I teach handcrafts fairly often and I suppose the question I get asked the most is “Am I doing this right?” Implicit in that statement is that there is a “right” way. Is that true? This could become a huge existential discussion real fast:) but I’m interested in the more modest arena of handcrafts specifically.
I’ve been working with tiny backstrap weaving this week, a type of weaving that is controlled mostly by using your body as the “loom” that tensions the threads you are working with. I had the most fantastic teacher (go find everything you can on Laverne Waddington, you want to) who has travelled the world learning and passing on what she’s learned about this ancient style of weaving. And do you know what she never said once in the whole time I was with her, “this is the right way to do it”.
Love this. I try to avoid similar language when I teach. My answer to questions about how a student should do a specific task is usually “it depends…” on so many things – the weaver themselves, what they want to accomplish, how they would like the final weaving to look! I’ve taken great liberties with the backstrap weaving this week, starting with never once using a backstrap!! I’ve tied the weaving onto amazingly varied parts of my body and contraptions in my house to get the tension. In trying to find what I like and what I want, I’ve rivaled the greatest contortionists of history. I love crafts, especially very intimate, person crafts like weaving because they leave room for exploration, expression and invention.
However, I’ve found, once again, that it would be nice to just have a backstrap!
Meaning, while there isn’t a “right” way, possibly there is an expedient way? One of the amazing joys of the handcrafts being a folk tradition that is passed down informally from generation to generation is that so many people before me have learned that using my toe instead of trying to tie it to my knee is going to make me happy, that it’s called backstrap for a reason and that no, the cat is not a good anchor point even if my daughter does call him “Cat of Knowledge”. Not that my toe is the only place to tie it and not that trying it another way is wrong or couldn’t work, but in learning and practicing it the way they have is honoring the inherent knowledge that has been hard won over the centuries. That isn’t confining or repressing, that is beautiful and lovely, connecting me to a past that deserves respect. Laverne knows that and passed it on to us wonderfully.
So, while I will continue to answer my student’s question “am I doing this right?” with the question “I don’t know, how does it feel to you?”, I will also still humbly offer them the wisdom of tying it to their toe.