The Quick and the Slow

Sharon B over at In a Minute Ago started a fantastic discussion about Slow Cloth.

I find this whole discussion fascinating. I’m currently working on learning silk embroidery – a process which began in 2001 with raising silkworms, learning about cocoons, learning to reel silk, learning to throw, degum, and dye it, figuring out what kind of floss I want for the effect I’m aiming for – I’m definitely slow.

For me, the process of creating things by hand involves pouring a certain kind of mental energy into the process. Like the Velveteen Rabbit becoming “real,” my projects accumulate more and more of this stuff as I work with them – and I think it really shows in the finished work. There may be nothing that a machine could measure, but experienced human hands and eyes can spot it. My silk yarns have spots where I’ve had to patch the filament and I bite the thread off with my teeth (handier than scissors, ya know!) and every bit of this work ends up with bits of me (and my cats and dogs, I’m sure) worked into it. For me, a slow, involved project becomes more “quick,” in the sense of being alive and meaningful, than something I can whip together quickly. I’ve gotten to the point where my hand-made silk threads are nearly indistinguishable in finished work from machined threads – but I know.

As I have gotten faster with my weaving and many other crafts, the process becomes more efficient, with less lag – but I’m still making all the same important, soulful choices about how to handle a stroke of color, what curve to put on a lizard’s tail, whether this stitch went in just right.

I’ve learned to use computers in parts of my design process, which I was concerned at first would get in the way of my creative energy going from brain to paper. The more I work with it, the more I’ve found that it just allows me to use certain shorthand moves – things like cut-and-paste to build letters into words, rather than sitting and hand-coloring grids in a graph.

0 replies
  1. misalady
    misalady says:

    I completely agree that computers can be a useful tool. I hope you didn’t think that I don’t! I have a graphics tablet and find that it helps me out in SO many ways. I like to think of “slow” not in time, but in philosophy. I may be slow, but that’s only because I’m doing it myself!

    And I, too, find that as time goes by, I get faster and faster at certain things.

  2. paroxytone
    paroxytone says:

    Personally, I think that our ancestors would’ve made full use of technology hade it been available to them. Afterall, isn’t that why things like spining wheels and machine looms were invented?

    I’ve noticed that as I try hand sewing, my stitches have gotten more even, straighter, and overall better. A recent outfit I had made for halloween was entirely hand sewn. It actually was far easier to put together because I didn’t have to mess with jiggering the cloth under the machine foot. I actually found sewing by hand was faster. So, I’ve been determined to sew items like costumes by hand to improve my sewing skill set.

    Here’s an example of a linen kataginu I sewed by hand. Yes, the stitches are intended to be that big, as the garment is based off of garments worn in 16th century Japan, and extant garments usually have big stitches to help facilitate washing (traditionally, Japanese garments get unstitched entirely to be washed, and were worn looser than they are today).

    Linen kataginu

  3. admin
    admin says:

    Oh, I’m totally on board with the computer – it’s just a quicker pencil. Once I learned how to use (and not abuse) the computer programs, they really help me get my idea clear.

  4. dark_phoenix54
    dark_phoenix54 says:

    I feel that something like a computer or a sewing machine is just a tool, not really different from a needle or a pencil or a pair of scissors (albeit harder to loose in the sofa). The choice of tool doesn’t take away from the creative process or the amount of yourself you put into the finished piece.

    I totally understand what Sharon is saying about the 15 minute piece of crap gifts that no one wants to receive- it’s making something fast for the sake of saying “I made this for you! You must now cherise it!” I cringe when I see those magazines, too. But it’s not the speed with which the gift is made, it’s the thoughtlessness.

    Thank you for reminding me of Sharon’s blog. I’ve been on lists with her for years, but keep forgetting about her blog. I wish I could get it on a RSS feed or something!

  5. paroxytone
    paroxytone says:

    Yep, the process was to unstitch everything (which is why Japanese clothes pretty much use only running stitches), pull out the threads, arrange the pieces back into the form of the bolt of cloth used to make the clothing, and sew the pieces together with basting stitches (enough to hold them together).

    Then the reconstructed bolt is washed, typically in a cold running stream. After washing, the silk gets stretched onto a flat board to dry, and once dried, they’re sewn back into the kimono. The Japanese have come up with lots of spot cleaning methods because of how much work it is to wash kimono. But that process isn’t done much anymore since modern methods make it easier to clean them.

    The Japanese also used to use cloth until it absolutely wore out, even recycling the cloth into a sort of yarn for rag woven sakiori hanhaba obi, which are very informal:

    http://www.ichiroya.com/item/list2/131574/

    There also was a style that became popular, probably derived from a peasant necessity where pieces of different silk cloth would be cut and pieced into a kosode (the forerunner of kimono). You would take pieces from old, worn out kosode that were in decent condition, sew them together, and create a new kosode. The look caught on with nobility, so you ended up with things like this:

    I remember my friend’s grandmother telling her once “If you stain this Kimono, I will kill you” (well, in not so many words, but basically that was the gist), because of how expensive, precious, and hard to clean kimono are.

    This is one reason why polyester kimono are popular these days, they’re far easier to clean, and I think they can be put into a washer, or at least it isn’t necessary to take them apart to wash. I think silk kimono these days get dry cleaned.

    For the pieces I’ve made, I’ve simply thrown it in the wash on gentle, although it can be a pain to get the sleeves back to normal especially if they bunch up or the fabric twists. You wouldn’t normally press the seams, but I don’t do razor sharp presses anyway.

  6. dark_phoenix54
    dark_phoenix54 says:

    Thank you! I’ve added that.

    Yes, I don’t know quite how to feel about those machines. My SIL has one of those and like you say, it’s just pick a file, thread it and go. I think I’d tend to file that under ‘decorative’ rather than ‘creative’. Now, if a person is using it to create collages or mixed media pieces, or just making motifs to add to something, I feel a little different about it. Is using a machine made motif very different from using machine made lace on a crazy quilt or art quilt? For that matter, what if the motif or lace is hand made, but by someone else? It’s a slippery slope all right!

  7. paroxytone
    paroxytone says:

    You’re welcome. I’ve actually thought of trying that patchwork process, but i’d end up getting annoyed. What I actually want to do is simpler, construct it out of smaller blocks of fabric to create a garment and all with straight seams.

  8. elmsley_rose
    elmsley_rose says:

    The only way to go (only you go there more than me, with the worm spitting)

    I used to be a software engineer but the only design I’ll do on a compter is enlarge/decrease the size of a complicated design that when it’s easier bu hand. Anything else just doesn’t seem right – but that’s IMHO. I’ve had enough of computers to last me a lifetime! (she types on the computer)

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