I am always struck by this simile, both in understanding our present in terms of our past and in the process of studying and interpreting my particular area of our past. When the proposition of researching the personna of a clerk was suggested by Karl Koster some years ago, I had no idea on what a labyrinthine endeavor I was embarking.
To be concise, each time I pull a thread, follow an avenue of inquiry, I find myself being thrown into topic after topic. For example, in trying to figure the actual cost of a blanket, terms of shillings vs. beaver pelts and what sort of profit was derived, I found myself winding down avenues of: currencies of Canada, North America, Europe, the entire 18th century monetary system, an understanding of bills of exchange (their genesis, development, and usage), the insurance system, shipping, hurricanes, exporting, importing, the various "add ins" of discounts, tariffs, take backs, and so on. And of course, understanding and practicing period writing now entails making my own ink, building my own writing box and ink wells, cutting my own quills.
What's next? Period bookbinding? Period papermaking? Cripes, I've even been making 18th century tinder boxes. All in the pursuit of understanding that fabric and following those threads coming loose as I continue to pull . . .