What is SAORI?

Freestyle Weaving for Everyone!

SAORI Handweaving

SAORI is the art of weaving in which a person can express themselves freely, regardless of age, gender, disability, or intellectual aptitude. Over the past 40 years, SAORI has been taught all throughout Japan, and to date there are more than 40,000 SAORI weavers in Japan alone. SAORI is now practiced in more than 40 countries around the world, on every continent except Antarctica, at nearly one thousand different institutions.

Japanese SAORI Weavers

Countries with SAORI

Institutions Worldwide

The “sa” in SAORI is a Zen Buddhist term that means “each thing/person has its/his/her own unique quality,” and “ori” means “weaving.” Because of these spiritual roots, as experienced and expressed by founder Misao Jo, SAORI is more than just a technique. It is also:

  • A philosophy that all people are artists: each of us has a latent intuitive power that SAORI can awaken
  • An aesthetic that embraces the natural beauty of unintended “mistakes” and encourages exploring the unknown
  • A social movement aimed at bringing diverse people together to learn from one another, with a special focus on building a community of people who may be isolated or marginalized because of age, disability, income, workload, race, or any other life circumstance
  • An artistic yet practical approach to meditation, therapy, rehabilitation, trauma recovery, stress reduction, identity-building, community-building, economic self-reliance, and holistic human development

Is All Freestyle Weaving SAORI?

The question often arises of whether all freestyle weaving can be called SAORI. The answer is no. SAORI® is a registered trademark of Sakaiseikisangyou Co. in Osaka, Japan, the company that manufactures the SAORI looms.

The SAORI Story

SAORI began as an art form in the late 1960s when founder Misao Jo, a Japanese woman in her mid 50s, began learning to weave. Her 84-year-old mother taught her on a loom built for her by her husband, but it didn’t take long before Jo tired of conventional weaving: the patterns were too rigid and predictable.

Jo said, “I have a brain and emotion. I’m a human being. I will weave an obi [sash] that is full of humanity.” She allowed herself to skip threads in an unforced, rhythmic way, introducing unusual stripes and fringes that resulted in a striking original work full of individual expression.

As she kept experimenting and enjoying herself to a degree that she hadn’t believed possible, she wondered whether others would enjoy her work. She eventually showed her work to the owner of a fashionable kimono shop, and to her surprise and delight, he not only bought all the work she brought him, but sold it quickly and asked for more.

When she tried to fill his orders for a specific previously made pattern, however, she found that her joy in weaving was gone. Realizing that spontaneity was the secret of her success, she decided to teach this approach to weaving to others.

Photos courtesy of Sakaiseikisangyou Co. and SAORINOMORI.

The Four Pillars of SAORI

Chiaki O’Brien called these the 4 slogans of SAORI, but I like to think of them as pillars. Pillars are something that you build upon, and Misao Jo did just that: she built a community of weavers, a company with a multinational following, a social movement, and a philosophy that makes art accessible to everyone.

Keep in Mind the Differences Between Machines and People

Machines are good at doing exactly what they have been programmed to do; people are good at being spontaneous.

In our society, we often use terms like “functional” to describe a person’s physical abilities, and we describe employees as “resources.” These terms tend to remove the human element from the creative process. SAORI teaches the value of each person and their individuality: that no two people are exactly alike, and no two weavings are ever identical.

SAORI also teaches weavers not to fret over meeting someone else’s standard of perfection. Instead of striving to avoid mistakes, or exactly copying a pattern, the goal is to just weave without worry and to enjoy the process. If there are loose or irregular threads, missed warps, or a color or technique used just once and never repeated, that’s ok. These things are all a part of our humanness, and they make each and every weaving unique.

Explore with All Your Might

We live in a world that seeks to pigeonhole us, most often by telling us what we are not. Over time we can begin to believe and adopt these assigned traits and qualities. SAORI encourages us to challenge the limits that we and others have put upon us in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. SAORI not only allows, but insists that the individual has the right and the power to make choices.

Sitting at a SAORI loom often reveals many of the preconceived notions we have adopted as reality. It also gives a safe place to explore those notions and to venture beyond them. When we explore new ways of thinking about our lives, our environment, and our ability to create art, we open doors and windows that we never before knew existed. We uncover new ways to see ourselves, and we create new realities as we create cloth.

Weave with a Happy Heart

I believe that happiness is an attitude of choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose not to be.

When we sit at the loom and make a conscious choice to be happy, we start to see things differently. Colors can appear richer and more vibrant. Logically we know that the colors have not changed, but rather, our perception of them has shifted. Colors we never would have thought worked well in combination suddenly seem to want to play together.

If we then translate this to life, how different does the world look when we make the choice to be happy? The grass is greener, the sky bluer, and the rain clouds are a source of fresh water for the garden. The choice to be happy has an influence on our art, our life, and others’ perceptions of us!

We Learn Together as a Group

In SAORI, everyone is a learner, and everyone has the ability to teach. In SAORI, we all learn from one another.

In the studio, we often find ourselves admiring another person’s weaving. We may find ourselves inspired by a color combo we have never previously considered, or a technique we have never explored. As we weave together, we learn from each other, and our weaving is the better for it. Beginners teach veterans. Physically and developmentally challenged weavers offer tips to those without such challenges. The limitless imagination and creativity of youth provides inspiration to older generations.

Want more?

Read more about Denise’s thoughts on SAORI weaving, life, the universe, and everything (as well as news about the studio), on the HanDen Studios SAORI Weaving blog!