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A Stitch in Time, Part 1

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message 1: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Notbohm | 33 comments TUESDAY
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Today we’re talking about needlecraft and the role it played in early 20th century culture, and at significant turning points in Annie’s life in THE RIVER BY STARLIGHT. Knitting and quilting themes run prominently through the story, as Annie was expert in both.

When I first learned Annie’s story, I admired her as one bowed but undefeated by catastrophe, who rebuilt her life against daunting odds. I dearly for a touchstone, some tangible object that would connect our kindred spirits. It seemed impossible because, as the “brick wall” ancestor no one would talk about, it appeared she left no traces. I decided that, since Annie left no heirlooms, I would make one.

I recreated Annie’s bridal shawl from Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manual for 1912, a battered and coverless copy of which I found on good old eBay. I searched out yarn that would have been available in her time, which narrowed the options down to wool, silk and linen. From the bottom shelf of a mill end store, the perfect plain eggshell wool found me.

“Her face reflects the amber firelight as she knits from a ball of cream-colored wool without looking at her needles. A lacy garment flows into her lap.” ~Chapter 7

I made my own modifications to the pattern, and the lacy shawl that flowed from my needles was indeed “her.” One of a kind.

As I neared publication of THE RIVER BY STARLIGHT, I decided to undertake a Shetland Stonington shawl, as a challenge to myself, not only that I could stick with an intricate project slightly beyond my comfort zone, but that I could overcome my "I'm no good at math" mindset, because this pattern is math in its purest sense. (Knitters—one stitch cast on, no cast off.). The pattern dates back hundreds of years in Scotland, where the yarn for these warm, durable shawls was so finely spun that when the (very large) shawl was complete, it could be pulled through a wedding ring. Peasant women would spend a year making one then sell it to the aristocracy for a price that constituted a good chunk of the family's annual income. This is just what plays out in Chapter 26, as Annie produces a Stonington Shawl that unexpectedly opens a pathway to independence and self-sufficiency.

I used Elizabeth Zimmerman's version of the Stonington shawl from "Shawls and Scarves: The Best of Knitter's Magazine." The pattern Annie finds and uses is Zimmerman-esque.

Photos of both shawls on the American Historical Novels Facebook page.

I'll write about the quilt as eponymous touchstone in THE RIVER BY STARLIGHT in the next post.

Are you a crafter? How did you learn; were you taught by a parent or grandparent? Are you lucky enough to own any needlecrafted heirlooms?


message 2: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Very interesting idea, Ellen, using making a shawl to lead Annie to independence!


message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Notbohm | 33 comments Rebecca wrote: "Very interesting idea, Ellen, using making a shawl to lead Annie to independence!"

Hope you caught the photos on Facebook!


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