In Ayurveda, a traditional Hindu model of medicine that focuses on balance in the body, the hands are sacred. Our fingers, according to Vedic thought, are conduits of the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and ether, essentially connecting us to all things. We’re drawn to touch, to feel, to move with the things around us.
Is it any surprise then that as humans, texture is one of the first things we noticed as we become aware of the world? As babies, we constantly touched and fondled, exploring the world with our most powerful sense organ. We learned, pretty quickly, whether something was safe/comfortable, such as our mother’s skin, the soft teddy bear, or the soothing blanket or unsafe/uncomfortable, like the hardwood floor, the edge of a chair, or the cat’s claws. We developed attachments to what felt good and discovered connections through our fingertips.
Even now, the desire to reach out to feel all the things is almost compelling, especially when considering the undeniable beauty of fibre. Knitted and crochet fabric, with cables or bobbles, lines or raised bumps, unwittingly evoke powerful emotions and feelings. It’s subtle, though. Texture doesn’t have the prominent impact as colour or pattern, but it brings the other senses into play more.
“How our physical body interacts with the world is fundamentally connected to our thinking,” says Josh Ackerman, an evolutionary psychologist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Two things happen when we touch something. First, our brain processes the facts about what we are touching and then, within in a nanosecond, our brain processes the emotional content, building abstract thoughts on top of physical ones. All at once, our head is making associations about social bonding, pleasure, and pain. That knitting fabric becomes more than soft – it becomes consoling and comforting. Think of that warm cup of tea you like to hold after a rough day—its soothing and loneliness is mitigated (a 2011 study by John Bargh statistically proves this).
We’re designed to connect to our world, to engage with the textures it contains and weave it into our lives. Almost like magic, the texture of our favourite fibre fabrics, whether knit, woven, or crocheted, open a more emotional world that supersedes the visual. Lace is more than holes. It is elegant and ethereal, reminding us of our grandmother’s linens or crisp like the wine we drink on our wedding day. Cables are more than raised lines. They are traversing the fabric like mountains my husband mountain bikes and bumpy like the scars on my heart after its first heartbreak.
Our craft is more than the movement of hands to create things, though that alone is fantastic. No, our craft of creating texture is an emotional beauty that connects us to our world as much as it connects the world to us.