Monday, December 24, 2007

Slow Cloth/Slow Craft: Is This the Birth of a Movement?

(crossposted at BlogHer)

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing. W. Edwards Deming.

As I sit here writing, in the background morning news anchors are gluing "little plastic fake gems" onto styrofoam with Elmer's glue as "fast holiday decorations." Excuse me while I tune to something less nauseating, like maybe a death-cage match. May I please hear it for some real, slower crap craft than that?

Have you heard of The Slow Movement: a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace and maintaining local and regional distinctions? This idea started being discussed in fiber art as Slow Cloth.. and is expanding into a discussion of Slow Craft that has captivated me all week.

As Elaine Lipson describes it:

Slow Cloth, as I imagine it, is indeed a movement (and possibly even an organization) and isn't about hand vs. machine, or even the time it takes to complete a project or a piece of art. It has more to do with identifying, protecting, and sharing/teaching about the world's incredibly rich textile heritage, whether techniques are executed traditionally or by contemporary artists in new ways. The idea of craftsmanship and artisanship is absolutely part of this. . . .Similarly, for me, a Slow Cloth artist has a knowledge and skill base that respects traditional craft techniques, whether it's shibori dyeing or quilting or embroidery. But the results can be traditional or new. So in my mind, both a traditional quilt and an art quilt and even a fabric postcard can all be Slow Cloth. It's more about intention, approach, quality, and a sense of connection.

When Elaine Lipson began Red Thread Studio blog on December 2nd, one it's primary goals was to discuss and educate us all about Slow Cloth, which she defines this way:
Slow Cloth: Global textile traditions and techniques, and textiles, fabric, and clothing design with a story and a history and a cultural identity; Indian embroidery, Japanese kimono, indigo dyeing, American quilts, Indonesian batik, Western wear. You get the idea; the ethnography and community of cloth. Every culture and every region of the world has a textile identity, and before we're all wearing identical, dirt-cheap Old Navy clothes, we should preserve, protect and celebrate these arts.
This idea was picked up by Sharon B., working on two hand-pieced quilts:
I have been thinking much about this notion of slowing down in order to have quality rather than quantity in life. The idea of a slow cloth made me think that perhaps we need a slow craft movement too. A philosophy that celebrates the hand made and dare I say it the craft process. Not projects that are marketed and sold as a thrown together weekend quick recreational activity but objects that are made with care and with the expectation that we have a relationship to them in other words they have meaning.

At the risk of sounding totally idealistic do you think we need a craft philosophy that celebrates the hand crafted object made with care and meaning without regard to time. What do you think? Mull it over, go away think about it slowly … come back and leave a comment I would love to hear what you think.
She received 35 comments.. all worth reading. Compelled by these comments, Sharon went on to explain HER take on Slow Cloth/Slow Craft (emphasis is mine):
I want to make it very clear that the type of projects I am objecting to are those that promise things like “make last minute gift in 15 minutes”. ...This “thoughtful” project advocated buying particular materials and gluing on this and that to produce something that was simply awful.

I wondered what was the point and an even more serious question popped into my head. Where does this philosophy take craft?I am not talking about a machine embroidery/quilting versus hand embroidery. I am talking about a multi million hobby industry that promises skill, design sense and a meaningful project without you having to invest time or emotional commitment. Any skill takes time to develop and the thing about craft work is that it is skillful. No matter if its made using a sewing machine or by hand the item has taken time, skill and thought to make it! That is the opposite of what is being promised in these 15 minute gift problem solvers!
Sharon goes further to explain how she envisions a Slow Cloth/Slow Craft movement. Her definition suggests honoring the age-old tradition of mastering techniques and applying individual creativity to work. In the comments of this piece, Neki Rivera wrote:
i think it is not about the 15 minutes it takes or hand vs machine, but the lack of thought and content, in other words the banalisation of crafts.

i’d love to see some philosophy which vertebrates crafts, i mean other than i’ts women’s stuff.(having typed that i realize that there are crafts studies now being offered in some sociology departments in major universities.)i mean something more mainstream that involves crafters, a manifesto perhaps?
Is there a need for a Slow Craft movement? A Manifesto? Or does it already exist?

Ulla-Maaria wrote a draft Craft Manifesto last year on her Hobby Princess blog that sounds like the manifesto that Neki suggested. I wrote about in BlogHer's "Is 'Craft' Uncool?" article a year and a half ago (a surprising article to revisit, even for me!) and a final draft was eventually published in MAKE. Ulla-Maaria was the first person I read who equated the current Art/Indie/Craft 2.0 movement to the Arts and Crafts Movement from just over a century ago. William Morris and his associates called for a return to the spirit of CRAFT in design. These practitioners advocated simplicity, quality materials, respect for the environment and honoring the classic principles of design. It does sound familiar, doesn't it?

Tying these two recent "hot" discussions together in reacting to Handmade 2.0, Craft Research's Mike Press wrote:
Craft 2.0 is the true inheritor of the Morris legacy. Unlike the professionalised 'art school' educated craft makers it has an ideological position which, while largely ill-defined and diverse, represents a constructive reaction to the inequities and politics of the market economy. It is clearly using the market economy as a means of developing sustainable livelihoods, but is bringing economic and cultural innovation to it. Above all it is dealing with the politics of work and consumption in ways that the professionalised sector cannot.
I sense that we could be perched on the brink of a formalized movement, but I doubt it will happen. As Walker mentioned in his article last week, when the Craft Congress met in Pittsburg there was much talk but no driving interesting in defining roles and rules. Perhaps the Indie aspect of this movement applies even to the movement itself; how can one call them "indie artist" if they follow others' rules?

I also blog at: Deb's Daily Distractions and BlogHer on Mondays and Saturdays.

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