Sunday, January 11, 2009

Recreational History

Since I was 19, I have been active in historical re-creation. It barely existed back in 1972, so I got in on the ground floor. I've worked Renaissance Faires (the original Renaissance Faire in California), Old California fiestas, Gold Rush shindigs, Victorian events. I've even done Pirate Fairs lately, although that is not as much historical recreation as it is the evocation of a mass social hysteria - lots of fun, though, and the more authenticity you can bring to it (short of actual gore and mayhem), the better.

Almost 40 years of doing this has influenced all my needlework and crafting, of course. The deeper I got into it, the more historically accurate I wanted my handcrafts to be. So I've learned to card and spin and dye, (and discovered I am seriously spinning-impaired). I've learned naal-binding and Elizabethan 1-needle knitting, and found that they are basically crocheting without that handy specialized hooked needle. I've embroidered and I am very bad at it indeed. I've crocheted, I've netted, and now I knit.

Natural fibres and dyes are therefore always my first choice - except at Victorian events; they had aniline dyes, whoopee!
But my needles are all wood and bone, and my accessories are wood and metal: never plastic, because that way my kit works no matter what century I may find myself knitting in. I don't have to worry about packing and remembering to leave out the glowing fluorescent orange needles, or the stitch markers shaped like little fuzzy dice. (I really saw those, and they were quite a temptation.) I've got a cute little lambie tape measure, but I also have a 19th Century folding tailor's rod, and a plain old knotted string for older eras.

One of the things to always remember is that needlework is basically a practical art; no matter how wild our fancies are now, everything we do began in the desperate need to clothe someone. The men and women who invented knitting needed socks and gloves and caps and blankets; they learned to make their tools out of what was to hand and what could be improvised. Most modern knitters know they can use chopsticks and pencils in a pinch; imagine beginning with smoothed twigs! Believe me, they don't have to be straight to work well, although any society that has already invented the bow and arrow can turn out good knitting needles. I've used both.

Knitting is always living history. It's time travel and fables and immortality. We are literally stitching onto the fabric of human existence.

Sure can't do that with an iPod ....

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