Famous Knits: Outlander
This post contains some mild spoilers, of course, so continue at your own risk! Also, I haven’t read the books!
I resisted at first but it wasn’t long before I became one of the many knitters that was devouring Starz’s new series Outlander. I love historical fiction especially of this period but I’m not into historical romance so I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. But the early reviews all outlined how cool the protagonist, Claire, is and how the show is not your ordinary premium cable television show. I have to say, those reviews were on point (except, Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, that voice over is maddening!) and the show has stuck with me between viewings.
In case you missed the buzz, Claire, a British army nurse, is reconnecting with her husband on a genealogy-themed vacation when she is transported from post-WWII Scotland to the 18th century. Kilts! Brogue! That theme song!
While there’s tons of really adorable knitwear (that I would actually wear in my 21st century life), I’m going to save all of that for another post. I really want to talk about the fifth episode because it really tickled me! While Claire is on the road with Dougal and co, she stumbles on a group of women that are waulking wool.
Waulking (or fulling) is a process of cleaning and thickening new wool cloth. Sure, there was the gross-out, thank-god-I-don’t-live-in-the-olden-days fact that they are using boiled urine (yum!) to clean the oils out of the fabric and then beating it with their hands. (The smell of wet wool alone is bad enough, I can’t even!) But, considering wool is just about everywhere in the daily life of a highlander (tartan short gowns and berets and just the most beautiful blankets), this was an important common chore of the time.
Besides the whole pee blanket thing, it does seem like a pretty fun job and I’m kind of enamored by the community aspect of it. There are some great female characters in Outlander but they don’t really get to bro-out like the dudes do (telling dirty jokes, hunting, playing oldey timey sports, etc). I loved hearing these women sing and enjoy their work together.
Waulking songs are much like folk songs. Different lyrics are set to the same tunes and there is a call and response or a leader sings a verse while everyone else joins in for the chorus. The waulking songs are set to a beat suitable for pounding on the wool. I love old drinking songs and this feels like an especially female version since women were generally the waulkers.
I’m having a lot of fun finding waulking songs and exploring this tradition! Are you watching Outlander?
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