Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Things I think of while making thrums.

This morning, I'm working on thrummed mittens. Thrums are short pieces of woolen fibre (or other fibre) that are drafted, then loosely wound around my fingers and left in a soft loop, to be worked into the mitten. The Thrum is knitted with a stitch every so often and creates little tuffets of soft fibre on the inside of the mitten. Over time, these tuffets felt a little and make an extremely warm lining to a mitten. Some people like to draft the thrums as they go, but I like to have a bin full of little tuffets in front of me. Thankfully there are no spiders.

As I was drafting a these many small strands of fibre, I got to thinking. I often try to avoid thinking because it usually produces foolish results, but you know how it is when a thing pops into your head and try as you might you can't quash it or put it back where it came from.

Today I will tell you a story about how idle play invented yarn.

A very, very long time ago, in a world where people did not have homes and farms, on a warm bright spring day, a pair of children were running through a meadow, playing as all young creatures do, and generally irritating their mother. They ran and laughed and shouted. They took tall reeds and pretended they were hunting. They took sticks and pretended they were clubs. Then they sat down to rest. One of them noticed some animal hair caught in the brushy plant next to them. The child idly pulled it out of the branches.

As children do, when they have something their hands and they are sitting there, laughing and talking with friends, this child pulled and played and twirled the fibre around, between and over its fingers. The child twirled the strand against his leg, and then began to pull the animal fibres apart again, repeating the same idle mindless actions. When this child looked at the fibre, it seemed as if the fibre had doubled in size, but was airy and thin like a gossamer spiders web. The child saw that when he twisted it, it looked like a clubby string of bark or leather.

The next time the children were out playing, they found some more of the animal fibre, and played with it again. It became something to look for as they played. Soon it became a game to find a pile of this fibre and who ever had the biggest fibre pile at the end of the game, won.

One day the mother came looking for her children because they were late to dinner, and she found the children surrounded by small tuffets of this woolly goodness , and she demanded the children show her just what would have been making them so late to dinner.

The children showed her how the strands of fibre could be stretched and folded and twirled to make some short strings. They showed her how you looked really silly if you stuck a couple folded strands under your lip, like big incisors. Heck you could look just like a sabre tooth tiger if you made the strands big enough. The other child showed how if you stuck two bits of fibre in your nostrils...well you just looked darn silly. The mother was not impressed.

Well, she was not impressed with the sabre tooth tiger game, and the fibre up the nostril game, but she was impressed with the soft pile of fibres. The smart mother realized that the fibres, when pulled apart, slipped against each other, and when twisted more closely together, formed a strong tough strand. The smart mother asked her children to collect more of this fibre, and bring it to her, as punishment for being late to dinner.

The observant mother started playing with the fibre. Over time she discovered that you could keep adding to your bunch of fibre by overlapping edges. She found that if she pulled the bunches softly together into longer thinner strands and that if she twisted the long strands she could form unimaginably long ropes of this fibre. She could make strands far longer and stronger than the ropes they usually braided from tree barks and leather. That meant life would get a whole lot easier.

This is fairy tale. There is no way to say exactly how people figured out that the fibres from a sheep or goat behaved in this magical way, but somewhere back in time, sure as the sun rises in the morning, someone once played with some fibre that was just laying around, and kept playing with it. Somewhere, someone in an idle moment, when there was nothing pressing to think of, realized that they could take it and make that found bit of fibre longer and stronger with a bit of a twist. Over eons of time someone else realized that they could form these strands into fabric and that they could do it in a whole bunch of ways.

Whatever really did happen, whoever they were, we owe them a small debt of gratitude. Yarn and string were probably happy accidents in the history of mankind, like Velcro and the glue on the back of your post it notes. Like a lot of happy accidents, all it took was for one person whose mind was open to possibilities to observe its magical properties and put those properties to good use.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely. Play. Who knows what magic we are going to invent next.

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