Weavers and fabric lovers spend countless hours admiring fabrics. We have our favorites. Sometimes we can pinpoint why a certain fabric attracts us but most of the time we have no idea why. We just feel something. Our eyes, our skin, our soul gets that strange tickle and we connect.
I used to think it was all about color and pattern before I evolved into a fiber artist myself. There’s more to it. A piece of fabric doesn’t manifest itself, there’s a human attached. When we take part in the sacred process of turning God’s provisions, our natural resources into something useful we expend our precious, non-renewable life energy.
This concept of precious life energy only dawned on me recently at the age of 29. My seemingly invincible father died of no real trauma, having accomplished so much in his short time on earth. He was like a huge weeping willow tree, with its short life of 60years. As the majestic willow, he lived just long enough to create a safe place for the slow-growing hardwoods to gain their footing. I found my firm rooting and I thank him for that.
Suddenly, I realized I was burning through my life-energy. I was working my ass off. I was giving my all and for what cause? and for who? I had gradually allowed pieces of my identity to go dormant. If it wasn’t making me successful in corporate America it got packed away. I had to wear the logo and put Melvenea in storage. I needed to become Mel and blend in.
The bright colors, the big hair, the twangy speech, the fiber arts tools, the handmade clothing, the crafting, sharing through social media, and the crafty meet-ups had to be packed away.
For years I hadn’t noticed my life energy trickling away then suddenly I felt it. I would just drink a vanilla iced coffee, watch some TV, do a little shopping, and sleep it off not even noticing the seasons changing. Thankfully, I woke up before it was all gone. With all this I know the value of human life and purpose. I have a special kind of appreciation for those who choose to spend their precious life energy creating textiles.
Most of what we celebrate as the most valuable cloth today is churned out by the hundreds of identical yards on machines. Nothing special at all. For centuries now we’ve been celebrating mass-produced, mechanically woven fabrics as the golden standard. People will shell out thousands of dollars over a lifetime buying this vanilla fabric with the right brand/logo. Value is determined by the most arbitrary criteria these days. We seldom ponder what it takes to produce a truly special cloth. We wouldn’t consume and discard cloth the way we do if we understood. Primitive, is what we call the handmade. To accept this mentality is to devalue human life and ingenuity.
As someone who has found an unreplicable bliss in creating cloth from raw material by non-technical traditional techniques, I feel the need to make a case for arguably the most humble yet valuable cloth in the world.
It is my belief that a human’s life sits at the top of the hierarchy of valuable things on earth. Now imagine if we would crown the most valuable cloth in the world on the criteria of how much precious life-energy was invested in its creation. What if each moment spent pondering, planning, choosing, prepping, processing, creating, caring, loving, and so on counted towards the value of a cloth? We could factor in the amount of time spent acquiring skill and practicing too. We could also count the time and effort that went into cultivating and harvesting the raw material.
It’s time to exalt the humble country cloth, the mapuche tejidos, the osnaburg, the khadi, the kente, the homespun cloth, or whatever title suits the region in which it was created. Every corner of the globe has its iteration of this cloth. It’s a hand cultivated fabric from field to finish. It is created from whatever material is available to the the weaver and infused with his/her aesthetic. Raffia, flax, cotton, bark, wool, alpaca, silk you name it.
The cloth may be imperfect but it has something that machines can’t give a cloth. It has soul. A person’s life-energy was interwoven in the most intimate way. Every single fiber handled countless times. Only a small fraction of civilization will ever experience or witness all that transpires in the creation of this most valuable cloth in the world.
I have had the luxury of creating and wearing such a cloth for a few years now. When I see it I feel something. I know others do too. It’s full of life, character, and energy. Even the most sleepwalking-civilized soul gets it. In fact, I think they get it the most. Not necessarily for aesthetic but for the investment of time. If theirs one thing a person entrenched in industrialized materialism understands is time and how much they don’t have for such unnecessary things. I’ve been that person. I know the bafflement. Like, why in the world would that person spend so much time creating something (especially if there’s no intent to sell it).
It is important to acknowledge the value of humble, homespun cloth whether you take the time to ponder every bump and quirk or find it in your heart to value the person(s) that gave their irreplaceable life energy to create it. Without the homespun original, none of the others could exist. It is the very foundation, the mother of all the fabrics. It is the most valuable cloth in the world.