Who’s Responsibility is it to Keep History Alive?

Amongst the many things I enjoyed about my recent museum outing, talking to people about different spinning methods across different cultures and the importance of keeping cultural practices alive has stuck with me and I’ve been thinking on it. I’ve been watching some youtbe video and google translating the comments. There was one video of a young girl spinning in an Eastern European technique and there were a few comments by older women who were joyed to see a young person spinning because they worried the techniques would die out with their generation. There are many more videos of old women spinning and comments from other old women saying that their skills are dying out because they know no young people who spin using their traditional methods. Mr Norman Kennedy tells a story in one of his videos how he visited a community to see their traditional spinning, and was surprised to see them spinning not with the traditional technique but an American one. He asks them how they learnt to spin and the answer was not from their mothers or grannies but from (American) books.

It is SO EASY for skills like this to be lost. No one writes them down because everyone can do it. Better to learn by being shown anyway. Then technology takes the role of the hard work that was done by hand and people stop, they don’t care for the hard work their mothers’ used to do. Then, often when the skill is gone (or almost gone) a new generation comes along that is interested in preserving this skill, but can they? If there have been too many generations then maybe not. But what if someone from another culture took the time to document and learn the skill that their mother’s turned away from?

As a living historian I do what I do to keep history alive, I research the social history, the skills and traditions that were passed down. My main field of interest is Western Europe in the late 15th century. When researching spinning techniques I come across a lot of different techniques from Western Europe, from Eastern Europe, from Asia… and I always wonder the same thing. Why is nobody talking about these. After that I start wondering, whose job is it to talk about these? To keep them alive? Should future generations be punished because the generations now aren’t interested? Are we, those with an interest in fibre arts, with the money and time to peruse fibre arts as a leisure pursuit responsible?

The great American craft revolution of the 1960s and 70s was fantastic, it has kept so many crafts alive and rebirthed interest in many. But when it comes to spinning its drop spindle spinning, oh and there’s support spinning too. Grasped spinning hardly gets a mention because the American craft revolution passed it by.

Spinning gets broken up into three main categories, suspended, supported and grasped and within those categories there are many variations and many techniques that cross categories. If I was categorising spinning I might not chose these divisions, in the same draw I can use my spindle grasped, suspended and supported with hardly changing my technique! But I’ll work with the divisions I have.

Starting next week I’ll do a tribute to supported, suspended and grasped spinning, a different one each week, and aim to post a video a day showing the variety of methods seen throughout the worlds.

I’ll post these on my facebook page and then do a roundup at the end here, so if you don’t follow my facebook page then be sure to like it!

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2 responses

  1. I think it would be great if you could post some photos of your hands and your spinning that are up close, as well as better video of your spinning technique. I do believe you have captured something that many others may have missed regarding spinning technique in a historical context.

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