How to Spin A Shawl From Moonlight

A while ago, I wrote about a magic carpet I made, a blanket spun from the midnight sky and legends. I mentioned that I wanted to spin moonlight and make it into a shawl. If I could no longer sit upon the midnight sky, perhaps I could drape myself in moonlight while I wrote. A little signal to my unconscious mind to release itself in a powerful way, packed with symbolism of the moon. A signal to my inner muse.

Occasionally, I will dye and spin wool into a tangible metaphor, something much more than a simple scarf or hat. The entire time I work on it (the blanket took a year), I contemplate a theme I wish to associate with the project. Then, every time I use the item, I remember its creation and subject. It’s a constant reminder of an extended daydream designed to help me achieve my goals.

For instance, once I dyed wool with coffee and made a thinking cap. If I had problems concentrating during finals week in college, I would wear my literal thinking cap to use in a metaphorical way, tricking the subconscious into helping me instead of wandering to and fro. Of course it worked, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. I was about to fail a class unless I passed a test I didn’t understand the material for, and I got a B. I wore the hat, I was answering complicated algebra problems that I didn’t understand, I was showing my work without knowing what I was doing or why, and I got a B.

In other words, it’s magic. Whether or not it is done by tricking the mind.

To those unfamiliar with the symbolism of pagans, understand that we do not study from a sacred book. We study the patterns found in nature, and use those as a metaphor. Our students are encouraged to spend time meditating on the elements and forces of nature, to use them to find wisdom and meaning in their lives. We look into nature as a mirror, our spiritual experiences are viewed as subjective and a reflection of our unconscious, a primal method of understanding our minds and healing our own psychology.

So when I set out to spin a shawl from moonlight, I looked to the moon as an archetype and thought of ways to tie it to my storytelling, telling myself that I would be more easily inspired and my writing would have more depth when I wore the finished project. The fibers in my hand continually set my wandering mind back to my purpose, the way some religions do with beads they hold as they pray or meditate.

All of my wandering thoughts were framed in the light of the moon. Times away from my knitting, as I cooked and cleaned, ran to the store, watched movies with my love, my thoughts were still colored by the day’s contemplation of the moon and how it ties into story.

The moon is the lover of the sun, transforming the sun’s harsh rays into something softer, more gentle. Traditionally, this is seen as the union of man and woman, woman taking in the light of man and transforming it into something new and delivering it to the world. Action and reaction, cause and effect. We see the moon grow round and pregnant, and then shed its gains and wither, and in that we see the life cycle of woman, we even recognize her tides as connected to the moon’s.

The moon controls the movements of the ocean, therefore the moon has dominion over water. Our blood is mostly water, water is life. It nurtures and relieves us, and it is our tears. We feel a connection between the rise and fall of the tides and the rise and fall of emotion in our lives, we feel our hearts fill with emotion like a shivering puddle, rising to overflowing.

Water as the realm of love, holds shadowy depths where we find metaphors for the unknown, the subconscious, madness, and despair. Sometimes we drown in feeling. We swim through emotion in the light of the moon as the tides pull at our heart, calling us into dreams and reveries under the stars.

This is not just the realm of love, it is also the realm of prophesy, predators, and fear. Under the illusions of moonlight, sometimes we sit alone even in the company of others, falling into a quiet madness. Sometimes the madness will not come fast enough, so we encourage it with the help of a little drink, or perhaps a pill, or both. Through madness, drink, or natural sleep and dreams, the moon is often a gateway to other worlds.

We can become lost in the dark, hunted upon, as the world becomes distorted in shadow. But the path of the moon also brings peace, a quiet and gentle reflection, a time of healing and growth. Some are comfortable in the light of the moon, feeling no fear from the shadows. Though perhaps it is delusion, and perhaps sometimes it is the confidence of one who knows they are the largest monster in the forest.

The moon has all of this symbolic wealth and more, a bounty that any writer can enjoy. The path the moon took me down was pleasant. I jotted down many new ideas and polished up old ones; spending time letting my fiction swoon with emotion, letting truths be spoken through shadow, distorted by mists and moonlight.

My results are a little gory. That would be entirely my fault, and is not the fault of the moon. If I started this exercise as a romance writer, I’m sure I wouldn’t have ended up eating beef heart as part of my research in how to cook a human heart. Though that actually is a love story, I promise.

In fact, the whole Valentine’s day thing has done strange things to me in general this year, and I blame the shawl. I can think of no other reason why I would be designing greeting card covers and playing around with dark love sonnets. I’m even seriously toying with the idea of offering a line of Valentine’s Day cards next year. One that might feature a still life I have planned, if I can get my hands on a photogenic enough pig’s heart.

P.S. – The beef heart. Oh, that enthusiastic slab of flesh was so ready and willing to be a perfect metaphor. I now know that if you cook heart without slicing it thin enough, you will end up with a range of words like blackened, charred, or cracking (that pair lovely with the idea of a wounded human heart), and yet when the meat rests it will still weep blood. This heart in particular was cooked twice and still bleed, I had to slice it to cook it a third time. I believe the thing was auditioning to freak out a murderess.

