The patterns I see in Interweave and Vogue Knitting and Ravelry are inspiring and energizing. Knitting for yourself and your family is not a necessity though, and don’t they say that necessity is the mother of invention? When I lived in Latvia about ten years after it regained independence, I was overwhelmed by the expression and abundance of hand-knitted things among my friends and even my youngest students. I can still see one of my 4th graders, Kristina, swiftly knitting up elaborate pieces in between lessons. Granted, I also remember hearing friends squawk when they’d rather be doing something else. Here, I’m thinking of my wonderful friend and neighbor Nora who supposedly begrudgingly knitted and darned socks for her husband Morris.  And in some cases, I had to agree: I’d rather be outside picking plums or black currants with Nora on a beautiful Latvian summer day and drinking sour birch juice, or watching re-runs of our favorite episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, or drinking strong coffee and Finnish chocolate together.  Of course, we did plenty of that too.  Enough to gear us up for more knitting, I suppose. 








Hyvää päivää!

That’s “Good day!” in Finnish. Growing up in my small hometown in northern Minnesota, Finnish influence was a quiet but certain presence in our lives: our neighbors took saunas, in school we celebrated St. Urho for driving the grasshoppers out of Finland, we told Finnish jokes, and our Finnish-heritage teachers made us learn how to spell their sharp, rolling long last names (can you spell Koskiniemi?). Even though it was a small town in the woods – population 2,976 when I graduated high school, and a two-hour drive from the closest city, Fargo-Moorehead – it fortunately happened to be home to a sweet little Finnish imports store, “Irene’s Favorite Things,” which was and still is housed in the back of Harvala’s Appliances (“The Wild Finlander!”, Irene’s husband).

My mother often admired and sometimes collected the store’s Iittala glass and ceramics, all clean lines and radiance and modernity from the famous Finnish company. Iittala made modern, glass tableware, bold and unusual creations from the 1970’s and earlier. Their designs were a far cry from the folksy, romantic floral Scandinavian design that my mom grew up with on the farm. They were also a refreshing contrast with American country designs.  When I went into Irene’s Favorite Things this summer, though, I saw a new look to the Ittala designs that seemed to bring all of those different styles together. Naturally, they used knitting to do it!  This is not the edgy, modern Iittala glassware that I remember from the 80’s and 90’s. This is still elegant but it is more folksy, and a nod to the traditional and the hand-made.

photo-5Looking at their whole line of designs you can see their inspiration in folklore and nature. This knit-themed series, called Sarjaton, according to the Iittala website, is “Shaped by tradition, tailored for today.” The red clay cup is called “Letti,” or braid, and the other cup is “Tikki,” or stitch.  The other design in this series is called “Metsä,” or woods. I like what one of the design teams said about these choices: “We collected rustic material and for half a year we examined textiles and abstracts.” (All of you knitting & textile enthusiasts, wouldn’t you love to do that for your job?) “Metsä” is particularly interesting to me: at first I thought it looked like stitches, but when I saw the translation of the name, I could see the pine trees instead (click on the Sarjaton link and you can see this design). The knit stitches mimic the pine trees.

The Iittala designers write further:  “Embossed patterns based on traditional basket braids, embroidery motifs and the forest that covers half of Finland, deliver a handcrafted feeling that invites you to touch. While modern life has made us crave for an authentic feeling, the Sarjaton collection takes us back to the way things were made before. The real way.” (My emphasis.) Is this not a craving we have when we knit? To know and feel how something real is made by your own two hands. Not only that, though, this series accepts and honors the home-made effect. Even the images on the “Tikki” cup, pictured in red clay, above, show the slight imperfections in hand-knitting, the rows being slightly uneven and inconsistent.

Well, it wasn’t only in my hometown’s lovely Finnish imports store where I saw knitting in porcelain. On my way  through Minneapolis, I found these cups in the American Swedish Institute gift store:

Amer Swedish Inst pictures -1

These cups are made by Menu, a Danish company that sells on Amazon, Walmart, etc.. They’ve latched on to the knitting trend too, though not in such a rustic way. The Menu company writes: “Nordic Wool is a thermo cup inspired by the highly fashionable patterns known from Nordic knits. The knit sweaters were hot in the 70s but are again must-haves from several fashion houses this season, and now for the first time the knit patterns make their entrance on cool thermo cups.”

