Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Slow Cloth

scarf #2

A friend sent me an URL for a website with an article about developing a Slow Cloth movement.

(as per Elaine's request and with my deepest apologies for not including this in the first place:
http://handeyemagazine.com/content/slow-cloth )
I was all set to embrace the concept until I read this:

If efficiency and sameness are the primary goals, it's not Slow Cloth.

Let's think a little about this.

A loom with shafts and treadles was developed in order to create fabric more efficiently than without. This was the primary goal of developing this equipment, and why most people use such a tool. According to the statement above, a loom with shafts and treadles could disqualify the cloth made on such a loom from the Slow Cloth philosophy.

We won't even discuss drawlooms or Jacquards whose primary goal was to create complex patterns more efficiently than by using a pick up stick. We'd also have to rule out an AVL or similar loom with auto-cloth advance, dobby and fly shuttle - all options for weaving more efficiently.

Okay - so let's say a floor loom like my Fanny with four shafts and treadles might be allowed to create Slow Cloth. Let's look at the other tools in my studio.

Boat shuttle. Primarily created to be more efficient than a stick shuttle.

Electric bobbin winder. Heck - a bobbin winder, period. The only purpose these tools have is to more efficiently wind a bobbin.

Swift. Nope - primary goal is to unwind a skein more efficiently than draped over the knees, or the arms of a willing assistant.

Scissors. Much more efficient than a sharp rock.

Threading and sleying hook. More efficient (to me) than using my fingers.

And so on. We won't even talk about the processes I've learned whose very purpose is to work more efficiently, allowing me to quickly get a warp onto and off the loom so that I can go on to the next, and the next and the next, delighting in the laying in of each pick, smoothly, rhythmically, watching the inches roll by.

Let's take the second part of that statement. My goal when weaving a set of placemats is to make them as similar as possible. The goal is sameness. Ergo, they might not qualify for the Slow Cloth movement according to the above statement.

Ditto towels, or a set of table runners.

Such a pity when I am so completely in tune with the other tenets of the movement. To paraphrase:

1 Joy in the process
2 Contemplative while working
3 Work with skill
4 Honouring diversity and history of textiles
5 Honouring teachers and lineage of skill practitioners
6 Use of sustainable materials
7 Quality
8 Beauty
9 Community
10 Expressive

But underlaying all of the above is that I want to make cloth as efficiently as possible. Partly because I want to make so much more cloth than I have time to execute, partly because I want to work ergonomically (which has the side benefit of efficiency) to cause the least amount of harm to my body, partly because to me being skilled means being efficient, partly because I want to experience as much joy as possible which manifests itself in the creation of another fabric, another textile, another design concept to bring into material form.

My desire to work efficiently never excludes any of those other tenets, but is thoroughly woven into and through them. It cannot be separated from them. I want to make cloth that will perform it's function as beautifully as possible, and I want to make it as efficiently as possible. If that means that sometimes I make repeats (i.e. placemats) I am willing to do that, too.

For 35 years I have hand woven cloth - functional fabrics - and tried to sell them to earn my income. The Slow Cloth movement may grow or not. It may embrace efficiency or not. I'll still be sitting at my loom, weaving - as efficiently as possible - making fabric as well as I know how.


Sharon Schulze said...

Makes me wonder if the Slow Cloth folks are trying to reach east by heading north... is it really about slow cloth or about paying attention? Because I actually pay way more attention when I'm weaving faster and more efficiently. On a recent warp things were going very slowly because I had an inefficient tie up and floating selvedges. I changed the tie up, got rid of the floating selvedges, and have actually been far more contemplative because I'm weaving well. Which also happens to be more efficient.

But not industry-efficient... just normal person efficient.

Julia said...

I have been following your blog with interest! and I thoroughly agree with your arguments for slow not being inherently more thoughtful or skillful or enjoyable even. For this movement to target an already existing community of skill and craft and not "the textile industry" seems to take it a bit too far down our technological advances! Now, if one were to promote all of the fashion world to employ primarily handweavers for their collections, that's something I would gladly get behind! ;)

Tien Chiu said...

To me the operative word is "primary". It's not saying efficiency is *bad*, just that it shouldn't be the primary goal in creating a textile. Ditto sameness (though this is somewhat more questionable in my mind; there are, as you point out, times when sameness is valuable, when you want things to match.)

May I ask which page you were reading? The one I found doesn't mention this "tenet" at all. I like this version a lot.

Tien Chiu said...

I forgot to mention, their commentary on efficiency as a main focus being bad reminds me of this passage from the Phantom Tollbooth (below). Like anything else, efficiency is good, but if it becomes the *primary* focus then I think life suffers. Efficiency is a good servant to craft, but a very poor master...

“Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces, and no one who lived here was ever in a hurry. The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.”

“Didn’t they have any place to go?” asked Milo.

“To be sure,” continued Alec; “but, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes, you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.”

