Tomorrow is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Today it is snowing. As I look at the snowy trees outside my window, sipping a warm cup of tea, I am thankful for the warmth of central heating inside the house, and the beauty of the snowy landscape in front of my eyes. My thoughts drift back to our ancestors for whom the first days of winter meant a hope that enough food was put away, that there was enough firewood chopped and stacked to last until spring, and that there was an abundance of warm clothing and blankets available to keep their families warm.
Sometimes the question is asked “What is the value and the purpose of Hand weaving?” Spinning and hand weaving to create cloth are skills that have been passed down through humankind for thousands of years, and through almost all cultures. The historical evidence shows that it was, and still is, not just about finding ways to keep our hairless bodies warm and covered, but also in finding ways to decorate our environment and to imbue cloth with religious, spiritual and protective symbols, as well as symbols that appeal to our aesthetic sense of beauty. Textiles bring purpose and meaning to the rituals and rites of passage in our lives: we have swaddling cloths and baby blankets, we talk of a boy graduating from short pants to long pants, we wear our “Sunday Best” and our work clothes, we don wedding dresses and business suits, and in the end, we have burial clothes and shrouds.
We weavers also create functional and decorative blankets, pillows, tablecloths, napkins, rugs and other cloths for our household needs.
But why, now, when so much of the process has been industrialized, do we still need handspun, hand woven, handmade textiles? I think precisely because handwovens appeal to our sensory perceptions, our aesthetics. The knowledge that this piece of cloth exists through the efforts of our individual hands. For the maker, weaving is a task with sensory appeal. We enjoy the visual pleasures of mixing, blending, combining colours in the dyeing, spinning, weaving, forming and embellishment of our textiles; the unique smell of natural fibres – wool, cotton, linen, silk; the tactile sensation of running our hands over the fibres, yarns and cloth – smooth silk, warm wool, fuzzy mohair, crisp linens. Weavers have a need, an urge, to see and touch the fabric up close – hence the reality of “the weaver’s handshake”.
Weaving also connects us to the earth, and to our collective ancestors who learned the skills from their own ancestors, and passed the skills and knowledge down through each successive generation. Weaving by hand produces slow cloth. The act of creating it teaches patience, allows our minds and hearts and breathing to slow down; weaving provides a space for contemplation.
While I thank my ancestors for passing on these skills, I am also very grateful to be a weaver now, where I can weave for pleasure, and do not have to create every single piece of clothing and household linens for my family to use.
To family and friends near and far, I send my wishes for you to have a joyful winter, a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy Holiday season.