Sometimes when I knit, I think of my grandmother, who patiently taught me to knit when I was little. Her needles flew, with a rapid click-click that never seemed to stop. She lived in England, so when she wasn’t visiting us, she would mail me books, comics, and nature articles clipped from magazines. I became a voracious reader, and while those Rupert Bear books will always have special place in my heart, my favorite stories soon became the fairy tales.
Have you ever noticed how often fiber arts come up in these types of stories? Is it because knitting, spinning, and weaving were integral parts of daily life for the original tellers of our favorite tales? Or is it because the fiber arts have a kind of magic of their own — a something-from-nothing spell? Fairy tale characters are often clever and resourceful — dare I call them “crafty”? The craftiest one of all might just be Anansi the spider from African folklore. Anansi spins stories as well as webs, and frequently uses his weaving/spinning ability to get himself out of a tight spot or to get the better of a rival.
Many of the fiber artists in stories are strong, resourceful women. The most well-known example might be Penelope, of Homer’s Odyssey. In a bid to delay having to choose a suitor, Penelope states that she will make her choice once she has finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law. Every night, she unravels that day’s work, postponing her decision a little longer. While Penelope cannot forcibly eject the suitors from her hall, she utilizes her knowledge of fiber arts to outsmart them until Odysseus returns home.
In Cap O’ Rushes, the heroine, cast out of her father’s house, is able to disguise herself by weaving a cap and cloak out of reeds. No one recognizes her for the noblewoman she is, until she chooses to reveal herself. Because she knows how to transform grasses into garments, she survives and even lives happily ever after.
The magical power of knitting features prominently in The Wild Swans, where a young woman must make a special sweater for each of her brothers, who have been transformed into swans. (In some versions, she sews shirts.) The sweaters must be made from a specific plant, which also varies from tale to tale, and she may not speak until the project is completed. In the end, the young woman runs out of time — one brother is left with a swan wing, as his sweater was missing a sleeve. However, her determination and skill saves all of their lives.
I feel a thrill to know that I share skills with these impressive heroines. Traditional fiber arts skills have been passed along for generations, and now I am a part of that story. While my sweaters may not be able to break a spell, there is something undeniably magical in the creation of a garment out of sticks and string.
Do you have fairy tales from your childhood that feature fiber arts as well?
We’ve all got one or two on our list — the friends and family members who seem to have everything. Every year we agonize over the perfect gift for these people (some of whom are inordinately talented gift-givers themselves, which just makes it worse). Since I’m always better at solving other people’s problems than I am at addressing my own, allow me to make some suggestions for the tough ones on your gift list.
The stocking stuffer for your sister-in-law (also great for Yankee Swap gifts at work, or book group gifts): Lavishea lotion bars! These delicious-smelling items are non-greasy, so you can moisturize without worrying about your knitting. They come in lovely scents, like Lavender, White Lily & Amber, Coconut Lime Verbena, and Yarn (which smells like almond croissants, in case you were wondering). Perfect for stashing in your knitting bag, Lavishea bars will keep cracked hands at bay this winter with the power of shea butter.
Similarly, our kilt pins (available in two sizes, and either silver or gold finish) make great stocking stuffers for your Scottish uncle anyone who likes a statement piece of jewelry. The pins are elegantly simple on their own, but you could personalize this gift a bit by adding a few beads or charms in the recipient’s favorite color or style. Kilt pins can be worn on the lapel, as a brooch, or can be used as shawl/scarf pins when you want the attention to be on the knitted item.
Kids can be challenging to shop for at the holidays — most seem to have so many toys already! We just got adorable “Top This!” hat kits that come with a multi-color & texture ball of yarn, plus a plush animal that goes on top. You could knit or crochet one of these up in an afternoon for a young child, or use it as a learn-to-craft item for an older child — the rewarding final touch of a cute puppy/kitten/giraffe on top should help fuel their enthusiasm if the going gets tough. For kids who aren’t into hats, the Top This! kits can also be knitted or crocheted into little blankies with a friendly critter at the corner.
And in case fingering weight yarn is more your thing, consider our newest color of Malabrigo Sock: Light of Love. For anyone (teenage or otherwise) who loves pink, this yarn is the answer. It would make wonderful socks or fingerless mitts. Or give the skein to your favorite knitter to let them know how you feel about them.
Your friend loves to shop local, and always enjoys gifts made by local artisans. In this case, the answer is a ceramic yarn bowl by Devenney Pottery. Devenney Pottery is a husband & wife team based in Jefferson, Maine (Hi, Joe & Mary!). They make amazing ceramic items, and their yarn bowls are no exception. My cupboards at home are filled with their mugs, and they also happen to be two of the kindest, most lovely people I know. If you take home one of their yarn bowls for your friend (or for yourself!) you can feel good about supporting a pair of talented local artists.
Finally, the Big Ticket Item. This is the gift for the crafter who has it all, the knitter who wants to try something new. We only have three of them this holiday season, and they’re going to go fast: Schacht Cricket Looms! These 15″ Cricket Looms come with everything you need to start weaving, including yarn, instructions, and project ideas. I’ve been thinking of getting one so I can weave placemats for my mom. It’s a great starter loom, doesn’t take up much space and, at under $200, is a great way for someone to try their hand at a new craft.
Thinking of gifts for everyone can make this time of year feel overwhelming and stressful. Above all, the most important gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of your time. Take a deep breath and remind yourself to be present. Sometimes it’s not about a physical gift, and sometimes people really do already own everything they need or want. For these folks, consider giving a donation in their name to a cause they care about — the Heifer Project allows you to gift a family with a sheep! Or if education is more their thing, you could always give on their behalf to a non-profit like Few For Change. (Ask me about Few For Change whenever you like — my partner Brooks is a board member and I support their work wholeheartedly.)
May your holiday season be stress-free, and full of love, light, and tasty food!