Monday, September 10, 2012

Foraging for Lost Cloth as Discipline and Practice

When I first started out with Jude's classes, my discipline was that I only used second hand cloth- inherited, gifted, purchased second hand. Because, at the time, I was interested in the intrinsic qualities of old cloth. Cloth made within a less rushed, less profit-oriented production process. I was  concerned with the failure of mass production to ensure quality and durability.

-September 1, 2012, Weekend Park. An entire Dresden Plate quilt. Hand pieced, hand quilted. Cotton batting, cotton cloth. Left behind in an abandoned mid-summer camp.

I was acutely aware of the problems of a system of production driven not just by haste, but by a sense that everything is being made cheaply enough that it can be rapidly replaced. Everything from towels to garments to bedding to the cloth we buy to make things is engineered to fill a short term need. To me, old cloth carries the traces of different priorities.
-September 10, 2012, between the dumpsters at the paint store across the street. Cotton Club Monaco shirt. Not too filthy, but needs a serious wash.
But it is not just 'old cloth' that fascinates me. It is, it turns out, cast-off cloth. Stuff that has been sent off to the second-hand store, donated to charity or put in the garbage because it is excess. Not because it is worn out, not because it is used up, but because its current owner wants to move on to something else. Is ready to move on to the next thing and has too much.
-end of August, 2012, weird little meadow triangle where I found the grey Camp Shirt. Yellow with navy woven check, I guess. Cotton, blood stains on left front, but otherwise in perfect condition.
The same system of production that, arguably, drives down quality (and consumer's awareness of quality), also drives down production cost. Which drives up consumption. And drives up production. Less-discerning consumers do not need to discriminate on the basis of quality. They only need to discriminate on the basis of style, only to catch up to the ever-moving trends. Unless 'buying something new' itself is the end, which it could be.
Really horrible, inexpensive fashion shirt that inspired the boro yogi dragon coat. Because I kind of fell for it after all.
Consumption has become over-consumption, in short, and the excess that falls out of that system has to end up somewhere. And here, where I forage every day with the dog, in the big loops that begin and end at the gate, that excess is scattered around in various states of decay. Because, and this is the key, because this is the kind of landscape occupied by the people who catch this excess stuff when it lands. Where people without homes, without privacy, without a place to stash their stuff find themselves acquiring and then casting off the cast offs.
Camp Remnants in Weekend Park, September 8 2012; where the Dresden Plate quilt came from. Not an indictment of the people who stayed here, but a record of just how much stuff gets cast-off within our current system of consumption. Whoever camped here couldn't possibly have taken all this on to wherever they had to go next.
Most of the above has already been hauled to the dump. It had a brief respite from this fate after whoever brought it here found it on the curb, in a dumpster, at a second hand store. This stuff was all old, used, nothing here was even vaguely new. Most of it had still had some use.
Most stuff left behind in sites like this, however, simply rests there, worked into the plants and the soil by the usual stuff- rain, wind, snow, sun.
-Mid-August 2012, CN tracks on a rainy Saturday morning, behind the Men's Mission. Cotton (? it is still too wet to burn test it) from a padded jacket almost completely buried in the ground. This is pre-washing; it is still soaking, and turns out to have dozens of small holes in it.
It disappears to reappear in the fall and the spring. And it changes in those interactions. It gets.stained, fades, develops marks and traces. It gets shredded by lawnmowers, snowblowers, run over by cars. It finds its way into nests, gets eaten by insects, plants grow roots through it.
-September 9, 2012, Greener Pastures under the mature American Chestnut on the north side of the park. Astonishingly, I found another piece of this very same cloth about 100 feet away over a year ago.
That first piece is now part of the cloth that is on the back of the boro yogi.
Trying to understand why there is so much lost means, to me, understanding all of this- the long chains of production, getting, giving and losing. It has been necessary to me to understand that these are not isolated, individual, surprising processes. These are processes and flows that are normal. They make finding cloth unsurprising, expected, normal.
The practice of setting out to find cloth disciplines, sets the parameters within which I am sewing things like this above. This is 'discipline', not as in 'I don't eat a cupcake every day' discipline, but as in a practice that frames and limits the enterprise of making for me. Foraging is the practice that puts (welcome) boundaries on what I can use, but that also produces the ground for imagining what's next. For me, what's next has to include evaluating the processes that produce so much lost cloth.
Horrible shirt strips reworked into a flaming pearl for the dragon to pursue. HA!