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  • Sara Nordling

How "precious" are your hand woven textiles?

Weaving on the loom.

As part of my BFA in studio art, I took a ceramics class. On the first day the professor asked us to make a cup/vase/container. We all did and some of us were quite happy with the results. Then he told us to throw them in the scrap bucket. We all hesitated. His reply is that you have to get over the thought that everything you make is “precious.” Precious here meaning valuable, a great object worth keeping. That applies if you have spent a little time and money in making it, or a lot of time and money in making it.

This particular lesson was brought home to me this past week. I am working on a commission for an ecclesiastical stole (the seasonally colored, almost scarf-like garment that pastors/priests wear). I had planned the design. I had measured the warp. I had dyed the yarn. I wove the cloth, double weave, no less! And when took it off the loom the two sides that were intended to mirror each other, didn’t line up.

Bottom edges of the stole

Image shows how far off the design would be with both sides the same length.

In weaving my beat became a bit lighter and over a length of 60 inches became a bit off.

At this point I had three options. 1) Make it a near mirror, slightly off reflection from one side to the other. 2) Change up how I placed each side so that they no longer were a mirror but a different type of design. 3) Re-weave the whole thing. As neither option 1 or 2 looked exactly right, I chose, in consultation with the person commissioning the stole (because this would delay my getting the stole to him), to do option 3.

Neck edge of stole

Here the neck area is shown using option 2 mentioned above. This doesn't look right either.

So, today I am re-dyeing my yarns.

Had this happened several years ago I would have been furious, mostly at myself. Hadn’t I measured and woven carefully? I put a lot of time and effort into this, isn’t it good enough? I am a busy person, time to move on.

However, now my thinking ran more towards: Is this the way I want to represent myself and my work? Do I have enough integrity as a weaver to withhold work I’m not 100% proud of? Just how precious is this to me?

Another side of this preciousness comes in the use of what we make. I have no problem weaving bath towels for myself, if that is what I want. And I use them as well. I even have one old, hand woven, towel I will take camping, appalling my sister-in-law. That towel is the best absorbing and fastest drying one I own, even if it is getting a little tattered around the edges.

On the other hand, I have a sister who has several things I have woven for her. She told me she has them in a box in her closet that she will take out to show to her friends saying, “Look at what my sister made!” She likes what I have done but to her, it is too precious even to use.

Have you run across this in your own life? Is your work “precious,” valued for all the time you put into it and honored just because of that fact even if what you wove is not your best work? Well, I’m here to say, as hard as it is, “Get over it!” Value your time and effort, yes. Also realize that not everything you make is top notch and museum worthy. It’s not that precious!

Here are some signs you may have fallen into the “preciousness” trap.

  • You are afraid to cut your hand woven fabric, even to make something really nice.

  • You won’t get rid of the “dog” on the loom. (Dog being the project that isn’t turning out, that’s giving you problems, and that you just don’t even want to weave.)

  • You classify your friends as how “weave worthy” they are to receive what you have made.

  • You have everything you have ever woven, including the samples or scraps, because, after all, it’s hand woven.

  • Your hand woven towels are meant to be admired, not used.

  • It is special just because it is hand woven, having nothing to do with quality, design, or other factors.

I know that all beginning weavers are happy and proud to have accomplished this magical mystery called weaving. I am not talking here to that group. Beginners should be happy and proud of what they have made, what they do. It’s part of the learning process. I am addressing here the rest of us who have been weaving for a while. It’s time to break free! It’s time to get over the “precious.” I think that if you do, you will find it freeing, empowering, and lead to more creativity in your work.

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