A Celebration of the Hand-Made
I've been thinking a lot about the time it takes to develop a clear, cohesive print design in the studio, and especially a repeat pattern.
It begins with the commitment to a design, typically inspired, sketched and meticulously drawn out on transparent films. Then there is the process of translating that idea onto the silk screens: coating the screens with emulsion, burning the designs and double-checking for accurate measurements. Finally there is the labor involved in physically printing the pattern out: Precise pinning and measuring of the fabric, color mixing, and of course, multiple trips to the sink, rinsing, cleaning and then drying time. Oh yes, ironing to heat-set the print as well!
What is it about this methodical process that I find so important, satisfying and necessary? From a cost-benefit perspective, it makes zero sense. I know this, because I've spoken with business people who laugh when I describe the process. To them, it only makes sense if the work can be outsourced to a location where the cost of labor is a fraction of what it would cost in the States. Then, maybe, they can charge a price that consumers would be willing to pay, but that suggests another set of ethical dilemmas, for a different conversation.
I am interested in the act of making, and the satisfaction that using my hands, my wit, and my body to do this provides. Richard Sennett, in his book The Craftsman, refers to craftsmanship as the state of being engaged: how we interact materially, with each other and our immediate surroundings. I find this to be a significant statement. When "being engaged" often means commenting on someone's social media posts, typing text messages, and reading the news on our laptops, the sentiment that being physically present is required of the craftsperson is one that I celebrate. There is a challenge involved in this process that is irreplaceable, and the physical act of making an object, in my case, a repeat print design, provides such intellectual and anatomical stimulation, that I am at a loss for how I would achieve these pleasures anywhere but in the studio.
I picked up another book recently by Alexander Langlands, entitled Cræft, to help me better understand the value of making physical things. In Langlands rumination, the concepts of learning and virtue through making are united by the very essence of craft. He makes reference to the labour and work associated with making and doing, which is comparable to the spiritual strivings of philosophy. Here, it all starts to make sense, as Langlands puts it, that "making has a spiritual element to it, that making fits within a wider understanding of who we are and where we are going".
I think there is value in this, and I'm not just referring to the process itself. I believe that the finished product, whether it's an intricately woven macramé or in my case a repeat print design, is instilled with the value that the maker has embedded within it. Surface design is the outlet I have currently settled into, but I respect and celebrate those who dedicate themselves to craftsmanship and their craft because it asserts the value of the human hand and the intellectual rigor required to realize an idea as physical form. It forces me to question the worth of the industrially produced goods that I consume, as well as the value I assign to the hand-made garments and household items that are laboriously produced across the globe.
As a Maker, I have to constantly ask: What really is Value, and how do we assign it?