Milo remembered the many times he’d done the very same thing; and, as hard as he tried, there were even things on his own street that he couldn’t remember.

“No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”

Margaret Tayti said...

Another facet to consider - the 'slippery slope' argument. What happens to Slow Cloth, or to any such initiative, if we wind up being boxed in by an arbitrary set of lines in the sand?

It's entirely possible to get stuck on the classification aspect, and forget entirely the joy of creation, and the solidarity we are supposed to have as textile artists.

What happens if 'Slow' purists decide that all yarns must be handspun? Does it devolve to spindle only, or to hooked stick?

What about those who opt for highly-efficient, assistive equipment to make textile work possible with a severe disability? Do those people find less joy in their work because their equipment doesn't qualify?

On 'efficiency' as a goal:

One of the listed tenets is Skill. How do you arrive at that _without_ 'efficiency and sameness' as a primary goal in the learning process? (a learning process we strive never to stop)

Another tenet is Quality. What is Quality, if not 'sameness' of technical execution (and hopefully mastery) throughout a piece?

How can any of these exist in a vacuum? Like the threads we use, and sometimes make, each aspect is part of the whole.

Laura said...

Hear, Hear! I totally agree with your reservations - the fact that it's done by a person, not a machine should count for something. This is the main reason that I have not persued "organic" certification for my farm - I want my animals to be healthy. If that means using anti-biotics, and wormers when needed, so be it. I will not over-medicate (since I have personal experience with the results), and they all live happy, outdoor, chicken, pig, lamb and turkey lives.

Weaving for me is not a just a hobby, but I'm also not trying to make a living at it. That doesn't mean that I don't want to work efficiently (I'm ADD), or ergonomically to save my aging body.

When I see things like that, I think, "People, get a life."

Thanks for your outlook - it's refreshing!

Elaine said...

Hi -
I'm the person who wrote the line you quoted (and attribution is a good thing, by the way!). I'm not a purist by any means; however, I stand by what I said. If your primary goal is efficiency, other things are lost. I appreciate the discussion here, but would like to be a part of it, since I think you're misjudging and misinterpreting some things. I wrote the sentence you quoted more than two years ago; it's not a bandwagon I'm jumping on, so I've given it a lot of thought and developed my concept over time. You are welcome to comment on my blog, or ask me any questions you have about what I've written and posited as a definition for Slow Cloth.
Elaine Lipson

jude said...

i don't see your primary intention as efficiency. i see you as a creative person first. i think the slow cloth group is engaged in conversation. why not join in? misinterpretation can always be cleared up in peaceful conversation.

i have a life by the way.

Anonymous said...

I think Tien Chiu has it right. Primary being the key word.

I too am an admin on the Slow Cloth facebook group and invite you to join yourself to see what it is all about.

You will see that we’re all connected by a love of textiles that expresses itself in many forms. Our mission is to create a forum for thoughtful discussion of textiles within the framework of Slow Cloth, and the qualities we think are a part of this concept (see Elaine's "10 Qualities of Slow Cloth" on the info page) along with other evolving ideas.

It's really about education. Picking one line out and trying to apply everything you do to it just doesn't work and is actually contrary to the philosophy behind slow cloth. There are no lines being drawn in the sand here. An understanding is being developed by many voices coming together.
We welcome yours as well.

( i loved that book btw- read it with my kids many times)

just search "slow cloth facebook" and you'll find us-

Nancy C said...

I am equally mystified by the whole "Saori" thing (including the pricey loom they want you to buy to "simplify" your weaving!). The stuff looks like what my kids do every summer. I like the idea of freeing up your idea of what weaving is supposed to look like, but why go all "new age" about it? Not to mention the pricey tools!

Laura said...

Elaine is quite right - I neglected to post the website - my bad!


I see a number of people have joined the slow cloth group on Facebook recently.

It's always a good thing to think about these things. :)


Elaine said...

Thanks, Laura. Since you're quoting me, and my work is protected by copyright as well as Creative Commons license, please attribute in the text (not just in the comments) with my name and link. Thank you. I don't mind your criticism, but at least offer people the source so they can read the material in context and judge for themselves. My writing and ideas are part of my livelihood, so I appreciate your professional respect.

Kay - the Never Knitting Crafter said...

As usual, I'm late to see the dialog... Laura - after reading your posts over the past few days, and reading the Slow Cloth article that you were referring to, I can't help but think that the "movement" is reacting to our current crafting culture - some people are really focused on completing projects quickly, and don't take into consideration the artisanship involved in the work. So I can see that the point is to get people to slow down, learn, understand, and think about their project. I actually find it ironic that the "movement" is relying on the speedy internet to communicate these ideals. Having said that however, I have to believe that efficiency and becoming proficient at an artisan level is an exemplary goal. You have much that you can be proud of to share in the weaving community. I believe that if I was to take a weaving class from you, the best thing I would learn would be how do the associated tasks Efficiently.