A Comfort For The Trip
March 6, 2017
Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to make myself a garment of plant fiber that I grew, processed, spun, and wove myself. Comes from reading fairy-tales from a young age, I guess. Which is why it's always been nettles that I wanted to make it of. A robe of nettles would give me an unbroken connection to my family, traceable right back to the cave.
On page 151 of his book Japanese Mythology and the Primeval World: A Comparative Symbolic Approach, Peter Metevelis states that during the Gravettian phase of the Upper Paleolithic period (27,000 -17,000 BCE), bone needles became more common and people turned to plant fibers to create thread fine enough to make use of them. He credits Natalie Angier with citing nettles as the most likely plant they turned to first.
Remnants of a burial shroud made of nettle cloth were found in Bronze Age Denmark, showing that nettle was still being made into cloth in the 800's in spite of a thriving flax industry. The shroud was apparently made in Austria. Tracing the path of this shroud has shed light on the possible trade routes open at that time. This interesting article is worth a read.
Processing plant fiber eventually became a cottage industry and the special province of women. The height of its expression was in the making of linen in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries. Linen is made of flax, so I'll save the discussion of that for when I highlight that plant, but nettles can be processed using the same equipment and techniques as used for flax. A good look at the tools can be found here.
Interesting trivia: The fact that spinning flax was so exclusively done by women and the use of a “distaff” to hold the fiber for spinning has led to the term “the distaff side” to mean the woman's side of a family.
During World War I, Germany resorted to nettle cloth for its uniforms. Today, you can occasionally find ramie garments for sale. Ramie (Boehmeria nivea) is a member of the nettle family although it's less easy to process into fiber than Our Noble Interest, needing special treatment due to the gumminess of its fibers.
And there are still plenty of people who, for love of the craft, or the plant, or the concept, still spin fiber from nettles. Spinning enough thread to make a small project, a scarf perhaps, is really not all that difficult. Why not go ahead and give it a try? Here's a link to a site with clear instructions and here's a very nicely done video to start you out.
So here we are with an unbroken line of usage of our Noble Interest back to before time was measured in anything but personal experience. Did I forget anything? Have you tried this? Or, like me, are you still preparing for the experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing from you. Thanks for stopping by!
Tomorrow's Tales will pay honor to this plant friend who has been with us for so much of our path.