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So, yesterday’s Yarn Manifesto (if you’re just joining me, then you don’t know yet that I’m prone to those; if you’ve known me a while, you’re mentally patting me on the shoulder and murmuring “We know how you are, Abby, it’s okay”) has generated all kinds of comments and emails. Tons! Just tons! And you know… a few of you have said, “Why don’t you submit that to a magazine?”

I have to be honest here, and say that it would never have occurred to me to do something like that with such a rant. Seriously, is there a magazine you guys have been hiding from me called something like “Fiber Obsessed Nut Job Journal” or “Ranter’s Review” or “Manifesto Quarterly?” Because, you see, I’ve come to accept that I have a Problem. It’s this: if I’m presented with a textile topic, I can’t. shut. up. It is completely pathological. I’m sure there’s a name for the condition, but if I were going to go look for it I’d have to stop talking about fibery stuff for long enough to do that, and that’s just not going to happen.

I blame my parents. It is so totally all their fault. Let me see if I can explain it.

My mother sent me a package recently. Now, I don’t know what most people’s packages from their mothers look like, but this one was not at all atypical for what I get from mine. It contained a bunch of things she’d picked up on her last trip to Peru. I took pictures.

That was on top. Oooh, a costal! I mean, yeah, the tag says “potato sack,” but that’s just what a costal is. It’s a really nice costal though, and it’s new.

You know, I’m not sure when I last had a new costal. Usually they’re old. They’re handspun llama, and they wear like steel. Maybe better than steel. Nominally, yes, a costal is a potato sack, and it does indeed get used for storage and transportation of potatoes. And everything else. And to throw on the muddy ground outside to sit on when it’s nasty. And as padding for stuff. You use them nonstop. Fifty years old, a costal might have a patch on it or a rewoven spot, but that probably happened due to a story like “then the packs came off the llama and fell about a kilometer straight down, I wish I hadn’t tried using that gringo rope” or something. Anyway, the costal is purely a functional item. Just indestructible. This is a really nice one. I’ll have this one forever, no matter what I do with it.

Hey, wait… what’s this?

Yeah, what IS that?

That’s not the usual side seam on a costal. Done with a needle I bet. Huh. Hrmmmm. I’ll have to look more closely in a second here, this is just the thing on top.

Look, it’s a pillow cover (I love these, they’re a fabulous CTTC product), but this one is obviously special. Why? Andean warp painting. Rare, thought to have died out. But in 2005, Nilda had found an old guy who did it in another sort of out-of-the-way Cusco area weaving town, and their community had joined CTTC and I’d heard we’d be seeing their textiles shortly. So here one was, for certain.

Click for Big, as Marcy says…

If you’re Sara, definitely click for big and look at the pattern band on the right. I just asserted to Sara authoritatively that you almost never see things worked in non-pairs-based ways, and the supplementary pattern on the right there is a non-pairs-based variant, so do they always do this in that town, or what? Hrmmmm.

Then I got to the note that was stuck into the box:

Yes folks, you see, I come from a world in which the hastily-scribbled notes from my mother are on a postcard for Andean Textile Arts (a US not-for-profit sponsoring preservation of textile techniques in the Andes with organizations such as the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco) and say things like “cf. Paracas mantles.”

There were other things in the box too. For example, there was a chess set, in a lacquered wooden box with no latch, where the painted ceramic pieces were Incas vs. Spaniards — a classic Peruvian tourist item, but what the different sides are represented as varies. The set with which my father taught me to play chess was such a set, but from the 1960s, and the pieces were Moche-styled figurines, where the sides were “bronze” vs. “copper.”

Then there were these.

“Ed socks,” my better half said, immediately. “Definitely Ed socks. Your father liked doing things for the structural and technical aspects, and you can see it in the heels and toes.” He’s right — my guess would be that there was some thought process going on here involving the number of double-pointed needles that was ideal for which heel type, and that the socks were largely improvised using the “applying lace patterns to objects” section of the Susanna Lewis lace knitting book.

