What to Wear for a Season of Resistance

Ingrid Bergman on the set of Joan of Arc (1948)

Hello. Here we are in 2017. A very bittersweet 2017.

It’s hard to see beyond the bitter—many people are anxious, afraid, unsure, and exhausted. I am all of those things.

But there’s a sweetness to this time, too—many people are showing love, care, support, and commitment. I am trying to do those things.

Plus, the turning over of a new year, even a dreaded year, brings with it the relief of a fresh start and the energy of an untold story.

Here at the Fiber Archive, I’ve got some 2016 catching up to do (mainly finishing this guy!), but I’m also hatching plans for my first major project of 2017. I’m imagining a garment that encapsulates this weird year’s dual vibe: energy and exhaustion, anxiety and care, fear and commitment, protection and action. I need a garment that both comforts me and readies me for battle. I need a sweater vest.

That may seem like a strange, even wimpy, choice. We don’t think of the sweater vest as particularly tough these days. (Maybe because of this. Or this.) But the sweater vest is part of a long history of protecting one’s core with knitted or woven material. In a way, it was born to do battle.

The sweater vest is a distant relative of the gambeson, a quilted tunic worn underneath (or sometimes as) armor in the medieval era. The gambeson was “a thick woollen waistcoat, worn under steel armour, to make it sit easy on the body.”* Its name derives from the Old German word wamba, meaning “belly.”** This makes sense, as the garment’s purpose was to protect the body’s fleshy—and essential—middle from bruising or penetration by weaponry.

Even before the gambeson, there was the Greek linothorax. Made from layers of linen, fused and laminated with animal glue, the linothorax transformed a soft, woven fabric into a hardened vest that rivaled metal armor from the era.

Fast forward to nineteenth-century dandies and further forward to twentieth-century golfers and cricketers, and we see the sleeveless garment get pared down to become more mobile and versatile. And of course, we see it migrate into women’s fashion with the rise of feminine workwear in the second half of the twentieth century. The practical is interwoven with the aesthetic, as the sweater vest continues to meld inward warmth and protection with outward polish and display.

So yes, a sweater vest will be my armor of choice heading into this season of resistance. I’ve got the perfect yarn—undyed wool from the villsau (“wild sheep”) of Norway, purchased on my visit to Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk last August. So not only will my vest be harking back to some of the earliest and most innovative forms of armor, but it will also have a bit of Viking spirit.

Get ready, 2017: my wamba and I will be warm, protected, and prepared for battle in the name of all those who find themselves vulnerable in these bittersweet times.

xoxo to infinity,

*Blount, Thomas. Tenures of Land & Customs of Manors: Originally Collected by Thomas Blount and Republished with Large Additions and Improvements in 1784 and 1815, Volume 1. London: Reeves and Turner, 1874. 427.
**Notably, the word wamba is also related to “womb” and to “wamus.” The latter refers to a variety of early American vest-like garments and is still used to describe some types of jacket.

A belated note…


Hi. It’s been a while.

I’m sorry for leaving this blog hanging for a bit. For three months, in fact. I can explain:

  1. Something happened that took me away—I lost a family member.
  2. Then something happened that is continuing to keep me away—I got a new job.

So there’s been a lot of bad and a decent amount of good. I just wanted to check in here and say that I’m still out here but can’t be the Fiber Archivist that I want to be at the moment.

I’ll be posting here sporadically over the next couple of months. Then, hopefully, I’ll be back more regularly in 2017.

Thanks for reading. Keep on crafting.



MAKING IT, NEW: Basketball, Net Works, and Hazel Meyer

Hazel Meyer Basketball Net Knot Close-Up

Hey, fiber folks—let’s talk about… sports?

I know that’s kind of coming out of left field (<–sports!) but much of the country is focused on the NBA Finals, which kicked off (<–sports!) last night, and that got me thinking about the intersection between basketball and textiles. From ancient fishermen’s nets to groovy macramé wall hangings, the craft of knotting—with cord, thread, or wire—to make a mesh design has been an invaluable technology in all areas of life, including sports. Exhibit A: the basketball net.

Athletics and fiber arts are stereotypically gendered in opposite ways: boys are taught to push themselves to their athletic limits, while girls (or the “girlish”) stay inside with their needlework¹. But the two worlds—Sport and Craft—actually intertwine in some important ways, both symbolic and material. And some of the people who have allowed me to see that intertwining are the subject of this installment of Making It, New. They are the feminist-craftivist collective called NCAA (New Craft Artists in Action) in Boston, MA, as well as the Canadian mixed-media artist Hazel Meyer. Continue reading MAKING IT, NEW: Basketball, Net Works, and Hazel Meyer

FIRST FLOCK: Merino Mania & White House Wool

Hey, have you heard? It’s election season.

For most of this season, politics is a spectator sport. But here in Indiana it is finally our turn to step in and play a round—the Indiana primary is next week. So in the spirit of all things presidential, we’re doing a special post this week: The Sheep of the White House!

It turns out that sheep have featured in the annals of U.S. presidential history not once but twice—both Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson raised sheep on the White House lawn.

These sheep are part of a larger story about nationalism, industry, austerity, and husbandry, and at the heart are three important rams: E.I. DuPont’s Merino, Jefferson’s Shetland, and Wilson’s Shropshire. So without further ado, let’s meet these guys.* Continue reading FIRST FLOCK: Merino Mania & White House Wool

HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear

Ladies Sanitary Woolen Drawers in Jaeger Catalog 1887

I admit it: I’ve been wanting an excuse to make Dianna Walla’s Aspen leg warmers since I first saw them on Instagram. I initially schemed about doing a post on the history of long underwear just so I could feel justified in adding the Aspens to my to-knit list. As soon as I started digging, though, the leg warmers became a bonus on top of a fascinating history lesson about a fertile moment in fashion history. Emerging in the early 1880s, the Sanitary Woolen System and the Rational Dress Movement both called for practicality and health in everyday dress. Variously rooted in the vagaries of pseudoscience on the one hand and radical feminism on the other, their joint legacy includes such a seemingly mundane garment as long underwear.

Gustav_Jäger_portraitFirst, the Woolen System. Those of us who are spinners, weavers, knitters, and crocheters are well versed in the wonders of wool. But it was news to me that, more than a century ago, there arose an influential school of thought that wool is not only a practical material but also a supremely healthful one. In 1880, Dr. Gustav Jaeger (sometimes Jäger) published Standardized Apparel For Health Protection on the health benefits of wearing wool, and he followed it up with Health-Culture (<– how great/vague is that title?!) in 1887.

Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear