Re-Weaving Our Culture: a Text for Peace

Thoma Ewen

Weaving has been done by almost every culture on our planet, so it touches a place of deep knowing in us all. The Mayans say that when a woman ties herself into her backstrap loom, she ties herself to the cosmos. The universe, they say, was woven into being. Indigenous cultures have a long sacred connection to their weaving. Their textiles are their “texts.” Through colour, symbol and line, textiles narrate the myths, legends, and creation stories that belong to a culture.

Garden of Light

Tantra (Sanskrit for weave). defines a mystic or sacred union. In weaving the union is between warp and weft. Weaving is a sacred path in many indigenous cultures. It transmits, as the Navajo’s believe, the energy of Peace.

There is a Navajo creation myth that Spider Woman, the creator spirit, made the Earth and then made First Woman and First Man. She was so pleased with her creations that she gave the gift of weaving to First Woman. Weaving has remained unchanged over millennia. The basic structure of weave everywhere, often called tabby, is the basic tapestry weaving technique. Tantra, or union of warp and weft . . . over and under, under and over . . . from left to right . . . from right to left . . . the flow of weave . . . . Basic weaving technique is virtually the same everywhere, in all cultures on our planet. It is universal – a common thread that connects all cultures and all humans.

The ancient symbol for both water and for life is an undulating line, like a series of connected sine waves. In tapestry weaving this undulating line is the path the weft follows through the warp threads. It flows. There is a subtle fluidity in woven structure that relates it to all of life in its very form. 

MetamorphosisThe weft passes over and under the warps, moving from right to left, and returns, moving under and over from left to right. Every movement is followed by its opposite. While weaving, this constant repetition of one movement followed by its opposite, generates a balancing of left and right brain activities. It has a harmonizing effect on the weaver that is then transmitted to the viewer. This harmonizing, balancing effect is what the Navajo’s call being in “the beauty place” of weaving. A place of Peace. 

This harmonising effect is most amazingly visible when working with children during my Artist-in-the-Schools projects. When given a brief demonstration, frame looms, warp and weft, a class of hyper-active children is transformed into intent and dedicated weavers. When I tell them that by weaving, they put more Peace and Beauty back into the world, they don’t want to stop. They weave with purpose and integrity and a mission. Peace and harmony are real necessities. Very real. Children understand this.

This gift of weaving is special. Certainly it gives beauty to viewers, but even more, it gives us a way to centre, to bring ourselves into balance or harmony. Weaving even connects us to all cultures, and all humans throughout time who have woven, worn and used textiles. It gives us warmth, the visual warmth in the richness of a tapestry filling a living room wall, or the warmth and protection of shawls, blankets and clothing.

This suggests to me that weaving is just about to come into its own in a very vital contemporary way. Peace and harmony are very real vital necessities for everyone on the planet. The role that weaving has to play has never been so important and so necessary. The weaver, once replaced by mechanized looms and factories, and presently almost “globalized” out of the market, has just now been given a very important contemporary task. Once required to dress humanity, the weaver is now addressing the very heart, soul and spirit of the individual, community and humanity. The new mechanism is one of harmony and balance. Offering at Spider Rock

In these times of ecological precariousness, and when confronted by media reports of violence that is erupting on a daily basis, tapestry’s beauty and harmony provide an antidote to that negativity.

Throughout our country, in our cities, and in our schools, tapestry weaving is re-emerging as a vital contemporary vehicle for Peace, and a tool for creating and reinforcing a sense of harmony in the community. Community tapestry projects are bringing people together to collectively collaborate in such a dynamic positive way. People feel the energy of weave, they sense the flow of weave, and the energy of peace. The finished tapestry, installed in a public community location, continues to transmit to the viewers the feelings and messages of harmony, community, beauty, and Peace. It becomes a public icon or symbol of people coming together to co-create community. The contemporary tapestry weaver is able to create, maintain and share the ancient wisdom of this timeless art and craft. 
The text of contemporary tapestry weaving is the text of peace.


Thoma Ewen
Artistic Director
Moon Rain Centre
105 Savane, Val-Des-Monts, Québec J8N 3B6   819 457 9711

©Thoma Ewen 2009  extracted from The Living Tapestry Workbook by Thoma Ewen, published by Moon Rain Centre


Thoma Ewen's tapestries are on exhibition at the Ottawa Arts Council until April 18, 2016.