Arabella has also invited me to her spinning group, The Texas Twisters, which is a fabulous group of fiber-spinning, artistic, and lovely women who get together once a week and spin for hours and hours. It’s heavenly. Today we were a fairly small group (about 9), and we spent several hours together laughing, sharing, and sometimes just quietly spinning.
It occurred to me again today that although I am glad spinning is my hobby and not a requirement of my daily life, we have definitely traded something valuable for our freedom. Community, intimacy, slow hours together instead of a full-bore constant pace….these are the gems we have traded for our modernity. On any given day, we might shrug and move on, happy in our freedoms. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get a glimpse of the beauty of a slower-paced, less materialistic, more careful life, and I think I miss it.
My friend Arabella, whose real name is Laurie, has opened an Etsy shop for her lovely handmade and handspun items. I call her Arabella in this blog (why? because it sounds like a fairy tale! And who doesn’t want to star in their own fairy tale?) is directly responsible for both this blog, and for my spinning wheel–all because she was gracious enough to teach me to spin. She is a marvelous spinner, a very creative artist, and I cannot wait to see all the things she puts up in her Etsy shop.
We are definitely making progress, backward though it is, to find out more about the first fabric techniques. We’ve already found woven flax to be exceedingly ancient, and new finds keep pushing the date back (I’ve seen the date now at 6500 BC, and 32,000 BC!).
So where does that leave knitting? The oldest techniques using needle and yarn are not what we know as knitting today on two needles; however, the variety, beauty, and usefulness of the objects made with the ancient technique of Naalebinding, make it no less a stunning hand craft. Watch this:
The Naalebinding stitches are quite simple, as the knit and purl stitch are in the knitting you might have just put down. And with the same astounding flexibility, the Naalebinding stitches can be endlessly turned into hundreds and hundreds of different patterns, edgings, and embellishments, due to our bottomless capacity for creative expression.
This picture is of a commonly used stitch. The top photo shows the stitches in white cotton, so that the shape stands out:
The bottom photo shows the beginning of an actual garment in bulky weight wool. Garments made from Naalebinding can be extremely dense and warm. When made from wool, the garments can then be felted for additional warmth. Compare the above stitch to this more “complicated” stitch:
You can begin to see that the variety in looping, crossing, and otherwise stitching with the flat needle and yarn can produce beautiful work in the hands of a skilled naalebinder! (Look here on Flickr at the Naalebinder Group! I knew the first garments probably included a purse!)
Discovery has progressed through the last few centuries here on planet earth at an astounding gallop. Discovery within all of the various sciences, how motion impacts mass (a little something called gravity), telescopes and microscopes, antibiotics and surgical improvements, train, planes and automobiles, all the way up to the ever-improving and amazing iPhone. Somehow, we automatically think of progression as improvement. And often, it is. The iPhone is a definite improvement over the telegram. Antibiotics are a definite improvement over dying.
But on rare occasions, some things start out great and don’t need much improvement, even after 10,000 years. The weaving of threads into a continuous fabric from which clothing is cut is one process that has not changed since the first time someone needed a shirt (or maybe it was a purse). This illustration was found on a wall in an Egyptian tomb, depicting two weavers and a hand spinner, among other workers. Though we now process flax, spin it into threads, and weave it into linen cloth on machines, the individual steps in the process are remarkably the same.
I think I can now finally understand the difference between warp and weft. The warp threads hang vertically from the top of the piece to the bottom of the piece, each as an individual strand.
The weft are made by the continuous “threading” of a long fiber under and over each of the hanging warp threads. In other words, the weft threads must be “set up” to hang vertically like a sort of stringed curtain. Then, a continuous thread is “woven” over and under, over and under, over and under each of the hanging weft threads, and a strong, continuous fabric is made. Remember making construction paper place mats in grade school with this method? Then you have practiced the ancient craft of weaving.
Turns out that weaving is waaaaaaayyyyy older a method of making clothing than knitting. In fact, amazingly enough, knitting (as we know it today) is a fairly recent development. (More on that another time, but you can get a jump from this great site learning about Naalebinding.) The point here is that the first spun yarns and threads were not knitted,they were woven. And remember that every shred of thread woven into cloth up until the 12-14th centuries had been spun with a pair of human hands and a spindle.
I am getting closer to answering the question who made the first shirt? and it is beginning to look something like a linen garment, hand-woven from hand-spun flax using a hand spindle. Wool, it seems, joined in the fun much later, by several thousand years. Interestingly, linen has some of the same amazing properties as wool: it absorbs water without feeling “wet” and can keep the wearer both warm and cool.
*Image used under GNU Free Documentation License from Wikipedia
I’m beginning to believe that history, like art, may be “in the eye of beholder.” And the further back in time we want to go, the more this is true.
I’m not talking about 100 years ago, or even 400 years ago, and maybe not even 2000 years ago, because we humans have a marvelous proclivity for recording ourselves. We’ve chiseled our likeness on every surface imaginable from a cave wall to a coin; written down our deepest thoughts, ideas, and dictums on animal skin parchment with the ink of berries; even encoded laws on stone and clay tablets. Something very deep inside all of us wants to be remembered.
As a result, the “material” objects left by past cultures really tell us a lot about what they believed about themselves and the world, and what they appreciated and valued. The problem is that the further back in time we go, the fewer of these objects we find, and putting together the “story” behind the material objects becomes something my sister calls MSU. That’s when the lack of facts surrounding an object or idea causes us to Make Stuff Up. Right?