Amer Swedish Inst pictures -2

Either way, whether you choose home-made authenticity or fashion spin-offs, to knit by the fire with a knitted cup beside you (especially one with lovely stitch definition) would be the ultimate in getting into the knitting mood.  A knitted cozy for the cup would certainly be appropriate; possibly a knitted coaster as well? Inspiration certainly abounds.

One special, hand-made book

Women’s handiwork of the past, loose threads peeking out, often only reveals itself surreptitiously in the larger stories of world politics, war, power, and science. It’s probably because I’m looking for fiber that I see it in these unexpected places, like I did in historian Jill Lepore’s recent article about the life of Jane Franklin Mecom (1712-1794), youngest sister and confidante to Benjamin Franklin (“The Prodigal Daughter,” The New Yorker, July 8, 2013).

Lepore, a regular contributor to The New Yorker and a professor of American History at Harvard University, is also looking at the underbelly of history, the flip side of Benjamin Franklin’s famous self, when she finds correspondence between Ben and his littlest sister Jane, or Jenny, as she was called.  Just think of it: Here were two children from the same, poor family who had such different lives and expectations because of their sex. Jane, typical of the times, never went to school, married at age 15 and gave birth to 12 children, 11 of whom died before she did. According to Lepore, Jane was in debt, her husband drank heavily and was mentally ill, and two of her children were violently insane and had to be locked up. Benjamin, on the other hand, learned to read and write well in school and went on to become remembered in history as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States as well as a great inventor, politician, and scientist.

Jane did write a book of sorts though. The paper in her book, Lepore writes, “was made from rags, soaked and pulped and strained and dried. Her thread was made from flax, combed and spun and dyed and twisted.”  It sounds like a tag on Etsy: “hand-made recycled cloth paper, local, homespun and naturally dyed linen thread – a lovely, handmade keepsake for recording your baby’s first words and funny expressions,” or something like that. Rather, in Jane’s hand-made book, she chronicled the births of her many children, some of them terribly brief: Josiah Mecom born June 4th, 1729 and died May 8th, 1730; Abiah Mecom born August 1, 1751 and died within the year.  She recorded her own birth, March 27, 1712, her marriage on July 27, 1727, and the death of her mother, May 8, 1752. Such a brief, rudimentary record of a person’s life pales in importance in comparison to her older brother’s numerous well recorded ideas, findings, discussions, and policies, now found in the country’s greatest libraries and museums for posterity.

The story in this New Yorker article is not solely about Jane’s book of rags and linen, however, as much as I would love to find out more details about the book itself. I wonder about Jane’s resourcefulness – was it common to the era, especially for a poor, uneducated family? Flax was a common fiber before the Industrial Revolution started producing cotton in the last three decades of the 1700’s and she probably had some flax like most households would have. But using it to make a book still demands an effort that must have been frequently thwarted by the nagging, pressing needs of her children (Lepore finds evidence of this nagging in Jane’s letters to Ben when she excuses herself for not writing more because her children won’t let her). Living in an urban area probably meant that she didn’t grow flax herself; did she buy it in bulk and process it herself? Did urban women at the time buy it already spun and dyed, or even just buy it already made into cloth? As for the hand-made paper, is it difficult to make paper from rags and was a woman making it at home common at the time? We don’t know that Jane made these products herself or if she bought them. How much of a challenge was it really for her to record the major milestones of her life? Why didn’t she use the paper that she used for her letters to her brother? Before the Industrial Revolution that started in the last quarter of her life, fiber consumed so much of women’s work besides cooking, cleaning, tending the garden and raising kids. Too bad Jane didn’t write more about the mundane, domestic details of her life like just how much of this flax and pulped paper she worked with every day, and how it felt in her hands, and how she could do that while raising a large family, and what she thought when affordable, ready-made cotton fabric started making its way into her daily routine.

So no, we don’t know these details.  Lepore’s New Yorker article is not really about fiber; it is a heartfelt ode from a daughter to her mother about coming to be interested in Jane Franklin Mecom despite Jane’s sad and relatively unimportant life, and even though it was always Benjamin Franklin’s brilliance and influential life that was the more interesting to Lepore as a writer and historian. As Lepore writes, “Every year of his life, his world got bigger.” Jane’s world, on the other hand, remained small, constrained by her sex and bound by the physical burdens and trials of marital expectations, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and child-rearing, of flax yarn and pulp rags for a diary even though her intellect and passion and potential may have been great (Lepore writes that Jane expressed interested in reading Benjamin’s political papers).

