So a couple people pointed out that I said something really obscure the other day. Not the part about where fairy legends come from, but the other things I said come from Scotland--golf, great whiskey (...look. My spelling sucks, okay? Half the time I can't even keep numbers straight, and you expect me to remember that I-before-E shit?) and really awesome lace knitting.
My primary hobby, after art and writing, is lace knitting. Specifically, my undying quest to knit a wedding ring shawl. I do not talk about this much, because a fundamental part of knitting is how freaking boring it is to non-knitters. I also spin, which is even more boring to most people. And that's a crying shame, because the history of yarn is EVERYBODY'S history. If you want to truly understand a culture, don't start by studying its public face. Study how spinning tech developed. Study its yarn.
But if everybody spins, not everybody does lace. As far as I know, there are five places where lace is a part of the culture: the Faroes isles (...do not make me spell that right. Please.) the Ukraine, Estonia, Orenburg Russia and the Unst region of the Shetland isles. The latter two are the only ones with a history of making four-foot-by-four foot shawls (or bigger!) that you can pull through a wedding ring.
The history of Russian lace is incredible. You cannot read about it without also reading about the Soviet revolution. Lenin made the shawls a national treasure, but because the same men and women doing the knitting were frequently the kulaks, Stalin immediately began killing them. There is a story of a man who won awards for his work, who was killed because he "couldn't conform". The text of that story strongly implied the man was gay.
Shetland lace doesn't have the same dramatic history, but it does have many of the same patterns. This is incredibly weird to me, because Shetland is a little clump of rock sitting off the end of Scotland, and Orenburg is a city in the middle of the mountains between Russia and Afganistan. The only connection between the two locations during the era when this art-form was developing were the Vikings. And yet many of the patterns are nearly identical--the Orenburg "Strawberry" pattern and the Scottish "Cat's paw" is a good example. Another interesting thing is how the culture of the area "flavors" the knitting. Orenburg knitting has a very Arabic feel to it, whereas Shetland lace is Shetland lace.
FYI, this is shetland lace:
|...it's a really shitty old picture and I gave this shawl away already|
It is my favorite thing in the whole world. And in researching the history of this, I've come to be rather in awe of the tool that I get to own. I came across this site the other day, and if you read abosolutely nothing else today, READ THAT LINK. But just in case you decide not to, here are three quotes from somebody pretty surprising. And I'll save that surprise for the end:
“The message of the spinning wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant. That larger message is naturally for all.”
"Art to be art must soothe.” He said further that the yarn we spin is “capable of mending the broken warp and woof of our life.”
“A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour. I claim that in losing the spinning wheel we lost our left lung. We are, therefore, suffering from galloping consumption."
Mahatma Gandhi said that. And I know I probably have the wrong context here, and it's probably wrong as fuck for a white woman to quote Gandhi, but you know what? Fuck it. IMHO the west's biggest problem is that we have too much and we don't have to work. Knitting is that thing old ladies do, spindles are what knocked out Sleeping Beauty, and a spinning wheel is a metaphor for doing nothing. The key to a healthy life without the sickness of hubris is Worship and Work--both are a reminder that we are small, frail, faliable humans and none of us, not one of us, is better or worse than any other. Yes. We do need to change. If there's one thing we privelaged white folk need to re-learn, it's humility. And the old, devalued work--spinning, weaving, sewing--might just be the teacher we need.
I'm not saying the world would necessarily be better if everybody got around a big table and played with yarn for a few hours, but it would certainly be a lot softer. And I don't know about you, but there's a lot of broken warp and woof in my life that I definitely need to fix.