Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dahhling, You Must Press It Bee-yoo-ti-fully!!

I thought I might write once in awhile about the people who have influenced me most over the years - the people whose voices still guide me.
Tops on the list, and the person whose voice I hear everytime I take out my iron is my high school sewing teacher, Ella-Marie Pucher. She was Austrian, and had actually studied at the Bauhaus in her own schoolgirl days. Very creative, she experimented with all kinds of textile techniques and passed them on to her students. This was back in the 1970's - we did batik, shibori, nature dyeing, spinning and weaving in her Applied Design class.
She had also been a dressmaker to the stars - Orson Welles' wife was one of her clients. She didn't tolerate any nonsense when it came to sewing - every step of the process of creating a tailored suit had to be done "bee-yoo-ti-fully." But she was wonderfully kind and encouraging, called everyone "dahhling" and was one of the most popular and memorable teachers in the school.
I had the opportunity to visit with her several years ago, when the above picture was taken. My mom tells me that Mrs. Pucher is still going strong, and it's one of my little dreams that she will show up at a Swap-o-rama-rama, and see what her influence has led me to do. I like to think that she would be pleased, maybe even say "Dahhling, this is faah-bu-lous!"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Stains on the Carpet

While I was in San Francisco, I went to Needles and Pens, a great little shop n the Mission district. Mostly art, zines and wearables, but they also had a tiny shelf of books on punk rock. I picked up Please Kill Me, opened it up, and was immediately transported back to 1977. How had I missed this book before? I felt like this was the story of my life - except my life wasn't quite as dramatic as what's in this book! I was just a fan, in my leopard skin jacket and Fetish t-shirt, but I loved Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, the New York Dolls and later the Ramones. They're all here.
I read the whole book on the train from San Francisco. It's great because it's just quotes from everybody who was in on the scene. There's no pompous editorial voice trying to make sense of it all. But it also made me sad, especially towards the end, when everybody seems to be dying. There was just so much stupidity.
But Legs McNeil gives the absolute best description of punk I've ever heard. And I see so many parallels with the D.I.Y. culture today. Punk is a spirit that lives on, even if so many of the originators are gone.
"This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form - it was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make up life for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you had in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful and stupid in your life to your advantage."
*And I'll give a prize to anyone who can figure out the musical reference in this post's title.*

Vancouver Spring Swap-o-rama-rama

I got back from my trip to San Francisco to find that the computer had decided to realign itself to some alternate universe. So it's been a bit of a struggle, but here's a few images from the April 15 event. Thanks to Jeff Keller and Ian Gregson for the photos, and Gaby Ramirez for the beautiful shimmery makeup and hair on the fashion show models. I'll write more later if I can come to an understanding with the computer.

Dress: Tagalong Sally

Purple dress: Tagalong Sally, Jumper: Damsel Funk

Damsel Funk

Dahlia Drive

Dahlia Drive

Gretchen Elsner

Yuriko at Blim's silkscreening station.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


The Vancouver Spring Swap-o-rama-rama happened today, and it was just so awesome!! I'm very happy, but also have 1 hour to pack my stuff and pour myself onto a train to San Francisco. So I will post more later, but in the meantime I want to thank all our amazing volunteers, our designers Dahlia Drive, Tag Along Sally, Gretchen Elsner, Niki Westman and Damsel Funk, and especially Cari Morris for putting together the most brilliant fashion show/performance. As well Yuriko from Blim was absolutely terrific (she had long line-ups for screenprints) and our DJ's Xynthetic were great, great, great! (I'm going to run out of superlatives.) Conrad was rock solid as always and April was absolutely tremendous - one step ahead of me all the way.
Thank you all!!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tick Tock Tick Tock

I have been thinking about time. As always, I don’t have enough of it. Either ironically or serendipitiously depending on your point of view, it was while I was taking apart an old kimono that time as a subject entered my consciousness. I was admiring the handstitching that I was pulling out, and marveling at the skill and patience of the original seamstress. In Japan, they take the kimonos apart for washing. It’s hard to imagine a Western sewer constructing a garment, knowing that it would be taken apart, by machine, let alone by hand.

And I thought about how our culture basically doesn’t allow for this slow and careful making of things. There just isn’t time, and our time is worth too much. Most of us can only afford to buy things that come from countries where time isn’t as valuable, where people earn pennies a day. As a fibre artist, I have regularly made things from absolute scratch – buying a fleece from a farmer, washing, spinning and dyeing it, and knitting or weaving it into cloth. People’s minds boggle – often their first comment on seeing something I’ve made is “How long did that take you?” It simply is impossible to charge enough for what I make – usually it is a gift.

So I think about the world I live in and what it would take for me, (and the many other crafters and artists I know who struggle to be able to support themselves from their work, and who often have to take other jobs which lessen the amount of time they have to do really important stuff) to be able to live from what I create. I think I would have to move to a 3rd world country.

Now, one of the threats that we face in the west, as a direct result of our valuable time and scurrying busy lives, is that if we slow down and do what is needed to save the planet from dying, our standard of living may drop to that of, perhaps, a third world country!! Heck, I don’t have to move at all.

In fact, by voluntary simplicity and by living a lifestyle that is lighter on the planet, I may actually become richer in that commodity that I crave so much – time. Without a car, I can knit while I ride the bus. By having Spud deliver my groceries, I can spin some yarn. By making my own clothes, I satisfy my creativity and reduce my reliance on cheap imported goods.