One thing that Lepore mentions about Jane Franklin Mecum makes me feel both comforted and ambivalent, as a woman myself struggling to find the happy medium between the constraints of child-rearing and domesticity and big, professional goals: Jane had written in one letter that, “The most Insignificant creature on Earth may be made some use of in the scale of Beings.” Lepore brings it up as a redeeming factor in Jane’s rather poor, sad life. It is certainly a tenet of Christian thinking, which Jane espoused in her letters, that God has given us all a role on this earth. While I am happy that Jane found hope and promise in the smaller, necessary things that people like her do – and I agree that not all people can be great movers and shakers like Benjamin Franklin – I also see an attempt at justification for a less influential, less fulfilling life. Unfortunately women like Jane have historically been the ones to be of less “use,” with historically scarce political influence and power to make the great changes in the world. Women were usually the ones responsible for making the flax into linen thread that would be woven and sewn to clothe the great men thinkers and politicians and lawmakers. Both jobs are necessary of course; rather, I just hope that it wouldn’t have to always be determined by sex who does the weaving and who writes the laws.

Home is where the heart is spun

Flax at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home outside of Alexandria, VA.

Blue flax flowers in bloom at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home outside of Alexandria, VA.

I am home after a whirlwind, week-long road trip (twelve hours each way) to the East Coast to visit old friends. Four different houses I stayed in; four sets of friends opened up their homes to me and my family in the middle of work and school demands and welcomed our often tired and hungry selves into their lives for a bit.

When my six-year-old daughter visits a friend’s house for the first time, she clings to me until she can muster up the courage to ask the most important item on her agenda, expressed in a shy whisper: “I want to see her room.” I can relate to that.  Inside each of my friends’ houses and apartments – even visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and and touring the offices at the Latvian Embassy in Washington, D.C. – is like its own little museum to observe, to appreciate, to help one understand each resident a little better. And I get to feel their lives for a moment: I am a traveling diplomat when I browse the wall of a friend’s photos from around the world; I get to watch TV and drink coffee surrounded by beautiful paintings in the homes of friends who are artists; I get shivers when I stroll by the wall of black-and-white portraits of ambassadors who maintained a diplomatic “house” despite the Soviet Union’s occupation of their home country; I shudder at the conditions of the rooms that slaves once lived and worked in on Washington’s plantation home; and I find comfort in the artwork of my friends’ children, who have posted their work on the fridge and their bedroom doors using stickers and lots of tape.

This last week, I saw home as a place of refuge; home as a place to keep treasures from another land; home as a terrible burden of work and suffering; home as a place to create and admire beauty. Here is a bit of what I saw:

Felted wool soap from Riga (the bar of soap is on the inside) in my friend’s apartment. So typically Latvian: inspired by nature but also modern, unconventional and beautiful.


My friend’s tautas tērpi, Latvian folk dance ensemble, hanging up on her closet door and ready for the 2013 Latvian Song and Dance Festival, which takes place in Riga every five years. The fabric was woven by her grandmother in Latvia; the fabric and style of the tautas tērpi are typical to her grandmother’s hometown.

P1050575_flag cropped

The view of the Latvian flag from inside that country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. A few Latvians maintained a sort of embassy throughout the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia, even though there was no home government to report to in that period.


Flax spinning wheel at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home, in the sleeping quarters of the plantation’s slaves: “The spinning house was the most important structure on the north lane. At Mount Vernon ten or more slaves were constantly employed spinning and knitting. The wool and flax fiber that they worked with were grown on site.” Mount Vernon Educational Resources (Slavery: Plantation Structure)


Sheep grazing at home, that is, George Washington’s home.

Seeing spring, anticipating summer

Knitting_Bloomington trees

Downtown Bloomington, tree cozy in perfectly fitted lace and waiting for warmer weather.

As my neighbors and friends here in southern Indiana have balked at the cold weather this March and April – snow the first week of April! –  I have kept my smug northern Minnesotan memories to myself: childhood memories of spring where the lake could still be frozen in late May, still being cool after school let out, of huge, dense lilac bushes flourishing in the cooler weather. Most importantly, though, I quietly long for the glorious, be they brief, summers of the north country.

