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....


  1. this is beautiful. i need to read it a few
    times to fully absorb...but it is How It Can
    Go.., isn't it.

  2. My first thought was "beautiful" too!
    Your perspective is lovely and true. There is a beautiful "web" of people
    and lives are touched because of kind hearts.

  3. Lots to think about in this post. The inter-relatedness of 'economies'; of people; how things (and ideas) travel round the world. And I was struck too about how this is the REAL economy which keeps the world moving. It's not about banks, it's about the interactions between people, and what they share (give, or sell) with each other. This is lived economics. Thank you for posting this. Rich in images and in words. Jan, England