The finished product of any endeavor is a joy to behold. A symphony, a novel, a new rose garden; a child’s painting, a poem. The finished product I’m looking forward to at the moment is represented at the left – a scarf in one of our Mountain Tartans, “Morgan’s Steep.”
But in weaving, as in all art and most of life, you cannot arrive at the finished product in one quick leap. Indeed, trying to do that is the surest way to a finished product that may not be a joy to behold, that may be marred by mistakes, blemishes, and imperfections.
In weaving, the actual “weaving” part comes at the very end, just before the finished product, and is usually the easiest and shortest step in the process. There are so very many steps that come first – many of them seemingly slow and tedious:
* Create the design
* Choose the weaving pattern
* Pick out the yarns
* Do the math. (Oh, there is so much math! Warp widths, number of yarn “ends,” etc.)
* Prepare the length of the warp yarn on the warping board
* Pull each warp thread through the reed (called “sleying,”) in the proper sequence, one at a time (there may be over 300 of them)
* Go around to the back of the loom and use a heddle hook to pull each yarn end through the proper heddle in the right sequence to produce the weave pattern you have chosen.
* Tie off the warp on the front and back beams.
* Wind some weft yarn on a bobbin and place it in a shuttle, and now you are ready to weave.
* (Well, except for lots of other things I haven’t mentioned here, to save blog space!)
SO, here I am at the heddle-threading stage for my Morgan’s Steep scarf. There are 134 ends, in 4 colors, to thread in the proper sequence to be able to weave an advancing twill pattern, the best to use for producing a tartan.
I’ll be working with 4 shafts (a shaft is a frame that holds the heddles. It moves up and down, in concert with the other 3 shafts, as I step on the treadles – ‘peddles’ – of the loom. This creates different openings in the yarn (called a shed) for me to toss the shuttle back and forth, laying down the weft thread.) So you can see I’ve tied up the loose warp ends in bundles of 12, a multiple of 4. Then using the heddle hook, I begin threading the individual heddles in the proper sequence – this time a simple one: 4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1, for all 134 threads (or ends.)
This is the slow part. The tedious part. The part where, without mindfulness, things can go terribly wrong. (Believe me! That has already happened twice on this project, requiring a complete starting over.) There is real temptation here. You can see the beautiful sequence of colors you have chosen, and you begin to imagine the finished product. “If I can get through this threading as quickly as possible,” you think to yourself, “I’ll have that beautiful scarf in my hands.” What I really want is the scarf. Not to be threading heddles. And then the mistakes begin to happen.
So near, and yet so far!
Here is where the mindfulness comes in. Some might call it “patience,” but it is so much more than that. Patience is putting up with what you don’t want, in order to get to that which you do want. Mindfulness, in contrast, is actually wanting to be doing what you are doing at the moment. In this moment, the threading of each individual heddle must be my goal, my “finished product.” The scarf is far in the future, known about, but not filling the mind. To use a theological term (as I am wont to do,) the scarf is an eschatological concept at this point. The shuttle, considered by the uninitiated to be the most important weaving tool, lies by the wayside waiting its turn.
4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1 . . . black, green, yellow, green, black, purple. The mind is focused not on threading the heddles, but on hooking one specific thread out of 134, and pulling it through the eye of the one specific heddle destined for it. This is my weaving project, right here. The heddle, heddle hook, and purple thread you see in the second picture above. It has to be this way. It has to be this way if that far-off scarf is ever to appear.
This is “Mindfulness,” the greatest lesson a weaver can learn. It is why weaving is a spiritual experience. And if we learn this well enough, we come to see that all living is a spiritual experience. There is a great energy that flows back and forth between the yarn and the mindful weaver. The next time you wear someone’s handwoven “finished product,” open your own mind to it. You will feel that mindfulness, I promise. And it will feel like prayer.