Part 5: From far away, I am sending you warmest greetings

When summer was ending, we would return to Tbilisi, usually around the 20th of August. My father had to be back in school as he was a teacher. My mother, being a journalist, had very limited vacation—she would take one month of paid leave and another month without salary, even though it was challenging for our family budget. Despite the financial constraints, my parents always made an effort to spend the summer with me and my brother.

The topic of salary in the USSR is another story, a horror story, I would say. My first salary was during the USSR, and it came from a relatively easy and satisfying job—I was leading a literature class in school. The students in this school were from families that could not take care of their children or were orphans. These kids attended my classes voluntarily, and looking back, I realize it was likely due to the freedom of speech I was able to showcase in my class. In the USSR, freedom, especially freedom of speech, was a scarce commodity. On a related note, because clothing was a scarce product in the USSR, many people from the former Soviet Union in my generation and older possess skills like spinning yarn, knitting proper clothes, and creating unique items with needles.


Returning to the topic of salary, my monthly earnings were 40 Soviet Rubles, while the average salary was around 150 Soviet Rubles. We were considered poor, at least the majority of us. The only ones who were relatively wealthy were those individuals who were closely associated with the Soviet Communist Party. However, it's important to note that even the "rich" individuals were still poor by Western standards.

Back in Tbilisi, even as the end of August brought lingering heat, my mind was still in the countryside with my neighbors' sheep, cows, chickens, gods, cats, and so on. I diligently wrote letters to my friends in the countryside, expressing interest in every detail: whether they had gathered wool for yarn, if the pear harvest was as good as they hoped, if they had returned to school or were still working in state-owned farms (in the USSR, kids from rural areas were often obliged to work on farms). Without fail, their responses always began with the same words: "First of all, I took pen in hand, and from far away, I am sending you warmest greetings." This opening sentence never fails to bring a smile to my face, reflecting the peculiar formality imposed on us as kids when writing letters. It's worth noting that letter-writing in the USSR was a delicate matter; many parents faced arrest for the content of their children's letters, as the KGB meticulously read through them, and kids shared stories they overheard in the kitchens of small Soviet apartments.


Our letters were invariably written on school notebook paper, with the girls responding to all the questions I asked. However, their replies were consistently succinct. For instance, if I inquired about the quality of the black sheep's wool that year, I might receive a terse "YES." Clearly, this was insufficient for me. I would press for more details, seeking to understand the specifics: How was the sheep washed before shearing? Where did this process take place, and what tools were used? Did it cause any discomfort to our black sheep? Did they pet her? Was she feeling cold? Did she have any sort of clothing? Despite my persistence, I would inevitably receive brief, matter-of-fact responses. Nevertheless, my friends always made promises to visit and pet my favorite sheep.


During that time, wool was a secondary concern for me. I didn't place much importance on it, and I never inquired about the projects my friends intended to use it for or what they had knitted after spinning it on the spindle.

Only after many years did I inquire about what our women and men did with that wool. The response was comprehensive; they crafted a myriad of items, much like people all over the world—blankets, pillows, tablecloths with felted wool, carpets, socks, handbags. Women spun yarn at night beside the fireplace, basking in the gentle glow of a candle. It was a sort of escape from reality; spinning yarn in those conditions, with everyone else asleep, hearing the wind and the distant voices of jackals. As they spun and spun on ancient spindles handed down from their grandparents, I believe, for many women in my neighborhood, this was the only time to be truly alone with themselves.

Many followers of Kravelli are aware that the culture of yarn spinning in Georgia is nearly extinct, with various forms of Georgian spindle whorls lost to time. To revive these forms, we often purchase old spindles from flea markets. During my visit to the countryside this summer, I met with my neighbor, the best yarn spinner in the village. I presented her with my walnut support spindle and wool, and in return, she offered me the most exceptional masterclass of my life. What surprised me was her use of the support spindle without a support bowl, akin to a drop spindle. Her hands skillfully remembered the art of spinning, and we engaged in the craft for an extended period. When I inquired about why she had stopped spinning, she explained that times had changed. Unfortunately, many challenging circumstances in Georgia compelled people to forsake activities they once loved in order to meet their basic needs.

I have video of her spinning on my private Instagram page.

That concludes today's sharing. I wasn't aware that you could leave comments on our webpage, and it truly delighted me to learn that you enjoy reading these small blogs about Georgia and its yarn culture intertwined with my personal experiences.

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