Last year, energetic and inspiring Dorothy Widmann kindly invited me to attend a wonderful event she’d organised in her home town of Cordova, Alaska. Like Scotland, Alaska is one of those places where the activities of fishing and knitting are interestingly intertwined, and Dotty’s Cordova Gansey Project provided occasion for exploring those important connections.
The mix of cultural, social and textile history behind Dotty’s project, and the events she had planned, were right up my street, but sadly my post-stroke health issues meant that the lengthy series of flights from Scotland to Alaska in themselves posed impediments to my attending. I was sad to be unable to go to Alaska in person, but I felt I’d still like to contribute to Dotty’s project in some way.
These are the Pink Fish mittens, which I’ve designed for Dotty. “Pink fish” is the name that Scottish herring fisherman once used in place of the word “salmon”. Fishing was (and still is, of course), a dangerous occupation, and because of this many regional superstitions developed around the language used by those engaged in it. Around the east coast of Scotland, during the nineteenth-century heyday of the herring industry, several words were thought to be harbingers of bad luck, and were referred to with coded substitutes in much the same manner that actors still occasionally replace Macbeth with The Scottish Play. On board herring vessels, “salmon” would be replaced with “pink fish”, “pig” with “grunter” and “rabbit” with “moppie.”
I personally harbour no such superstitions about the Atlantic salmon, which has always seemed to me to be a remarkably resourceful as well as a very tasty fish, and I have the very greatest of respect for the Alaskan fishermen and women who sustainably manage their annual salmon harvest.
(Dotty’s daughter Nelly Hand, of the Drifters Fish Company, with a huge Copper River salmon).
I thought it would be fun to honour the Alaskan salmon with a Scottish maritime reference, so I devised these mittens.
They are pink, just like their fishy namesake, and are decorated with a scale-y motif that the eagle-eyed among you may recognise from my Caller Herrin hat.
This is a motif I’ve always loved, and I think it looks great worked in two soft, contrasting shades (Buachaille “hedder” and “haar”). The motif has quite strong lines, and, when I charted it out over the thumb, it developed an interesting fishbone-like appearance, which seemed entirely appropriate!
I’ve posted a few Buachaille kits over to Dotty to give away as prizes to her customers, and the Pink Fish mitten pattern will also be made available to those attending events at the Net Loft in Cordova over the coming days. I’ll put the pattern up on Ravelry and some kits in my shop for the rest of you next week.
Mel kindly acted as model – with mittens making an interesting midsummer style choice. . .
But in Scotland, just like Alaska, mitten season will of, course, return sooner than we think.
These jolly, fishy mittens make me very happy – and have been a high point in what has proved a rather difficult couple of weeks. I have been unwell, and because of this was unable to go to Woolfest this past weekend – an event I had been looking forward to for some time. And no one can have missed the singularly depressing tone and tenor of recent political debate in the UK, culminating with the result of the referendum. There are many things that concern me about the EU (such as its dubious and unaccountable TTIP plans), but I felt there was a bigger picture to consider. Like the vast majority in Scotland, I voted to remain.
I don’t think I have ever felt so distant from the English north, the place where I was born.