I discovered yesterday that the silk/cashmere yarns I had intended to use for weft were too weak to be wound off by either electric winder, meaning I had to haul out the hand-cranked ballwinder and wind off the skeins by hand. And this got me thinking about efficiency and what makes a particular task worthwhile.
While I enjoy the process of weaving, I hate wasting time on anything that isn’t essential. This goes back to my teen years, when I was convinced (with good reason) that I was not going to make it to 30, so anything I wanted to get done, had to get done NOW. So I decided that I was going to live whatever time I had with as much gusto as I could, which also meant achieving all the things I wanted to achieve as quickly as possible.
Well, times change, medical conditions get treated, and after a few close shaves I’m looking at a normal lifetime. But I retain the awareness that life is short, and I see no reason to change that. Thirty years, eighty years – there’s a big difference, but they have a lot in common – they are both far too short to explore all that the world has to offer, and too short to create all the things I want to create. So the basic tenet stays the same: live life to the fullest, because in the end, it’s still too short.
So what does this have to do with weaving?
The short answer is that I try not to do anything that isn’t necessary, when weaving or doing anything else. This means always evaluating my tools and materials, asking myself, “Is this step worthwhile? Could I do this faster or more comfortably some other way? Am I getting everything I want out of this?”
This shouldn’t be confused with not enjoying the process. I wouldn’t be weaving if I didn’t enjoy it (life is too short to be doing anything you don’t enjoy!). And when I’m threading the loom, or weaving, I’m definitely deep in “flow”, enjoying the process.
But enjoying the process doesn’t require turning off my brain, and the part of my brain that is engaged in active learning (or “effortful study” – see my essay on learning) questions, analyzes, asks itself whether something could be done a better way, whether a particular method is needful. Perhaps the most useful insight I have here is that active learning does not detract from enjoying the process – it enhances it, by keeping me actively engaged rather than being on autopilot.
Some people seem to think that thinking is difficult, something requiring effort and thus not enjoyable. (Shades of American anti-intellectualism?) I often hear people declare, “I don’t want to think when I weave – I want to enjoy it!” This makes no sense to me; to me, thinking about weaving simply enhances the joy in it. But different things to different people, I suppose.
In order of importance, my criteria for worthwhile-ness are: quality, enjoyment, speed. I’m perfectly willing to expend an extraordinary amount of time for a high-quality product (wedding-dress in point), and I’m even willing to do some things that I don’t enjoy as much in exchange for a high-quality product, but I’m also concerned with speed – accomplishing what I want to get done in the least amount of time while paying attention to quality and enjoyment. I don’t think that detracts from weaving quality at all.
At any rate, I was thinking about this while winding the silk/cashmere yarn. My conclusion is: as wonderfully soft as cashmere is, I think I prefer working with pure silk, as it’s stronger and more able to stand up to mechanical winding. For the kind of work that I do, the cashmere softness is not essential, and winding by machine is much more efficient. Put another way, working with cashmere does not improve the quality of my work, the speed of my work, or enhance my enjoyment of the process – so it is superfluous. I think I’m going to work mostly with 100% silk from now on. Not that I’m giving up my cashmere stash – I have a lot of it and am not about to throw it away – but most of my purchases will be silk from now on.