How often do I say this (or more likely, how often do I think this) . . . every book has its day. I can't tell you how many years I have had Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years (sub-sub-title: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times) on my bookshelves. Years and years. Longer than I like to admit, but then that is the whole idea behind having a personal library. A book might look interesting enough to buy and want to read it, but when I actually manage to pull it off the shelf is another story entirely. I've looked at this book many times and have flipped through it and thought about reading it, but now that I am learning to weave, this is a book that is finally having its day!
Sometimes I read to learn something new (rather than just be entertained) and it matters not in the least if I have never done or experienced whatever I am reading about. As a matter of fact not having done something can be a good thing. I might like to read about the Plague but I am quite content never to have experienced it. But sometimes having just a little knowledge about a topic opens up all sorts of doors. At the best of times reading a nonfiction book is slow going for me as I want to absorb as many of the details as I possibly can. But to have been learning something new and then read about it only enhances the reading experience as I am finding out with this book. She is definitely telling me things I didn't know before, but I know just enough about the weaving process and bits of its history for this to be an even richer reading experience. I love it when I can recognize something in my reading to be already tucked away in my mind--if even only just peripherally.
I'm not far into the book and there is a lot to take in, but I am appreciating this in ways I know I would not have had I tried to tackle it when I first bought it. In her introduction she writes about seeing a piece of plaid woolen cloth in a museum and trying to recreate it as closely as she possibly can by weaving a reproduction. In an Austrian museum she spotted a fragment of a "tam-o-shanter" from 800 BCE. Whoever first made it was a Celt--perhaps an ancestor to those living in places like Scotland. It's amazing to think that this museum piece from so very long ago was the ancestor to Scottish plaid tweed as we know it today. What inspired some person to make it, this particular design which has endured over centuries, and how did it get from what we know as Austria to Scotland (or vice versa)?
At the moment I am reading Barber's description of the weaving process, mentally nodding to myself as I recognize how weaving works.
"Weaving cloth consists of interlacing two sets of threads at right angles to each other. But because thread is very floppy, like spaghetti (unlike the materials that mats and baskets are made of), it is almost impossible to weave the one set of threads through the other without one groups' being held down tight--that is, putting tension on one set of threads. The set that is pulled tight is called the warp, and the frame that holds the warp fast is own as the loom. The second set of threads, which needs to be interlaced into the first, is called the weft (an old past tense of the verb weave--that is, 'what has been woven in')."
Whoever figured this out must have had a massive eureka moment. From animal skins to woven cloth--talk about a game changing development!
And happily for me she says, "like knitting, it is pleasantly rhythmic and can be done sitting down, with no physical exertion, just patience." I agree on most points, but as someone learning backstrap weaving which is done sitting on the floor, I have yet to learn the right posture for keeping my back feeling good for long periods of weaving time.
As for the idea of weaving being "women's work"? It comes down to that old division of labor and the fact that women have the children and then are the main group taking care of rearing them. Child minding could easily be done while also busily weaving or spinning. And it was not until the Industrial Revolution and machines coming along to make cloth making just a little bit simpler and more mechanized that a woman's time was freed up somewhat and the process made easier.
This has been such a great journey to learn how to weave and now reading about it, too. As weird as it sounds it is so cool and really amazes me to think that I have created cloth! I'm curious to see where I'll go next in the Barber book after reading about how to weave. History and social history at its best. And then if I am lucky I can use those same skills on my own.