In this month’s newsletter you’ll find:
Pebble Pillow at Gather Textiles
Sewing envelope-style pillows
Seasonally appropriate craft: brooms
In September, I attended a virtual discussion between artist Bridget Harvey and Nehal El-Hadi, the editor of Studio Magazine1. Organized by DesignTO and moderated by Deborah Wang, their discussion centred on the materiality and ethics of repair. Not a how-to, but more of a what/where/why, their discussion touched on many facets of repair, such as what is implied through the act of repair, and how it’s been designed out of many consumer goods2.
This topic has interested me for several years, but the talk was particularly timely because I have recently been preoccupied with repair in various ways, both material and embodied. Several of the appliances in my home have been on the fritz, and while it seems that — for now — we have performed a near-magic oven repair, I’m not sure that we’ve gotten to the bottom of the washing machine’s habit of adding small rips to our clothes and textiles.
I’ve been dismayed to find bedsheets, clothing, and tea towels with small spots of damage. Most of the commercial towels I haven’t minded so much, but when one of my Dash Tea Towels emerged with a large gouge, I had to make time to mend it.
With so much of our lives now digitized, there’s a lot about my day to day that I trust to work instead of truly understanding. The rustle of the newspaper has been replaced by scrolling on my iPad; Zoom has superseded telephone calls and in-person meetings, and when these things fail, I am left out on a limb. In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett notes that “it is by fixing things that we often get to understand how they work,” so it isn’t a surprise to me that as a maker I am also keen on the unmaking. At a base level, repair offers me agency in a dematerialized world of swiping, voice cues, and clicks.
Much of today’s world is focused on convenience and speed, and repair breaks this surface-level engagement by making you look, feel, and tinker in a deep way. Instead of seeing a broken thing as an undesirable inconvenience, restoring it to use creates an opportunity to have a deep conversation about making, unmaking, and materiality that we are rarely forced to have3. Repair teaches us to look beyond our initial thoughts, feelings, or preconceptions and to take responsibility for the material things in our lives.
I feel a strong responsibility towards the objects I own (and not just the ones that I or others have made). I hang on to clothes and textiles until they become rags I use to clean the house, or I give them away to friends or take them to the thrift store. We throw out a bag of trash every week that is mostly cat litter, and only half full at that, because we try our best to repair, reuse and recycle everything else. It sometimes hinders me, but most often I try to approach it as a facet of creative problem solving — what else can this ______ be used for? 4
This time last year, I had a rug in an exhibition at Craft Ontario called Mass Wasting, which responded to “the current era of rapid and accelerating change to the landscape … [exploring] the impact(s) of environmental destabilization through the lens of craft practice.”5 The rug itself isn’t anything visually innovative, but it wasn’t about how it looked — it was more about what it was made of. I bought nothing new for this piece, using only materials I could find pre-loved at the thrift store: a cone of cotton yarn for the warp, and weft from old bedsheets. I wanted to put some of the principles of the circular economy into practice, taking something at the end of one lifecycle and giving it a new one.
Obviously, this rug is not a repair — it’s a new thing, made from old things. Perhaps I’m reaching to make the connection to repair, but the third thing I hoped this piece would do is encourage a greater conversation about our things and what can and should happen to them once we’re finished with them — or what ‘broken’ might really mean. By giving new life to ‘old’ material, I hoped my rug would nudge the viewer towards a reconsideration of the materials I used and giving them pause the next time something in their own life wears out or breaks. A fork in the road: repair or reuse instead of a straightaway to dispose or throw away.6
Conversations about repair seem to be popping up all over the place these days, and I’m sure that the pandemic and a new awareness of the broken parts of our society have something to do with it. Right at the beginning of his book, Fewer, Better, Things, Glenn Adamson writes that “it’s when we don’t engage with our material environment in a focused manner that we truly lose our way. As a culture we are in danger of falling out of touch, not only with objects, but the intelligence they embody: the empathy that is bound up in tangible things.”
