The Knitter - - Lithuanian Traditions -

pat­terns orig­i­nated in the Baltic coun­tries and were im­ported to Fair Isle in the first half of the nine­teenth cen­tury.”

Folk art sym­bols

Many of the sym­bols found in folk art in Lithua­nia since the Ne­olithic pe­riod are the same sym­bols that fre­quently ap­pear in weav­ing, em­broi­dery, and knit­ting. In the 1930s book Sodži­aus me­nas. kn. 5: Mezgimo-ne­r­imo raš­tai ( Coun­try Arts #5: Knit­ting Pat­terns), An­tanas Tamo aitis wrote that the most pow­er­ful sym­bols of a cul­ture are its mother tongue, folk­lore, and folk art. Th­ese el­e­ments, he claimed, em­body the Lithua­nian peo­ple’s essence, be­cause it is with th­ese sym­bols that each group of peo­ple ex­presses its unique­ness.

Over time, folk art cre­ations tell us about the spirit of the peo­ple who cre­ated them. Al­though peo­ple pass away and cul­tures change, folk art and folk­lore are na­tional trea­sures that live on through the ages.

I have al­ways loved folk art, folk tales and myths from around the world. It was only nat­u­ral that th­ese ob­ses­sions would in­ter­sect with my in­ter­est in knit­ting. When I dis­cov­ered Mar­ija Gimbu­tas, a Lithua­nian ar­chae­ol­o­gist and ex­pert in Lithua­nian folk­lore who em­i­grated to Amer­ica af­ter World War II, it was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that I had to learn more about her life and work.

Com­bin­ing her ex­per­tise in th­ese fields with her ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up in the Lithua­nian coun­try­side, Gimbu­tas saw mean­ings in many of the sym­bols found on an­cient arte­facts. Joseph Camp­bell called her book, The Lan­guage of the God­dess, the Rosetta Stone for un­der­stand­ing pre­his­toric ar­chae­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy. Gimbu­tas’ ca­reer lasted from the early 1940s un­til her death in 1994. Much of what she wrote about the mean­ing of an­cient Baltic sym­bols through­out that time still in­forms stud­ies in the field.

Gimbu­tas claimed that we can learn about more than just early tools and arte­facts from ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites. There are sto­ries hid­den in the sym­bols and mo­tifs used to dec­o­rate found items. Though we can some­times only guess at the pre­cise mean­ings that the sym­bols may have held for their cre­ators, we can fol­low clues em­bed­ded in folk­lore, folk songs, lan­guage, and su­per­sti­tions that have sur­vived to the present day.

Very few frag­ments of cloth sur­vive. How­ever, we can make in­fer­ences from the mo­tifs found on stone, metal, am­ber and clay arte­facts. The story found in Lithua­nian ar­chae­ol­ogy is a nar­ra­tive of its peo­ple.

03 In my mit­ten pat­tern on the next page, I com­bine chevrons, tri­an­gles and cir­cle-di­a­monds. Lithua­nian sym­bols are closely tied to na­ture, and geo­met­ric mo­tifs of­ten rep­re­sent ce­les­tial ob­jects.

Tri­an­gles may rep­re­sent the sky god (point­ing up) or the Earth Mother (point­ing down). In fact, tri­an­gle sym­bols are used to­day to iden­tify men’s and women’s re­strooms in Lithua­nia. Chevron pat­terns sym­bol­is­ing trees are com­monly found on beaded wrist­warm­ers and sock cuffs.

Cir­cles rep­re­sent the sun or moon, while cir­cles with spokes rep­re­sent light, and have been used in Lithua­nian folk art for cen­turies. Cir­cu­lar mo­tifs are dif­fi­cult to rep­re­sent in knit­ted fab­ric, so di­a­mond mo­tifs may be in­ter­preted as suns or as fire.

On stone carv­ings, am­ber amulets and bronze jew­ellery, on or­nate wooden crosses, and within dec­o­ra­tive weav­ing and em­broi­dery pat­terns, the same mo­tifs ap­pear over and over again. Even­tu­ally they found their way onto knit­ted ac­ces­sories. Knit­ted pieces and other folk art cre­ations are not only im­por­tant as phys­i­cal items, but also for the story and his­tory of ru­ral cul­ture, rit­ual, and so­ci­ety that they em­body. Deeper mean­ings in the pat­terns tie both the artists and those who ap­pre­ci­ate their works to the past. Even if the ac­tual mean­ings of the sym­bols are for­got­ten, the items them­selves have be­come sym­bols and re­mem­brances of the her­itage in which they took root. To­day, we can con­tinue to re­mem­ber the deep roots of th­ese tra­di­tions in our own knit­ting. Visit www.sheep­ for de­tails of Donna’s re­search, books and pat­terns

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