Sew Craft: Research Reading List

I have spent the last year on research for Sew Craft.  I’ve made liberal use of the interlibrary loan department of my local library to get a hold of various books on two main topics: sewing and magic.  As much as I love research, though, there comes a time when you need to put butt in chair and write (or sew).

Below is an incomplete list of the books I’ve read over the last year.  I left off the books on gardening, fashion and pattern-making that weren’t being used for research. They’re presented in no particular order, and mostly just as a demonstration of what is involved in writing a book.

  1. The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook by Karen Harrison
  2. By Spellbook & Candle by Mélusine Draco
  3. The Point of the Needle by Dorothy Bromiley Phelan
  4. The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida & Alexandra Kim
  5. Old World Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi
  6. The Book of English Magic by Phillip Carr-Gromm & Richard Heygate
  7. The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude LeCouteaux
  8. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O’Brien
  9. The devil’s Cloth by Michel Pastoureau
  10. Trolldom by Johannes Björn Gardbäck
  11. Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth by Jean Zimmerman
  12. Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
  13. Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert
  14. The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker
  15. A Grimoire for Modern Cunningfolk by Peter Paddon
  16. Nomadic Felts by Stephanie Bunn
  17. Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton
  18. The Good Witch’s Guide by Shawn Robbins & Charity Bedell
  19. A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander
  20. The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin
  21. Farmhouse Witchcraft by Penny Parker
  22. The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff
  23. A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy
  24. Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch by Rachel Patterson
  25. A Witch’s World of Magick by Melanie Marquis
  26. Hedgewitch by Silver Ravenwolf
  27. The Flame and the Cauldron by Orion Foxwood
  28. A Witch’s Halloween by Gerina Dunwich
  29. Earth Power by Scott Cunningham
  30. Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History by Owen davies
  31. Cunningfolk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby
  32. The Cunningman’s Handbook by Jim Baker
  33. Green Witchcraft by Ann Moura
  34. Muslin by Sonia Ashmore
  35. Textiles: The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon
  36. Forgotten Ways for Modern Days by Rachelle Blondel
  37. Natural Color by Sasha Duerr
  38. Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
  39. Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.D.
  40. A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard
  41. Homemade Magic by Lon Milo DuQuette
  42. The Book of Forgotten Crafts by Paul Felix, Siân Ellis & Tom Quinn
  43. Witchy Crafts: 60 Enchanted Projects for the Creative Witch by Lexa Olick

 

Plarn: It’s Crafting and Magical Uses

I’ve written before on the magical correspondences of various fabrics.  My focus there was on natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool and silk).  Not all crafters and sewists limit themselves to natural materials, though.  In fact I’d hazard to guess that very few do.  One could, I suppose, use only silk or cotton thread, eschew plastic buttons for only metal, wood, bone or horn, leave out zippers or plastic snaps, as well as iron on interfacing, etc.

There is an emphasis on only using natural materials in ritual and magic crafts.  While I can understand the reasoning behind it, I find the insistence to border on classism and elitism.  Not everyone can afford or has access only natural materials.  And, when we get down to it, everything comes from the earth in one form or another.  Everything is ultimately natural when it’s roots are traced back to its beginnings.  Even plastic.

Magick in the Plastic

Our witch ancestors didn’t use colored candles, or have access to the array of crystals and herbs available online.  And some might have turned their noses up at colored ribbons, grocery store herbs and store bought besoms as not “traditional” tools.  I think it behooves modern witches to see how the practice of witchcraft and magick have changed over the centuries, adapting as new technologies and products have come available, and be open to using materials that might strike us at first as non-magickal.

I’d go even farther to argue that plastic is decidedly magical.  It is alchemy at its most refined.  Taking the remains of dinosaurs and creating a material which is named after its defining characteristic: its shapeshifting ability.

Yes, plastic does have its drawbacks, its production and longevity make it a serious hazard for the environment.  This doesn’t exclude it from being considered a natural material, though.  The elements have their destructive aspects.  Sheep rearing, silk making, cotton farming and linen production all have their affects on the environment as well.

