What Is Good Cloth?
When you come and sit down at your loom, what are you focused on? Are you obsessing over a perfectly balanced cloth? Perhaps you are a fastidious sampler out to find the perfect sett for your dream project? No? Maybe your inner monologue runs a bit like mine—I worry that if I don’t focus on all the technical aspects, then the cloth I weave won’t be any good. I also worry that if I overthink things, then I will lose hold of that joyful spark that makes weaving oh-so-fun. Oh, quite the conundrum!
One advantage of learning in a community like the School of SweetGeorgia is that I know I’m not alone in thinking like this. In the recent weaving study group, Twills on Four-Shafts, Felicia asked us “What is Good Cloth?”. True to form, I dug deep and channeled my inner philosopher. I looked at Good Cloth from a couple of different perspectives: the creation of cloth and the consumption of cloth.
The Creation of Cloth
I am just beginning my weaving journey and so Good Cloth is more about my learning to make cloth rather than about the cloth itself. Like any good learning journey, it is full of introspective activities that sound so cliché—like reviewing and reflecting. Despite the cliché, let’s reflect on making cloth.
Making is a dynamic, active process. As I make cloth (in this case, weaving cloth), I try to place importance on the parts of the process that are causing change, like the interactions and relationships between things (e.g., object and maker, or object and user, or treadle and shaft, or warp and weft…) rather than on the things themselves. This way, my focus is about learning and understanding through knowing-how and knowing-why rather than only knowing-what.
At present, my weaving practice is about the good creation of cloth rather than the creation of good cloth. It is a subtle but important difference, as it means I’m enjoying the journey, rather than focusing on the destination.
The Consumption of Cloth
The relationship between cloth and user is fascinating to think about from a design perspective. Since our relationship with cloth can be so intimate (we have it close to us all the time), what elements of this relationship do we use when we judge a cloth as good? I mean, I bet that there are a few people reading this who feel strongly about their favourite pair of jeans or will continue to maintain a particular blanket despite obvious signs of wear and tear. There are technical aspects to creating something that is physically and functionally durable and sustainable that comes from the yarn and sett (and so on) being a good match for the function of the cloth. That favourite blankie shows there is more to durability than just function. We won’t want to continue using our cloth if it isn’t aesthetically and emotionally durable.
The Spectrum of Good Cloth
When we weave, our knowledge or our tools sometimes limit us. I may not have the correct reed to achieve the perfect ends per inch for the yarn I’m using. If I use a rigid heddle loom, that reed may not even exist. Is a plain weave tea towel, not balanced, Bad Cloth? I don’t think so. Sure, there are purely functional elements of cloth that impact its behaviour, but how you judge your cloth is situational. There is an entire spectrum of goodness standards ranging from imperfection to perfection.
Weaving for a juried exhibition? Weaving for sale? These are situations at the perfect end of the spectrum; technical details matter a lot.
My controversial hot take—a cloth that gets the technical details right but never gets used (like a tea towel considered too precious to dry the dishes) is Bad Cloth.
A well-loved cloth that functions as it should and gets used (and reused) is still Good Cloth, just on the imperfect end of the spectrum. Technical details still matter, but they matter less. Perhaps your pattern didn’t quite beat to square. Perhaps you had a minor threading or treadling error that you didn’t see on the loom. If it is functional and durable, it is still time to celebrate Good Cloth.
I encourage you to come and join us over in the School forums to chat more about making cloth and learning to weave. There is so much we can learn from each other—not just about our crafts, but about how we approach them. I look forward to seeing you there.