In this episode, we’ll talk about the Woven Road KAL, a pattern book in the stash, a new wine and yarn pairing, and early evidence of plant fiber in the archaeological record! Oh! And how not to put a deer in your trunk.
Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Join in the discussion hosted in conjunction with Treehouse Knits on Facebook or use the summaries and prompts in your own reading groups! Some interesting points made by readers are included in italics.
Introduction and Chapter 1:
Chapter 1 gave us a great introduction to the process of turning fiber into usable fabric. If you've never spun or wove, you now understand the general principles and tools. Chapter 1 also started to make the case for why women were best suited for the job of making fabric. Below are some questions to guide our discussion this week:
1. What did you find most interesting in your reading? Did anything in Chapter 1 cause you to have more questions? If so, what?
2. Think about your own fiber arts creating and making - Why do you create? What parts of the "process" makes your heart sing? Do you think these early makers of fabric "enjoyed" the process?
"Chapter 1 really brought home for me the vastness of innovation. It constantly blows my mind to think about the generations working with trial and error, spending their lives working with something, and slowly finding more efficient ways to get the same work done.
I also loved the authors take on why it was women who gravitated towards textile work. I feel like fiber arts can be really undervalued, not by us of course, because we 'get it', but by society in general. But I think the first chapter here contributes to the idea that this kind of work is extremely technical, is deeply rooted in our history, and deserving of merit. I think this idea stems to other aspects of traditional 'women's work' as well, like caring for children and elders, and maintaining a household. It makes sense why these things historically went together, but I'm not sure what contributed to the devaluing of this.
Karen Bek-Pedersen wrote a great paper on fate and weaving and its symbolic use in Old Norse literature, and I think it is relevant here. She argues that because of the nature of weaving, it lends itself well to the old Norse perception of what fate is. They didn't see fate as something you were destined for, but instead fate was the core of your being. It was your true and unchanging self, and all of your expressions, or decisions in life were made based on that presence of your core self, or true nature. With weaving, we have the warp, which is steady and unchanging, and we use the weft as expression, weaving it around our metaphorical fate, if you will. I find this to be a really beautiful analogy, and I think its something Barber hints at in the first chapter. I also kind of see this as a metaphor for women's role in all of history. It wasn't often that women were charging at the front lines of battles, or signing treaties, since that would have been highly unacceptable at the time. But women's work with textiles kept families alive, soldiers uniformed, etc... that women's work was the warp threads through which the rest of history has been woven between."
Chapter one focused on the practical aspects of fiber production, and we spent last week thinking about what life and crafting might be like if we had to produce garments for our survival. This week, we delve into the nature of the oldest remains of textile fragments, and the evolving relationship between utilitarian and symbolic clothing.
1) Do you think the historic language reconstruction was useful in making an educated guess about the aspects of prehistoric life that we have no material evidence for? Was the author's use of this effective in taking you back in time?
2) Barber also went beyond the practical uses of fiber, wondering about the implications of adornment and ritual, and why people would go through the trouble of creating symbolic, ‘non-functional’ garments. What motivates you to make something that isn’t necessarily functional? Did any particular aspect of the author’s experience resonate with you?
3) What was the most surprising thing you learned in this chapter?
"In terms of why I make things that are unfunctional - I thought right away about one of my Stephen West shawls I made. I loved the process so much - the fun design, the colors i used, etc., - but have never actually worn it! It adorns one of my office chairs almost as a piece of art that says, 'I had fun, this is beautiful, I made it all by myself, etc.' "
Chapter 3 focused on the transition of how women worked - from being a nomadic, moving community, to being a community that stays in one place - and how that impacts the way women (and men) worked. There were so many incredible bits of information and insights in this chapter - I know I found myself highlighting and underlining so much! Some questions to ponder and discuss below:
1) Why do you thing EWB chose the quote and the Welsh rabbit definition as the beginning of the chapter?
2) I found it interesting that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, especially since it was an animal that was not domesticated for survival (for food). Why do you think that was the case?
3) As women began to work in more of a community together, they found ways to entertain themselves while performing their duties of feeding and clothing their families. EWB discussed how the European women sang or chanted ritual songs to set the rhythm of the endless repetitive motions of handwork. This also enabled the children to begin learning the process. Can you think of anything similar happening in your own childhood? Moreover, what repetitive work of yours today could be made better/is made better by song or other form of entertainment?
"I felt like Barber used this chapter to expand upon the gender division of labor. In the previous chapter as well, she notes that women came to have the reliable tasks and professions, and this became the secure foundation for life. I wonder if she used the Welsh rabbit quote to illustrate one of the many ways that women's work kind of 'saved the day' when the more risky hunting proved not profitable for that day.
I really appreciated how she went through the changes that happened to the lifestyle transitioning from the Paleolithic into the Neolithic; esspecially the bit about the rise in the importance of fertility rituals. Hunter gatherers control their populations well, but with the rise in disease that comes with living in settlements, for the first time, families actually neeeded to have more children! I never thought about that before. I guess I always figured that birth was a mysterious and powerful thing to people in this time, and that fertility was so highly regarded simply because it was unbelievable. But it looks like it arose from logical necessity. So that really changed my perspective.
I loved how Barber connected the evolution of the loom to the evolution of relationships between the women using them. The ground loom is found outside remains of buildings, only in warm places where it would make sense that weavers would gather. And upright, warp-weighted looms are found inside structures, where the weaver would be protected from the rain and snow, and be able to see by the light of the fire. For me, she really created a kind of "sacred space", and I could picture folks gathering in those locations and singing. For those who are following along with the discussions without the book, this quote especially got to me:
"If the summers encouraged a sort of sisterhood, European winters invited communal work even more. When the farm is covered in snow and modern electronic entertainments are millennia into the future, how do you while away the time? You carry on when small and useful crafts you can, giving you a sense of bettering your life, and you make it more fun by having a party at the same time. Just as the pioneer women in rural America got together for sewing, quilting, and husking bees, just as Hungarian farm women still have regular 'work parties', so the women of prehistoric Europe gathered at one another's houses to spin, new, weave, and have fellowship. How do we know this? From the cloth itself."
