Old, Used and Flawed
A few weeks ago, well, several weeks ago, well, a whole lot of weeks ago, Michelle ordered a throw or small bedspread made from pieces of used saris.
She spread out the throw for show and tell, differently patterned on each side, stitched together with white cotton thread, in a long running stitch, lines spaced a half inch apart, a very light quilt. I guessed the sari throw to be about 60 X 90 inches. Despite being made with used saris, the colors were vibrant, the patterns strong. What I saw was not a blanket or wrap for cool nights, but dresses and blouses and all manner of possibilities.
I went online, the usual place, which has a .mex option. There they were, crying out to me for adoption as well as adaption, and dirt cheap. Not that dirt is necessarily cheap, but, you understand, it’s an expression indicative that I could afford one.
My sari throw arrived on a cold January afternoon. I inspected it. Each side wonderful with different patterns. I loved it. I wrapped myself in the soft, comforting folds of cotton and sat down to read.
An hour later, I was in the bathroom, violently sick. You know what my first thought was? First thought after throwing up for three hours, that is? Small pox blankets. I kid you not. After all, it is a tried and proven method of population control.
I had neglected to wash my new-to-me item before wrapping myself head to toe, I was so entranced. I always wash before I wear. Always.
Morning came. I donned nitrile gloves, finger-tipped my throw into the washer, hung it on line, the other online, in the sun to dry and bake.
Undaunted, when evening came I wrapped in my quilted saris and imagined what they might want to be.
Meanwhile, I had other projects going, so continued to dream, continued to wrap up when cold. Until one day, a warmer afternoon in February, I said to myself, “Self, I really love this as a wrap. Let’s order another and then choose which to use for garments and which to keep for a blankie.”
Immediately upon arrival, my new throw got a baptism in sudsy water. I lay the throws side by side, over and under, contemplated for several days, and chose one for dismemberment. Have you any idea how long it might take to pull running threads from a 60 X 90” garment. Long, that’s how long. Long.
Once dismantled, I discovered I had not two layers of sari pieces but three. Oh, the possibilities multiplied. Suddenly I had six large and one small piece of fabric with which to play. Greed set in. Oh, you sly computer, seducing my shekels from my pocket. I ordered another.
The third arrived on a warm day in March. I’m pulling the stitches, a few rows a day. While I pull stitches, the old saris talk with me. I get a definite sense of the women who patiently threaded their needles, over and over, stitched together used pieces of still-usable gauzy cottons.
This is intimate work, pulling out the stitches so patiently placed. Stitches take on voices, talk to me. One woman is younger, very precise, a perfectionist. Lentils and curry with a handful of rice burbles over a small flame.
Another, the eldest one, while not so precise, knots both ends of threads, wants it never to come undone. With her foot, she rocks a grandbaby in a cradle. The toddlers whimper for lunch.
The other woman is just getting through the day, tired, doing her job, adequate, impatient, cuts blind corners. She worries, worries she won’t make her quota, worries about the rent, wonders if she’ll make it to the market before the food stalls empty.
I am connected with these three different women. I am connected enough to feel guilty. This is sweatshop work, piece work, paid in pennies. Each woman works in her home, sitting by a window maybe, perhaps out under a banyan tree, or beneath a bare 25 watt bulb. Piece work. If you finish one, you get paid for one. If you finish ten, you get paid for ten. I imagine the gnarled fingers, cramped and needle-pricked, pushing the needle down one more row.
Is it wrong of me to buy these goods? Wrong to support the evil overseer? Or does my purchase mean the woman and perhaps her family eats tonight? My question has no easy answer; it is an age-old quandary.
I wish I could talk with these women, tell them what pleasure their stitchery brings me. We are connected, kindred souls, old, used and flawed, bound together by color and tradition and love of fabrics, also old, used and flawed.
HDN: Looking out my back door
End of March which must mean something.