I sold my flax, I sold my wheel, to buy my love a sword of steel
So it in battle he might wield, Johnny's gone for a soldier.
- Gone the Rainbow,
Peter, Paul, & Mary
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So much going on!

And now as always, I find when I'm overwhelmed I turn to spinning, knitting, and weaving, and so while I am trying to keep up with the bewilderment that accompanies these uncertain times, I find that I'm tearing through the roving on hand creating yarn, I actually have a project on the loom that I'm making progress on, and I've knit one pussy hat (pattern courtesy of the Pussy Project), am in the middle of another, with a third possible, though the third is more tentative.

As I started knitting, like I do, I looked up at M1 and said, this pattern is sort of whack, why didn't they just knit it in the round, then you don't have to worry about getting the ends  even or running out of yarn or... meh. I'm going to just do this in the round... She looked at me and started laughing and said, "This is exactly what you do when you're cooking too!  You can't follow recipes OR patterns without 'fixing' them, can you!?"  Nailed it.  She seems to have been watching me...  As a result I've come to accept that my cooking and my fiber-related projects are all more experiments and process focused rather than result and production focused. It makes it way easier to 'frog' (tear out) a whole knitting project when you aren't attached. Which reminds me, I have a failed felted sweater project that I should maybe create something clever out of.  Something to put on the back burner in my mind for tonight. 

As I've been in the midst of all this fiber work, I sometimes work in silence, using the the rhythm of the work to stabilize my breathing, give my hands something to do, and let my mind settle, and slow down enough to get into a mindfulness practice state.  It's very meditative for me.  I find a lot of similarities in the benefits of working with fiber in the way I do with what I try to accomplish with mindfulness practices -- I'm often more successful with fiber work because it does give my hands (and if I'm spinning with the wheel, my feet too!) something that doesn't require a lot of brain to do, but is calmingly repetitive.  I can easily lose an hour or two or three with fibers.  

Interesting to me is that Gandhi felt that returning to hand spinning and weaving were the way back to self-sufficiency and liberation for the Indian people, to the point that he proclaimed the charkha (a type of spinning wheel) and spinning the symbol of non-violence (A Bizarre Spin on The Spinning Wheel) as an act of deliberation rather than provocation. As such, the portable charkhas, often built into old cigar boxes for ease of portability became quite popular.  I have a cigar box I've been meaning to make a charkha out of and have not gotten there quite yet. All good things in time (unless I just eventually buy one because Reasons). 

Not quite the direction I was thinking this newsletter would veer off into but ties in well nonetheless!

When I'm not working in silence (or often spinning is done while I watch tv with the family), I listen to music.  Often, and lately, this music has been traditional Irish, British Isles, Appalachian/blue grass.  I have always found this type of music to be very resonant.  For Christmas this year, I got an album that had been on my wishlist for a number of years, of some of the Child Ballads by Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, introducing me to yet another version of the much beloved Tam Lin. The Child Ballads are an index of English and Scottish traditional songs (and American variants) indexed and studied by Francis James Child in the latter part of the 19th century.  This inevitably leads me off to the traditional Scottish Muckle Sangs (Great or Big Songs) - the long narrative songs, of which Tam Lin is also one.  I have a couple anthropological studies gathered albums done early in the 20th century, one of Irish music and one of some of the Scottish Muckle Sangs. I find the difference between the polish of current recording musicians and the beloved village singers of the earlier times fascinating. Once song belonged to the people and it is clear in the voices.  I love them all.  I should probably pick a different Muckle Sang but I love Tam Lin and the variations in the story as it comes through the ages is a point of fascinating illustration in and of itself to me, so here's Tam Lin sung by Betsy Johnston from Scottish Traditions 5: The Muckle Sangs for contrast.

I know, I know, what does this have to do with fiber and spinning and whatnot?  Well, in a sideways manner, some waulking songs came across my path again in the past week.  Waulking is fulling (or felting) woolen tweed.  Traditionally women beat the tweed after soaking it in urine saved and gathered from the village houses as the combination of urine and water helped neutralize the oils of melted livers of dog-fish that had been used to dress the wool.  All that on top of the smell of wet wool - even thinking about it makes my eyes water a bit at the smell!  

My first introduction to waulking songs was in library school.  I took a solitary "fun" class that was selfish and just for me rather than looking towards any direct career path I had at the time.  I took the storytelling class, taught by none other than Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald.  Combining my fascination with the stories carried by the traditional music of Britain and Ireland, as well as America (somewhere I've got an album of Revolutionary War era songs too), and being not far before rewarding myself for surviving a different adjunct's course on Content Management by buying a spinning wheel, I thought I'd look up songs associated with spinning, weaving, knitting... anything that came up?  O hai, waulking songs!  As graduate school goes, and then so life, I dug in, found some lovely songs and then the demands of the day-to-day get in the way.  So it was a lovely synchronicity as I've been listening to the Child Ballads and the Muckle Sangs again to see a post come through my Facebook feed incidentally on waulking songs! Including this lovely song by Karen Matheson - My Father Sent Me to the House of Sorrow

And just to wrap things up, the song, that sticks in my brain as the first song that I can recall tied to spinning - originating from Ireland as Siúil A Rún (in college I discovered the gorgeous Clannad version) but in America found as early as the Revolutionary War era sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary as a variant of 'Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier/Buttermilk Hill' called Gone the Rainbow and I have no memory of the first time I heard it - it's one of those songs that seems to have always been there in my memory.

This interweaving of music and people's work and life experiences is something that brings me back to folk music time and time again. Today was entwined with fiber work that I also enjoy, but perhaps future newsletters will cover some of the other areas that have also captured my interests and attention.  

With love and curiosity,

Copyright © 2017 The Mythic Librarian, All rights reserved.

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