February 22, 2012

Knitting from the Netherlands

I read Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen's Knitting from the Netherlands about fisherman's sweaters from about 1860 to the present day:
For the original fishermen's sweaters an all-wool yarn called sajet (pronounced sah-YET) was used.  Sajet was very popular among the fishing population....Stockings, underwear and sweaters were knitted from it, because in addition to being inexpensive it was readily available....Opinions as to the quality and durability of sajet differed.  With wear, sajet acquired a sheen, which was not to everyone's liking....
Farmer's wives brought the fleece of their sheep to the spinning mills to sell for yarn making....
The wool of a sheep bred for meat, such as the Dutch Texelaar, from the island of Texel, is short and fairly rough.  To spin good yarn from it, it must be tightly twisted.  The technical term, in Dutch, for this firm twist is sajet.  Because this wool was grown domestically and was available in large quantities, the price was low.  As long as people had to be thrifty, sajet was popular.  After World War II the standard of living improved and people were able to afford more expensive yarns.  The sajet disappeared.
-Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen, Knitting from the Netherlands: Traditional Dutch Fishermen's Sweaters, (Asheville, NC: Lark Books, 1985), p. 18.
I like to understand how people used to get things done.  There is so much packed in this passage about local fibre.  The way low price, budget constraints, and ease of availability drove the use of domestic commercial yarn made from regionally-produced materials.  The engagement of women, farmer's wives, in the paid economy when they sold fleece to mills.  How the form of sajet yarn was a function of its properties, its short staple.  The way knitters abandoned the cheap, rough local product once they could afford to spend more.

The author also states that cheaper synthetic yarn helped sajet yarn fall from popularity, so aspiration may not have been the only reason people switched.  Or, perhaps the synthetics looked modern and progressive.  She hints that there was stigma in some regions over certain colours of sajet yarn.  The colours were "worn only by poor people."

I've heard of Texel sheep being raised on Vancouver Island in Canada and the raw wool offered to spinners at a very low price.  The sheep were either for meat or dairy, I'm not sure.  According to the handspinner who found the shepherd, the farm used to sell fleeces to be made into Cowichan sweaters.

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