Weavers, weaving at break of day,
Why do you weave a garment so gay? . . .
Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
We weave the robes of a new-born child.
Weavers, weaving at fall of night,
Why do you weave a garment so bright? . . .
Like the plumes of a peacock, purple and green,
We weave the marriage-veils of a queen.
Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
What do you weave in the moonlight chill? . . .
White as a feather and white as a cloud,
We weave a dead man’s funeral shroud.
[Indian Weavers, by Sarojini Naidu]
“The man who works recognizes his own product in the world that has actually been transformed by his work: he recognizes himself in it, he sees in it his own human reality, in it he discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of his humanity, of the original abstract and purely subjective idea he has of himself.” 3 Such a reflection and association of self in self’s product of labor (of sorts) is a recurring theme in discussions and literature around crafting or making. So, what invokes these emotions of, perhaps, belongingness, possessiveness, representation, power, affection, ownership (or something else) towards a child of one’s labor? 1 Is this because of the investment of one’s personal resources, such as time and energy, into the process of producing? The aforementioned inquiry through temporal experiences of the modalities of making, creating, building, fabricating, or crafting (all of these verbs are used interchangeably throughout this piece of writing) are explored here. This is based on the assumption (but perhaps, a common and personal instinct as well) that one’s investment of one’s time in these processes of labor contributes to the affective emotions to a large extent. Isn’t it harder to feel disconnected from someone or something, with whom or which one spends more time?
The craft of weaving is one such example of a product of labor, through which the inquiries of temporalities of crafting are explored. The practice of weaving is not only rich with modalities of processes, materialities, a craftperson’s participation, and transformative product outcomes; but it is also rich in semiotics and metaphors. And, as hinted by Koselleck, metaphors are an opportunity to critically analyze theories, as well as experiment with the creative freedom of thought and speculation. 4
Weaving, in a conventional sense, is a process of interlacing two sets of yarns, namely warp and weft, orthogonally, through countless possible configurations (called weaves), to fabricate a textile, using a machine called a loom. The warp is a vertical set of yarns, held in tension on the loom, while the horizontal weft is passed to and fro through the warp.
The practice of weaving is not only limited to the act of weaving itself, but has several other pre and post weaving processes associated with it, such as warping- where one prepares the warp threads, drafting- where one sets those warp threads onto a loom, unwinding- once done with the process of weaving, finishing- as the name suggests, to give end finishes and trims to the final outcome.
This text is a design inquiry through weaving processes, of the temporal and sociomental representations.
The woven metaphors are wielded far too often for one to not feel saturated by them, yet there is a familiar acquaintance to them that helps one make sense of the incomprehensible. And what is more incomprehensible than Time? And as Fabian mentions, “What is time? If no one asks me about it, I know; if I want to explain it to the one who asks, I don’t know.” 2
While wanting to be aware of temporal experiences, one must analyze and attempt to unravel the metaphors, and question- What exactly is the fabric of time? Is it a multi-layered fabric, woven from the binary entity of the loom of existence? Or is it just two-dimensional? What are the yarns that weave the fabric of time? How does diverse materiality affect and change the fabric of time? The patterns of recurrence of weaves shape the form of the fabric of time; What exactly are those recurring events? Can we understand conflict and contradiction through the metaphors of entanglement and knots? Who has agency over the fabric of time, the weaver, the material, the loom? Why is tension so crucial to the process of temporal fabrication? What does the force with which one weaves say about the structural integrity of the fabric? How does the process of embodied involvement in crafting shape the experience?
The following modalities of weaving use metaphorical inquiries as a methodological tool to think deeply about Time.
Weaving is not just the action of interlacement and fabrication, but the processes that precede and follow that action (warping, drafting, unwinding finishing, and others). Do they act like causes and consequences? While seeming linear and sequential in its temporal nature, these processes can be conceived as much more than simple chronology. Participation and action through one process is consequentially forming and shaping all the other processes to come, or reflecting upon the ones to have happened.
Starting with pre-weaving processes, warping is when the quantity of a single yarn is planned, which in turn translates into the length and width of the fabric, and also affects the density of the fabric. Drafting is when individual warp yarns are attached to the loom, which later allows the weaver to control the weaves while weaving by lifting and dropping the set of warp yarns. While the post-weaving processes of unwinding and finishing have almost tangible power over the outcome of the practice. Mishandling these processes at the slightest can undo the meticulousness of the pre-weaving and weaving processes. The temporal division of responsibilities, and power is almost unfair. But does the presentness of these powerful post-weaving processes justify their control over the fabricated outcome? How powerful is the power of the present over the past and even the future?
