This weekend I tried to weave an image of a horse on my small tapestry lap loom. It had been a long time since I’d tried to shape a horse with yarn across tightly stretched warp, and it wasn’t coming easily. I unwove my horse three times.
Unweaving is simply undoing what you’ve done. Instead of going over and under the warp threads to build, you go over and under to take down what’s there. It’s not unpleasant. It’s the same motion as weaving. But no matter what I did, my horse kept looking like a rabbit. I found the rabbit imagery interesting and thought I might try a leaping bunny at some point, but what I wanted was a horse. A blue horse.
Tapestry weaving is simple. Warp and weft, and only two sheds (the space opened between the warps). But it can get frustrating when your image does not progress after having woven and unwoven and woven again so many times. Writing stories can also be frustrating. To use a weaving metaphor, you need to weave a lot of plot and character and setting and what-all-else threads into the story. In weaving this is called the weft. In tapestry weaving it creates what you can see, and the warp, the strings held tight on the loom, become the invisible foundation. In writing warp and weft are the same, both the picture (reader’s experience) you’re building and the foundation of the picture you’re building.
One thing I’ve noticed in both writing and in weaving tapestry is that there is a lot of forgiveness in the medium. You really can fix things that come out wrong. You can unweave, revise, rewrite, patch, or splice in a new warp thread. A lot of beginning artists don’t know this. They look at a finished tapestry or read a published book and feel awed by it, as well they should. It’s important though to realize that things rarely come out perfectly in the beginning.
I could say that the miracle in making art is that sometimes things do come out perfectly the first time around, but I think there are deeper miracles. Three to be exact, three miraculous gifts every artist is given, a sort of holy trinity of the creative process. This holy trinity is something on which you can build your creative life.
Miracle #1 – We get second, third, fourth, fifth, and endless chances to make it right.
Miracle #2 – What we create will never look like our original vision, and we should rejoice in this.
Miracle #3 – Often our “mistakes” end up not being mistakes at all. “Mistakes” can be our guides, not guides that tell us what not to do, but guides that show us what we did not know we could do. A “mistake” can send a writer or artist down a path they’d not consciously set out on, but that becomes the backbone of their creation. (A reason for rejoicing in both miracle numbers 1 and 2)
That blue horse I was weaving? After unweaving it for the third time, I set my loom on the couch and went about my day. Each time I walked by I looked at it. I squinted my eyes. I took the long view. I related to it. And I studied the two weavings I’d done previously that had horses in them. I looked closely. How did I do that? I really couldn’t remember exactly, but that night, while watching TV I took my loom back into my lap and I wove a horse. He’s not perfect, but I’ve got some ideas on how to give him a nip and a tuck to make him prettier.
The process for weaving my blue horse was similar to my process for writing. Sometimes I have to back away before I can go forward. Sometimes I need just a nip and a tuck to fix something. Sometimes I need a big overhaul. Sometimes I want a horse but it really should be a bunny. I think if my weaving had come out bunny-like a fourth time I would have accepted it as a bunny, and it would have been fine. As it happened, I did finally end up with a horse.
Every time though, no matter how I feel about it, my art was guiding me. Your art will guide you, too. Trust that.