My grandmother was great at crafts. She made all my mother’s clothes while my mother was growing up, and a lot of her own, too. She was incredibly talented and mastered most arts and crafts: she drew and painted in oil, she painted directly onto curtains and tablecloths, she embroidered, she painted pictures on the walls of the house. She wove pictures in little frames, she knitted, she crocheted, she made artwork and jewelry from enamel. And of course she cooked and baked and gardened, too. There was really nothing she couldn’t do with her hands.
This is what women have done throughout the ages. They have had to be skilled at everything; keeping their families clad and fed. The needle has been just as an important tool in human history as the knife.
From my very first fantasy novel I have wanted to honor this. My heroines work. They weave, they sew, they plant and watch things grow. They hunt and fish, they dry the meat, they collect the eggs of seabirds, they make cheeses and preserves, they bake and cook. They embroider and draw, they learn about the healing properties of plants, they read and write. They help children being born, they wash the bodies of the dead. Some of them wield spears and bows and swords. More of them wield scissors, ladles and sheep-shearers.
In fantasy novels there tends to be the trope of the heroine who scorns the work she is expected to do as a girl. She detests her sisters, her mother, for laboring over “boring” tasks such as sewing. She wants to set out into the world like her brothers, on a horse with a sword in hand! We are to understand that her way is the cooler way. The better way.
My novels honor the real work women do, and hopefully show how necessary it is. A fantasy heroine does not need to do heroic deeds in exactly the same way we are used to seeing fantasy heroes do. They can, but there are other ways, too. In my novel Arra the heroine weaves magic into the picture weaves she makes. In Anaché the protagonist tries on the role of a boy, and gains freedom through it, but eventually loses herself and has to reclaim her own identity. In Maresi some of the magic is done through feminine things such as the combing of hair. And in Naondel (out January 2018) there are many protagonists who have different powers, many of which are traditionally coded female. Sewing plays a great part in the liberation of the captive women.
I wanted to show that the skills we associate with women are no less worthy. No less important. And every time I write about one of these skilled, fierce women, I think of my grandmother.
You can learn more about Maria Turtschaninoff’s fantasy novels, here.