20 October 2012

the language of craft

I'm only running on about 4 hours of sleep here, but I have some thoughts. The first one is that I want a loom. This is not a new desire, but it has been fueled by my stint at Knit City last Sunday, when I wandered over to a demo booth when their loom was free, and they sat me down and got me started weaving. It was pretty much amazing and I had to forcibly separate myself from the loom and go back to the guild table (since I was gone for a rather long time, given that I'd left for a bathroom break and then run into the loom on my way back).

I was reading some of the archived articles on WeaveZine last night while I couldn't sleep. I'd gotten up and spun for a while, set up the wheel for plying today, and then wandered over to the computer. Reading articles on weaving when you barely qualify as a novice weaver is a little like trying to read in a language that is not your mother-tongue. I speak fiber pretty well, so many of the terms are familiar, but like any craft, weaving has a specific vocabulary. Reading about it reminds me of reading in Italian or Spanish when I only know Latin and French: I can figure a lot out, but there are places where I am entirely lost. There are sentences where I, the linguist, can tell you only what function every word in the sentence has, but the overall meaning escapes me.

Weaving has words I am familiar with, such as warp and weft. Ancient words that are heavy with significance. Draft, which has multiple meanings for the spinner, the writer, and the latent weaver. Tabby, or plain, weave. Twill. Heddle. Shuttle.

And the craft has many words I don't know (in the sense of connaitre), and many that I am only grasping at. Shaft. Shed. Beam. Pick. Dent. Reed. Sett. Some seem to be interchangeable, but not quite.

It's really that I just don't know the technical aspects well enough to be entirely conversant. I've done this before, though. Learnt a new craft. The language comes with the action. I learn what to call what I'm doing, and I fumble through my first few projects, and then it all becomes second nature. This happened with knitting, with spinning, with crochet (to an extent), with sewing. As I look around me, I see my wheel over by the sofa, ready to go when we get home from the farmer's market this afternoon. There's a niddy-noddy with a skein of already-plied yarn on it nearby. Tossed over the end of the couch is a length of material and a skirt I'm trying to reverse-engineer because I like the style. There's a pile of knit dishcloths on the table, a housewarming gift for my brother. Two are worked in a mosaic knitting, a technique that reminds me of a cross between stranded knitting and weaving. Another sits next to me. This one's a crocheted cloth, worked in a dense, loopy stitch that would make an excellent rug.

Each craft brings its own language, its own little world, with it. Fluency in that language requires immersion and dedicated practice. A simple answer, really, though not always an easy one to live. It's been a challenge with languages such as Chinese, where lack of practice has drastically dwindled my already minimal vocabulary and linguistic skills. But when I can carry my knitting or my spinning with me, when I can speak fluidly through creation, rather than stammering through a sentence, struggling to make myself understood, I speak a language that connects me to people throughout the world and throughout history.