It’s no secret that spinning plant and animal material into yarns and threads is an ancient craft. It has been, and still is, necessary for our survival by protecting our bodies from our surroundings. It is also no secret that women rather than men tended to be the threadcrafters in European cultures. And it is definitely not a secret that modern heathen women are associated as well (sometimes to an unfortunate extreme, however).
But let’s look at the bright side first. I personally love spinning and crocheting the resulting yarn into something beautiful, primarily because I am an artist in general, but also because it brings me closer to my great-grandmothers. I would watch them swiftly create dainty lace and sturdy blankets with their old, weathered hands and wish I could be as good as them when I was young. They were left-handed, and I was right, so I couldn’t be taught directly. Thanks to technology though, I was able to access some youtube videos on crocheting over a year ago that allowed myself to go beyond the basics. There is a certain sort of magic involved in such things. Not “woo-woo” magic like in movies, but feelings instead. By working my hands, I recreate my great-grandmothers’ hands and feel them with me, as if the parts of them inside me come alive in this shared activity.
I took this a step further about half a year ago and learned how to spin my own yarns out of animal and plant fiber. I have since disregarded acrylic and pretty much anything from Wal-mart, even though they’re cheaper and longer. Spinning wool and silk, particularly ones you don’t have to process yourself, is a wonderful feeling when you just let it slip through and come out with a nearly perfect strand. Not to mention that the resulting yarn worked into a crocheted piece makes the art as mine as possible. But, it’s not truly mine. My great-grandmothers may have not spun their own yarn, but our more ancient ancestors did. They come alive in me as well when I recreate their craft. Every piece I make is a shared one, the result of generations of women before me passing on their teachings.
As one who practices ancestor worship, this feeling of a shared experience is invaluable. I am symbolically connecting my threads with theirs and continuing our craft into the future. This is not the only art or craft that I do (I also draw and make pottery), and nor is it the only one that has a long history behind it. But for me, it is the only one that was inspired by my family and the only one that connects me back to them. My other works have their own meaning for me, more personal and individual ones.
That is why I do the stereotypical heathen woman yarn/thread thing. Not because I feel like I have to as a woman, but because it carries value and history for me.
That is where I think things get tricky in the more cultural pagan groups, particularly Germanic heathenry. As one put it, some heathen women seem to fall into a yarn trap of sorts, believing that’s their duty as a woman (along with staying in the kitchen and making babies, all that boring boy’s club crap), and that’s all they really can do or talk about. Personally, I’d prefer to debate Roheim’s Freudian interpretations of Hungarian folk practices when doing my yarn thing over gabbing about children. There were plenty of bad-ass pre-Christian women that probably carried a conversation quite well, and I’d like contemporary heathens/pagans to bring that back. Send those threads back to a tougher time and realize how necessary “women’s work” really was. Not only was it mandatory for survival, it was sacred too, not something to be shooed off to the side while the boys take center stage.