Thursday, December 22, 2011

Textile Love

When I was about ten years old, my cousin and I spoke of our mutual appreciation for a velvet quilt at my grandmother's house- we both always wanted it to be our blanket on visits. My grandmother purchased it at auction like many things in her home. The blanket's velvet pieces had been stitched together like a patchwork quilt, contrasting thread zigzagged the edges of each piece, and a colorful thread along the border gave some punch to the dark pieces of velvet. Lined with a pale blue cotton ticker stripe, it was soft and warm, but so were other blankets. As fairly young children (he was younger than I), we recognized, like my grandmother, the intrinsic beauty of the handmade blanket sold at auction by a family who no longer valued it. That we spoke of it as children says a lot about that quilt.

I grew up in the seventies in an environment more in keeping with poly cotton blend sheets and blankets. In elementary school, I had a Holly Hobby bedcover likely made of one hundred percent polyester. From middle school into college, I had a blue satin bedcover, definitely one hundred percent polyester. Despite these hyper processed linen roots, a love of fabric evolved or perhaps textile deprivation piqued my awareness. I don't sew, I can barely knit, but I have long felt a connection to textiles particularly handmade textiles from worn Amish quilts in Ohio to handmade Spanish lace adorning a woman's head in Rota to raggedy fisherman sweaters in Scotland to carpets woven by hand from the Middle East. My interest in textiles is connected to how they were made, what the maker was thinking as they worked, the place where they were made, the journey to me, how they feel in my hand, the beauty in the threads, the imagination and creation of the designs, and the natural colors of the earth used in them.

In high school in Spain, on a swim team or band trip, we toured a castle with a well-known wall-hanging- it told the story of a war and it was massive. I was in love- with a rug. The pain staking details and it's vastness, meant it was forever out of reach, but it spoke to me. Not the knights or the story of the war so much, but the hand labor put into making it. I wondered how they did it- so much beauty. I so wanted to rub my hand across it.

Once at a dinner party I met a well known fashion designer here in Japan except that I didn't know it. We fell into conversation and it came to pass that he was in the "textile business." Thrilled, I responded, "I love textiles!" I know very little of fiber or color or technique, but something in me responds to it anyway. I had never met a man interested in textiles beyond the rug shop guys in Bahrain who likely preferred selling the hand knotted rugs more than the rugs themselves. At the end of the party, the designer wrote down his name and suggested I google him. I did google him and I was mortified to realize I had chatted about fabric to a man who has clothing in museums.

Last night I came across a word that opens up my connection to fabric, boro. Yoshiko Wada explains that boro refers to objects that "have been used, broken, and worn to tatters and also to those that have been exhaustively repaired and lovingly used." She connects the value of fabric to the labor and effort put into making, obtaining, and using it. "In Japan and everywhere in the world, from the dawn of history until the early years of the 20th century, cloth--any cloth--was precious, an essence of human labor and effort, a metaphor of life's interactions and vicissitudes."

"Our world today is distant enough from when boro were made so that we are able to treasure these textiles and value their 'born-ness.' Their message of care, of family lives lived, of warmth and comfort eked out of minimum materials we see with a mixture of sympathy, nostalgia, delight, and rueful concern for the poverty of the past as well as for ourselves, slipping away from the life values that sustained our forebears."

She gets textiles. I can't wait to read more of her writing.


Yoshiko Wada's article, Boro--The Mottainai Essence, appears in Ikebana International Magazine Vol. 56 Issue 1 Publication No. 150/2011-2012. She notes the article is based on a book manuscript she is working on.

Crazy Quilt Sample like my grandmother's