It makes me think of how I would like to remembered many years from now, and when we look at remains of prehistoric textiles, we don't just see dirty old wool, but instead the stories, songs, and bonds of the women who made them, how they taught their children, etc... and I think, well, that sounds like a pretty decent legacy."
"This chapter covered so much ground and was full of fascinating resonances for me as an artist using textiles: the different conditions that allow protein/animal based fibres and textiles to survive compared to plant-based ones reminded me of the different effects of eucalyptus leaves on dyeing fabrics - won't work on cellulose but glorious colours on silk and wool. Similarly, techniques such as cloque which uses caustic soda dissolve protein-based fibres but work beautifully on cottons, hemp and linen."
" was just watching a documentary about life in England before the Romans, and the historian presenting it talked about the dog bones found in Star Carr. They are apparently domestic dogs and date from 7000 BCE. The Presenter hypothesizes that; based on the landscape and technology at the time, these dogs were used for herding, possibly of sheep. My question is - if the ancient Britains were herding sheep in large enough numbers to need dogs, were these sheep already changed to wooly varieties? Yet EWB says that the crossover from hairy to wooly sheep happened around 4000 BCE, but that timeline doesn't make sense to me. Could this be another instance of some cultures advancing before others, at least in regards to landscape based customs? Could sheep in England have become wooly earlier than sheep in other areas of Europe and the Middle East?"
Some weaving and fiber arts related music:
Barber used this chapter to detail some theoretical motivations behind creative applications and elaborate embellishments of cloth garments. “Island Fever” was defined as the enormous amount of effort that isolated cultures invested in unusual activities, since they could afford to expend energy on communal creative works in the absence of the need for self-defense. This could refer to a literal island, or a figurative island of isolation.
1) Do you find yourself susceptible to ‘Island Fever’? How does your creative process change when you are left to your own devices for a while?
The author cited passages from Homer’s Odyssey and highlighted the differences between Greek and Minoan cultures.
2) Do you think it was coincidence that the women on Crete were not only skillful crafters of ornate cloth, and the heads of the house, but that this was also a matrilineal society?
"Island fever...i think that it applies today in the sense that if my survival depended on the textiles i produced, they would be simpler and finished up more expediently, not by choice but by necessity.
The isolation lends itself to creativity, because there is time and less distraction by other demands."
"In terms of Island Fever - I get the thought behind it, but sometimes think the opposite holds true for me. I get my best creative ideas when I am busy doing some other task, OR when there are parameters set that I have to work against. But I totally get where she is coming from in terms of the isolation and peace leading to the Minoan culture being able to flourish creatively. They were able to use their time to its fullest, and able to try things, fail, and try again until they produced something new and different that worked."
"The section introducing dyeing was fascinating - how red and blue were the most colorfast; hence, most country flags used these colors. Was wondering if cochineal and kermes were the same thing, just from different parts of the world? And saffron - fascinating saffron hunt being a "rite" of passage (to procure for menstrual pain relief) and the color of yellow being feminine. I'm excited to learn more about how color/clothing becomes a way for self-expression and as social indicator (as EWB states)."
As far as we know, the Phoenicians were the first to employ the species of mollusk for dyeing cloth, but they weren’t the last. Here is more information about the history of the Tyrian Purple discussed in the chapter; the color that was produced by "slaughtering hundreds of sea snails to tint a single garment":
(Also just for funsies, you can actually purchase tiles with replicas of portions of the Minoan fresco that Barber detailed in this chapter!
We are moving right along in this informative, thought-provoking book! Chapter five led us through the evolution of clothing, and showed us where our basic modes of dress (undergarments, skirts, pants, shirts, etc.) developed from need versus fashion (or you could say "function follows form.") It also discussed how the wealth of the Bronze age created different types of dress amongst cultures (social signals of wealth). Scattered throughout the chapter were topics such as tatooing, Neolithic pigments and dyeing, world's oldest preserved body garment, etc. Tons of information!
1)What were you most intrigued by? Did you do further research in any area?
"There is a lot more training/educating of the public about leaving artifacts where they were found anymore. I remember getting those lectures as a kid traveling through mesa verde and places like that. Or the park services campaign 'take only photographs, leave only footprints'. I dont know if these are universal educational tools or not though."
"I liked how Barber structured this chapter by equating clothing style and function to language dialects. It conjured up a neat picture in my head of different colored liquids on a map moving around, meeting each other, and affecting other colors (ie forms and functions).
It was interesting to view clothing functionality as 'technology'. I personally can have a knee-jerk reaction to technology in which I tend to either ignore it or feel threatened by it. It was interesting to read about the Chinese having this initial reaction to the invention of pants and riding horses.
It was also interesting to note the advantage that Scottish soldiers had over the British during the uprisings in the 1700s because of the functionality/fit of their clothing. It makes sense that unfitted garments would last much longer, and that fitted ones would flaunt a person's affluence, since they could afford to keep purchasing/producing clothing, even if they were less practical in style."
"I found myself in awe at the evolution of clothing and how it is reflected in my wardrobe today, especially the layering of clothes. As I dress to work with my animals, I often wear a "tunic" with something woolen on top. (p.133) I never really thought about how my culture's fashions came about and what influenced their existence...until now."
The Elements of the Code chapter discussed the symbolic expression of intricate adornment, from garment style, to jewelry, to spiritual cloths, and story tapestries. Barber says that ancient meaning in cloth generally fell under 3 main purposes: to mark or announce information, to record data; be it mytholological or historical events, and also sometimes to invoke magic either for protection, fertility, wealth, divination, or even cursing.
