Green goddesses (and some wool)

I’ve been sorting out my stash. I know, I know, I said I had lots of work on and I do – I haven’t yet been reduced to cleaning out the freezers as a displacement activity, but their time will doubtless come. Once the stash is dealt with. I have two, essentially: one of wool for pop-up shops, craft fairs, etc., and one for me. The latter was surprising, when I spread it out. It’s full of green.

There are olive greens, lime greens, greens with blues,


yellows, even purples; there are the greens of pine trees, greens of ivy, greens of the bright new birch leaves in spring. There are greens in cotton (bit flat, that, it might have to move into the pop-up stash), alpaca, all sorts of wools. There’s green fluff for spinning and there’s even some green acrylic (shh, don’t tell anyone).

All this greenery got me thinking. I know where it comes from: the old thing about red hair and green, so guess what I was always put in as a child, when I couldn’t persuade my mother that black would look good too? Fair play to her, she didn’t do baby pale greens; she did emerald, and I did love my party dress which was bright emerald shot with a darker bottle green, and with long sleeves – most odd, in retrospect, in a sea of small girls in pink powder puffs. When I asked her about this many years later she just shrugged and said pink would have looked ridiculous with my red plait and she hated pastels anyway. I wasn’t brave enough to ask if any of the other mothers ever said anything about it.

I began to think about the symbolism of green, about its ambivalent nature. It’s the ‘fairy colour’ (of the dangerous Sidh and not, originally, of Leprechauns), the colour of Bridget and of course the colour of the Green Knight. But in Islam it’s been called ‘the colour of safety and permission’, representing a verdant paradise, and it’s the colour of environmental movements worldwide (Incidentally, the first recorded green party was a political faction in sixth-century Byzantium who took their name from a chariot team). It’s also the colour of the snake in the Garden of Eden and the associated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, because lots of greenery was taken into homes. And in the first illustrations to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Christmas Present wears green robes.


Greens began to leap out at me. I had a lovely time over the Christmas break, binge-watching films and eating chocolate, and there was green everywhere. I’m ignoring here the green of Eowyn’s dress in Fellowship of the Ring, or of Shrek (and of Fiona), or of the Incredible Hulk or of Loki’s costumes in the Thor films (though I might come back to the use of greens in the MCU at some point, as it’s interestingly more complex than you’d think), because I did watch some classics as well, honest I did.

In classic movies, green is often shorthand for self-confidence, and a certain disconcerting boldness. Take Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara – please take Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t stand the woman – OK, she’s of Irish origin and we all know that means red hair and green eyes and a difficult temperament: yeah right, and all clichés emphasised through the use of green. There’s the dress made out of curtains, which is ‘symbolic of her will to survive’ (Walter Plunkett). Boy, is that green:

curtain dress

and then there’s the dressing gown (like no dressing gown I’ve ever owned, mind) which she wears when she, essentially, tells Rhett to piss off:

dressing gown

It’s not just Scarlett O’Hara, either, green-clad and temperamental. There’s Cyd Charisse in ‘a tasselled green number’ seducing Gene Kelly in a dream sequence in Singing in the Rain; there’s Tippi Hedren wearing a green suit in The Birds (Hitchcock felt the artificial green colour would enhance the viewers’ sense of discomfort); Kim Novak as Judy in Vertigo. The latter is particularly interesting when it comes to symbolism: it’s ostensibly sweet, but it’s also very tight and therefore, er, ’emphasises her earthiness’, especially as Novak was quite clearly not wearing a bra (which she has spoken about).


But it’s not just the classics. Perhaps the most famous green costume in recent years has been Keira Knightly’s dress in Atonement.

It was actually voted the best film costume of all time (gods, I hate these things, they put so much stress on the recent and the blockbuster) in a poll commissioned by Sky Movies. The whole film has a green tone: the countryside, the kitchen and bathroom of the villa, even the flooded tube station. One commentator said ‘Its colour becomes the symbol of the night that affects the lives of all the main characters’.

I love it. In fact, I’m knitting in just this colour at the moment. I may be looking at my stash in a new light…

(and a heads up for the Clothes on Film website – a great resource and fantastic time-waster when you’re supposedly working.)