I don’t know how that happened, but I will fix it. So I got all maudlin about the apparent Ed socks for a bit, and then as I thought about the hole, it occurred to me — didn’t my mother promise me I could try to talk her out of an heirloom darning egg? She must be holding it hostage for me to get along with the Shaker great wheel.

And, you know, my better half knows full well what a really well-turned heel looks like. His mom used to make socks all the time; magically, insanely fast. One Christmas she made something like 11 Christmas stockings starting on the 21st and in time to hang up for Christmas eve. Not knitting during the day, just using her spare time in evenings.

So this is my life. It is full of fiber and textiles. My whole world is and has always been. I don’t know any other way to be. And everybody in it, well, they’re all used to me spewing my Yarn Manifesto du Jour. I’m always raving like that. So there’s a part of me that reads someone saying “you should submit that for publication” and just… reacts in shock. What? It’s a total rant; it’s not a piece of principled, helpful, worthwhile writing that I did to help people learn something — that kind of thing might well be worth publishing. This, this is dinner table conversation. This is how I can’t shut up, or as my son once put it, “That’s just my mom. Don’t talk to her unless you like boring yarn and stuff.”

So to hear from some of you that you liked that — hey, that you read it — is somewhat unexpected. I just don’t think of that sort of stuff as anything other than ranty blogfodder, mailing list discussion, that kind of thing. Definitely not article material. But maybe I’m wrong.

More to the point and dealing with interesting stuff, though, the new CTTC textiles are stunning, and Sayaj (the new community) has only been with CTTC for about 2 years. If they’re like other communities, by 5 years they’ll be doing really incredible stuff, and more people will be doing it — and lore thought lost will have been learned by many, and thus return from the brink of extinction. And you have to realize that these are mostly things that folks stopped seeing much value in for a long time, which is why everyone stopped doing them. So, I’ll ask you to think about this one: is there a textile tradition practiced by someone you know, that you’ve never thought useful, interesting, or worthwhile? If so, what is it? Let me know.

Edited to add: So it’s not that I can’t envision writing and publishing — that’s not so hard to imagine. What does strike me funny is, “What, you mean the rants? Seriously?” The technical articles and carefully written considered content, sure. Yarn manifestoes? That’s another story. It just would never have occurred to me that anybody would want to read that sort of thing.

30 thoughts on “Interesting…

  1. “Is there a textile tradition practiced by someone you know, that you’ve never thought useful, interesting, or worthwhile?”

    Huh?? I’m not sure I even comprehend the question. All knowledge is worth knowing (even the bits that I don’t personally want to know, not that I’ve ever found a textile tradition in that category).

  2. OK, I’m sure I’m jumping into the shark tank, and, I’m equally sure it had a purpose once and maybe still does, but I don’t get it – naalbinding. And I will freely and publicly admit that I have avoided learning any more about that particular tradition at several SOAR’s in the past, so I’ve probably had more opportunities than most to broaden my understanding of this technique. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. Of course, I will have your back in defending your right to pursue your delight in that technique, just please don’t ask me to jump up on the bandwagon.

  3. P.S. Packages from my mom contain articles on colleges and financial aid. There are, however, no checks from generous grandparents for their first of their two only grandchildren. I’m sure the package when they get back from their cruise next month, will contain colorful t-shirts.

  4. Hey Abby. To answer your question … and I may be expressing quite a bit of ignorance, but … macrame. What’s it for? Wall hangings? Rugs? Deadheads? What else?

    I read your rant yesterday. I ALSO think that, with some shaping, deletion, organization, etc., you should submit it. I’ve seen tons on here that you could submit. You have a DUTY to submit 🙂 because you straddle the gulf between a lifeway that does it for a living and a lifeway that does it to PULL ITSELF AWAY FROM ITS UBER-TECHNOLOGICAL BRINK, to save itself from screen-eye while being pretty and fashionable. And you somehow make it coherent.

