Okay, let me start by saying that I am not an expert in Japanese art or even a student of Japanese culture and aesthetic. I am, however, a big fan and an obsessive collector of Japanese textiles in the form of yarn. I’ve carried Noro in the shop for 15+ years and have knit literally dozens of garments with Noro yarn. When I look at my handknit collection, it is Noro garments and accessories that have stood the test of time. Noro sweaters remain in my closet, year after year. What is it about Noro that makes it so fascinating? I have thought about it and written about it many times on the blog, each time uncovering some new aspect that deepens my love and respect for the yarn, the company, and the man behind it all, Mr. Eisaku Noro.
There is, of course, the fabulous color – that’s what first draws you in. There is something so organic and energizing about the way the colors work. No other company can replicate it. Then there is Mr. Noro’s uncompromising respect for the raw materials and the environment. And the careful selection and blending of fibers for exactly the right effect in the finished yarn. What is that effect? It is hard to describe, because I don’t think there is a single English word adequate to describe it, but I have come to understand that the most fitting term in Japanese is wabi sabi.
The term wabi sabi, is not only an aesthetic, but a philosophy that encourages us to accept things in thir most natural and authentic state. It is about acknowledging that life, and everything in it. is impermanent, incomplete, and mostly imperfect. It’s about embracing that which is perfectly imperfect. I love that so much, especially now.
Many people who are new to Noro choose a skein off the shelf and say, "This color would be perfect if it weren’t for that dark and drab bit. “I just don’t like that part. I think I’ll just cut that section out.” I understand the temptation, but that dark and drab bit is essential on so many levels. Just as this time that we are going through as a community, as a nation, and as a planet, is not exactly as we would have it, it will certainly serve a purpose, if only to highlight the joy we will find when it's over. Would we like to skip over this time of fear and darkness? Sure we would, but it’s important to remember that this is not a permanent state of affairs. We will move together through this drab bit of our life, and we will find a deeper appreciation for the simple joys until recently taken very much for granted.. Nothing is permanent.
Similarly, a knot in a skein of Noro, and there is always going to be one somewhere, can drive us to distraction. But that too is how life is. Our best laid plans are easily and quickly overturned by forces outside our control. We can rail at them and make ourselves miserable, but we can’t change it. I wish there weren’t a knot there too, but we can work around it. Perhaps we follow where the new color takes us. Perhaps we move to a new spot in the skein that picks up where the other left off and suits us better. It’s not perfect, but as the philosophy of wabi sabi teaches, nothing is. Nothing is perfect, despite our vain attempts, and the sooner we let go of the arbitrary notion of what perfection looks like and embrace ourselves and our life with all its perfect imperfections, the happier we will be.
I miss you so much, my friend, and until we can again be in the shop around the table, please stay safe, keep knitting and create something perfectly imperfect and beautiful.