On any given day, if I ask a friend or even a stranger if they’ve got a bag of clothes to be donated in their home somewhere, the answer is always yes. Sometimes it’s just one paper bag, but usually it’s multiple trash bags, boxes, or very large plastic bins. They always say they were waiting to donate it till it got a bit bigger, more worth the trip… When I ask, they’re more than happy to give it to me to deal with. Going through it all, most of these bags and boxes I’ve obtained are full of t-shirts. Specifically, cheaply made but basically new and coming apart anyway mass-fashion t-shirts. Some are novelty printed, some made for single events which will never be worn again, and some (these are the gems) are so loved and worn thin that they’re practically see-through.
It’s been 6 years since I started my mission to reduce my personal clothing consumption (and therefore waste). While I partly accomplish it by buying less, the bulk of my efforts are in buying second-hand clothing—everything except socks and underwear. And sure, there’s specialty gear I need to suit my all-weather cyclist lifestyle, but that gear is made to last in a way fast fashion never was.
At some point though, it wasn’t enough. I started offering my sewing skills to friends, to repair loved garments so they could continue to be worn. I began organizing the occasional clothing exchange, for small, then larger groups. I picked through everything left, keeping the good cloth for art projects and donating the rest to local charities that help people in my community. I realized I could put my teaching skills to good use, and now I teach mending workshops when I can find a space to host. I love teaching these workshops, and yet… they have helped me to realize that it’s the work that’s the problem. People just don’t have the time for the labor of renewing, recycling, or otherwise re-purposing these garments in the modern age (or they choose to use that time on other things).
All of this. All of this and I still find myself with mountains of t-shirts. I don’t wear t-shirts, though I do love jersey fabric. T-shirts feel slouchy to me, aren’t really my style, and yet they take up shelves and shelves of space in my studio. There’s something in their utility, combined with their disposability, that fascinates me. This project is a culmination of this fascination, the want to convert the disposable into the utilitarian, and the want to document the labor required, the labor nobody has time for. Weaving is, in my mind, the perfect way to do this, as line by line, foot by foot, it is measured. The number of threads, the number of warps tied on and cut off, the number of feet woven—all of these, so carefully accounted for. Rather than tracking the number of shirts, the moment of truth is in knowing I can weave endless feet, for as long as I am able, and that I will never run out of used, unwanted t-shirts with which to weave.