03 April 2006

Stash and Flash: What Matters Most?

I sat down to eat some late lunch, knit a little bit to prepare for my contribution to the knit-a-blog, and look at some stash flashing. Stopped first at the knittyboards and found myself reading conversations and viewpoint statements ABOUT yarn accumulation, stash justification, consumption and creativity. Makes a person think, that collection of ideas and viewpoints.

What matters for me? Where did I start?
Where do I start? Where do I stop?

My family starts the saving of materials. The family members that sew or have sewn, knit or have not, covered the two key missions for textile arts & crafts. They created the useful and they instilled beauty. They've purchased materials that have been used in due time. They've saved scraps.

We wore clothes, we girls, passed down from one to the next, made by Grandma. One little dress worn by 2 of us was fabric purchased to be pajamas for an uncle. I forget the rest of the story, whether they were outgrown before he could wear them or if there was just that much leftover. Sale kitchen curtain fabric let my aunt enjoy quirky clothing choices in her 1960's youth. Those stories inspired me to find my own pride in a three dollar blouse, made without a pattern to match the ones in the stores. Two of the dollars were for the buttons, I think. Maybe it was the other way around. While there was thrift, there was also a sense of the value of quality goods. I have a few lengths of fabrics my mother purchased long ago from Amluxens and from Marshall Fields tucked into one of my trunks of fabrics. My mother has the rest of her own purchases - these took coaxing. (Now that she's retired, she's sewing again, so there are no plans to divest anytime soon.)

Scraps were saved. Yes, rural frugality, depression-era tendencies played in. But scraps have been used. My mother made an ensemble from a Fields remnant that has an Escher-like metaphor about it: there was a jumper (think pinafore) for a wee me, from the scraps a smaller one for a baby doll, and from those scraps a smaller one yet for a Skipper doll. I do have many of my grandmother's scraps. Everyone wore out the corduroy throw pillows she pieced for them years ago. I may be remaking the pattern for my mother in a different colorway when she recovers her couch.

So I save. I stash. They're a start. I save family history. I share family history. I made clothing I wore. I knit things I wear.

Of course, things do accumulate. I admit to having an irregular productivity rate. If given a vacation, I've cranked out a tailored shirt in a day. I've tackled a sweater in a few weeks. In heavily work focused stretch, dust collects on that which is not put away carefully. It's been important to me, ever since an unfortunate apartment and a carpet beetle infestation, to try to store materials carefully. (And after the Great Tissue Pattern Shredding Cat Incident, I have continued to improve!)

Creatively, they are also, as elizabeth put it, a paints box. This serves both vocation and avocation. I'm not a professional knitter or quilter, but I do work with costume and I collaborate with other artists from time to time. And a paints box is good even for thinking outside the box. When I spent some years on the road, I'd go to the local libraries for quilt books and art books just for the visual creative stimulation.

Creatively, it makes sense that there's as much variety in the styles of stash as there is in the mode of storage and the aesthetic of the surroundings.

Creativity works differently, after all. Witness the stories one has read about the work habits of different painters or writers. Monet - painting out of town - had multiple paintings going on at different locations and at different times of the day. (I think I learned this some time ago at an exhibit in Toronto - Monet, Whister, and Turner - so please pardon any memory-fuzzed inaccuracies.) Surely art history affords contrasting stories of single-minded focus, as well. (And even repeated studies of a subject, if a metaphor is needed for the knitter who simply enjoys re-working a single pattern.)

I enjoyed documenting some stash flash. I do have to keep some of it packed away, so it was good to be reminded of something forgotten. I enjoyed the limited exploration of seeing with the camera, framing a shot, remembering and forgetting about light. I don't mind not having used all of it when I bought it - a lot of it wouldn't fit now, if it had been made!

It's interesting to have had a comment from someone who felt better about her stash, having seen mine. I thought the VERY same thing, I know.

Do I have excess? Given that I've not taken the vows of poverty, I'd say I do. I indulge in yarns and fabric and books. I keep a sense of proportion. Only bought two pieces of fabric for myself in the last two years, since I've plenty at home I want to sew anyway. Besides, I'm a grown woman of mumble years. I have plenty of economies. Let me go heat up my lunch, now that it's supper time, from the casserole I made yesterday. Thriftier than frozen dinners. And I know I could sing the "I don't spend this, though" song for ages. It starts with "I own no computer," moves through something about mending underwear elastic, mutters something about having two remaining bottles of October-themed beer left from the 10/05 six-pack purchase, and mercifully fades away before we get to the dried-bean chorus.

Imelda was criticized for her shoe consumption, but her position was the part of the point, if I remember the press. I remember (from my youth) one woman who came into the fabric store where I worked. "She doesn't really make anything," was the whisper. She bought the most beautiful fabrics, the designer patterns, selected all the necessary notions. The full-time clerks shared the secret with us high schoolers. "What I wouldn't give to see HER sewing room" was the closer, "or go to her estate auction" the alternative.

It doesn't change my day much if someone enjoys collecting handpainted yarn or catching the best sale deal on ebay at the same rate they knit. It's certainly interesting to see varying the views which reflect recreation, status, fascination, or frustration. I'll try not project someone else's outlook onto my own habits. Much, much more interesting is what the stashes and the flashes expose about me TO me.

I really like beautiful materials.
I really like old leftover crap with stories.
I really, really like making things. I like knitting. I like sewing.
I like the knitting and sewing that others do.
And after years of dwindling journal keeping and letter-writing, I'm enjoying this wave of blog-journalling. I may be able to actually write letters again.
Documenting what I have and what I've done eggs me on toward the next project. I do feel more productive - and this is more productive OUTSIDE of work, which for me is HUGE.
When I grow tired of what I do and quit my job, I'm going to be unstoppably productive! It's a different kind of stock for retirement.

Looking at others' photos and reading their stories and viewpoints is much like, as Proust said, looking with new eyes. To this little artist who doesn't often grant herself that title, that IS a part of what matters most.


Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful essay.

Mokulua said...

I love the reflections. As a seamstress and knitter I have quite a bit of stash. Each bolt of fabric and skein of yarn tells a story. A story of projects completed, of projects planned, of projects soon to be embarked upon. I love going through my yarn and fabric scraps; with each piece I recall the item I have made. Your essay made me think of how wonderful creating and item really is.