I’ve always been a maker, drawn to all things handmade and endlessly amazed by what one’s two hands can create. Even, not especially, when that creation is imperfect. Maybe its imperfections are hidden to everyone but me. If so, all the better. The blessings of my life and my appreciation for every breath I take are layered within everything that I make.
In the early days of motherhood, I busied myself mostly with knitting. I kept easy projects around the house that I could pick up as my little children allowed. As anyone who has knitted a sweater knows, it may cost more to do so than to buy one from the store. However, can any sweater that I buy compare to the one that I knitted while sitting beside a crib that my baby slept in? What should I do with that sweater when it’s past its prime? No longer fits? Certainly, no one will value it the way that I will. Moving through the world in this way leads me to the answers. I’ll take apart the sweater. Reuse the yarn. Perhaps the color no longer serves me. I might overdye it with kitchen scraps or indigo. Reknit the yarn into something new. Something that also lives as all the other things it once was. Carries the memories I’m unwilling to let go of.
My first foray into quilting came as a natural extension of how my days of knitting had shaped my appreciation for textiles. Before I cut into a single fabric, I started collecting. Crib sheets and old clothing. Stained dresses that couldn’t be passed along to anyone else yet held so many of my favorite memories. By that time, I had also begun to sew some of my children’s clothing and in doing so, I had woken up to the reality that every item of clothing was made by someone. Our lives may feel far removed from workers in factories that overproduce and underpay, but we often hold in our hands the result of that labor. Western countries push their citizens to over consume and in doing so discount the labor of others. We may not be able to completely break out of this cycle, but we can try to be better in small ways. For me, part of breaking that cycle has been to stretch every item I own to its limit.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone starting to work creatively in textiles is to shop your home. The fabrics that you already own are your best resources. Unravel those store-bought sweaters. Cut up old clothing to make new things. In my home, I have an old set of sheets that I turned into curtains. Then, I made those curtains into pajama pants for my kids. Now those pants are almost worn out, and the fabric will go into my stash for quilting. There is no fabric on a shelf in a store that could ever compete. And the biggest bonus is that consuming less is better for the earth and its inhabitants.
We know that mending is a sunnah. Our Prophet Muhammad (sas) mended his own socks. This is a sunnah that we should revive. If it was important in the time of the Prophet (sas) when people had so much less and consumption wasn’t destroying the planet, how much more important must it be now? If we are at all concerned with the state of the world. If we realize that our Uyghur brothers and sisters are being forced into labor to make our clothing. If we see the textile trash piling up in places like Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana. The United States generates 16 million tons of textile waste every year according to the EPA. The large donation centers often trash a majority of what they receive. We can be a part of the force that changes this just by following an often-neglected sunnah.
Lastly, if you are new to sewing, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn to value your time in a way that sublimates the natural urge to assign a dollar amount to every hour. Your hours are worth so much more than any amount of money. Treat the things you own as an amana – a trust. Through restriction, we can often unlock our creativity. Just as artisans from the Muslim world were restricted by a prohibition to use iconography and as a result created the most intricate tile work the world has seen, we can unlock our own creativity by restricting ourselves to using as little new resources as possible. Bismillah, let’s begin.
Laura Brown (@mender.maker)