I sit down at the loom and settle in to untangle threads.
I’d designed new towels, but, after weaving a sample, was unhappy with the design and decided to rework it. I took threads off the loom, rearranged some, removed others and added more. I knew that my decision to use as many of the threads from the first design as possible would lead to a mess and indeed it has.
From time to time I glance up at the clock. An hour has passed. An hour and a half. Around the two-hour mark, I think, This is not a good use of time. I should cut these threads and move on. But I keep working. If I cut the tangled threads, I have to cut all 525 threads and that’s too big a waste. Plus I’ve gotten caught up in the puzzle of untangling them.
Another hour passes. Finally, after another half hour, I call it quits for the evening. I’ve made good progress. The mess is significantly smaller. I’ll start fresh in the morning.
As I stand up and stretch, I wonder, Was the design I decided to rework a failure?
Failure is such a strong word, harsh and punitive. And so subjective.
Failure conjures images of tests and grades, of right and wrong answers. A big red F at the top of my math test in seventh grade because I forgot to write my name on the quiz. (For the record, all my answers were correct!)
At the loom, unlike when I was a student in a classroom, I’m in charge. I’m asking the questions and determining the answers.
I’ve woven color combinations I haven’t loved.
I’ve woven designs I don’t want to repeat.
I’ve had plenty of what the hell was I thinking? moments and taken at least one warp off the loom for “later.”
I’ve made mistakes. Some I’ve noticed in time to correct. Others I haven’t seen until I was hemming the finished napkin.
I don’t consider these experiences or projects failures, even if they’ve fallen short and disappointed my expectations.
I’ve learned so much about color. I’ve developed a sense of what I do and don’t like and how subjective my tastes are. I’ve learned how important it is to me to sink into a satisfying rhythm when I weave.
I’ve woven through What the hell was I thinking? and ended up with towels I really like. I’ve accepted doubt as part of my process and learned to reserve judgment until I see a finished sample.
As structured as weaving is, it’s also forgiving. I can unweave. I can take a warp – or some warp threads – off the loom. I can fix threading errors. I can repair broken threads. I can change my mind about some aspect of a design and set about the sometimes laborious process of altering it.
Failure sounds so final. A door closing, being locked shut with no way out.
“Fail” makes me think of “fall,” so I look up the etymology. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary it comes from Vulgar Latin *fallire, from Latin fallere ‘to trip, cause to fall;’ figuratively ‘to deceive, trick, dupe, cheat, elude; fail, be lacking or defective.’
I’ve tripped and stumbled. More importantly, I’ve gotten back up – which is at the heart of why I don’t think of these experiences as failures.
The next day I return to the loom refreshed and complete the untangling. When I see the new sample, I’m pleased the reworked design and am eager to weave.
I wind the bobbins for the first towel with a light heart. Any lingering doubts about hours spent untangling threads have vanished.