Wednesday, February 01, 2017

How Weaving Saved My Life

If you used to read this blog regularly (back when I posted regularly), you will know that about 4 years ago, after a relatively healthy life, I began a winding journey through rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Coming shortly after my 51st birthday, with a busy teaching schedule and an exhibit in the works, the diagnosis was devastating. But nowhere near as devastating as the pain and loss of mobility, especially in my hands.

At the time of diagnosis, my rheumatologist was pleased to hear that I worked with my hands as a spinner and knitter. He and my occupational therapy team encouraged me to knit daily and spin as much as I could to keep my hands limber and my joints mobile. I gladly took their advice and knitted and spun.

But then, I started noticing little things going wrong. Some days, the swelling in my finger joints made knitting impossibly painful. Tendons and ligaments in my wrists and fingers would rupture suddenly. The tendons in my wrists would become so inflamed that I could not even bend my wrists. Odd swellings appeared on the back of my hands that blocked the movement of both fingers and wrists.
Each crisis was addressed. A series of splints and braces were employed and I soldiered on, knitting less, but holding out hope that things would get better.

Until the Christmas of 2014. I was deep into my Christmas knitting when my thumbs failed. Completely. To the point where I could not hold a cup of coffee, let alone knitting needles. I stopped knitting. I sulked. I moped. I didn't realize it then, but that was the beginning of a long spiral into depression that I only started climbing out of a few months ago.

After a couple of months of this, I was having a conversation with my daughter, who has battles of her own, about staying creative with chronic illness. She suggested I give weaving another shot, but I told her I was hesitant to do that because of the precision and control needed to make good cloth by hand. My hands couldn't handle the fiddly bits and my wrists are sometimes like solid blocks. I've tried weaving this way, and let me tell you, my selvedges would have made even the most relaxed and generous weaver weep.

But later, pondering upon our conversation, I remembered I had attended a talk about a style of weaving from Japan that was accessible to even the most handicapped of weavers. Immediately, the name of the style and the name of the weaver I had heard talk came to me, and I emailed Terri Bibby at Salt Spring Weaving to ask her about Saori weaving.

By no small coincidence, Terri happened to be preparing for a workshop at the Edmonton Weavers Guild, which was the closest guild to me at that time. So I signed up, not too sure what I was getting in to.

By lunch time on the first day, I was in love.

Saori weaving is usually tabby, plainweave. It is not about straight selvedges. It is not about regular patterns. It is not about perfection.

It is about finding the beauty in imperfection.

It is about being in the moment while you weave.

It is about weaving what you feel. Here. Now. With no concern about the end product.

It is exactly what I needed to be doing. Then, in those first dark days of my illness, and now.

I have been weaving in the Saori style now for two years. I have learned to embrace the moment and I have stopped mourning who I was. I have found who I am now. Perfectly imperfect. Messy around the edges. Unconstrained by expectations. 

I am joyful. 

Every day. 

I have no doubt that I would still be suffering from depression and fighting for normalcy if I had not started weaving this way. There are days when I am pretty sure the weaving is even easing the chronic pain caused by permanent damage to my joints. I can lose myself in colour and texture and not notice that my hip is screaming at me. I have reduced my dependency on opioid painkillers and embraced alternative healing modalities. I am living more gently. I have my life back. 

Today marks another milestone in my Saori journey. Today, I begin my time as Artist in Residence at Saori Salt Spring. I will spend the next 10 days exploring Saori, pushing my boundaries as a weaver and living for each moment, each throw of the shuttle. I'm posting this today to invite you to join my journey, here and on Instagram, where you can find me as @spindleprincess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


It's been nearly a year since I posted anything on this blog.  Getting back to writing has been a big priority for me lately, but I deliberately waited until today to post.

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day here in Canada. This is a day that happens every year, where the communications media corporation Bell Canada promotes talking about mental health to erase the stigma and promote awareness that mental health effects us all. I chose today to reopen my blog because, simply put, I took the past year away from it for mental health reasons.

A lot of things happened in this last year. Big things. Stressful things. Things about life and family and health and career. And I found myself, for the first time in 55 years, without words.

You could call it a writer's block, I suppose. But it was more than that. There was too much happening, and not enough. I couldn't organize thoughts, I couldn't face deadlines, I couldn't say the thing I needed to say in a way that others would understand. I talked and talked and talked and said absolutely nothing.

I was overwhelmed.

I shut down in a lot of ways.

I found myself in a new community, alone for most of the day, in a great deal of pain, with no one to talk at. I withdrew into my own small space.

Then, in that little, quiet, lonely place, I found peace. I understood that talking and talking and talking...or writing and writing and writing...were not what I needed to do just then. What I needed was silence.

I realized that when I was talking and writing, I was making words and thoughts for others.

So I took some time to listen to the thoughts in my head, the words that were for me.

I took more time to listen to others, too.

Of course, I did not shut down completely. I did not take a vow of silence. I still talked to family and friends. I still wrote articles and essays. I simply slowed the chatter in my mind, curbed the need to let that chatter spill out. I started to think more slowly, to contemplate  my words before I spoke them. Before I wrote them.

And I found a new voice. One that is kinder, one that is stronger.

I am starting to talk again. And I want you to talk, too. So, please, talk. Tell me your stories. Tell me your fears and your anxiety. Tell me what makes you mad and what scares you. I am ready to listen, without fear, without judgement.

I am ready to write.

(I make no promises that I will do so regularly, though!)