The Threads That Weave Me

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.3016

How to Cite

Collins-Gearing, B. (2023). The Threads That Weave Me. M/C Journal, 26(6). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.3016
Vol. 26 No. 6 (2023): thread
Published 2023-11-26
Articles

Fig. 1: A Start.

 

I could write or I could weave.
I could write or I could weave…
Write, weave.

Weave.
Then a colleague and friend says to me: why do you weave?
I weave to put myself back together again.
I weave  the pieces of me that are shattered and broken.
I weave because the rhythm, flow, feel, pattern and solidity comforts me.
I weave because my body tells me to.
I weave to breathe more slowly, more deeply.
I weave because the threads that create the strands of my life need a language.…

 

This article reflects on my relationship with weaving and what it offers to the remaining threads of my life. Weaving is embodied, procedural and experiential: it is personal, cultural, and spiritual for me. It is a language that allows me sacred time and space, whether by myself (although I’m really never alone) or with other people. It is an extension of my breath, from my body, in co-creation with earth and sky that manifests as a solid object in my hands.

It was when my colleague suggested I write about why I weave that I realised such reflection could help me tap into knowledge. Nithikul Nimkulrat says that knowledge is

generated from within the researcher-practitioner’s artistic experience. The procedural and experiential knowledge thus becomes explicit as a written text and/or as visual representations. … With the slow pace of a craft-making process, the practitioner-researcher is able to generate ‘reflection-in-action’ and document the process. (1)

For me, knowledge becomes an embodied state of being while I’m weaving: while my hands move, my body grounds, my heart calms, my mind detaches from thoughts, letting one flow to the next, as I watch one stitch lead / follow the next. Until the row becomes the spiral becomes the base becomes the basket. Each stitch documenting my reflections in the process of weaving the whole.

The regenerative aspect of this process has been powerful and impactful for me because of my relationship with time and space, my relationship with my Country, my relationship with people, my relationship with sovereignty. I don’t have the words to describe how weaving allows me to embody a relationship with that tiny little spark of creativity in me, so I weave it instead. I see that spiral fractal in everything around me. Weaving, for me, has become a way to listen to them speak.

The spiral centre of each round woven basket is my favourite part. I love spirals. Fibonacci sequence. Golden Ratio. Fractals. I’ve heard stories about how some people can look at a specific symbol or drawing and immediately transform their reality from reading the immense wisdom it held. I can only imagine what that must mean and feel like, but when I look at a spiral, anywhere, in anything, I can see through space and time differently. I imagine that must be what our DNA looks like. I feel an immense sense of connectedness when I see that smallest spiral circle core. Reflection in action.

I believe we carry our Ancestors in our DNA, or maybe they carry us. I believe this ancient beautiful land we are on was carved out by the Ancestors. Human, non-human, and more-than-human: I see one now. As I write this. On my Country. In my nest. I live in a nest amidst the hills. And so, when I weave, I weave myself into that nest. Freja Carmichael writes: “whether old or new forms, First Nations fibre practices are grounded in histories and knowledges that run deep and interconnect across the lands and waters. Our many nations inherit specific fibre traditions relative to Ancestral, spiritual, environmental and historical contexts all of which are interconnected with culture” (44). While I weave nests, baskets, bags, mats, to my west sits an ancient volcano. An ancient creation ancestor.  She called to me in my dreams although I did not know why.

Fig. 2: An Aerial Shot.

When I weave with my bare feet resting on earth, I feel the pulse of electromagnetic energy, while the warmth of the sun renourishes my face and skin. I feel my heart rate slow, my breathing deepens and my body relaxes. Andrea Hinch-Bourns writes:

wherever we are, we can sit down upon the earth, let the dirt run through our fingers, take off our shoes and squish the dirt through our toes, and if we listen carefully, we will hear our ancestors talk to us in the language of our people. This knowledge is contained in all of us, through what is referred to as, ‘blood memory’ … and ‘molecular or cellular memory’ … . This intuition is carried within all of us regardless of whether we are connected to our culture, speak our language, or live somewhere other than our communities. It is something innate, powerful, which draws us together as a collective people. (20)

I gather a few individual raffia strands and press them closely together, wrap them with another thread, and reshape them from single strands into a firm spiral base, like the spiral energy at the base of my spine. Grief and love curl themselves through my body and into my hands. I exhale the emotions out and inhale the scent and sounds of my Country, imbuing the threads in my hands with the gratitude that tracks up my back, along meridian points, like the movement of those Seven Sisters embedded in the landscape of my body. I sit straighter, breathe and remember. 