For example, I can “google” enough subjects surrounding 100 B.C. (About 24,600,000 results in 0.25 seconds) to construct a pretty good idea of the state of life for the average Roman citizen, or even a barbarian or two wandering around outside the Empire. The basic stuff–the “material” goods of that time: fabrics, jewelry, pottery, tools, art–combined with all of the written works we have from this period
gives us a clear picture….well, we don’t have to resort much to MSU.
But the farther back we want to go to know what we as ancient people ate, drank, worked at, created, wore, cursed over, prayed over, made for decoration or traded for goods, the fuzzier the picture gets. For me, it all sort of runs together with old World History lessons. Since I started spinning, however, I find myself driven to create a better picture of the first fabrics and who wore them, how they were made, and what choices were available. Or at least understand how much of the story we do know, and how much is someone else’s version of MSU–Making Stuff Up.
I am going to start with the timeline I found at The New World Encyclopedia because it specifically marks the find in Israel of the oldest textiles anyone has uncovered. TIME magazine’s description^ of the textiles says, “Perhaps most remarkable are the fabrics, which are woven in eleven intricate designs, some resembling knotted macrame, others fine mesh.” Stay Tuned…
c. 8000 B.C.E. – Evidence of flax cultivation in the Near East.
c. 6500 B.C.E. – Approximate date of Naalebinding examples found in Nehal Hemar cave, Israel. This technique, which uses short separate lengths of thread, predated the invention of spinning (with its continuous lengths of thread) and requires that all of the as-yet unused thread be pulled through the loop in the sewn material. This requires much greater skill than knitting in order to create a fine product.
Look at this fabulous mosaic of all things wooly! Lovely photos from another blog…..I hope you enjoy them! I especially like the wool mummy.
In honor of the trip to Lambtown this weeks mosaic is about wool things, enjoy: 1. Spring Lamb – 2007 BBC Countryfile competition winner., 2. Spinning wool, 3. Lambtown Wood Carving, 4. Wool, 5. Spindlewood Co drop spindle, 6. Sheep Shearing, 7. Alpaca (Vicugna pacos), 8. Hand Dyed Roving, 9. And then she pricked her finger, 10. 300507 newborn, 11. wool mummy, 12. Color Blend Skeins … Read More
WordPress.com provides great blog stats for every blog owner–we can see how many people come to the pages, and sometimes where they come from, like a search engine page. Today, one of my visitors had come through a search page, so I clicked on it out of curiosity to see where my blog landed in the search–you know, how many pages deep did the person have to search before clicking on The Spinning Universe?
By the time I got to page 10, I thought, wow, this person was really persistent. I didn’t think most people looked past the first 2-3 pages. I usually don’t. By the time I got to page 20, I thought I had somehow dropped off the search and was never going to come to my blog. In the meantime, I had gotten interested in the many creative blog and website names that spinners and knitters had come up with, so I went to page 45, jotting down funny and interesting domain names, before I finally stopped. I was disappointed, thinking I’d show up at least before page 45.
I clicked back to page 1, wondering what great domain names I had missed before I started noticing them on page 20. What do you know, halfway down page 1 — The Spinning Universe Blog. I had totally missed it, assuming first page status was completely out of the question.
We write and post, saying it doesn’t really matter if you read it because our joy is in the creative expression, not in whether anyone sees it. So now you know that’s a big fat lie! We LOVE it when you read our blogs!!!!! (we being any blog writer)
Great names I came across as I searched for my own blog:
Uh oh. I knew it would happen sooner or later. I have had about three days here by myself, with each child away on a different adventure, and no one needing anything from me. I thought I would be spinning for hours and hours, but the one thing that fascinates me more than actually spinning has captured me…researching about spinning!
It all started innocently enough…that curiosity got me wondering…What is the oldest textile that archaeologists have located? I mean, I just wanted to know when the first shirt was made. Really, that’s all.
But when my 20-year old daughter came into my bedroom yesterday, after my three days alone in the house, I’ll confess the room did look like that scene out of A Beautiful Mind, when John Nash’s wife walks into his office….(okay, there were some content differences….mathematical genius vs. curious spinning woman, left alone for three days…)
But charts, diagrams, outlines, questions, and pages and pages of written notes were scattered all over my bed (my primary research spot), and a few pages with color-coded highlights were taped together and thumb-tacked to the wall. Josie walked in the room with a puzzled expression (Mom, have you lost your mind?). I found myself backpedaling to find a suitable explanation for all this…..what? all this…curiosity?
“Ummm…I had just been wondering about when people first made shirts?” ending with a question in my voice, hoping she’d accept the logic of one question leading to, well, all this.
Ah, the power of one question! When was the first shirt made? has taken me on a remarkable journey through the history of humanity, and the archeological, theological, scientific, and curious anomalies that accompany such a journey. (This whole line of questioning was begun after discovering the spinning wheel is a modern invention.)
Archeology is most fascinating–not only for what is dug up from the earth to tell us about people and their communities and habits–but also for the drama of pride, family feuds, hurt feelings, and ego of the scientists themselves, and their resultant actions. Like the famous Leakeys–the father, Louis, finds an astounding skull that might be the oldest human fossil….until young son Richard grows up and finds one that might be even older…and for 20 years, a dispute rages about the dates. Hmmmmm…
Or the scientist who made such bold claims about his find before they were verified, that his later embarrassment led him to keep the bones locked in a closet for many years, depriving the scientific community of the value they did hold. It’s riveting, truly.
Have I found the answer to my first question yet? No, I really haven’t. But I have discovered a bunch more questions….