Thursday, November 22, 2012

Episode 19 - Ancestors of Yarn

In today’s episode, it’s time to catch up on the knitted projects. Plus, an essay by British writer and Druid, Nimue Brown.

Shownotes:

News & Noteworthy:
-contest draw (yarn or spinning fibre) winner - Jennifer, Naamah13.

For “On and Off the Needles”:

“Off” Projects only today:

Irish Coffee, by Thea Colman
Yarn: Madelinetosh Chunky, 100% SW merino, aran weight, colourway “Rambler”.

Telemark Pullover, by Erika Flory
Yarn: Gaia’s Colours, Pales Twisty DK, colourway “Azur-Ava”.

Rae scarf, by Jane Richmond
Yarn: Purple Label MCN fingering by Tanis Fiber Arts, in the “Autumn Sun” colourway (September 2011 sock club yarn).

Diagonal Lace socks, by Wendy Johnson
Yarn: Skinny Bugga, 80/10/10 true fingering, by Sanguine Gryphon, in muted rainbow colourway “Frog-legged Leaf Beetle”.

Sedum cardigan, by Jane Richmond
Yarn: Bernat Roving (single-ply bulky, 80% acrylic/20% wool) in “putty” colourway.

A Test knit unnamed cardigan by Carol Feller, to be released next year. Made the one-year size
Yarn: Berocco Vintage Chunky in a pale bright green.

Ameliorate fingerless mitts, by Hunter Hammersen
Yarn: Gaia’s Colours Fibre Arts, Silkie Sock in the colourway “Lolita”.

Hacky Sack Hoodie, by Stef Pulford from the Son of Stitch n’ Bitch book
Yarn: Cascade Eco Wool, deep charcoal gray, 100% wool.

Color Affection, by Vera Valimaki
Yarn: Fiberphile yarns, MCN luxe sock, 375yards/343metres, in “Stardust” and “Honey Amber”, and Earthly Hues Seedlings sock yarn (MCN), 375yards/343metres) in “Sunshine”.

Song - Sora, “Heartwood”

The Pagan Corner:

Nimue Brown’s essay - “Ancestors of Yarn”

"I’m not sure when humans started spinning wool from fleece, but it goes back a long way into our history as a species, I assume to our first settling as farmers rather than being nomadic hunter gatherers. Yarn has played a significant part of life since then, as clothing and bedding, decoration, comfort, and art form. It’s also traditionally a very female activity, in the western world, although I believe in South America knitting is one of those hard core macho things that men get together to do. Which goes to show that like most gender things it actually has more to do with culture than physicality.

Our female ancestors then, for most of human history, were involved with yarn. A woman might be buried with her distaff even. Spinning, weaving, making and mending are traditional women’s work. The methods we have, from the spindle and spinning wheels to knitting and crochet also connect us to the people who invented, developed and perfected them. Like so many of our ancestors, the yarn innovators are largely unknown, and there were probably a great many of them.
Every woman who passes down this skill to a girl, is part of a huge web of weaving tradition. I learned knitting from my mother, crotchet from the mother of a boyfriend, spinning from several friends, although I’m not very good at it! I learned naalbinding (which might not be how you spell it!) to make traditional Viking socks, which take forever but are stunningly substantial. The wool work doesn’t come alone though. Alongside it come the tales of other knitters and crafters, family myths and anecdotes. While the hands are busy, the mind has plenty of room to wander.

I find wool work incredibly soothing. If I’m rattled, my mind in chaos and my body weary, then to sit down with wool is one of the best therapies. The rhythm of it is innately soothing. Watching small pieces of creativity form between my fingers is affirming, settling. The stories and inspiration of other wool workers are very much with me, and I feel part of something much bigger than I am. There’s a power in weaving, knitting, spinning – the power to take the raw materials of nature and fashion them into something essential for life in a cold climate. Wool for our ancestors must have contributed to survival, a vital part of culture that made human life viable in tough locations.
I heard a story once, that Arran sweaters have complex designs because each family had its own pattern. The women made them so that if a drowned sailor washed ashore, they could figure out who he was, who his people were. I can’t imagine making a jumper for my man that would mark him as mine in case he died, that must take a certain kind of pragmatic courage.

Modern life is full of things that claim to be convenient, but that take far more from us than they give. I know a lot of women who are returning to wool, or learning it anew, because it makes sense to them on an emotional level as well as a practical one. Being able to do the essential things of life matters and in turn makes your life feel more real. Ancestral pursuits like this bring a sense of stability, rootedness and belonging. We need that. In cultures full of uprooted people, in times where continuity and certainty are hard to come by, reaching back into the past makes a lot of sense. The ancestors are all there, behind us. A sense of belonging is a precious thing to have when everything else feels a bit fragile and uncertain. Between climate change and the world economies, and the insane priorities of politicians, life for any aware person is not comfortable, even in our relatively insulated western world.

The wool tribe is there, for anyone willing to pick up the threads and find out how to make them. Your grandmothers will have done it, and your great grandmothers. The odds are you had some distant grandfathers who kept or sheared sheep, too. Go back far enough and most of us have that, in fact. The threads of wool can also be threads of continuity, safety lines to remind us of where we came from and how we connect to the other creatures, and to the earth. We can bind our own stories into the wool."

Anyone interested in a deeper look at ancestry, from an overtly Druid perspective, is invited to pick up a copy of Nimue's new book, Druidry and the Ancestors.  She blogs most days at Druidlife