The Working Weaver's Pleasure
If weaving was just about money for me, I would have called it quits a long time ago. This year has been devastating for so many people. I decided to pursue art full-time in November of 2019, just months before the world fell apart. I should probably get at least a part-time job for my own financial peace of mind. There are days that are great and I can exude confidence. There are also days that I'm worried about the future, like a lot of people I know. Weaving is work for me, but there is so much more to it that propels me to keep moving forward.
I stumbled across an article written in 1941 by Mary Meigs Atwater, an influential weaver and one of my biggest weaving heroes. She was calling out Anni Albers' article from a previous issue of 'Weaver,' in which Albers stated the main three reasons for handweaving: to make samples for industrial weaving, a vague educational value, and to make money. At first glance, I felt a wave of defensiveness. I was looking at her recipe book sitting on the window sill, thinking, "she made money weaving, too!" But, she was absolutely correct in her assessment. Yes, money is important if you're selling your work, but there's more to it than making sales. It's definitely not easy work and there's a reason you've never seen a get-rich-quick weaving ad on Facebook. (You know what I'm talking about -- I'm going to share with YOU my quick-guide secret of making 6-figures playing with yarn and bruising your legs!)
Atwater said, "...some people weave in order to sell their work and make money. This, of course, is true. It is pleasant, and sometimes necessary, to make money... this [is] a minor reason for engaging in handweaving. I have an idea that if making money is the main object, most people would make more money, with less hard work, at some occupation other than handweaving. I am very certain I should... essentially we weave because we like to do it... we like to throw the shuttle; we like to beat the batten; we enjoy combining colors and textures... to make a brave new fabric that will be a pleasure to the eye and that will serve a practical need... Doing these things give us the pleasure of creating -- the artist's pleasure, the craftsman's pleasure."
This resonated with me in a big way. When I decided I wanted to take weaving beyond a hobby in my studio apartment kitchen, I was working full time in a stock transfer agency call center. I was making more money than I ever have in my life, but I was just existing. The job was easy, despite the mounting anxiety and depression that comes with sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. I fought with panic attacks between phone calls and weaved through the late nights when I was too worried about what the next day would bring to sleep. I pondered a lot about growth, as an artist and a human, and found peace in the moonlight gracing my loom. Lunadendron is a flower that grows by the light of the moon.
If it was just money I was after, I wouldn't be weaving for work. As Atwater said, I could work at a call center with a steady check and the financial security to binge on lone lunch dates at upscale sushi restaurants. Global pandemics certainly make that life more appealing, since beautiful handwoven scarves aren't exactly essential. Despite the hardships that have been presented to nearly everyone in 2020, I'm not going to stop weaving. It's my passion and I truly believe it is what I was meant to do with my life. It's my bird dog trait and I would be doing a disservice to myself, and the weavers who came before me, to throw in the towel (textile pun intended).
Yes, I weave for money, but there's so much more to it than seeing I made a sale and knowing I can buy groceries or pay bills. Weaving is a process I truly enjoy and I'm proud to carry on a long, and often forgotten, tradition of pattern weaving on a floor loom. Even better than the pleasure of the process is being able to provide a piece of art that will be cherished for years to come.
This holiday season, challenge yourself to buy more from artists and craftspeople, and less from big box retail and e-commerce stores. When you shop handmade, you feed bellies and you feed souls. Even just a card from a local artist can warm your favorite maker with a hot cup of coffee and the comfort of knowing they are seen and supported. These are the people taking big risks to persist in putting beautiful things in the world, which becomes more necessary every day as the world seems shrouded in darkness.
To all the creators, makers, and shakers out there: thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there and showing the world what brings you joy. Your leap of faith may just be what another creative soul needs to see to find the confidence to follow their own path. Keep making, keep sharing, and keep talking, no matter how hard it gets.
Read "It's pretty -- but is it art?" by Mary Meigs Atwater here.