Spring itself is anticipation for summer, is it not? Spring is the anticipation of growth and life and harvests and color.  Except, for me in Indiana I anticipate summer in a different way, in a fearful, dreading kind of way. Most Minnesotans would probably be baffled by the thought of dreading spring, but for me in southern Indiana spring means that the hot, humid summer will come soon and last for months and I won’t want to pick up any of my beloved, warm wool for knitting, I won’t want to go outside and lay in the intense, oppressive sun, and the smell of the air conditioning inside will make me feel nauseous.  This kind of dread for summer reminds me of a poem that Anna Akhmatova translated in her poetry collection “В то время я гостила на земле…” (“At that time I visited the earth…”), Moscow: Prometei, 1990, from the Serbian poet Desanka Maksimovich. It is called “Cтрах” (“Fear” or “Dread”). Probably a little dark for the promise of bright spring, but it captures my complicated feelings toward the anticipation of summer in Indiana. Here is my translation from the Russian:

O, не приближайся.Только издалека
хочется любить мне свет очей твоих.
Счастье в ожиданье дивно и высоко,
если есть намеки, счастье только в них.

Oh, come no closer. Only from a distance
do I want to love the color of your eyes.
Happiness in anticipation is wondrous, lofty,
and even in its suggestion, happiness abides.

О, не приближайся. Есть очарованье
в сладостном томленье страха и мечты.
То, чего ты ищешь, лучше в ожиданье,
лучше то, что знаешь из предчувствий ты.

Oh, come no closer. There is charm
in the sweet darkness of fear and dreams.
Whatever you are looking for is better in the anticipation,
better yet when you know from premonition.

Нет, не приближайся. И зачем нам это?
Все лишь издалека светит, как звезда,
все лишь издалека радостью согрето,
нет, не сблизим лучше взоры никогда.

No, come not any closer. And for what?
From a distance all glows, like a star,
From a distance all is warmed up by happiness,
No, let’s not even catch each other’s glance, not ever.

Like I said, a little dark for spring probably… And it’s not fair to the lovely Indiana spring either. The flowering trees here are a delight to me every year, the dogwoods and magnolias that thrive in the long, relatively warm spring. And with the especially long spring this year, these trees, in downtown Bloomington, may be especially grateful for their extra knitted coats.

Knitting_Bloomington trees - mixed squares with car

In summer, these trees will be roasting in their sweaters under the Indiana sun!

Knitting_Bloomington trees - downtown shot street lamps

Over a dozen trees covered with knitted & crocheted patches, a project of the local yarn store, Yarns Unlimited, winter/spring 2013.

Finding a gem at grandma’s house


Exploring at great grandma’s farm.

It is hard not to find myself exploring at my grandma’s large, old farm house in southern Minnesota, a place that once housed my grandparents, their five children, their in-laws, and a great aunt. It is a house that has names for the rooms: the girls’ room, Olga’s room, the Mystery room, great grandma and grandpa’s room. Even when full of guests for the holidays I can easily find myself alone in a room full of my family‘s history in books, sheet music, clothes, toys, and blankets.  My grandma loves history too, and going through closets she often finds old family treasures, like long-lost letters and pictures she had almost forgotten about.

On my last visit, knowing my interest in knitting my grandma showed me a small collection of pocket-sized craft magazines from the 1950’s and 60’s which her mother-in-law had subscribed to, called The Workbasket. She let me take some home, and I realize now that I assumed they would not really be of much value to my knitting except as a token of history. My assumption has partly proven true: so many things are just not my style or are totally unnecessary in the 21st century. There are patterns for crocheted doilies to protect the back and arms of your couch or to protect your tables, for hand-made lace to edge your pillows, for hand-crocheting bands to hold together your linens nicely, for tatting the edges of your handkerchiefs. The February 1956 issue has one pattern for handkerchief edging that “will really be a conversation piece if worked in two colors” (vol. 21, no. 5, page 30). Ah, now if only I had a handkerchief… Some of the advice is silly, today:  “Saran Wrap,” they write, “the clear plastic film, is a wonderful help in storing sweaters, afghans, stoles and other woolens.” And when your knees need a break from gardening? Sew your old shoulder pads into the knees of your gardening slacks!  Imagine Martha Stewart telling readers to do that, or to add rotted manure or dried cow manure to houseplants to help them grow better. Or to sell greeting cards to friends and neighbors to make money for yourself or as a fundraiser for your church: in the January 1956 issue (vol. 21, no. 4) I found no fewer than eleven large ads for how readers can do this and “make $50 to $250 or more in your spare time – without any experience!”


