I read a post recently from someone looking for “cruelty-free” wool, coming (I guess) from an assumption that all human dealings with domesticated animals are certain to be cruel and exploitive.
Wool isn’t like that. Sheep-shearing doesn’t hurt the sheep any more than a haircut hurts us. It’s done in the spring as the weather warms and the lambs will be arriving. The shearing creates better sanitary conditions for the lambing. And that thick wool “coat” is hot, so the sheep don’t mind having it removed. Another plus: wool is a renewable resource.
Once we just wore animal hides (and perhaps a fig leaf or two). Gradually we clever humanoids figured out how to twist plant fibers together – linen, nettle, the fibrous long-stalked stuff. Eventually a shift from plant fibers to wool changed what we wear. Wool takes dye much better than linen, so our clothing became more colorful, and color-based weaving patterns evolved.
Nowadays, many women are spinning from their own sheep – it’s like the organic gardening of fiber production – and their sheep are treasured and well-treated as the precious resources they are. Wool-production can be a happy symbiotic human-and-critter relationship.
The sheep-raising, shearing, cleaning, combing, spinning are like the farming side of food production (laborious, messy and seasonal/slow), while knitting (and weaving, crochet) are like the delicious and tactile cooking/dining side of it.
Check out Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. It’s a real eye-opener about the role of sheep and wool in human creativity, and about human history in general.
Like many crafts, the fiber arts could also have magical connotations:
“Spinning was associated with woman’s concentration and craft, and with meditation and magic. To spin with intention was a way to magically direct one’s energies… The word seidhr refers to early Norse and Germanic shamanic trance and prophesying, but the word also connotes “string,” “cord,” “snare” and “halter.” In some seidhr-work, the intentions of the völva, the female shaman, are sent forth to seidha til sin, to “attract by seidhr,” as if snaring something and pulling it to you, manipulating from afar. The völva’s staff of office – her seidhstaf – looked like an ornamented distaff…
“The North Star was considered the point of Frigg’s spindle, as if all creation is spinning forth from Her…” – from A Magical Tour of the Night Sky *
This is some of what I think about when I gaze at the North Star. And when I knit.
* Spinning text © Renna Shesso 2011