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  • Writer's pictureAmber Rose Ostaszewski

Roc Day: Pająki

I am really grateful to be a part of the Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati that has a strong history of traditions and community building. In September we will be celebrating the Guilds 75th anniversary, if you can believe it! That said, one of my favorite gatherings we have is Roc Day, inspired by long-held custom of Christmastide celebrations. Also known as Distaff Day, Roc Day is traditionally the time when women would return to their spinning, weaving and other textile work following the short break during the Holidays as part of the twelve days of Christmas. It's akin to Plough Monday for the men at the time.

We celebrate Roc Day at our guild on the first Saturday following 12th night, in this year that fell on January 6th. We spend the whole day together--members teach short classes for members for other members to participate, and we mark the date by sharing some sweet cake!

This year I was honored to organize a class presenting the folklore, preparation, and creation of pająki, a folkcraft from my Polish heritage. Pająki translates to "spiders" referring to the shape of the festive, folk mobiles--referring either to the arachnid-like legs OR the web-like structure of the designs. A practice usually done leading up to Christmas, I found the timing of Roc Day perfect for gathering together to make pająki, which are visible in the home throughout the winter into Easter celebrations. They are cited in folklore for their protective qualities, catching and filtering negative energy into positive energy, but in more practical terms, they are just bright, fun, playful things to adorn the home during the darkest time of the year.

While the bright colored paper is what one first notices while looking at a pająk, the key material used in pająki is straw--specifically rye straw. Straw has much lore around it in Polish and other slavic cultures, in fact, other Baltic and Nordic cultures have similar creations to pająki, but focus almost entirely on the straw (see Swedish Himmeli).

In order for the class to fit within the short two hour time period, I spent much of my time prepping small kits for the other Guild members to use for creating their own pająk. Time spent cutting paper discs, measuring and slicing the straw, counting and organizing tissue paper and the like takes up the majority of the time spent in creating a pająk.

In class, students were able to learn how to make one of the pom-poms, and then build the foundations of a very, very simple pająk design; we used the Kalinka Pająk as created by Karolina Merska in her book Making Mobiles. While everyone had to finish making the rest of the remaining pom-poms at home, I am really thrilled that some of the students sent me pictures of their finished designs!

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