The end results were wonderful, like steak without getting fibers stuck in your teeth, even the wary men of the house tried some and wanted more. The dogs were thrilled. Next time, I’ll slice thinly before throwing in the skillet.

How To Make A Flying Carpet

I miss my flying carpet. I have a spinning wheel, an old friend named Molly Grue. She is an Ashford Traveler, designed to be portable. I named her after a cook for bandits, a fiercely domestic woman with a temper to raise storms and a love of adventure.

At one point in our friendship, I bought a book on the mythology of the stars. Not just the lore behind constellations we grew up with, but also hints of how the sky was seen by other civilizations through history, and a few tips on better reading the stars yourself. It was a story so beautifully told it filled my heart with magic, and I found myself buying five pounds of wool and shades of dye to match the midnight sky.

To the uninitiated, five pounds of wool is roughly two lawn bags full. The wool I bought was “raw”, unwashed, straight from the sheep, because I enjoy doing things the hard way. I washed it carefully, lock by lock, then dyed it various blues and purples, with only a hint of actual black. I hung it in my bedroom to dry for a few days, turning it every now and then, fluffing out bits for better circulation. This phase took me a week or two.

Next came the blending. Despite a variety of hues piled up around the room, I wanted a solid color, heathered and even; an interesting black made complex by the various tones on the evening horizon. First, I added a bit of mohair for the white of the stars, tossing it like a salad. Then I scattered the wool around my living room in handfuls, the mess came up past my knees. I patted it down and rolled it up, pulling the roll into a rope to break up clumps of color. I repeated the process a few times times.

This did not take an afternoon. It took about a month. After this step came the combing, using two paddles edged with two rows of four inch nails that I keep near the front door in case I need a weapon, but so far I’ve only needed it to comb wool into a fluffy bits like the top of a poodle’s head. The fluff is pulled through a tiny hole in a scrap of wood so that it becomes a rope of compact and even goodness. I rolled this into balls, and it was ready to spin. It took a couple of months.

The spinning itself went relatively fast, not much more than a month. But then I had to knit it. When it was all said and done, it took a year to make, and it was almost the only project I worked on that year. I think I made a pair of socks as well.

That is just knitting, here is the magic that made it a flying carpet.

The entire time, I thought about that book. I was a single mother and a college student, those years were full of late-night study breaks while my son slept. Hours were spent on the porch staring at the sky while I tried to clear math out of my head, then a little time with my wool before bed. This project filled my life with visions of stars and stories that connect all of us, now and throughout history.

It’s a common thing to look at the night sky and feel small. I never really felt that in my youth. I could picture the sky reaching out to eternity, but I felt myself being exactly the size I should be. My amazement was no more or less than when I find a tiny cluster of crystals on a pebble in the road, or discover a green bee.

But that book, I wasn’t just looking at stars anymore. I was looking at myth, legends and stories that guided people through the seasons and across oceans, shapes that held meaning, held culture, were seen by primal man, by honored historical figures, by people I love, by people long gone and will be seen by the yet to be born.

Even better, many of those legends involve spinning. Such a cherry to top off the ever-present wooly metaphors of spinning tales and weaving stories. I guess I am driven by story. Turn the stars into stories, and their weight will come crushing down on me in the low, steady epiphany that drives all the bards wild.

My blanket was circular, like the horizon, with eight spiraling spokes denoting the ever moving path of the stars, shown in those little flecks of mohair. It was thick, warm, and perfect to lay on the ground for some light yoga.

When I sat upon it to meditate, I sat upon the sky itself. I’m sure you can appreciate why it seemed to feel like a flying carpet. You can’t buy metaphors with that much power. It brought much insight and inspiration for a while, until it was lost in one of our chaotic moving fits.

I’ve thought of it frequently lately, as I’ve been too distracted and lackluster for much inspiration. Some time after I moved most recently, I thought maybe a re-creation of the experience might pull me from my funk of moving home, maybe stimulate a few creative juices.

Not the whole blanket, I have other things to do this year. But perhaps a shawl, I could let someone else dye it, but I would spun it and contemplate the moon; a different aspect of the sky to get to know. It seemed an interesting way to stimulate some creativity, so I found a lovely merino/camel/silk blend dyed in a colorway called Twilight. Hopefully, If I pretend hard enough, I will feel bathed in moonlight when it is draped across my shoulders, and it will whisper shadowy stories in my ear.

Greenwood Fiberworks can be found on Etsy.

In the meantime, I have cats to write for, so I also started a scarf in a simple cat’s paw lace, in a yarn I hope Joe doesn’t find the receipt for (the uninitiated are never prepared for the cost of top shelf yarn). Not long after casting on, I decided to listen to “cat lady” music, and figured cat ladies like classical. The combination made me quickly remember a few ladies who may or may not have owned cats, but took in stray children, and a few stray children I knew that never did find homes, and a scene from my childhood with a safe way to express it in fiction. It came to me in a flash that moved me to tears, only three rows into the scarf. That right-brain stimulation is powerful stuff.

These cats may end up opening a vein, as I start wandering through a different kind of darkness, away from monsters and serial killers and closer to subjects more terrifying to talk about, a little less play and a little more drama. Except for the hidden murderess, she could be fun. And there could be a little magic here and there.