creative interpretation

a summer guild "assignment" we had was to read a book which mentions a particular textile skill, and create something using that skill which was inspired by the book. a read/create challenge you could say.

i've read the brothers grimm since my childhood (having a copy of the complete fairy tales of the brothers grimm), and several mention textiles; usually something to do with breaking an enchantment. one which i remembered well, and which had lots of possibilities, was the six swans.

here's the basic storyline: brothers become enchanted by evil stepmother, sister takes vow of silence for six years and begins sewing 5.5 shirts from asters (a flower), king falls in love with mute maiden living in woods, marries her, begets heirs which disappear soon after birth, maiden is accused of cannibalism by crazy mother in law, after third "disappearance" maiden sent to stake, at last moment saves brothers, vow is ended, proclaims innocence, mother in law dies, everyone lives happily ever after.

well, almost everyone. back to that .5 shirt; like any project which spans a few years, it's not quite finished when the deadline approaches. something about a sleeve. so, the sixth brother gets to keep a swan wing instead of an arm. a bit awkward, but hey, would you rather remain a swan?

i crocheted rather than sewed, but i wanted the finished piece to have more of a feeling of being crafted from nature. actually, i cut and spun the yarn from paper, then crocheted it. the wing was crocheted with a really cool paper yarn from habu i've been hoarding for years.

i figured the method used for creating the actual shirts was open for interpretation as i can't imagine sewing flowers together in the woods would be doable. they kind of skimmed over the details anyway. what did she use for thread? did she use the stems, or the leaves, or the flowers? how were they kept flexible after so many years? how were the shirts constructed? see, the way i see it is that the word sew could have been translated from a different word, like weave, maybe. it makes more sense for her to have woven the flowers into cloth, or knotted the stems into a cloth. that's the thing with translations and getting a story however many generations passed down verbally, there's a lot of interpretation and maybe the grimm brothers didn't know too much about the variety of methods found in the womanly art of the needle. it was written down during the 1800's after all. so there.

i'm thinking this would be an interesting series to pursue. i've got some ideas for the story all fur. well, we'll see where this thought takes me.


  1. Oh, I love this. As a child, as a teenager (go figure) I read the fairytail of the Grimm brother over and over again and I still love it. It was so easy for you to do just the spinning (Sleeping Beauty and many many others) and yet you did this.

    Could it be, that the aster is a plant with a strong fiber, like linnen (I don't know what the english name for the actual flower is, in Dutch it's 'vlas')? Interesting project.

  2. i think it could be a plant similar to linen or hemp, i couldn't find any information on the internet; it would make sense if it were.
    there are so many interesting stories in the grimms books; it is good fodder for the imagination. i'm excited about the dress of gold, dress of silver, dress of stars, and cape of furs in a couple of the stories.
    there are some sinister undertones in many of the stories, so i am still pondering how to weave that into the pieces without being too literal or boring.

  3. just love the idea and how it evolved. can't wait to see a series. the little shirt is marvelous.

  4. Love the shirt.

    I was going to say that it was nettles not asters but got my story tellers mixed. H. C. Andersen has a very similar story "Wild Swans" where the sister has to knit shirts using stinging nettles.

    Tuija from Finland

  5. so many of the stories carry similar plots; such as "all fur" and "donkeyskin". either way, not my idea of happy handmaking!

  6. i like this project. you've really gone someplace with this! i'm wondering if aster stems have enough fiber that they can be collected and spun...i don't know of any papermaker using it for fiber. i have included aster petals in botanical papers for color, never used them as dyestuff or pulp. it's possible that aster has other name or meaning in german.

  7. i'm thinking it means something else, also. maybe something similar to the word woad and the celts. things are sometimes misinterpreted or lost when crossing languages.
    but, it could also be that the fairytale itself is about impossible things, and perhaps the difficulty in using asters is part of the hardship inherent in the undertaken task.