14 thoughts on “Green goddesses (and some wool)

  1. Hebridean Woolshed, Isle of South Uist

    [J] Like me then, a red-head. My god, my hair was red. Deep red. If I stood too long with my mouth open (apparently I did, as a boy – now I know it’s because of a manufacturing fault in the nasal department) folk would be shoving their letters between my teeth. I was the same height as a post box too. Tall and red. I’ve always loved green. Chances are, if I’m ever seen not covered in a boiler suit or wet weather gear, or my pyjamas, then I’m either in the shower or wearing clothes of some shade of green. Mostly dull – to suits my personality. Greens are a statement of rootedness. Or would that be browns. Perhaps I mean a sense of belonging – the celtic fringe, where green is colour of life. Scarlet is the colour of vanity. Thanks Kate.

    1. kate Post author

      My hair darkened as I got older, though unfortunately the freckles didn’t get fainter which I always hoped they might, nor did they ever join together in sunlight – I just go bright red and then bits of me fall off, a classic redhead trait (and I’ve got classic redhead amber eyes). My brother stayed red (and he had skin cancer, the result we suspect of one glorious Sutherland summer when we all went a bit mad) but both of us put our Irish granny to shame. She died in her forties, and we found a little box with a lock of her hair in it when we were clearing up after Ma died (though she was classic Irish, brown hair, blue eyes, freckles, also too young). Irish grannie’s hair was luminous, light-up-the-room, deep vibrant red. If I’d just been like that I wouldn’t have wasted time dyeing my hair every other colour!

      1. itwasjudith

        Sadly fake red is not as beautiful as natural one!
        In fact, I had tried once back in the mist of time, and dyed it back a week later.. it wasn’t me.
        You rock, true red 🙂

        1. kate Post author

          Oh, I’m not any more – by the time I was in my late teens it had darkened to chestnutty. That has never stopped me dyeing it all sorts of different colours though!

  2. Spade & Dagger

    My Mother & Grandmother both considered green to be an unlucky colour, so no green cars, clothes or accessories were ever purchased. No idea where that idea originated – but I’ve owned green cars, cookers, clothes etc so it’s not a genetic thing..!!

    1. kate Post author

      That’s interesting, lots of people think that. I know that if there’s a range of identical products for sale in different colours, the green will always undersell the others. Wonder if that’s why?

  3. Miriam P.

    I should have known you were a red head! I wish my hair were as red, auburn really, as when I was young but there you have it.

    My mother’s side is Irish and Scottish descent but my father was northern Italian. He’s the one who had the red hair and Mom had the freckles. We 6 kids got both, although two of my brothers really only have reddish highlights in their hair.

    A former boyfriend of mine always swore that all red heads knew each other. He would claim he was sure he saw me giving random red heads we saw in public the secret signal.

    My mother always said that colors like green and rust are good for red heads but most often she dressed me in colors that looked good on her. She was a lovely woman with a wicked sense of humor – we lost her last December at the age of 90. I miss her.

    I so enjoyed this post. Colors, history, mythology, films, costumes – what’s not to like? We seem to have very similar tastes. Are you familiar with Carol Burnett? She did a wonderful take-off on Scarlett’s drapery dress. Hers still had the curtain rods sticking out of it. Brilliant.

    1. kate Post author

      My goodness, sorry for the tardy response – I was waiting until I fired up my laptop and had time to do nice things (i.e. not work)…

      I was so glad when my hair began to darken but, quite frankly, I would have danced around in my red hair and walked over burning snakes if it had meant getting rid of the flipping freckles. I used to try all sorts of things (covering myself in lemon juice was not successful) but nothing worked and they still remain to plague me. Then, of course, there’s the ‘men with a thing for redheads’. Hm. Some are ok, very ok, sometimes, but the random grabs? Not so good. Mind you, I did get one bastard with a fork – he said he wanted to see where the freckles ended. Not while there was a fork in my hand, he didn’t…

      I don’t know the Carol Burnett. Must look it up!

  4. TextileRanger

    I’ve seen Gone With The Wind 4 or 5 times, but I never saw the parallel between the famous curtain gown and the dressing gown! I’m sure it was done on purpose, to show how she could afford over-the-top craftsmanship in her later life, but I never caught that comparison before. I also didn’t know about the Clothes on Film website. So thanks!

    1. kate Post author

      Oh, the Clothes on Film website is a real time-sink! (Perfect for those days when you should be doing something useful, like cleaning out the dishwasher or, you know, working.) Have fun!


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