Harris Tweed weaving is the art of perfection.
No hyperbole or hubris here, honestly, it is literally the case. The product of your work, to pass muster at the inspection table and earn the mark of the Harris Tweed Orb, must be near flawless. Which is challenging given the multitude of things that one can do, with the greatest of ease (especially a new weaver), to flaw a tweed.
There are of course some highly skilled old ladies at the mill, sharp of eye and darning needle who will spot and and correct your errors, but they have their limits. After a point you pay for your mistakes or even worse, the tweed can be failed and you’re not paid at all.
So if anyone ever questions the high price of this island cloth, or doubts its value and worth, please tell them they are paying for perfection and direct disbelievers to this tale….
There is an old Japanese proverb that says “When you aim for perfection, you find it is a moving target”
A wise buddhist also said. “Even monkeys fall out of trees”
And so began my day of Zen And The Art Of Loom Maintenance.
It’s been a while since I read Pirsig’s book (to which this blog very vaguely riffs upon), but it sprung to mind today as my loom went awry. From memory, his classic 1974 novel tackled the meaning and concept of quality, the disparity of form and function and the ideas of rationality and romance.
When the loom started to play merry hell today, these various dichotomies presented themselves and as obliquely as usual, provided another unintended extrapolation into a wider, more personal context.
Hey, it happens.
There is a region of the Bonas-Griffiths loom that always plagues me problematically. If looms had chakras, here is my blocked one. It takes up an imaginary box shaped area of space of approximately 12 cubic inches and encompasses the right hand Cutter, Leno, Shed, Alarm and Rapier Release. Within this vortice my weaving prana seems to get beautifully throttled and everything basically goes tantrically tits up. The cutter wouldn’t cut, the leno wouldn’t weave, the alarm was ringing for no reason, the shed was shutting incorrectly…
So after hours of applying rationality and reason I gave up and made a phone call to The Loom Whisperer, an experienced weaver who had taught me many things. But obviously not enough.
To watch someone working, who knows their object of desire inside out, is an amazing thing. It might be a musician or a car mechanic, a horse trainer or sculptor, it’s all the same. They understand the focus of their attention on both a practical and intuitive level, embracing both the rational and romantic, applying both knowledge and feeling simultaneously, using creativity and intuition alongside deduction and reason.
There were things needing done that only someone with decades of experience and a love of their craft could have succeeded in. An anomaly in the split second timing of mechanisms, perceived by an inclined ear or the error in a fractional height difference felt by running a hand over a part. Of course there were skills, long since learned but over the course of three hours there were things being done to the machine that could never be taught.
Long pauses for thought took place as ideas were contemplated, human being discerning mood of machine, looks through squinted eyes.
I did bugger all apart from what I was asked to do and at the end up was instructed…”Try that…”
And the loom sung again.
He packed his bag and left and I began to weave once more and while I wove I thought about Romance and Rationality had how well both can, or at least should, co-exist harmoniously, and result in…balance.
It might take me a few more years to master but I’ll get there.
(With apologies to Phaedrus)