One of the fundamental principles of the OMS programme is the profound connection between the human mind and body. In practice, this means that caring for our minds has a positive impact on our physical health – and vice versa. As someone who has lived with Primary Progressive MS for over twenty years, this is a powerful prescription for living well - even (in fact, especially) when my body is tired, weak or painful. For me, purposeful movement, however small, harnessed to a creative process reinforces my strength, dexterity and identity. It can also produce something beautiful.
That’s why I weave.
The simplest definition of weaving is when two sets of thread are interlaced at right angles to form cloth. These threads – the warp and the weft – are held under tension, usually on a loom of some kind. However skilled the weaver, hand weaving is a slow process. The cloth forms row by row, as the weaver passes the weft thread across the warp and then back again.
Weaving is rhythmic and when the work goes well, it’s easy to lose yourself in the creative flow. But when the threads get tangled or the design in your head does not translate into the cloth emerging on the loom, you have to adjust and improvise. Every weaver learns the practical application of patience and flexibility; a small echo of managing life with MS.
Like knitting, pottery and other craft activities, weaving calls for a complex blend of manual and cognitive interactions. Working at my loom requires coordinated action between my left and right hands, and also between my left and right feet which operate the pedals that open and close the warp threads. These bilateral movement patterns may not look much, but they involve complex integration in the brain. I am not sure that weaving really counts as ‘exercise’ in the OMS programme, but it certainly helps to develop and maintain neuromuscular control and fine motor skills.
Weaving with MS
When I first explored the world of weaving, my MS fatigue meant that standing at an upright loom was exhausting and uncomfortable. Everything changed when a weaver suggested that I try a small Japanese floor loom - called a Saori loom - which brilliantly incorporates the principles of universal design. As I’ve said, I sit at my loom to work the pedals, but a modification to the design allows someone else to weave with their hands only. The height of my loom can also be easily adjusted to accommodate a wheelchair user. This commitment to accessibility is at the heart of Saori weaving philosophy.
The ‘Sa’ of Saori refers to the individual dignity of everything and ‘ori’ means weaving. The ease of using the loom allows even a novice weaver to focus on creative expression instead of sorting out the cumbersome complexities of many traditional looms.
Another Saori concept is that hand weaving need not, and should not, imitate factory-made cloth. Rather than correct ‘mistakes’, why not regard them part of the aesthetic? The idea is not to strive for an external notion of visual perfection, but to value creativity as a means of personal expression and social connection.
Research shows that repetitive movement (like weaving) raises the level of serotonin, the hormone that enhances mood and calms anxiety. I can certainly vouch for the meditative and absorbing quality of rhythmic work, but for me, weaving is also a positive and purposeful act of creativity. The combination of movement, thought and dexterity is very unifying in the sense that it helps to renew the connection between mind and body, which can feel broken when we experience physical or mental pain.
Making something by hand is a very specific action in a world of mass production. It embodies the values of care, sustainability and localism that are important to me. For that reason, I choose my weaving yarn carefully. Colour and texture are obvious factors, but so are how and where the thread was produced. I weave slowly, often thinking about the people who made the yarn held between my fingers. Thanks to the many independent spinners and dyers who sell their yarn online, I know where my materials come from – even down to a particular herd of sheep from a Welsh mountain farm. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about weaving stories into cloth, but all clichés contain an element of truth…
Some days when I am tired, the cloth grows slowly and fitfully. But every inch of weaving represents a singular creative action, drawn from my imagination and realised through coordinated physical movement. It is also a source of self esteem and great pleasure. Nowadays creative thinking and making is as much a part of my OMS programme as vitamin D.