Humans are tactile animals.
Being able to use my sense of touch has always been important to me. I want to pet my dogs and cat, hug my family, jump in fluffy snow, and put our feet in cool summer grass. Seeing and hearing about different places in a book or on a video is an important way to learn about geography, cultures, and history, but there is something rewarding about being able to hold onto something physical in my hands that helps me better experience the world all around me.
Some little relics helping to appease my inner armchair traveler have been a collection of “textile” pieces such as scarves, wraps, and handkerchiefs. My family collected these over the years from their own travels or as gifts from friends from other countries.
There are so many more intricate facets to every region of the world, every culture (including my own), every era, and every little corner of the globe than we could even begin to fathom, but sometimes the best place to start learning is with one simple item. Let the exploring expand from there.
Take, for example, my own simple stories or memories from just seven pieces of material.
England: Man U Soccer Scarf
I grew up with friends and classmates who would wear Dallas Cowboys “football” jerseys one day and El Tri (Mexican national football) tees the next, but I never really got into soccer until I started watching the English Premier League on Saturday mornings. When I watched England’s Manchester United completely obliterate their opponents one week, I was impressed and started really following them.
One birthday, my husband ordered me a “Man U” soccer scarf for my birthday. This type of fan attire is something I really only see from soccer fans, and it is big business. Every team has its own soccer scarf, and even schools and lesser-known community teams have them too. In an article found on one custom scarf site, the National Football Museum in Manchester said scarves were one of the first things fans used to express their support of team colors as far back as the 19th century. I love my cozy Man U scarf, and I find when I wear it there are plenty of fans (and haters) of this team way down here in West Texas.
My husband, on the other hand, has a tattoo indicating his favorite team is Wolverhampton F.C., but that is a different story.
One of my mom’s close friends was from Japan, and she helped host a fundraising Japanese festival at my high school not long after I graduated. It was not only the first time I had been back on campus but one of the coolest experiences for me. There were several items being sold or auctioned off to raise money for scholarships, and one my mom picked up was a cotton headband sponsored by Nissan Motor Company with several examples of traditional Japanese flag designs. The hachimaki is not only worn as a practical athletic sweatband but has been a symbol of courage by those who wear it, such as military members or martial arts teams. When I see it, however, it gives me a sense of both nostalgia and sadness, knowing that my mom and her friend are both gone from this world.
Ireland: Magic Linen Hanky
My own family heritage is a mix, but my mother’s family came from Wales and Ireland, and the Irish side certainly spoke louder in our house. My mother-in-law recently brought me a small lace handkerchief from her own visit to the Emerald Isle, as she thought it was pretty. What she didn’t know was she gave me a traditional “Magic Hanky,” something given often to an Irish bride at her wedding. The bride keeps the hanky through her wedding, and can then make it into a baby bonnet when the first child is born. Both of my own children were well past bonnet age when this was given to me, but you don’t have to follow tradition to appreciate the simple beauty of Irish white linen and lace.
West Africa: Pagne Wrap
In my parents’ church, we knew people who spent several years as teachers and missionaries in different countries in Africa. We also knew people in the church who came from various African nations to teach in the United States. One member gave me my pagne, as she called it. This is a type of West African wrap I wear as a skirt. I don’t know much about this pattern, only that it was as bright and beautiful as the person who gave it to me, and I always appreciate how one simple piece of material can have so many uses.
I have a small version of a traditional black lace mantilla my uncle brought my mom from Spain when he was in the Navy. Some of these can be huge and flowing, but mine is a little smaller, probably one meant for tourists. I was always fascinated by these traditional veils when I was a kid and loved the dark, lace flowers of the ones my mom had and used for everything from doll clothes to wrist bands, I don’t know if my uncle ever picked up a comb, or peineta, that is often worn under them, but the mantilla on its own is gorgeous.
Eastern European: Mystery Scarf
I call this my “mystery” scarf as I have no idea from where, when, or who it came. My grandma said it came from “East Europe,” but that’s a teensy bit vague. I just know I have always had it. One family friend was of Ukrainian by heritage and said these elaborate decorations on the plate patterns were for sure from Ukrainian, but one aunt told they are possibly Dutch, and yet another friend said Poland. I do know all three of the countries produce beautiful pottery, but if anyone can wager a more definitive guess, I would love to hear it. I think the Polish guess is the most accurate, but I’m still up in the air on it.
United States: Fashion Silk Scarf
Finally, I have a piece of history from my home country: and it comes from the days of post-World War II road trips. With the war over, people were encouraged to set out in their family car and explore the country. As a result, the “Route 66” era of travel and souvenir shops arose. I don’t know exactly when my own grandma purchased this headscarf (to keep the wind off her well Aquanetted do), but since it shows off the cool state flags from just the 48 contiguous states it was either made pre-1959, or they just didn’t have room for Alaska and Hawaii in the design. Either way, it gives off that fun, retro “let’s hit the road” vibe I love.
I’ve come to that disappointing time in my life where I realize I might not get to see or visit all the places I long so much to go. I always set goals beyond what is currently doable for me, so I always have something to aim for should my simpler goals be achieved.
Thankfully, with the help of small objects, there are bits and pieces of different places I can hold in my hands, wear in my hair, or around my neck. Even when I can’t visit different places in the world, they can at least spend a little time with me right here at home.