Wordy Wednesday: Knit One, Purl Two

While listening to Greizie Rati, one of the riddles was as follows:

Krustām, šķērsām taisīts koka aploks -- ganiņš gana tūkstošiem aitiņu.
A corral made of criss-crossed wood, a shepherd shepherds thousands of little sheep.

The answer? Knitting! More precisely, knitting on double-pointed needles.

I've recently taken up knitting myself and I thought the riddle was an amazingly cute way to refer to it. Latvians have a culture rich in textiles of all sorts, but particularly in linen and wool. Their patterns are complex and colorful, with Latvian mittens in particular being very popular among knitters around the world.

If you're lucky enough to be in Latvia during Christmas, you should go to one of the Christmas Markets. If you're too early, don't despair! All throughout Vecrīga, little stands will be set up with all sorts of holiday items, including lots and lots of cimdi and zeķes. (Of course, many such stands are up all the time, but more show up around Christmas.) You can even find such stands in malls like Ostmala and Kurzeme in Liepāja. You can't pass up a good pair of mittens or socks, knitted by hand and super-warm.

  • vilna : wool [slider title="decline me"] vilna , f, 4. dekl.
    vsk.: vilna, vilnas, vilnai, vilnu, ar vilnu, vilnā
    dsk.: vilnas, vilnu, vilnām, vilnas, ar vilnām, vilnās[/slider]

Wool, much as in English, is primarily used in the singular. It's considered basically uncountable. (Ever try to count a sheep's hairs? Yeah, good luck.) A sheepskin would be an aitāda , a fleece would be a cirpums no vienas aitas which translates to "the shearing from a single sheep", and vilna refers to the fluff that makes up yarn and textiles or is processed into such.

  • aita : sheep, mutton [slider title="decline me"] aita , f, 4. dekl.
    vsk.: aita, aitas, aitai, aitu, ar aitu, aitā
    dsk.: aitas, aitu, aitām, aitas, ar aitām, aitās[/slider]

Interestingly, Latvians do not have separate words for the animal and the meat. Some, like pork, might get gaļa (meat) added on. Aita does not.

  • cimdi : mittens [slider title="decline me"] cimdi , m, 1. dekl.
    vsk.: cimds, cimda, cimdam, cimdu, ar cimdu, cimdā
    dsk.: cimdi, cimdu, cimdiem, cimdus, ar cimdiem, cimdos[/slider]

Latvian maidens used to knit many, many pairs of mittens for their dowries. Usually this would be between 50 and 80 pairs, according to some historical references I've found, but some maidens (who apparently really got on a roll) would produce several hundred pairs of mittens! (One reportedly had a stash of 800 pairs. Now that's a knitter!) As with other elements of the traditional dress in Latvia, every area has its own individual patterns and colors.

A great reference (and one I still need to buy for myself) is Latvian Mittens/Latviešu Cimdi: Traditional Designs & Techniques by Lizbeth Upitis. This book not only has patterns and color reference pictures of mittens from all over Latvia, but it is dual-language!

  • adata : needle [slider title="decline me"] adata , f, 4. dekl.
    vsk.: adata, adatas, adatai, adatu, ar adatu, adatā
    dsk.: adatas, adatu, adatām, adatas, ar adatām, adatās[/slider]

No Wednesday on knitting would be complete without the trademark of a knitter: the needles. In fact, that's even where the verb comes from, which we'll see below.

  • adīt : to knit [slider title="conjugate me"] adīt , 3. konj. (mixed)
    tag. adu, adi, ada, adām, adāt
    pag. adīju, adīji, adīja, adījām, adījāt
    nak. adīšu, adīsi, adīs, adīsim, adīsiet / adīsit
    pav. adi, adiet [/slider]

Added bonus: Any knitter who reads this will immediately think, "Yes, but how do I purl?" Unlike in English, it actually makes sense in Latvian. After all, a knit is a purl, only backwards.

adīt kreiliski : to knit left-handedly : to purl

  • zeķe : sock [slider title="decline me"] zeķe , f, 5. dekl.
    vsk.: zeķe, zeķes, zeķei, zeķi, ar zeķi, zeķē
    dsk.: zeķes, zeķu, zeķēm, zeķes, ar zeķēm, zeķēs [/slider]

Hand-knit socks are marvelous things. I have two pairs: a cream lace pair and a grey kitty pair. Totally worth it. My mother-in-law gave me the cream pair to keep me warm in the hospital (and I have thanked her ever since).