1)Are there any kind of visual social signals that exist within your family or community?
2)If someone in the future were to find your wardrobe, what might they think about your lifestyle, beliefs, or community?
3)Was there anything that resonated with you in this chapter?
"Religious symbols come to mind for me, probably because I live in a state with a large Mormon population. The Mormons have garments that they call "garments" that are worn next to the skin at all times that protect them, I don't know the doctrine well enough to go into detail about what it protects them from but they are sacred and are treated as such. They also have what they call "Temple clothes" that are worn in the temple, during baptisms, and they are buried in them."
"Visual social signals - they are everywhere. Living in a rural/agricultural community, i see wranglers, bogs, cowboy boots and lots of carhart work clothes. But i can tell them apart from the oilriggers that live here, and the climbing and outdoor community that dominate the next town over. I live on the edge of the Wind River Reservation, home to two tribes - Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshoni. Their jewelry and some ways of dress are distinctive. Their beadwork is very different. Families have specific colors that go into their ceremonial dress. Its common to see '307' on trucks and hats and clothing, and the bucking bronc.....announcing to anyone who is paying attention that they are from Wyoming."
Chapter 7, "Cloth for the Caravans" showed us how cloth went from being something women made for their families and communities, to something that was extremely valuable as a trad-able commodity with other communities.
Some questions to spur our discussion:
1) Does this still apply to modern day cloth?
2) How have things changed/stayed the same?
3) As with any change, social ramifications occur...did any then?
4) How does our current cloth "culture" make for social ramifications?
5) What else in this chapter stood out to you?
"Often times, even though women historically could not rule, attain management positions, or even choose their spouses, they demonstrated agency in other ways, either through verbal persuasion, magic, etc. But in this chapter, it was interesting to see women demonstrate agency through commerce. I was floored to read about the details we have about the lives of certain individuals, simply through their recorded business dealings.
It seems that, since cloth is more portable than say, frescoes, this new trade commodity would allow for an easier exchange of style and ideas about fashion. A few chapters ago, we read that the Minoans started painting their frescoes after having visited Egypt and seen them there. But now that textiles are being traded, styles, symbolism, production process, etc, would also be more readily shared. I feel like this could potentially have an important impact on the speed of change."
"Textiles commerce is still going steady, but maybe for some different and additional reasons. Cheap labor in some parts of the world allow for access to affordable textiles. Fair trade agreements that are becoming more prevalent, allow people, frequently women and women's co-ops to market their goods for fair trade prices, allowing them to support their families. Downside of this commerce - I'm sure there are still sweat shops out there."
In Land of Linen, we see another example of a kind of “island fever”, as the Egyptians were decently isolated by a sea of sand, and cultural exchange was less common here than elsewhere. Barber cites various literary sources (the research of Greek historian Herodotus, Egyptian folk tales, and excerpts from the Old Testament), linguistic evidence with examples from Hebrew, as well as archaeological evidence such as painting and carvings, and cultural material remains from within tombs.
As always, feel free to respond to any or all of the discussion prompts, or just let us know about anything you found particularly interesting in the chapter!
1) Have you ever processed flax? What kinds of things did you notice about it?
2) What do you think motivated the Egyptians to create such fine, almost translucent, woven fabrics?
In Barber's reconstructed account of flax processing and weaving in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, she notes evidence of oppressively tedious work conditions, but also a reverence of cloth production, and an enjoyment of free time for women that we haven't seen much of until here.
3) Do you think this spectrum might reflect the "vibrant humanity" and self-actualized agency of this time period, or are these seemingly contradictory attitudes a result of something else?
" At points she was talking about entertainment and free time, and then at others, (And maybe this was for earlier periods?) how women had deformed knees and toes from the hours they spent on the floor weaving. I could see pride in craft, and devotion to artisanal skills. But maybe today we've lost that focus or fear that might make us commit to things that are painfully repetitive? These days we'd change occupations. But again, I don't know if it was because those weavers didn't have a choice?"
In Chapter 9, we entered the end of the Bronze Age, and discovered how women (and children) were used in the mass production of cloth, and how social status indicated how and what was produced and worn. Do you see any similarities today? How does socioeconomic status relate to the way textiles (or our arts and crafts) are produced today?
"Clothing provides an excellent mirror to the radical changes in economic and social structure brought by the Mycenaean Greeks." (pg 224).
1) Do you so this happening today in any way?
"I can definitely see similarities with the Bronze Age Mycenaean culture, to today. I guess it is kind of akin to any hobby, and mostly only wealthy people could have afforded to have a hobby that involved material culture in such a socially stratified community. The queens and princesses used high quality tools (literally golden!) to produce textiles that were luxurious beyond utility, while the workers produced all the everyday fabrics for the palace, and trade goods. Today, much of our clothing is made in large factories, and those lucky enough to be able to afford to, can spin luxurious silk/mohair blends on their resin cast drop spindles and then knit the yarn with their hexagonal cherry needles with sculpted copper stoppers. It sounds a bit silly and dramatic, but I don't think the spectrums are too dissimilar.
I did find it really interesting how the author addressed a higher level of control over the produced good, by breaking up the supply chain and forcing workers to specialize. No one group of workers here made the cloth, it passed through several processes, all facilitated by the palace, and therefore gave them increased control over the populace."
"Interesting point of how breaking up the process of production into specialized functions takes away power and control of the workers. Never thought about it that way and makes complete sense. Make me think of Henry Ford and the advent of the assembly line and mass production, AND the advent of the employee/trades union."
"I've read other things about the evolution of bureaucracy. We complain and joke about it and how bogged down it is, generally. But doing anything on a mass scale, would require a great amount of organization in order to function. So I can kind of see why it would evolve this way. And I can see where there would be a great demand for laborers on all levels, and how that could drive the need to capture other populations to fulfill the labor needs. I've read some historian's perspectives on how industrialization has in some ways, made us dumber (less savvy) in our abilities to survive on our own. Most of us can't do all of the tasks it would take to survive on our own, either as nomadic hunters or farmers. It also sounds like the childbearing and rearing was part of the control mechanism in myceanean greece - keeping the women laborers anchored in place while they raise their children, and the separation of labor for men and women continues."