The local General Store, closed for a few years now but still stocked with cards.

Handkerchiefs, shoulder pads, slacks, ads for inexpensive accordions and Orlon, an acrylic/polyester/vinyl yarn that is now discontinued, black-and-white photos, the tiny print, the rough, yellowed paper – the magazine is definitely dated. But it’s not useless, not at all. There are so many gems I found in these journals, like the adorable crocheted belt in the June 1955 issue and the round knit rug, pattern below, which I am adding to my knitting to-do wish-list.  I am always keeping an eye out for pretty knitted summer sweaters and I happily found one with raglan sleeves and a buttoned placket in the August 1965 issue. Of course, I have to watch out for the details in these older patterns. Often the exact type of yarn is not given (the January 1956 cover sweater pattern gives only, “a deluxe sock and sport yarn was used to make this model”), and  the sizing is something to watch out for too: a small is bustline 32; large is bustline 36.  Otherwise, there are just different types of patterns to be found in this magazine. Today in knitting magazines I see patterns for hats, socks, scarves and sweaters; in these magazines from 1955, 1956, and 1965 I see place mats, rugs and sweaters. I was surprised to see that so many patterns required size 10 needles. I had assumed that this larger needle was a contemporary phenomenon.

The Workbasket started in 1935 and ceased publication in 1996, and during that time fashion and technology evolved dramatically; the change is clear even in the brief span of issues that I have, 1955-1965. In the 1955 and 1956 issues, the only color is on the cover in the template background; by my August 1965 issue, models are posing in their hand-knit sweaters in full color on the cover and sometimes inside. I still found doilies and one recipe asking for graham flour (a rarity in grocery stores today) in the 1965 issues, but gone are the card-selling advertisements and the money-making opportunities for stay-at-home women. Instead of the delicate doily place mats in the earlier issues, I found a beautifully knit place mat in April 1966 (vol. 31, no. 7, page 11) that is pretty and practical and could easily be found in a contemporary knitting journal. On a side note, I thought it was interesting to see that pink was definitely being marketed for girls in one 1966 issue: a pink-knit dress for an infant is called a “lovely little dress for some precious princess,” (More on the transition from blue to requisite pink for baby girls in the United States at:

With recipe, home, garden sections and fun, quirky ways to repurpose older things, The Workbasket is, I suppose, one of the predecessors to Country Living and Martha Stewart (though in today’s magazines the ideas are less quirky and more snarky, which is getting boring to me). Exploiting and promoting the importance of home in our lives and culture, these journals are a source of ideas for women who want to beautify and update their homes and lives and families with creativity and individuality and thrift and the latest fashions. One commentator on one of the many websites devoted to The Workbasket thought that this type of journal in the 1950’s was a sign to women to stay at home and “stay in their place.” That’s tough for me to agree with. I love these types of magazines and see so much creativity and ingenuity in them, though even more so in The Workbasket than in today’s more sleek, polished, and generic magazines. I can’t help but think that this journal for that period in time was providing a space and platform for women to explore their creativity while raising kids and taking care of hearth and home, whether they wanted to or had to or felt compelled to. Based on the great number of money-making schemes in these journals, I can see that this was a magazine for women anxious to earn money; based on the great variety of ideas for how to reuse and create things, I can see that the readers were anxious to be creative, inventive, useful, and efficient.

Thinking of these magazines in history, I am reminded of how women were negotiating the new roles they found themselves in by the middle of the 20th century – new roles, yes, because the decades that their mothers and grandmothers were raising kids were so completely different from this. Who else did they have to learn from? The women in the 1930’s and 1940’s could not look back at how their mothers raised them in the 1910’s and 1920’s to figure out how to navigate this new era of canned soup and pudding mix and Orlon and higher expectations for hosting and cleanliness. (Can you tell I’ve been influenced by Ruth Schwartz Cowan? She wrote “More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave” and talks at length about how expectations have been growing for the average women in the home, even as there is less help to do it.) And so while I have scoffed at the elaborate doilies and hand-croched bands to wrap one’s neatly folded linens, I also love the relatively easy way that women could bring in little touches of sophistication, of refinement, to their newly modernized homes while managing food and home and children and working, teaching piano, doing farm chores, or raising money for school. Even my history-loving grandma, who is 92 and a devoted musician in love with her piano, has delighted me by giving us all hand-embroidered towels as gifts. Where does she find the time, I wonder?

