Finding Memories in Textiles

Close up photo of fabric patches

Another textile post. I know, I know. But I am finding a lot of joy in thinking about the ways in textiles intersect with history.

I’m working on a project that has me re-purposing old fabrics. This has included working with everything from old shirts to off cuts from sewing projects to found fabric household fabric from the 1980s. As I handle, snip, and sew this fabric I’ve been thinking about the memories it holds both physically and metaphorically.

Fabric holds smells. Fabric can smell musty, it can smell like a home, it can smell like the person who wore it last. These smells are all memories of moments or individuals. I have an afghan blanket that my Grandma made me and after she passed away I struggled with the need to wash it. The blanket still smelt like her, I could wrap it around me and revisit her house and shared experiences. As I washed it the smell faded and so did that visceral memory trigger.

Fabric holds its shape. Long folded fabric gets creases and lines. Folded up linens stuck on a shelf at the back of the closet remember how they were folded and gain lines from long storage. Lines in old fabric can speak to use. Was the fabric folded over something for years? Has it discolored evenly? What can the shape of it tell us about how it has been cared for, used, and stored.

Fabric witnesses. Fabric falls victim to stains and spots and grows threadbare from overuse. That pair of jeans that I don’t want to give up, even though they have holes from bonfires past. Those jeans tells a story, even if I’m the only one who can hear it. That coffee stained quilt that you scrubbed but couldn’t quite clean. It tells a story too. Threadbare woven mats show where people walked, where furniture was placed, and those spots no one ever walked.

Touching, witnessing, and examining textiles connect us to personal, family, and societal histories. Textiles can remember how they are treated and used. They bare signs of their makers and owners. They can bring comfort, tears, and joy. What textile memories do you carry with you?

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash