Winding the Warp, Meditation, and Yoga

Earlier this week I put my back out, badly; probably due to unwise handling of a snow shovel.  Yoga, my usual remedy, didn’t help and maybe made it worse.  Mindfulness didn’t help, nor did swimming in a blissfully warm pool.  Four days of ache, but studio work must go on.

Yesterday, having gotten the go-ahead for a lovely commission which I am really looking forward to weaving, I decided that despite the back I wanted to start winding the warp.  Many people dread this process: very repetitive, much counting.  I view it as another meditative act, requiring deep mindfulness and focus.  I do it the old fashioned way, on a warping board on the wall.

For those of you who haven’t done this, one winds the thread continuously around the pegs, spaced one yard apart, for the distance required for the length of the warp.  Down, then back up = 2 threads.  Counting is essential, and so there is a rhythm and focus required.  I have evolved a slow swaying movement of my body to follow the motion of the arm as I go back and forth, peg to peg.  It can be a beautiful process: it works best when I focus on the anticipation of weaving something wonderful.  Silence is important so I can keep count.  Please don’t write in with a better, faster, more efficient way: I need it to be like this.

Anne Wilson honored this process with a very elegant performative exhibition, first shown at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago in 2008.  She called it Wind-Up: Walking the Warp.  It featured pure maidens in white leotards reverently winding the miles of warp (later exhibitions featured community weaving of these warps).

From Wilson’s statement:  “Nine participants accomplished the performed labor or “walking the warp,” converting the front gallery into a six-day performance of walking, counting, rolling, and winding. The rhythmic act of building a 40-yard weaving warp on a 17′ x 7′ frame was viewed from the Peoria Street sidewalk and resulted in a sculptural presence within the gallery. “

I have puzzled over this project for years.  As an active weaver and devoted maker, I wondered at the pomp of her performance.  How ironic that in writing this piece today, the penny drops and I get it.  That’s right: how few people understand the depth of this slow labor.  When a blue chip art gallery puts the microscope on it, is it made more understandable, or more arcane?

Anne Wilson, Wind-up: Walking the Warp.  Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 2008
(photo by surabhi ghosh, from Wilson’s website)


But back to my back story.  The slow swaying, back and forth, back and forth, spine mindfully erect, worked out much of the misery of my pinched lower back.  Ahhh.  There is another benefit of mindful labor.

One thought on “Winding the Warp, Meditation, and Yoga

  1. ringadal

    I injured my back a few years ago to the point I couldn’t stand and crawled around for 4 weeks, then got back on my feet, and reinjured it and was back in bed for another 2 weeks crawling around the house. After trying many things such as physical therapy, acupuncture and yoga, several people insisted I try Egoscue. It is a method of isolating muscles and working on them to improve posture and alignment. After 3 months of Egoscue, I no longer have back pain. It is wonderful. There may be someone near you trained in this method. It changed my “pain every day” life to a twinge every once in a while when I over do it, such as lifting 150 bales of hay off the truck the other night. But, I was a bit stiff that night, but the next day I was fine.

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