People often ask me how long it takes to weave a towel. The short answer is: I don’t know.
I don’t weave one towel from start to finish and then weave the next one. It takes a long time to set up the loom, so I make a warp as long as possible, which with my equipment is 11.75 yards. Once all the threads are on the loom, I weave a towel, place a marker to indicate the end of one towel and the beginning of the next, then weave the next towel. By the time I reach the end of the warp, I have 10-11 towels. Then I wash and dry the cloth, cut the towels apart and finally hem them.
A couple of times, I’ve set out to answer this question more precisely. On one such day it took me six focused hours to warp and dress the loom. It was a straightforward design and I didn’t make any major mistakes that required searching for the trouble spots and then rethreading hundreds of threads. The following day I got caught up with weaving and forgot to pay attention to the clock.
Do I count the time the woven cloth spends in the washer and dryer with the rest of my laundry while I cook dinner?
What about the walk I took to clear my mind as I grappled with a design issue?
If I put my feet up and watch Murdoch Mysteries while I hem, does that qualify as working?
How do I calculate design time? I recently wove some towels that are olive, pistachio, pink and flax. Although the specific colors came together quickly in the moment, the idea of greens and pink had been percolating for years.
After a couple aborted attempts to track the time spent on weaving a towel, I realized that I don’t want to know how long it takes.
Weaving is a slow process.
The slowness, the many repetitive steps suit me. My natural rhythm is slow. I would rather get up a half hour earlier in the morning than have to rush around. I think and process information slowly.
I attribute some of this respect for slowness to a childhood in India. Life was slower in the 60’s and 70’s than it is now. It was even slower in India. Like most families, we didn’t have a telephone, so we wrote letters. I delivered notes to my teachers. People dropped by. We walked most places. On road trips with my family road conditions were such that Dad rarely drove more than 45-50 km/h (27-30 mph). Trains frequently ran late and made many stops.
Engaging in a slow craft is also a choice.
I have grown more efficient, and hence faster, over the years. I could make changes to speed up my process – like simplifying designs or sewing the hems with a machine. But I choose not to.
I do not want to churn out towels as quickly as possible. We have machines that do that.
Ultimately, it’s not about the time.
It’s about rhythm. About the satisfaction of watching the cloth grow. About getting lost in my thoughts. Being surprised by new color combinations. Keeping the joy alive by figuring out how to make each piece different. Infusing the towels with love and time so that they add sacredness to those ordinary moments of drying your hands or setting the table.
It’s about choosing a life. A “sip-by-sip life,” to borrow from the founders of the tea company, The Republic of Tea. A life where the small moments are savored.
So how long does it take to weave a towel?
Exactly the right amount of time.
photo credit: Paige Green
P.S. I’m delighted to have Whimsy & Tea napkins featured in the summer issue of Edible Pioneer Valley. Thank you to Andrew Lacasse for referring me, Mary Reilly for including me, Alice Lee for writing such a warm piece, and Dominic Perri for the lovely photograph.