    You even SAID we should submit more, in one of the Spin-off threads in the Ravelry forums 😉

  5. I’m new to your blog – thank you, Ravelry – and hadn’t come cross any rants like yesterday’s, so I found it very informative.

    To answer the question, I’d have to agree with Phiala. Knowing things is always worthwhile. I was going to say, yes, tatting, but remembered in time that I taught myself how. I love looking at it. I just don’t ever want to have to do it.


    Some of us on the Batt Club list on Yahoo! have declared it “Abby Love Day,” a day in which we are celebrating the fabulousness of Abby, and I’ve got something up my sleeve. If you want to participate, email me at

    Back on subject. Anything done a traditional way is worth doing and learning about. I am less confident about “crafty” stuff that is done now. (I include in my definition of “crafty” anything in which the primary tool used is a glue gun or done cheaply) but those are not traditional textile techniques.

  7. Kim:

    Naalbinding – work mittens that won’t unravel when you wear holes in them.

    And as for tatting, I know how to do it (process), but have never yet found anything I actually wanted made that way (product).

  8. I loved your rant yesteray,mostly because I feel similarly.

    I’ve spent my life surrounded in textiles – from a bridal seamstress and all around handy mother (taught me sewing at 2 yrs old, gave me my first real machine when I turned 6), through an aunt who adored handwork (taught me knitting and embroidery at 6). Whenever they couldn’t teach me something I wanted to learn, they found someone to teach me (i.e. my grandfather’s elderly neighbor taught me crochet – I have vivid memories of getting slapped on the hands for not tensioning the yarn properly!).

    My mother sayd I inherited my textile talents from her mother, who died when I was 2. It’s intuitive, as well as learned.

    I haven’t been able to master tatting, even though I was given a couple lessons by a coworker in a costume shop. I’ve never tried naalbinding, and have no one to teach me.

    In college I studied anthropology/archaeology, as well as costume design and geology/chemistry (don’t ask – I know the combination is bizarre) and my interest in the whole chain of interactions between culture and textiles and needs and desires and local fiber sources, and… well, you probably understand.

    As for what my mother sends me: bills. I’m renting her old house, and she brings me the bills that get forwarded to her new house. 🙂

  9. Nothing you can say would be “ranty blogfodder.” What precious, precious gifts from you mother.

  10. Abby _ I read bothe the Manifesto and today’s post with great interest. I’m a new reader (I’ve been reading Cassie’s for some time, which is how I found you)and was fascniated by all your thoughts. I do spin, but it took me 30 years of knitting for the urge to strike. Now that it’s here I can’t let go of it!

  11. aren’t all topic-specific niche magazines “xyz nut-job journal” of sorts? i imagine the majority of Spin-off readers are fiber fans who love spinning, dream spinning, obsess over spinning. i do 🙂

    i also think it is exactly the uber-fan, this-is-a-part-of-my-flesh individuals who can teach us the most. we might not have the same sense of urgency or stringency, but who else has more inside information? i love it here b/c i learn tons from you i can’t elsewhere.

    the difference between a blog/dinner rant versus published article is mostly in editing and filling in the details, not in the spirit of what you are saying. i’m not really advocating that you write articles or anything; that’s something only you can feel the pull of or not. i just wanted to opine that what you have to say about fiber–as someone who has seen and lived parts of the fiber world most of us can’t–is part of the lore and shouldn’t be undervalued anymore than the fiber objects/skills we respect.

  12. I would totally subscribe to Fiber Obsessed Nut Job Journal.

    And the price on that ‘pillow cover’ nearly made me faint. Something so exquisite, so rare, so lovely, for only $50? Amazing.

