Building Blocks

I need to do posts on cheap and easy ways to get started spinning and weaving, since those are going to be much of my focus when talking about esoterica, so people can at least give them a try. Both often seem like daunting — and expensive! — hobbies to get into these days, since they’re rather niche, and many of the tools made for them are complicated, pricey, or both. Remember, though, that these are some of the earliest, simplest and most primitive ways of making wearables. Only felting is easier, and even that may or may not be earlier. Our ancestors did these things with sticks and clay, usually making their own tools rather than there being specialized people who made them. We have better resources and tools for making our tools, now, making it all the easier for us.

But that’s not what I came to tell you about. I came to talk about the draft.

No, no, that’s not it, either. That’s an Arlo Guthrie reference. I will talk about the draft at some point, but it’ll be about drafting fiber while spinning. Incidentally, did you know: all the different things we use “draft” for — drafting as in drawing precise plans, a draft of air, draft beer, draft animals, the military draft, and drafting in spinning — all those come from the original meaning of “draft” as “pull or draw”. Pulling the pencil across the paper (“draw” means the same, here, pulling the crayon or whatever across the paper), a small amount of air being drawn in through a crack, beer drawn from a keg, animals that draw or pull a cart or what have you, people being pulled from the civilian population, and some fiber being drawn out in from a larger amount.

End diversion.

No, I want to talk about building up large textile pieces from small ones as a method of building spells. This isn’t a spinning technique, but it is one that applies to weaving, knitting, crochet, quilting, and probably many more. In knitting and crochet, it’s granny squares, those simple, small squares that beginners can learn quickly to do, then finish one and move on to another, encouraging more of a feeling of accomplishment than an endless scarf that seems like Xeno’s been philosophizing about it. And then when you have a bunch of granny squares, you join them all up. Block quilting builds up, yes, blocks, out of smaller pieces of fabric, sewn together to form patterns (I do wish I still had pictures of some of the quilting I did in high school). You see this sort of thing less often in weaving but certainly you can do it there, too, using a small loom to do small pieces that are then sewn together to make much larger ones.

In particular when it comes to weaving this way, small triangle and square (and other shapes) looms like these are designed to let you build up a set of shapes to join together. A potholder or loop loom can be used to similar effect, and is rather cheaper. (You can get cotton bands for those instead of the nasty nylon ones, from here, and other places, by the way. You can also use continuous loop methods with yarn on those.) Backstrap and other narrow-strip looms are also traditionally used to make smaller pieces that a larger item is then made from, although those are typically done in long strips, and so are less suitable for this particular type of project. There are other uses for that sort of weaving.

The idea is to make each small piece a spell or prayer in itself, one that can be done relatively quickly, and then to piece them together in a whole that works with all of its parts and builds something greater. It’s particularly good for devotions to pantheons of which you pray to one or two a day, like my Purple Thread set, or the thiasos of the Starry Bull pantheon; for large spells with a number of elements; and as an alternative to things like candle-a-day spells/prayers/rituals in which you light a candle every day for a given number of days.

Say, for example, that you want to work a protection spell for your family. Instead of working one big spell for everyone once, build up more power by picking a pattern or color for each person, and doing one (or more, but for simplicity) granny square every day, cycling through the members of your family. Pick the square size by what you can get done in a specific amount of time you can set aside, whether that’s twenty minutes or two hours, and set aside enough time each day to complete that day’s piece all at once if at all possible, just as you would with any ritual or spell. For a definite spell like this, pick a specific size of final project, such as a baby blanket, throw, coverlet, rug, or garment, depending on the size and number of squares. For something you plan to keep doing indefinitely like a round of prayers, you can just keep collecting a bunch of them and turn them into something when you have a lot. A season’s worth of four-inch prayer squares gives you 1440 square inches, 120 square feet, a square piece almost eleven feet on a side. Stitching them together is then a ritual act, too, that joins up all the parts of a spell or cycle of devotions. Imagine having a blanket of protection to literally wrap your family in, or a rug large enough to cover the floor of a room made entirely of devotions!

If you’re a pure energy worker, who prefers to just pour intent into the thing, go for it, but frankly, I prefer coming up with little chants or prayers I can recite, aloud or in my head, while I work. Makes it harder to work on the project at a Stitch’n’Bitch, but frankly, I don’t want to do ritual crafting in a group environment anyway. There are a number of examples of my style of chants and prayers on this blog, which were mostly written for spinning but are certainly useable for other things, too. If you want help writing one for a specific project, let me know. But they can be just a single line, too: “Hera please protect my family, Hera please protect my [wife/husband/partner/child/parent/sibling],” “Athene, let justice be done,” over and over. As you work, you may find yourself modifying your chant to better match the rhythm of your work, and that’s a good thing. The more closely matched your words and work are, the less energy you have to put into thinking about it, and the more you have to pour into the prayer or spell. The chant should be an aid to your work, not a hindrance. You’re going to be spending a lot of time reciting it, so make it something you can recite over and over — watch out for tongue twisters. If you’re musical, make it tonal or sung. (I’m not musical, and while some of my chants have “tunes” in my head, I rarely manage to reproduce them out loud.) If you have recorded music that you feel expresses or underscores your purpose, play that too, and maybe sing along as your chant. I like to have drums playing for background, that I can match my rhythm to, but they have to be the right ones, that have the right rhythm for the work.

Before you begin the project, consecrate or dedicate your tools and materials, as you would with any ritual work. If you get really into this method, you may even want to keep a set of needles, hooks, or a specific loom for this work. Dedicate your yarn to your purpose, and remember to dedicate any further yarn you have to pick up. Before beginning any one day’s work, perform any ritual purifications, meditations, or grounding and centering methods you normally use before other kinds of ritual work. This is a ritual, and should be treated as such. You may find yourself modifying these procedures to bring them into accord with this specific work, and that’s fine, but don’t skimp on them.

There are, of course, many many many patterns for crocheted granny square projects (that’s where the term comes from). There are also instructions for knitting them, or you can just knit blocks of your favorite pattens and colors in squares or rectangles and use them the same way. (I’ve seen some people insist that granny squares are definitionally crochet, and definitionally done in the round, but I’ve seen plenty of crochet patterns that are called granny squares that are not done in the round, and you can certainly knit things that work the same way for the purposes under discussion here.) If you quilt instead, you can build blocks as part of this spell and then actually add more layers to the spell not only as you stitch your blocks together, but again as you quilt or tie the top to the lining (eventually I’m going to specifically address the esoterica of sewing and quilting, but for the moment, suffice it to say that they have to do with both delineating and joining, and with the power of thresholds and borders). If you’re using small looms like the ones I linked to, the edges of each piece must be finished, and that can be made ritual, too. The more steps there are to your project, the more layers of meaning and ritual you can add.