Saturday, November 26, 2011

altered items.

The comment under my previous post stems from a reply I left here, on a blog post about altering an Uzbek suzani.
We are very used to repurposing older items in our craft work these days - its a good recycling habit to get into and results in some wonderful work.
A suzani is an embroidered piece of cloth used as a prayer mat. These are/were hand embroidered by the women of the household for their menfolk, usually by candle light, and over many, many months, and are incredible works of art in their own right. They can be made up of several pieces of cloth as each woman took a bit and helped with the labour. Many of those turning up on Ebay are from the 60s and 70s and are not of the best quality, unlike those you would find in the Washington Textile Museum, however they are a record of a way of life that is fast vanishing, and are being sold by dealers who see a dollar in them.
Because of their age, the fabric is often faded and some of the embroidery may be torn. Its a bit like the old family bible with its dog-eared pages where our grandparents recorded the family history. Even if we no longer go to church, it has a place in our own family's history, and small folk museums around the western world treasure these items precisly because of this.
How would we feel if someone took that bible and gesso'd over the pages to make an altered book? It becomes a bit of our own heritage that cannot be replaced.
Its the same with the suzanis, and other items coming from what were once Iron Curtain countries. These are not the belongings of princes or presidents, but of nomadic and tribal people who still cling to old fashioned and traditional ways. The younger generations and those who live in the cities have, for the main part, abandoned those ways, and now trade their family heritage often for basic necessities like food and clothing, but sometimes for i-Pods, i-Phones and i-Pads and other western goodies that we have already thrown away because they are not the latest version.
I'm not saying we should never destroy these beautiful fragments of fabric. Its not my place, and I will not impose my values on anyone else, but I do ask that before dyeing, colouring, taking the scissors to, or otherwise altering these items, that we think about their other value, the piece of history we are about to delete, and consider whether using it as a template for what we want to do would be a better option. The imperfections we see in them are part of their value; the fading of the cloth, the stitching that is precariously still holding together, the wear and tear of ordinary life.
We also work with our hands to create things of beauty, using archival materials so they could in theory be preserved for posterity, even though we are quite likely to gesso over that work down the track. But once we have altered a piece of vintage hand embroidered fabric, it will never be the same again, and is just another piece of someone's heritage and craft work that will have gone forever.


Cyndi L said...

I am so glad that you shared your perspective with my readers, Caroline, and I have added a note to the original post pointing to your comments!

Vicki said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this, caroline. I should have been clearer about the books I alter on the blog, mostly they are cast off children's books that are of no use to anyone, from the opp shop. As a bobbin lacemaker and a crocheter, I treasure each old piece I find.

SpinningDownUnder said...

Its an area fraught with questions on just how far do you go! Sometimes the older the book, the worse it is, though I think I could happily destroy Mills and Boon and Readers Digest - after checking if there was anything worth salvaging, of course!
I have a couple of books I purchased to use as journals, purely on the basis of how sound the covers are. One is a delightful child's history book from the early 60's, politically incorrect, but filled with the most gorgeous illustrations on nearly every page. So that has been set aside. My other candidate is full of vintage coloured pictures and sentimental poetry. Its ghastly in my eyes, but will probably find its way onto Ebay where someone will find it and treasure it because its perfect for papercrafts and mixed media!
And yes, I also horde vintage handmade lace, when I come across it, though its getting harder these days, and I seem to have an inbuilt GPS where ethnic fabrics are concerned - I can spot a handmade bag or fabric at a 100 paces!
I agree that there are things, like a hand-embroidered suzani, that are worth preserving as they are if possible, and other things that can live anew when repurposed. I have two ethnic bags, one of which was originally a persian rug, and another that started life out as a velvet suzani, and that is the only way these fabrics would have survived. They were too far gone to be mended or appliqued onto another piece of cloth. I'm sure its the only way I will ever be able to afford a Central Asian hand woven rug!

Judy Coates Perez said...

Hi Caroline, Your comment made me realize part of my post was deleted while I was writing it that mentioned that my ebook can be read on any kind of e reader. It was not formatted by apple, it was created by the self publishing company Blurb.

Vinayak Deshmukh said...

I agree with you totally. A piece of history destroyed is gone forever. I love your blog, you write so well. Thank you for sharing you thoughts and your passion for spinning.
Best wishes,

Boud said...

I like very much your take on what is okay to use and what needs to be respected in its original form and not taken apart and vandalized! particularly since stitching is often women's work, and needs all of us to insist on respect for the art of it.

And then I read your previous post and thought This Woman is Trouble! not only is she saying good stuff about old stitching, but she's making cake, too.....

So I figure the best way to handle temptation is to give in right away, and now I'm a follower!

SpinningDownUnder said...

Boud, a very wise woman told me that when you are faced with anything wicked and sinful, like choccie cake, you share it with a friend, and all the calories drop out when you cut it!
This applies to virtual friends too!
So bake and share the goodness!