  13. I find purely decorative embroidery (to be framed and displayed) to be in the not useful, interesting or worthwhile camp. My sister does it. Understand, I don’t think embroidery itself is not useful, interesting, or worthwhile; just the “framed piece”. I think the things we use/wear should be beautiful, and that’s what embroidery is for. (I’ll accept the sampler, because it is functional, at least as it was originally intended.) I guess this is the perennial art/craft debate. I think embroidery can be used for art, but craft, IMNSHO should be useful. I could use embroidery (or knitting, or weaving) to make an artistic statement, but that would not be following someone else’s pattern. That’s like doing a paint by number and calling it “art”. And I’m not demeaning craft here – I am proud of my craft. So proud I don’t want to demean it by calling it “art” (as if my exquisite craftsmanship wasn’t enough.)

  14. hmmm, macrame eh??

    well well well.

    This months Martha S. has a “no knit” scarf in it.
    They didn’t call it by the “m” word though.

    I must go ponder macrame now.

    We must reclaim all the crafts. Even the sad ugly ones. (O.k. not the glue gun ones)

    Making dinner, but thinking fiber.

  15. MY mother once sent me a package (internationally, mind you) containing a giant zucchini and cat hair. She thought that, despite all that Paris had to offer, I might be feeling homesick.

    I had a hard time explaining it to my host family. Some things just really don’t translate.

  16. Regarding your manifesto – what to call the compulsion – having an opinion, no more, no less.

    Fiber arts are that, arts, whether we participate, understand or have even heard of them. Most are for utilitarian purposes but have developed decorative accents or have become all decorative. All are valuable and should be preserved. That said, the arts do alter and develop over time. Example is the needle seaming on your potato sack. Not a traditional seam but a different and artistic change.

    Seriously, edit your manifesto – and many of the previous ones and submit them for publication. You have a wealth of knowledge and an ability to translate that knowledge into information that others can understand.

    I’ve been working through many of your older entries and have learned quite a bit from them. Please continue!

  17. Yes, you absolutely should submit the yarn manifesto of 10/18 for publication! It addresses important issues that go far beyond spinning, hobbies, etc. And I think it would be of interest outside of the spinning/knitting community too. You might try the Utne Reader, for example. Your writing is terrific and your ideas well thought out and presented. Go for it!

  18. Tell your mom that I’m up for adoption. I require no care or feeding, just an occasional textile package.

    Thanks for sharing. Is the costal wool or alpaca?

  19. ‘[…] but that probably happened due to a story like “then the packs came off the llama and fell about a kilometer straight down, I wish I hadn’t tried using that gringo rope” or something.’

    Don’t you mean, waylaka rope? 😉

  20. Ok, what is the purpose of pompoms? And where the hell did herculon come from? And last chance to rant, why does my twist tighten when I knit, whether I throw or scoop, right or left, knit or purl? Have at those fibery topics if you run out of your own. Wow, it is like asking the oracle, isn’t it?

  21. The rant might fit well as the last article in Spin Off – the one that always has some sort of musings.

    I have done a little tatting. To me the best use of tatting that I have seen is for earrings – small enough to be worth the time.

    I did follow in the family tradition of sewing my own wedding dress.

    Being a spinner here in Brittany is pretty rare – most French spinners that I have met are little old ladies that do exhibitions or younger women working in museums. Even knitting is pretty unusual.

    Sometimes non-USians are critical of the way that USians borrow from older cultures but I think that you (as a group) are responsible for keeping many, many crafts alive which would otherwise have died out.

  22. Well, it was a rant. A very enjoyable rant for fellow fiber nuts. You can keep it pure rant or hone your points as you wish, and I still think it would be publishable.

    I had no one to teach me knitting. I had no one to teach me spinning.

    I learned to knit from a book. That was it. I could knit.

    I started with written instructions for spinning, but I didn’t learn to spin from a book. I learned to spin by doing it. Every day.

    Someday I hope to be able to learn from others in person, more about spinning. Because there is not enough time for me to learn what there is to know about spinning by doing it every day. I cannot reproduce thousands of years of tradition on my own.

