There is a lack of emphasis on understanding materials, especially in this fast paced craft oriented world. One of the things I like about hand sewing is that it is a bit slower and there is more opportunity to feel and look closer and to enjoy your process. The basic understanding of your materials is crucial in developing the character and individual style of your craft and the satisfaction that comes with that. . And so I have come to define style as the embodiment of this relationship.
In the current and ongoing cloth to cloth workshop, a fabric called shot cotton came into focus, because its nature lends itself so well to the process, which was recognized right off by Nance. Then the question what is shot cotton? emerged. It is wonderful that, when working with all kinds of cloth and people, their nature is more likely to come to light.
A shot cotton is simply one of many shot fabrics, in this case a plain woven cotton cloth with one color in one direction and a different color in the other. More of us probably know this term because it has been marketed here and there, especially by Kaffe Fasett... as a choice for quilters.
And it is quite appealing. But I was thinking to myself, yes, it is quite appealing, but there is more than one reason why, and how often do we consider that? How far beyond trend do we actually travel? Do we really want to know the story of why it might be called that, know why it is expensive, so hard to find, especially here in the US? Know how the nature of this cloth might change our work? Are these bits of information important to anyone? Do we want to use it just because it is popular and will we abandon it as soon as the next "new" thing comes along? I ask myself these questions all the time. It encourages me to persist, to understand my choices and relate to cloth in a different way.
A while back, Karen Turner asked a question in my Spirit Cloth workshop:
"I meant to ask, Jude - in your vocabulary, is there a difference between story cloth and spirit cloth? I noticed some time ago on your blog you took the magic cloth outside and said it had begun the transition to spirit cloth."
A very important question. A question that comes up now and again. And although my whole history here with blog and cloth seems to imply an explanation , maybe it needs to be said.
Story cloth is not a term that was created by me. It is a description of a certain type of narrative cloth most often associated with the Hmong people of China, you can read a bit about that here... I always found quilting to be a sort of documentary in a way and after blogging about the quilt as a story for a while, I started to refer to my work as story cloth. I felt that it described my attempt to communicate something through cloth making. It is a major component in what I do.
Spirit Cloth, on the other hand, is my own personal classification and name for my work, the name I chose when I started blogging. It is, I suppose a two word mission statement. I often use it to describe the moment when the cloth reaches the state where I have formed a real relationship with it . When it becomes my voice through the voice of the fabric. The difference I am stressing here is the presence of the fabric itself, as a character in the story. I think story cloth, as normally defined, lacks that element. It is more about a narrative style of decoration rather than an integrated process.
So anyway. back to shot cotton... The term shot could be applied to any color woven solid. I have quite a collection that includes shot cottons as well as shot silk and shot linen, and wool simply because I am drawn to the look and always have my eye out for the tiniest scraps. The most obvious quality is the iridescent effect that results when certain colors are crossed. And maybe less obvious, when cut , the raw edges reveal two different color fringes, an effect that is been most useful as a decorative element in ragged edge techniques. The other more subtle and often unconscious appeal is the textural effect of this otherwise flat color woven. The contrasting colors make you aware of the weave and this gives the cloth a subtle character that reads as a solid but add so much more to the depth of a textile.
I always find it interesting in defining a textile term, it is partly history and fact, but often the best part of the story is the story you know through the experience of it. Terms change over time based on fashion and popularity and even convenience. The word shot refers to the weaving process. The weft ( horizontal) element is often referred to as a shot, in this case the cloth is shot with color as opposed to just the normal white filling that creates what we call a chambray. But the story goes further for me. I worked for a US mill. Weaving a solid color in the filling was often considered quite dangerous as it will cause a quality issue if the yarn was not spun smoothly enough. And color on color shows dye defects more. Because of the modern American standard of beauty in cloth, this means more time and money to insure no defects. Oddly enough it IS the defects of this cloth that gives it its character and beauty. And so you are more likely to find this kind of product coming from India or elsewhere.
To take this further, the awareness of woven cloth in the quilting and craft sector is hampered by the fact that most quilting fabrics are prints, or solid dyed on white cloth. Our aesthetic is often shaped by our exposure. There is a lack of contact with color woven cloth. This is based in a cost issue. Producing a yarn dyed fabric is a long time consuming costly process. Hence, in this competetive economy, it is usually avoided. Since marketing is all tied together, it make sense that the craft businesses lead the consumer to buy what is available from their suppliers because they are not trying to educate, they are trying to make money. Honestly I would rather pay for the education.
Anyway, there a few alternative ways to find these wonderful woven gems. One is to look at any large plaid. Look closely. Large madras style plaids are the best. Look for the areas that have different colors crossing. You might find a rainbow of shot wovens in each one, since a plaid is created by blocks of color crossing. Cut them apart Wash and fray them a bit. Beautiful little bits to play with. I am not a fan of plaids but I am a fan of their nature.