Sunday, December 09, 2012

Stitches past time

As part of my colleague and friend O's "100% Fashion" weekend at the Textile Arts Center, I got to spend part of this afternoon with a bunch of fashion studies students and alums. We sat around a big table tearing, cutting, stitching and embroidering cloth. A few of us talked about the weekend's topic, Fashion and Social Justice, too, and the subject for today's session, "Commemorative Crafts," but often we sat in a intent silence. I was there in part to talk about the sewing rituals which Jeff Wilson found have attached themselves to "water baby" (mizuko) liturgies in American convert Zen centers... This was the closest I've come to feeling the quiet energy and gentle solidarity of such circles.

I made something, too! The prompt was to bring a piece of clothing "made by an unknown" - from a big chain store that probably uses sweatshops - to work on. Mine was from uniqlo; also represented were Old Navy and, clear favorite among the fashion folk, H&M, though most had disavowing stories: "My mother bought it..." "I was new to New York and wasn't prepared for how cold the air conditioners here are..." The question was how we might honor and recognize the unknown's work.
On our minds were the hundreds of people who've died in South Asian sweatshop fires recently, as well as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which happened a few blocks from where we were. The fashion folks did subtle things like resewing labels. A novice, I just took an idea of O's and ran: he had recalled that firefighters' uniforms include a kind of handle on the back, so they can be pulled to safety if they are injured or asphixiate. Some clippings from my neighbors found their way in too.

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