So, how do we approach plastic as a magical tool?  One way is through making and using plarn: yarn made from plastic bags.  Many crafters have found clever and practical uses for plarn, from making lightweight and rugged bedrolls for the homeless to arts and crafts to sell to support their families.  Plarn has the added benefit of removing plastic bags—one of the hardest items to recycle–from the system.

Plarn Correspondences

Let’s start with a few correspondences.  These are associations I have made on my own through study and meditation.  They are not meant to be set in stone, and if they don’t ring true to you, feel free to form your own correspondences.

  • Deities: Cerridwen, Janus, Kali, Oya (deities of change and transformation)
  • Element: Air
  • Color: White
  • Themes/uses: transformation, durability, flexibility, change

Making plarn is a straightforward process that lends itself to a meditative practice.  Use it just as you would yarn to crochet or finger weave a variety of items, or spin it into thread.  You can make tote bags, mats, jewelry, and baskets.

Book Announcement: Sew Craft

I’m excited to announce that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing my book Sew Craft: A Sewist’s Book of Shadows.  If you want to see what kind of book it will be you can read my posts on the magical properties of fabric and dream pillows.  There will be projects and rituals, as well as much of the lore and information I’ve picked up in the last year of research into magick and sewing.

From as long as I can remember I have written.  Before I could form letters or words I would scribble stories.  To finally realize my goal of getting my work published is amazing.  This project is going to consume most of my waking hours over the next few months.  Fortunately, now that summer break is over, I have more time to devote to it.

I’m not going anywhere, though.  I will still be posting here about commissions and events and whatever else pops into my head.  And I’ll be posting about the book, because eventually I’m sure that Stephan and my kids are going to get tired of me goobing over it.

A very happy Solar Eclipse to you all.  I hope it sees the start of something good for each and every one of you.

Sew Craft: Dream Pillows

In my backyard I have a bower on which morning glories entwine in the spring and summer. I have always loved the cheerful face the flowers give to the day, especially as I am not a morning person. I can see the blooms from my bedroom window and so, no matter how grouchy I might be when I drag myself from the warm embrace of my bed, I smile when I catch sight of the blue and purple flowers.

Morning glory seeds added to dream pillows keep nightmares at bay. Perhaps this is because they carry in them a promise of the morning to come, when the sunrise banishes the monsters of the night.

Make dream pillows to help with prophetic dreams, or to ease your mind to sleep. Make one for the child who wakes up from nightmares. She can reach for her sleep pillow, inhale the scent of lavender and lemon balm and fall back asleep, knowing her dreams will be sweetened by the scents.  To refine your spell craft, use linen—dreams and linen both share an association with water.  If you want inspiring dreams, use silk thread for the embroidery for its association with the air element.  If you need deep sleep, make use of cotton’s grounding earth vibrations.

Materials

Dream Pillow Materials
I used the lavender linen spray shown here when I pressed the fabric before starting. It’s not necessary, but it gives the fabric a nice fragrance.

Dream Pillow Design ( pdf | jpg )
Blue fabric about 12″ x 12″
Lightweight fusible interfacing
Embroidery thread in blue, purple and silver
Embroidery hoop and needle
9 morning glory seeds
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

Process

1) Print out the Dream Pillow Design by clicking on the links here: pdf | jpg. Use the pdf link to print the image as is. The jpg link is provided for you to manipulate (enlarge, reduce, rotate, etc.).

2) Transfer the embroidery design onto the fabric.  You can use transfer paper, or trace the pattern right on the fabric.  I pinned the design to the fabric and taped it to the window to trace it.  I use the Pilot Frixion Clicker pens because the ink disappears from fabric when ironed.

Dream Pillow Transfer
This part will take a little patience.

3) Stitch the design with three strands of embroidery thread (1 blue, 1 purple, 1 silver). Use a stem, chain or split stitch. Use an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut.

Dream Pillows: Almost Finished
Halfway to the land of Nod.

4) When finished, apply fusible interfacing to the back of the design.

5) With the design centered, cut the fabric out in a 6” square. Cut a back piece of fabric also in a 6” square.

