Picking Up the Threads

Written by Jared Nally

It’s spring in Myaamionki, and sap is flowing, making it easier to peel the bark from wiikapimiši ‘basswood’, oonseentia ‘tulip poplar’, and ašaahšikopa ‘slippery elm’ trees. This time is a reminder of the ecological relationships associated with Myaamia textiles. The inner bark of these trees provides early-season fibers for Great Lakes community weavers, while other herbaceous plants are harvested for fibers in the late summer/fall. These include ahsapa ‘dogbane,’ leninši ‘milkweed’, and aašoošiwia ‘nettle.’[1]

A small branch with a part of the bark and wood fiber pulled away
A tulip poplar branch with a section of bark and wood fiber pulled back. Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

It’s a weaver’s relationship to these plants — and others like those used for dyes — that capture my interest in ecology and conservation here at Miami University. The revitalization of Myaamia textiles includes technical, cultural, and ecological perspectives. Many of which start with a basic element of weaving — thread.

Fiber is the foundation of thread. Unspun fibers have their uses — for example, lashing wiikiaami poles — but fibers are often spun or rolled into thread to add strength. The process of turning plants into fiber and finally to thread can be surprisingly complex. My work is just starting to explore some of the ecological relationships used to physically, ethically, and culturally harvest materials. Harvested materials then need to be processed to separate inner fibers from woody plant material, a process that can span weeks. From there, fibers are rolled or spun into thread. This can take as long or even longer than the time spent weaving.[2]

A wrapped bundle of basswood on top of a pile of processed basswood
Processed basswood gifted to Jared Nally. Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

Thread has a lot of meaning to me and to Myaamia people. Our community often uses thread as a metaphor. Each winter, we pick up the thread to tell aalhsoohkaana ‘winter stories’, and at the end of the season, we place the thread back down. As Myaamia people, we also tend to the threads that connect us through shared culture and relationships. Our community web strengthens as each of us picks up these cultural threads. My work as a Myaamia weaver also started — both literally and metaphorically  — by picking up a thread.

My process of learning to weave Myaamia fiber bags has focused on looking at and spending time with bags in museums. These objects are one way our ancestors are able to bridge generational gaps in practice. The threads follow the weaver’s hand and embed the story of how they were worked, the decisions and intentions of the weaver, and creative solutions to design problems. Because of the stories the objects and their makers can tell us, pieces like the Peconge Bag serve as important teachers in our community.

Twined bag featuring hourglass shapes
Twine bag created by Jared Nally. Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

From these teachers, I’ve learned to twine my yarn away from me when weaving and that the final twist in my thread should be clockwise (s-twist). There are countless other lessons these bags have taught me and will teach me as I continue to pick up the threads of Myaamia weaving. Join me over the summer as I weave a corn-hulling bag and document the process.

[1] In addition to plant fibers, several animal fibers were used including bison, possum, and skunk hair.

[2] The term “weaving” is being used in the colloquial term for making textiles. Many Myaamia textiles used techniques other than weaving, such as twining or plaiting.

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