Whether you are a spinner or a weaver, whether you knit or crochet, every time you practice your craft you are touching history. You are touching a part of that universal tapestry which has been woven by countless artists before you. We are tapping into an ancient knowledge, an ancient set of skills which were crucial to our survival as a species. Without wool, cotton and other fibers, spindles, wheels, looms and needles, there would be no cloth, rope, baskets, rugs, etc. The act of taking a fiber, be that animal, vegetable or mineral, from its raw state and turning it into a thread or yarn, is quite simply magic.
Different techniques are needed for different fibers and the archaeological record reveals these technologies across cultures are the same. For example, spindle whorls have been found at archaeological sites around the entire world. Made of wood, shell, clay, or stone, they are beautiful evidence that spinning was a part of daily life in nearly every culture. It’s no wonder that there are detailed mythologies linking much loved deities to this craft.
Nearly every culture has a goddess of spinning or weaving. The Greeks worshipped Arachne and Athena, Ariadne, Leto, and The Fates. The Egyptians called on the Goddess Neith. Among the Norse and Germanic cultures we find the Goddess Frigg, Holda and Perchta and The Valkyries. The Celts worshipped Brigid and the Baltic people a goddess named Saule. The Goddess Weaver was the fiber goddess in China and many Native American traditions speak of Grandmother Spider Woman.
In modern traditional societies in Central Asia and parts of the Middle East, spinning and weaving are solely men’s work. However, everywhere else in the world fiber work has always been within the female sphere. From the tending and shearing of fiber animals, to the carding or combing of wool, to the spinning, weaving and later knitting of these yarns, this connection between women and the fiber arts is apparent in the mythology of many cultures.
So how is this relevant to us today? Let’s begin by taking a journey through the evolution of fiber art. What are the origins of the fiber arts? When did spinning first appear and which Goddesses are associated with it? How did weaving evolve and are there goddesses who helped guide women’s hands as they pushed the shuttle back and forth? When did the truly addictive art of knitting with needles arrive on the scene and how creative can we get with it?
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