textiles · exploration · misadventure


On Art and Self Doubt: Archivalia

Abstract painting of pink poppies with orange, yellow, white background.

Holey cats, I’m on chapter two. About bloody time.

Chapter two is about making meaning, focusing work on a  project that is “deep, worthy, and beautiful.” I’ve been bumping around the outside of that idea since I started reading this book, trying to get a mouthful, but bouncing off, finding it too big, too impenetrable to fathom.

WTF makes meaning? I’ve read artists’ statements about their work, and honestly, talk about impenetrable. I’m not trained as an artist, not educated to articulate myself in that way. The idea of making meaning, purposefully and with direction, intimidates me.

What gives something meaning?

What gives something meaning?

What gives something meaning?


Sitting on the porch, smoking a fag, I asked myself what, in what I’m doing, this mordanting of fibers and sourcing of dye plants and cooking them up and making of fabrics that make me drool and pant with lust… what is important to me in that? What moves me?

The finding, the digging, in sun or rain. The prepping of plants and dyes and dyegoods. Learning the various intricacies and needs of fibers and dyes and mordants. This plant from this culture, that plant from that culture. This dye plant that took over from that dye plant; this process that put that one out of business.

The history. The lore. The processes. The results.

The time it takes to get there.

These are lost things; commonplace understandings are now esoteric; what was basic knowledge I now need to look up in a minor scholarly work published by the University of Tennessee Press, 25 years ago*. Natural textile lore has been smothered to fragments over the past two hundred years, since the industrial revolution and the creation of synthetic dyes and fibers. What was workaday is now art.

Each individual dye plant interests me. They seem like individuals to me, characters.

Each dyed item has its own history, lore, process, result, and time frame. Its own story. Like Teri and the bougainvillea, Sarah and the rosemary, and the importance of coffee.

I’m starting to envision a documentative component to this dye work; a record of what plant, where from, which mordant, what process for dyeing, what fiber, what finishing, what time frame.

Documenting time frame feels crucial somehow. I can make yellow whatever—fiber, yarn, fabric—in a few hours with synthetic dye. If I use a plant, I need to find it, harvest it, make dye, and dye the item. And even before that, I need to mordant and cure fibers for dyeing.

Time is what nobody has, such a precious commodity, and we all want the quick fix, the magic pill, the wild fling. But there’s a beauty and a deep, souldeep satisfaction in being able to—wanting to—needing to—lusting to—take the time to make. Dinner. A relationship. A handmade textile.

And just as importantly, documentation of why that plant is important to me feels crucial also. Like the bougainvillea. Or the eucalyptus I picked up from the sidewalk while walking home with my niece after watching Matt play bike polo. Or the moss** I plucked from my friend’s apple orchard on a beautiful and superb vacation in northern California.

I’m thinking of it, not as organization so much as acknowledgment, and it feels important. Maybe it even feels like making meaning.

*I’ve been greatly enjoying The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing, by Jim Liles.
**I originally thought this was lichen. Now I’m fairly sure it’s Spanish moss. If you know different, please let me know!
For a full list of all articles on art and self doubt, look here.

Image Credits:
Painting, Patchwork Poppies, by my college roommate, Brenda Higginson. Brenda, your work has always stunned and moved me. I’m privileged to own two of your paintings. They make me very happy.
Photograph: Of Patchwork Poppies and granny squares, by curvylou.