Monday, April 11, 2011

Beauty Born of Use and The "New" Old Object

As per a cutout courtesy of Toronto Life Magazine, I have been itching to visit the Textile Museum for some time. Finally, this weekend, the little scrap of paper on my refrigerator came to fruition.

Textiles are one of those peculiar human inventions which allow us a visual story of our past, present, and future. They are so versatile in that they may be created to fill a need, an installation of art, or simply to adorn ourselves. During my visit, I was lucky enough to be able to view exhibits highlighting each of these topics.

The exhibit which struck me as most interesting was entitled Beauty Born of Use: Natural Rainwear from China and Japan, which was incredible to experience both visually and intellectually. According to the exhibit's reading materials, these special rain capes have been handmade since before the Ming Dynasty in China as well as in Japan. They are made of completely natural fibres even today, woven with bamboo and straw. The exhibit describes these capes as a personal thatched roof, the picture of rainwear in design.

To me, they seemed rich in culture, beauty, craftsmanship and water resistance. These capes felt as though they were actually living, woven directly of the fibres of the culture who use them to this day. These garments actually take quite a long time to make, approximately four to six days (working straight) depending upon the size of the cape. The makers of the capes would travel from village to village, rarely taking time to rest at home throughout the rain season. When they found work, they would stay with the family who employed them until the job was finished. I imagine this would allow the maker of the capes to understand the trials and tribulations of family life all the better, and be perhaps better equipped to offer services more than that of a cape-maker while staying in a family dwelling. The roles of these craftsmen seem that they must have been revered at the peak of their time, and held at a high level of appreciation.

Much as our own culture tends to turn these days, these capes are becoming irrelevant in the face of modern technology. The availability of "yellow raincoats" is becoming a much easier and cheaper alternative to these rain capes, which are now mostly made as a decoration or wall covering. Young people are now uninterested in learning the trade of these magnificent capes, and so the craft may soon die out.

This is such a sad thought, as I have found that newer generations are taking on a habit of replacing old and worn objects instead of repairing them. There is a certain feeling that I have when I put on an old sweater or use a bowl inherited from my grandmother. Those items carry a history and a value, whether sentimental or otherwise, and should be cherished. If that old sweater were to sustain any sort of injury, I would do anything in my power to repair it for further use by myself or someone else who also appreciates its value, but I fear that not many other people of my generation agree with me.

Those who sustain a behaviour of replacing before repairing are an interesting folk. They prefer to buy something new, but they still possess a penchant for the seasoned or vintage product. For example, I was walking around in an Urban Outfitters and I saw at least eight different items that were made of new materials, but that I had seen an almost exact replica of at a church sale a mere couple of days prior. Isn't it interesting that some of these people would rather have a replica of the feeling that I get when I use an old item with a history, than to actually enjoy the real McCoy?

The above pictured raincape was labelled as such that it was purchased on Spadina Avenue in Chinatown. I plan to venture out there myself and see if I can't find a raincape of my very own. If you would like to learn more about these lovely garments or the museum itself, follow this link.

"Repair before you replace"

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