flying shuttle as tennis

We're moving this weekend, out of our 'charming' studio that rambles off of the back of our house and into a spectacular, light filled space above the Heath Ceramics factory in San Francisco. We're upgrading.


I'd hoped for this when we first started planning the work and wanting this has helped me stay anchored in the present quaint of our cottage-y studio space, stoking nostalgia for this time long before any hint of change. In this tiny space I've worked late into the night with the respite of bed just three rooms away and woven yards in my soft pants before the late afternoon sun reminded me that putting on outside-worthy clothes was a good tactic in feeling like I'd actually been to work. Our dogs have been both companions and nags, mostly quiet in the lazy morning and aggravating with all kinds of dire demands in the late afternoon. Our kitchen has over fed me and offered wine at times of day that no one really needs to know about. My desire to nap right after a midday lunch has mostly been met and given charge to an inevitable entrepreneurial exhaustion. My husband has been the real hero in this imbalance, appointed Chief Zen Officer for his ability to simmer all things boiling over, by which I mean myself, mostly.


To make the move, I've been working overtime on production to get through the very long warp I so cleverly dressed in late February, gloating in the idea that it would take us clear through to April before we'd need to thread the 1100 heddles again.  My left wrist started balking about two weeks ago and I latched on the flying shuttle for the first time since we assembled the loom and marveled in the novelty of such an aid. The flying shuttle is loud and I often listen to books while I weave so the two didn't initially marry (headphones, duh) but it relieves torque on the wrists and so I gave it a go.

The tool works by flipping a handle with short, smooth strokes to propel a weighted shuttle back and forth across the loom. One hand controls the handle while the other moves the beater back and forth behind each shuttle pass. At first it felt like cheating and then, it felt like tennis! I couldn't stop thinking of the sweltering afternoons I'd spent as a pre-teen on Snee Farm's tennis court, wishing only that I was on my bike or on a horse, while some young pro dressed in obligatory white tried to interest me with concepts about follow-through and grace.

I was pretty lousy at tennis and I was definitely disinterested in the game and in the clothes and in the sun beating down on the court until many years later when I first read David Foster Wallace's essay on tennis and kicked myself for not seeing what he'd seen in the intuitive geometry of the game and the comfort of being 'inside straight lines'. I hadn't really cared much for the court itself, rather, I'd been blinded by the company on the court with their genuine blond manes expertly appointed into french braids tied with neon pink rubber bands and their matching tops and skirts, all of which draped like it was meant to on their tall, lithe bodies.

I was an awkward adolescent, more apple shaped than not, with a proclivity to express myself through asymmetrical haircuts and garishly patterned Jams. I can't recall one french braid throughout my teen years nor was I ever honestly blonde nor did I have the natural athleticism that might make all of these other teen-significant qualities less teen significant. Imbuing the game with anything beyond a runaway plan and a cigarette stop behind the backboard didn't happen for me, until now, when I suddenly have taken to researching locations and hours for public courts in my Oakland neighborhood.

Production weaving with the flying shuttle feels much more like sport than craft once you master the understanding of vectors and force. Like Wallace, I find considerable comfort working within straight lines and the loom, both the body and its taut warp,  very much a grid until the traveling weft interrupts the geometry with it's diagonal shot. Predicting the optimal diagonal is essential to preserving a clean selvedge and consistent tension. With a hand shuttle, this diagonal shot is more of a toss isolated to the wrist. The flying shuttle engages the elbow and the forearm and offers more intuitive consistency with a genuine follow through, not unlike the fundamentals of a good stroke in tennis. Get going fast and the body actually heats up and the forearm burns and weaving is now included as daily workout.

I think of David Foster Wallace often as his writing profoundly impacted my journey as a reader. I think of him more in times of change, like our current move out into the wide world, as his sudden death felt entangled in questions of creative risk and resilience and I can't feign not relating to the moments of darkness in all of that. I think of him now while making the shuttle fly and I love thinking of him in this way, in sport, in humor and in doing what I love most.