A poem is posted on the front door of The Chicago Weaving School. I placed it there the end of March, as we all shut down our storefronts and restaurants due to Covid-19. 

Each window and door along my once-busy block had some form of a “Due to Coronavirus…” sign, and I decided a poem would be infinitely more useful to anyone who happened to pass by the school.

Rumi’s “Where Everything is Music” were the only words, in a time of too many words, that calmed my adrenals, slowed my racing mind, and connected me to an awareness beyond my fear. Here’s the beginning:

Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

Now it’s September. My doors have re-opened but conditions are very different. For safety, classes are much smaller, and class times are more frequent. A handful of students have returned, and a few new weavers have started. Things are still very uncertain, but we are here, finishing projects, starting new ones, and trying new things once again.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

From herringbone to painted warps, or the sculptural possibilities of doubleweave, each weaver’s experience in the studio provides metaphors that extend into the rest of the day. Our weaving practice has always done this, but the pandemic makes art making’s connection to issues of everyday life even more apparent. 

Returning to the loom, we observe ourselves in the awkwardness of beginning again. We make one step forward in a project that will require many little steps. We take one action, even when we feel uncertain how things will turn out. We respond to the materials before us, shifting, tweaking, adjusting along the way. Our lack of inertia may evolve into a growing momentum, and every once in a while we may even experience a state of beautiful flow.

As each day of the pandemic accumulates, it’s hard to appreciate our daily choices and actions as we muddle through. On the loom, however, we can see evidence of real progress with the steady accumulation of one pass of thread followed by another, and then another. The cloth beam unrolls to reveal a woven web made from hundreds of small, repetitive acts made by a weaver who at any given moment may have felt either uncertainty or resolve, doubt or faith, drudgery or joy. A seemingly endless warp eventually reaches its full length.

My personal “endless warp,” is the school itself, and I return to it every day. I unlock the door, say “Hello walls,” in my best Faron Young classic country-singer voice, and nod to all the looms that fill the space with their still, sweet presence. My gentle, loyal herd of looms waiting to serve.

I prepare the room for the day and shift the looms according to the students who will be arriving. In COVID times this preparation involves disinfecting every measuring tape, scissor handle, and shuttle, arranging the portable air filters, and making sure each student’s loom is 12 feet from any other student’s workspace. As always, I think about each weaver coming in that day, to anticipate the tangible and intangible things they may need as they work.

On a day when I used to have ten weavers, I may now only have two. Last Friday was such a day; one new student weaving her first four-shaft sampler, and another new weaver beginning her first independent warp after her sampler. We were a cozy, albeit socially-distanced trio.

In the midst of our light banter, one student stopped threading heddles for a moment and turned to me with tears in her eyes. “I want to say thank you,” she said. “2020 has been so awful. But weaving has been the one good thing. And it’s really, really good.” 

Only two students in a vast expanse of looms, but:

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

Like all of us, I move back and forth between uncertainty and resolve, doubt and faith, drudgery and joy.

There are two new weavers in the world today. I’ll take it.

This is my joy.