TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tithing for Textiles

Ralli Quilt from Pakistan

I recently had an Etsy customer buy three of my ralli quilts. She bought two the first time and then several weeks later, a third one. Most of what I carry in my shops are low end items, under $30. Textile stamps have the biggest following, but the remnants, beads, fabric and molas also get their share of attention. The higher end, vintage textiles (ralli quilts, suzani embroideries and kilims), sit for a longer period in my shops, but eventually, the right person finds them and they also sell. This customer mentioned that she was excited to spend money from her textile fund.

Textile fund? Interesting.... She set aside money every month until she had enough to buy something that really was special to her. That got me to thinking.... Most of the people that I know have lost a lot of money during these hard economic times. This lost money means that "disposable" income that could be used for fun, for impulse purchases, is gone. The belt tightens up and priorities (mortgages, utilities, food, etc.) take precedence over unnecessary purchases. Most would argue that buying a textile or art falls into that "unnecessary" category. Yet, even in hard times, most of us spend money on non-art things that we also don't need: a coffee, an electronic toy, a hamburger, and so on. $10 here, $15 there. I would argue that there is a place, a needed one, for beautiful, handmade things in our lives. So, what if we actually made that a priority and set up a fund for beauty?

Suzani Embroidery from Uzbekistan

Having limited income forces most of us to think more carefully about our purchases. I do think that this is a behavior that we, as a society, desperately need if we are to change how we impact this earth. We buy and sell so much junk, so much stuff that just ends up in a corner, eventually gets donated or thrown out. Stuff that will never biodegrade. Stuff that breaks the first time you use it. Stuff that becomes obsolete in two years. Stuff, stuff, stuff. When we don't have much money, we still have this urge to spend and this makes us go for what is cheap.
Banana Leaf with Butterflies, Mola from Panama

My mother is the incarnation of the practical woman who understands value as that what is lasting. She was a farm girl from Minnesota of Icelandic stock. When I was six months old, she and my Dad went to Brazil as missionaries and we spent the next 18 years there. Shopping was always a search for value. Not for what was cheap, but for what would last. We had one of those old wringer washing machines that would destroy anything that was poorly sewn. They boiled the clothes, so if dye was not set, it would leak on everything else. She would rather have one good sweater that would last twenty years, then 10 sweaters that would fall apart in a year. I learned that lesson from her and look at everything in terms of how it is built or constructed.

My mother reading me a story in 1962.

So, maybe setting up a separate bank account for beauty is one way to go. My customer also made me think of the concept of tithing. This is a practice many churches have of giving 10% of one's income back to the church in order to fund church projects and to help the poor. Jews, Muslims, and other religions have similar concepts. In the old days, this concept went beyond money and included one's labor: crops or products. At different points in European history, tithing was translated into taxation, overseen by the Church with political backing. Forced tithing or taxation resulted in imprisonment, land grabbing and finally, revolts. Tithing went back to a voluntary concept.

Handwoven kilim from Afghanistan

In thinking about this, I am attracted by the idea of not only setting up a beauty fund, but of also allocating a percentage of one's productivity toward charity. Those of us who are artists do have an asset that can be given back to society. We can volunteer our knowledge to a community program (after-school programs, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters, etc) through teaching a free workshop or we can donate items that we make or our computer skills to fund-raising events or to the less fortunate around us.

Each of us has to find our place in this world and to choose how we spend our buying power and our productive energy. The handmade movement does have a huge impact on what is being made (is it junk?) and where these things end up. We can save for beauty, tithe for it, work for it, and slowly change the perceptions of what we need and want. My thanks to a wonderful customer who made me do a bit of thinking!



  1. Saving in any way is a marvelously satisfying and sensible way to go through life. Remember before credit cards, when you had to save up for something? I remember actual joy whenever I made a little deposit into my savings account: rather like a HOPE CHEST. And the allocations for charity, of time or product - something that usually happens when there si something leftover, rather than a conscious midset of planning in advance to give back to your world. Thanks for a lovely article, Rachel!

  2. It's not that people don't buy what they want anymore. It's that the time has changed, and they need to look back, and reassess what it is they really want. I myself have many design-maniac friends who still buy design items regularly. It all comes down to figuring out your niche, and convince them of your value to win them over.


  3. Wonderful post! The very nature of the design industry is to create 'disposable' goods and keep those trends changing, to entice the customer to keep buying. But instead saving for beauty and making purchases that will inspire for years is a far saner way to live, I agree!


“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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