If You Give a Mouse Some Yarn: Knitting in MouseGuard

A MouseGuard figurine with a ball of yarn, some tangled around his staff, and a partially knitted hat

Actually, he's not doing a bad job there...

So, Chad’s in a play-by-forum game of MouseGuard over on rpggeek.com. And when someone posted this, well, he just had to show me:

“Look, whenever I start feeling anxious, or nervous, or angry, I knit.” [Halwyn] holds up a paw to forestall her amused response. “It’s true! My mother taught me when I was young. Well, younger.” He grins. “She said she didn’t want any son of hers to be ‘domestically unskilled’. And it works, too. I cannot describe the feeling… when you take just a couple of balls of yarn, and turn it into a tangled, bloody mess, the sheer satisfaction when you toss the whole lot into the fire is just…” He sighs blissfully. “Magnificent.”

(Read the rest here)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a chuckle out of it. The image of the mouse, Halwyn, “knitting” by tangling up a bunch of yarn, then tossing the whole thing into a fire… Totally cracks me up! Not that I’d ever do that. I’m one of those bizarre people who enjoys detangling yarn. Admittedly, I prefer knitting, but when a skein barfs out a tangled mess, I just consider that a challenge.

From there, of course, the players have a ball chatting about knitting in their MouseGuard community. Specifically about a mouse named Gurney who presses volunteers into knitting socks for the winter patrols. I know MouseGuard is fiction, but from a historical perspective, I found that idea fascinating. I’ve been researching Late Tsarist Russia for a novel, and everything I’ve found says that each family was responsible for making its own clothing. Growing, processing, spinning, and weaving flax. Sewing shirts and pants and dresses. Making shoes out of bast. Sure, they had contracts to sell some of what they made, but the impression I got was that for their own families, they had to make their own. The village didn’t have specific people who made clothing that others bartered for or bought. At least, not in the time period I’m researching. Which is actually later than the time period of MouseGuard (medieval).

But, if you think about it, most of us don’t make our own clothes now. At some point, spinning, sewing, and knitting moved from a common household chore to a specialized skill. Something, like metalsmithing, that only certain people did, freeing up others in a community to pursue different occupations.

Reading the exchange in Chad’s game makes me wonder if there were medieval villages that did this, that had specific people (other than wives, mothers, and daughters) who produced clothing for guards and the like, to free them up to protect the village. And, if not, at what point did that happen? Was it during the industrialization of Europe, or did it first shift to a cottage industry?

It fascinates me, the thought of how knitting evolved in communities to the point it’s at today — primarily done by machine and store bought, with a relatively small segment of people knitting by hand. Primarily for pleasure, because from what I’ve read on knitting forums, you have about as much luck making a living from knitting as you do from, well, writing. (Yarn ain’t cheap. At least, not the good stuff. But the good stuff is SOOOOO worth it!)

And, of course, I second Halwyn’s opinion on knitting to relax. Only I don’t throw my yarn in the fire. 😉


Do you knit to relax? Or know about the evolution of knitting? Post your thoughts below! I’d love to hear what you think!


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