30 October, 2011
This week I was called a Polyanna. It was meant as an insult, but I took it as a compliment and thanked the giver warmly. A few years ago, when I first heard the term, I had to ask for clarification – I think it’s a US expression more than a UK one – but it basically means that you always look for the good in any situation. Polyanna was a girl who looked for something beautiful, positive and happy in all the things that happened to her. This, to me, is a wonderful way to live.
Many of us have been brought up with the message that purely positive people are somehow a little ‘flaky’. “Life’s just not like that”, is a phrase that I have heard from so many different people from all walks of life, before they moan about the latest thing that has just happened in their lives.
But one thing I have learned over the past fifteen or so years, is that life can be like that, if you choose it to be.
It was a huge breakthrough to me when I learned and really absorbed that it isn’t what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you choose to respond or react to those things that happen.
We all have things that happen in life that we’d rather didn’t – a job loss, the death or serious injury or illness of someone we love, or ourselves – but rather than think of those as ‘bad’ things, I have been trying to put them into a perspective of ‘things that happen’ rather than ‘bad things that happen’. The word ‘bad’ is a subjective term, in the same way that ‘good’ is. We attach those words to circumstances and that reflects how we react to them.
If we realise that we have a choice as to how we react through the choice of words that we use to describe them, then we give ourselves a certain amount of power. If we try to see the positive impact of something that initially appears detrimental, then we give ourselves energy and power to work through it with a positive attitude. If we select the negative descriptor, then we drain ourselves of energy and will-power to deal with the problem that is there.
It was a conscious decision on my part to try to learn to harness the positive potential of every situation – even something as heartbreaking as the death of my mum – and it works, for me. It allows me to break through potential paralysis of emotions and respond by moving forward, accepting there are no bad things in the world, but only my perception of what happens.
I have learnt to see situations from differing perspectives, which is really helpful in trying to understand another person’s view, but it does mean I’m not very good in arguments, as I can nearly always see and appreciate the other views….!!
So, to the person who sought to diminish my enthusiasm and love of life with the ‘Polyanna’ comment, thanks for reminding me that it is every person’s choice how they wish to approach life, and I choose the positive. Your choices too will give you what you wish for.
23 October, 2011
I am so proud of my son!! In July he took the brave step of joining the armed forces and has just undergone basic training, where the young men are turned from greenhorns into soldiers – not an easy job, I’m sure!! I know it has been gruelling for them all, and each has had to deal with their own individual doubts, home sickness, panics and depressions. Some inevitably drop out – and that is both to their benefit and the army’s. Kudos to those who try it and realise that they are not cut out for that job! It takes courage to make that decision. (I know, for one, that I wouldn’t be able to hack being told what to do!!!!)
The training they have received has been from instructors who have all served in active millitary zones, so they know what they are talking about. They know when it is important to show initiative, and also when it is vital to do as you’re told immediately, without hesitation. They’ve been tested on the ethics and morality of killing – they’ve had to make difficult decisions about life and death that most of us will hopefully never have to face in our lives. Some pay the price, losing life or limb(s) fighting for things that politicians back home have decided on, whatever the rights and wrongs of it. They have to put their personal and political feelings aside and do the job. For many this comes back to haunt them in later times, and both they and their families have to be aware of that.
At the passing out parade (and one poor soldier took that phrase literally!!), the sense of pride of the relatives of the new soldiers was palpable. The tremendously high standards of drill from the soldiers was unbelievable to watch – just 14 weeks earlier, none of them knew what to do, and now they are totally together, working as a team. Stunning. They have been through tough mental and physical challenges to get them to this standard, and now they will go off to do their respective trade training and be challenged further. They have been on exercise in horrendous weather conditions, they have learned to take care of themselves, their equipment and each other, and they have learned to pool their resources and support each other.
In the relaxed atmosphere after the parade, it was wonderful to see the sense of achievement in the men themselves. They all wore their uniforms with pride – they had earned them! They were the centre of attention of each of the family groups – they felt so special and valued. Now, as they go off on their different paths, each of them has a fundamental self-belief that they have faced what was thrown at them and succeeded. Some of them will never have experienced this feeling of self-worth before, and what a treasure it is.
As a mother of a new soldier, I feel so much pride, tempered with the knowledge that he will face extreme danger in the future, but strong in the understanding that, whatever the outcome, this is his life’s choice, taken willingly and knowing what could happen in the future. He has found his vocation and what more could any mother ask for her child?
16 October, 2011
Weavers who go beyond recipe weaving tend to be quite deep thinkers, I’ve noticed. They are not content with following what someone else has done, but they want to tweak the threading here, and alter the treadling there, or completely revamp the tie-up. And from there, it’s a small step to designing your own weaving drafts.
For me, that is where the excitement in weaving lies. I have an idea, and I want to work out a way to weave it, whether that’s on a shaft loom, or a jacquard loom.
