I think this is happening in part because my fiber art pieces tend to be small (at least by comparison with, say, a quilt). It is beyond rare for me to use more than half a yard of fabric at any given time. In fact, it is almost as rare for me to use more than a fat quarter (which, for those of you who are not quilters, is a piece 18” by 22”). I use lots of pieces that are 9” by 1” or smaller. But no matter how carefully I cut, I end up with scraps. Small scraps. Sometimes itty-bitty scraps.
Since I learned a new technique with water-soluble stabilizer and netting, I often cut the smallest scraps into crumbs (which are little triangles about ¼” long). In a throw-away world where something that small is considered trash, it feels sometimes like I am walking a fine line between hoarding and a radical act of witness.
When I think back to my childhood, my behavior seems perfectly normal. The quilts on the beds in family homes were all made from scraps. No one bought fabric to make quilts (except sometimes for the backing…and such profligate spending usually elicited raised eyebrows, if not sotto voce ‘tsks’). Quilts were what happened when all the left-over pieces of shirting and dress fabric were gathered in one place and a great-aunt or grandmother began to ponder whether they would be better for a Log Cabin top or a Drunkard’s Path or Flying Geese. It was also where the shirts and sheets that could no longer be mended would find new life. There was a deep respect for the common resources of a material world. There was an in-bred resistance to wasting anything: cloth, food, leather, time, energy, wood, bones, or people.
Which brings me to politics.
As I endure this bizarre election cycle and the high volume rhetoric of the candidates running to secure the Presidential nomination (as if volume equals truth or wisdom), I am increasingly aware of a shocking disrespect for our common life and our common wealth. The United States has always been a nation of scraps and crumbs. We are a nation put together from the left-overs of other places. Even the indigenous peoples came here from elsewhere as refugees – leaving islands or lands that were not conducive to abundant life [because, let’s face it, no one walks thousands of miles just because they have nothing better to do.]
Somewhere in my lifetime, in the process of becoming an unabashedly consumer society with unapologetically built-in obsolescence, we have stopped caring about the fragments, the scraps, the crumbs, the bits and bobs that add color and sparkle and diversity and pattern to our common life. We seem to be willing to settle for a more and more monochromatic existence. We don’t want to be a rich, chunky stew, but some kind of pureed baby food.
But it seems like recently, we have sailed right past ‘being willing to settle’, and have begun to slide down the slope into actively rejecting anything that might mean that our personal scrap of humanity (our individual ‘me’) is not the most colorful, most beautiful, most essential, most important, central piece of the tapestry. We are being told that we should not accept being one piece among many in an intricate (perhaps unique) design. Someone else’s piece might draw the attention away from our piece and we would then be cast into eternal suffering because they have something that we don’t.
Under no circumstance, we are warned, should we accept that it is enough to witness to our own inner truth and to offer it to the community to fold into a greater and broader truth. If we don’t have the truest truth; indeed, the only truth, and everyone else is not willing to bow down before us and acknowledge our importance, we run the danger of not trending on Facebook or Twitter…and life as we know it will cease to exist.
If you listen closely to many of the political candidates, we no longer have room on this continent for the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the person who is not a clone of someone already here. And anyone who is here, who doesn’t measure up to the particular narrow pigeon holes designed by the speaker, and will not submit to the brainwashing necessary to fit those pigeon holes, needs to be discarded or driven out.
We are becoming Camazotz (See: Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time).
Well, dear sisters and brothers: it is time for the mixed media artists and the quilters, for the people who collect cultch and shop at Re-Stores, for the cooks who keep a soup pot going 24/7 on the back of the stove, for the savers of heritage seeds, the searchers for vintage apple trees, the up-cyclers and re-cyclers to rise up in resistance. We have a message that can save the world.
We know what it means to cherish every bit and piece, every pile of wilting veggie greens, the broken tea cups that become a new backsplash. We know what it feels like to wrap ourselves in the satisfaction of incorporating every last single scrap in the scrap bag into a warm, embracing quilt of many colors. Or to turn those single earrings and bent bits of jewelry into a glorious piece of mixed media art. Or to take four Tupperware boxes of left-overs out of the fridge and make a meal that will stretch to feed family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.
There was another person once, long ago, who cared about the left-overs…and his care changed the world. Ours can, too.
Text © 2016, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2016, Immram Chara, LLC