Monday, 2 March 2009

Baba Marta

Last week a colleague asked me, out of the blue, "How long does it take for your wool to arrive?" I blinked in slight confusion. To which particular wool of the many stash enhancement packages that arrive at my desk, er, several times a week, could she be referring? Then I realised that to "normal" people, there could quite conceivably only be one type of wool and only one supplier. I'm sure I'd be equally surprised by the variety of things available for any one of a million different past-times.

Anyway, some questioning revealed the rationale behind the question. This particular colleague is from Bulgaria, where there is a tradition of exchanging little red and white woolly things, called Martenitsa, on 1 March, which is a national holiday for the first day of spring. The ornaments placate Baba Marta, who is a crotchety old grandmother/witch - the archetypal crone. They are hung up or worn from 1 March until the owner first sees either a stork, a swallow, or a tree in bloom - if the latter, the ornaments should be tied to the tree (presumably this is not feasible with the stork or the swallow and therefore not required by tradition).

It is acceptable and common to purchase Martenitsa (although not for yourself, you have to exchange), but handmade is best. We therefore headed to John Lewis for wool, beads and other supplies, then spent an enjoyable lunch hour creating the ornaments.

Most of the Martenitsa are based on tassles, and the most traditional are little people, a man and a woman. For these, step 1 involves making a tassle:

And then binding it at various points to make a neck, waist and arms:

After some trimming, and the same process again in reverse colours, you have the couple:

Other kinds of tassles and pom-poms are also fine. I made these in the rest of our session:

Here are some examples of purchased ones, including friendship bracelets which are also popular:

Mine are now hung up on my desk, awaiting the sighting of a tree (storks and swallows not being common in central London):

My colleague also sent me a link to this news story from a Bulgarian website, which shows the street markets in Sofia at which these things are sold. They are all rather more complex than my attempts - I did find the knitter in the one I've linked to most amusing (the others are worth a look too for novel things to do with wool). I admit I tried to steal the photo but the site wouldn't let me, boo.

Happy March, and let's hope it is nearly spring!

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