“I knit a story about light and fresh air, yes? Warmth and survival.”
These words guide Gabby, the nineteen-year-old protagonist in my novella, Blood Stitches, through the labyrinthine Mayan underworld in which she finds herself trapped. The refrain becomes Gabby’s light, illuminating her escape and filling her with hope.
Originally spoken by her abuela, grandmother in Spanish, the phrase alludes to the magical DNA weaving in and out of their genes. They form an intricate history, a gift from the Mayan moon goddess, Ix Chel, that allows Gabby’s family to knit complex patterns, a story of sorts, complete with plot twists and turns.
“Yarn weaving,” Abuela calls it.
It’s a history not unique to Gabby’s family. Mayan women for centuries have told stories through their weaving, a tradition that continues today. Hundreds of symbols represent different aspects of their mythology and everyday world. Diamonds indicate the union of the earth and sky, while toads symbolize the rain god.
Across the ocean in Ireland, a rich history has also evolved surrounding the stitches used in the famous Aran sweaters. A mixture of fable—the sweaters never represented specific families—and elaborate needlework, the stitches possess a whimsical poetry: blackberry, moss, basket, honeycomb, and tree of life. Their meanings reflect their names with the basket stitch, for example, supposed to represent a fisherman’s daily catch.
But the art of storytelling through needle and yarn is not something relegated to previous generations. Artists, like Deborah Dick of Tempting Tangles, continue to find new ways to express themselves. Using cross stitch and embroidery, Deborah chronicles elaborate narratives with rich details, such as the Watermeadows Series, where skaters glide under a moonlit sky and a couple serenades each other below flowering trees.
Although the fantasy of Abuela’s “yarn weaving” may be fiction, the magic found in needlework and weaving across the world tells a rich legacy of endless imagination and creativity.
Textile Art of Chiapas
Friends of Ixchel Museum
Images of the Maya
Irish Genealogy Toolkit
Aran Stitches and Their Meanings