What Weaving is Teaching/Reminding Me About Writing

JacquardLoom

That timidity is never rewarded in any art form. When I try to avoid tangles, I get tangles. When my beat is too cautious my threads don’t cohere well–so I overcompensate with extra beats that still aren’t as good as a single firm one would have been. When I give in to worry my rhythm falls off.
That beauty comes from practice and repetition.
That the art is in the process.
That there is no single product; instead, there is a body of work, which includes an array of output, some of which is made public but all of which teaches and illustrates our craft.
That everything hangs on something, even if we cannot see it.
That preparation is at least 50% of creation.
Weaving is also getting me to think more vividly about patterns. Visually, I’m paying attention to weave structures–these are the algorithms designed by experts for novices like me to follow, but also the way those algorithms play out once I’ve made use of them, which includes everything from my choice of palette, weight, and sources of yarn to how I set up the loom and how I manage the work of making the cloth. To the extent an analogy might be useful, I suppose the syntax of the cloth is the warp and its grammar the weft, which would leave us to call the rest of the variables its narrative style.
All of this can be programmed ahead of time and generated mechanistically–even the most elaborate tapestries. (Which we all learn in Software Programming 101 with the history of the Jacquard Loom–punched cards serving as the precursor to Babbage’s computing machines.) So why bother making any of this stuff by hand? Likewise, why bother learning to write in college when you’re already literate enough to get into college, able to read and mimic existing documents for any given task?
Because at some point the creators of algorithms die and others must take their place and create new algorithms, new patterns, or new ways of working with the old in order to preserve our ability to make cloth when the machines crash and in order to help us generate cloth that can serve and delight us.
Because at some point the people with interesting and important things to say die and others must take their place and create new arguments, or new ways working with old arguments, in order to preserve our ability to know, think, communicate, and do things essential to our survival and happiness.
Because textiles [and texts] are a fundamental component of the human experience. Someone will always make them. Making them ourselves connects us with those on whom we depend. Having made them ourselves empowers us to choose self-sufficiency or interdependence.
Because there’s so much more to express. And because our imaginations should never be constrained by ignorance about what properly constitutes media or message.
Image source: Jeremy Butler
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Text and Textiles

Etymologically, text and textile share the stem textere, “to weave.”  The OED defines text as:

1. a. The wording of anything written or printed; the structure formed by the words in their order; the very words, phrases, and sentences as written.
 
I found myself thinking about “The structure formed by the words in their order” as I admired a complex pattern on a loom today. I complimented the weaver on her pattern and she said, “the loom’s doing it.” We chatted a while about how we spend so much time setting the stage for the cloth–choosing a pattern, (based on whatever models and descriptions we can find, which rely on the wisdom and ingenuity of generations of weavers who came to realize that, for example, pressing pedal 1-2-3 then 2-3-4 then 1-3-4 then 1-2-4 about 300 times will achieve a particular design), then visualizing how it might look using a given combination of colors and thread sizes, then preparing the loom itself (measuring the yarn and threading the loom takes several days–longer, of course, if you’re dying the yarn yourself beforehand). Once everything is set, a weaver with decent concentration, an appropriate quantity of time, and a consistent beat can basically just groove through the project . . . if what she’s making is a beginner’s kind of project without any more decision-making or pattern changes.
What beginners like me mostly do are projects based on repetition and a sound weave structure. That’s how we manage to create something beautiful and complete.
So much depends on the structure but also on that groove. You need to groove in order to get over yourself, stop over-thinking, and allow the back-and-forth rhythm to bring everything together evenly.
I haven’t asked my studio-mates about this yet, but I suspect the best work depends on a meditative state.
I’ve been reading about the historical relationship between textiles and spirituality and discovered that weaving is a well-established analogy for the mantras spoken over prayer beads such as the mala or rosary.
Scholars of material culture and Christianity note the crossings of warp and weft, the sacred work of women reciting Ave Marias while crafting ritual garments and veils, as well as the sewing of textiles into prayer books–another form of illuminated manuscript.
Understanding the relationship between text and textiles takes much more than etymology and analogy. But it’s a start.