Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 8 January 2015

It's Just Like Starting Over: Broken Bones, Tapestry and Mindfulness

Long, long ago, on a bitterly cold Boxing Day, I slipped on a patch of ice in our backyard as our family headed out to a family gathering. The result was spectacular: I flew into the air, managed a half somersault on my return to earth and landed, full force, on the palm of my right hand. Crack. I snapped both the radius and the ulna clean through. The aftermath meant that I spent 8 weeks with my right arm in a cast - 4 in heavy plaster and the rest in a lovely purple fibreglass enclosure.

Saying that I'm right-hand dominant is akin to saying that Morris the Bull Terror likes truck rides. In the next 8 weeks, I came to know just how much my right hand meant to me. I also realized that, if I didn't want to spend that time waiting for my bones to grow and relying on the kindness of family and strangers, I had better learn to engage my left arm and hand. Slowly, pinch by clumsy pinch, I trained my left hand to take over until it became nearly as adept as the right. Once I regained the use of that dominant hand and arm, I slid back into usual behaviours. My left hand retreated into the background. Old habits live hard.

There's a little book I carry in my bag these days, Mindfulness on the Go, by Jan Chozen Bays. In it, are 25 mindfulness exercises to take you through a year of practice. To my amusement, the first exercise is "Use Your Nondominant Hand." Over the course of two weeks, you practice using your non-dominant hand for various tasks. You record the results and reflect on the experience. The practice is intended to develop appreciation of the skills we are given, to remind us of others who do not have the same abilities and to reveal our habits and impatience. Bays's practice focuses on the hand, but I've discovered that breaking patterns in other areas can teach me much about my habitual assumptions and behaviours.

My "Chakra Roots" tapestry is teaching me a lot these days. I might say that it's schooling me. The less than precisely wound warp on a frame that I haven't used in years is behaving in unexpected ways. The plied wool warp which I bought years ago but hadn't sampled doesn't like inconsistency. The tension problems I thought I'd repaired are reappearing and, just to add to the fun, the warp is stretching like no other warp I've used. I discovered these problems after I'd reached the point of no return, which, for me means I'd have to cut off the warp and wind again. I can't stand wasting yarns, especially expensive warp yarns, and my Ego doesn't like being bested. Once I've woven a few inches, I tend to keep going. It's not much different this time, but an attitude adjustment is in order if there is to be any hope of satisfaction in weaving this piece. I've decided that I'll accept this tapestry the way I've learned to accept my sketches - they're not all good; in fact, most of them will be awful, but they will all have something to teach me, if I stay out of judgement and in observation. My dominant Ego, which would like you to believe that I always know exactly what I'm doing, must give way to the playful Me which says, "Okay, what happens if. . .?"

In that spirit, I invite you to notice the flecks of white warp yarn showing through the fabric below. Traditionally, tapestry is woven as a discontinuous weft-faced plain weave, which means that the warp threads should be completely covered by the weft yarns. Those specks of warp are known as "lice" and they're considered flaws in the weaving. In this piece, my initial warping problems are aggravated by the stretching warp threads. As they grow, they pull together, which changes the sett and leaves loops of warp showing. If you're weaving traditional tapestry and this happens, you're pretty much screwed, especially if it repeats throughout the piece. That's the dominant perspective, but when I expanded my view to include other possibilities, I noticed something.

In the original painting, some of the white paint shows through the blue sky to mimic stars. Weaving in tiny stars is a possibility, but it's tedious and the image tends to be cliched. I had decided to ignore the stars in the tapestry, but as I attempted to solve the lice problem, I turned the tapestry sideways and those lice became the very stars that come easily in paint, but are difficult to achieve in tapestry.

With a small change in my perspective, the problem became a potential solution:

When I allowed my nondominant brain to take charge, the question shifted from, "How do I get rid of those lice?" to "Can I use these flaws to my advantage?" I think I can. Maybe. Perhaps. Time will tell.

All of this blither-blather may be an excuse, of course, a rationale to justify the poor weaving skills on display in this small tapestry. I won't know until she's done and that's what keeps me engaged with the work - the constant shift between my dominant beliefs in what I know to be true about tapestry and what is actually occurring. It can be mind-boggling, but, as a practice in shaking habits, it sure beats a broken arm.



  1. As I begin to explore tapestry your blog is such a treat. Thank you for voicing the acceptance of the less than perfect. The fear of doing this badly is getting in my way.

  2. Great to be able to turn a negative into a positive. I also find felt pens help!

  3. I remember having a discussion with a weaving teacher in which I lamented that teachers never show their mistakes - all the steps which get them to the point of success. I decided to place my problems and successes on equal footing, because both are important. Perhaps the mistakes are even more so.