Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Project: The Heritage Scarf

Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.
~Phyllis George

Natural dyes from Maiwa. Okay, Small confession. I started this natural dye project before I got the final term project, but it was taking me so long to complete and it was more expensive than I thought it would be, so I decided it should be handed in for something worth bigger marks.

Our textiles teacher gave us our final term project uber-early so we could think about what it was we wanted to do. It was to be a conceptual project in the shape of a scarf; Not a literal scarf, but a translation of what we felt a scarf did. (In my case I see scarves as a fashion accessory and for warmth.) It was to be linear, poetic, and a reflection of our heritage. Instead of waiting for April, I went to town on it.

This project began as a perplexing one to me: How to create a piece that reflected my heritage when I know very little about where I come from? Without going into too many personal details, I have a very scattered family background and really know very little about it. So I decided for this project to focus on my immediate nuclear family.

This is a trial run of my original idea which looked much better in my mind. Block printed henna designs on naturally dyed squares of cotton- All the natural dyes I used can be found in India, which really has nothing to do with my heritage but has everything to do with my present!

A scarf is warm and protects the wearer from the outside elements. It envelops and holds the heat against the wearer’s skin. A scarf protects you. Whenever life gets too difficult for anyone of us in our family, we know that we can always retreat into the family unit where there is a home, and three other people to protect us from the elements. Most of our time is spent centered around the dinner table so I felt it appropriate to make a household item that would be put in the centre of the table.

We are a close family, the four of us, so my piece reflects our small family history.

At first I was disappointed that the dyes looked so pastel- When we'd used the same dyes in class they were much richer and darker. But in learning about natural dyes I found out that animal fibres (wool) take to dying much better than plant fibres (cotton).

I chose to work with naturally dyed cotton, embroidery thread, stamps and fabric ink. I liked the idea of using natural dyes to represent the naturalness of a family unit. I hand stitched the squares because I want this piece to have an heirloom type feel to it, something that is special enough to be handed down and not discarded. I also chose black ink and stamps to stamp the letters out in a typewriter font to give the feeling that these events are being recorded and it also gives a contemporary feel to an otherwise old-fashioned looking piece.

Natural Dyes! Believe it or not, The turmeric was so bright it looked awful next to the other dyes. So I threw them in with the red madder to tone it down a little.

The written lines, which may not make sense to the outside viewer, are all stories and situations that my immediate family would recognize, a kind of poetry and story that makes up the uniqueness of our immediate family. This is because textile pieces and crafts done by women are generally for the audience of the family only and these things generally never leave the home. (As opposed to ‘art’ where the audience is a stranger in the gallery.)

This was the longest part of the project- block printing all of those letters separate from each other. Somehow in all my moving this fall I lost Z and K so I filled those in myself with a permanent marker.

Also, as my parents age, they are beginning to forget these family special moments as I am sure my sister and I are too. This is a way of jogging our memories as we get older as I am aware that there are plenty of memories we have already forgotten because they were never recorded. The asymmetry of the colours and the stamped squares reflects that although it may be beautiful, no family is perfect. The empty squares are left for memories that haven’t yet happened.

My sister helped me brainstorm the family memories!
The finished piece out in the snow.

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