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Yarn Citizenship

First let me say, that this has everything to do with weaving. As the host of this space and in the context of the larger conversation on diversity and inclusion, I want to take a moment to let you know where I come from and the spirit and context in which I do this work.

Just like any other enthusiast group, yarn people form their own society that lives within the larger context of society. I have been an active member of the yarn society for most of my life as an enthusiast and as a working professional. During the past eighteen months, this world, our world, has had a robust, messy conversation about race, diversity, privilege, representation, and inclusion. As many of you know, the conversation started in January of 2019 when a blogger published a post that exposed her subconscious racial bias. This sparked a series of shares and stories from black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) about their experiences with exclusion in the yarn community—some instances were subtle and some were blatant. It sent the yarn community into a whirlwind and caused established organizations, institutions, and individuals to look at their practices.

It was often not the overt racism, but the sublet, hard-to-tease-out subconscious bias that is found to be pervasive and often coming from those who considered themselves enlightened. This was not an easy conversation to start and involved a lot of risk for the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized individuals. The overall reaction has been mixed.  Some said, “We can do better”, some said, “Why do we have to talk about this, what really is the problem?” Others were angry, very angry. It is not fun to get called out on your behavior, particularly when you are practicing a hobby or when you thought you were doing the “right” thing. It is not fun calling others out on their behavior either. I am better for it and I’ve seen some productive changes in our yarn society.

This conversation mirrors a larger conversation that we are having as a nation in the U.S. and around the globe. The state of our national discourse is deeply troubled and it is not something that can be separated from the yarn universe. I have mixed feelings about the social norm of “no politics, no religion” in polite conversation often translates to, “. . . let’s not talk about anything that makes us remotely uncomfortable or is non-normative.” A portion of the conversation that is shut down often has to do with culture, which is in fact has everything to do with religion and politics. They are all intertwined. Our dualistic political dialogue has us on the track that you are either right or wrong. I get that craft can be our port in the storm, a space we seek solace. It is also a place where we want to express our full selves.

Where I Come From

I had a weaver say to me online, “I follow you because of your values.” I don’t know this person besides the context of my online presence and it took me a little by surprise. I’m not sure that I’ve made my values plain. The breadth of my social media footprint is pretty much weaving, goats, and travel. For the most part, I personally don’t find social media and online forums a very satisfying place to have a meaningful conversation. I’m not good at it.

This does not mean that I don’t think the conversation shouldn’t happen online and I am often conflicted about not joining in more than I do. It is easier to behave badly online, but it is also harder to confront bad behavior in person. So lies a conundrum.

What I do value about the work I do as a weaving educator is that it touches all areas of our lives in meaningful ways. Every single culture on earth has a weaving or spinning tradition and textile technology is pervasive and timeless. This, in and of itself, connects us all. I touched on those ways in my blog post on When, if ever, do you need a floor loom. It is not that far of a stretch to use the rigid-heddle loom as a metaphor for this larger conversation. I think about how it feels to be shut out because of my loom choice and imagine what it feels like to experience this because of the color of my skin, who I love, or where I come from.

So who am I and what do I value? This is me: I was born in the South only three years after Jim Crow was disavowed as the law of the land. It is hard to imagine that is only fifty-five years ago and well within the living memory of many of us. I have heard people say that “this is not the America I grew up in” and I ask you to consider that it is possible to grow up in different Americas. I am a white, heterosexual female. Born in 1967, I am member of GenX sitting right on the cusp of the transition from Baby Boomers and precede the Millennials by 14 years. I have always been made aware of my whiteness from my parents and grandparents—both our historical roots and the advantages in the context of the larger society. This does not make me “color blind”. Far from it. It makes me aware of how I get to walk in the world as a white person.

My maternal grandfather, a seminal ethical mentor in my life, immigrated with his family to the U.S. in search of religious freedom. A conscientious objector in WWII, he would not carry a gun. He served his country as a medic and helped evacuate two of the Nazi concentration camps. With a troubled heart, he showed my brother and I photos of the camps, lest we forget. I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I experienced race riots in my high school in 1983, after a truly awful editorial about how far we have come after integration was published in our school newspaper. (History, sadly, repeats.) My family regularly had robust conversations at the dinner table on history, the social construct of race and gender, diversity, politics, and the societal conditions that give rise to the repeated test of the American experiment and expereince.

I have strong female role models in my mom—my biggest cheerleader—aunt, and grandmothers, each encouraged their daughters to be independent, to follow their hearts, push boundaries, and to be responsible citizens. My educational training is in economic and community development and before I moved into publishing and teaching, I worked in non-profits of various kinds that had me very close to the issues of economic disparity. This indeed makes me see color more not less. There are countless times when my way was made easier because of the color of my skin—scholarships and brushes with police come to mind.

All my experiences of racism is as a visitor, not a resident. I can walk in and out of that space as I choose. That is what it means to be white and heterosexual. I live in a diverse community in New Mexico that is economically challenged and culturally rich. I am often one of the only one of a few visibly white people in the room. I get that the space I take up isn’t equal and honestly sometimes I have no idea how to act or what to do, so I just try and listen more than I talk and amplify others voices instead of using my own. Sometimes I’ve found that trying isn’t the answer, but giving way. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.

It is within this context that I live my life—appealing to our better angels and not feeding the trolls. This stuff is messy, really messy, and most change is. History makes neat work of it, but lived experience is much different.

The Yarnworker Experience

I built this space based on teaching and promoting rigid-heddle weaving that largely takes place online. It is how I support myself and it is pretty much all weaving all the time, and even more granularly specific things we are weaving at any given time.

I acknowledge that weaving is one way we process the world around us and it can spill over onto our cloth. I find weaving to be my calm in the storm and that is what I want for others. These are the guidelines that I’ve set in our virtual space, and it doesn’t have to be everyone’s policy. How you manage your space often defines how accessible you are to others. I hope I do this in a way that allows everyone to express who they are in the context of what they weave.

Live workshops take on different dimensions. When conversation drifts, as it often does while we are weaving together to the next stage of our project, I don’t have a “no politics or religion” philosophy, but I do have to facilitate the conversation at times. I continually learn productive ways to do that and have received greater insight in how to do this by listening to these conversations from the past six months.

There are so many barriers to learning to weave. First, you have to see weaving as an option. The more people weave, the more people see weaving. I see diversity as supporting this goal. Within the context of being a weaving educator, I share as much of the cultural richness of weaving that connects us all. I teach just a sliver of the entire weaving spectrum. On the various social media sites and in my newsletter, I share the broader spectrum of what weaving is and I try and amplify the work of others. You can see what kinds of information I share here on my Contact page.

Then there is time, money, space, support, and know-how. My loom of choice, the rigid heddle, is the most accessible mechanical loom option available. Support and know-how for the rigid-heddle loom is what I do on a daily basis. My in-person classes are often spendy and require time and travel for student and teacher alike. The online environment lets us weave when it is most convenient and within our budgets.Much of the online education that I do is available at no cost. Weave-along are always free while they are happening. This is solely about economics it’s about access, breaking done the barriers to give weaving a try with as few risks as possible. This would not happen without patron support, so I don’t do this alone.

Professionally, I do my best to support other weavers who want to do this work, encourage and support teacher and professional development in general, and amply other points of view. I believe that cloth has a point of view and that many views at the loom make the cloth all that much richer. It is a work in progress.

Heddles Up!


June 2019

Liz Gipson Widgets
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