Textiles of Comfort and Joy
At this time of the year, we especially think of mitigating the suffering of others. The comfort and community we craftspeople feel, just from making something, is beautifully expressed here on Quilting Piece by Piece. It’s natural for us to try to send comfort to others in the shape of a textile – a hug from long distance, a beautiful or soothing vision to focus on in the sterile surroundings of a hospital room or storm shelter. I like to think that when I give a quilt to charity, it will find its way to someone who needs it, and will give them a little boost.
But I worry that my creative inclinations might actually be making the balance of things worse. I realize that my hobby, that I hope is making one person’s day better, could be causing ecological or economic problems for others. When I choose fabrics, am I unwittingly causing toxic dyes to be released in someone’s river? Or causing that river to be drained dry to irrigate my cotton? Would it be better if I just didn’t make stuff?
If I go too far down that path of reasoning, I will end up just sitting here quietly, trying not to breathe out.
For me, the answer has been to try to maximize the part I love best – the designing – and to make a game out of minimizing the impact. I really enjoy using up odds and ends of donated fabric and thread, using fabric from thrift store shirts, or even creating quilt designs out of old magazine pictures and junk mail.
And lately I have found some wonderful sources – informative people who have been considering these issues and who share ways to help others responsibly, while serving up huge doses of creative inspiration we can all use.
The energetic and so-articulate Nadia Dawisha at Listen Girlfriends! shares information on social responsibility and sustainability. Right now she is starting a three-part series (plus this introduction) on ethical fashion.
She led me to Good.Is (which is “a global community for people who give a dang**” and is full of interesting articles) and Fair Trade Tuesday. Nadia also clued me in to Elaine Lipson, who defined the Slow Cloth movement in 2007. Slow Cloth is about taking the time to build mastery of a craft, taking the time to create beautiful textiles, finding joy in the process, and sharing. Elaine has recently created a beautiful presentation about Slow Cloth that she shares here at Red Thread Studio– the statement that reassures me the most is, “…if you’re making something with a Slow Cloth ethic, it’s probably
an ecologically sound activity that adds more to your life and to the planet than it takes away.” I’m going to hang that on the wall as a reminder, and take it as permission to keep creating.
And from Red Thread Studio, I followed links to a real treasure, Hand/Eye Magazine.
Hand/Eye Magazine is a showcase for artisans and craft workshops around the world. Its mission: “The HAND/EYE Fund supports skilled artisans in their struggle to earn decent livelihoods through preservation of ancient traditions, innovation of new ones, exploration of new markets, and educating the consuming public about the cultural and economic importance of their work.” Themed issues come out four times a year, and more articles are posted on their website every two weeks.
I ordered the three back issues that were available (Peru, South Africa, and Craft and Compassion), and they were in my mailbox in only two days. Each issue has about 25 stories, mostly two-page profiles of artists and workshops, but there are also articles about a county’s craft history, collectors, and galleries. Gorgeous full-color photographs spotlight all kinds of crafts – ikat, embroidery, telephone wire basketry, crochet, ceramics, and woodworking. There is a balance of the traditional and the cutting edge, of bright colors and neutrals. If I was a collector or decorator, I would be snapping these crafts up, but as a crafter myself, I am just inhaling lots of inspiration.
If you needed a gift for a craft lover, you might consider a subscription, but even if you don’t want to spend a dime, you will get lots of great ideas and information from their website.
* You may be noticing a dearth of right angles in this particular little quilt. I say, isn’t it unfair to have only right angles? I prefer to let the angles range freely around in my work. You may also be wondering why I didn’t show the back. You may be suspecting that I am hiding some puckers. OF COURSE NOT! Why would you even think that? The important thing is, these 9 blocks are no longer mocking me from the bottom of a storage tub – they have been turned into something useful. After only a year and a half of sitting there.
**I have substituted “dang” for their word choice. My mom reads this.
What a timely article! This topic has cropped up repeatedly over the last month. The first was in a great PBS “Craft In America” series called “Threads” where Terese Agnew talked about her amazing project Portrait of a Textile Worker. The topic came up again when I read of Rebecca Burgess’ Fibershed project which began as an exercise in trying to wear clothing sourced from no farther than 150 miles from her home and has blossomed into an amazing vision. Then I found The Seven Day Wardrobe blog which is very thought-provoking. All of this has really got me thinking about the real cost of textiles and fiber and how to be more responsible and sustainable in our clothing choices as well as our crafting choices.
Thanks for the links. I will check them out. I’ve seen the Portrait of a Textile Worker and it is amazing, but I didn’t see that episode of Threads on PBS. One of the things I have always loved about textiles is that there’s always more to learn – this is another huge area I need to keep learning about.
Thank you for your thoughtful post, and all those links, I will certainly look them up!
These are very difficult questions – I too often wonder if it would be better if I didn’t dye or buy cotton fabric or use up so much water in my crafting activities etc etc. I don’t know if I am just justifying it to myself, but my conclusion is that it is better that I make things myself, by hand – at least the things I make will be used for a long time, perhaps some of them, like quilts for example, might even become heirlooms that future generations will appreciate. It is the throw away fashion that is the real problem, producing large quantities of low quality items that are only trendy for a few months and then discarded. And when I make things myself, I can choose to use organic cotton or take other measures to reduce the environmental impact. After all, we will continue to need clothes and household textiles, so making them with thought and care and then use them for a long time has got to be a good thing.
Like art, I really believe beautifully made textiles reflect the joy of creativity, enjoyment in timeless beauty and all the good things humanity is capable of. This is something that your blog posts about historical textiles always remind me of.
What a beautifully stated response! Sometimes in my posts I feel like I am floundering around, trying to figure out what I even think – and then someone like you or the dancing professor comes along, sums up what I am trying to say, and expresses it so succinctly, Thank you!
I don’t craft, sew, or even mend very well, but I love materials and the work of artists. I think that is why I am drawn to your blog. I have quilts from my grandmother and from my mother-in-law. I’ve always loved that they were lovingly handmade. My sister-in-law is a crafter, and she might enjoy the magazine. Thanks for the recommendation.
I am so glad you stop by my blog! I would imagine that since you are a writer, you are interested in the way hand-crafted objects can tell a story without words. When I look at a textile, I want to bring out the story I see there, but I always wish for more information about the maker and all the people who have used it throughout its life!
Thank you so much for the shout-out to ListenGirlfriends! I absolutely love this post and it’s clear you have really taken the time to think about these issues deeply. Have you heard of permacouture? They would be a fabulous resource! I’m totes going to link this in a future post, thanks so much! 🙂
I have heard of permaculture but not permacouture! I love how people come up with terms that express things so well. Looking forward to hearing more about it!
I had to laugh at your last statement. I’m guessing there are at least 10 or 11 women of an age considered to be old that appreciate the dang also!
I love the quilt. It’s beautiful!
I must add that women during the depression and for years after felt in many ways what you are describing today. Clothes were passed down, not only through one family, but to friends. Flour sacks were made into every day dresses, dish towels and, for some, underwear. Woolen skirts that had no place to go were cut into strip and made into beautiful rag rugs. Laundry was done once a week:hot water for the whites and as the water got cooler the rest of the clothes went in.Of course that was with ringer wash machines and clothes hung outdoors. Nobody wants to do that 2 or 3 times a week. Now picture this?!! Taking a bath and washing your hair only once a week!! I’d say our great and great grandparents thought a lot like all of you today. What’s happened in between the generations?
P.S. to clarify: I would never go back to the wringer washer. I just want to be ever mindful of how much water I use!
I always liked the wringer washer! It was good exercise and once in a while you found a mouse! 🙂