Episode 25: Untethered Leathers

In this episode I’ll give a brief update of what kind of work I’ve been up to, share my WIPs and FOs, we’ll talk about what in the world kombucha fabric is, and learn some interesting historical and contemporary uses of fish skin leather in Iceland.

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Kombucha leather blouse, photo courtesy of A Verb for Keeping Warm

Kombucha leather blouse, photo courtesy of A Verb for Keeping Warm

Photo courtesy of The Mindful Sprout
Traditional Icelandic fish skin shoes. Photo courtesy of Meadow Coldon.

Traditional Icelandic fish skin shoes. Photo courtesy of Meadow Coldon.

Knitting and Crochet as a Social Outlet for Introverts

the woven road

the woven road

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!

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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! 

Why Textile History Matters

Unless you are among a distinct minority of nudists, you probably wear clothes every day. Clothing protect us from the sun, wind, rain, cold, and sometimes, judgmental glances at highbrow social gatherings.

While today's clothing serves as much more than utilitarian purposes, you may not often think about the rich insights that can be found in studying textile history. A great deal of symbology appears in motif and use of color, as well as choice of the fiber itself. It allows us to see the blending of utility and art. 

Clothing and textiles are one of the most outwardly expressive ways in which we share our societal values, on our sleeve so to speak, on a daily basis. Therefore, textiles have the ability to give researchers a window into the mind of people and cultures, past or present. It is also a type of work frequently associated with the the gendered role expectations of women. “The necessary compatibility of female labor with child care and breastfeeding led to women primarily engaging in repetitive, safe, and easily interrupted tasks.” (Barber, Women’s Work, 29-30.) Since women were primarily the workers of textiles throughout history, insights into this trade give us a glimpse into the lives of a huge portion of the population; a portion often invisible amongst the male-dominated stories of stone artifacts or history books. Men most often became a part of the textile fabrication process only after the industry became a part of a larger trade exchange network.

Textile production is and was an incredibly time consuming process. First, one had to grow and harvest fiber plants, or cultivate and collect fiber from silk worms, or wooly animals like sheep and alpacas. Then, this fiber had to be washed, beaten or carded, combed and spun. If the threads were meant to be colored, dyes had to be acquired, either through cultivation, wild gathering, or trading. Then, hundreds to thousands of meters of thread needed to be woven, cut, and sewn into just a single garment. Sometimes, lavish designs were embroidered , or card woven bands were used to trim sleeves.

From this very simplistic look at the process, we can already infer some of the kinds of information we can glean about how communities lived. In order to grow plants or keep livestock, people had to live in sedentary communities of relatively large size. In order to have production exceed the amount that just one family would need, there would have had to be specialized workers; meaning “I weave all the time, you make pots and pans all the time, lets swap”. If one needed to acquire a particular dye that was not indigenous to their region, we could assume they obtained it by trade, and were involved in an interaction sphere with members of other communities. Use of color and design can tell us much about self expression, social identity, religious belief or status, customs, trade, or the natural resources that were available in the area at the time.

The whole process was passed down to succeeding generations. Depending on the scale of production, we can assume that the knowledge was passed down through a family, or learned as an apprentice or at a trade school.

Exchange of these garments, especially the ones it was even more costly to produce, could be imagined as economic resources. Expensive, elegant garments or furnishings became so valued in some places, they were seen as a kind of currency. Some fabrics, such as Icelandic vaðmál, were so regulated in quality, that medieval manuscripts and law texts have their production standards and value preserved to this day.

Artistic expression was not limited to fashion and garments. We have a multitude of examples of expertly woven rugs and tapestries. Even the tools used to process fiber can be a craft themselves. Some of these examples include carved distaffs (a long spindle or paddle used to hold a cloud of fiber while the spinner draws from it), engraved spindle whorls (a small stone or clay weight fixed to the end of a rod used for spinning), polished whale bone weft beaters, intricately carved knitting needle boxes (that were also presented with marriage proposals), and hand painted lace bobbins, among others.

From a personal perspective, when I craft with fiber, I feel connected to a vast history that can be celebrated as a commonality of almost all humans across space, and one that reaches back far in time.

It brings us closer as a global community to learn about, not only the lives and minds of our ancestors, but also the universality of innovation that we all share.

Like any scientific field, our studies help us to learn the expanse of what we don't know. We are fueled by curiosity, and a deep desire to understand the reasonings and perspectives that lived in the minds of ancestral humans. It brings us closer as a global community to learn about, not only the lives and minds of our ancestors, but also the universality of innovation that we all share. The contributions of all the communities we identify with have brought us to where we are today. Our ideas shape the future and it may work to our benefit to cultivate appreciation for old things long forgotten.

Minoan woman picking saffron, from a fresco on the island of Thera

Minoan woman picking saffron, from a fresco on the island of Thera