Stonier, Nuttier, Cloth-ier


I was comfort watching old episodes of Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Cooking Specials thinking that I might be inspired to get into my old holiday baking, wrapping, decorating frenzy (. . . or maybe just watch Nigella do it and weave instead . . .) and she said something that caught my ear. She said that according to the Russian formalists, the purpose of art was to make “stone stonier”, and she was (amusingly) applying that principle to toasting nuts, i.e. the purpose of toasting nuts is “to make nuts nuttier”. I found the passage she was referring to:

If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. Thus, for example, all of our habits retreat into the area of the unconscious automatic…[Art] exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make an object “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. Viktor Shlovsky

and of course my mind went immediately to cloth and weaving.  I have always loved and been inspired by cloth in general, but I marvel at handwoven cloth (and even more so hand-spun/handwoven cloth) and have wondered why it has such a different impact on me.  This quote helps me get closer to an answer. To me, handwoven cloth is cloth-ier than it’s commercial/industrial counterparts.  The best handwoven cloth has an organic quality that subtly reveals the hidden process of it’s creation.

I was trying to think of other material items that are also made “more so” by being non-industrial/machine made.  Have you ever seen clapboarding on very old houses?  It isn’t quite uniform, there are very subtle undulations in the lines of the boards that immediately bring the woody origins of the clapboarding to the fore. I see clay and process in my handmade ceramic mugs every day, and the hand cuts on the beams in my old, old barn, not only draw me into their origins as trees, but to the hands that shaped then over a hundred and fifty years ago. Napkins off the loom Cottolin and Slub Cotton Towels Ice Flower Tuna Blanket finally off the Toika Fiona finding her joy Ugly Napkins . . . fail! Cool scientific add-a-weight for improvised templeRigid-heddle Tote

Do you know the art class exercise, where they make you draw a chair? You are asked to draw a chair that has been placed before you.  You draw.  Then you are asked to turn the chair upside down and draw it.  It is kind of a parlor trick because inevitably the drawing of the upside-down chair is much better.  The reason for this is because if you’re asked to draw a chair, your “chair assumptions” take over, i.e. “I know what a chair looks like” and you stop observing.  If trying to draw an upside-down chair, you actually have to look and draw because most of us don’t have a firm image of an upside-down chair in our minds. I think hand-woven cloth may have a similar effect.  There is a quality about the best of it that doesn’t quite fit our assumptions about “cloth”.  It is mysterious. This goes double for cloth that is handspun and handwoven. And maybe this is why hand-woven plain weave cloth is often magical to me.  Because I don’t go into structure analysis mode, instead, I simply marvel at the clothy-ness of it.