One of the most common questions I get asked in the shop it, “What happens if you make a mistake?” My standard answer is, “Either I fix it or I don’t. And the goal is to find mistakes quickly.”
I assume that people ask this because of the nature of tapestry. They understand that the decoration is inherent to the structure of what we are making and not a surface decoration that could be easily altered. So when we make a mistake that we want to correct, it means un-weaving the error. Sometimes un-weaving the error requires un-weaving a lot of other stuff that was exactly what I wanted. Which is the explanation for the second half of my response, the goal is to catch the mistakes soon after you’ve made it so you aren’t undoing a whole lot of hard work.
“Go with the Flow” <—————————————–>”Perfection”
But the first part of my response is much more of a personal thing. I’ve taught people who want to have everything exactly right, the way they had it in their mind. This kind of accuracy is really important to most of the fiber artists I know. A shot in the wrong shed can really make a mess out of a multi-shaft weaving, and something as simple as a twisted stitch in knitting can destroy the beauty of the pattern. But mistakes happen. And they definitely happen to me. Especially when I’m trying to do something I haven’t done before, i.e. when I’m learning something new. So I decided long ago that I was willing to sacrifice accuracy so that I could be less afraid of the learning curve ahead of me. If I didn’t seek perfection, I could pursue novelty instead.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t really hate to have noticeable mistakes in my work. I kinda cringe whenever anybody notices something I figured didn’t matter enough to correct when I was weaving it. It doesn’t happen all the time, or really very often at all. Apparently people aren’t really interested in looking for my boo-boos. This is something I’ve been paying attention to since I started weaving. What kinds of mistakes are gonna get noticed and what kind of inaccuracy can I “get away with”. And in my classes I teach people what I learned. Beginners come up with numerous ways to mess things up, too much or too little weft, changing angles in midstream and leaving warps uncovered and putting two pics in the same shed, etc’, etc. Those are mistakes that one quits making with a little bit of experience. Other types of errors have been life long challenges for me. The goal is to line up the points, keep parallel lines parallel, and put the right colors in the right place. When I’m working out the logic of some whole new way to carry a design, there are a million ways I can mess up. And I usually make some mistakes over and over in a piece. But as long as I try to Line up points, keep parallel lines parallel, and put the right colors in the right place, I can get away with a lot of sloppy stuff. I think that the older I get, the more I’m just fine with the sloppy stuff.
So there are a lot of mistakes in my pieces. I’m thinking that the one I just finished has one of the most noticeable mistakes imaginable in it. And it’s in there three times out of eighteen repeats. And I’m trying to be philosophical about it. I get told about other traditions where weavers put purposeful “imperfections” into their work. I’m not really swayed by that. I’m sure I don’t have to try to put imperfections in my piece, as I’m confident that they are going to happen whether I got to any effort to put them in or not. I don’t need purposeful imperfection as I am humble enough to realize that there will be natural and unavoidable imperfections. But I like my pieces to have really subtle imperfections, not like my 3 out of eighteen problem.
So I’m going with the idea I heard from a young weaver, Isaiah Valdez, a couple of days ago, that mistakes just make our weavings that much more unique. And the old saw about being “perfectly imperfect”. My weavings come out the way they do because they, through me and like me, go through endless change and challenge till I stop working on them. So wherever I land on the “perfection spectrum” is just where I need to be. Same with each and every one of my weavings. We all need to be loved and appreciated however we come out of the process.