I loved school, and I especially loved my last two years of college and graduate school. Although I studied art history and premedical studies in college, it was only in the last semester of my sophomore year that I found the Classics. Urged by my older brother I took a class on myths in ancient Greek art with a renowned professor. I had never read the myths and could only name a few gods, but I was drawn to my professor’s method of inquiry and demand for academic rigor. I crammed four years of Greek language, classical history, and classical archaeology into the last two years of school. And I was immensely happy.
I worked in hospitals in and after college, but I missed art. Through my sister I learned about art conservation—a wonderful confluence of art and science. Having zero talent in painting and drawing, I answered “textiles” when asked where I might want to intern. I I did my first machine and hand-sewing as a conservation intern. And I fell in love both with the world of costumes and textiles and their techniques and history and materials.
This year I find myself itching to go back to school. But that seems neither practical nor the right place for me now. The reality is that I am no longer a single entity in pursuit of my latest passion. My time to focus on something is smaller and less frequent than I would like it to be, and my energy is a bit more frenetic and less constant that it once was.
I have decided to create my own curriculum for the next year. I am eager to embark on a focused study and practice that results in true expertise.
Since this is my own curriculum, I can shape it as I digest new information and develop my skills. However, I want the reading, writing, and making to relate to a theme that has intrigued me since 2016, when I first listened to Dan Barber’s The Third Plate. If you haven’t read that book, or listened to the audiobook, I cannot recommend it enough. But it was not until I re-listened to his 2014 On Being conversation with Krista Tippett last month that my focus crystallized. Their conversation is full of thought-provoking and prescient moments. https://onbeing.org/programs/dan-barber-driven-by-flavor/ However, there were five ideas that have stayed with me:
1. What is delicious is usually also nutritious and good for the land and environment.
2. What the land and farmers have to offer should drive what we consume, not the other way around.
3. Barber’s expertise, namely gastronomy and storytelling, are his tools to bridge the gap between farmers and rest of the population.
4. The true cost of food is expensive, and we have not been paying appropriate prices.
5. Breeders hold a treasure trove of information that is otherwise los,t and they need to be supported and sought out.
Each of these points seems to have a direct parallel in the fiber world.
1. It has been my experience that luscious, healthy fiber comes from healthy animals; healthy animals come from knowledgeable and responsible shepherding.
2. I’ve seen too many superfine Corriedale fleeces that really seem to be cormo or merino fleeces masquerading on the backs of Corriedale bodies. Breeds and breed distinctions exist for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love crosses, but I find my favorite crosses are bred by shepherdesses that are fluent in the individual breed standards. And each breed has a purpose, just as each part of the fleece is suited to different uses. Working with medium and long wool fleeces last year taught me that every breed has a purpose and that part of being a maker who works with fiber is either to coax out its hidden beauty or to step out of the way and let it shine.
3. It is our responsibility as makers to learn about fibers, breeds, dyes, techniques, and history. Pardon the pun, but this expertise goes hand-in-hand with honing our skills at the wheel, dyepot, and loom. We need to be knowledgeable so that we can make informed decisions and tell compelling stories because we are the ones who often bridge the farm to consumer gap. We also have the opportunity to increase the circles in which we can champion farms/shepherdesses as well as sustainable practices, both through our words and our work.
4. We need to price our work with respect to the materials and our skills, and we need to support producers of our raw materials.
5. We need to search out those with expertise about breeding and who have been both forwarding thinking and conscious of the long arc of history. They literally hold the genetics and the knowledge that will be key to our futures.
What are the specifics of the curriculum?
At this point it is a reading list that relates to the various aspects mentioned in the points above as well as a commitment to push my practical skills to another level. I also hope to be able to spend more time with the people who are experts in their fields. There is no better way to learn than to be in the company of someone and watch how they move and work.
I’m starting this fall by re-reading Dan Barber’s The Third Plate. The rest of the reading list is just starting to take shape. I will share it here, and I would appreciate any suggestions. Please DM me on Instagram or send me an email. Thank you!!
I will also hone my technical skills. I want to feel expertise in my craft for several reasons—to honor the traditions that came before, including my grandmother’s handskills and my mom’s sense of design; to feel the thrill of fluency in my fingertips in each aspect of my work. When I encounter extraordinary fiber, I don’t want to interfere too much. I want to direct my skills to play a supporting role that allows that fiber to sing. But doing that actually requires more study, experience, and practice.
I hope you’ll join me here, and I look forward to sharing what develops with you.