01 October 2011

thinking about longevity

In my last post I gave a mention to Eco Colour. The question was posed to me on facebook about whether or not I was worried about the longevity of the natural dye on the fabric.

My answer in a nutshell is nope, not at all.

The question of what we as fiber artists can expect in terms of life span for our work is always a subject for debate. Considering all the processes that we subject our work to, specifically when you are a surface design artist, trying to keep track of what will cause the fibers to break down and what won't can be a daunting task.

Here's the thing - I do my best to do right by the fabric I use but I've no interest in making sure that it lasts for a thousand years. (I'd be a wee bit frightened of what that might take to be honest.)

I think its inherent in any medium that there are things that will cause the work to decay and break down over time. Some artists even work to accelerate that process and make it the focus of their work. Take Jude Hill over at Spirit Cloth for example. Her work is so spiritual and undeniably beautiful and she uses decay as one of her primary surface design techniques.

I'm not saying you should abandon good practices. Dumping a bottle of straight up bleach on fabric and not bothering to neutralize it would most likely result in a mucky mess but I'm not going to worry about every tiny thing that I do.

That really sucks the joy out of things.

Consider this: I love crazy quilts. They were my first exposure to art quilting and I have a small collection of them. I had one of them appraised because I was interested in finding out how old it was. Some of the fabric used in the piece was dated back to the 1830s.

Didn't look too shabby either. Now we're talking about a quilt that was not specially conserved, in fact it came out of someone's basement. The fabric was well over one hundred years old and was still going strong. Not as vibrant or solid as when it first came into existence of course but not in shreds by any means. And this was during a time when dye processes could be incredibly brutal and no one gave a thought to how long anything would last.

So what's the point of this post? My point is to create the work you want. Don't let every tiny concern get in your way, its just another excuse for not making the work. Keep a reasonable eye on good practices but loose yourself in the magic of what you're making, that's always the most important element.


Bettina Makley, aka Fairywebmother. said...

I agree. Very nice blog. :)

Jeannie said...

Well said! My problem with the "eco" dyeing is that the color may only last a few months or years. That said, I enjoy letting the mad scientist in me play and discover what colors cloth. If it fades next week, fine. I had fun today. That's the point isn't it? To have fun. Wishing you a fun filled weekend!

Fibra Artysta said...

Jeannie - I think it can last a very long time if you take care to use the right mordants. There is a lot to learn about it, I'm certainly no expert but I know many artists have absolutely stunning results with it! :)

Annie said...

I wish my old university prof could have read this ... an undergrad year spent experimenting with plant dyes, yarn, felt, fabric, etc. was made a nightmare by her insistence that I behave as if my fibre works should last at least 100 years. She also had a total bee in her bonnet about dyes fading at different rates, but where with chemical dyes that would alter the colour balance significantly, natural dyes can accommodate the differential much better. Here's to finding the joy in making the work you want to make :D

Anonymous said...

And of course art restoration and conservation are important cultural industries which employ many thousands of craftsman and historians who cherish and appreciate every little detail for not only our benefit but for the future. It would be a shame to not provide work that required similar care and attention for future generations to understand and preserve. I know that's not the point but just imagine how much talent would be lost if there was no need for restorers/conservationists. All that historical information would probably be lost too- nobody would care. If something lasted forever would it hold a place in our hearts? No. Death and decay teach us to cherish and appreciate the moment we have with something.

Approachable Art said...

I really love this post, Lynn. Embracing the decay of fabric by intentionally exposing it to the elements and to various cutting/ripping devices has been a fascination of mine from the start. The really cool thing is that as a by product of cutting, shredding, over-stitching and over-laundering fabric, and even using the thread schmutz as a part of the art, I was lead to a level of self-acceptance that I never expected. If I can embrace the irregularities in my work, can I do less for myself?

Seth said...

I LOVE the shot of your work surface!

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