Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are You Ready For a Preview?

In about three weeks I'll be heading to France - the land that brought you such knitting marvels as berets, Tchanguès stilt knitters, Les Tricoteuses of the French Revolution, and that fabulous interpreter of Icelandic tradition, Hélène Magnússon. Who knows what yarn-related wonders I'll unearth on my trip? I'm excited to find out.

Before I go, I thought I'd give you a a couple of nuggets to nosh on, while you wait out summer's swelter for the advent of Knitting Around the World.

"French" Knitting
The simple wooden spool around which children have been wrapping wool for ages has more names than you can count on three hands: Knitting Nancy, Knitting Jenny, Knitting Nelly, Knitting Nana, Knitting Nobby, Knitting Noddy, Bizzy Lizzy, Corker, Strick Susel, Knitting Bob, Knitting Doll, Muhroom, Flower and Bee Toy Knitter, Peg knitter, and of paramount interest to us here, French Knitter. Whatever the moniker, the tool accomplishes the pretty little function of creating a tube of wool...which...has an enormous variety of uses. 

Such as seen in the work of French-born sculptor and installation artist Françoise Dupré:

My concern is with the everyday and the "art of making in the everyday" concept developed by the sociologist Michel de Certeau, she tells us in Knitting Around the World. [Such] concerns have brought me to work with textile materials and processes, and in contexts where the practice of making objects continues to be seen as an integral part of the individual and communal sense of identity.

Two examples of Dupré's work are:

de fil en aiguille...snáth nasc (Ireland, 2003-2004). This was a collaborative knitted project [in which] the knitting was used to create a floor installation inspired by the [Museum of Modern Art/Dublin]'s formal garden. It brought together different kinds of knitting: French (spool) knitting and Irish knitting stitches used in the traditional Aran sweater.

Visions of Fujaan. Photos courtesy of Françoise Dupré
Fujaan (London, 2005). This was a collective French (spool) knitting project with the London-based Somali women's group Back to Basics...[which] was used by participants to create small vessels/baskets which were then joined together to make a totemic sculpture, a Brancusi textile version of the Endless Column.

Want to know more about Dupré, "French" Knitting and how it got its name? All will be revealed, on October 11!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vampire Bees!!!

No, not really. What we've really got here are some pictures of medieval bee boxes and skeps, taken by my cousin Hannah on a recent trip to Transylvania. She reports that she found them "in a fortified Saxon church in a village called Viscri in Transylvania. I'm not sure when the boxes themselves date to but the church was built in the 13th century...like a fortress, so everything important (including bees) was stored inside its walls in case of attack." 

According to my old friend John Howe, boxes of this vintage, as well as skeps from any era, provided only empty space in which bees could build their honeycomb. An apiarist would have had to destroy the hive in order to harvest the honey, killing most of the bees in the process. By contrast, modern Langstroth, moveable frame hives allow a beekeeper to remove frames of honey with no damage to the colony itself. 

Finally, all you Westchester folks, come hear me read The Honeybee Man next Sunday at the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville. I look forward to seeing you there from 11:30-1:00. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

All the Buzz in Denmark!

As if it weren't enough that this forward-thinking city features some of the most extensive and progressively-designed bike lanes in the world, in May, Copenhagen became host to 3 million honeybees. It's not the first urban setting to officially incorporate my favorite pollinators into its long-term plan to keep its green spaces, well, green - Paris, London and Chicago already boast similar programs; but it may be the first public works project that seeks to boost the skills of various "unempowered" social groups by teaching them to harvest honey. You can read the full, fascinating article here.

Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Copenhagen, my dear friend Noreen O'Sullivan Krogsgaard reports that her five-year-old daughter, Oona, and other members of her preschool skovbørnehave (literally, "forest child garden," because the kids spend most of their day playing in the forest), have gone crazy for bees and The Honeybee Man. That's my kind of preschool!

Oona and friends reading The Honeybee Man

A Danish "forest child garden"
I've been learning so much about bees since the book was published. Recently, I discovered that, completely contradictory to all my assumptions about bees, solitary bees "comprise the vast majority of bee species throughout the world," according to Evelyn Fetridge, who did her master's research at Fordham University on the topic. Explains Fetridge, "A single female bee constructs her own nest, lays her own eggs in it, and provisions the larvae with food. There's no queen and no workers. Often multiple solitary bees will build nests near one another, but they don't help each other with the labor involved with reproducing, and again, each one lays her own eggs." 

Have any amazing bee facts or stories of your own to share? Please send them in!