The oven is fixed and so is my tea towel; it’s back in the cupboard, ready to be pulled out and used. The repair is maybe not beautiful, but it’s functional, and I expect to continue this cycle of use and repair for as long as I can. For now, if you’d like to think more about repair and mending, here are some artists and articles to read and look at.
An interview with Celia Pym, an artist and health care worker I have long admired.
Another artist/mender I have long enjoyed is Tom of Holland — read here for a conversation with Tom at TOAST.
Artist Lizzie Kimbley has graciously allowed me to use an image from her work No Away, “an ongoing series of work repurposing textile waste from a local clothing designer-maker. No Away explores the idea of throwing things away and where that ‘away’ is, a kind of nowhere place, unseen and forgotten.”
I can’t recommend Glenn Adamson’s Fewer, Better Things enough. Required reading.
I read Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman ages ago — it probably needs a re-read!
An interesting news story I have been following about the right to repair: “Farmers seeking 'right to repair' rules to fix their own tractors gain White House ally.”
Mid September also saw the release of a new weaving pattern, the Pebble Pillow. This project, available on the Gather Textiles website, is a four shaft weaving pattern that creates a textured surface reminiscent of bobbles, or a pebbled beach.
The idea for this project rattled around in my head for months before I finally settled on my materials. I tried all sorts of different combinations of warp and weft, thinking of the striations in rocks and adding and subtracting colour and texture. Below are my samples — I often use weird colour combinations to sample with, but they’re sketches, so I’m not fussy about them being beautiful.
The final pillow has a texture I’m very pleased with. The material experience is one of the things that draws me to weaving — in the past, this interest has lead me to papermaking, bookbinding, and darkroom photography too, and this structure (a very simple one!) provides me with a lot of visual and tactile interest. I have struggled in the past to make pillows (see next section), but I think I have resolved my mental block. My partner loves the texture, the cat seems to have grudgingly appreciated it at least once, and I am looking forward to when I can make some more in another colour. The Pebble Pillow is available as a PDF or as a kit — click the button below is for the PDF, but make sure you look at the whole Campfire Collection too.
How To Sew an Envelope Pillow
With perfect timing, my Gist article this month is on sewing an envelope-style pillow. So if you’d like to make the Pebble Pillow but have no pillow-sewing experience, lucky you! A ready made tutorial. You can also read September’s post on weaving structures here.
Prairie Breeze Folk Art Studio Brooms
Did you know the term for a broom maker is ‘broomsquire’?? Exactly the sort of weird fact I love.
Amina Haswell makes brooms in Manitoba as Prairie Breeze Folk Art Studio. I found her brooms through Fabrique 1840, when I was looking at my friend Dani Ortman’s scarves. The picture above is the Wing Whisk, and I am currently trying to justify purchasing one for myself (but might settle on getting some as gifts, so don’t get any ideas you-know-who-you-are). Like many people who make things, I love tools… And I especially love tools that are not made out of plastic, so broomcorn is right up my alley. Amina’s brooms, brushes, whisks and scrubbers are lovely and I thought you might think so too.
This newsletter has become overly long, as usual. I’ve been having a lot of tendinitis trouble for the past few weeks, and I think I have channeled all of my resting-is-so-boring energy into writing things down. You should see my discarded ideas list… It’s long!
I’m always available by email if you have any questions about any of my work. I don’t think I’ll be opening my online shop this year because of the tendinitis, but I do have some things to send to Black and Smith in Jerseyville, ON, so please take a look there if you’re looking for any ready work.
In Conversation: Nehal El-Hadi and Bridget Harvey
As an example of what they touched on: European readers may be more familiar with the Fairphone (which I desperately wish would come to North America), a completely repairable and modular system of smartphone.
Craft, of course, does this too, because spending hours making a tea towel when I can buy one at Ikea for a few dollars is another way to increase engagement, whether through making or use.
My partner is participating in the great nuts and bolts collecting tradition of our fathers and grandfathers, by reusing all the old peanut butter jars to house them. He eats A LOT of peanut butter.
There is no away — our trash always ends up in someone’s home. This news story highlights the fact that nobody wants our trash and that we desperately need to make less of it: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/canadian-garbage-from-philippines-departure-1.5156007