Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions

I’m thrilled to host Donna Druchunas on my blog today as part of the special blog tour organised to coincide with her pubslush campaign. Pubslush is like Kickstarter but for books and crowdfunding will enable Donna Druchunas and co-author June Hall to have the book on which they have been working for several years printed and bound in Lithuania. Their book – Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions – is about knitting but it’s also about the special relationships between knitting, history, people, places and wool.

(June and Donna taking a break in a garden in Vilkija.)

Because these relationship between knitting, people, places and wool are things on which I like to reflect in my work (and especially in my podcasts) I thought you might enjoy reading about Donna and June’s forthcoming book and its roots in the Lithuanian landscape. Donna really helped me to begin writing when I crowdfunded my own book publishing project and I am really thrilled to see that Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions is 97% funded with 8 days to go! Clearly lots of knitters agree that we need a book like this which explores the knitting traditions of Lithuania while also allowing us to extend those traditions in our own knitting practice. To learn more, please read on for my Q&A with Donna Druchunas.

KNITSONIK: Could you introduce Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions for readers who have maybe not heard about this wonderful forthcoming publication? What will be included in this book?

Donna: Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions is a cross-genre book that includes memoir, travel, history, and craft. The book is about half non-fiction stories about the Lithuanian land, people, history, and knitting traditions, and half projects for knitters to make. But even the project introductions are mini-essays about our travels and the people we met along the way.

The chapters are:
Introductions (Our Personal Stories)
The Land and the People
The History
Lithuanian Sheep
The Wool
Knitters and Folk Art
Lithuanian Knitting Techniques
The Patterns; there are 28 patterns for socks, mittens, gloves, and wrist warmers.

KNITSONIK: I love how your work connects knitting more broadly with stories about places, people, animals and cultures. For example I loved reading about Musk Ox and the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-op in Arctic Lace, and the beautiful essay comparing knitting patterns to maps in Stories in Stitches 1: Counterpanes… could you say a bit about your interest in connecting knitting with history and a sense of place?

Donna: Knitting is my way of connecting with people from far away – either in place or time. Through the stitches in a piece of knitting – through examining the fiber and yarn used, the gauge and tension, the types of stitches, and even the mistakes in the knitting – I find myself connected to someone that I will never get to meet in person. I can feel the yarn going through their fingers. I can hear the click of the needles as they make their stitches. Knitting is my way of learning about history and different places around the world. It gives me a very tactile and real connection that I don’t experience through reading or watching videos. It’s the next best thing to being there! Of course, I can travel to different places but so far no one has invented a way to travel to different times.

LKCT Rumšiškės in Summer Socks IMG_5302

(Rumšiškės in Summer Socks.)

KNITSONIK: Thinking a little bit more about that connection between a sense of place and our knitting, I am interested in your commitment to also having a strong sense of place in the book itself. For instance you speak about the book being something beautiful with a strong sense of Eastern Europe, and of the book being physically produced in Lithuania. Could you talk about these elements of the project?

Donna: I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I have not had the kind of life where I’ve lived in one place or felt like one place in particular made me who I am, the way so many of my favorite authors have. I have lived in 5 states over the course of my 53 years, and spent several months living in other places as well. I have recently realized that all of the places I’ve lived in have made a difference in my life and have changed who I am. I know many people won’t be able to visit Lithuania, but I wanted to create an experience that would give them a taste of what it’s like to be there–and that includes having an art director from Vilnius and printing the book in Lithuania so it comes from that place and has the feel of a book designed and published in Eastern Europe.

KNITSONIK: You and June Hall – your collaborator on this project – share a connection with Lithuania. I love the idea of your traveling together to rediscover your roots through a shared passion for knitting! Is that atmosphere of a road trip with a knitting comrade something which you have deliberately put into the book?

Oh yes! There’s a whole chapter, written by June, that takes you to so many of the places we visited, and introduces you to the knitters and spinners and shepherds and the wonderful people we got to spend time with all over Lithuania. Of course we’ve both also visited Lithuania separately, and we share parts of those stories as well. The book introduction has both of our personal stories about searching for our roots, discovering Lithuania, and trying to learn the language.

KNITSONIK: I was thrilled to see that June Hall is your collaborator in this venture! I saw her speaking about her research into Soay sheep at the Northern European Short Tailed Sheep Conference in Shetland in 2013, and I know of her involvement with the amazing Wool Clip cooperative in Cumbria. I have written about The Wool Clip for Wovember and one of the things that always impresses and inspires is that so many of those amazing women are both skilled textile workers and shepherds. Could you say something about June’s input into Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions?

Donna: Yes, June wrote a lot of the non-project chapters of the book. She’s so brilliant and knows so much about sheep and wool and history! Also, living in England, June has had much more opportunity than I have to visit Lithuania over and over again. I first met June when I found her name on the internet while searching for “Lithuanian Knitting.” At the time, she was working with a charity called Lithuania Link on a project to travel around Lithuania studying and teaching spinning and knitting. We knew right away that we wanted to collaborate on a book.

Here’s how I introduced June’s chapter, Lithuanian Sheep, in the book:

Knitting with breed-specific wool has been getting more and more popular over the last few years, due in no small part to the work of people like June. Her experience raising sheep, being a member the Wool Clip fiber-artist co-operative in Cumbria, organizing Woolfest – one of the largest sheep and wool events in Great Britain – and serving on the board of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the UK make her uniquely qualified to offer us a glimpse into the world of Lithuanian sheep breeds and their wool.

