Saori Self-Innovation Through Free Weaving – A Review

As mentioned in a previous post about weaving books, I wanted to know more about Saori and ordered the above mentioned book, written by Misao Jo and Kenzo Jo (her son).  It has been revised many times since it has been first published in Japanese.  This version is in English.  I recommend reading this book in order to better understand the concept of Saori Weaving and how it started and leave it to you to decide how to respond to the Saori phenomenon.

I want to say that the concept of Saori Weaving when I first heard about it put me off and intrigued me at the same time.  I dislike anything that claims to be a movement, or tries to add spiritual elements to a craft, especially an ancient one.  I am not against Saori teaching as a concept as I don’t think there is anything new here.  I just dislike it when others try to make it more than it is and marketing takes over.  Anyway, we will get to that.

This is an interesting story with more of an insight into one Japanese woman’s culture which doesn’t seem to allow for a lot of freedom of expression (though the youth culture of today is changing that) and her personal journey with expressing her creativity.  Saori Weaving came about because Misao Jo was criticised for mistakes made in some of her weaving and that upset her.  Once she got over that, she decided to embrace mistakes and even intentionally make them in her work so they don’t look like they came off a machine and were therefore unique.  I must have been doing Saori knitting all this time because I don’t believe I knitted anything without a fault!  I may be simplifying things, but I think it is important to break down the fundamentals of the Saori concept or theory (philosophy doesn’t really apply here no matter how much they want to make it that).  The actual word ‘Saori’ is a contraction of ‘Misao’s weaving’ in Japanese which she developed in 1969 as a label name to sell her items in shops.  So, the name came before the ‘philosophy’ of her weaving.  To give Misao some credit, she realised the importance of  bringing out the creative best in people rather than teaching them how to do something a particular way and applied that in her Ikebana teaching prior to coining Saori.  Ikebana apparently has very strict ideas on flower arranging which backfired on her one day when she tried to make some beautiful branches she found conform to Ikebana principles and they broke.  Misao Jo isn’t the first person to come up with the idea that people need to be encouraged to find their creativity rather than conforming to a pre-conceived idea of creativity or making things.

Maria Montessori came up with this idea over 100 years ago.  There are 7 principles of Montessori.  Photo is courtesy of montessoriup.com.

montessori-principles

Friedrich Froebel came up with a similar theory even way before that when he opened the first kindergarten in 1856, where his theory was learning through play.  Because I am already familiar with these two people (my children went to a Froebel school), I knew something didn’t sit right with me regarding this concept for weaving and how it is being presented to the world.

Weaving is a craft.  In fact, it is an ancient craft.  Primitive peoples have been making fabric since they figured it out.  There are many books on ancient weaving, felting and other methods of making cloth.  Someone figured it out and taught someone else and so on.  Each person after that probably wanted to put their own mark on things and did just that, and is why you have all of this beautiful hand woven work around the planet.  Some people even recorded how to make certain patterns.  The modern weaver like to challenge themselves with things like that.  Plain weave is great, but lets add extra heddles and pick up sticks and a few different colors of threads and see what happens and you end up with many interesting and complicated designs.  For me, that is too complicated and why I am drawn to using different yarns in the same piece and making my own hand spun yarn.  I want every piece I make to be a piece of art because I made it and no two will be the same. This way of weaving helps me bring out my creativity.  I also like things to be easy.  At the same time I am weaving, I am learning about the colors in the warp and how it has and effect on the weft.  I am learning how the different yarns weave up and how they work with each other.  Some people like figuring out complicated patterns.  Each to their own I say.  There is no right or wrong way.  I have discovered that in felting that there are so many different ways to make the same thing.  There are many methods to the creative madness, but there are also some basics that need to be adhered to, otherwise it can go completely pear shaped.

I understand why Misao Jo tried to encourage others to find their own way in being creative rather than conforming to rules.  Although initially disappointed, she was strong enough as a person not to let that criticism discourage her.  Many people would have given up.   However, when learning a craft, there are methods, what I would call the basics.  You have to learn the basics for everything you do or make.  Kenzo Jo (the son) designed a weaving contraption to make it easy for his 57 year old mother to use.  This has been modified to the current contraption.  When you visit a Saori Studio, the loom is all set up for you ready to start weaving.  This is what is known as a prepared environment and is one of the principles of Montessori.  Because everything is already prepared for you, you are ready to play, but you do need to learn a few basics for weaving.  Once you know what to do, then you can start to be creative by choosing colors and trying a few different techniques.  Yes, there are techniques in Saori Weaving, they are in the book.  However, it is up to you to decide how to weave, and because there are no mistakes, you don’t get criticised for doing something wrong as it was meant to be.  By encouraging the individual, you allow them to develop at their own pace as that gives them confidence.  So many people get discouraged from trying new things because they are worried about what others would think or that they might be doing it wrong.  By encouraging others, you give them the permission to have fun.  That is the story of Saori Weaving in a nutshell.  Embrace your individuality and put it in your weaving. Not entirely an original concept, but it seems to be for some.  At some point, someone suggested to Misao Jo that she take her method of teaching to the world and that is what she did.  I think this is where the cult of Saori started.  Once people got to know Misao Jo, I believe that they wanted to emulate her and then made Saori Weaving in to more than it was intended to be, which was a teaching method.  Obviously, this became lucrative and one thing led to another.

Saori is a BRAND.  Saori weaving does not have to be done on a Saori loom to apply the principles of freestyle weaving no matter how much they want you to believe that because then no one would buy their very expensive looms and products.  Saori weaving came about because of one woman’s idea on how to teach and get the creativity from people rather than just following rules and telling them what to do and how to do it.  This is based on her journey.  Her way is not the only way.  I want you to google Saori Weaving and see what you get.  There is definitely a certain style to the weaving and a lot of it looks darn intentional to me.  I really don’t think you can make something to become a wearable without some intention involved.  Westerners like a project.  I like a project.  I just don’t want anyone telling me which yarns to use, though I can see the merit in that for some.  I don’t know how much it costs to become an instructor of Saori Weaving, but as someone who is naturally encouraging of others, I don’t think it is difficult to do, and my understanding is that you must do a lot of classes, even advanced, before you can even consider being an instructor (and also distributor of very expensive Saori supplies).  So, I think you need to shell out a lot of money to become an instructor, which is why there seems to be a lot of secrecy about this and why information is limited.  I have also noticed that freestyle and Saori Weaving are used interchangeably.  That could be something to do with marketing as there are many people who don’t know the word Saori, but they do know what freestyle means. I also think they use the word freestyle even though they use Saori looms as I don’t think you are allowed to call it Saori without the right qualifications.  Yet, people charge more money for woven items if they have the words Saori Style in them.  I have been searching Google and YouTube for anything Saori, freestyle and art yarn related.  The Saori and freestyle are interchangeable and art yarn brings up Urban GypZ.  The styles are quite different between the two, and yet there are similarities.  I shall leave it to you to work it out. (I am more an art yarn weaver myself using freestyle techniques.)  I also noticed that there is a certain style to the Saori Freestyle Weaving that is recognisable and more stylised and which makes it very different from art yarn weaving, even though similar principles and techniques are used.

Now back to the actual book.  There is a section on setting up your Saori loom that is quite detailed, however, you can even by pre-warps.  Great for the person with issues but not so good on the pocket.  There is a section on techniques which are pretty basic but still interesting.  There is a section on troubleshooting issues and a section on making clothes.  I mentioned before that I really like the Saori books for making clothes as it is all about the fabric and not how you make it, so it isn’t project based as such.  You don’t need to use particular types of yarns or make a particular type of pattern.  You are making clothes out of rectangles.  So, that is the book in a nutshell.

Please accept Saori style as a theory to be a free weaver without rules and develop your creativity.  Please do not get sucked into the idea that this is a spiritual thing and is the only way to do or be something or live your life by.  This is one woman’s way she lived here life and how it worked with her own personal spirituality.  I do not think it was her intention to tell people how to live.  Do not buy into the Saori hype.  The problem I have is not with Saori teaching, it is the followers of Saori and the branding.  We are talking about weaving here, not a lifestyle.  You can adapt the same principles to anything you do or make.  It doesn’t have to be called Saori.  I think freestyle weaving is a more appropriate term to use here.  I have always considered myself a free thinker, so a freestyle weaver is right up my alley.  I am also a freestyle spinner too!

So, this is my opinion.  I nearly discarded this post as I had trouble finding words to express myself clearly as I am not used to having to explain my feelings or reactions to something.  I have learned that when something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t and no explanation is required.  I have had similar feelings about other things where I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I hope I have made myself clear here without being disparaging to a lady who clearly had good intentions.  That’s it!

2 thoughts on “Saori Self-Innovation Through Free Weaving – A Review

  1. Thanks so much Arlene for this explanation of Saori weaving and the concept behind it. I always enjoy your direct approach as I am the same. I don’t like sugarcoating! This review/opinion has given me what I need to know about this type of weaving! I won’t waste my time trying to understand it though I too am appreciative to Misao Jo and Kenzo Jo for pushing the boundaries in what seems like a very staid way of weaving. Creativity is the watchword to me rather than a regimented format!
    I look forward to seeing more of your creations Arlene and reading more of your reviews of crafting books on subjects that I truly am interested in! ❤️

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    1. Thanks Carol. I never heard of it until recently and although it seems to be innovative, the method of teaching is nothing new to me, but I get it for Misao Jo and what a revelation it was to encourage people rather than just tell them what to do. I see a lot of people criticize themselves on the weaving groups for not having straight edges or making mistakes when the piece looks lovely. I just received my last book on weaving (patterns). There is nothing to say you can’t add patterns to freestyle weaving! 🙂

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