By the way, I’m not the only one not untouched by my grandmother’s craftiness: while reading a feature about a textile artist in the February 2013 Martha Stewart, the featured artist was asked for the inspiration behind her witty, whimsical, artful creations. Her answer? “My grandmothers tatted or made their own dolls or nutty puppets,” she said. Exactly.

Round Knit Rug, from the June 1955 issue, Vol. 20, no. 9, page 14-15: Rug yarn and number 10 wooden knitting needles were used in making this simple wedge pattern. The completed rug may have 11 or 12 wedges in all. It may be made any size and may be made oval if desired by knitting full length rows for sides. Abbreviations: K (knit); p (purl); sts (stitches); rnd (round). Cast on 48 sts (or any multiple of 3 depending on size desired).

Rnd 1: K 6, p 3, turn.
Rnd 2: K 9.
Rnd 3: K 6, p 6, turn.
Rnd 4: K 12
Rnd 5: K 6, p 9, turn.
Rnd 6: K 15.
Rnd 7: K 6, p 12, turn.
Rnd 8: K 18.
Rnd 9: K 6, p 15, turn.
Rnd 10: K 21.
Rnd 11: K 6, p 18, turn.
Rnd 12: K 24.
Rnd 13: K 6, p 21, turn.
Rnd 14: K 27.
Rnd 15: K 6, p 24, turn.
Rnd 16: K 30.
Rnd 17: K 6, p 27, turn.
Rnd 18: K 33.
Rnd 19: K 6, p 30, turn.
Rnd 20: K 36.
Rnd 21: K 6, p 33, turn.
Rnd 22: K 39.
Rnd 23: K 6, p 36, turn.
Rnd 24: K 42.
Rnd 25: K 6, p 39, turn.
Rnd 26: K 45.
Rnd 27: K 6, p 42, turn.
Rnd 28: K 48.
Rnd 29: Work same as rnd 1. This begins the second wedge.

Make 11 or 12 wedges in all. Sew last row to the first row. Bind off on a knit round.


My grandma’s local general store, which closed down after 140 years.

Apricot Corn Flake French toast, my foodie sister-in-law has informed me, is still a very cool, very contemporary thing to make today. From the September 1966 issue, no. 12, vol. 31, page 30: “You’ll have many calls for seconds for this Apricot Corn Flake Toast” — 2 eggs, ½ cup apricot nextar; ¼ tsp salt, 8 slices day old bread, 3 cups corn flakes presweetened and crushed to make 1 ½ cups, 2-3 T butter or margarine: Combine eggs, apricot nectar and salt; beat. Dip bread slices in egg mixture, then cover both sides with cereal crumbs. Pan fry in butter or margarine until lightly browned and crisp on both sides, turning once. Serve hot with syrup, jelly or confectioners’ sugar. Yields 4 servings. 


My daughter taking pictures at great grandma’s farm.

Knitted delights

Close-up of knitted candySweets tucked into a gift box from a dear friend who was visiting Latvia, these little knitted Laima chocolates (laima – fate/good fortune) are keeping snug and warm in their colorful, stockinette wrappers. Faux knitting on foil wrappers is neat, but actual knitted wrappers for chocolates? Hmmmm…The ultimate in gift-giving!

And, here are two colorful Dainas to go with these colorful sweets. Both are about what kind of things the young girls are making for their dowries, and about what that has to do with the kinds of boys the girls are interested in.

Adi cimdus, tautu meita,
Neaud baltu villainīšu;
Jau tu pati gana zini,
Daudz ir mana bāleliņu.
1754, 641

Knit mittens, folk girl,
Don’t weave a white woolen shawl;
As you yourself already know,
Many are those courting me.

Es cimdiņa neadīju
Bez dzeltena, bez sarkana
Lai aug manis arājiņis
Dzelteniem matiņiem,
Dzelteniem matiņiem,
Sarkaniem vaidziņiem.
94, 3437

I don’t knit a mitten
without golden, without red
So that my ploughman grows
Golden hair,
Golden hair,
Red cheeks.