KNITSONIK: This project must have a special significance because of yours and June’s Lithuanian ancestry. I wonder if you could say a bit about how Lithuania was part of your life while growing up, for example in the campaign video you mention eating Lithuanian food and talking with your Lithuanian grandmother?

Donna: We always heard about Lithuania when I was little. My grandmother made fresh kielbasa by hand and used a ram’s horn that her mother had brought with her from Lithuania when she came to the USA to stuff the meet into the skins. She made a sweet sauerkraut and potato pancakes and special Christmas cookies that are rolled very thin, cut and shaped by hand, then fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I found all of these foods in restaurants in Lithuania when I visited and it made me feel so much at home.

KNITSONIK: I love how recipes and knitting patterns can both evoke a strong sense of place and family. Could you pick one of the patterns from the book and tell us a bit about how it connects to the knitting traditions in Lithuania?

Donna: I’ve put all the patterns on Ravelry and each has a little mini-story about the inspiration and background in the notes:

KNITSONIK: Looking at these, I find I am especially drawn to the patterns which combine elements of traditional pattern with observations of the Lithuanian landscape. For example Rustic Fences

LKCT Rustic Fences IMG_4887

The colorwork pattern on these mittens, documented by Antanas Tamošaitis, knit in neutral colors reminds me of the rustic fences used in the Lithuanian country- side, and of the beautiful wooden fences at the traditional houses in the Open Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumšiškės. I love the way the vertical and diagonal lines interact with each other, drawing your eye first in one direction and then in an- other. I used horizontal stripes on the cuff to anchor the design, just as a fence is anchored in the earth.

– project notes found here

KNITSONIK: As in these mittens, there is a strong sense of travel and journey in the pattern notes and the copy for the book that I’ve read so far; could you tell us about one of the places in Lithuania which you visited in your travels?

Nida IMG_2131

Donna: Nida, which doesn’t feature in the knitting story in the book, is on the coast of the Baltic Sea and is an almost magical place. It’s on the Curonian Spit, a narrow sandbar of land, that is partially sand dunes and partially forest (some planted intentionally to prevent erosion). This is the place where Lithuanians go to commune with nature in the summer. Palanga, north of Nida and also on the Baltic Sea, is the party town with a Coney-Island atmosphere in the summer. This part of Lithuania was part of East Prussia in the past and it has a very different, tidier feel, than other parts of the country. It’s fascinating to me how you can sense the difference in history from the angles of the streets, the styles of homes, and so many tiny details.

Nida IMG_2123

I’ve named these wristers after that quiet, relaxing beach town of Nida on the Baltic Sea.

LKCT Blue Skies Over Nida IMG_5340

KNITSONIK: Just for fun: can we see a Lithuanian sheep and do you have a favourite Lithuanian recipe that readers can try at home?

Donna: This is a photo of a Lithuanian Coarse Wool sheep. A very old and rare breed that they are working to bring back from the brink of extinction because the breed wasn’t appreciated by the Soviets who controlled farming during much of the 20th century.

Lithuanian Coarse Wool Sheep IMG_1437

Here’s a recipe for Å¡altibarščiai (shal-TEE-bar-SHAY), cold borscht that is very refreshing on a summer day.

In the summer of 2008, during our whirlwind tour of Lithuania, Zigmas Kalesinskas, director of the Vilkija liaudes amatu mokykla (Vilkija Folk Art School), and June’s friend, invited us to stay at his home.

When people graciously invite you into their homes for a meal, you eat what they serve, and so I found myself face to face with a big bowl of Pepto-Bismol-colored soup. Saltibarščiai—cold beet soup, or borscht—is a favorite summer dish in Lithuania. I’d been afraid to order it in restaurants because of the color. But now, I took a deep breath, scooped up a spoonful, and tasted it. What a surprise! It was delicious! Perhaps I should have known I would like it, as I’d grown up eating so many other Lithuanian foods that my grandmother made.

After we left Vilkija to continue on our journey around the country, I ordered šaltibarščiai for lunch at every restaurant that served it for the rest of the summer. And when I went home, I learned how to make it myself.

Šaltibarščiai (Lithuanian cold borscht)
1 pound beets, boiled, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks (reserve the cooking liquid)
2 cucumbers, peeled, quartered, and sliced
2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
4 cups kefyras (or buttermilk)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 scallions, chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, minced
Salt and pepper
2 potatoes

Strain beet cooking liquid and return it to the cooking pot. Add kefyras and 1 cup of sour cream, blending well. Mix in beets, and stir until well blended. Add egg and cucumber slices. Add salt, pepper, scallions, and dill to taste.
Chill in refrigerator for one full day before serving.
Boil potatoes, peel, slice, and serve warm with cold soup. Garnish soup with sour cream.

KNITSONIK: Thanks so much Donna for this rich glimpse into the landscape, cuisine and knitting of Lithuania; I really look forward to reading more when your book comes out!

If you would like to help bring Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions into being, you can contribute towards the Pubslush campaign here.

Thanks so much for reading,
Meanwhile I am busy editing and editing and editing sounds!
Hear you soon,


2 thoughts on “Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions

  1. We are booksellers in THE Netherlands van you please inform is Aboutaleb THE book Lithuanian Knitting by Donna Druchunas ? Van we order that book and what are THE conditioneel?
    Thanks in avance
    mIchiel van Geest

  2. Got the pattern! The sound unit is on its way. Looking forward to hearing all the sounds. Will then be at SWW to hear other live sounds. Thank you!

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