The Japanese have a really beautiful set of aesthetic traditions that, to me, are the exact opposite of the frantic, febrile spasm of over consumerism that the world seems to be caught up in. We are literally consuming ourselves to death.
One of the most beautiful and healing of these concepts is wabi sabi.
Wikipedi says, “Wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.
Those are such beautiful concepts. There is a coolness, serenity, naturalness and acceptance that feels like the exact opposite of anxiety in these concepts. Now I am no expert at all, but I think I really get this right down to my bones. These are my guiding principals as a craftswoman.
Kintsugi – The Art of Golden Joinery
One perfect expression of wabi sabi is the art of kintsugi. It is the art of repairing ceramics with gold, silver or platinum mixed into the lacquer so that the cracks become features of beauty. The marks of time are beautiful and prized.
Think how amazing it is to have the relentless passage of time highlighted on an object! It is like seeing wind and water’s impact in the erosion and formation of geologic features, or the beauty in a wind-gnarled ancient tree.
In the European tradition a ceramic, once broken, loses value instantly. The best repairs are the most invisible repairs, but no matter how perfectly hidden the crack or rip is, it is no longer in it’s ‘mint’ condition, it’s lost value.
Things Become Stuff Then Clutter Then Trash
I hate this whole way of looking at the world. It sickens me. It is a way of seeing the world that encourages greed – always for more, for the new, for the perfect – but simply by virtue of the newness being acquired, it is tarnished. Nothing is ever going to stay perfect enough to satisfy. That is it’s evil virtue. It is how ‘productive citizens’ are turned into ‘consumers’.
And As A Feminist…
On a related note, I see some very unhappy parallels to all of this focus on value and beauty being all about new, still-in-the-box, untouched perfection in the way that female virginity is seen and the in way that female aging is seen.
It offends me that traditionally the highest value a woman has is being ‘pure,’ virgin, and not ‘sullied’. (as long as she’s young.) I won’t even go into how men load their so-called-‘honour’ onto the virginity of ‘their’ women. It’s too damned depressing.
And on the other side of the lifespan, aging women are seen as losing their value and beauty instead of it changing and deepening. Objectively, that is ridiculous. An aged face, male or female, is beautiful precisely because time and experience has caused the face to become more individual, more intense. And experience adds value too.
It is the Wabi Sabi of the Crone, if you will.
Make Do And Mend
I do not want anyone to think that I think of all of Western Civilization as completely deficient in the values of modesty, humility, thrift and austerity. We do indeed have many rich traditions of these virtues. In fact, today’s crazy way of living has really only been cranked up to 11 since the end of of WWII. It’s been a hell of a party, but the fun is over and the guests are puking in the bushes outside. It’s time to relearn the wisdom of Making Do and Mending.
Mending is just about the most basic string craft there is. It’s all about valuing textiles. Visible mending is the textile equivalent of kintsugi. Precious textiles become more, not less precious with the marks of time and age. Each layer of mending, done mindfully and thoughtfully, adds to the strength, character and beauty of the textile.
My Visibly Mended Kintsugi Apron
I have some beautiful textiles of my grandmother, I especially prize her tablecloths. One of them, a small damask cloth, was stained pretty seriously so I decided to turn it into an apron. It was the very first thing that I sewed for myself. I made good deep pockets from linen handkerchiefs and dyed it in a coffee and cinnamon bath to incorporate the staining into the variable colour. A couple of years later, the fabric became very fragile and started to come apart in one area.
It never occurred to me that the apron was now trash. Instead I was excited to have the opportunity to mend it. I decided to do a little kintsugi of my own, using unbleached cotton crochet thread with a single strand of gold wound through it, from a half skein that I found in a thrift shop and had been waiting for the right time to use. I carefully reinforced each weak place with strong but thin cotton in the back and then made a crochet patch, a freehand surface embroidery patch (in the form of a wild jellyfish) with Bayeux stitch darning, a netting patch, and an area of (really ugly) cross-stitched reinforcement. I cannot express to you how much I love this apron, and how precious each patch and mend is to me.
I think of my grandmother when I wear the apron, I think of the long tradition of humble mending, I think of the beauty of broken things, of aged things, and of used things. I think of time and of care. I think of the Zen of String.
Take care my darlings,
Want To Learn More? Links:
Wabi Sabi, Wikipedia
The Japanese Art of Recognizing Beauty in Broken Things, Make Magazine.
‘Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics’ , By Blake Gopnik Washington Post, March 3, 2009.
The Make Do and Mend Movement, from makedoandmend.org
My Wabi Sabi: Beautiful Imperfect Pinterest Board
My Baba Yaga: Sacred Crone Pinterest Board