Anyone who knows me, knows I am mad about the Outlander series, first the books and now the television series. And not just because of a hunky Scott… Oh shame on you for thinking it… No, it is mostly because I love history, especially Scottish history. I love reading and discovering what everyday life was like, especially for women and especially regarding textile production. It is not by accident I chose the Shetland breed of sheep to raise, or love to listen to Celtic music. I even took up the fiddle at age ten. And choosing to live in a 100 year old house has a special charm to me as I sometimes speak to the ghosts within its walls to ask advise or just enjoy the companionship.
This fascination with fiber began back when I took a weaving class in highschool, at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. My teacher, Betty Johnson has no idea what treasure she brought to me, what world she opened up. It began a quest of self study, that has become my life’s work.
Now to the phenomenon of Outlander… The cool thing about it is that the central character does what I have been trying to do for decades, experience another time, smell the smells, see life through other eyes in another time. That is what learning how to knit and spin, animal husbandry, weaving, embroidery is all about for me, experience the fiber past, but in my own time.
During the colonial period, since England refused to allow colonists to purchase yard goods from any country except England, it became expensive. So many households went into production for themselves and their neighbors, growing flax, raising sheep, and processing the fiber, then creating clothing, bedding, curtains and most of the everyday needs of the household. We don’t know a lot of the details because these tasks were mostly left to the women and children and recording their tasks, how and what they did to contribute was not considered important history. Of course we know it is important. Often the economy of a village was based on bartering of these home produced goods. An excellent book was discovered then formatted with additional information called “A Tale of a Midwife” . One of my favorite books. This diary was discovered in a Maine archive and it chronicled a midwife named Martha in her daily chores of attending to the doctoring of her town and her fiber business she ran with her daughters during the late 1700’s. It was mostly in the form of record keeping, but what a wealth of information! I stumbled upon this book over ten years ago in a little Charlottesville book store during one of my little anniversary weekends with my husband.
So at times, I feel a kindred spirit in Martha. I juggle two careers as well… Instead of midwifery, I am a travel agent, and I own and operate a little fiber business… For my family and community, growing, processing and manufacturing clothing – mostly socks for the family and general public, and baby things for all the new additions my family is experiencing.
And I am like Claire in Outlander, living in a different time, but not needing to fall through stones to do it. And I get to learn and experience a little taste of what so many women before me had done… Keeping their families warm with their skill and their ingenuity and hard, yet satisfying work.