Updated: Feb 8, 2022
What are the sounds that weaving makes? Does each loom and every weaver produce unique sounds?
When thinking about weaving and textiles, sound is probably not a characteristic that comes to mind. However, textiles and sound are bound together in many ways. Textiles influence sound as they are applied to interiors to improve acoustics or used in the construction of instruments. Meanwhile, sound can assist in the making of textiles as weavers sing while working. Sounds and rhythm are indeed part of weaving, and in many parts of the world, singing is used while weaving to dictate patterns or as a form of spiritually connecting with the textile itself.
Looking from a design point of view, having sound-absorbent textiles that are also aesthetically pleasing can really transform an interior. It was with the goal of improving acoustics in a room while providing lighting, that designer Sara Moroni created the "Feel" pendants. She used discs made of fabric that are lit from underneath and can be used in a group depending on the size of the room and on how noisy the space would be. This is just one example of a sound-absorbent textile being used in interiors and one way in which textiles and sound relate.
The connection between singing and weaving goes back to ancient Greece when both women and goddesses wove. According to The Odyssey, Circe who was an enchantress and goddess was found “singing in a sweet voice as she went up and down a great design on a loom.” (1) Weaving has since been related to singing, poetry, and language – as Ann Bergren wrote: “Greek women do not speak, they weave.” (2) Even though Circe was a character in a book but she represented the many women of that time, and her story gives us access to the lives of people otherwise lost to history. Although we cannot know exactly what and for what reasons Circe was singing while at the loom, it is something present to this day in many cultures.
In some areas of Iran such as the provinces of Isfahan, Kerman, and Fars, weavers use a technique called Naqshe Khani or Pattern Singing to make their rugs. The technique “consists of recitals and tunes which serve as a guide of patterns for the weavers while they are weaving.” (3) In Mehdi Aminian's documentary called "The Woven Sounds", he shows how the lead weaver will call out patterns in a song so that the co-weavers can replicate them on the other parts of the rug. Through the rhythm, they keep the workflow and maintain the communication amongst themselves and with the woven fabric. Pattern Singing is a tool they use for weaving, nonetheless, and it also shapes their outcome in some ways.
While in Iran rug makers use this technique, artist Nadia-Anne Ricketts has developed a code to transform music into patterns for her textiles. With a background in dance, Ricketts was exposed to all kinds of sounds and soon saw music as a “universal language, with the power to ignite, connect and elevate our energetic spectrum.” (4) After learning to weave she found mathematical connections between this ancient technique and music composition and decided to explore that. With the help of coders and musicians, Ricketts transformed sound into pixels, which were then translated into geometrical patterns on textiles as a visual representation of songs.
Just as sound impacts the making of textiles, weaving has also played a role in the creation of music throughout history. In Ireland, for example, weaving heavily influenced the creation of folk music just as other manual labor instigated the creation of various musical genres. Many songs were born in the mills as workers spun and wove, and their work’s rhythm led the songs. Not only did weaving provide a rhythm for the songs, but many lyrics described the life of a weaver or of a mill worker in Ireland at that time. As musician Tommy Sands said: “I'd love to play a song along with someone operating a loom,” as “it would be interesting. A reel would go perfectly with the rhythm.” (5)
From the oldest traditions to the most innovative techniques, sound and music will always be linked to weaving and textiles. Through techniques, patterns, and rhythm, there are numerous ways in which sound and textiles can interact, and the formerly mentioned examples are only a few of them.
What are other ways in which weaving and sound can interact? Could weaving help us find sounds that have never been heard before?
Footnotes and Links
Giovanna Pedrinola is an artist born in São Paulo, Brazil and currently living in New York City. Her most recent mixed media works explore connections between the physical body and the subconscious mind in an attempt to comprehend our existence. This combined with her fascination with ancient traditions, architecture, dance, music, textiles, rituals, and cosmology, generates continuous research currently archived as text and images.