Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why Mending Now?

The popularity of patching, mending and recycling today in mass societies is unquestionable. And fascinating! Ever wonder why? Above is a photo of a piece of boro cloth I ordered from Sri, a dealer in vintage and antique textiles from India and Japan, a place where valuable textiles are described with words like 'abraded' and 'stained' and 'marked'.

Like Arcadia Smails over at Fibercopia, I feel the resonance between Japanese boro and the spectacular artistic traditions of Gee's Bend. And wonder at the growing interest in these textiles today.

Mo'a, my class mate in Jude Hill's Contemporary Woven Boro, asked this same question. Her beautiful post about Iceland's National Museum show, Mending and Making Do, is here.

The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. also has a show on the theme coming up, called Second Lives, here.

The work of mending, making do and recycling is nothing new. The photo above I took at the Fall Fair in Highgate, Ontario- it is a patched sheet being used as a backdrop for a shelf of items that had been entered in a competition. An entry (in the popcorn bag competition) from the same Fair seems to be celebrated for capturing the spirit of the times.Reading the award-winning catalog from the Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I find out that kanthas were traditionally made with recycled textiles, layered and stitched to give them strength, designs added along the way to invest them with meaning. Below is a photo of some kantha stitching, from a contemporary cloth produced for the Bangladeshi development organization BRAC's retail outlets Aarong.As this piece demonstrates, the skills that were once tied fast to 'making do' have more recently become tied to the more institutionalized work of 'producing'. Or 'developing'. The coiled newspaper trivet below is from another Fair Trade retailer, one of the many items they sell that is based on recycling common materials. Like old newsprint.

So not only are patching, mending, making do ubiquitous, so too is this kind of recycling- of stuff there is just too much of. The most compelling example of this for me is the humble pallet strap- that plastic strap used to bind bundles of everything from newspapers to pallets of pre-packaged food to t-shirt parts being sent to low-wage assembly plants around the world. In 'host' countries, these strips become, what else, baskets.

These are two I've made from straps I collected out walking the dog (we live in a lightly-industrial neighborhood), but I copied some I purchased in Honduras- North America's closest textile Assembly Plant.

I mean to imply with these last two examples something of the thorny tension that emanates from such examples of 'recycling'- do they do anything to halt the cycle of consumption? The Honduran example, especially, where pallet straps are waste from a process of rich countries massively over-consuming textiles ('cheap t-shirts'). At the same time they signal the remarkable innovation and spontaneity that is artistry.

Which leads me back to my question 'why mending now'. Is it because in a society so geared to massive over consumption, the cycling of 'things' in and out of fashion, we've lost our bearings? Have we become disoriented by this over load, and are now only able to find 'beauty' outside of the products of this cycle? Does it take the sharp eye and skill set of someone not targeted by the merchants of these things to create beauty? Is that why we are all looking for things mended, made to do and made of 'nothing'?

So my answer is- the meaning of the mended object exceeds the meaning of the original. We are learning, in looking to these processes and traditions, to see beyond the narrow constraints of mass production/consumption/waste. Maybe.


  1. happy to be at your new space. will you still be posting at the old space? as far as 'why mending now'--i think there are lots of reasons. yes, the ones you mention and also out of necessity as in days long gone.

  2. nice to see your new focus

  3. Yup, with you on all youve said, especially the last.....'maybe'!
    Sadly the innovative creativity in making even the plastic strap basket was most likely born out of survival and the need to eat.
    You can bet some shyster will have stolen that first basket design off whichever creative first made it too! ( me? Cynical? you think so?)
    Western culture no longer readily treasures worn things, aged things, unless theres an acheological tag on it, or its of a financial value.
    But maybe we will learn to, since the banks screwed up so well, maybe folks will have to sit and think before they turf this or that out....but having walked round the car boot as usual this morning, all mannaer of materialism was laid out there for someone else to buy.....iether more proof that we have too much of 'things' or maybe, just maybe, proof that we are repurposing and reusing items?
    An interesting read again Gracie, you make my brain work!! thanks lol

  4. Very the coiled newspaper!