Monday, June 22, 2009

Mary's school for spinners

Hot on the heels of my escapist reading from the nonfiction section of the Children's Department at my local library, I have opened a school for the social history of textile craft. Welcome and thank you for joining me!

Lesson #1:

Process versus product crafting goes way back. If Penelope wasn't a process weaver, ripping out part of her work every night for three years just to hold back some would-be second husbands would have driven her even more insane than the 10-20 years she spent wondering whether the first one was alive or dead.

Lesson #2:

Ancient Greek non-slave women didn't have to make time for crafty endeavors like we do today. Their husbands set them up with slaves to do all the housework and gardening, and spared them the need to put in appearances at the theatre or even at a party (slave women covered for them there too, by way of providing the entertainment).

Lesson #2a

The husbands of Ancient Greek non-slave women also got to choose whether or not the baby they'd just given birth to was going to go on living or not (if it looked sickly or was a girl or was just one more mouth too many, out into the street it went) and the babies they did get to keep, if they were boys, were sent off to boarding school or the military at age seven). Still! Their wives got to spin and weave cloth till the cows came home.

Pop quiz:

How many tears were shed over Ancient Greek spindles?

Is the urge to spin now hardwired into some part of the human brain, and if so, is that why it's so soothing to do even when we're really bad at it?

Bonus question: The Vindolanda letters between early Roman soldiers stationed in Britain and their families back home include complaints about the cold and tell of socks and underwear sent north. Is this further proof that wartime automatically breeds sock knitting?

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