It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, if by “hectic” you can understand me to mean that I logged off, didn’t sew, didn’t read up on how to sew, didn’t leave the house, didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t do a single thing towards furthering my journey into the middle ages.
You see, Jewish holidays abound in the autumn. There are two days of Rosh Hashanah, a day of Yom Kippur, two days for the beginning of Sukkot, a day each for Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, plus of course every Shabbat. Holidays. So there was an awful lot of time that I was free from the daily grind of housework, of going places, of spending money, of doing any of the ten thousand things that make up daily life, and you’d think that would mean I could spend that time relishing the feel of linen or wool in my hands, a needle delicately held between my thumb and fingers, thread slipping through and joining one piece to another.
You would be wrong.
During holidays — holy days — such as these, Jewish law forbids a lot of things. A lot of things, in particular, that one must do when making garb. Even reading a book about making garb would count as one of the categories of work, “planning for the future.” Normally I spend holidays relaxing with my cats and my bashert (‘destiny’, a word used to describe one’s soulmate, fiancé(e), spouse… you get the idea). I spend them reading, or catching up on sleep. This year, my bashert has been in Japan visiting her father and stepmother, and on non-holidays, speaking on the international panel at WordCamp Tokyo. Which also means that I’m not sleeping, because I don’t, when she’s away. All my books, I’ve read so often lately that they hold no enjoyment for me anymore, and I stupidly keep forgetting that libraries exist until it’s actually a Shabbat or holiday and I’m bored. And because there’s no synagogue within walking distance of my home (driving is also forbidden on the holidays), I couldn’t even get out of the house and spend time within a Jewish community. Frankly, it’s kind of sucked.
You would also think that, on the days that aren’t specifically holy days, I would be getting a lot of sewing done, or at least research, but again, you would be wrong. See, because I can’t do dishes or laundry or most forms of housework on the holy days, I wind up spending almost all my time on the non-holy days making up for those lost two or three days at a time. It’s frankly exhausting. The last thing I can do, when all that scrubbing and cleaning is done, is sit down to another domestic chore. Because, as much as I’m beginning to enjoy it, sewing is a chore, if I’m doing it when I’m bone-tired at the end of a long day.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it. Not in the way of planning for the future, which as you’ll recall is forbidden for me on holy days. No, I’ve more been thinking about just the very concept of sewing. Something about making even one item of clothing has caused a change in me.
Do you know how much technological genius you are wearing? Do you?
As I was getting “pretty” to greet the Sabbath on Friday evening, I stepped out of the shower and grabbed my towel, and paused. I have so many of these. How do I have so many towels? Oh, right — I bought them on sale at a linens store before it went out of business.
As I put on my hosiery and underclothes, I paused again. What the heck are these things even made of? I swear, there’s no nylon animal, no dacron plant.
It happened again as I pulled on my cotton jersey shirt and my cotton denim skirt. How do these two garments come from the same plant? How is it tough and sturdy in denim, yet soft and springy and stretchy in jersey, just because it’s woven a certain way? Who first realized that? Who decided to capitalize on it?
How did we leap from leather and fur clothing to fabric?Who discovered that animal fur, wool, and hair could be made into a garment? How did we go from using the wool of animals to the fibers of plants?
What genius figured out weaving, the joining-together of many fibers to make a flat surface? Who realized that thread was the answer to holding flat shapes together to make three-dimensional shapes? Who figured out the idea and the use of needles? What about knitting, Egyptian one-needle knitting (known to the Norse as naalebinding)?
And since no person can live in just one item of clothing all their lives, how many individual garments have to be made, how often, for every human being that has ever lived? How does it all get done? How do human beings, as individuals or as entire societies, ever actually manage to do anything other than clothe and feed themselves? How, in fact, did anyone have time to take away from producing these things by hand, enough to even develop the technology to do it by machine — to invent the warp-weighted loom, the frame loom, the floor loom; the knitting needle, the crochet needle, the naalebinding needle; the drop spindle, the spinning wheel, the great wheel, the charka; the mechanical weaving machines; sewing machines; the dozens and hundreds and thousands of tiny pieces of the grand technological web necessary to produce something as simple as a bedspread, or a sock.
Take a look at your clothing sometime. Really look at it. Get down into the weave, the fibers, the shape that fits your body so nicely.