This bridge between visual and verbal communication is something we seldom think about, but I think there is a profound relationship between the different forms of expression and communication.
Spin a yarn. Weave a tapestry. Arts and crafts or storytelling? Expressing ourselves through stories and creative arts are not only a deep and foundational aspect of who we are, but they are also closely linked to each other. Sailors used to mend ropes by spinning individual strands (yarn) into the larger rope. A tedious job that leant itself to entertainment through prolonged storytelling. The only time I have spun yarn was on a second grade field trip to the Minnesota History Center. There was a Native American installation that had wool roving that we could spin into yarn. There is something so deeply satisfying about taking a formless bit of something and shaping it into something strong and full of purpose and potential.
And yet, this is only getting it to a starting state. Unless you are using it as a strand, the actual value of the yarn is in what you make from it. In this context, it is not a huge leap to move from making something functional to making something expressive. When I was learning to crochet, I remember a couple of breakthroughs that really stimulated my imagination and solidified my love for the craft. The first was learning how to make shells and scallops. To think that something using the very simple technique of double crochet, but changing it by just making 5 stitches in the same stitch was a game changer. I loved the shape and variation they gave. They were intuitive, allowed me to work at a mile a minute and they were so much fun. The next breakthrough was learning how to change colors. This took a bit of time to work out how to do it well and not have it feel like a major hassle. I imagine I’m like most stitchers in my strong dislike for weaving in loose ends. More colors = more ends to weave in. It wasn’t until I learned that I could usually stitch over the tails as I go, that I found the ROI for color work worth it. (Now, of course, I have a hard time sticking with one color.)
I am enthralled by the textures and colors in early weaving and fabric arts. Across the whole world, people came up with their own patterns, sometimes just for looks, but often carrying such significance. There is something uplifting about incorporating a stunning design that allows even a simple project to speak and take on a life of its own. This bridge between visual and verbal communication is something we seldom think about, but I think there is a profound relationship between the different forms of expression and communication.
I wonder if early weavers entertained themselves by telling stories and then decided to start incorporating the stories themselves into their weaving. The Lady and the Unicorn has been in our local art museum recently and I’m amazed at the detail and depth in tapestries from 500+ years ago. The ability to think through a complex idea and weave it into a pictorial representation is enchanting. The thought and care for each placement of a thread draws you in to each of the movements and choices made to work this masterpiece.
Even beyond the expressive design or direct representation in textile art, the nature of the work itself correlated with our communication. Did you hear a tight knit story or was it a loose story? We’re there holes in it? Was the story reinforced? Did it leave any loose ends? I think that the parallels between communication and yarn crafts go beyond the intentional expressive choices and appeal to tactile understandings and the subconscious factors that play into our stories. Tension control is unique from person to person, but influences every project we put our hands to. Similarly, our stories and the way we communicate will have a natural default setting unless we make a conscious effort to influence it. I once read about a woman whose grandmother taught her to thread a needle and then run her hand across the thread 100 times to infuse it with love that would hold the project together. Most of the time, I’m making something with just the end product in mind, but more and more, I want to be expressive and intentional in my work. I want to approach the work in the projects as important as the finished piece. I want to be telling a story and imbibing it with love and purpose. I know this will vary from project to project (and mood to mood), but I think it will help my finished products to benefit and I will unlock the opportunity to process and express my feelings and stories along the way.