This week's chapter, Behind the Myths, brought to light the vastness of the presence of textile-related themes in mythology around Europe, Israel, and Egypt. We learned about some of the connections drawn between thread and fate, as well as cultural material remains that have been recovered, which reinforce spiritual perspectives, narrative histories, and oral mythologies that have spread throughout the globe. We learn how one might be able to take fatal revenge on an enemy by soaking their clothes in realgar ('dragon's blood'), and how to properly dispose of a spindle, and thus break the curse on our frog-wife. Barber also briefly revisited her linguistics knowledge to emphasize the way certain textile technologies and myths came to the Greeks after they had had contact with indigenous inhabitants of the Balkans. She also presented her theory that the Venus de Milo was originally spinning using a drop spindle and distaff!
1) What myth from the chapter did you find most interesting?
2) Were there any "aha!" moments, where you made a connection to another myth that wasn't mentioned in the chapter?
Chapter 11 was a packed chapter, taking us from textiles as a necessity, to more of a prestige item. Distinctions in the way fabric was produced fade because of trade and travel. Through various stories told on paintings in tombs, writings of tomb archaeologists, and ancient authors, we deduce what life was like for women - married, unmarried, slaves, young, old, and from different cultures. I was amazed how their stories varied, depending on the culture. (and found myself thinking I would have hoped to have been an Ionian woman!).
I found myself wanting to find out more about the Ionian culture, as well as dig into some of the readings around the King Tut exploration and discovery.
1) Did this chapter inspire you to learn about something discussed in more depth? If so, what?
EWB says in the last few paragraphs of the chapter, "women as a whole have seldom complained so loudly as today, when we have more freedom than ever before - just as the loudest complainers in eighteenth-century Europe, the organizers of the French Revolution, were the richest peasants around."
2) Do you agree? Why? What should we take from this?
"It is really interesting to see women's value in society fluctuate with the value trends of textile products. I can see Barber's point about women complaining loudly now when we have more freedom than ever before, and I'm not sure she meant it as a positive thing, but personally I think it is great! You don't stop 20ft before your destination and say "wow we've come so far!". If women are complaining, it means that they feel safe enough to do so, or brave enough for the consequences to be worth it! So for me, that passage, especially in relation to happiness, was really interesting. I also appreciated though, that she mentioned that some folks like being told what they need to do; everybody has got their own thing.
I was completely cracking up at the passage on pg 273 where Pheretima was being given all kinds of gifts and she was like "seriously though, I just want an army" and none of the men knew what to do!"
In this conclusion, Barber addressed some particularly important aspects in the development of archaeological practices, and summarized how we can use a multi-disciplinary approach to finding the seemingly invisible evidence of women's half of history. After WWII, repurposed military technology opened a gateway to new kinds of scientific analysis applicable to archaeology and the pursuit of the past. When used in conjunction with both object and linguistic reconstruction, ethnology, mythology, and by using our 'little grey cells' to notice the evidence inherent in the absence of information, we can finally see the enormous scope of the roles women have played throughout history, whether rulers of their home, trade, or a civilization.
Has this book changed any preconception you might have had about women's roles in prehistoric and historic times?
Has this book changed any preconception you might have had about textile production in general in prehistoric and historic times?
What do you find yourself reflecting on the most, in the wake of this book?
Any other final thoughts you'd like to share?
I used to dislike knitting with variegated yarns, even though I thought they were BEAUTIFUL in the hank. I thought they looked strange as a fabric, too busy and chaotic for my taste. But the truth is, I just never knew how to use them! Some patterns were positively made for variegated yarns, and I'm so excited to begin my journey with them. And I'd love it if you wanted to join me!
The Pincha Shawl pattern, designed by Pinpilan Wangsai, is perfect for crazy, colorful skeins. The short row shaping (*gasp!*, it's ok, this is why we have a supportive community!) perfectly engages with the multi-colored bits, and turns them into deliberate stripes that give this shawl fantastic movement on many levels. This awesome pattern might almost be a calling for that Skein Too Beautiful To Use...
What you'll need:
1, 100g skein of fingering weight yarn (can be variegated, but it doesn't have to be)
Size US 5 (or 3.75mm) needles for working flat
In this episode, I’ll share what has been going on in the Textile History Reading Group, what is in the Stash, as well as an interview with the wonderful Lisa of Seawall Fibres.
In this episode, I share a new collaborative project I am working on with a fellow textile podcaster (hint, you are encouraged participate!), I talk about a great and simple shawl pattern I’ve completed this week, some other news related things, we chat about what the Slow Clothes Movement is, and a bit about the history of the color blue!
In this episode, we do a bit of a reintroduction, since the show has been on for more than a year now! I’ll share some beautiful patterns I’ve been working with as well as some things I’ve been dyeing. We’ll do a little Lush Skein, and talk about what is in my textile reading Stash. I’ll also introduce a new regular segment about sustainability and ethics in the fiber industry.
Craftivism is the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social issues. Fiber art and textiles have played an integral role in the history of our species, and the history of our contemporary cultures, and it is often impossible to imagine a time when clothing did not serve a multitude of purposes. Because fiber and clothing were valued so highly by communities everywhere, it is no surprise that textiles have, throughout history, been highly involved in social communication and political uprisings.
Craftivism both plays on and challenged the female stereotypes about domestic craft, but it also embodies and reclaims the value in this rich history of traditionally feminine culture.
Women have been involved with fiber and textile production for tens of thousands of years.