Even though these processes are sequential, each decision, each mistake, each calculation ties invariably into various future outcomes, and reflect upon as well as are responsible to carry the burden of the past actions, while retaining their independent modalities.
This leaves one with a rather complex inquiry- What is the temporal politics of different weaving processes?
“The history of things is about material presences which are far more tangible than the ghostly evocations of civil history.”
[George Kubler in ‘The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things’]
The material of the fabrication, its behavior, and most importantly its relation with the tools and the weaver, define the crafted outcome to a great extent. All the calculations of different woven processes vary based on the material. The thickness of the yarns and the type of the fibers control the duration of the warping and drafting processes, since thickness of the yarn decides the quantity (length) of the warp yarns. And similarly the yarns, and their content governs how complex or easy the post-weaving processes of finishing will be. For instance, the process to clean a woolen fabric is different from cotton or a silk one. The physical properties of the material while weaving also governs the difficulty or ease of weaving. The nature of the material controls the duration of processes, interaction of the weaver with their tools, duration of the fabrication itself. Even Kubler, in the book, The Shape of Time, recognizes the lack of significance given to materiality by social sciences, when he writes, “The social scientists describe material culture as an epiphenomenon, that is, as the necessary result of the operation of forces which the social scientists have already formulated and charted.” He further goes on to say, “The figures and shapes described by the history of things are moreover so distinctive that one asks whether artifacts do not possess a specific sort of duration, occupying time differently from the animal beings of biology and the natural materials of physics. Durations, like appearances, vary according to kind: they consist of characteristic spans and periods, which our generalizing habit of language makes us overlook, since we can transform them so easily into the common currency of solar time.” 5
A material, seemingly spatially submissive, can, in fact, be quite domineering temporally.
The process of weaving itself is laced with spatial and visual symbolism of recurrences. Weaves are repeated vertically across the width of the fabric, and are woven in repetition across the length as well. Variation in these repeats generates diversity in patterns or structure or both. Some have more interlacement, creating more tension (plain weave), some have less interlacement creating a softer feel (basket or satin weave), while some weaves are somewhere in between with adequate interlacement while still giving a flexible structure (twill weaves).
The nature of repeats controlled by the loom mechanism and the weaver is more than mathematics. The emotion of repetition gives space to metaphors that arise out of absence of repetition. Koselleck, while talking about error, writes, “… an “ error,” an intellectual misconception, a defect of reason, which, even if it does not offer the explanation, may free our self- questioning from the double bind of fate and evil.” 4 Recurrences not only shape the theories of time directly, but absence of repetition (not unlike a negative result in a scientific experiment), gives equal insights into comprehending the emotions behind temporal experiences.
And it is not just about patterns of repetition in weaves, but symbolism in movement as well. One often weaves from bottom to top, and the horizontal movement is oftentimes unaligned with a single direction. The spatial recurrences signify comfort and discomfort, in return contributing to temporal participation. For instance, if one is familiar with a weave, the movement will come naturally, however, if one changes the weave, it affects the speed of weaving, to get familiar with the movement. The interference of repetition interferes with the temporal flow, due to the change in participatory movement. The application of weaving and participation go hand-in-hand.
What do these repetitions do to the fabric of time, what do changes or absences in the repeating pattern signify?
Moving away from experiential inquiries to more reflective ones, one of the significant parts of weaving is participation and embodiment. But whose participation? Who has the agency over the fabricated outcome? The processes, the material, the tools, the weavers, or the participants not involved directly in the process of making?
To what capacity can participation affect the temporal fabric enough to make a difference?
Understanding time through woven processes makes one inquire which ways the temporalities of what we understand to be past, present, and future, are interconnected.
Experiencing time through material, challenges one to look beyond the defining characteristic, and into the affective nature of a subject of time- how submissive nature of material actually controls the various processes of weaving.
The woven applications of repetition of weaves and familiarity of patterns acts as a comfortable space to understand the temporal recurrences, and use it to rethink and critically question the theories of time through absences and glitches in these recurrences.
The embodied experience of participation in the process of weaving is crucial to think about the power of involvement and control.
The text is an inquiry designed to question temporal experiences, and experiential time, through different modalities of weaving. Does it make one more aware of Time?
1. Crawford, Matthew; Shop class as soulcraft; The Penguin Press; 2009.
2. Fabian, Johannes; Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object; Columbia University Press; 1983.
3. Kojève, Alexandre; Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (English); Basic Books; 1969.
4. Koselleck, Reinhart; Sediments of Time: On possible histories; Stanford University Press; 2018.
5. Kubler, George; The Shape of Time: Remarks on the history of things; Yale University Press; 1962.
6. Sennett, Richard; The Craftsman; Yale University Press; 1943.