  23. You know, I had a minor revelation about naalbinding recently. I was teaching a couple of kids I baby-sit for to spin, and before I let them play with tools I gave them each a handful of fiber and had them practice drafting with it. Once one of them had a nice even length, I grabbed one end, she grabbed the other, and we started twisting, and folded it in half once it had enough twist. Voila, a few feet of yarn– no tools required, and now drafting made enough sense that I could start her on a drop spindle.

    But the thing is, those pieces of yarn? Perfect length for naalbinding. So that means you don’t need even the most basic tools for it– just your hands. Which, I though, is kind of interesting.

  24. Well said, meowgirl. 🙂 And yes, the Utne Reader would be a great venue.

  25. The “manifesto” was inspiring and also thought provoking. It made me look at things in a new way. Things that I already thought without words, you put into words. That’s what I want to read in Spin Off or any other magazine I read. Submit please.

  26. Two subscriptions to Fibre Obsessed Nut Job Journal please, one for me and one for my local guild.

    I’m in the camp that thinks you should publish – especially – the rants. Well, to you they’re rants, but to me they’re answers.

    My own reasons for spinning are more about freedom of choice and customisation, but some people just don’t understand. Now, in addition to the old ‘when the apocalypse comes…’ explanation, I can also tell them about how their entire lifestyle is built on spinning and the technological advances made by spinners.

    I don’t think that I’m making a lot of converts, but for the moment I’ll settle for raising awareness.

  27. Keep clear the difference between function & decoration. Spinning has both. Perhaps embroidery falls into only the second. Tatting probably also. But does that make it less ‘human’? Even Neandertal’s put flowers around the bodies of their dead. What good was that?
    So some crafts are merely decorative to satisfy the human spirit’s craving for beauty on functional objects. Heck we don’t spin for functionality. If we wanted functional, we’d buy the milled product. We spin for satifaction and beauty. So I don’t get other peoples needs always, but it satisfies them or they wouldn’t do it. I like a tatted edge. In a time before store lace, it was the lace. Yes, it’s a huge investment in time. So you treat that item with respect.

  28. My son came home with a new hockey stick the other day. “look mom it’s got this cool texture on it, it’s called “snake skin”. I looked closer at the stick and it had a fine thread wound around it, when you slide a (hockey) gloved hand up and down the shaft of the stick it makes a cool zingy noise.

    Textiles are everywhere, son.

    “what mom?”

  29. Abby,

    YES you should publish your rants, and why the heck aren’t you publishing your technical pieces already? Come on girl – you have got more knowledge in you than you aknowledge and it’s high time you put it to good use. You want people to to continue the textile traditions right? Who is a better person to pass those on? I would love to hang around with you and see what little things I couls pick up, but logistically I’ll just have to settle for your blog. BUT, you could be reaching a much bigger audience if you were to publish your ideas. We need peoples rants – that’s precicely what the editorial section is for…One can only have a decent argument if one knows and cares what one is talking about. Your rants exemplify those ideas (ideals?) so perfectly. I was moved by your most recent rant (OK so you’re preacing to the choir on this one) and I would bet that it would reel someone in who perhaps was on the line about persuing the craft. Rants such as yours have brought new worlds to me in different topics (organics, environmentalism, cooking from scratch – that sort of thing) and I researched the new to me topics to a proficiency level that now I too can rant about something that’s important to me. Rants aren’t bad, they’re persuasive, and simply because they’re more emotionally charged than some well researched and clearly outlined article may be is what draws people to them to begin with. Send your rant to interweave and see where that takes you.

  30. Hey, Abby and all others on this wavelength: last week I got a first glance at Nilda Callanaupa’s new book . . . no, it’s not out yet . . . Linda Ligon was its editorial and production guide, working between continents and languages and everybody changing things in big ways up to the week before press date, so it’s not perfect. It’s simply *wonderful.* Linda had three copies, two for the copyright office and one to let me look through enough to get a whiff of one of the most alluring books I’ve picked up in a while. It’s not “out” yet, but it’s been printed for real, so it should be available soon. . . . . . . .

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