I don’t know about you, but I get sent a number of requests from students asking for me to complete questionnaires for their dissertation research. Some of them are not thought through and in that case I reply tactfully that they need to do a bit of basic research themselves before sending out questionnaires willynilly. But this week I have had one that gave me pause for thought.
In my own masters research, I read a lot about the importance of tactility in everyday life and art, as that is something I feel passionately about – textiles are for touching for me, although I respect that many ‘art’ pieces are not designed to be handled. My work is about erosion in all sorts of guises and about tactility and I want people to interact physically with my work. It’s also a medium that, for the handweaver, insists on physical interaction at different times during the making process. In every step of creating a warp, I interact with the materials physically, although the planning is all brainwork and 3-dimensional spatial planning inside my head.
The questionnaire I received this week asked me if I find weaving challenging. This I interpreted two different ways – challenging as in ‘difficult to overcome’, and challenging as in ‘mentally and maybe practically demanding’. The first meaning isn’t so relevant to me, but the second most definitely so. If it is not challenging, I am not pushing myself. Occasionally I do something that doesn’t take too much mental effort but just requires the physical input of weaving – my Xmas cards, for example – but mostly I am challenging myself to develop new ways of doing or learning. Using the natural world as my inspiration I strive to envisage ways of using weave structures and materials to allow me to interpret geology, growth and erosion patterns from flora, fauna and minerals into textural expressions. I use all the things I have learnt previously, and play with them, investigating how I can merge ideas or structures to create a different take on something and make something unexpected happen. Serendipity plays a crucial role but first I have to think things through and move things in a certain direction so that serendipity can have the room to intervene.
Charlotte also asked if weaving is a stressful occupation, and whether it has helped me improve other skills such as problem solving/mathematics/social skills? Well, yes, occasionally I do get stressed when something goes wrong, but it’s usually if I am in the wrong mind-set anyway, or I feel under pressure from outside forces. Where I am the person totally in control of things, then I don’t usually get stressed, even when things go wrong. It takes as long as it takes. But I know for sure that it has certainly helped me improve problem solving – thinking laterally, seeing what is around me that I can press into service when something physically goes wrong with the loom (happily a fairly rare occurance), being spatially aware of how a flat fabric will shape up into a 3-D piece once it is removed from the loom, thinking in terms of numbers of shafts and patterns when working out what designs to create, and socially, well I get the chance to travel and meet lots of people, sharing with them my technical knowledge, love of weave and my particular way of looking at the world…. All wonderful things to be able to do and share.
I also talked about how weaving can be meditation – getting in the zone allows you to drift away from the pressures of everyday life and focus entirely on the moment, what your body and mind are doing right now, right here. It has also helped me work out how to approach difficult situations in my emotional life, moral issues raised by a teenage son, and gives me a sense of perspective when things get overblown in my mind.
The questionnaire went on to ask about other aspects of weaving which also required further thought but I stopped for a while to think about just how important these particular questions are to what we do. We are engaged with our hands, minds, emotions and body, using sight, touch, smell and spatial awareness in the physicality and preparation of weaving. Yet the act of physically throwing a shuttle allows us to engage analytic thought (if we wish!), but also to focus on the moment, awareness of our bodies, throwing the shuttle and moving the shafts, and also, at the same time, the mental distance from everyday things to allow our subconscious minds to sort out knotty and complex emotional and mental issues whilst we are physically engaged in a rhythmic exercise.
No wonder weave is all-engrossing, and that it continues to be a craft form that gains adherents, devotees, and fanatics (I count myself in the latter group!! ), even more as our daily lives are more and more engaged with digital technology. The fact that it is found world-wide, and is such an old craft form, is testament to its endurance as an essential craft for our physical but also our mental well-being.
Thank you, Charlotte, for reminding me what weave means to me.