Clay Venus figurines recovered from France that date earlier than 20,000 years ago, depict a large woman with a shapely body, wearing a string shirt around her waist, covering a small portion of her backside. This tradition (slightly more modestly) has continued in a small way to this day. Scientists believe that this depiction refers to a very early adornment that sought to represent and emphasize the female’s sexuality, framed with the placement of spun threads.
Elizabeth Wayland Barber, professor at Occidental College in California and foremost authority on prehistoric textiles, says that it is only common sense that textiles became the responsibility of women. Since women are the only parent available to feed infants in prehistoric societies, it makes sense that their other tasks should be compatible with caregiving. These tasks needed to be stationary, safe, repetitive, and easily interrupted. Textile production certainly falls under all of those requirements, and the two tasks naturally went hand in hand.
As time went on, these gender roles, perpetuated by adherence to tradition, gave women an indispensable, yet overshadowed seat in history. They held together their communities by providing necessities, and doing their duties by caring for their families. They didn’t have time to start wars, they were too busy milking the goats and weaving clothes to keep their children warm and hope they all survived the winter. But when they were needed, when there arose a cause that was important to them, women spoke out; not with a campaign, or by running for office (since that was illegal throughout most of human history), but with their own unique skill set.
Knitting and activism dates back to the French Revolution, where women sat by the guillotine and knitted red hats during executions.
Knitting and activism dates back to the US Revolutionary War, when women began spinning their own wool, and knitted clothing for soldiers instead of importing them, a defiantly patriotic act.
Knitting and activism dates back to 1860, when UK textile designer William Morris created a crafting movement, to speak out against the industrial revolution in favor of a simpler lifestyle. He denoted 4 components of craft activism guidelines: unity in design, joy in labor, individualism or imperfection that comes with handmade objects, and regionalism, which basically meant sourcing material from a place that embodies your mission.
Knitting and activism dates back to the 1st and 2nd World Wars, when handmade goods were valued as the rationing of material goods was important for the ‘war effort’. American, British and Canadian women volunteered to knit and sew clothing for soldiers out of love and support. During the first World War, women donated over a million pairs of hand-knit socks to the troops. In the 2nd World War, soldiers received 26,000 sewn or knitted clothing items that were put together by female volunteers in just 6 days! In addition to that, 420 items of clothing were made and donated to refugees.
Today, we remember this. We remember all of the love that was shown through the abstract looping of string around sticks of wood, through the mundane pressing of a needle through sheets of fabric. Whether for practical necessity, or for non-functional art, the value and meaning remains. Fiber art today makes just as much of a statement as it has for the last several thousand years. Fiber artists around the world are using their craft to communicate with one another as a symbol of community and hope, just as women did during the local-wool movement of the Revolutionary War.
Barb Hunt, an artist in Newfoundland, is known for an exhibit they created in 2013, where knitted replicas of land mines were displayed. In an interview, Hunt said “There is a close association of knitting with caring for the body. Bandages for soldiers were once hand-knitted, and women still knit socks for soldiers overseas, and for the homeless. Thus knitting functions as a metaphor for recuperation, protection, and healing. In Antipersonnel [exhibit], I use these associations to contradict the abuse of power and the use of violence, by transforming a destructive object into one that can do no harm”.
Micaela Hardy-Moffat writes that craftivism is “a revolution that [crafters] hope will bring people together into peaceful, wholesome communities despite the immorality that weighs so heavily upon society. As well as featuring work by various knit artists across North America, [the Revolutionary Knitting Circle] specifies that people of all ages, ethnicities, classes, and genders are welcome to participate, articulating the significance of inclusiveness that craftivism upholds.” She highlights some groups that are currently working to encourage expression through fiber art. “The Revolutionary Knitting Circle calls upon people everywhere to take up the struggle through the tools of local production. We shall bring forth not only our voices raised for global justice, but we shall rise together, with the tools to liberate local communities from the shackles of global corporatism”
The lessons we can learn women’s use fiber craft as a tool for communication throughout history is universal. It is not longer only women’s work. Fiber art is being engaged with and used as expression by all genders, today.
Hardy-Moffat writes, “Craft artists and social action groups are thus driven to create their art in conjunction with a framework dedicated to political change and constructive protest. Through the manipulation and exploitation of stereotypes that lie in the assumed innocence of knitted artwork, the familiarity and gentleness of craft art has become a tool for assertive social action.”
Around the world, local groups are getting involved with using fiber craft as a means to change their society for the better, and reach out to their communities. In Chile, knitting men have taken to the streets in visual protest, and also host events to teach men to knit, working to breaking down prohibitive stereotypes and embrace creative hobby.
The PussyHat project has taken the world by storm, encouraging folks to wear handmade pink cat-eared hats as a visual statement in support of equality, but also in local, small-scale production as a bridge that brings communities together in creativity and compassion.
Fiber arts have been consistently employed as a political and social communication tool when women were not allowed to have a voice. It is inherently expressive, and to decide what art is or is not allowed to express would be to silence the human spirit.
When we engage in fiber arts, we honor the work and the risk that our ancestors took to give us a better life than they had.
As our foremothers and forefathers did, let us create. Let us stitch up a brighter future.
In this episode, I’ll share some things I’ve been making, I’m just DYEING to tell you (yuk yuk), we’ll have a Lush Skein Special, talk all things holly and jolly with holiday gift ideas and winter themed projects, and I’ll announce a giveaway that is seasonal as all get-up! And we’ll do this all, with my guest co-host for this episode, Kayla!
A tad late, but who doesn't love a little belated holiday cheer?!
Don't forget to enter the winter stitch marker giveaway by leaving a comment below!
Win these winter wonderful stitch markers from MountainCandi! Leave a comment below to be entered to win!
Contest will end January 20th, 2017.
