Out of Context

Sewing as Performance Art


This past summer I made little bags under a tent on a breezy street in Telluride, Colorado. Now, I’m sewing miniature bags under a tent on the central plaza in downtown Montrose. It is our local Farmers’ Holiday Market with our small spot nestled between a family selling Angus beef and an artisan showing beautiful glass jewelry. Aside from the feeling that I am in a James Thurber story, the experience of sewing as performance art has opened my eyes to the average American’s connection with textiles.

The number one thing people say when they walk up to our booth is, “Do you make these?” Fighting back my darker angels, I mention the domestic materials, upcycling of fabrics and using scrap from other projects whenever possible. If individuals loiter more than momentarily, I throw in some technical mumbo jumbo before my trusty colleague steps in to close the sale with a touch of much needed holiday cheer. It is all a bit of a carnival act.

During these brief engagements, a single simple truth about today’s shoppers has become clear. People love fabric. They love rubbery fabric and mesh fabric. They like slick fabric and rugged canvas. Fabric with structure and prints of all kinds; they eat it up. Customers are attracted to variety and seem compelled to look closely at, and purposefully touch, fabrics that hold their interest. For all of us, fabric ultimately boils down to those two things, what does it look like, and how does it feel.

Which circles back to the conundrum currently facing the textile world: Traditionally, selling fabric also resembles a carnival act, one that involves a great deal of show-and-tell. The entire process is focused on the same two senses: look and feel. The question is, in a COVID world, with no trade shows, how do you sell fabric that can’t be seen or touched? Do customers’ decision metrics change when the aesthetics are unavailable? And, is selling fabric online any different than selling on Craigslist?

People have an intimate relationship with textiles; I don’t think it will be easy for buyers to purchase what they haven’t experienced. At the Farmers’ Market I witness the instantaneous tactile impression that fabric makes on folks. It is powerful.

Perhaps the textile industry should follow us outside and create a gathering of pop-up tents and folding tables assembled in the sunshine. I’ll bring my sewing machine.

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray loves mumbo jumbo and orders it whenever he sees it on the menu. Textile Insight’s Publisher may not share in his opinions or culinary peculiarities.

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Power of the Picture
Face Time
Demand for On-Demand
Sustainability & Sizing