What Is Wrong With Just Looking Within For Inspiration

This is a corner of my booth when I was in Southern Highland Craft Guild. I think this was my last fair with them and it wasn’t too many years later that I turned in my membership. I was making layered papers jewelry, cards and collage. If you were to step back from my booth, it looked like I was all over the place. The jewelry and cards brought in consistent funds but the collage was where my interest truly lay. With these I could add whatever felt right to tell my story…..and I never lacked for a personal story.

And that sort of brings me to something I saw this week. Someone posted a picture of the worn and patched clothing of Bernuthsfeld Man…a discovery in 1907 of this fellow that lived somewhere between A.D. 660 and 870. Her goal is to match the fabrics as best she can and patch her own garment in the same way. I don’t know if her intention is to wear it….I am not sure what her intention is.

Of course when I saw her drawing of all the shaped pieces in place all I could think of was, “Here comes another pattern”. Remember those early folk wear patterns? Authentic clothing that we could all make if we cared to. I think reenactment costumes was where they were used the most. Much as I loved the Turkish Coat, I knew it was not only difficult to make but had limited use if one was the least bit self-conscious.

Anyway, before I get too far off the track here, let me say I succumbed to making a comment. Somehow it struck me as a bit of appropriation if her intent was to create patterns for sewing circles looking for something different. After all it might just have the appeal of the popular boro stitching craze happening now. And then there is the Kantha stitching from India that is commonly used among textile workers.

And I have used both. First the boro one. A friends sent me a boro coat that was completely patched with many worn through places. I could smell its history. If I wanted to I could hang it on the wall, which is where most of these pieces end up. But I wanted to feel it on my body like its intention was to begin with.  I reworked it in the way it was originally done. I added my own old clothes in places and made it fit my body. I love wearing it.

Here it is being modeled.

And I used the Kantha stitching in this piece yet to be finished.

On this piece I was taking scraps of cloth colored with the soils of where I live here in western North Carolina and torn up old clothes that felt lovely and worn. The running stitches reinforce the cloth as well as keep it attached to the worn shirt that is the base.

Both of these pieces are unique to me. They tell my story. The boro piece demanded that if I wanted to wear it, some serious restructuring had to be done. Keeping with its tradition, I used my own old clothes to expand it after taking the bottom of the coat, cutting it into two pieces to add front and back centers. The Kantha stitched shirt brings back so many memories through its frayed cloth patches.

So back to Bernusthfeld Man. She probably is not going to make a pattern. There probably is not going to be sewing circles all sharing cloth so they can create their own tunic-like garment. But then again maybe there will be.

Here was my immediate response:

I am not so sure of this idea. It seems like an appropriation of some sort. Old worn and patched clothing has its own history of necessity. Like boro and clothes of my childhood patched to continue its usefulness. This does seem contrived to imitate those necessary and needed stitched stories of history.

And the response to that comment made me continue…..

 I suppose that the familiarity of the garment pictured and its purpose of prolonging life and function is something a bit sacred in my life and memory. Thanks as ever for the expansion of my own awareness of how others see an intricate part of history, mine and those from long, long ago.

There was a lengthy response to my comments that ended with the thought that the author of the article on the Bernuthsfeld Man clothing might just be “looking for meaning”. And that we are all part of a big story.

My response which seems to be where the conversation ends was as follows:

I remember a mentor I had about 30 years ago who questioned a fellow student as to why she was making “fragments”. She (the mentor) said, “Why? Aren’t there enough of them already in existence?” I suppose it is only a matter of time before people will gather to follow a pattern for the Shroud of Turin. And then maybe a book titled, “Finding Your Creativity Through Other People’s Stories”. Just some further thoughts here. Please keep posting the things that I am missing out there. It makes me think and that is the best part.

And I have been thinking about it. I never took a “creativity” class. It seems like there are more influences that are prescriptive and limited to the instructor’s path as well as the influences of pre-selected materials. Keep in mind I am not talking about a technique/process class where things are meant to be limited to learning a particular process with particular materials.

I am thinking about how many of us see something. Like it. Want to make it and lose sight of the fact that it is really not our story. We are making things to look like someone else’s story because we like how it looks.

Why don’t we spend time looking at what matters to us. Then go through our collected materials and build with our own learned technical processes, a visual representation of our own story.

I suppose this looking at something so personal as cloth that covers a body and carries the imprint of that body is the same as an old photograph. So many makers of things will easily collect these old images of a captured moment in someone’s personal existence and make it into something never meant to be. I always, without fail, feel a sadness when I see these photographs used out of time and context.

I am now going to search my blog library for some textile….one that is ugly and personal but shows promise to start to tell a story that is strictly my own.

And you know what? Looking at it just now, I think it could be the third and latest layer over large paintings coming back from a gallery that is closing. A half gallon of tinted gesso might just be the place to start. And these random stitches on the back side of a desperate attempt to hold things together could not be more autobiographical.

I will come back to this later.