I had my imagination tickled by the story of an eighty-three year old named Mrs. Abner Bartlett of Medford, Massachusetts.
Mrs. Bartlett began knitting in September 1861 and produced more than three hundred pairs of socks for Civil War soldiers by February 1865. She sent the 300th pair to Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln kindly acknowledged the pair in writing.
That’s a sock every other day for 42 months. A remarkable achievement in hand knitting Mrs. Bartlett – I hope you were buried with your needles.
I learned of Mrs. Bartlett in a charming book called Knitting America, subtitled A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art by Susan Strawn. The book is meticulous researched including historic knitting patterns and newly digitized photographs of wonderful vintage garments. The author walks the path of American history as created by the knitting needle. You do not have to knit to appreciate the value of this form of textile in our history.
In 1917 the American Red Cross standardized a knitted sock pattern for comfort kits. Two million comfort kits were organized – each with a pair of hand knit socks. Knitters made four million socks that year. Can you imagine being asked to do that today? Providing these socks probably violates trade agreements, health codes and procurement rules.
That got me thinking about the yarn I recently purchased. Two were made in Turkey, one in Australia, one in Taiwan and one was assembled in the USA of imported fibers. Do we even make yarn in the USA? There are certainly boutique yarn manufacturers and small spinning shops. My search led me to Bartlett Yarn in Maine. They make good old fashioned absolutely beautiful wool yarn from sheep farms all over the country. They spin on a 200 year old machine called a mule. They have one of the last of these machines in the USA. I hope you will visit them – you can watch the mule in operation courtesy of video clips featured “inside the mill”. It is old, clanks and has a mechanical beauty unrivaled.
The amazing part is their yarn is affordable. Where can you buy so much history for $7.00? Maybe we haven’t sold away everything yet…