Slow Cloth

Lipson's Slow Cloth Manifesto spins a new approach to textiles

A couple of years ago, I started a blog about textile art, craft, and culture, intending to explore and frame a way of working with textiles that reflected my lifelong experience—that textiles, fabric, and fiber, whether sewn, embroidered, knitted, woven, felted, beaded, studied, or collected, could be a meaningful and rewarding creative endeavor. 
 
I’d been working for many years in the organic foods world, and watched with interest as Carlo Petrini’s remarkable Slow Food movement grew into an international community. Why couldn’t its principles of preserving regional and local traditions, celebrating pleasure and quality, building community, and honoring right use of resources also be applied to textiles? People like Carl Honoré (slowplanet.com) were extending the Slow philosophy in many areas; couldn’t textile artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs do the same? 
 
At the same time, I saw that the do-it-yourself, Craft 2.0 trend had gone a little wild, with more and more people “crafting” but with little attention to quality and skill, and plenty of craft industry mushrooming. Developing the idea of Slow Cloth, for me, was an alternative to this state of mind, and a way to reclaim personal meaning and validity in craft. 
 
I started writing about my vision of Slow Cloth in late 2007, and was lucky to find a few like-minded creative souls to follow along. Now, in 2010, a Slow Cloth movement is taking hold. Around the world, there are other people simultaneously developing their own concepts and communities of Slow Textiles, Slow Fashion, and Slow Craft. The common thread is a worldview that includes technology but is not limited to it; that opts for creativity over efficiency; and that considers time and how we can approach things with a healthy and human pace. 
 
Slow Cloth is not a project or a technique; it’s a relationship to your work and life with textiles and fiber. Slow Cloth is not literal; it’s not about “things that take a long time to make, “ to name a common misconception; it’s about things that are appropriately made. (though sometimes humans with machines). And while Slow Cloth celebrates hand-stitching as a vital creative and functional act, it isn’t limited to hand-stitching; just as Slow Food chefs use ovens, so many Slow Cloth practitioners use sewing machines and other tools. 
 
So what, exactly, is Slow Cloth? In early 2008, I identified ten principles or qualities of Slow Cloth that I think can apply to any textile-related process. 
 
1. Slow Cloth has the possibility of joy in the process. I often hear people say that they think they "should" learn to knit or sew, because they think they will save money (right) or that it's somehow virtuous. That's nonsense. Everybody should know how to sew on a button or mend a seam, but when it comes to doing more, if you don't love the process, there isn't much point. In other words, it's the journey, not the destination. If efficiency and sameness are the primary goals, it's not Slow Cloth.
 
2. Slow Cloth can be contemplative. Not every moment of making is a serene mystical precious experience. But the totality of your work opens space for you. Like the old saw, you may not be able to define it but you know it when you see it or feel it.
 
3. Slow Cloth honors skill and has the possibility of mastery. Rather than choosing easy or instant-gratification methods, you're aiming for an ever-expanding level of fluency and grace in the techniques you work with.
 
4. The Slow Cloth approach acknowledges the rich diversity and multicultural history of textiles. Textiles are an expression of culture and we live in a fantastically big and small world. Slow Cloth celebrates that diversity rather than eliminating it.
 
5. Similarly, the Slow Cloth approach honors its teachers and lineage. Most of us began to learn our skills with cloth from an ancestor or friend, and there are many generations before us who used their inventiveness and creativity to expand possibilities in the world of cloth. Thank them, and pay it forward.
 
6. Slow Cloth encourages thoughtful, respectful, and sustainable use of materials and resources. Ever been to one of those wholesome organic dinners where the host went through every dish and named the farmers? Similarly, take a moment to remember that it takes a lot of people to make your fabric or yarn or dye. For me, Slow Cloth doesn’t have to be only natural materials -- some of my favorite artists, like Mary Ruth Smith, work with some synthetics -- but be mindful of your footprint and choose well and appropriately. Make what you do sustainable in the sense that it gives more than it takes, and allows future generations the same gifts and opportunities to create that we have today.
 
7. The Slow Cloth approach celebrates quality. We want to make things that last and are well-made.
 
8. The Slow Cloth approach appreciates beauty. Beauty is a whole complicated subject all its own. I think that we all have a need for beauty that has driven the urge to make and decorate textiles for tens of thousands of years. 
 
9. Slow Cloth supports community. A Slow Cloth company respects all of its labor force; individual art and artists acknowledge their relationship to other textile artists. I think part of this is being willing to share knowledge, preserve knowledge about traditional techniques, and teach others.
 
10. Finally, the Slow Cloth approach embraces textiles that are expressive of individuals or cultures. Remember the old saying in art circles, "Anonymous was a woman"? Well, you could also say anonymous was a quilter or a batik artist in Indonesia. Throughout history, textiles and crafts have been mostly unsigned. Today we can do it differently. Either way, the human creative force is reflected and evident in the work.
 
Together with two remarkable artists who epitomize the Slow Cloth approach, hand-stitching artist Jude Hill (spiritcloth.typepad.com) and shibori artist Glennis Dolce (shiborigirl.wordpress.com), I’ve started a discussion and community group on Facebook  for Slow Cloth. Please join us there if you like at (www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=269539431110). And please visit my blog (lainie.typepad.com) for more posts on textile art, craft, and culture; look for the Slow Cloth category for posts directly relating to this idea. 
 
Elaine Lipson is a writer, editor, and artist, and the author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (Contemporary Books, 2001), The International Market for Green and Sustainable Apparel (Packaged Facts, 2008), and the Red Thread Studio blog at http://lainie.typepad.com

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