Friday, February 25, 2011

That Artful Tao of Shawl Craft: Part II

So, in this second part of my take on the creative process (go here for the first part), I’ll discuss the Taoist five models that one might tap into for creative inspiration. I’m going to use some of last year’s crocheted shawl experiences to illustrate the models:

Crocheted Shawl Lace as Formless Water: Water, as everyone knows, is formless and takes on the shape of the container within which it is found. According to Taoists, water is weak, and seeks the lowest point from which to form. Think about it: haven’t you ever watched water fill up in a pile of dirty dishes? It does exactly that – seeks the lowest point in the sink and then fills itself into the crevices between the dishes. Yet, water has incredible power, not only to clean the dishes, but cut powerful paths in rock over millennia (can anyone say the Grand Canyon?). Basically, water speaks softly and carries a big stick.

So, to, is crocheted lace. My very first shawl last year was crafted from Andrea Graciarena's Twisted Taupe Wrap pattern. Her original was soft, yet sturdy and warm. In my interpretation, I used a larger needle that opened up the stitches, and some kid silk along with some sparkly sock yarn (in pink no less) to make a first shawl that was warm and just plain pretty with incredible drape - sort of water-like. I knew I wanted to donate this first effort to charity, so that some unknown woman could feel beautiful while going through the awful process of cancer treatment. Talk about going against all Western conventional wisdom: I crafted something by hand, for a complete stranger, who was going through arguably one of the worst experiences a person could endure. I am confident that the humble shawl did (and continues to) get the job done. Because that’s what formless water, as well as crocheted lace, has the power to do.

Use the Positive Potential of Emptiness: In the West, we are taught that empty is bad and full is good (the half-empty/half full water glass dilemma), and that we want to know every thing about every situation before we make any commitment. Taoists, however, see only good things in empty: without windows, how would one see sunlight? If the glass is half empty, there’s room for more knowledge and wisdom, unlike a full glass that has no more room (and you get a messy clean-up if you try to add more).

This model, in a nutshell, personifies my third shawl last year – Tracey McCorkle’s Heritage Shawl, which was presented (or more accurately revealed) to the world in a March mystery CAL celebrating 2010’s National Crochet Month. I will frankly say that I was uncomfortable receiving a shawl pattern in bits and pieces, but that’s how a mystery CAL works. The first “clue” in this square, Shetland-type shawl was the main body, and took forever to complete. Frustration definitely set in with most of the participants; in fact, a few called it quits even before the second clue was revealed.

However, I hung in there, and I’m glad I did. Not only did it produce a beautiful lace shawl, but I softly leaned into the concept (in this low-impact situation) of just letting things unfold, not knowing the result. I learned to take crochet direction, yet trust myself to make adjustments if something seems off (because there were small hiccups in the pattern that the CAL participants worked through). I also learned that I am not in love with big, square shawls. Some might consider more than a month’s work on a shawl that’s not really liked a waste of time. Since it was all new to me back then, I didn’t find it wasted energy, but a valuable lesson. Another charity benefited, and I know now what not to do – at least when it comes to big, square, mysterious shawls.

Become more Childlike in the Shawl-making Process: Children, as anyone who has them will tell you, possess boundless spontaneous energy, inquisitiveness, and playfulness. Their wonder and (non-sexual) innocence are some of their greatest strengths. Taoists see the benefits of cultivating and tapping into this energy source throughout life. So much for the sober, Western business attitude.

I absolutely used this in my second shawl, which pattern is a witty play on the four-leaf clover from DROPS Design, and also utilizes basic filet crochet. I increased the width of the original pattern to make it fit better around my shoulders, and absolutely love the fun, four-leaf clover edging. I made it in an apple green color, and it never fails to make me smile when I wear it.

Shawl Design and the Uncarved Block: Taoist wisdom sees the potential in a raw block of material. Think of a hunk of clay, or marble, or wood. None of these are anything worth talking about in their raw, block form. However, put in the hands of a designer or artist to be molded, chipped at and cut into, and they have unlimited potential.

It is the same with yarn, hook and inspiration. My seventh shawl last year, the Rustic Elegance Shawl, was completed in October and was my first original design. The fiber (a combination of one wool strand and one silk mohair strand) was part of the inspiration. I also found inspiration in the all of the varied crochet stitches I had practiced and perfected throughout the year. It was effortless, really, once I had the fiber and hook in my hands. It remains one of my favorite finished objects, not only because it came from my head, hands and heart, but because it’s an incredibly versatile design, having worn it as a shawl, a scarf, and a cowl. That’s a result from raw material to make any Taoist proud.

Shawl Craft and Getting in Touch with the Feminine: Feminine images and references are rife in Taoist principles and teachings. The feminine stereotype of weakness and submissiveness is, oddly enough, one that has been historically fostered in both China and the West. However, Taoist belief says that the feminine, or yin, is also the source of creativity, gentleness, and profound mystery, and should be cultivated in both men and women.
While my fifth shawl, based on Cecily Keim's Rolling Waves pattern, had me using beads for the first time (I’ve learned I love bling), it wasn’t until my eighth shawl, my interpretation of Lyn Robinson's Festival Shawl, that my true cultivation of the feminine manifested. I saw a picture of the shawl in a very raw form, recognized its potential, and asked Lyn for the pattern. Simple in its execution, it is a study of beauty, from its use of color and fiber, to its lovely beaded edge, to the photo shoot of it with an elegant, timeless, wedding gown. It doesn’t get much more yin than that.

In all, eight of the 10 shawls I crafted last year were crocheted; two were knit. Each shawl taught me some thing (big or little) that aided me in the next successive shawl project. I am in the process of crafting 11 more this year. Tapping into that path is a force for good. I look forward to where it will lead.

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