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Finding Flow in the Warp

Direct warping one of my rigid heddle looms

When I first started weaving I hated warping my looms, especially my old table loom. It took forever to thread the warp through all the wire heddles and I always seemed to make a mistake.

I saw warping as a tedious chore that was a barrier to fun. As a result I ended not weaving as much because there was always the warping to do first. Weaving mainly on rigid heddle looms where I could use the speedier direct warping method gave me a bit of motivation but ultimately I still saw warping as a boring chore.

I continued to not weave for several months because I couldn’t be bothered with the chore of warping but then the cognitive dissonance grew too uncomfortable to ignore. I was either a weaver or I wasn’t and if I was a weaver I needed to warp my looms.

So, I challenged myself to think about warping differently. Not as a chore but as the foundation of my weaving. I thought about all the design decisions I could make about my warp and how this would affect my weaving. I thought about the task of warping how I could make it more efficient and minimise errors.

The most important step I took was to set time aside just to focus on warping my loom. Instead of thinking “I’ll get this warping done then I can spend more time weaving”, always thinking ahead of the warping, I dedicated an afternoon just to warping my loom with no plan to do any weaving. I was focused on the here and now of the task, not what might be after it was completed.

I used this focus to break the task of warping down into smaller goals e.g. measuring my warp, threading my heddles, winding the warp with even tension, tying on. I knew what I wanted to achieve for each goal and I began to see the repetitiveness of the task as an opportunity to finesse my technique rather than a tedious hurdle.

My focus was so complete I lost track of time and spent an enjoyable few hours immersed in warping my loom. I found flow.  

The mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and the resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.”

Wikipedia

The concept of flow is explored and explained in detail by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Having flow activities in our life makes us happier. A quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that resonated with me is:

“The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens they forfeit their chance of contentment.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Flow isn’t found just by doing activities that you enjoy or find relaxing. Most people have the majority of flow experiences at work and it is rare, if not impossible, to find flow chilling out on the sofa watching Netflix. The reason for this can be found in the four conditions that must be met to find flow.

  1. The task needs to be something we have a chance of completing.
  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
  3. The task needs to have clear goals
  4. The task needs to provide immediate feedback.

When we experience a flow activity the reason why it leads to enjoyment and increases happiness is due to four experiences common to all flow activities.

  • Flow activities lead us to act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
  • Enjoyable experiences allow us to exercise a sense of control our actions.
  • When engaged in a flow activity concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
  • The sense of the duration is time is altered; hours pass by in minutes and minutes can stretch to seem like hours.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research and book explore the concept of flow and how it leads to happiness and resilience to negative experiences in more detail and although some of the social commentary is a bit dated (the book was first published in 1990) it is worth a read if you are interested in the psychology of happiness and understanding flow experiences.

Here are some more quotes that I highlighted while reading Flow.

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

So, how does this relate to mindful making? My exploration of mindful making led me to investigating the psychology of flow because I wanted to understand why flow was important to human experience, how it could be part of my making and what made an activity a flow activity.

With my knowledge of flow I find I’m approaching my making with a new focus for even the most mundane tasks and preparation. Aside from the personal benefits for mental wellbeing I think this benefits my making. I have an internal motivation to achieve my making goals and build my skills. I also think that training myself to anchor my making in the here and now naturally improves the quality of my craft.           

Positive Making

My 100% handmade sweater

Can you remember the first time you made something?
The sense achievement, pride in what you had accomplished. Can you remember the compliments from family and friends or if you kept it to yourself the quiet satisfaction in finishing what you had started? How long ago was that? Can you remember all the other positive making moments since then? Or do you find yourself dwelling on the errors, the projects that you never finished, the skills that you haven’t quite mastered?
This week I’ve been working on my Positive Making Timeline. This is based on the Positive Lifeline exercise used in positive psychology. It’s a technique to help us overcome that negativity bias that our brains are so fond of. Positive psychology is the science of positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, wellbeing and flourishing. It can be summarised in the words of its founder, Martin Seligman, as the
‘scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.
It’s important to remember that positive psychology is not the same things as positive thinking. Positive psychology is an evidence-based science encompassing a variety of topics. Here’s a mind map from positivepsychology.org.uk that summarises the science.

