Faggotting and Faggots

The other night I met with a couple of friends over our various fiber projects. All of us that night were ex-academics, and I have to admit that we actually put our needles and hooks down (gasp!) when our conversation got away from our projects and toward our various disciplines.

So this is the weird topic that distracted us: How did “faggot lace” get its name and why?

All of us were familiar, of course, with the use of the word “faggot” as a pejorative term toward male homosexuals. We also knew it to mean “bundles of wood” (though we did not then know that came from the 13th century Old French fagot, “bundle of sticks”). One of my friends knew it was also used to describe a bundle of iron (as in iron to be forged). We knew “fag” as a noun was slang for a cigarette, and that as a verb meant to tire out (chiefly British). One of the group had spent time in the U.K. and so knew that “fag” was also (an old) slang meaning to require a younger student to do menial chores for an older student (in British public schools).

But as iPhones and iPads were quickly whipped out, we were surprised to learn that:

  • as a verb “fag” also meant to fray the end of a rope
  • as a noun, “faggot” describes a ball of chopped meat, usually pork liver, bound with herbs and bread and eaten fried (British)
  • beginning in the 16th century, the word “faggot” was a contemptuous term applied to (old) women and remained used as such until the 20th century.
  • in 1700, though obscure it could also mean a “man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at muster”
  • in 1817, though obscure it could also mean a “vote manufactured for party purposes”
  • It was never used as a derogatory term for homosexual men until the early 20th century in the U.S. (and later shortened to “fag” in the U.S. and Canada).

But I digress.

According to Jane Sowerby (Victorian Lace Today, 2006), The “faggoting stitch (YO, K2tog), … is the basis of lace knitting and from here it is possible to trace the beginning of lace shawls” (p. viii). So what was the origin of the term “faggoting” as in lace making?

Ahhh, that was a tad harder to find, but of course we found that too.

It comes from 1425–75. In late Middle English, “fagge” meant a broken thread in cloth or, (of obscure origin), a loose end.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I brought up the question. I had just started a faggoting lace project out of Silk Cloud by Shibui Knits. 🙂

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21 Responses to Faggotting and Faggots

  1. Pingback: A comparison of the structures of four lace meshes – String Geekery

  2. As language changes over the years, we end up puzzled by various words!


  3. Cyndy says:

    Love the history down memory lane. I am about to embark on a knitting pattern called Dappled Sunlight (found on Ravelry.com). This pattern got me curious as to the fagotting reference which I knew to be lace but, like you, desired to learn more. Thank You!


  4. I had to dig a bit, but finding out the source of knit fagotting was exciting!


  5. I’m working on a new shawl design that incorporates faggoting in panels and was curious as to the origin of the term (as opposed to the other uses that we’re aware of). Thanks!


  6. Now we have to be careful how we use which version of the “f” word. 🙂


  7. Claire says:

    I didn’t know I’d faggoted (the knitting one)! fascinating!!


  8. You’re welcome … The word kept nagging at me so I had to look into it! 🙂


  9. minaandme says:

    How very fascinating. Thanks for the lesson in history and semantics 🙂 Who knew?


  10. What you need to do is hang out with friends who are knitters and crocheters — if they’re addicts like me, you’ll not only see them work reguarly BUT they will be more happy to show you how to do it! 🙂


  11. How fagtastic! 🙂 Seriously though, I am in awe of anyone who can knit or crochet! I keep promising myself I am going to get stuck into learning properly then I get distracted! Problem with being a Gemini is you want to do everything at the same time!
    Fabulous blog!
    Tracey x


  12. Yes, it is exciting, isn’t it! I will visit yours again!


  13. jlstotts says:

    sweet blog! Thanks so much for visiting mine. I was (probably way too) so excited to get alittle traffic! happy crafting!


  14. Curls & Q says:

    Tomorrow. 😎


  15. Thanks for reading my blog … I am glad you find it informative!


  16. Pictures? 🙂


  17. We just have to be careful how we use the words and in front of whom. 🙂


  18. grimdreamer says:

    I’ve learnt so much about the origin of “fag” and “faggot”. Only ever use it to describe a cigarette 😉


  19. Curls & Q says:

    Oh, I LOVE etymology! Great info! I stayed up until 2 am last night to finish a shawl with TONS of faggots!


  20. I learn so much when I check out your blog. Thanks!


  21. Karen, that is just fascinating! I knew about the ‘bundle of sticks’ and the lace stitch but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m enlightened!


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