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35 The Colour Collaborative: December: Spice

We generally choose the themes for this series some weeks in advance, so why I frequently find myself throwing a post together at the last minute is beyond me. Although that said, most of my blogging is 'real time', it keeps me on my toes, and means that even when I start the month with a notion of what I'll write I generally end it having been led elsewhere by 'life'. Thus the strips I tore from an old cotton sheet prior to dyeing them every shade of lemon, yellow, and orange with saffron and turmeric are still white, And plan B - make gingerbread, mull cider - similarly got no further than the purchasing of cinnamon and star anise.

That's brown cinnamon, and brown star anise. And other Christmas spices - allspice, cloves, ground ginger, mace, nutmeg, and vanilla - are also all brown. Not that I'm surprised by that, it's the colour I'd expect dried up bits of old plant to be, but 'Christmas' and 'spices' ... is it only me who thinks of richer hues? An orange studded with cloves, a glass of mulled wine complete with cinnamon stick, even a spiced latte. Interestingly I managed to isolate all those colours from the picture above.

As if to prove the 'real time' blogging point, I wrote the above yesterday evening and had intended to finish with another paragraph or two this morning. But I woke to discover that yesterday's slight skin irritation had turned into today's 'that looks like a nasty infection, see a doctor pronto', which I duly did. And now the mega strong antibiotics I'm on are making me feel a tad odd so if you'll forgive me I'll stop there.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below ...

Sandra at Cherry Heart       Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

CJ at Above the River       Jennifer at Thistlebear     

What is The Colour Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.


31 String theory

Elderly woman weaving on a loom.

I'd meant to post this yesterday, but my mother had another fall while shopping (that's two in three weeks) and was in need of some TLC after she returned from A&E (looking like a purple version of Vinnie the Panda from the Fox's 'Biscwits' ad!).

I found myself pondering old age in prehistory, as you do when you're seventy pages in to a book about 'women, cloth, and society in early times' - Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - that has a good deal to say about women's role as mothers but not much, so far as I can see, about their role as daughters.

Google 'prehistoric life expectancy' and at first glance you might suppose that no one lived to be old. Life expectancy at birth was low - late teens at best - because infant mortality was high, but those who made it into adulthood could reasonably hope for another decade or two at least, and women who survived their childbearing years another decade or two again. Old women might have been few in number but old women there surely were. Which brings me to my first criticism of this actually rather splendid book ... if it contains any references to mortality, to ageing, or to childhood, they're not listed in the index, instead reproductive women take centre stage*. Is this a normal bias in prehistoric scholarship? A necessary one, given how little has survived from that long ago? Does anyone know?

I ask because it seems to me that the obvious compatibility of spinning and weaving and sewing with childcare - it's easier to leave your loom to attend to an infant than it is your crucible - although central to the book's argument is not the whole story. I almost cheered when I read the following -
Perhaps the most important thing that has been omitted from the book is fiction ... I ask, what was life really like? What hard evidence do we have for what we might want to know about women's lives? No evidence means no real knowledge.
- as anyone who has ever attempted to watch an episode of Who Do You Think You Are with me will tell you, I become quite aggressively animated by the amount of pure speculation therein. But is there really nothing in the archaeological record concerning those too young to bear children, or too old? Nothing in the linguistic studies on which Elizabeth Wayland Barber draws of girls learning the 'how' of textile production** or grandmothers with long experience of it?

What I'm left with, a preface and an introduction and two chapters in, is an uneasy sense that voluptuous 'grass skirted' Venus figures - evidence of the 'string revolution', the twisting together of fibres into 'strings' that, perforce, preceded sewing and weaving - and descriptions of similar garments in mythic tales of fertility recorded by Homer, maybe tell us more about men than they do about women? Your thoughts? (Do please chime in, whether or not you're reading along.)

* Given that I have the advantage of having read this book previously my approach is perhaps more critical than first time around, but I'm resisting the urge to look ahead and I find that I remember far less than I'd thought I did.

** Interestingly the words 'err' and 'error' have prehistoric origins and are cognate with 'out of the right path', something I'm sure could have been said of many a beginning weaver's weft!

Image source: US National Archive 142-H-154, c. 1933.


38 Green and white

Budding hyacinths planted in an old gravy boat, seen from above.

I think they're going to flower before Christmas. Bother. White hyacinths in an old blue and white gravy boat* ... I plant a few up every year but getting the timing right is always a bit hit and miss.

My top tip for banishing the winter glums is to fill your house with green, growing things. Cue more pics of the green stuff I'm growing here? Sadly no. You can blame the lack of light, again ... I'll have another bash at photographing them on a brighter day. (Edited to add ... the sun shone yesterday, while I was not at home, I guess we can blame the perversity of the universe** for that.)

There are white muscari waiting in the wings, but it'll be February before they take centre stage. Meanwhile January would previously have been all about paperwhites, but I've become ever more sensitive to the pong in recent years, so I'm thinking pots of white cyclamen and maidenhair ferns will do very well instead. I wonder, are you a paperwhite loving person, or are you in the 'they smell of cat pee' camp with me? And what else do you grow indoors in winter?

In addition to the green stuff I tend to surround myself with white stuff all through the short grey days ... white flowers, white candles - Rose Geranium, from the Spitalfield's Candle Company is my current love - my favourite white mugs - they're perfect for hot chocolate - and natural white yarns.

Struggling to articulate why I find the absence of colour so appealing I decided to read Kenya Hara's White. Not because it is a book about colour but because it is a book about colour, and perception, and emptiness, and silence. Hara's suggestion that our world glows more brightly when we truly 'get' white has me hooked. Expect a proper review of the book soon.
"The names of colours function like a thread attached to a frightfully slender needle, capable of stitching together our most delicate emotions."
Kenya Hara

Thank you sweet people for your comments on my last post. I'm intending to reply to them all with a comment of my own but it's taking me a while so please forgive me if I haven't got to every one of them yet.

I'll be back on Sunday with my first proper post about Women's Work, so if you're reading along do please pop by then and share your thoughts.

Linking with Laura's The Year in Books.

Please note. This is not a sponsored post, all product links are personal recommendations.

* The gravy boat pictured is identical to this one. I was so preoccupied by the challenge of shooting in poor light on a gloomy December day that I forgot that you might like to see the jug as well.

** O'Toole's Corollary of Finagle's Corollary of Murphy's Law (apparently): "The perversity of the universe tends towards a maximum".

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