Imagine a World Without Thread

From Marcy: Here's what I love about PieceWork: As soon as I open it, I learn something. Did you know that Beatrix Potter was devoted to saving the Herdwick breed of sheep? Did you even know about Herdwick sheep? And color me ignorant, but I thought silk cocoons were white; turns out wild silkworms produce yellow cocoons (so lovely!). I also thought all Orenburg lace was knitted; in fact, there is a tradition of Orenburg crochet as well! The shawl on the cover of the new issue is crocheted. Jeane Hutchins, the editor of Piecework, tells all about the treasures in this issue.

The crocheted Orenburg lace shawl.
Photo by Joe Coca

A Herdwick sheep shown in a competition; its back has been dusted with red powder to make the face appear whiter. Cumbria, England. 2010.
Photo by Deborah Robson

Mary Polityka Bush's embroidered silk ornament.
Photo by Ann Swanson

Can you even imagine a world without thread? I can't.

I think I'm safe in stating that anyone who is reading this is "connected by threads" in some fashion. And that's why the November/December 2010 issue of PieceWork is our tribute to all manner of thread. Here are just a few highlights:

The crocheted-lace shawl that adorns the cover of this issue has completely captivated me—both the shawl itself and its ties to the tradition of making lace in Orenburg, Russia, using yarn spun from the fiber of Orenburg goats. While many know of Orenburg's lace knitting tradition, few are aware of the exquisite crocheted lace from there. Many thanks to Galina Khmeleva for sharing this stunning creation and the pattern for it with PieceWork! If you aren't already a subscriber to PieceWork, you can get a free trial issue, If you make the shawl, we would love to see your creation; e-mail us at

In the early 1930s and 1940s in Chicago, the needlework skills of Mary Rebecca Spagnola, a mother of five, helped support her family. Although she died, far too young, at thirty-seven, some of her work has survived. Her granddaughter's article "Connected by Threads: A Mother's Crocheted Fan Edging" poignantly illustrates the importance of threads in one family's life.

The history of silk is long and intriguing, and "The Story of Silk" provides the background for this glorious fiber. The ways in which it reflects light provide a magical quality not lost on centuries of kings and queens, emperors, sultans, and other wealthy patrons. Did you know that America had her own Silk Road on which "silk trains" sped from West to East? From the late 1800s to the 1930s, silk was the third most-valued commodity in America, right behind gold and silver bullion.

I'm a huge fan of Beatrix Potter. I gave my niece a Beatrix Potter book with the appropriate stuffed animal for each of her first seven or eight Christmases. But I was unaware of Beatrix's other life—her efforts to preserve England's Lake District, including saving a breed of sheep essential to the area's landscape. Of course, Beatrix also championed the wool that the Herdwick sheep produce.

As we begin to look forward to the holidays, I send my very best wishes to you and yours for a season filled with magic, laughter, and an abundance of connecting threads.

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