Saturday, 12 March 2016

Slow Down, eh?

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of things come and go.

Remember the bouffant hairdo using tons of hairspray and backcombing? Remember the opposite hairstyle: ironing your long, long hair so it laid flat? Remember go-go boots? Bell-bottoms? Hot pants? Granny glasses? Big padded shoulders? Fads.

One psychologist defines a fad as a social trend with three stages: emerging, surging, and purging. There comes a time in a fad’s lifespan when what we embraced so eagerly suddenly is anathema in our sight. Out it goes with yesterday’s newspaper. It is so “not in” anymore.

The quilting life, which is a big part of my world, has gone through its fads as well. Once upon a time, long, long ago, quilts were blankets people made out of necessity. As one pioneer wrote in her journal, “I make quilts as fast as I can to keep my family warm and as pretty as I can to keep my heart from breaking.” After that, came the “improvements” – ornate Baltimore Album quilts, crazy quilts, broderie perce  – on and on.

A Baltimore Album Quilt
When I was learning about quilts and beginning to make mine, machine quilting was the big thing. The popular rationale for using a machine to piece and quilt your blankets of love was, “So many quilts to make, so little time.” So instead of spending a winter around the quilting frame, you quilted your latest creation on a machine in a week or so, and moved on to the next project.

 Well, the latest trend in quilting is the Slow Stitch Movement. Making quilts fast is now so passe!  “Slow” is not just a speed, it is a philosophy to counter the hurry-up nature of our world. First, there was Slow Food – buying local, cooking from scratch. The idea spread: Slow Art. Slow Fashion. Slow Beer. Slow Consulting. So “Slow Stitch” is just the latest character to make an appearance in the Slow Philosophy. There’s even a World Institute of Slowness: . “We are not rats, and life is not a race,” writes a slow-world proponent on CNN. “The Slow philosophy is ...  about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It's about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting (Carl Honore In Praise of Slow 2004)

Slow Stitch practitioners have discovered that the process of creating something beautiful is as important as the final product. They pick up needle and thread and create tiny hand-embroidered and beaded pieces, and they are as excited as they formerly were by making a king-sized quilt on their computerized machine.
Slow Stitch Sampler by Margot Bicknell

Sometimes, they are a little like newly born-again Christians. They’ve discovered something amazing, and they want to tell everyone about it. They’re sure nobody has seen the light like they have. (They forget that their grannies always used to work this way.)

This movement was popularized in the quilting world by Mark Lipinski, a professional quiltmaker and teacher. Ironically, not that long ago, Lipinski was touting the marvels of a wonderful pattern called Simple Simon. “If you only make one quilt in your lifetime, this super fast and easy quilt is the one to make. There is just about no quilt that comes together faster than these quick-to-piece Simple Simon blocks.” Hmmm. Now, through Lipinski’s endeavors, there’s a Slow Stitch magazine, website, blog, and even – yes! – a Slow Stitch retreat that features a luxury hotel, catered meals, workshops, Show and Tell – a packed schedule that will keep you hopping – slowly, of course. (Can you tell I’m just a weenie bit jaded when it comes to the commercial aspects of slowing down?)

Will Slow Stitch – for that matter, Slow Anything – be another fad, fading away as it outlives its novelty?  Or is the message of Slow Anything deeper and more important than a shallow fad?

I think about my forebears, who had to create all their clothes from scratch – clipping wool from sheep, washing it, carding it, dying it, spinning and knitting it into garments. Picking up your knitting needles in every spare moment, knitting up sweaters and underwear for a brood of eight because winter was coming – there was nothing slow or meditative about that. I wonder if these women and men “savoured every moment” of the experience. Probably not. You need to have the time to slow down, in order to slow down and savour the moment, if that makes sense.

On the other hand, the Slow message has touched something very vulnerable in our psyches. Life is not all about product, and productivity. When we slow down, when we take time to really get in touch with our own creativity and dreams, we begin to sense an organic connection with and appreciation for all the aspects that go into our work, such as the skills passed down through generations, the origins of the product we’re using, the mystery that surrounds creative endeavors. People all around the world are doing what we are doing, yet each product will be totally unique, an expression of who we are. Slowing down opens our eyes to the precious gift of every moment.

Slow Stitch – slow anything, for that matter – has always been available to us. Perhaps it takes a fad emerging to get us to realize that.

In the meantime, I’m going to practice some Slow Stitch of my own. I mean, reaaaaaaalllllly reaaaalllly slooooooow. I’ve been working at some projects so sloooooowwwwllly that they have been in the works for yeaaaaaaars, and it is time to finish them. I’ll let you know how that works for me in coming blogs, but don’t hold your breath. "Slow down" is the operative expression! Excuse me while I go thread my beading needle.

Spring Tree: I started it last year, put it aside, and then picked it up again and finished it. It took hours upon hours to add all the green beads to the branches, but those were good hours, giving time to reflect, think, enjoy, glance out the window now and then.

For more information on how the Slow Philosophy can apply to textile creations, see this article about Elaine Lipson, who began the Slow Cloth Movement. It includes the Slow Cloth Manifesto.

For a different take on Slow Stitch, check out Pippa Moore's blog at Her blog got me inspired to write my own thoughts on the movement.