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.

On Weaving & On Animating Metaphors


One important dimension of this project is the exploration of rhetorical metaphors not as metaphors but as actions and experiences.
In other words, instead of discussing various ways critics and others have compared writing to, e.g., weaving I’m going to weave.
Why does this matter? Does it matter? Yes, I believe it does. In so many ways. For example, I’ve sometimes used the concept of “warp and weft” to describe the interlacing of ideas, the interdependency of communities, and so forth. But what do I really know about the relationship between warp and weft?
Not much.
So I’m spending the next two months at a local arts center working on a loom. So far I’ve learned that it will take me about as long (or longer) to set up the loom–getting the warp on–as it will to actually weave my first piece of sampler cloth. I’ve also learned that some textile artists intentionally make their warp strings or weft strings more prominent (til now I always viewed the two as equally balanced, visually and otherwise).
Does setting up a loom, putting warp strings and weft strings in place, getting things tangled and wrong and ultimately owning their configuration–does all this enable me to better appreciate the metaphor and the metaphor’s insights into writing (and other matters)? You betcha. But it accomplishes more than that. It gets me working in three dimensions, composing non-verbally or transverbally an altogether different kind of narrative.
Heh. Now I’m using metaphors of writing to explain weaving.
One last thing I discovered this week: people who actually understand the community-as-warp-and-weft metaphor and who are doing something real with that insight. Their organization is called Weave a Real Peace.