I am currently studying for a masters in weave and that is encouraging me into thinking about the reasons behind my decisions – all my decisions – not just the weaving ones. I am having to examine why I am drawn to certain things, why weave, what underlies my desire to produce unusual or textured fabrics. And the harder part – how to articulate that to a non-weaving audience.
This is by far the deepest thinking I’ve done on my weaving. Before, it was enough just to want to weave volcanoes, or sand-dunes. Now I have to delve into what is it (am I) saying? Why do I want it to be art and not generally fabric for use? Where should it be shown? How should it be shown? What context does it require in order to give the interpretation I want it to have? What is the interpretation I want it to have? Should this be spelt out to an audience, or inferred? What does the viewer bring to the interpretation of the piece? Does that have a bearing on how I would i) present the piece, ii) weave the piece, iii) design the piece?
All these questions! At first, I resisted even trying to answer them, but I gradually realised that delving beneath the surface of things is what I do in my weaving, so I should try to apply the same principles to my reasoning. After my first presentation to the masters group, I realised that I was speaking to a non-textile audience for the first time, and that shifted my thinking about presentations drastically. I had to find a way of talking about weaving without being too weaverly.
I am currently working on a contextual paper, basically trying to find where I fit in the world. How does my output and thinking fit in with an art perspective, a craft perspective, a textiles perspective and a weaving perspective. What is my philosophy? Whose work strikes a chord with me? Why? What does their work bring to my understanding? I have to debate thoughts, not just state them. I have to analyse why I think something, and question whether that is a valid way of looking at something. In other words, I have to think about and question everything.
This may seem like a lot of hard work and something that you wouldn’t want to do. However, I am learning so much through this process – about my ways of thinking, about my instincts, about relating my weaving to the wider world, about my place in the wider world. It is making me re-evaluate and confirm or change how I feel about art in general, about crafts and their position in our lives, about what I do and how I do it.
Food for thought, indeed ….
9 October, 2011
Language is such an integral part of our lives that it’s not often that we stop to think about it. It’s been in my mind recently whilst I’ve been doing some background reading for my masters degree. One book I was reading (Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Edited by Stuart Hall) referred to language not just as the verbal and written communications we have in a specific world language (such as English, French, Spanish etc) but also the language of art, the language of performance, the language of culture, the language of music, and so on. This got me thinking about the language of textiles.
The language of textiles is one that we are brought up with and absorb from the moment of our births until the minute we die. Occasionally we verbalise it, but textiles are associated with emotional moments in our lives, and also emotional stability – think about a child’s comfort blanket (whatever form that might take). Think about the significance of a prom gown, a wedding dress, funeral clothes, casual clothes. We make emotional and rational decisions about textiles our whole day, and our whole lives. We are surrounded by them wherever we go, whether that be clothing, or furnishings in our house, the textiles we use for doing jobs, and now of course, textiles which have added value and usefulness – the protective clothing used by the armed forces and emergency services which let you know if your core temperature is too high, whether there is toxicity around you, some even have soft switching which incorporates electrical circuits into them for many and various uses.
This weekend, I was showing a student how to read weaving drafts and we had a discussion about drafts being a secret language known only to weavers and how unlocking the secrets of the langauge through its code opens up a whole new world to a new weaver.
I’m a teacher who expects my students to use their brains and I give them the tools to be able to make their own decisions as weavers, right from the start. To me, unlocking the code of weaving through the ability to read and understand drafts, so that you can relate what you are seeing on the page to what you are doing on the loom, and the relationship between how you thread the shafts and the lifting order you use, is the most important part of my job when teaching. The wonder and excitement that lights up students’ faces, and the knowledge that they can create their own patterns and share those with others through this coded language is a huge reward to me as a teacher.
As weavers, we may have a secret language known only to other weavers, but the results are there for all to see, in a language which means something to everyone, whether they like what they see or feel, or not. Textiles is a wonderful field with direct connections to every living person. The versatility of techniques in textiles, and also the huge variety of techniques within weaving alone, gives us a wonderfully expressive langauge to use to communicate what we wish. Let’s talk to each other through textiles!!
2 October, 2011
This week I am writing a bit about a new website which is currently being set up to be a one-stop shop for people wishing to find information on weaving in the UK. With funding from the Worshipful Company of Weavers, Philippa Brock, course leader at Central St Martins is compiling a comprehensive list of yarn suppliers, commission weavers, accessories and loom suppliers, professional bodies, short courses etc. With input from practitioners and tutors, students and manufacturers, the website is aiming to be the first place that anyone looking for information on weaving will go.
This project is filling a hole that has existed for a long time and responds to many weavers’ desire to have a place where all the information could be found. Several people have been working quietly away on separate projects, but have had difficulties with funding. This central, funded, and updatable service will prove invaluable to practitioners, people wishing to commission weave, and anyone wishing to learn about weaving.
The site is due to go live later this month, and I will give you the live link once it does. In the meantime, I hope it has whetted your appetite to see what the UK still has to offer from fibre to fabric, tuition to exhibitions and commissions.