6) With right sides together, stitch a ½” seam along all sides of the square, leaving a 3” gap for turning. Back stitch at the start and finish of the seam.

7) Trim the corners and seam allowances.

8) Turn the pillow right side out. Press.

9) Stuff the pillow with the morning glory seeds and lavender. Do not over stuff.

Dream Pillows: Stuffing Time
You can also add mugwort to your dream pillow to help promote prophetic dreams.

10) Edge stitch ¼” around all sides of the pillow. Work slowly, shifting the lavender and morning glory seeds to the center to avoid catching them in the needle.

11) When you are finished, hold the pillow in both hands and charge it with restful sleep intentions. Say:

“Lavender sweet and glory of day
Please keep any nightmares at bay,
Should haunted thoughts disturb this guarded rest
Please help usher in a sleep that’s blessed.”¹

You can call upon one of the gods of sleep or dreams to bless the pillow as well.

Place the dream pillow under your own. Should negative thoughts rouse you to wakefulness, grip your dream pillow, inhale the lavender scent and allow it to lull you back to sleep.

Finished Dream Pillow
And your dream pillow is done. Sweet dreams.

¹ Many thanks to my partner, Stephan, for putting together a chant to replace my clumsy attempts at ritual rhyming.

Sew Craft: Fabric Magical Properties

One of the challenges in researching this book has been the lack of information on very basic topics.   While magical correspondences of everything from animals to minerals, colors to plants have been studied and recorded, textiles have slipped through the cracks.  When it comes to magical crafts, fabric has been given little if any consideration of its magical properties.  Yes, fiber content isn’t as exciting as, say, feathers or shells, but I feel that taking time to consider the type of fabric you’ll use in projects can give added meaning and energy to your work.

There are some people who have given some thought to the magical properties of textiles.  One such, Deborah Snavely, has two in depth articles on the subject.  I have come to use different correspondences than hers below.  Also, I don’t use the standard system of assigning male or female genders—I find the whole idea not particularly useful, and potentially harmful to my practice.  However, I include the link to her articles as I found them helpful in my own research and as a place for others to look to for their own investigations.

Without a venerable Cunningham to guide my studies, I have had to cast my net outside the metaphysical seas into those concerning the practical aspects of textiles.  The correspondences outlined below are based on my research into the origins of the fiber (where the raw material comes from) and the processes used to make the fabric.  My focus is on the most basic of correspondences: the elements.  I’ve also limited myself to the four most common natural fabrics.  Man-made and blends fall outside the scope of this entry.  Other natural fabrics: nettle, hemp, the new faux leathers made from pineapple leaves and mushrooms are best considered in another article as well.  Leather, fur and feathers have been left off as their associations are intrinsically tied to the animals they come from.

With that preamble out of the way, please check out the correspondences below.  Again, these are all based on my own research.  So, if anything doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it.  In the end, magic is a personal matter, and it is your own intuition, symbols and reasoning that fuels your spells.

Cotton

Cotton fabric is made from the boll of the cotton plant. The fibers are plucked, mixed, beaten in cylinders, carded, drawn, roved and then spun into thread. As such, it shares some of the qualities of plant from which it comes: it is associated with the Earth element; it can be used magically in spells of healing, luck and protection. According to Cunningham, “Cotton is the best kind of cloth (next to wool) to use for making sachets, or for any time cloth is needed in magic.”¹

One type of cotton fabric, muslin, was once a fabric highly prized in its native India and throughout the rest of the world. In her book, Muslin, Sonia Ashmore writes, “Muslin is an open-textured cloth, thin and sheer, woven to varying degrees of fineness depending on the quality of yarn used and the skills of both the spinner and the weaver. The surface, particularly of hand-woven muslin, has a softness to the touch that has been described as ‘mossiness’.”² This description of “mossiness” along with its origin of the cotton plant, places the fabric into the Earth elemental realm.

Use cotton fabric for any project, from robes to altar cloths to spell bags. It is well suited for spell bags as it is breathable, allowing the magic to flow in and out of the pouch.

