Chantefable : Starting with a blank page


Dyeing yarn starts with a blank page.  Here’s a pile of works in progress.  At the center is a superfine merino worsted weight. Underneath is some merino/camel fingering weight and a superwash merino/nylon sock yarn.  So many choices!

Many folks take inspiration from scenery and photos.  My inspiration comes from the images created by storytellers and folk singers.  Today, I am designing a yarn inspired by the incredibly talented folksinger and storyteller, Gordon Bok and his chantefable, Peter Kagan and the Wind. In a chantefable, the storyteller intermixes the spoken word, singing and music to tell a tale.

Peter Kagan and the Wind is a beautiful song about a fisherman, the love of his selchie wife, and a battle with the elements.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link to a youTube video

Peter Kagan and the Wind Video

Peter Kagan is a fisherman who lives on the North Atlantic.  His wife is a selchie, a shapechanger who can move between seal and human form.

The folklore about selchies varies.   In some stories, the seal sheds her skin and comes to dance on shore in human form.  If a man steals the skin and keeps it hidden, she will stay with him until she can steal it back.  In others, love-starved women cry tears into the sea to call Selchie men to them.  No matter what their sex, the selchies are always beautiful and beguiling.  In Mr. Bok’s story, Peter’s wife is kind, and they are happy together.  When Peter Kagan put out to sea, she would keep watch and call him home if the danger was coming.

In Peter Kagan and the Wind, Peter heads out to fish the North Atlantic despite his wife’s warning that a storm is coming.  The day begins well, but the storm comes in.  The song becomes a duel between Kagan and Wind.  The Wind fights to take the Kagan and the boat into the sea.  With the help of his Sail,  Kagan uses all of his sailor’s skills to get home. The wind can’t beat Kagan by trickery, so at last

“The Wind brings ice and snow.  The wind blows long and long and black.”

Kagan is forced to curl in the hull of the dory with the Sail wrapped around him, trying to stay warm.  He is dying.  As Kagan lies dying, he dreams of his wife coming to him.

Down the smoking, storming sea she came.

Over the rail of the dory she came, laughing to his arms.

And all in the night and in the storm they did lay,

and the Wind went away, and the storm went away, and in the morning they found him…

…asleep, with a sail wrapped around him.

And there was a seal, lying there with him, curled over him like a blanket,

and the snow was upon the seal’s back.


Building a yarn is about putting together the phrases and images left by the story.

What weight yarn?  What style of dyeing? And finally, what colors?  In this case, everything came together.  A thicker yarn that could be used for warm hats or a sweater.  Ice & snow dyeing because- well, ice & snow & dying are right there in the story.  Snow dyeing will also give a wonderful blend of colors that mirrors light pulling colors into the darker water.  I’d like to capture the ghostly quality of a winter sea- the shadows and unexpected pockets of light.

In the song, there is a wonderful phrase:  The wind blows long and long and black.
I see the black wind on the Atlantic with edges of icy grey pulling across the top of a smoky blue and green sea with silvery spume breaking from the tops of the waves.

So, there are my colors:  black, silver, green and blue

Technique: Ice/snow dyeing

Base: worsted weight merino.  Superfine because seals look so soft and slick in when they swim.

Tomorrow will be all about testing the colors to find the cold greens and blues of the North Atlantic.




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