To create a positive lifeline, take a sheet of paper, start at your birth on the left side of the paper and draw a line across the paper (or several sheets of paper depending on your age) ending with your current age now.

Between your birth and now many things have happened that have impacted you in a positive way. The aim is to think about these events or milestones and mark them on the life line.

Even the smallest of things like getting a gold star in school or someone giving you a compliment that you can remember, are important enough to be included.
Some other categories that can be put on the life line include:
• Important people in your life (put their name on the time line when you first met)
• Important happy events
• Times when you felt especially joyful in your life
• Special achievements
In adapting this exercise for a Positive Making Timeline I’ve simply narrowed the focus to my making, starting with the first thing I remember making: a simple stuffed toy in a school craft lesson, remembering the clay pots I made as a teenager, my first quilt, first handspun yarn, a particularly perfect pair of hand-knitted socks, the fair Isle hat I designed and knitted, my handwoven Shetland rainbow blanket, the handspun hand painted yarn that a fibre artist I admire complimented and my biggest achievement the 100% handmade sweater that I designed and made for my husband.

Why though? How does this help my making?
The positive lifeline exercise is designed to increase the quantity and intensity of the positive deposits in your personal memory bank, in the unconscious mind. It is helps foster a feeling of happiness and well-being which facilitates sustained Mindfulness practice, overcoming the inherent negativity bias that we all have.
My aim with my Positive Making Timeline is to foster that sense of happiness and wellbeing within my making, facilitating mindful making and as a plus boosting my making self-esteem and creativity.
I have written my Positive Making Timeline because I find writing helps me reflect and connect with the positive memories, I have had to push myself to focus on the positive and take ownership of it which is an interesting aspect to reflect on in itself. But if writing isn’t your thing there are alternatives, you could make a photo montage or record yourself reminiscing about your positive making milestones. However you choose to express yourself why not give it a go and bring more positivity into your making.

Attention and Intention

Making with mindfulness at Hooters Hall

Last week on my mindfulness course we were thinking about the word that underpins mindfulness — attention. When we practice mindfulness we are practising bringing our attention to the here and now, overcoming all the tendencies of our mind to use our autopilot and be distracted by other thoughts and the emotions we attach to them.
It’s easy to see how we can apply this to our making. We need to create time to make, time when we are not distracted by other external demands and time when we direct our focus and work towards not being distracted by our internal thoughts and emotions.
Even if the task we are doing is something we have practised so often it is a habit and does not require our full attention, something we can do with our eyes closed, we need to find a way to switch off our autopilot to achieve mindful making and all the benefits for wellbeing, creativity and our craft that come with mindfulness.
Using all of our senses can be a way to achieve this. Take the time to touch, smell, listen to, look at maybe even taste the tools and supplies that you use in your making. Before you start and as you make bring your attention to the moment using your senses to immerse yourself in the experience of making.
If you find your thoughts drifting to other things just note that it has happened and redirect your attention back to your making. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind drifts away what matters is recognising that it has happened and bringing your attention back to your making. Do this without judgement — no frustration or anger with yourself if you find it challenging to begin with. If you do feel frustrated try focusing on your breath for a moment, use it as an anchor to the present moment.
Thinking about attention led me to consider another word that I think also underpins mindful making and can undermine our attempts to direct our attention to our making — intention. I’ve mentioned previously my favourite quote from Mindful thoughts for Makers by Ellie Black.


‘If we make our work for the purpose of pleasing someone else – perhaps to have our egos stroked, or to boost our online status- this often means that we are making work that doesn’t feel true to ourselves. When we do not tap into our internal quiet, and instead are only guided by the noise of the world, we lose a vital connection between our making and our self. Making becomes a mindless activity.’


This summarises for me why I think intention is important in mindful making. If the purpose of our making is some future, hypothetical reward tenuously connected to the act of making our mind consciously or subconsciously will be focused on something other than our making.
Our intent may also affect our creative choices — choosing a yarn colour that looks good on Instagram, making something of a size that’s easier to photograph or fits with a popular hashing, making choices based on other peoples expectations. For me that leads to a creative dead end and nagging dissatisfaction with my making.
Practising mindful making; focusing our attention with intention leads to a more intimate relationship with our making, there’s no one and nothing else in the relationship, and that can be inspiring — freeing our creativity.

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