The Omnivore's Dilemma (with Apologies to Michael Pollan)

The blessing and the curse of modern life is that we have so many choices, from what brands we buy to what we wear and how we spend our time. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan confronts the bewildering array of foods available to the modern eater and the question of how to choose a satisfying, healthy, sustainable diet. In a 2007 essay in the New York Times, he boiled the answer down to the common-sense advice your grandmother might have given: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Yarn wrap for a rep weaving project in Rosalie Nielson's class  

Take a page from Rosalie's students' playbook:

the way to weaving knowledge is to plan . . .

Rep weave project on the loom  
weave . . .
A finished rep weave project  
and learn from your results.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting a rep weaving class taught by Rosalie Nielson at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. We looked at their projects, completed and in process, and talked about what they’d learned about materials, blocks, and colors. We also talked about how most of us learn weaving, and we reflected on the issue of choices. Those who grow up in a weaving tradition might learn a few structures and patterns from their elders and spend their lifetimes working with indigenous materials and colors. But most of today’s weavers are omnivores. We want to know every structure, try every material, play with every color imaginable. So we, too, are faced with an omnivore’s dilemma: how does one go about learning . . . everything?


For years after I started weaving, I was convinced that there was somewhere a textile Rosetta stone, some system for classifying structures that would allow me to sight-read any draft, instantly grasping the interplay of warp and weft. After years of weaving and searching, and discussions with weavers who’ve spent a lifetime at the loom, the answer finally sunk in: the way to learn about weaving is to WEAVE. Weave every structure you can, play with all those colors, and try every material you can get your hands on. Every weaving experience presents new truths and reinforces the things you already know.  If your time is limited (and whose isn’t?), sample. See how many variations of twill or a block pattern you can weave on one warp. If you don’t like to sample, make small items. Towels, scarves, pillow covers, and bags are all great projects to try new things and have something to show for it, plus you’ll see how your fabric performs under real-life conditions.


The students I met in Rosalie's rep class know this. Some of them drive many miles away to study with her, and they’re planning to extend their class and weave through the holidays. For one, this was his first weaving experience, and another has been weaving for 25 years, but they’re all hungry for knowledge, choosing to learn and grow. We live in a passionate community, always foraging, always sharing. It's good to be an omnivore.


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