Today I had a sobering realization, one of the sort that cracks you up and then whacks you over the head. I was packing one of the final boxes in the garage today when I thought, “You know, there seems to be an awful lot going into the studio.” So, in a moment of frivolity, I decided to count boxes. There are 32 boxes going into the craft room and 65 going into the rest of the house. Egad. (I haven’t even touched Sophie-the-loom yet!)
Now, there are some boxes yet to be packed, and pretty much all of the craft stuff is done at this point, but still, this is daunting. A third of Mike’s AND my belongings consists of my crafts studio. (And I didn’t even count the three boxes of tutus, or the boxes of textiles from Ghana, Guatemala, and Southeast Asia!)
The reflexive conclusion, of course, is that I have WAY too much crafts stuff. But then I thought about it, really dug into it, and concluded that there really isn’t a whole lot of deadweight in my crafts toolbox. There’s a lot of it because I pursue many different crafts: dyeing, weaving, sewing, chocolate, etc. There’s some deadweight: I could eliminate about 1/4 of the stuff without feeling much pain (legacy of past crafts). I’ll probably prune out some of it. But the majority of it is solid, healthy working tools and materials. Things that are actually used.
It hasn’t always been this way. I used to have an enormous stash (100+ pounds of fleece, back when I was spinning my own yarn!). I used to pile up huge lists of future projects, collect patterns, and so on. I still struggle against the instinct to bargain-hunt and then hoard. But my relationship with things was fundamentally changed by my six-month trip through Southeast Asia.
At the start of the trip, I was terrified at the prospect of leaving my stash. I was addicted to choice, to the thoroughly Western idea that to create, I needed access to whatever tools and materials suited my whimsy, and furthermore that not having access would be disastrous. So I pared down my stash to what I thought would be the bare minimum, a little bit of origami, a little bit of beadwork, a stitching project, a spindle and a bit of silk roving, some knitting needles and some sock yarn.
I wound up sending most of it home.
What I learned from traveling around Southeast Asia is that there is no relationship between creativity and tools, and that (when traveling) every ounce of excess weighs you down. Literally. I had trouble with my feet because my pack was too heavy, so I gutted everything and went on with just a few slips of origami paper, the spindle and four ounces of silk roving, and a pair of circular knitting needles. In the course of six months’ travel, I spun and knitted a beautiful blue-purple “ring shawl”, one fine enough to be drawn (easily) through a wedding ring. That was it. Four ounces of silk, a spindle, and a pair of knitting needles.
Once I got back, of course, I was broke and unemployed for a year and a half, which further transformed my relationship with Stuff. I didn’t have much space (I was staying with a very generous friend) and no money to buy stash, but I had really enjoyed making my ring shawl. I bought six ounces of a 50-50 silk/wool top and hand-spun another ring shawl, this one spun on a tiny, one-ounce silver spindle that I had bought in my travels (hired an Akha tribal silversmith to make me one). I made up my own pattern for the shawl, knitting in a personal meaning, so the shawl became a prayer shawl. A year later, I had made virtually no stash purchases, but had created my most beautiful and meaningful work to date, the Spiral Shawl.
I’m not saying stash is a bad thing. But one of the things that has most struck me in my travels through the Third World (Ghana, Guatemala, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India) is that artists can and do create the most marvelous things with very few tools and limited materials. In Guatemala, even the dishcloths were handwoven. In Laos, the women would weave the most fantastically intricate designs – on looms kept under the house with the pigs. In Ghana, they would sit outdoors in their yards and weave long stripes of kente on very simple looms, with hand-carved boat shuttles. These textile artists do not have access to the wealth of tools and materials that we do, but their work is no less stunning or detailed.
What I got out of my travels was an appreciation for how unnecessary most of our tools and materials are for the act of creation. They are conveniences, but they are not necessary. I used to collect stash for fear that I might not be able to do this exact piece with that exact yarn if I didn’t buy now. To me, that no longer makes sense. To me, that is a control issue. It reflects a mistrust in the universe, the need to store project ideas up against creative “lean times” – when the universe is full of abundance. The fact is that you can step out your door – or onto the Internet – on any given day and find more than enough inspiration and materials to create something beautiful. You don’t need to hoard, to plan projects years in advance – just trust in the universe and set your feet on the road.
Back to packing!