My great grandparents Sofia and Henry Haapala met in Calumet and moved to Bruce Crossing in the upper peninsula of Michigan sometime in the early 1900s. There they raised nine children on a dairy farm, and became first generation US citizens from Finland. My great-grandfather was raised on an island off the coast of Helsinki called Hailuto. My great grandmother came from a town called Oulo.
My grandmother Elsie was one of the nine children born in the US and she married Uno Pokela who was a carpenter and an engineer. Together they built a home directly across the street from the original farm on Gem Hill. This is the home where my mother Edith grew up with her three sisters.
As a child, I would travel to the “U. P.” from the Detroit area to visit family, watch the cows, ride on the tractors and swing on the rope swing in grandma’s yard. I grew up with sounds of laughter, lots of “kahvia” (coffee), music, and Finnish humor. It was the bedrock of my existence. Decades later, most everyone is gone from that original spot, save my mother, her aunt Eileen (one of the original 9 who is going to celebrate her 96th birthday next week) and a few others. The family has moved to other locations across the US.
I have been presented with the opportunity to travel to Helsinki in the fall to follow the textile roots of sweater origins in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. I will be exploring the line of patterns and techniques that make Nordic knitting so intriguing, hoping to learn more about the genesis of how these patterns came to be. With great anticipation, I look forward to a journey illustrating the stories I have grown up with. It will be the realization of a spiritual and textile dream that I have carried with me since childhood.
On this adventure, I will be fulfilling a footnote from my master’s thesis. “I would attend the symposium on the Korsnäs sweater in Helsinki in the summer of 2003. What the Korsnäs sweater does is open our thoughts to new combinations of textiles in the manufacture of a single garment.” Well, some twenty years later, in the category of better late than never, I am getting my papers together and setting out to accomplish this goal!
In this vein, I have purchased and begun the knitting/crocheting my very first Korsnäs sweater. This, to be clear, is not an entry level project to be completed in a week, a month, or for some, a year. It is a commitment that has taken me three weeks to get up to 12 inches on the main body of the sweater. Korsnäs knitting is a combination of knit and tapestry crochet on a fine needle gauge (I am using a size #1 US). The first attempt I set aside because I misinterpreted a beginning instruction and started off in double crochet, the second attempt I made the mistake of creating a mobius loop of the 345 crocheted stitches in the first row. Humbled but not broken, I started the third attempt, and I am on my way. My mind drifts to Finnish folks gathering and working on these projects in a ring and the stories told.
So, I am off on a quest and just taking my first baby steps in what I hope to be a life-altering journey. In so many ways, it already has been life-altering. I am finishing re-reading The Kalevala at night, knitting, and writing during the day, and dreaming about where to go and what to see. The photo that I am posting is a “progress report” as it stands on Monday June 19, 2023. I will update more as I am able.
Wish me luck and thanks for listening!