Weaving can shift my consciousness into a different state of being, allowing me to imagine even more. Such a place, a state of mind, seems to be filled with the potential to transform. In recent years I have, at times, physically, mentally, and emotionally been unable to speak. I don’t like talking, but the act of weaving feels like a conversation, one in which I am involved, wholeheartedly. A conversation that holds potential to transform. Whatever that might look like. The image below of 12 baskets speaks of a three-month conversation I experienced with a group of people, who individually and as a whole grounded me with reciprocity.  

Fig. 3: 12 Gifts.

Aboriginal peoples in Australia have been weaving since the beginning. Please don’t make me attach a linear number of years to that, it’s just not going to align with the spiral base of my basket. In their research exploration of the insider-outsider experience in research spaces, Radley, Ryan, and Dowse “describe weaving as method and cultural process as our individual strands weave together with collective ways of knowing, being and doing openly and freely” (414). They extend the work of Chew, and articulate how the metaphor of weaving as a cultural practice conveys “a model for planning and decision-making that acknowledges ancestral wisdom”; it is, for them, “an intangible knowledge process, narrative, belonging and knowledge transference” (414). They emphasise that the Western notion of “metaphor” does not necessarily convey this conceptual, and I would add embodied, framework.

In trying to articulate what weaving is and does, means for me, I have to access my whole being – cognitive, experiential and embodied. At the spiral centre of it, I have to be creative, and creativity is a direct connection to the divine. Country is a physical and metaphysical manifestation of divine source. Tapping into my creativity taps me into my Country and my Ancestors. When I’m tapped in, I listen better, and when I listen better, I recognise other connections and communities around me. The different strands of each community, human, non-human, more-than-human, at first seem unconnected and separate, but these more-than-metaphor threads co-create a basket or nest with me. The final physical object I can touch, feel, and hold in my hands is my cognitive unconsciousness manifested in a more-than-metaphor object. Shay Welch states that

cognitive embodied metaphor theory posits that how we conceive the world is a function of our embodied interaction with the world and, as such, most of our depictions, linguistic representations, imaginative operations, and abstract thought are metaphorical with respect to our spatial-locomotive-sensory activities and experiences. That is, most Western theorists reject the idea that metaphors are embodied, that they have meaning and are meaningful. (28)

When I hold the threads of raffia, when I shape them, bend them, bind them, and strengthen them, I am in co-creation with the world around me and in me. My internal and external landscapes manifest the nest that holds and nurtures me and I, in return, love hard on it.

Gregory Cajete, a Tewa man, states that the metaphoric mind is the oldest mind:

connected to the creative center of nature, the metaphoric mind has none of the limiting conditioning of the cultural order. It perceives itself as part of the natural order, a part of the Earth mind. Its processing is natural and instinctive. It is inclusive and expansive in its processing of experience and knowledge … . Because its processes are tied to creativity, perception, image, physical senses and intuition, the metaphoric mind reveals itself through abstract symbols, visual/spatial reasoning, sound, kinesthetic expression, and various forms of ecological and integrative thinking. (51)

Weaving has taught me to calm my mind and body, reconnect with my heart, and centre peace in my soul. While most of my weaving has been done without other humans around, any sense of loneliness and isolation is eased by my Country: by the galahs, the magpies, the cockatoos, the crows, the wrens, the clouds, the winds, the sounds, the stars, the air, and the earth. I no longer ever feel lonely, even when I am alone. In co-creating the nest in my hands with the nest I am nestled in, I weave myself back together. Māori researcher Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes:

the project of creating is not just about the artistic endeavours of individuals but about the spirit of creating which Indigenous communities have exercised over thousands of years. Imagination enables people to rise above their own circumstances, to dream new visions and to hold on to old ones. It fosters inventions and discoveries, facilitates simple improvements to peoples lives and uplifts our spirits. Creating is not the exclusive domain of the rich nor of the technologically superior, but of the imaginative. (158)

Weaving, is at times, my portal to imaginative realms.

Once, after a women’s ceremony in north-east Arnhem-Land, the women told us – us women from the heavily colonised and disconnected New South Wales east coast – to not forget what they had taught us and to always return to them in our imaginations. According to Welch, some scholars refer to this as the inscape or the inner space – the source of insight and intuition (27). And according to Ermine (1995), one important aspect of knowledge creation occurs through introspection, the way in which knowledge creation becomes a spiritual experience. He goes on to explain that as knowledge and understanding of the world comes from within, it is through rituals and ceremonies, and the experience of self-actualisation, that knowledge creation occurs and “is synonymous with the soul, the spirit, the self, or the being” (103).

