Welcome this week, as we travel back in NZWW time, to the wonderful world of weaving.
It’s a two-page feature article that goes into quite technical detail about how our erstwhile subject Mrs Nan Gaze makes scarves and – judging from the photographs taken – piles of patterned cloth, with dyes out of old leaves and lichen.
It would be very difficult to imagine any sort of feature about weaving making it into the modern-day Woman’s Weekly, unless it was a story about celebrities having sex on a loom.
What’s fascinating from a mental health perspective about the article is the state of mindfulness that Nan managed to achieve from a hobby that she describes in the headline as “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done”.
Staying in the moment when you have a mood disorder is a very difficult thing to do, and concentrating on a task that requires you to be fully present and engaged in the now is a great remedy.
What’s fascinating about the article from a feminist perspective is that by glancing at the article you could easily write it off with a chuckle as a quaint time capsule about an old woman making doilies – but when you start reading, you realize that while weaving is Nan’s passionate hobby, her day job is running a sheep farm. By herself. Without a man:
“She is, she said, first and foremost a farmer and does all routine chores on her 93-acre farm on a hill high above the sea, herself.”
Her small 100-year-old cottage was barely liveable when she moved in, with no hot water or septic tank. After moving in she spent most of her time getting it up to speed before turning to the business of farming:
“She runs ewes and lambs on her farm – and one cow with twins. There are eight other calves as well, but lambing gives Mrs Gaze most work. Her son does all the heavy work of the farm, but during lambing Mrs Gaze is out and about all hours of the day and night.”
After that lot’s out the way, you can see why something as intricate and beautiful as weaving garments would seem relaxing by comparison.
“The time is not in the weaving,” said Mrs Gaze. “It’s all in the setting up of the warp – this might take weeks if it’s something very fine.” She explained that this part of the process is purely mathematical. One mistake in the setting up would ruin the whole warp.
I admit, I’d be too impatient for this. Weeks to set something up? I have a limited tolerance for delayed gratification (quiet) but I think there are a few lessons we could learn from Nan Gaze about tenacity, patience and staying connected with our minds and bodies.
When I spoke to my therapist Lyndon last week, he spoke of a technique called “grounding” which can be used to counter anxiety attacks. You can use it anywhere, and it requires you to look inwards and start feeling the simple sensations that you would otherwise ignore – the feel of your back against a chair, your feet on the ground, your shirt as it sits across your shoulders.
Nan Gaze’s mindfulness continues with her dogged pursuit of natural dyes:
“She has a boiler in the yard with which she experiments with dyes. After scrambling about in the bush and finding lichens and leaves and barks it’s fascinating to boil them and ‘see what you get’. Mrs Gaze said it is never possible to tell from the look of the foliage what colour it would dye into.”
Someone I’d not seen since I was 17 saw me the other day and said something rather similar about me.
One might be a little sad upon reading that Nan Gaze is “not a ‘joiner’, so doesn’t get out much to meetings where she could compare notes with other interested people,” but I can imagine those would get boring very quickly. After you get through the tea and scones and compare evening stoles, it’s all downhill until someone opens a sneaky hip flask.
It’s been said before, but I think for this lady it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
“Both weaving and spinning depend on the rhythm, you must obtain and maintain,” Mrs Gaze said.
Nice metaphor for life, really.