Art of Living: Weaving Without Pattern

Photo Sarah Whiting

SAORI is a style of weaving — very different from traditional — that is about creating one of a kind. “Ori” means weaving in Japanese. “SAI” means “everything has its own dignity.”

That’s what SAORI is. You make your own thing. There are no mistakes. You can do whatever you want.

The founder of this style of weaving recently passed away at the age of 104. She had been a traditional kimono sash weaver. One day she made a mistake. It was a very small mistake, but she couldn’t sell the sash. Her response: “That mistake is why this is beautiful.” That is how SAORI was founded, almost 50 years ago. Now it’s all over the world.

With this style, you can be in the moment. One woman said, “This is my spa day.” That made me happy.

I tell people to make many “happy accidents.” These mistakes tell your story. You don’t have to weave a certain width. You can pull your yarn and you can make it narrower. My tendency is that the right side of my work becomes tighter than the left side. Some people are the other way around. Some people naturally weave straight. That’s just them — that’s what makes it interesting.

I have a few students who have disabilities. One cannot communicate, or use her feet. Because she can choose the colors she wants, this is her way of communicating with others. She loves purple. Small children can do this, because everybody has an inherent creative sense. It doesn’t matter where you are born, what gender you are, whether you have disabilities or not. Everybody has a creative sense.

Usually floor looms have many treadles. Those make patterns. This loom has only two. With only two, you cannot make complex patterns, but you can play with colors and textures. In traditional weaving, you have designed what you are going to make before you start, but with this type of weaving, you don’t know what it will be.

Sometimes I use papers — or I take strips of old t-shirts, paper bags, plastic bags, chopsticks — and I put them in the work. You can add pinecones or seashells later. Some people add in horse tail hair. It doesn’t have to be yarn or fiber with this style. Knitters have leftover yarn they are happy to use up. My vest is made from leftover yarn. It comes from the “Treasure Basket.”

When I teach kids, I ask them, “Have you ever seen the exact same trees or flowers?” They are just like us. We are all different. This kind of weaving is difficult for people who want to be very structured, but sometimes it’s nice to say, “I don’t have to follow a pattern. It’s coming from my heart.”

After I moved to Minnesota in 2004, my friends and family were still in Japan. I didn’t know anybody except for my husband and his family. My cone of yarn was small. But now I know many people. My cone of yarn is much bigger. Teaching SAORI gave me an opportunity to connect just like yarn.

Chiaki O’Brien has taught SAORI at the Weavers Guild for ten years.