Confluence: Yarn, Knitting, and Barbara Kingsolver

Well, here we are. This is my first non-Close Reading blog post (not counting quotes and albums) in a really long time. Life has been a bit of a winding road. That started at the end of 2015 and continued straight through the beginning of this year; but perhaps my circumstances have actually settled into a place where romantic relationships (coming and going) aren’t a misery-inducing distraction from me taking care of me, health isn’t an issue, and all those groups and individuals who were slowly sucking the marrow from my bones have themselves melted into my past. My energy is restoring itself. It seems dramatic to say, but I sincerely believe that sometimes we can’t recognize how miserable we’ve become when it happens slowly, bit by bit. The last few months have been a healing process from a lot that will remain unsaid in this medium. Feel free to ask me about it over a cup of coffee if we have that kind of relationship. If you’re only wondering about my next novel, well, I’m about 70,000 words into that and hope to have a final first draft by the end of the summer. Apparently, soul-sucking misery stunts my creative process.  Who knew?

Yesterday, I watched the documentary Yarn, directed by Una Lorenzen. It follows a few fiber artists doing some really interesting things around the world, tackling issues like feminism, political speech, and metaphor. In addition to featuring the stories of the artists, there is a short piece written and narrated by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver, who clearly must love to knit. I recently finished The Poisonwood Bible, and I also learned to knit just last year (over 4th of July weekend). Collectively, this makes me contemplative. I am finishing up my MFA (the last remaining bit being a finished draft of my craft paper – thesis is done), and I’ve been thinking long and hard about pursuing a PhD with a focus on how women write science fiction and how they tackle ideas through science fiction that would otherwise be minimized or dismissed if outright addressed.

Kingsolver does something similar in her novel The Poisonwood Bible. She weaves feminism subtly into a recounting of a white missionary family’s view of the African Congo during its bid for independence – a story that on its surface focuses heavily on race and religion. Both race and religious issues are eloquently woven into this novel, but that’s not what I’m focused on here.

The entire story is told through diary-style flashbacks of the reverend’s wife and his four daughters, first as children and then eventually as adults. So, it’s not so much that the book champions feminism specifically, as that every social, racial, and religious piece of commentary addressed by the characters is shone through the lens of womanhood and the need to be seen and heard in different ways. Orleanna needs to be released from the strictures of the a slave-like marriage. She needs to reclaim herself. Rachel, never in control of her life, needs to carve out a place that is entirely hers, to be the master of her own domain. Leah, constantly failing to live up to her father’s expectations, needs prove she’s as strong and capable as a man. Adah, constantly left behind and forgotten, needs to accept herself as is, and once she does, she can’t accept anyone else who doesn’t. All of these women are colored by the man in their life – whether he’s a representation of religious zealotry, misogyny, racial intolerance, or all of those things is a separate discussion.

Each woman’s underlying theme is a different take on the female struggle. I recognize pieces of myself in all of the women (even Rachel, the shallow thinker), and that seems intentional on Kingsolver’s part. So, what does this have to do with yarn or Yarn?

I guess it’s that women are taking yarn and fiber arts out of the home and away from the practical arts of garments and into public spaces. They are proclaiming that these soft, colorful objects take up space in our world. Whether that’s wrapped around a traffic light in Iceland, nailed to a wall in Cuba, in the ocean in Hawaii, on a stage in Denmark, or in parks and museums for children to play on. They are imposing their point of view on their surroundings.

One of the circus performers Mikail posed the idea that yarn was a metaphor for life. It starts as a simple strand and grows. It can grow into a tangle or into an organized pattern. Using nothing more than the yarn itself, it can be tied into any number of designs. I don’t know if yarn fully encompasses the complexity of life, but knitting certainly does impose order on the mind, even if only temporarily.

My mom taught me to knit in July, after two years of me coveting her knits. I was put off by it originally, because I’m left-handed, and I assumed it would be just as obnoxious as every other hand-related activity… like calligraphy or playing a guitar. We got around it by her teaching me to knit right-handed. Problem solved! Now I do it all the time. I love that I start with a string and end up with a cowl, a shawl, or a hat. It’s also a form of meditation. Repetitive, counting, and concentrated hand movements. It’s been a little less than a year, but I’m already thinking of designing my own cowls and shawls.

So, there you have it… not sure if I said everything I meant to say or what if I said makes sense, but I guess I’m getting back into the swing of this blogging thing, so we will leave it at that!

As an aside, below (and as the featured image), are photographs of one of the art pieces discussed in Yarn. When I interacted with it, it was at the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan in 2008, but the documentary had it installed in Rome, Italy. The artist is Toshiko, and her sculptures are also really beautiful!


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