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

 

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: 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.