Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


I grew up predominantly in a context of privilege and protection, with a goodly smattering of denial and despair. I remember as a child sitting in my mother’s sewing room watching her mend socks wondering why – like the other kids—I couldn’t just get new socks instead. It wasn’t until later, far past the time those stitches became the soul-saving sutures of the permanent vest my mother stitched across my beloved stuffed rabbit’s chest, that I realized those mending stitches reflected an act of care – of preserving and mending relationship.

Like many, I live in a world of contradiction, and the warmth of this literal mending was juxtaposed by a cultural tattering left unattended. My family spent many holidays with Gert-and- Dorothy. Gert was my grandmother’s sister, yet the Gert-and-Dorothy duo was such a tight pair you never uttered one name without the other. It wasn’t until my late twenties, after coming out myself, that I realized just who Dorothy was and why they were so comfortably together for many years. The L-word was not in my family’s or that decade’s vocabulary. I never heard how they met, how they struggled, how they cared for one another. Histories lost – possibilities of connection left unnamed and unexplored.

Here I am many years later having recently returned from a trip to Cambodia. During my recent travel, I was struck by the intense beauty of the Cambodian textiles, a rich tradition lying in stark contrast to the poverty Cambodia faces, yet somehow completely in harmony with the warmth and beauty of the people themselves. I was struck by the fact that had I been there only 30 years prior, I would have witnessed the great devastation of a culture, a full scale attack on the people from both within and without that decimated the land and destroyed over 30% of the population, and devastated a country’s cultural and aesthetic memory. I was struck also by a current phenomenon: the teeming number of organizations that recognize a potent route to regaining cultural memory and richness is to rebuild working knowledge of traditional craft. I could feast my eyes and soul on the majesty of hand-dyed and hand-woven ikats.