Weaving, the practice and the knowing it brings, returns me to a state of embodied being. Anjilkurri Radley acknowledges that, given that all things are connected, “what I perceive as not knowing is only a lack of connectedness” (quoted in Radley, Ryan, and Dowse 423). As I gather together the strands of my life, weaving becomes both the process and language for me to connect my knowings and unknowings. The reviewer for this article pointed out to me how this relates to that spiral, with embodied knowing and practicing circling back on itself. With each moment of return something more has been revealed. “There is a whole ritual in weaving … and for me, it’s a meditation … from where we actually start, the centre part of a piece, you’re creating loops to weave into, then you move into the circle” (Aunty Ellen Trevorrow cited in Bell 44).

Weaving helps me listen better. My ears hear differently, pick up differently the languages of earth and sky. The vibrations reverberate in a deep part of my inner landscape. The threads are like the string that keeps me connected to the sky world. Weaving becomes a language that connects my inner and outer worlds, crafting each basket into a story. Stories that keep me connected to communities. Communities that include what Jace Weaver refers to as “the wider community of Creation itself” (xiii). Stories like that Songspiral of those Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters creation story that we now read in the sky as the Pleiades: “those faint, gentle stars have touched all our lives on a multitude of levels. Their celestial influence in all spheres of life is prolific while their esoteric, spiritual nature in world mythology is profound. Beyond their symbolic meaning, the practical application of the Pleiades in the sciences – especially in measurements, geodesics, geometry, architecture and navigation – is considerable” (Andrews 8). Those Seven Sisters speak to me of my Creation Story and I see their emplaced myth in both the landscape of my body and on my Country. A resting site of theirs nearby. Such emplaced myth speaks of connection and community. The solidity of the raffia strands keeps me grounded in earth, while the rhythm of weaving tugs on my string to the Milky Way.

My great, great Aunt (my Nan really) taught me to crochet when I was little. We would sit together out the back of the kitchen and I would listen to her tell stories about locals while we crocheted ourselves together in a rug. Lifetimes later, I learnt how to weave after collecting pandanus, stripping, dying, drying it, sat in a circle on the earth with Aunts and Grandmothers. My sinful left-handedness called to mind my late Mum’s voice – “you cacky-handed bitch” – making me try with my right hand out of shame when I see not one other woman is using her left hand! Eventually, I give in to the calling of my naturally inclined hand to hold the needle and I switch over, requiring me to learn left to right all over again. Now, another lifetime later, I mostly weave alone. But that’s another story and one that’s changing as I sit on my Country with family, little ones, and Elders, hopelessly trying to teach the kids to mirror me, not follow me. From weaving with Yolŋu yapas, to weaving alone, to weaving with mob, the threads of each experience always bring me back to connection. Back together. Joseph Couture says that “Native ‘seeing’ is a primary dynamic, an open and moving mindscape. This process determines and drives the Native habit to be fully alive in the present, without fear of self and others, non-compulsively and non-addictively in full relationship to all that is – in relationship with the ‘is’-ness of a self-organizing ecology, a cosmic community of ‘all my relations” (48). Weaving that relationship became a language for me, allowing me to find the words to write.  

Once it’s finished, I will give the basket away. I only ever start weaving an item with a person in mind to gift it to. From my heart to my hands, I try to imbue each strand with love, with strength, with harmony. Sometimes the baskets emerge slightly lopsided and uneven in their base or bulgy in some spots in the side. Sometimes I weave embroidered trimming in swirls around the top edge. Holding the emerging basket in my hands, each one takes its own form in co-creation with the world around me. I have no idea how each basket will turn out, its size, its shape, its depth, until it says to me in the process of embodied co-creation, it’s time, it’s done. And so I gather the final strands and weave into the whole. “Sometimes knowledge is received as a gift at a moment of need; sometimes it manifests itself as a sense that ‘the time is right’ to hunt, or counsel, or make a decisive turn in one’s life path” (Castellano 24).

Why do I weave?

To weave myself whole again. To remember. “From fish traps and cradles to coffins, a basket can hold many things: food, babies, love, trinkets, water, sustenance, bones, burdens, grief and secrets. Like a gathering up of ‘all those shattered pieces’ that have been taken, lost or forgotten, a basket can hold stories, ceremonies and dances, for a new remembering” (Harkin 156).

