What My Horse Taught Me About Weaving

When grief tries to knock us down, we need support to help us stay standing. When I was grieving the loss of both my parents in 2013, one of my strongest supports was a powerful chestnut quarter horse gelding with the improbable name of Pooh Bear.

After riding one spring day soon after my parents’ deaths, I had to cool Pooh down by walking alongside him until he stopped sweating. Around and around the arena we went. I started thinking about my parents, and the tears started flowing. I stopped to wipe my eyes on my sleeve, and as I did, Pooh placed his big nose against my chest and left it there. Then he let out a sigh. I realized that this was the equine version of sympathy from a horse to his human. This “horse hug” changed my whole perspective on riding.

Until that moment, I had seen Pooh as a vehicle to get me from one place to another. I had worked on the mechanics of riding and not the soul of riding. “Do this to get him to do that,” just like operating a car. Tighten the reins and he will stop.

But after that horse hug, I started to realize that horses are more than vehicles: They are living creatures with feelings, anxieties, likes, and dislikes. Now, after much hard work, some bad falls, a lot of joy, work with a Centered Riding instructor, and more than a few more horse hugs, my riding abilities have grown a great deal. When I focus on working in partnership with my horse, I ride my best.

Now let us whoa for a minute and see how my little equine tale relates to weaving.

Weaving width=

Paneled Skirt by Liz Gipson and Melissa Ludden found in Handwoven January/February 2009 , page 41.

I just finished weaving some skirt yardage for my wife. It turned out well, but it gave me a lot of trouble when I started weaving. First the beat was uneven, then too tight, then too loose. Then every time I advanced the warp, I’d get a gap near the selvedges. It wasn’t going well at all. But why? It was a mystery, and an annoying mystery at that. So I did what every puzzled horseman does: I went riding. Off I went to the stable the next day to work with my 1,000-pound equine friend. As I was picking the dirt out of his hooves (not a fun job in mud season), it occurred to me that, like my “pre-hug” work with my horse, I had the wrong focus in my weaving. Instead of weaving a skirt for the person who means the most in this world to me, I was trying to weave the Great American Skirt, perfect in every way. I was focused solely on the mechanics: so many picks per inch, throw the shuttle precisely, advance the warp exactly every 2 inches, and I would get the Perfect Garment. As I had with Pooh and riding, I was focusing on the rudiments rather than the soul of weaving.

The next day I sat down at my loom and started to weave the yardage while thinking of my wife instead of the Perfect Skirt. Strange things started to happen. The selvedges stopped gapping when I advanced the warp. The beat became steady and even. The yardage started to look lovely. Focusing on the purpose of the fabric instead of some great pipe dream made the cloth turn out well. I really think this is one of the nicest pieces I have woven to date.

So, gentle reader, yes, the rudiments have their place. If you don’t know how to stop a galloping horse or repair a broken warp thread, you are in trouble. You have to know the basics. But once you understand the basics, focus on the soul of what you are doing. Your riding, your yardage, and yes, even your life will turn out better.


From “Endnotes” Handwoven November/December 2016.

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