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.

log cabin lap robe

Lap robe for the VA hospital, made from orphan “quilt-as-you-go” blocks.*

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.