If you happen to be captured by a three-headed dev, knowing how to weave and write could save your life.

If you had been a slave trying to escape to freedom, you might have written warnings or directions in a quilt.

If you’re a storyteller, you spin yarns and tall tales like Rumpelstiltskin spins gold.

It’s just as well that a book or story is a tactile — or textile — thing. In fact, it’s meant to be. It says so, right in the text. The word “text”, twining with French and Latin, is a “thing woven,” and shares a base with “texture.” (For that or other etymology, the OED Online and/or the Online Etymology Dictionary are very interesting.) I like what Robert Bringhurst says: “An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns — but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth.”

You can also see how words braid or unravel from each other. Doublets, or etymological twins, are fascinating — two or more words related by a root, but with different senses. “Guest” and “host” are good ones. You’d think they were total antonyms, but not quite: they’re related by the concept of hospitality, their dependence on each other — you can’t call something a host without a guest — and the word gosti. (To my disappointment, “ghost” is not apparently related.)

If you do a lot of your reading on a screen, it’s still possible to feel letters and words in your head. Take silent letters, for instance. I’m always snagging on them. I am fond of the silent G, as in “gnome”; don’t ask me why, but it feels like someone’s plucking a string against the word. It resonates.

If all this is too weird for you, we have books on plain old knitting, too.

About Amy

Children's librarian, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
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