In this episode, I'll enable you to a lovely new pattern I’ve been working with as well as a great series of yarn dyeing tutorial videos. We’ll talk about what in the world lifelines are, and learn what the textile remains from a thousand year old burial in north east Iceland can tell us about the various places the inhabitants came from, and the kinds of fiber traditions they brought with them.
Each podcast episode, I discuss wine and yarn pairings in a segment called "The Lush Skein". Here, you will find a complete list of all the pairings to date. If you want to know the reasons behind the pairing, however, you'll have to listen to the show to find out! Try them out (21+ of course), and let us know what you think! Feel free to send some suggestions and I'll review them on the show!
Cords and Cobwebs - Chocolate Covered Raisin fingering weight with sparkle
Masi - 2012 Campofiorin red
Sock Obsession - Bling colorway
Hot Coco with Orange - non-alcoholic
Van Gogh Riesling - 2013, Médoc France
SockObsession Yarns - sock weight, 75% superwash merino, 25% mulberry silk, Anastasia colorway.
Blackstone Winery - 2013 Pinot Noir
Cascade Yarns 220 Heathers - light worsted weight, 100% Peruvian highland wool
Rioja Vega Winery - 2013 Crianza; Tempranillo blend
Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino - wool, acrylic and cashmere, lightweight DK
Miss Babs - Maryland Sheep and Wool Exclusive Colorway
Helderberg Meadworks - Heritage Mead, Navy Blue Wax 2014
Madelinetosh Tosh DK - 100% Merino wool, DK weight, Nectar colorway
Petite Petit - Michael David Winery, 2013, 85% petite sirah 15% petite verdot
Manos del Uruguay - Maxima, Worsted weight, colorway Flame/ Carmine
Faustino VII - 2012 Tempranillo
Þingborg Handspun - plant dyed, 2 ply, DK weight
Outer Pines Co. - Aja's handspun and dyed, various colorways, worsted weight
Wool and the Gang - Crazy Sexy Wool - 200g, Super Bulky weight
Intipalka Valle Del Sol - 2013 Malbec
Root 1 Heritage Red - Red Blend
Lett Lopi - Worsted Weight
Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light, Whiskey Barrel
Johnnie Walker Red Label
Louise Harding Grace Silk and Wool; DK weight, 50% Merino wool, 50% Silk
La Fiera Salento Primitivo
Montoya Vineyards, Pinot Noir
Schoeller Essliinger, Fortissima fingering weight
Brassfield Winery, Eruption; red blend
The Fibre Co. Acadia Yarn, DK weight blend; 60% Merino wool, 20% Baby alpaca, 20% Silk
Museum; 2009 Reserva, Tempranillo
Blue Sky Alpaca, Suri Merino; Worsted/DK weight, in Crimson colorway
Bota Box; anything
Green Mountain Spinnery, Weekend Wool; 2 ply worsted weight
Putney Mountain Winery: Rhubarb Blush
Moss Vinyards; 2013 Architettura Reserva
Solutute Wool; Llama-rama!, 2 ply, fingering weight, 50% llama, 50% Romney wool.
In this episode, we say hello to a new guest co-host, review some wonderful indie-dyed yarn, share a new wine and yarn pairing in The Lush Skein, and talk about evidence for looms in the archaeological record!
The Ghost of the Aran Sweater
There was a bitter wind blowing from the east
and I grabbed my work in progress
My husband was busy cooking our annual fall feast
And I was in the way; that was obvious.
So I headed out to a local park
To settle myself on a leaf-covered bench
It was evening, now, ‘bout an hour ’til dark
And raining a bit, though not enough to be drenched
Happily I sat, needles clicking away
The bright autumn leaves were whimsically windblown.
But the longer I sat, the sky darkened to grey
And I began to feel that I may not be alone.
As if some pending doom had sat down beside me
Some Sleepy Hollow spirit with a pumpkin for a head
It was then that this stranger revealed their identity
And cause for this sudden feeling of dread.
For my eyes drifted down twelve inches below
From the row that I was knitting,
And I spotted an large cable twisted the wrong way.
Come on! You’ve got to be kidding!
Then around this heinous new discovery,
I saw ten stitches had been dropped!
How was I ever to mend this to recovery?
So I sat there, staring, and shocked.
“How could I have missed this?! A mistake so far back,
I must be the worst knitter in the world”
I nearly gave myself an asthma attack
When I realized a row of knits had been purled.
I sighed heavily, breath condensing in air,
And held my nearly finished aran sweater at arms length
I knew deep down what I had to do now,
And searched my soul for the strength.
The sky grew darker, just one street lamp shone
The brisk autumn wind whipped in mocking.
I slowly pulled the wooden needles from the stitches,
And I sat there, alone, and began frogging.
All the knitters in Yarnsville start to double check their ply
When the Unraveler slinks into town half-past-five.
This mischievous terror plays all sorts of tricks
Such as replacing all of your purls with knits!
It unravels those stitches you created with precision
Leaving a tangled up mess is its mission.
Just as you start to smooth out the heap
You realize the fiber isn’t from a sheep!
Yes, the Unraveler has hidden your cashmere and wool
All the vibrant colors are now woefully dull.
Any project you attempt will feel so pathetic
If all you have to work with is synthetic.
All of your hard work has been all in vain
You won’t finish holiday gifts in time once again!
The clock starts ticking
Neglected projects start twitching
The Unraveler thrives on your lack of progress – it’s sickening!
You begin to concede - you’re not worthy of tweed!
You can find others who, like you, check the dye lot
To be sure the end result is what you sought.
So you can present a loved one with their new favorite clothes,
That warm their hearts, fingers, and toes.
Yes! With each other’s support there’s no fuss.
The Unraveler stands no chance against us!
Now try a new pattern; questions and advice can be shared.
Knitters uniting = Unraveler beware!
