Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review: Spin-Off Summer 2014 Issue

So, I really liked this issue of Spin-Off. The theme for this issue revolves around the fibers of the world. I like learning about the history of fiber in various regions of the world, and their associated spinning/weaving/knitting traditions. We don't always have the luxury of visiting these remote locations to see the traditions spring alive, and this issue takes you on a whirlwind journey to several countries, though time as well.

Historically, my reviews contain my personal response to a subset of articles. But, since I'm writing this post after I already posted about Icelandic wool, I would like to do a little more than just a review. Now, I probably know only a little more than the average person about Vikings due to my background in the archaeology of Europe. But something I don't know about, is what remains of their legacy in Iceland. When Iceland was settled by early Vikings, they brought with them sheep and goats, among other household tools and goods. More importantly, they brought with them their fiber crafts, some of which have experienced a recent revival.

Only Icelandic sheep are allowed to live in Iceland, which means no other sheep are allowed to be imported--to wit, they're a national treasure. Iceland evokes images of a primitive, bucolic setting where sheep roam hills, living happy, healthy lives. And the result is in their fleeces! According to the authors, Marianne Guckelsberger and Robin Russo, Icelandic sheep produce the finest, heaviest fleeces if shorn in the fall. I shall add this to my list when I go hunting for a pound or two of Icelandic fleece! What's more, these sheep are the direct descendants of the original sheep brought to the island by the Vikings, more than a thousand years ago.

However, as much as the Icelandic sheep thrive, the Icelandic goats wither. Their numbers plummeted and were only recently revived, but due to their relative obscurity, their existence is in a fragile state. I like to be onboard with conserving rare breeds of sheep and goat where I can, so I was very pleased to discover that shortly after the release of this issue, an Indiegogo campaign was launched. It was well-received, and due to everyone's contributions, the herd will be safe for a while longer. That said, it is by continued exposure that breeds like these stay as close to the spotlight as possible. I gleaned more history from this article than I have from other sources. Additionally, I liked the extra story to boot.

The next article I want to share is the one regarding flax. I've been swayed by the romanticism of raising/growing my own fiber animals/plants, and flax is one I've had on my list for a few years. If you want a hobby patch of flax, this little article offers plenty to get you started. Better yet, if you want to teach your kids the great value of farming, you can grow your little patch for multi-faceted learning. Harvesting flax at the perfect moment produces a soft, pliant fiber, ready to be spun and woven into the finest of linens. Though, to get this fine cloth, you have to sacrifice the plants ability to reproduce--that is, you harvest before it can go to seed. Obviously, you can't just only grow flax for linen, since you'll quickly run out of seed. This is where the valuable learning lesson comes in: when do you decide how much to harvest to use and how much to save for future plantings. What about food? If flax is allowed to seed, it produces a coarse, rough fiber, more suitable for bags, ropes, and the like, not necessarily for clothing. Something I learned when I was young was to appreciate handmade items, having learned how to stitch and sew by the age of seven.

The purpose the authors intended was in a similar vein. They wanted to show the community all of the steps involved in making flax into linen, and the community reciprocated by helping out during certain phases. The best part of their project was the resulting public awareness.

The last thing I wanted to comment on is in regards to the forgotten spinning traditions of the Native Americans of the Southeast. We don't often hear of such traditions from this part of our nation, mainly due to poor preservation conditions (it's humid, but not the right kind of wet needed for wet preservation), the delicacies of the craft itself, and, perhaps, a milder interest than in other parts of America. Nevertheless, preservation of textiles does occur, though of impressions rather than in the actual artifact. I've mentioned this before in my discussion of warp weighted looms. It is quite fascinating to see the great variety of impressions, while also knowing that people were pressing fabric into clay in the New World and the Old World, though cultural contact between them was unlikely to have been the cause of the inspiration.

While it is interesting to me to read what other archaeologists say about textiles who are textile artists themselves, what I do not like to read is that "archaeologists ignored the textile traditions of the southeastern United States because they could not find many textiles" (Pappas, 2014: 43). It seems like such a small thing, to say that archaeologists ignore something, but I like to have the record straight: no doubt, this is one of many reasons why the textile traditions of the southeastern US are understudied. Unfortunately, these kinds of words can be poisonous to my profession, which is why I generally don't approve of tv shows which angle scientists negatively--usually, they get something wrong, and it perpetuates in the public's opinion. So, I hope that when/if you read this particular article, you keep my comments in mind. Archaeologists are just as passionate about their work as you and I are about wool and yarn. And for me, that's doubly so!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this slightly different review of a (semi) recent Spin-Off magazine. If there's anything more you would like to share, post in the comments below, or over on Facebook.

Pappas, C. (2014, Summer). Forgotten tradition: spinning prehistory in the american southwest. Spin-Off Magazine, 38(2), 42-45.