Learning to Weave is Cathartic

By Carla Carpenter

If learning something new and challenging on a regular basis makes you smarter, I should be a genius by now.  Or, at least I should be staving off a myriad of cognitive disorders— the ones I don’t  already have. I’ve already been stricken with  “Where-are-my-glasses-oh-they’re-on-my-head” and “What-was-I-saying?” syndromes.  But I persist because I enjoy a challenge and I’m confident that creating and learning are to my brain what winning a 10k is to a runner: good for the body and soul.   

I’ve taken three terrific classes at the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers even though I’ve never woven more than a potholder in elementary school.  

The biggest challenge for me was Nancy Shiffrin’s Loom Weaving class.    

I signed up for the 2022 class in 2021 and then, guess what? I completely forgot about it until I got an email from  Nancy shortly before the class started.  I hyperventilated a little because I wasn’t sure I was up for it at that particular moment and I had signed up for a figure drawing class in Center City that overlapped (forgets everything syndrome).  All the days of the week and they both had to be on Thursday afternoon! What are the odds?

 I really enjoyed my first experience learning at the Guild. It was a bracelet felting class with Marcie Ziskind. Even though I had felted a bracelet before, I knew enough to know I don’t know it all and I still don’t. That’s the beauty of a good class or workshop. As long as your mind is open, knowledge and often humility will visit. And an added bonus is spending time with like minded people.  It doesn’t matter how any of us view the world, in those moments we were all focused on one thing: wrestling wool!

It was different with the loom weaving.  I didn’t know the first thing about it. I just happen to love fiber and fiber arts and finally now in retirement, I have time to do more than dream.  Also, who doesn’t think those floor looms are gorgeous pieces?  Perhaps I should confess something here.  I owned a beautiful shiny black baby grand piano for 20+ years and I don’t play the piano. But it was so pretty… and yes I did take classes, for a while. 

Back to loom weaving class.  It was a rocky start.  It turns out loom weaving requires much more than sitting down to a beautiful machine and creating. It takes time, planning and skill before you can get in the driver’s seat.  In this whiplash world, the concept of slow creation and planning had almost become foreign to me. Like most westerners, I have “I want it yesterday” disease. 

But my love of learning trumped my lack of patience and skill.  And science sides with a try-it -anyway attitude.

Our brains crave novelty even when we don’t . “Novelty…releases dopamine which is a neurochemical that’s part of the pleasure center of our brains.  We find it rewarding”. Careful though, too much fear and/or anxiety will block that dopamine path.  There is a mountain of research connecting creative learning with improving not only our mood but our brain function.  A quick, well researched article summing it all up can be found  on brainscape.com. Just search “ Breakthroughs In the Science of Learning”.  

After getting over my impatience, to get to it, and my irritation that I wasn’t as fast or as “good” as most of the other students, I began to appreciate the intricacies of the weaving preparations. And when it came time to actually weave on the loom, it all became worth it and all that prep work made more sense. 

Naturally there were incidents. And it didn’t help that I started weaving much like I drive: too fast.  Those poor fibers did their best to align but if I ever show you my sampler, you’ll see a long piece that starts out with uneven edges and fibers choking the heck out of each other.   But as time progressed, so did I and I managed to slow down and enjoy the process as well as the results. 

Learning to weave is cathartic.  It took most of my brain cells which meant my brain didn’t have time to think about anything else, like politics, covid, the weeds in my yard,  etc.. So on top of that natural “high” from the dopamine, I got a break for several hours every week and beyond. My focus during class and increasingly outside of class became the  details of learning to weave: the beautiful patterns that were possible, the kinds of fiber that could be used, the terminology and oh, those beautiful looms.  

That first loom weaving class is behind me now. But learning is about the journey AND the destination so I’m going to stick with weaving; I’m just waiting for the next—you guessed it—class. 

Related Articles