Typically when Maine women in the 1800s went to sea with their husbands, they packed their knitting. These days, knitting is still done aboard ship, but now it’s not a way of life, it’s a knitting cruise aboard the schooner J and E Riggin, owned these past 15 years by Capt. Jon Finger and his wife, Annie Mahle, known as Capt. Annie, who does duty as chef aboard the vessel.
“It’s very congenial,” said Donna Hauge of Holden, who booked passage on the three-day knitting cruise last summer. “I never met a shy knitter. I made some really good friends.”
The 20 knitting passengers, Hauge said, came from all over, but only one other besides Hauge was from Maine.
Hauge said she taught herself to knit in 2002 using a book she purchased at a yarn shop in Bangor.
“I learned to cast on while my husband read me one word at a time,” she said, laughing.
Since then, she has moved on to knitting hats and sweaters, as well as baby things for her grandchildren.
“I love to choose the pattern and I love to get the yarn,” Hauge said. “My friends bring me yarn from all over the world — England, Ireland, Iceland.”
One of her favorite local yarns, she said, is String Theory, spun in Blue Hill.
The idea for the knitting cruises grew from the Riggin’s regular seasonal excursions on Penobscot Bay out of Rockland, said Mahle.
“We had so many people who were knitting on the boat anyway, it just happened naturally,” Mahle said.
Before knitting cruises were offered, a basket filled with knitting needles and yarn donated by Hope Spinnery and Swans Island Blankets was standard equipment on the Riggin. Passengers were invited to knit a square to aid the Ashwood-Waldorf School Knit-A-Thon fundraiser for New Hope for Women, an organization in Rockland that assists women in Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties affected by domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Blankets are assembled from the knitted squares and auctioned by the Rockland school.
“People who knew how to knit would teach others, so the skill got passed on,” Mahle said.
Being on the knitting cruise, Hauge said, “was the highlight of my year. I love the water, I love to knit. The weather was glorious. After dinner, the crew sang sea chanties at sunset. ”
The knitting teacher on last summer’s cruise, as it will be again this year, was Bill Huntington, owner of Hope Spinnery in Hope.
“We work on small projects easy to carry around on deck,” Huntington said of knitting at sea.
During the cruise, Huntington provided passengers with hat kits complete with yarn packed in Mason jars and knitting instructions printed on the paper label. But the seagoing knitters also were encouraged to bring their own projects.
“It was great to see people out in rough weather, all bundled up, knitting away,” he said.
“Bill is one of our regular teachers,” Mahle said. “He is an amazing pattern maker.”
Margaret Radcliffe, author of “The Knitting Answer Book,” also serves as knitting teacher on the Riggin.
“Like any knitting group,” Huntington said of his seagoing knitting teacher experience, “conversation is what it’s all about. And the conversation is wonderful — people tell funny stories about their lives. Knitting reveals a lot about who we are. People show aspects of themselves through knitting they otherwise might not show.”
Huntington also teaches knitting through the Camden Hills Regional High School adult ed program. His class is called “Chaotic Knitting,” in which knitters are asked to knit without a pattern or a plan. He hopes to introduce that concept aboard the Riggin this summer.
Huntington offered this advice to those considering going on the knitting cruise: “Bring small projects, but lots of projects, yarn and supplies. And know that if you run out, some yarn will be available for purchase aboard the Riggin.”
Hauge was so enchanted with her experience on the knitting cruise she has booked herself in for June.
“I’ll have three days with nothing to do but knit and eat the wonderful food cooked by Captain Annie. When I was on the cruise last summer, I felt I could breathe. All the stresses of the world melted away.”
For information about knitting cruises June 8-11 and Sept. 3-8 aboard the J and E Riggin, call 594-1875 or visit mainewindjammer.com.
The schooner Isaac H. Evans also offers a knitting cruise in September. For information, go to midcoast.com/evans/schedule/html.
And for those with a world view when it comes to needlework and who prefer stitching on dry land, cruise the Internet for travel agencies that offer quilting tours to Austria and Germany, Japan, and fiber-related tours to China, Bulgaria, Iceland and the United Kingdom.
“The Art of the Needle,” needlepoint tapestries by Jill Vendituoli of West Newfield, are on exhibit through April 28 at Maine Fiberarts, 13 Main St., Topsham. An opening reception and talk will be held 2-5 p.m. Sunday, March 4. Snow date is Sunday, March 18. For information, call the gallery at 721-0678. To learn more about Vendituoli’s work, visit sunnyfieldstudio.com.
Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email email@example.com.