"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Storyteller as Yarnspinner: 6 Reasons Why We Weave Sewing Terms in the Art

A storyteller adopts the imagery of weaving stories together whether or not there is a love of sewing fabric.

Why is that exactly?

Let us explore the terms we use to explain our art form inspired by the needle and thread.

First, a personal experience.

I took a sewing class during high school, but piecing together a dress was torture.
Instead, I was ready to weave stories during my World Literature class during my senior year.

I anticipated my senior year for many reasons, but one of them being the delving into Greek Mythology. Everyone knew about the Greek projects. We chose areas that interested us most in the culture, though some of us did whatever would be easiest to complete.

Most people created architectural miniatures of Greek homes, temples, or amphitheaters. As for me I was most interested in rhapsodes.

I do not remember how I came upon the word "rhapsode", but when I heard it, I could not let it go from my mind. Through the years, we had studied about Homer and with such epic tales as The Illiad or The Odyssey.

These tellers often sung their whole pieces so I knew I would need to sing the "Eros and Psyche" story to my classmates. I studied Greek music to get a feel for the common rhythms. Much of the tunes and words were improvised so I expected to do the same. However, I committed to memory key phrases and notes that would move the story along. I was dressed in Greek attire--of which I did not sew--and mentioned to everyone that I did not bring my lyre.

Funny enough, a lyre looks like a miniature loom.

The word itself, also known as rhapsoidein, meant in the Classic Greek language "to sew songs together" or "singer of stitched verse" or "sewer of formulas, lines, and scenes to share a performance".

Then, to add to this already visual way to think about storytelling, the rhapsode tended to carry a staff.

The staff was symbolic of the kind of staff a judge may hold. The audience saw this sign and knew that they had "a right to a hearing".

Though I have not seen any specific connection, the staff could even be like an enlarged needle to expand the sewing image.

Athena was a goddess over many things including weaving and sewing. You may recall the story of the weaving contest between Arachne and Athena. The lady Arachne has since been transformed into a spider as punishment for all the "bad" stories she wove onto her tapestries. The images showed each of the Olympian gods at a weak moment and Athena could not have those stories shared.

Besides Athena, Hermes was known for his stories. Interestingly, he carried a staff much like a rhapsode was expected to carry a staff. The staff is also a device used to herd sheep and goats. From these animals we get wool and thus the thread and weaving. Perhaps this was part of the reason he was known for his trickery and the telling of tall tales. He was a sewer of fabrications.

Even the word fabrication has the word fabric in it. Broken down even further, "fabula" is the Latin word for fable, story, or tale. The words themselves mean "the act of making" and has a female gender connected to the word. As women were often the ones sewing, weaving, and making cloth, the gender assignment makes sense.

Consider these other sewing phrases or words used in storytelling:
  • Spin a Tale/Weave a Tale/Spinster/Old Wives Tales--The sharing of stories often took place while woman gathered to take care of repetitious and monotonous jobs like spinning, weaving, and quilting. As these stories were often conversational and based on gossip, then the phrase "Old Wives Tales" came about. While a spinster was usually someone unmarried beyond the age expected to be married, then these women had more time to spin and thus more time to tell stories.
  • Text--Though we are an oral art, often times in history storytellers memorized or shared stories so as to be the text for the listeners. "Text" is short for "Textilis" or "Textiles". These words are Latin for "woven fabric". Robert Bringhurst, a Canadian poet, wrote, "An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns -- but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth."
  • Red Thread/Golden Thread--This may be the part of the storytelling that links and weaves all else into something comprehensible and meaningful. In the European middle ages, the color of red is significant for it was once seen as a sign of wealth and status. Sometimes, only royalty could wear this color. The dye itself was hard to get as it had to be dark enough. Curator Rebecca Stevens of the Textile Museum said, "People made their living trading this dye." It could also relate to the pleasing way red threads looked in a tapestry. Then, within the Chinese culture, you find the belief that when a child is born, there are invisible red threads that connect the baby to all the important people in their life of the past, present, and future. As a result, children have red thread tied around their wrists. Sometimes instead of a red thread it is known as a golden thread due to English influences. You may have read many stories of spinning straw into gold.
A bonus fun thought: A popular brand of sewing machine is known as "Singer". It seems we have rhapsodes still.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
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