Linen

Linen is created from flax; a laborious process that includes “retting” or fermentation in water. Because of this and its water absorption properties, it is associated with the Water element. It is a fabric that suggests purity and wealth. As it was historically used for bedding, linen is used in many healing spells. One such use involves tying a strip of linen from a sick person’s bed to a tree. As the exposure to the elements destroy the strip, the illness will be similarly destroyed in the patient.

Linen is associated to the goddess Hulda through its flaxen origin. It is used in spells of beauty, healing, money, protection and psychic powers. Linen is especially well suited to robes and other magical attire.

While pure linen is expensive, there are several “linen like” synthetics available at a lesser price point. These can be used in place of the authentic fiber. These faux fabrics require less ironing than pure linen meaning they can be preferable for use in items worn.

Silk

Silk is made from the cocoons of moth caterpillars. The cocoons are soaked in hot water from which loose fibers are collected and then twisted into thread for weaving. As a fabric it is seen as a luxurious and sought after material for garments. Magically, silk is considered to deflect magic, and to protect the magical energies and contents inside it, making it especially useful for creating bags used to hold and carry tarot cards, runes, and crystals.

Caterpillars, moths and butterflies, as well as their cocoons represent transformation, thus making silk suited for spells and magic pertaining to change, movement, and growth. Because of its association with wealth, luxury and prestige, silk is a good fabric to use in money and prosperity spells.

Silk is associated with the element of Air due to its airy quality and its origin. Because of its great rate of shrinkage and loss of strength when wet, it may not be suited for spells or rituals involving the Water element.

Wool

Wool sheared from sheep is bathed in a chemical bath, mixed, spun, washed and pressed to felt it. It is known for being impervious to cold and is often used for clothing meant to protect from cold weather. Coming from sheep, it is associated with the astrological sign Aries and the planet Mars. All of these properties align it with the Fire element.

Wool is associated with protection and comfort. It can be used in protective, prosperity and healing spells. Wool felt is useful for crafts from poppets to altar decorations. Wool suiting is useful for ritual cloaks, which will keep you warm during rituals performed outdoors during colder weather.

Cut edges of wool don’t unravel, making it useful for quick circle pouches or for when you don’t have time for finishing edges in a project. And though expensive, wool is a durable fiber that will last a long time, making it a worthwhile investment for spell and ritual tools.

 


¹ Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, p. 84

² Sonia Ashmore, Muslin, p. 8

Book Research Quote: Web of Wyrd

Two of the most ancient human handicrafts are weaving and pottery, and in ancient scriptures, both of them are used as metaphors for the human condition.  The ancient bards perceived the multiple interwoven strands of experience symbolically to be a textile woven by the powers they called fate.  the crafts of spinning and weaving are the heart of our linguistically embedded understanding of our being, for our existence is envisaged as a part of a universal interwoven pattern, known in the northern tradition as the Web of Wyrd. — Nigel Pennick, Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition

There will definitely be a section on weaving and weaving deities, with an emphasis on Arachne, whose descendants tend to hang out in the window by my sewing table telling me to adjust the tension on the sewing machines.

Book Research: 1949 Singer Sewing Manual

Advice from a 1949 Singer Sewing Manual
Text: Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Thing about what you are going to do. . .never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates. Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. . .When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on . . .[If] you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.
Outdated, patriarchal claptrap aside I’ve always loved the above advice from the 1949 Singer Sewing Manual, not only because it is solid, but because it points out that sewing is serious business.  It also works, in many ways, as advice for ritual work.

When you are working a ritual, casting a spell, praying, collecting herbs, or what have you, there is a process of preparation, steps we follow to align their will with their goal.  We mentally prepare ourselves.  We gather our materials. We cleanse ourselves and consecrate our work space.  We make sure we won’t be interrupted.  Readying ourselves for magic and readying ourselves for sewing follow the same steps.

I mention this because I’m currently working on a book.  The subject matter is paganism and sewing.  I’ve got a good portion of it already written, and the goal is to finish it before the year is out.  The timing for November is just coincidence, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo project.

I’ll be posting bits and bobs of research over the next few weeks, along with more on sewing, cross stitch and whatever else strikes my fancy.  I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do.