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. 

Update on Fragments: A Tiny Meditation Cloth

I made this small panel from the collection of tiny fragments that had accumulated over the spring of 2014. They were in the last post. To make this little panel, I laminated them with stitch onto a light blue linen napkin, bordered with my very last scraps of a red and blue silk tie-dyed sari I've had for twenty years, a thin band of marigold yellow Fair Trade sari silk and framed with blue linen I coloured with my own indigo vat three years ago. I'm going to cut it down and finish the edges, and hang it up.

Here are these tiny little bits again:

I decided to make this a mediation panel, or to call it such, composed on the model of a Buddhist mediation panel mounted in a brocade border. I meant really for this to remind me, like the Bird Rescue Cloth from last summer, of a single moment. In this case, the moment was finding the scrap of singed printed rayon- it has a block printed leaf on it, in blue- centred below.

I found this scrap in May as I crouched down beside my beloved dog who had just collapsed while we were out on a walk. From that moment until almost precisely twelve hours later a series of perfect circumstances conspired to save her life. She almost died, but the interventions of strangers, acquaintances, family, friends, other animals, all came together. Circumstances rose to meet her decision to live.

I have to laugh that I actually picked this scrap up. And, yes, I was fearful it might be something I would need as a memorial. I must have decided it could instead be to remember something we got through. Rag of the Day exists because this dog likes to go for long walks. It is fitting we found something on a hard day.

So I don't know what to say or think about, well, why I picked up a raggedy little scrap at an overwhelmingly frightening moment. I'll think about that, too.

Thank you for stopping by; I have an update coming on the Windhorse, too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rag of the Day Special Edition: Fragments

Six very tiny pieces- the ivory is two- lucky to have stayed in my pocket. I can't remember where the ivory came from, but I have the impression looking at it that it was from a squirrel nest that was being refreshed for the spring.

The blue in the top left is from a lawn at a business downtown, probably chewed up in a lawnmower last fall. The red was probably a ribbon, and had become caught on a rock on a river-side path way during the spring flood.

The plaid is from a jacket that has been pulled apart by flood water in the spring and caught up in the sand.

The burned rayon on the bottom left probably blew off a balcony at a high rise apartment, months ago, and got then caught up against a fence. I found that on May 4, 2014. 

I am not sure what to do with them yet, but I think they belong together. They make me think of ancient textiles found in tiny pieces and then reconstructed. It seems improbable these things persist. But then they are also just the right size for the creatures that might use them for things like nests, for winter homes. It's a wonder I found them at all.

So they will be something, together, I think.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rag of the Day Digest: Five Shirts

March 2014, Cotton flannel, spent the winter in a snow bank it had been plowed into. Cloth is heavily worn.

April 2014, snow plow damaged cotton shirt.

April 2014, cotton-poly blend shirt, in the park. Mildewed and mud stained, so may have been there since last summer.

April 2014, cotton shirt, at the curb, seems to have been damaged by the sidewalk snow plow. Probably fell out of someone's garbage.
April 26, 2014, Necktie Beach, a cuff, part of a sleeve and placket from a cotton shirt. I'm assuming this is what is left of a whole shirt, just these parts. Spring flooding brought it up on the shore where it got caught in some roots. The flowing water that probably tore away the rest of the shirt has left these bits bundled with grass, small branches and little twigs. I won't be able to wash it without deconstructing it. Maybe I can just snip some of the cloth off and leave most of the twining and wrapping intact.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Year of the Horse Cloth Update

I've been slow to update progress, mostly because it is kind of hard to update this cloth. I have been working on three of the nine sections, two of the woven sections and the pieced corner between them.  Below, the central panel (the Windhorse) is the top right corner, the pieced corner is to the bottom left, and on either side are the woven panels.

Here's a reminder of how the elements are organized, as nine distinct areas with the Windhorse in the centre.
Here's how these first four elements are coming together, with the pieced element basted down.
The woven section in the photo below is partially stitched, held together with masses of running stitch. Despite being three layers- a cotton backing, two layers of linen woven together- it is easy to sew. The linen strips that are woven into the top (the linen table cloth I showed last time) are linen napkins. The three layers together are sturdy, heavy, but still supple, draping. Old linen stitched together like this is like nothing else. I'm thinking a lot about how this cloth is from a plant, a plant that grew maybe fifty years ago, maybe a hundred.

The corner elements on this cloth are each pieced separately, and I'm stitching each on to the whole piece. This is the first one I've placed. These elements are made up entirely of found cloth. And there is an overall pattern or design for each of these elements: nine small scraps suspended in bands of identical cloth. The nine small scraps here are all pieces of lining from pants pockets, and each pulled out of the river bank over the past couple of years.

The bands surrounding these small scraps are all from this cloth below, a pink pyjama top featured in an earlier Rag of the Day post. Yes, it once was pink.

Now, pink wasn't going to work for this cloth (I'll explain that later), and so I dyed it, with a last little bit of walnut I had sitting on the stove. And it did the trick; the pink is gone, replaced with a perfectly neutral brown, which complements the stains and marks on the scraps and rags they surround. I am pleased with this.

So that is the update. I still have to explain the colour choices I am making, not to mention why there is no horse on the year of the horse cloth. But for now, this is what it looks like, this is how it is coming along. Thank you for stopping by.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Year of the Horse Cloth, first steps

The windhorse I'm making is like a giant flag, a tablecloth-size prayer flag. I've decided to design this whole cloth like a prayer flag, with the windhorse in the centre, and the four corners each one of the four directions. That is, each of the corners is reserved for special reflection on specific ideas, qualities, aspirations, etc (more on this later...). Each of these four corners I've decided will be pieced from found cloth and applied to the cloth as a whole. The spaces between these corner elements will be cloth woven, as per this little map:
And so here are the first stages. The base cloth is a much-bleached linen damask table cloth. It is still a very beautiful and supple cloth, but the lustre is largely gone. The damask pattern is sprays of flowers. I think it may have come from a restaurant because there is a faded laundry mark in the one corner. 

Above, you can see the centre that right now is the windhorse itself, the central axis of everything. And, yes, it is a beautiful linen napkin appliqued onto the table cloth, with an astonishingly beautiful (ten cents from the Mission store) linen handkerchief appliqued on top of it. So, yes, in this picture you are looking at a hankie appliqued on a napkin appliqued on a table cloth.

These are beautiful fabrics. Every moment of putting these cloths together was a pleasure, they are so easy to sew, so nice to have in your hands. And because of this, I've decided to stick with linen to do the woven sections, pinned here. Here you can see parts of two different napkins, and below that the whole section woven.

It feels wonderful already. I wondered about cutting up the napkins, but I really wanted to see the whites woven together like this. And I really love it. More on this decision later, too. But for now, it's starting. And it will take a year. Wish me luck.