The history of women in my family is the history of textiles in my family. We do not have battles and degrees, as a general rule. We have nights at home, we have children, we have letters abroad, we have phone calls, we have dish towels, baby bath towels, bedsheets to fold, diapers, dresses hanging up, pants being ironed. We are surrounded by textiles. How much of the work of the home is spent tending to something made of cloth?
Make the bed, fold the laundry, dress for work, wash a blood stain out of your underwear, dry the dishes, dry your tears, scrub the counter, dust mop, take down cobwebs with a towel on a broom, stretch a stocking up your leg, find your jeans in the pile, put a sweater on, pull the blanket up over your shoulders, it’s cold.
There is something about string crossed with other string that contains magic. The common magic that is holding the house together. We pass cloth down and across generations, like the warp and weft itself. We pass it as gifts, bandages, dreams, swaddling, comfort, love. Like the other tools of life, furniture, dishes, and the like – this is how we tell each other we love. That we were here. That we had dreams, and hopefully, fulfilled them. And all these spells are held between lengths of string, worked and worked until they contain the voices of the women who made them, used them, and shared them.
To make anything is a feminist act. This is a resistant act. The small arts, the portable arts, the practical arts – these have always been womens’ domain. Yes, there have been, are now, and will be male artists and designers. But when you sit at a loom, when you pick up needles or hooks, when you wrap your fingers around a spindle or set yourself up at a wheel you are in direct conversation with Women.
Textile art is a witch’s space. It is a feminist space. It is, despite tradition, a queer space. Anyone on the outside is more familiar with trying to add at least a small bit of beauty and right to the world with what they have on hand. There are very few barriers to entry – ultimately you can use trash to do this. You can get yarn on sale (though not the prized organic fiber!), or even free if you know people destashing. Much of fiber arts began in our distant past, nearly Paleolithic. You do not need fancy equipment for this. It boils down to sticks. You can literally use windfallen twigs for looms, as long as they’re strong enough to hold the yarn. Sticks, fur, hair, scraps – this is the art of thrift and cleverness.
I cannot put this book down! I found it on discount trawling a local store with a friend, read a bit, then had a month or two when I could barely sit down let alone read. I picked it up again earlier this week to read on break at work and *zooom* I’m about half through it.
The full title is The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis. That’s pretty much the reason I bought it. The author, Arthur Allen, introduces his reader to the vivid personalities of intra-war Lviv, Poland and deftly recreates the imperiled life of the residents before the horrors of WWII.
Please, please pick this up if you can – buy or borrow. The general ideas aren’t new to me, but I’m enriched knowing more names and details of the people who resisted and survived.
Take a listen at the NPR interview with Allen here.