TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Story of Stuff

I make my livelihood by selling stuff that nobody really needs. I sell handmade textiles, textile stamps, rugs, quilts, remnants, and other beautiful things made all over the world.

A Suzani from Uzbekistan. Who really needs it?

I've had many guest artists come on Fiber Focus and speak about their work. They make baskets, felted animals, bags, pillows, vessels, quilts, hats, and all kinds of things that nobody really "needs". This is the greatest contradiction of what we do in a world that is choking with junk, being stripped of it's natural resources, and waging wars over oil.

That Suzani went from the maker to the user to the wholesaler who shipped it to the United States, I bought it and when it sells, I'll ship it somewhere else. 30% of my sales go to European or Australian customers. I've often thought how ironic it is is that here I am going bla-bla-bla about the condition of the world, when what I do is tied intrinsically to the very same machine that is creating the problem. I ship out products daily to customers around the world. I am contributing to pollution by the packaging I use and by using the transportation systems that guzzle up the most oil: airplanes. What to do? What to do?

The Story of Stuff is an illustrated movie about the production process of all the stuff we buy on a daily basis. It talks about the natural resources that are being used, manufacturing processes, and disposal of waste. If you have the time, do watch it. Here is their description of the movie:

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns, with a special focus on the United States. All the stuff in our lives, beginning from the extraction of the resources to make it, through its production, sale, use and disposal, affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues and calls for all of us to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something. It'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Written by Leonard, the film was produced by Free Range Studios the makers of other socially-minded, web-based films such as “The Meatrix” and “Grocery Store Wars.” Funding for the project came from The Sustainability Funders and Tides Foundation.

I believe that we need to change the way we live drastically. We must sever our addiction to stuff. So, how do I reconcile my own footprint within this framework? Sigh... It's not easy.

Rose Plane by Loran Scruggs

There are several mantras that power my love for this business:
  • I believe that we do NEED beautiful stuff around us. Almost all indigenous cultures have moved functional objects beyond their basic use to include decorative content. A basket might be used to carry potatos, but why not add some pattern, some zig-zags, some motifs that reflect our belief in the after life? We may need a blanket to cover us at night, but why not decorate it with a story about Grandpa and his trip to the Chicago World Fair? There seems to be a drive within us to mark our space, to personalize it and make it uniquely ours. Corporate marketing efforts spend millions on capitalizing on this drive and work on our psyche to constantly improve this need with new curtains, new wall colors, new pillows, new dinnerware sets, new, new, new...
    Circuit Board Clip Boards by Debby Arem Designs

  • I believe that supporting handmade products helps heal society. For the maker, producing hand made objects allows them to maintain social structures that are more healthy than working a "normal" job. Many of the cottage industries in developing countries are in remote areas, far from job opportunities that are often dehumanizing. Men can remain in the village, women can raise their children within their community, traditional lifestyles are maintained, and for the artists and crafters in industrialized countries, we have ownership over our time. I'm also living in an area where there are not many job opportunities. I worked at Home Depot for awhile and a fabric store, both at $7 an hour. What can you buy with $35 minus their witholdings after five hours of labor? Selling online allows me to live a simpler lifestyle, away from the city, and I have control over my time. All of the artists and craft organizations I have linked on this blog are trying to achieve their dreams through creating hand made products, the stuff nobody really needs.

Harley Motorcycle by Art Exchange
  • I believe that the production process of handmade items are healthier for the world. Many of us are recycling or repurposing stuff that would end up in landfills. Those working with natural fibers push the demand for green products that have a lighter footprint on the earth. Crafters in developing countries and in industrialized ones tend to use materials that are abundant to the region, from straw to wool to fabric to trash. My focus on this blog is fiber, but I also love other craft forms. I worked with clay for three years and still miss it. I especially love things that are made out of trash. There are many Etsy artists who are making wonderful things our of old lp records, computer mother boards, old forks and knives, stuff nobody nobody needs.
Beatle's Purse by Retro Grandma
  • I believe that the buyers who support us in buying the stuff that nobody needs also enter the healing process. They may not know how to sew, to crochet, to make a pot, but by surrounding themselves with these objects, they become linked to all these good things that crafters and artists are about. We cannot survive as crafters and artists without buyer support. Even in a barter system, you need to have someone who is willing to trade something you want for something they want. This exchange of money for goods or goods for services has to have a willing audience who wants to participate in the process. I am currently receiving treatment from a doctor who is also trained in Chinese medicine. Dr. Christi Bonds is a textile addict. She doesn't need anything I have, but I need her skills. I could never afford her but she wants the stuff I have that nobody needs.

  • I believe that we as crafters and artists have the responsibility to move away from making junk towards producing objects that have a long life. Buyers and sellers make choices daily in what they buy and sell. Do we buy and sell quantities of cheap clothes that will fall apart in a year or do we choose quality over quantity? My mother is of Icelandic descent and they would receive an Icelandic sweater for High School graduation that would last a lifetime. An Icelandic sweater can cost hundreds of dollars.
Do all of these beliefs help ease the nagging feeling of unease and guilt of contributing towards pollution and waste? Yes, they do. I don't see an option at this point. I love what I do! I love all the connections this stuff nobody needs makes between peoples of different cultures, faiths, creeds, income levels, and sexes. I think that along with decreasing waste and living a more simple life, we need to learn more about each other. We need to understand other cultures and to communicate with people who are different from ourselves. More than the aesthetic and functional qualities of the things we make and own are the indelible ties that we create with each other through these objects. We are much less likely to bomb those who become friends than the unknown dot on the map. And, this, this connection with the other is something we desperately need!


  1. Thanks for linking me into your blog. Nice article, I have often had the same discussion with my self...You're just making more stuff in a stuff filled world, Loran.. I've resolved it in that the stuff I make amuses the hell out of me and it always makes people smile and exclaim something with the emotion of joy and wonder. So "I'm making joy!" It shows up in me and it shows up in others when around the stuff-objects I make. I wonder if you are making joy as well??

  2. Good post! I completely understand your quandary...but I also love what I do. AND, I guess I'm looking for redemption, having designed endless product for all those big clothing manufacturers in the past. So, we too collect rugs and other textiles that were a labor of love at one time, but are no longer valued and might well be tossed. Seems like a good way to keep these handcrafted weavings alive. The last poster was right - they do 'make joy'!


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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