- Kayla Pratt
Sheep with the pumpkins
Eating the grass and the weeds
Helping pumpkins grow
I wore a wooly costume
Sheep followed me home
- Paul, Age 11
The Skein From Hell
I am the blood red skein from hell,
Within your project bag I dwell,
Waiting my time to near,
To wreak havoc and sow fear.
Though I am but fifty grams,
And come from the purest coats of lambs,
I am evil to the core,
I’ll drop your stitches to the floor,
And with anguish you shall cry,
When your projects go awry.
Knots and tangles I have many,
And I cost a pretty penny,
If your game of choice’s “yarn chicken”,
With frustration you’ll be stricken,
For I’m too short (and yet too long),
Not quite right (yet not quite wrong).
Knitting lace? I’ll have you frogging,
I’ll give your fingers a right flogging,
You’ll work late into the night,
And you’ll awake all in a fright,
For your work will all have vanished,
All your effort will be banished,
Back into your project bag,
And your heart and hopes shall sag.
Of despair, I am the queen,
The meanest yarn you’ve ever seen,
And though my soul is most unclean,
I wish you Happy Halloween.
- Mike Red
There once was an old spinster that lived on Walnut street. She was lonely and wanted a friend. She bartered some sheep food with a young shepherd to buy his orange wool. Unknown to her, the wool was enchanted by the evil wizard who transformed himself into the young shepherd. The old spinster spun the yarn and knit pumpkins for the trick or treaters. Halloween was the only time of the year the lonely old spinster ever had visitors to her house.
The old woman knit 15 pumpkins. She put the first five in her yard and gave the remaining ten pumpkins to the children who came to her house. She went to bed that night. At midnight, the enchanted yarn turned the pumpkins into evil pumpkins. Pumpkin vines grew and grew and grew. Tentacles wrapped around every piece of candy that they touched.
The two heroes took them apart with their weapons. Yeah, the pumpkins are gone. THE END
- Ted, Age 8
Knit, Knit, Purl
It was a late winter’s eve and there I sat in my chair
All cozy and nice while outside a storm was in the air
Knit knit purl
Knit knit purl
I was working on a sweater, it was almost done
Just a few more rows now, knit two, purl one
Knit knit purl
Knit knit purl
The thunder thundered and the rain pittered and pattered
On my window, when suddenly the silence was shattered
Someone, something? Was knock-knocking on my front door
My introvert heart skipped a beat, it gave me such a fright!
Who’s there? what’s this? It’s almost mid-night!
I put my work down and snuck to see
Who’s outside? Why now? Why me?
I opened the door
and no one was there
Only the wind and the rain and nothing but air.
Then! Behind me I heard, upon the hardwood floor!
Skittering and scattering, claws on wood!
Oh no! I knew that sound, it was not good!
I ran back to my chair and my eyes opened wide
My sweater was gone! Where did it hide?
Under the chair -- I saw -- as I looked down
...And my cat, going to town
Rip! rip! purr!
Rip! rip! purr!
Gossamer threads of a web
Remind me of Arachne
They send stories through my head
As I spin in the wind.
What will this weave?
Dreams are woven into each piece;
Good, bad, and unusual.
I bet Arachne didn’t expect her fate.
The thump of the lazy kate,
Out of my reverie.
Plying is done.
In my hands the wool will make. . . What shall be its fate?
- Victoria Boehmer
In this episode, we welcome a new guest co-host, share what we've been making, a wine and yarn pairing, and read the winners of the spooky yarn-related Halloween poem contest! You'll also be introduced to a fun new segment entitled "I Like My Yarn How I Like My Lovers." We also bestow upon you some of our best excuses for rationalizing yarn purchases, such as "if you don't buy it, then you won't have it..."
Since knitting, crocheting, nalbinding (and spinning if you are bold enough!) are easily transportable, us fiber artists often find ourselves crafting in public. Whether we are making our string creations while sipping tea alone or merrily joining in a boisterous wine and twine, our minds and our hands live in a wooly world.
To some, the barrage of comments and questions that arise when knitting or crocheting in a social setting can be quite annoying. But for others, it can be a great bridge to pleasant communication with strangers, or even lead to *gasp* friendship! There is one large (but still minority) group that can benefit from this social yarn-crafting, namely, introverts.
As an introvert, I know the struggles of interacting in social situations. For introverts, socializing requires a ton of energy; energy we only produce while being alone. Because we spend so much delightful, cozy (and real AF in our pajamas eating snacks and drinking wine) time alone, we might not have as much social experience as our extroverted counterparts. It's not that we don’t like people, we just need a lot of alone time to recoup some energy, and can be easily deterred by social uncertainty.
Yarn crafts can be a great outlet and social catalyst for introverts.
Working on a project takes a lot of time, most of which, will be spent on your own. There are a lot of fabulous online resources to help you find a pattern, or to help you create a cohesive piece of your own, and you can do all of this without talking to a person!
"You can decide how much or how little to interact, and you can do it all without pants!"
There are tons of online fiber artist communities if you decide you would like to interact with someone, share your projects, or ask for advice. You can decide how much or how little to interact, and you can do it all without pants!
Knitting and crocheting in public is a great conversation starter. If you are like me, and would like to engage with strangers, maybe make a friend, but are terrible at striking up a conversation, this solution may be for you. Some great places to bring your WIP are coffee shops, bars, your kids’ sporting events or hobby meet-ups, if you are dining out alone, or pretty much any time you will be surrounded by a bunch of strange humans. If someone is interested enough to ask you what you are making, chances are, you already have one thing in common.
Keeping your hands busy will comfort you. The bamboo needles softly clicking away, and familiar rhythmic muscle memory will ensure that you always have an old friend by your side. Perhaps you can even harken back to those times when you were crafting alone, using some energy from your memory to take your hip fiber artist persona conversing and socializing well into the evening… maybe even past 9pm!
