With my latest design, Celtic Maze Shawl, I went looking for my celtic origins and I want to share a bit more about this journey with you.
I grew up near Rennes, in Brittany, my whole Family comes from the south Finistère (the western part of Brittany) and I always found it difficult to articulate my own Breton identity. The reasons are to be found in my family, because my grandparents used the Breton language, a language that I never learned, as an exclusion. It was the language they used when they didn’t want to be understood by us. And the reasons are also national, because the Breton language and culture have been erased by the French state through the 50s like many other form of regionalism, for the sake of unity. My grandparents were forbidden to speak Breton (their native language) at school, and violently punished if they did. So the culture wasn’t passed on and Breton became a somewhat shameful language. But the culture didn’t disappear completely, it lives on as a re-creation and is now promoted, but I always found it hard to identify with it. In truth, I often felt like I wasn’t Breton enough. I had friends who went to Fest Noz (Breton dance nights) every weekends, and I didn’t know how to do Breton dances. I didn’t like the famous kouign amann, and worst of the worst, I was born in Paris (we moved back to Brittany when I was 3). But at the same time, since my whole family comes from Brittany, I had no other local culture to be a part of. This cultural regionalism appeared to me as a form of rejection, as strong as the rejection I already felt from my grandparents with their inaccessible Breton language.
And then, lately, I started thinking deeply about the meaning of my Breton identity. And I realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s a form of re-creation, as long as I do it in a personal way that allows me to detach myself from my family history and the institutional forms of regionalism. My sister, to explore her own celtic and Breton identity, started studying Irish nationalism. She learned the gaelic language (if not Breton) et now lives in Limerick where she is doing a phd on the figures of irish nationalists. What she wasn’t able to do in Brittany, this search for an identity, she was able to find in a sister country. And when I chatted with her about it, we realized that my own quest is pretty similar. We both have this need to reclaim our origins in a personal way. She is a researcher, so she started studying, exploring sources, theorizing. I am an artist, so I picked up my yarn and needles.
When I knitted the yarns from Bouclelaine (a small yarn brand from Brittany that promotes local sheeps, you can see my post about them here), I realized how good it made me feel to get in touch with my origins through my art. To get out of the familial and official settings that confined me to find my own way to get in touch with my Breton identity. Ma family has rural origins, so it made a lot of sense to me to rediscover fibers from local sheeps.
With Celtic Maze, I wanted to go look for patterns. This search for celtic patterns isn’t new to me. When I was a teenager, I loved reproducing illuminated letters from old manuscripts, and the ones that fascinated me the most were always the celtic ones, with their entrelacs and amazing fantastic animals. I always was a big fan of celtic art from the Iron age, which I rediscovered during my studies. My father loved old stones, and I don’t know how many menhirs, dolmen, tumulus and cairns we visited during my childhood, each time he saw one on the map we had to stop on the side of the road and go look for it through the fields.
It’s funny how this culture and these ancient origins, romanticized for the History books were accessible when the closer culture: my grandparents’ Breton language, the bigouden costumes, all the folklore and the villages celebrations always had an attraction/repulsion effect to me. Like something I can never fully be a part of.
That’s why the celtic maze pattern really spoke to me. Because it represents a difficult, complex path towards my Breton origins. Because I needed to get back to my center and think deeply about what this identity means to me. To reclaim it through my art, my colors and my stitches before I could turn back to the world again.This design is a very introspective and personal journey to me.
And I wanted to tell you all of this because I strongly believe that knitting has a real power to help each of us in our own quest for identity. When we make things with our own hands, each stitch weaves a link between us and our personal story, and also between all of us when we share it together.