Zen and the Art of Saori Weaving

Back and forth, back and forth, I slide the shuttle that holds the bobbin that’s wound with the thread that creates the weft that fills the warp that blends into fabric I weave by hand, to make up my scarf as I go.

Tonight is my fourth Saori weaving lesson. So far, I’ve learned how to wind my warp (the long, vertical threads that define the width and lengthwise pattern for my scarf), thread one end of the warp through the reed (the metal comb that holds each thread in place, in the order I define), thread the warp tails through the heddle (two rows of wire guides that divide the warp, so one set of alternating threads moves up while the other moves down), wind a bobbin with weft fiber, and pass the weft shuttle horizontally through the warp, shifting the heddle with foot peddles and beating the weft into place. I’ve also learned how to change weft bobbins, how to pick up a second weft color freestyle and how to add “treasures”—slubs of fiber inserted at random for color accents.

It sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite intuitive, once you get the feel of it. And feeling is what Saori weaving is all about.

This modern Japanese weaving method, created by Misao Jo in the late ‘60s, nurtures individual expression and creativity. Saori looms are simpler to thread and manipulate than traditional looms, and they have adaptive attachments to facilitate weavers with disabilities.

Last week, my instructor, Mihoko, added a narrow shelf to my loom so that I could slide my wooden shuttle back and forth without having to hold it—an advantage when my hands get tired. I use a small pair of tweezers that I always carry to manipulate threads in-between the warp. Mihoko helps with knot-tying and other tasks that I find too difficult. The loom is easy to understand, and the parts take little pressure to maneuver. Nothing hurts.

But what I like the most about this new-found art form is the way you can do just about anything with the fibers, within the constraints of interlocking threads. You can leave gaps in the warp or the weft to create an airy pattern. You can interlace new colors and tufts of fiber or cloth or whatever other kind of material you want, so long as the warp is strong enough. You can break a warp thread—by accident or intent—and weave knotted tails of your repaired warp right into the piece.

Mistakes, imperfections—these are what make the fabric personal, unique and fascinating. Accepting and encouraging exploration and individual vision is the art form’s core philosophy. In Saori weaving, flaws don’t exist.

It’s a welcome break from my daily worries about how I’m going to balance my writing and health and all the necessary hard work of building a consulting practice. And a great reminder of the value of taking risks, making mistakes, and staying clear and focused about what’s important.

Tonight, when I pick up where I left off last week, I’m going to shift the weft from dusty roses to slate blues. I’m going to play more with free-style design and whatever else occurs to me in the moment. When I weave, I’m totally focused on what’s right in front of me, figuring it out as I pass the shuttle and shift the heddle. I can only understand the pattern as I make it happen. And I’m doing it with my own two hands.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. Kathy Pulda says:

    One day I’ll come with you. I really will.

  2. Mihoko Wakabayashi says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I have no idea about what you are going through with Scleroderma. And you are such a great writer. I wish I was fully able to appreciate it.

    If you don’t mind, I love to share this blog with other Saori weavers. I am so touched by your understanding Saori philosophy from your blog.

    I am looking forward to reading your blogs more.

    • Thanks, Mihoko! Please do share it. I would love for more people to learn about the great teaching that you do and how Saori is accessible for people with physical challenges.

  3. Leslie Etedgee says:

    You have really captured the essence of Saori. I really enjoyed reading this… You have used lovely words to describe this freeing process of Saori weaving!
    I am glad to see you at the class each week and to know that you enjoy it so much.

  4. Jan McVey says:

    Hi Evelyn,
    I came across your blog while searching for info to pass along to a friend on Scleroderma.
    I was so touched by your blog that I wanted to respond to you. When I clicked on your link I thought your site was something else, but I decided to read on . . .
    Are you familiar with Young Living essential oils? The oils have wonderful healing properties and you could very much benefit from using them.

    I’d be happy to send you some success stories with others that have suffered with Scleroderma, and have gotten over-all improvement and even symptom free when using the Oils.
    Sent forth your email & I’ll forward the info on to you.
    Jan McVey

    • Thanks, Jan. I’m not familiar with the product but appreciate your mentioning it.

      • Jan McVey says:

        “Aromatherapy” is a term used to describe the use of essential oils. It means to treat with aroma through inhalation. Essential oils were man-kinds first medicine. Research shows that we respond to an aroma within three seconds. If you were to tear a leaf or stem of a plant the liquid that emerges is known as the essential oil. It is designed to clean the break, kill bacteria, and start the regeneration process. Oils are oxygenating and help transport nutrients to the cells of our body. Essential oils enhance and support the immune system whether inhaled or topically applied.

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