Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Zen of Weaving

A lot has been written about the zen properties of knitting. Knitting can put the knitter into a semi-trance, inducing a sense of calm and relaxation associated with more traditional forms of meditation.

Far be it from me to disagree. I've felt it myself -- it's one of the things I enjoy most about knitting (and I do enjoy a LOT of things about knitting).

However, I can't help but feel that the relaxation thing is only one small part of the meditation experience as a whole. If you want a true "fiber meditation," try weaving.

Why, you ask? (OK, you might very well not care. If that's the case, skip over this post entirely and head here, where you'll find lots of knitterly stuff without any undue philosophizing.)

It's simple. A huge part of meditation is discipline. The discipline to meditate every day, whether or not you feel it's "working." The discipline to meditate even when your brain is running all over the place like a three-year-old at an ice-cream party. The discipline to meditate even when every fiber of your being screams that the whole exercise is pointless.

That's where knitting as meditation falls short.

Think about it. When you want to knit, you pick up needles and yarn and you knit. Maybe you take the time to pick out a pattern first (or maybe not). Maybe you debate over needles and yarn (or maybe you just grab whatever's on top of the stash pile). If it's a project where gauge is critical, you'll probably take the time to do a swatch or two. But no matter, since it's knitting you know that within a relatively short time you'll be doing what you like to do best: turning miles of yarn into square yards of fabric.

And as you sit and knit (and relax into its meditative aspects), you'll probably get into a groove and let your mind drift away, especially if you've chosen a relatively repetitive or straightforward project like a plain stockinette hat or socks and not something designed to make your eyes bleed like a 15-color Fair Isle sweater. In fact, by the time you tune back into your surroundings again, you'll look down at your hands and see...fabric! In the time you've been zoning (or maybe chatting with friends, listening to music or simply watching the world go by), your fingers have been doing their thing with minimal input from your higher consciousness, resulting in the pleasant surprise of making seemingly effortless progress on your knitting. Unless you're so zoned out that you drop a stitch and have to tink back, which can destroy that meditative calm pretty darn quick. But, I digress.

Contrast that, then, with weaving. In my post of two days ago, I had just begun to warp my loom in preparation for making two linen-and-cotton placemats. Just to remind you, at that time after several hours' work, my loom looked like this:

I then worked for several more hours last night, at which time my loom looked like this:

I also worked on my placemats tonight, and my loom now looks like this:

If all these photos look essentially the same to you, you're not imagining things. This is my point about weaving and discipline. I've just worked for hours and hours over a period of three days and what I have to show for it is...string. Lots of string. None of it remotely resembling fabric, mind you -- just miles of parallel strings, stretching between two bars on a loom.

Talk about discipline.

This is meditation at its most down-and-dirty. This is the discipline shown by those monks who sweep sand into intricate patterns every morning simply to have them trampled by feet and blown away by the wind every night...and yet they go right back the next morning and do it all over again. This is the discipline to do something even though you're absolutely, positively certain it's all for naught, that you're making no progress, that yours is a task worty of Sisyphus and that the fun part, the actual weaving of fabric, will never, ever happen.

Can I tell you that even now, after 3 days of warping my loom, I'm not ready even now to begin the actual process of weaving? That's right -- before I can weave, I first have to wrap my weft yarns around my shuttles:

Those are the shuttles you see lying across the warped loom above. I need to wrap one with half the skein of Euroflax and the other with the black cotton.

This next photo shows the shuttles standing up alongside the loom, just to give another perspective on how friggin' long and awkward they are. There is no easy way to wrap these shuttles. It will take me yet more hours, especially as the black mercerized cotton, which I'm using doubled, insists on sticking together and knotting at every opportunity. After I finish wrapping my shuttles, concluding what will be a minimum of four days' and many hours' work, I will then and only then be ready to first begin weaving. If I had put this many hours of effort into knitting, I'd have a full placemat finished already and a second well under way.


You'll excuse me; I'm off to meditate at my loom.


Terri H. said...

Hey, Linda. Interesting essay, especially to this non-weaver. Hope your tunnels are healing so you can get back to knitting, too. BTW, the Terror Alert Ballband Dishcloth is a done deal--you can see the results on the MD KAL or my blog. I'll get it in the mail by the end of the week.

Nancy said...

You know what happens when you're surfing around, reading blogs getting redirected to other blogs... you get caught up in those blogs that redirect you to other blogs and the cycle just keeps going and going and going... anyhow... I found you today and I am mezmorized at all the things you do! Spinning, weaving, knitting, etc. I was just wondering... do you sleep? How do you do it? Keep up the good work and the inspiration.