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.

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