Mason-Dixon Mailbag: Our Far-Flung Correspondent
September 7, 2006
We just got a letter from my sister-in-law Mary Neal–she who designed the Knitty Jamesey pattern, she who provides us here at MDK with the broad view of the worldwide textile scene, she who puts up with my wandering brother Clif. Read on:
Your brother Clif has returned at last from being in China all summer. As usual, he was on the job being our extremely foreign textile correspondent. For those who want to play along with a world atlas, here is where he went.
Chicago to Beijing, change planes to Chengdu, capital of Szechuan province. Stay a few days to try to get over that stunned feeling. Bus to Kangding, where things started to get a little Tibetan. Hire car and driver to Gandze. Only one fatal accident witnessed (no guard rails). Stay a few days successfully working out permissions for the rest of the trip.
By hired car over the Tro La pass (about 5,000 meters) to Dege, only a couple of kilometers from the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). It must be noted that he didn’t actually go to the TAR, but much of western Szechuan is ethnically, culturally, (and historically) Tibet. But we won’t go there.
Dege is a town in a steep valley of the Yangtze River, at about 3,500 meters. There are several temples there where the monks do all the thanka and sutra printing for Tibetan Buddhists around the world. They do the whole process there in Dege: they make the paper, cut the wood blocks, proof, and print. Since Clif is the coordinator of the Book and Paper program at Columbia College, this was like being in paradise.
Here is a paragraph from one of the emails he sent. (There were “web ba’s” most everywhere, so we were able to keep in touch every few days by email.)
“Yesterday we were working with the correctors, the guys who get back the proofread copy. The first proof from a new block gets sent to a Kampo [abbot of a monastery with two phd degrees] who make corrections to the block by drilling out the bad part and cutting a little plug of wood, glueing it in, and recutting the correct spelling of the word. I do not have the heart to tell them about InDesign.”
Anyway, they spent 3 weeks in Dege, interviewing, photographing, documenting all the temples, the processes, the daily life of the printers, block cutters, and papermakers.
There were many opportunities to indulge in textile-related purchases.
Here is one store in the mall.
After buying some beautiful brass buttons for me in Dege,
Clif thought they weren’t fancy enough, so he commissioned a silversmith to make some exquisite buttons just for me:
Clif says, “The silversmith was Han (ethnically Chinese), from somewhere in the east, but in any case, not Tibetan. He had been there a few years.”
On his way back through Gandze, he stopped at a wool merchant’s shop.
Clif says, “The wool merchants are Tibetan and were in Gandze. The wool was grown (raised?) in Ganze Autonomous Prefecture (its official name, an ethnically-Tibetan, supposedly Tibetan-run province of Szechuan) and hand spun somewhere in the northwestern part, up west and north of Gandze.”
He also bought some wool stoles that are woven in colored stripes, with beautifully block printed/bleached patterns on them. Like all the high-mountain wool I have ever experienced, these will be really great for removing that annoying layer of dead skin from my body.
The 3/4 of a kilo of spun wool is likewise pretty rough stuff. Skeins 3 and 5 were spun by someone who had done it before. Skeins 1, 2, and 4, not so much. I’m getting a wpi of around 18 here. It smells loudly of sheep and is quite lanoliniferous. If knitted up tightly, this will produce a completely waterproof garment I’m sure. Of course, there will be that agricultural aroma, but what the heck, people are all the time eating nasty stuff on the El, so I won’t stick out.
So now, it’s time for the blog poll. What do I knit with this? I will have to double strand it to account for unevenness in the spinning, and also to be able to finish anything before my 65th birthday.