On Reading, Spinning & Weaving

My long-term book project, a fantasy novel I started in 2004 that has since grown fiercely in word count and scope at an unsteady pace, deals with textile arts. This wasn’t part of the original plan, but it wove itself (ha, yes, ridiculous pun intended) right into my story’s mythology. As a result, I taught myself to knit almost two years ago, and this year I’ve been studying looms and spinning techniques, neither of which I’ve remotely grasped.

One of the most intriguing books I’ve come across in my research is called Women’s Work, The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. It’s amazingly readable; Barber actually spun and wove fibers to emulate recovered ancient scraps, in order to deduce ancient methods. She also commented on a NPR story a few years ago about the oldest threads ever discovered. If you’re even remotely curious about ancient textiles, get this book.

While in Peru last December on vacation, Alex and I visited the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco (CTTC). This amazing place not only showcases traditional textile techniques, but also hosts regional residents as master weavers to pass on their knowledge to others. Many of these techniques were in danger of being lost as village youth move to large cities and live a more Western lifestyle; the CTTC preserves Peru’s textile legacy. While there, I bought Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories, written by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, founder of the CTTC. It’s a wonderful book about Peruvian village culture, history, spinning, weaving, and patterns, fun to read for the curious but also detailed enough for those who want to try the techniques hands-on.

My related current fictional reading is A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, a Rumplestiltskin retelling with rich detail about life as a miller. Since it’s a fairytale retelling and I’m obsessed with fairytales, of course I’m enjoying the heck out of it. I won’t say more until I finish it.

Finally, a related government document (seriously!) came across my desk today. It’s called  Cotton in Greece, published in 1971 by Horace G. Porter and Robert B. Evans for the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service (SuDoc: A67.26:238). This is a document we got from another depository library through the Needs & Offers process, and which is in our queue to be digitized as part of our A to Z Digitization Project (wherein we digitize every document on our shelves published before 1960). It’s a neat document for textile or history enthusiasts, and it’s got great photos and statistical tables, a good example of the wealth of historic government information that we’re making available online. It considers Greek cotton farming, ginning, and textile production in 34 pages.

Every time I look at the books I’m reading for fun, I’m reminded why I became a librarian in the first place. Something to do with the fact that “RESEARCH NERD” is imprinted on my soul. Mmmm, BOOKS!


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