I stop and start this article so many times. I stop because of tears and fears. I start again because of love. The threads of raffia I am using feel alive in my hands. I acknowledge and pay respect to Pandanus and briefly in my imagination return to north-east Arnhem Land: the sky, the smell, the hooked stick to pull the strands of pandanus down, filling bags to take back to camp to prepare for stripping and dying. I run my fingers down a few strands, recalling through my fingers a nightmare as a child – a thread of hair, expanding, igniting a horror in me that even waking up didn’t dispel. Once, when I told a sista about this dream, she said perhaps someone had sung me as a child. The threads of raffia don’t feel like the terror of the hair strand, though. Instead, they feel like home and each time I touch the threads, pushing through, curling over, pulling up, the rhythm, the flow of the pattern, centres me, grounds me while my bare feet rest on the earth. On my Country. That black soil that grew me up. The smell of first rain on its layer of dry dust is the best smell in the world. Petrichor, my sons would say. And I weave the elements of earth, rain, and air into my nest, the basket that will carry love after transmuting my fears with each thread. Seneca dancer Rosy Simas writes, “recent scientific study verifies what many Native people have always known: that traumatic events in our ancestors’ lives persist in our bodies, blood, and bones. These events leave molecular scars that adhere to our DNA” (29). The stories I carry in my body, in my DNA, the stories I carry for my descendants, may not be able to be expressed in spoken English, but my baskets hold them.

Fig. 4: The Whole.

Radley, Ryan, and Dowse refer to this as “intentionally trusting ancestors and their gifts of cellular memory to guide [us] when something is, or is not, right” and explain how it underscores their ethical and cultural research protocols (435). Dancer Monique Mojica, from the Guna and Rappahannock nations, expresses how “our bodies are our libraries – [with] references in memory, an endless resource, a giant database of stories. Some we lived, some were passed on, some dreamt, some forgotten, some we are unaware of, or dormant, awaiting the key that will release them” (97). I carry my Ancestors in my DNA and the threads that hold us together become solid in my hands. And so, I breathe and weave.

References

Andrews, Munya. The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades: Stories from Around the World. North Melbourne: Spinifex, 2004.

Bell, Diane. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and Will Be. North Melbourne: Spinifex, 1998.

Cajete, Gregory. "Philosophy of Native Science." American Indian Thought (2004): 45-57.

Carmichael, Elisa J. How Is Weaving Past, Present, Futures? Dissertation. Queensland University of Technology, 2017.

Castellano, Marlene Brant. "Updating Aboriginal Traditions of Knowledge." Indigenous Knowledges in Global Contexts: Multiple Readings of Our World (2000): 21-36.

Couture, Joseph E. A Metaphoric Mind: Selected Writings of Joseph Couture. Athabasca: University Press, 2013.

Ermine, Willie, M. Battiste, and J. Barman. "Aboriginal Epistemology." First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds (1995): 101-12.

Harkin, Natalie. "Weaving the Colonial Archive: A Basket to Lighten the Load." Journal of Australian Studies 44.2 (2020): 154-166.

Hinch-Bourns, Andrea Colleen. In Their Own Words, in Their Own Time, in Their Own Ways: Indigenous Women's Experiences of Loss, Grief, and Finding Meaning through Spirituality. Canada: University of Manitoba, 2013.

Mojica, Monique. "Stories from the Body: Blood Memory and Organic Texts." Native American Performance and Representation (2009): 97-109.

Nimkulrat, Nithikul. "Hands-On Intellect: Integrating Craft Practice into Design Research." International Journal of Design 6.3 (2012): 1-14.

Radley, Anjilkurri, Tess Ryan, and Kylie Dowse. "Ganggali Garral Djuyalgu (Weaving Story): Indigenous Language Research, The Insider–Outsider Experience and Weaving Aboriginal Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing into Academia." WINHEC: International Journal of Indigenous Education Scholarship 1 (2021): 411-448.

Simas, Rosy. “My Making of We Wait in the Darkness.” Dance Research Journal 48.1 (2016): 29.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed, 1999.

Weaver, Jace. That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

Welch, Shay. “Dance as Native Performative Knowledge.” Native American and Indigenous Philosophy 18.1 (2018): 23-35.

Author Biography

Brooke Collins-Gearing, University of Newcastle

Brooke Collins-Gearing has Murri heritage and works in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle. Her PhD examined the representations of Indigenality in Australian Children's Literature and she teaches children's literature, Indigenous literature, post-colonial literature and fantasy literature.