Folk Art in the Forest

From the northwest to the farthest eastern point, I have seen Canada.

Last month, Roger and I travelled to Newfoundland. We left our cozy forest home and set off for St. John’s on July 14.

On the northernmost tip of the province’s Northern Peninsula we visited the historic village of L’Anse aux Meadows, a tiny collection of houses strung along the shore, and one of Canada’s most important archaeological sites.

We sat in our vehicle a few times over a period of two days, mesmerized by a large iceberg just offshore.

It is difficult to imagine this small village without a road connecting it to other villages. In the relative recent history of Newfoundland, travel consisted of boats, horses, dog sleds and walking.

One L’Anse aux Meadows day found us stopping to visit Emily, who had jams and knitted items for sale displayed in the front yard of her home.

Emily, it turned out, was a Grade 8 student. She knits and makes jam with her Gran.

All over Newfoundland, in fact, we saw quaint collections of hand knit items displayed on clotheslines in people’s yards. If you want to purchase something, you knock on the door.

We visited Aunt Maggie’s Homespun in the town of Woody Point, which lies within Gros Morne National Park on the island’s west coast.

Maggie, a retired teacher, sells beautiful wool and her own handiwork in her basement store. I bought a Newfoundland Pacifier! Maggie recalled her dad’s stories of families that suffered extreme hunger during the Great Depression. Mothers soothed their crying babies by placing a “lassy”, or peppermint candy, into a homemade pacifier to stave off starvation.

My pacifier – a little knit pouch – even contains the mint!

The workmanship, I found, was exquisite. Mitts and socks are for the most part crafted with Briggs Little Heritage, 2-ply 100 per cent wool, manufactured in New Brunswick.

I especially loved the Trigger Mitt. This mitt is made with a thumb and one finger (like a glove); the rest of the hand is knit like a mitten. It is a great adaptation to help the fisherman or hunter use his thumb and pointer finger while keeping his hand warm.

Of course, I found a Trigger Mitt pattern – a kit with wool and knitting directions; purchased at Dr. Henry N. Payne Community Museum and Craft Shop, in the nbearby community of Cow Head.

While mitts, toques and socks were utilitarian objects in days gone by, they also reflected the lives of women – their joys, sorrows, and time captured from the arduous family work.

Geometric patterns with twocolour work and cable panels graced the many items fathers and sons wore while working. It was beautiful folk art, created from necessity.

Knitting has become part of the economy in Newfoundland. It has its roots, however, in social history, with techniques and patterns passed on to younger generations.

Nurse Myra Bennet, a young English woman nursing in the outports from the 1920s to the 1970s, for example, learned to knit so she would “fit in” with the women she met in her communities.

I’m home now, tending my garden and walking my forest paths.

Like women of the past, I steal a few precious minutes at the end of the day to knit my Trigger Mitts.

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