Sunday, February 06, 2011

Knapsack 2-10-11

Twelve Years Old in Granville -- Granville Sentinel 2-10-11

Jeff Gill

[This is eighth in a series of twelve stories based on historic fact,
or known small details, about life in this area from the point of
view of a twelve year old.]

Some 2000 Years Ago

She had watched as closely as she could, but it was still a puzzle.

Her mother had set up the loom under the tree where the well-worn
branch showed, in two polished patches of bark, that they were not
the first of their people to set up their weaving here.

They had spent the last few weeks with the fibers, dried after their
removal from the proper plants which were themselves pulled out of
the marshy ground. In large circles, sitting cross-legged on the
hard packed clay surrounding the fire hearths, they had hand rolled
the fibers of thistle and milkweed stems into longer cordage.

The smaller, younger girls had rolled pieces together between their
palms like a daub of riverbank clay turned into a worm, but now
compressing and straining until the tubes became strands – then they
passed those bits on to the older women, who with nary a smile would
roll them between their work hardened hands and along their thighs,
and in no time see those strands become strings.

When the strings were spun into long fiber (by some amazing work done
by women with longer fingernails, dangling spindle weights, and
skills the younger girls despaired of ever matching), it was then
passed around the circle to the beginning again, where the littlest
young women rolled it up onto clay cylinders until a fat ball of
cordage was the result.

Some of that cordage had been woven into a multi-strand rope that
made up the sides of the loom that now hung down from the tree
branch, and other stretches of it had been taken to the fire camp,
where larger pots sat ready with water and nut shells or berries. The
girls of her age had been sent down yesterday to the creekbed, where
they gathered up fist-sized rocks that were hard and dense, not the
stone which easily scraped down into sand, and those stones were now
in the big fire.

Older women with longer arms (and some of whom already had scorched
eyebrows) took pairs of green sticks with small forks on the end, and
lifted the rocks to where they could gently place them in the pots.
After a short time of cooking the dyes with the water, the rolls of
fiber would be placed into them, coming out sometimes with colors you
couldn't always predict. She had just learned yesterday that it was
bright yellow-green hickory nut coats that made the best black dye.

Now the challenge was to master the rhythm of the snake stick,
flashing it back and forth between the vertical strands, tapping down
with the lightning stick to firm up the horizontals from above.

Her mother was making a beautiful pattern, one that echoed the story
of their clan, colors contrasting and marching back and forth among
the more stolid background, like the tale of the people across the
face of the earth, like the weaving of the sun and moon across the
sky and through the year.

She was just working with a solid color, trying to make a sturdy
piece of rough cloth that could cover a baby (maybe even hers in a
few years, absurd though that might seem), or just a panel for a
shirt or pair of trousers.

It looked so easy as her mother worked, and she kept saying "It was
hard for me at first, dear" as she worked her weaving up from her lap
into the air above her head.

The weave was loose, and the ends of sections of fiber hung at odd
intervals, but slowly, row by row, the small loom filled out in the
shadow of the larger one. She would get better.

[There is little fiber found in the ground from the period of Native
American life in Ohio called "Hopewell," but from impressions left in
clay surfaces, and a precious few scraps preserved by contact with
copper, we know their weaving technology was quite skilled, to the
extent of making fine fabrics.]

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