Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weaving a Theory

Some Nicholson Handwork I have hanging on the bedroom wall.

I posted this picture last time in the blog with a story from 1910 called Marvellous Skill of Hand. Back then someone was lamenting the fact that people were being deskilled with industrialization.

I can't sew or knit. My mother could knit, but the only thing she ever knitted was a giant ski sweater for my father, using a heavy duty wool and she wound it so tight it was too heavy for him to wear, and he was a big man.

My mother was a tense woman and it came out in her knitting.

I am listening to a series of talks by Jungian storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes and she says that such handwork was an important part of women's contemplative lives... It's repetetive work, you see, and frees the mind for deeper things. Hence the significance of the spider as an archetype. The act of crocheting or weaving or knitting also monitors your mood, as your stitches come out differently when you are relaxed or tense.

In The Dangerous Old Woman Estes tells the story of three ugly old ladies, weavers, that all the young of society have contempt for until they recognize their usefulness as wise women.

It had occured to me back when I wrote that other blog that these doilies were mandala-like. Dream catcher like. Spider web like.

They work on two levels. They reflect a frivolous female activity (if a woman in the old days could embroider and such it meant she was a lady of leisure and wealth and not a restless intelligent type (according to Amanda Vickery on the BBC's History of Private life) and hence a perfect wife for men of a certain class.

Or a witchy, spiritual activity.

Air head or wise woman... it depended on how you looked at it.

We don't routinely do any contemplative acts today: we keep our fingers busy, with the ipods and blackberrys and Ipads, but that's not the kind of action that frees the deeper parts of the brain. It's all upfront. lower chakra stuff about power and belonging and tribalism.


My husband and I have ESP. We've been married 25 years and of this I am sure. It's no fluke. We often read each other's minds, but always in the same two situations: when in the car or watching TV.

That's because while doing these things our brains are both occupied and also on hold. Like when a skilled person knits or crochets.

Maybe that's what they meant in the old books, when the described a couple as 'of one mind.'

Anyway, I was thrilled recently to learn that Edith Nicholson learned her handwork at her Grandmother's knee...and since her Grandmother only spoke Gaelic, she picked up a little of that language with her crocheting. The doilies above are likely Edith's work, or maybe the grannies. She likely was illiterate too. So there you go.