Sunday, September 25, 2011

Women's orientation to work: part 5

Spinning was something that occupied every woman in ancient culture. It could be taken with you everywhere, in the same way that the women of my mother's age all knit. I anticipate your protest, that women today knit. That is true, but often the cost of the materials is equal to the cost of a finished product so there is no commercial value to knitting. It has lost the function that it had in the last generation.

However, in addition to spinning, women wove. Weaving was an essential skill that all women and some men learned. Clothes, bedding, carpets and tents were all woven. Weaving made up a major part of commercial production in ancient societies. While all women would have to know how to weave, some weavers, men and women, were apprenticed for several years to a master weaver to specialize in the art.

Woven products supplied the household with a major part of the furnishings. Woven products, garments and fabric, had a religious function and were dedicated to the building of the tabernacle which was a tent, after all. Woven products were traded between groups, and were presented to royalty. Purple yarn or fabric was on the same level as gold as a commodity. According to strict laws in the Roman Empire only the imperial family could wear all purple. Magistrates and officials, as well as Roman priests could wear purple bands woven into their togas and robes. The production of purple yarn was a specialized industry.

Weaving was a skilled artisan activity and was undertaken in groups. It brought income into the family. No woman today can imitate the function of weaving in ancient nomadic society by setting up a loom in her home. I know many women who weave, and most do it as a hobby, an expensive hobby. A very few design and sew custom clothing which they sell at a premium.

Although men also were involved in the weaving industry, it was a domain where women participated fully. We see in Proverbs 31 that weaving was an important skilled activity. In the New Testament, Dorcas was known for sewing for the poor, and Lydia was known as a trader in purple. This may have been purple yarn, fabric or clothes - I can't tell for sure.

Not only was weaving extremely important - essential, that is - it was also a highly creative activity. This article gives you some idea of the complexity of fabric and carpet production. This was the domain of women.

In short, if we were to imitate biblical womanhood today, it would not be about staying at home to care for the children in isolation from society and commerce. The woman would still be integrated into the commercial life of the community. Its hard to think of how we could imitate that today and stay at home. Some women renovate their house, taking on building tasks, and then reselling, or buying and renovating rental property. Others work in education so that their hours of work imitate the hours that their children are in school. In my view, there are no hard and fast rules about how women today can reconcile different commitments. However, I do know that staying at home, raising children and creating a supportive atmosphere for one's husband by keeping an attractive home, worthy as all this is, does not imitate the lifestyle of a biblical woman.
Biblical women were driven by the entrepeneurial spirit, to work, to initate and complete their projects. We need to follow that model.


Peter Kirk said...

"No woman today can imitate the function of weaving in ancient nomadic society by setting up a loom in her home."

Suzanne, I think you need to add "in the western world" here. This culture is alive and well in the Caucasus region, especially in remote villages. It is still quite common for women to have looms in their homes for weaving carpets. They can make a big profit from this by selling the carpets in the city, and even more if they can export them to the West. Indeed I know of recently established businesses trading these carpets internationally and bringing major support to traditional village life.

Even here in the UK, and I would guess in North America too, significant numbers of women (maybe men as well) earn incomes, often small but important to them, from working at home making and selling craft items and jewellery of various kinds.

So while the exact technology may have changed since biblical times, the general concept is not completely dead.

Don said...

I saw a missionary once who sold small rugs that were made by those in his mission field and I think they were women.

Suzanne said...

Yes, I was very careless and ethnocentric - I do mean in the western world.

Even here in the UK, and I would guess in North America too, significant numbers of women (maybe men as well) earn incomes, often small but important to them, from working at home making and selling craft items and jewellery of various kinds.

But I reserve agreement with this comment. I have to think this over. I am not aware of anyone that I know, among the many that have attempted it, that have made income from this.

But I think you can see that it would not come near to being a functional equivalent. Weaving in the ancient Middle East and weaving in your own home in North America today, cannot be equated.

Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Suzanne. At least here in the UK there are still a significant number of women, and some men, attempting this, as you can see at this forum. Whether they make more than pennies from it is another question. But these are mostly women stuck at home attempting to supplement the family income. Was home-based weaving in the ANE done for cash, or barter? Or was it only for the family's own clothes? If the former I would say it is a reasonably close functional equivalent to the modern practice, although doubtless it was more widespread in ancient times.

Suzanne said...


I learned how to spin and weave, and have contact with that community. But other than those who weave as artists, and who can demand a premium, most have difficulty affording the space and the equipment. We have an active weaving community, but I don't see it as economically viable.

In the ANE fabric was used for the tabernacle, for trade, (not cash) and for tribute to kings.

Muff Potter said...

I have a hypothesis that it was women who invented the baskets and weaving techniques for grain storage. The baskets I refer to are marvels of both beauty and elegant engineering. Just the right amount of permeable space to allow air circulation and just the right amount of side curvature for maximum strength.

If this can be shown to be generally true, then women contributed vastly to the rise of civilization by enabling the storage of food surpluses in addition to advancing the science and craft of textile production.

eglobal fun said...

Thank you, Suzanne this describes the ancient culture and your post Women orientation to work is great post and a great learning for me

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