And this leads me to think about something else. The Industrial Revolution began in the textile industry - the spinning jenny, power looms, the water frame and the flying shuttle moved textile creation from the home to the factory. There are many economic and technologically-based reasons why this is so, but I think one of the most powerful, which is still true today, is the simple basic truth that we need to clothe ourselves. As I have said before, we relate to textiles on a daily basis, in the most intimate way. If something so fundamental to our existence could lead the Industrial Revolution, why not a revolution of a different nature? One of simplicity, of creativity, of respect for ourselves and the planet.

The time is now!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Ecological Footprint of a T-Shirt

(These photos are from a documentary "China Blue", about working conditions in a Chinese garment factory.)
Something to think about the next time you go to the mall…
From the time a garment is manufactured in (most likely) a third world country, to its purchase and brief use by a fashionable North American, to its discard and possible recycling at a thrift shop or export by a rag merchant back to the third world, the life cycle of a piece of clothing is influenced by politics, economics, and social pressures.
Take for instance, a t-shirt purchased by a 14-year-old girl at American Eagle. The global corporation’s designers have followed the advice of their “cool hunter” and turned (for example) North American urban ghetto street art into a sanitized, innocuous image that will be screen printed onto cheap cotton fabric in a factory in Sri Lanka. The fabric is cut and sewn into shirts by women and children working long hours in terrible conditions. But they work for cheap, which means that the profit margin is greater for American Eagle.
The shirts are packed and shipped in huge containers by sea, to arrive in a port such as Vancouver. The huge growth in the number of containers means that our local highways are congested with trucks, requiring new highways to be built at taxpayer’s expense. The shirts arrive at their destinations all over North America, are unpacked and sold to trend conscious suburban teens, who wear them for a few months until the urban ghetto look is declared “dead” (possibly by the same cool hunter who declared it hot in the first place).
The shirt then faces several possible fates. It may be simply thrown in the garbage. (In the GVRD, approximately 40 lbs of textile waste per person ends up in landfill annually.) It may be donated to Big Brothers or the Diabetes Foundation, who sell the collected goods to for-profit stores like Value Village. Or it may be donated directly to charities that re-sell the goods to fund programs, like the Sally Ann or the SPCA.
But what if the shirt is not sold? It will probably be baled and trucked to a used clothing warehouse on the east coast, where it will be bought by rag merchants either for use as rags in the automotive or cleaning industries, or to be shipped back to the third world, and sold once again to low income people in public markets. It is entirely possible that the person who sewed the shirt could end up wearing it themselves, a few seasons later, especially if they have lost their job because American Eagle relocated its factory to another country where labour is even cheaper.

(In this photo, the girls are using clothespins to keep their eyes open during long shifts at the factory.)
Contrast this to the practise in many parts of the world until recently, or even in North America prior to the 20th century. Cloth would likely be woven by hand, possibly from locally spun yarn. It might be dyed with locally grown plant materials. It would be sewn into simple garments that utilized every scrap of the precious cloth. These garments might be worn for person’s whole adult life if for intended for special occasions, but most often were worn daily, alternating with one or two other outfits, until too shabby. But the cloth would be mended, turned into patchwork quilts, diapers or cleaning cloths, used until it quite literally fell apart. As it was a natural fibre, it could be composted or burned.
Do we really need so many clothes? Maybe we could rely on own own skills to mend or re-fashion something we already have. Maybe we could consciously purchase only clothes that are made locally, or are organic cotton or bamboo. How about arranging a clothing swap with your neighbours? There are lots of easy, fun ways to dress in a more sustainable way.
And for more on jeans, have a look here: Sew Green

Monday, April 02, 2007

Living in Line With My Ideals

I just received the new KnitKnit today. There's an article by one of my favourite artists, Lisa Anne Auerbach, and amongst the many brilliant things she has to say is this line: "Living in line with one's ideals is a wild and cool program."
It was just what I needed to set me straight. A half hour before, I had been wrestling with the request from the people in San Francisco to come out a day early, in time for a meeting - a meeting I would have really liked to attend. But it would mean dropping my plans to take the train (thus reducing my carbon emissions) and instead getting on a plane, which according to popular wisdon will make me responsible for three people dying from respiratory illnesses directly caused by air pollution. (As my mother said pithily: "Too bad you can't choose which ones.")
And it wasn't just the plane thing that was causing me angst. To make the meeting I would have to leave immediately after the Vancouver Swap closes its doors. I was counting on the long train trip to give me some much needed decompression time. As I found myself devouring a chocolate bar (organic, fair trade, of course) at 10 in the morning I recognised the unmistakeable signs of stress. I paced around, wondering who I could call for some advice, and eventually realised this was ones of those times when I would just have to say "No."
I'm one of those people who has a hard time with the "n*" word. Why shouldn't I be able to do everything I'm asked? I just have to be more efficient, less lazy, stop wasting time reading people's blogs, etc. etc. etc. I can always think of lots of reasons why I should be able to handle everything on my plate and feel guilty coming up with reasons why I should back off. But if I was talking with a friend in the same situation, I would say, "You're working too hard - you'll burn out if you keep this up."
So thanks Lisa! Your words of wisdom restored balance to my world. I emailed the people in San Francisco and said, sorry, but I'll have to stick to my original schedule.