A student said something lovely yesterday, as she labored to finish the fringe of a project she’s been working on for a very long time. The project is a saddle blanket for her horse, a cherished animal she makes time to visit and care for every day.
Her weaving is off the loom, and she’s using a tapestry needle to weave the warp ends of this saddle blanket into a braided border. It’s a slow finishing process, on the heels of a slow weaving process. Many weavers choose to put these finishing touches on hold, place the weaving on a shelf, and start a brand new warp.
She told me she’s choosing to see it through to its completion before starting a new warp because she enjoys spending this last bit of time with a project that has been such a big part of her life over the past months. Finishing the edge is a transitional ritual for her now–saying goodbye to the old project before beginning the new.
Saddle blankets need to be durable, thick, and dense so the weaving is extremely weft-faced, and therefore slower to weave than other textiles.
This woman never rushed to move faster than what felt right for her personal pace and experience of the weaving. She even chose to extend the weaving time of her project by augmenting the pattern.
Instructions for the saddle blanket called for fancier, slower-to-weave patterning at each edge, and plain, solid color in the large space between. Beneath the saddle, only the edges will be visible, so why waste time on something no one will see?
In spite of this, the weaver was quite pleased to realize she could extend the fancier patterning throughout the entire blanket. She reveled in the process.
Why? Why spend so much time weaving a saddle blanket?
In her book, What is Art For?, Ellen Dissanayake addresses why humans make art, including why we make utilitarian items beautiful when it doesn’t add to the usefulness of the object. She proposes that art-making has been natural and necessary to humans. By “making special” the practices and objects that are vital to us, art-making contributes to our survival and health.
I agree. This is why I teach weaving.
So often, a textile is more than just an object. As a cumulative creation, built of many small actions, the cloth becomes a history of the hand and a testament to the maker’s commitment.
That saddle blanket affirms the special relationship between the weaver and her horse, and it affirms a creative practice that proceeds on her terms.
I believe a handmade cloth represents space claimed by its maker. That claimed space may be physical, temporal, emotional, or intellectual. We imbue our handweavings with meaning beyond their obvious end use. Within the space of our loom, and the woven web, we claim what is important to us and make it even more special.