Heart, brain and hands

IMG 20230702 093947 scaled heart, brain and hands

Yes, I live in a bubble. A bubble that is shaped by people who love textiles as much as I do. People who see the beauty in the fibres, the threads, the fabrics, the work of so many hands. At the last Flax Breaking Day, 13 people from 3 months to their early 60s worked together. We discovered fibres, spun, talked, laughed but also sweated and were dusted down to our underwear. It was great!

If one takes a step back, out of the bubble, the work that people did every day not so long ago to feed, clothe and warm themselves may seem meaningless. No one has to spin and weave and have clothes any more, a full stomach no longer depends on whether the small vegetable or wheat harvest turns out well, houses are warm even if no axe has chopped one's wood beforehand. All over. Everything better now - more modern, more pleasant, simpler. After all, one evolves, exchanges physical hard work for a less hard-won prosperity. We don't hunt mammoths any more. It's not even possible, they don't exist any more. But the broom-maker is also no more, and the twister. No wainwright makes wheels and barrels any more, no ropemaker works his rope trestle any more, no farmer has to weave baskets or carve clogs in winter any more. That's good, many people say, because not everything has to be carried on if it has become obsolete.

But is it really?  

"obsolētus" (lat) means "old", "worn out" and also "everyday" it does not mean senseless. How much beauty lies in these old, worn, everyday things. They remind us of people, of a life that has been lived, of the past, and this is where it starts to come to a head, because not every past was always beautiful. Anyone who has walked all the way from linseed to textile gets an idea of how hard this life must have been. Old, worn-out things also remind us of poverty. Of times when nothing could simply be replaced until it was really broken, and who wants to be poor? Especially when everyone around is slowly moving towards prosperity. We became a society that couldn't say goodbye to the past fast enough - looking forward to the future, the present almost an annoyance, because only progress promised happiness and contentment.

Of course, no one wants to remember hard times, but don't we just throw out the baby with the bathwater? What about the many beautiful, small moments that the hard working day also had to offer? Rosa, Maria or Anna also remember "It was nice when Mutta gspunna hot in the winter, in the warm room". The women are now 80 or older. They slaved as young women, certainly do not wish for the past to return in its entirety, but they like to be reminded of what working together was also like - namely satisfying, fulfilling, making them proud.

So it does something to our society when we willingly sacrifice old knowledge and old crafts on the altar of progress. We lose a piece of history that can be felt, not just read. A piece of identity, a piece of belonging. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution nearly 300 years ago that we in the Global North slowly began to move away from the lives of our Bronze Age ancestors. For 7,300 years we lived more or less directly from the fruits of our labour. When Anna tells us about her childhood in the Mühlviertel in the 1930s, she is much closer to the story of a girl from Bronze Age Hallstatt than to the everyday life of a modern child. In less than 100 years, we have disposed of everything that defined many generations before us.

Of course, I don't want to have to wash at the well in sub-zero temperatures and live on turnips, cabbage and potatoes in winter, but I don't want to lose all the good things of the past. If we as a society can't (and don't want to) afford to work online, remotely and flexibly as well as know how to break flax, tie a broom or make a wire basket, I don't want to lose all the good things of the past.

Old crafts are certainly obsolete, but they are not pointless and they do good. Why else would more people come together year after year to immerse themselves in the world of linen making with me? When heart, brain and hands work together to hold a small piece of linen in one's hands after a year with shining eyes that has grown in one's own garden, then it becomes clear what we lose when we simply let handicrafts go.


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