FIRST FLOCK: Merino Mania & White House Wool

Hey, have you heard? It’s election season.

For most of this season, politics is a spectator sport. But here in Indiana it is finally our turn to step in and play a round—the Indiana primary is next week. So in the spirit of all things presidential, we’re doing a special post this week: The Sheep of the White House!

It turns out that sheep have featured in the annals of U.S. presidential history not once but twice—both Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson raised sheep on the White House lawn.

These sheep are part of a larger story about nationalism, industry, austerity, and husbandry, and at the heart are three important rams: E.I. DuPont’s Merino, Jefferson’s Shetland, and Wilson’s Shropshire. So without further ado, let’s meet these guys.* Continue reading FIRST FLOCK: Merino Mania & White House Wool

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MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Dianna Walla’s Aspen Socks/Warmers

For the second project in our “Making It, Ourselves” series—our series of DIY projects inspired by history—we look back to Dr. Gustav Jaeger and his animal-fiber philosophy. He and his adherents claimed that all dress should be not only practical but healthful, which for him meant clothing made purely of wool, camel, mohair or other animal material. (For the full post, see our Brief History of Long Underwear from back in February.) Inspired by the Jaeger story and its reverberations in the Rational Dress Movement of the same era, I set off to create my own animal-based garment to insulate, ventilate, regulate, circulate, and uhh de-fluxionate(?) my body. I found just the garment in Dianna Walla’s Aspen Socks. Continue reading MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Dianna Walla’s Aspen Socks/Warmers

HISTORY PROJECT: The Legend of the Aran Sweater

Jean Seberg Aran Fishermans Sweater

I know, I know. There is already SO MUCH out there about Aran sweaters. There is, for example, a fantastic slideshow and timeline of the rise of this famous knitting style. There are articles about its morbid history as an identifier of drowned sailors; articles debunking that history as pure fiction; articles explicating the stitch motifs, like hieroglyphs, according to their folk meanings; articles upholding the sweater as symbolic of both national identity and transnational migration. Regardless of the angle, it is clear in all of these instances that the Aran sweater (also called a fisherman sweater*) is much more than just clothing: it is a legend.

As a scholar, I want to understand this legend. As a knitter, I want to be part of it. This week’s post is my effort to do both. Wading through the myriad definitions, explanations, and myths, it became clear that in order to understand the Aran’s mystique, we need to consider its historical and literary roots. Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: The Legend of the Aran Sweater

HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear

Ladies Sanitary Woolen Drawers in Jaeger Catalog 1887

I admit it: I’ve been wanting an excuse to make Dianna Walla’s Aspen leg warmers since I first saw them on Instagram. I initially schemed about doing a post on the history of long underwear just so I could feel justified in adding the Aspens to my to-knit list. As soon as I started digging, though, the leg warmers became a bonus on top of a fascinating history lesson about a fertile moment in fashion history. Emerging in the early 1880s, the Sanitary Woolen System and the Rational Dress Movement both called for practicality and health in everyday dress. Variously rooted in the vagaries of pseudoscience on the one hand and radical feminism on the other, their joint legacy includes such a seemingly mundane garment as long underwear.

Gustav_Jäger_portraitFirst, the Woolen System. Those of us who are spinners, weavers, knitters, and crocheters are well versed in the wonders of wool. But it was news to me that, more than a century ago, there arose an influential school of thought that wool is not only a practical material but also a supremely healthful one. In 1880, Dr. Gustav Jaeger (sometimes Jäger) published Standardized Apparel For Health Protection on the health benefits of wearing wool, and he followed it up with Health-Culture (<– how great/vague is that title?!) in 1887.

Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear