Susan Ferguson

Thirty years, seven careers, and thousands of miles later, I think I may have found my true calling. 

A couple of years ago, while I was working as a college instructor on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, I traveled to Tucson for a weekend. My brother and I went to Bisbee, an eclectic little town on the Arizona-Mexico border. There, at the Bisbee Fiber Arts Guild center and store, I met a woman weaving an unusual rug made of hospital blanket strips, scrubs and medical tubing. I asked her what she thought about as she wove, and her extended answer was pure poetry. We talked—she talked—for an hour. I left that day, intrigued by the notion that weaving could be meditative and creative at the same time.

Since childhood, I have been fascinated by fabrics: their colors, their textures, their flexibility and function. I wanted to know how fabrics were made and how I could make them. I wanted to be a fashion designer. I fell in love with the movie “The Three Lives of Thomasina,” which revolved around the life of a reclusive weaver in a little cottage in the forest. Not long after, I got a pin loom and made potholders, but I understood that a real loom—one that would allow me to make great lengths of original fabric—was not going to happen at that stage of life. I contented myself by learning how to sew.

A real loom continued to be an elusive thing. From time to time, I would think about it, but then, when life got in the way, I would set the thought aside. I went on to become a mother, a journalist, an editor, and then, after a lot of years, a college instructor. Life took a lot of turns, and I did what I had to do to get by.

Not many months after that trip to Bisbee, I quit the reservation teaching job and moved to Tucson. I started playing around with different types of fibers—paper, cloth, cardboard and yarn. I even tried making papyrus of thin slices of fruits and vegetables. I tried sewing dresses, but I understood that handmade everyday dresses were a dime a dozen and I didn't want to make big fancy quinceñeras dresses. And then one day, I went to the store in Tucson that the woman in Bisbee had recommended, where there were fibers and yarns of all types. I felt like I had come home. I walked around the store, plunging my hands into the fiber bins, learning to feel the differences between churro and merino wools, yak and camel down, silk and mohair. I looked at the boxes and baskets of yarns of every color and kind. I touched, I sniffed, I tasted. . . I loved every second of it. I bought a little bag of brilliantly colorful silk fibers and brought them home. And in the back of my brain, I started thinking about that loom again. Seven months later, after experimenting and testing and trying to figure out which fibers "felt right," I took a weaving class. Sitting at that loom felt natural from the first moment.

Weaving is meditative and calming. I stay focused on the thing that I am making, and the look of the things I am making is always a surprise, no matter how hard I try to make them "just that way." And the materials I'm using are satisfying to the touch, and they are quiet and gentle and peaceful and beautiful. I listen to symphonies, audio books or the radio while I weave, and the rest of the world pretty much disappears. And I imagine that I am that woman in that little cottage in the forest, weaving and making lovely things. That's not a half-bad feeling after so many years of feeling unsettled.