Br. Mark Ligett weaves cloth on his floor loom.
I began to weave because I loved working the looms and weaving. But I have stuck with it because it has been my most life-giving pathway to God! I can say without a moment’s hesitation that my deepest moments of intimate prayer occur when I am at the loom.
Many times over the years I have been asked where my interest in weaving began. I blame this passion of mine on Fr. Francis X. Hoffer, OFM. Francis was the director of the Brothers Formation Program when I entered the Franciscan Order in the Fall of 1967 at St. Anthony Friary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Life as a postulant back in those days was pretty intense, with lots of restrictions.
One of the things that Fr. Francis permitted were frequent bus trips to Kentucky…to “God’s Country”, as he called his home state. One of these trips was to the restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, not far from Lexington. On that day I became enamored with the Shakers and their common life that was not unlike the life we were aspiring to as Franciscans. The tour of the village included a visit to the Loom House where “faux Shakers” were sitting at looms weaving traditional Shaker fabrics of linen, cotton and silk. I was instantly intrigued with the looms and the process of weaving.
On the trip home, I could not get weaving out of my mind. I already had an interest in fibers for which I also credit Fr. Francis. My first work assignment at Mt. Airy was to the tailor shop, where I learned to make habits. I spent two years in the tailor shop, and even though everything we sewed came out brown, we used different types and weights of fabric…and that intrigued me, too. That night on the bus I set my heart on learning to weave.
The one and only weaving book in our library at Mt. Airy provided directions for making a simple “picture frame” style of loom. Though I had no carpentry skills, I hammered together four boards, added nails on two opposite sides, found some yarn, and strung up my first warp! While attending Xavier University, I found an additional book in the library. After novitiate, I was loaned a small floor loom. That is when I began to weave towels, placemats and scarves.
Feeling a call to a more contemplative life, I transferred from the Franciscans during my third year of temporary vows to the enclosure at the Abbey of Gethsemani. To my delight, the first work assignment given me by the Trappists was to the weavery to assist Br. Meinrad. For the first time I had a real life weaver to teach me what I was so anxious to know.
After deciding I was not being called to monastic life, I returned to the friars and renewed temporary vows and later made Solemn Vows. I was able to get a larger loom around that time and took that with me to my first assignment at Bishop Luers High School. There I began to experiment with Swedish rug-weaving techniques and fabric making for liturgical vestments. Being self-taught, I was never sure if I was “doing things correctly” and decided to enroll in a beginning weaving class at St. Francis College right there in Fort Wayne. At the second session, the instructor told me that I should be in a more advanced class. He offered to take me on as a private student if I would assist him in teaching the beginning weaving class! I took him up on that offer. His invitation assured me that I had taught myself well.
I recall Trappist Br. Meinrad telling me weavers always have the cross before them in the warp and the weft. The warp fibers are the vertical fibers running front to back on the loom. The whole process of weaving involves interlacing the weft yarns, the horizontal yarns, over and under the warp yarns to create specific patterns. So, each time the weaver throws the shuttle, a cross is created before his/her eyes as the weft yarns in that shuttle cross the warp yarns.
But it goes beyond this. I think I know why St. Francis wanted to work with his hands and wanted all the friars to work with their hands. Our physical bodies are meant to be connected with our spiritual, mental and emotional lives. When the work of one’s hands can be united with the energies of the heart, something magical happens!
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of “flow” in his writings in the 1970s. He identified flow as a liminal space where one is completely absorbed in a project or activity to the point of losing track of time and forgetting about one’s ego. An “altered state” is created that, not surprisingly, has many of the benchmarks of traditional meditation.
When I sit at the loom, I take a moment of quiet to center myself by breathing deeply and calling to mind all those men and women who have engaged in this practice for centuries before me. I connect with those who built my loom and who spun the yarns I am using. I even connect with the animals and plants that provided the wool and cotton and linen from which the yarns have been made!
Now, over 50 years since first watching those faux Shakers at their looms, I find myself once again weaving tea towels, placemats and scarves…now to be sold in our gift shop here at St. Francis Retreat House! I’ve come full circle with my weaving projects. I am very grateful for everything weaving has taught me and the ways in which it’s healed me. Each time I sit at my loom I feel a sense of “being at home” with myself…rooted in a grateful place. I know that as I continue in this magical craft, life will continue to grow with meaning and purpose, and I will continue to be surprised and delighted.
(Br. Mark Ligett is a team member at St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa.)
Where to shop
Br. Mark Ligett pulled together an eclectic array of candies, fruitcakes, mugs, soaps, and other items made by friars, monks, hermits and religious sisters from around the country to stock the small gift shop at St. Francis Retreat House. The shop also features religious books, statuary and devotional items, as well as some of Mark’s hand-woven towels.
Visit https://stfrancisretreathouse.org/gift-shop-2/ or call 610-258-3053, ext. 34, to learn more.