Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weaving a Community Economy

Gift from my friend up the street; March 16 2013.
Walking the dog this morning, we were coming upon a pair of evangelists. They were going door-to-door the way they sometimes do. As they were leaving my friend's house after a brief exchange and flyer-delivery, we were in front of the house. I called 'good morning' to my friend. She called me over with "I have something for you". By the time we bid goodbye to the departing visitors, my friend emerged with a clear plastic bag with these four tablecloths and three napkins. The two floral prints are cotton, the right size for the special table we live at under the arbor all summer, the red is linen and huge. The white is gigantic- as long as a bedsheet- and very worn Irish linen damask (the napkins match). It is festooned with ribbon shapes and clover.

This little event happens a lot, and today it cemented for me the grandness and yet invisibility of an entire 'hidden' or invisible economy, and my place in it. My friend and her son buy things at auctions and re-sell them, or in my case, give them away.  There was time when she could have become kin- decades ago my brother dated her niece; I didn't know her then, she had small kids, but now I turn to her for information about the neighbourhood (her family goes "way back" here), advice about my dog, we always work together when neighbourhood things need to be done. And when she's at an auction and buys a box with cloth in it, she gives it to me.

She and her son use the income from this enterprise as a tiny supplement to their wage jobs. Both are employed, and I don't really know the role of their income from this enterprise in their overall household, but I expect that when she retires in the near future it is going to be 'a bit extra'. But key to me today is that this enterprise of theirs produces more than cash. That she comes upon things that friends and neighbours she knows can use, it is also producing bonds and ties within a network. I hardly reciprocate with any finesse, but that doesn't matter. It's just a bond. One that makes us part of 'a community'. And that is grand.

Waste cotton fiber from woven cloth, hand-spun into yarn. Fair Trade from Julie Northcott-Wilson.
Which leads me to the next manifestation of such a grand network on my mind today, which is the magnificent yarn above. It is made from cotton waste from industrial manufacturers and spun into yarn by a women's collective and produced for a Fair Trade buyer in the United States, Julie Northcott-Wilson. The production of goods like this provides steady cash incomes for women, which means of course a steady source of income for a family.Women's production everywhere in the world is core to household economies, whether that production is for wages or unwaged labour to provision the household or most likely both.

Today I'm thinking about the collision and interweaving of the economic ties represented in these sets of objects. These are economic forms that stretch and strain notions of 'economic activity', that force human concerns and human relationships to the forefront, that short circuit the cycle of production/consumption/disposal. The women in Nepal and I will never share a breezy evening delivering flyers to the community picnic door-to-door, but when I show my friend up the street this yarn, she will immediately understand it. She will recognize their economies as similar.

There is something in this all today for me....

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rag of the Day Digest: The Whole Winter

I can hardly believe that I have been away from this the whole winter. I have kept track of your blogs and stayed in Magic Diaries with the ever amazing Jude Hill, but it has been an unusually busy time with no evenings 'long enough' to post. But with Spring in just a few days, I had to start posting.

Part of the problem is that the four finds I have had folded on a table awaiting documentation are each kind of strange. I just haven't figured them out. But here goes.

January 2013, frozen solid in roughly this shape, on the boulevard on Grey Street. It had a round imprint on top, presumably because it had been sitting underneath a garbage can during the day before the night I found it. Burn test tells me it is mercerized cotton or linen. It is the most luscious, soft but sturdy cloth and it is this perfect walnut brown. One edge is machine hemmed on a home machine. It is just a beautiful piece of cloth, found frozen into a little block with the imprint of a garbage can on the top.

January 1 or 2 2013, one side of a collar piece from a blue nylon coat. Found in the middle of a narrow path along the river near weekend park, the day after a 36 hour windstorm. The kidney bean-shaped holes are certainly chewed by a squirrel. The wind had been so intense for so long that every trace of anything that could be whisked away by the wind was gone. Except for this. And so I think it is kind of special.

December 2012 Weekend Park. Parts of a light cotton jacket that once had a black lining. Wrapped completely around a thin Box Alder branch that had dipped down into the river during high water in the Fall. It was wrapped so thoroughly around the branch it looked like a giant cocoon. The cloth to the inside of the bundle is in good shape, but the cloth on the outside melted away when I washed it. Once an extremely ugly jacket, with a fussy little collar, shoulder pads and puffy sleeves. The stripes are printed on one side, not woven in. But it is a beautiful cloth.

Mid-December 2012 Bathurst Street. A salmon coloured cotton men's pyjama top. I broke two of my rules with this cloth. First, I ever so lightly bleached it when I washed it because it had a lot of road-filth (oil, who knows what) on it. Thus, it turned this very light pink. Second, it had been deliberately made into an object of art by someone else- someone had tied the sleeves around an empty cardboard box, had knotted them in the front and pulled the shoulders up around the edges of the box. I had walked past this configuration many many times as wind and who knows what moved it from one place on Bathurst to another. It was the most poignantly beautiful thing. It was a sculpture of a hug. When I found the whole thing crushed by the snow plow I brought it home. I never otherwise meddle with other people's deliberate and artistic interventions of this kind.  

Walking by the river tonight I can see it is higher than it has been in three or four years, and is staying higher for more days and hours than it has in many years. After a terrible drought last year, all this flowing water inspires hope. And of course it makes me think about what will be washed down stream, what will be dislodged, what will appear and where.

Thank you for stopping by. I have new updates to come on the 2013 blanket, but they will have to wait.