Friday, September 19, 2014

Rag of the Day September 2014: Something for the Wind Horse Cloth

Triangle of unbleached cotton gauze, folded along the bias. Wrinkled where it had been tied to make a sling. Found, untied, two doors down on the lawn, September, 2014.
The Wind Horse cloth I have been working on this year springs from my fascination with what I think of as 'compound cloths'. I'm particularly interested in the kesa or kesaya, a Buddhist textile/garment, as such a compound. A kesa is composed of patches that are stitched, ordered and selected consistent with a set of conventions.

In the Wind Horse cloth I am making this year, in the year of the Horse, I am reflecting on two of the conventions for making a kesa: the source of the cloth and the colour of the cloth. I am not a professional or serious historian of Buddhism, and so I trust my sources who are. And they report variously that the proper cloth for a kesa must be: discarded, it is cloth that no one wants, cloth that is considered contaminated. I like the three variants of this essential quality of the cloth, because of what they mean taken together. Together they prescribe that the proper cloth must be cloth that cannot (must not?) be put to a usual use any longer.

And there are lists of examples of such cloth, and I find them roughly the same everywhere I look: cloth that has been discarded at shrines, or by government officials, that has been chewed by oxen, chewed by mice or rats, scorched, contacted menstrual blood or fluids during child birth, and cloth that has been a shroud. I agree these are examples of cloth that cannot be taken up for a usual purpose anymore. They are each in one way or another not available to be used in the same way it once was. It is transformed, used up, or cannot serve the same purpose again. The story that the Buddha first clothed himself, again variously, in a garment pieced from rags in general or from pieces of a burial shroud specifically, adds more to this essential definition of this cloth: it is not just cloth unfit for usual purposes, it is cloth no longer fit for mundane purposes. The cloth is fit to be elevated.

One of four panels of the Wind Horse cloth.
The arrangement of patches within long bands
is modelled after a kesa.
And it is not just the 'new fitness' that waste cloth gains that elevates it, it is also, in some sources, the second essential feature of the cloth, which is its colour. It must be muted, or colourless. And obtaining that colour can be done deliberately. Dying the cloth signals its elevation. On the right is part of the Wind Horse cloth I've already completed, made with cloth that is in part dyed- the vertical and horizontal bands that hold individual lozenges of found cloth are dyed with a mash of left over walnuts, buckthorn and marigolds. Each lozenge is just the colour of the cloth as I found it, discoloured and stained from exposure to the elements. Deliberate or not, all of this discarded cloth has already been 'elevated' in the sense I am using it here.

Now, in this long journey of finding cloth that I have ended up sharing here, I have not found all of the types on the list. I have found plenty scorched, a piece of linen chewed by mice, and some marked with blood. Much of the cloth I've found, most of it, is discarded twice or more: donations to charity that end up in the hands of homeless people who have to leave things behind at abandoned camps. Do these count as cloth discarded at the end of long chains shaped, largely, by government inaction on poverty? I wonder if these count as cloth, in a kind of 'ultimate' way, discarded by "government officials".
Same found cotton gauze with one of the picture effects that reveals this cloth is luminous.
The current rag of the day, pictured above and at the top, a piece of gauze tied in a sling, immediately struck me as the kind of cloth that could be on this list. It is, after all, a bandage of a sort, meant to be temporary, and something that can never again be used for its original use, once it has been used.

And so I have decided to subject it to the final process of fixing its new identity by dying it for use in the Wind Horse cloth, using these two washers I found a couple of days ago in a clamp resist with this year's fresh walnuts. Once it's done and dry, I'll have to see if this gauze will work as lozenges in another section of the Wind Horse cloth.

Thank you for stopping by. 


  1. oh, Wendy...i will need to read this several times to be able in any way
    to express the feelings upon reading this first time.
    I love you

  2. Thank you for stopping by Grace; it has taken me forever to think this through to this stage...

  3. but it would. your Thinking itself is like stitching, stitching the research
    information, stitching the thoughts that would arise and then form and
    reform....understanding the textile itself ...OH...i just so much love it all.
    Looking forward to rereading and absorbing it myself....just the BEST.
    and Really, so much Thanks for this Work.......

  4. fascinating and emotive stitching : )

    1. Thank you so much; you are such a loyal reader Lynn. I hope all is well.

  5. love the deep thought and well wrought words that inform your cloth, it's good soul food for the world.

    1. Thank you Mo; and for being the world this speaks to!

  6. I don't think I've commented here before, but I've been following for a little while and found you via Spiritcloth.

    There is so much to ponder in this post, and I don't feel able to comment on it without thought, but I love the cloth, and just wanted to emerge from the ether and say hello.

  7. Hello Sarah! Thank you very much for commenting, for visiting, for telling me you are here. The post is too dense, too complicated, but I just needed to start sorting through what I'm thinking about....please come back again!