Yarn-crafting while socializing helps to sooth inevitable awkward silences. They say that you don’t know someone well until you are able to sit comfortably in silence with them. That may be true for your oldest and dearest friends, but after walking in cold to a new craft group, silence can sometimes feel like a small failure. Of course it is not, but with all of the things going on in your lap (not like that, naughty), if there is a lull in conversation, everyone can look down at their WIP and pretend not to notice.
"I have been called out for being anti-social when I bring my knitting to a party, but that gives me an opportunity to explain why I see it as a kind of social lubricant."
You may find yourself more eager to attend social events if you know you’ll have your wool and sticks by your side. If the din of the other attendees becomes a bit tiresome or overwhelming, rather than whisking yourself off to the guest room with the jacket covered bed just to get a few quiet minutes to yourself, you can instead settle yourself into a corner of the couch, and proceed to turn string into things. You can chat when you like, and when you feel like being silent, just look down and engage with your work.
Of course knitting, crocheting, spinning, nalbinding etc. are not only for the introverted among us. But for those of us who spend a hilarious proportion of your daily energy just making small talk with acquaintances, yarn crafting can be a wonderful catalyst to friendship. True, I have been called out for being anti-social when I bring my knitting to a party, but that gives me an opportunity to explain why I see it as a kind of social lubricant. Knitting at parties is like having a combination of booze and a therapy dog, without the hassle of people trying to take either for a walk.
Are you a yarn-crafting introvert? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!
What is the scariest thing us fiber artists can imagine?
Breaking a DPN?
Not enough yarn to finish the project?
Cat peeing on the roving?
In the 'spirit' of October and Halloween, I'm hosting a spooky fiber art related poem and short story contest!
How it Works:
Your written piece can be in any format or style, and have any kind of subject, so long as it is Halloween-y and knitting/weaving/crocheting/spinning/nalbinding/felting etc... related.
Submit your entry (or entries) by October 20th to enter the contest! The winner(s) will be invited to read their writing on the show! If hearing yourself on audio isn't your thing, you can also choose to have it read for you. And thats it. Just kidding! The first place winner will receive their choice of a wooden knitting needle gauge from Storkurinn, (one of the best yarn shops in Iceland) OR two skeins of pure Icelandic wool yarn!
In the next episode, I'll be joined by a mystery guest (*ooooooo!*) and we will both be sharing our spooky tales with you as well!
Please submit your entries to email@example.com by October 20th.
In this episode, I share a brief segment on my first few months living as an immigrant in Iceland, a fantastic new yarn and wine pairing, and some of the top sustainable and ethical large-scale yarn producers.
In any hobby, craft, business, or field of study, you have folks that ‘get it’ and folks that 'don’t'. One of the best things about having a crafting friend group is just having someone around to get your ultra jargon-specific jokes, and maybe even laugh at the terrible puns (or is it just me in here?….). When you finally confess to a weird habit you think no one else has, they follow up with “Oh my goodness, ME TOO!”.
Here is a list of some of the top common problems that only fiber artists have.
1: People saying “I can just buy that in the store for way cheaper!” In general, it is difficult for anyone who is a non-crafter to see value in what you do. A friend or family member sees you knitting or crocheting and says "Can you make me a sweater?!" My response is usually "Lets see, $75 for yarn, average of 100 hours of labor, if I pay myself minimum wage, thats about $800 for your sweater. So, sure!", or "I would be happy to teach you to knit." There are an infinite number of reasons why making your own clothing is better/more sustainable. You're not just sitting there whittling the time away; you are an artist. Your work ought to be respected.
2: The “I will hurt you if you talk to me while I’m counting stitches” look. 'Nah mean?
3: Finding stitch markers or other small fiber-related items that have fallen down your shirt into your bra, stuck to your pants or hair. This assumption isn't confirmed, but I can only imagine how sexy I look and smell when my husband is picking the half-washed fleece out of my hair.
4: Too many works in progress! But still not enough. Sure, I have 6 WIP bags, something on the loom, a basket containing a primitive fiber processing half-done, and a bucket full of wet wool.... but this new hand warmer pattern though!
5: Stash guilt. This is also related to the struggle of using stash yarn, but not having quite enough so you need to buy more!
6: All the bowls in your home become pretty yarn displays and centerpieces. Because yarn and raw fleece is a work of art in itself! And everyone in the household obviously shares this sentiment.
7: Project turns out to be the wrong size, so you think of whom you know that it may fit… and your random acquaintance ends up with a gorgeous garment! There are worse things.
8: Weird injuries! Forgetting you put your needles in your hair and poking yourself in the neck or the hand hours later, getting a needle under the fingernail/in the ear, and all of those strange bruises on your hands...
9: Improvising cable needles and stitch markers; your WIP looks like a combination of a bird nest and a junk drawer.
10: When you mistake song lyrics for some textile jargon.
11: Weavers, talking about “tying one on” can really confuse your friends.
What fiber art related problems do you have? Share them in the comments below!
No, you haven't missed it, I have indeed been unable to record Podcast Episode 16 yet. I've explained a bit in this brief video update, as recorded from outside the Textile Museum in Blönduós, Iceland.
It is all very exciting indeed! I'm so happy to be reporting to you from a place with such a rich history and identity tied to fiber art.
For now, as I get settled in, unpack my recording equipment (yes I lugged it all over!), get my paperwork squared away, begin my studies, and find a routine, I'll be a bit focused on blogging and enhancing our community by socializing with all of you!
There is a new Woven Road Podcast group on Ravelry, so please join me there. I'd love to get to know more about you and what your jam is!
If you happen to be visiting Iceland, definitely contact me! I always love a friend to go adventuring for fiber with!
In this episode, Meadow shares recent adventures in fleece processing, experiments with turmeric as dye, outlines some historical evidence of mordants, and shares some household and backyard things that can be used to dye yarn!
(These are affiliate links. If you would like to learn more about dyeing and prehistoric textiles as well as support this show, purchase a book through these links and I will receive a small commission.)