Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Ruth Katzenstein Souza.


There is a growing movement toward repair and mending to combat the waste and over consumption that is so toxic to our planet. The environmental damage caused by textile production is the second greatest source of pollution after the oil industry.2 In light of these immense issues that are complex and overwhelming I found myself asking; “what can I do to add to the repair of the world?” I realized that we need to mend what we can in our immediate life; to truly see what needs our attention and to assess what is broken and see beauty in the repair and the story it holds. Michael Meade, the mythologist, says it beautifully in his essay on Golden Mending, “Because the troubles of the world have grown so great and encompass both culture and nature, each person can find a crack nearby that can be turned into a golden seam.”3 This metaphor of stitching life back together is at the core of finding community through slow stitching in a fast paced world. The search for what can be gleaned and the combining of materials was not only instinctual but nurtured early in my life. The importance of making went back to my childhood where I would spend time with my grandmother in Shreveport, Louisiana. I played for hours laying out pretend quilts and landscapes with the scraps in the bottom drawer of her chiffonier. In this treasure trove she kept a bit of fabric from everything she made, just in case it was needed for mending. The first days of my arrival always spurred a trip to the fabric store to pick out a pattern and material. It was at this time that I learned the language of textiles; seersucker, pique and gingham in the summer; flannels, corduroy and velveteen for winter. The sense that clothing is seasonal, ceremonial and holds our memories was instilled by her and influenced all spheres of my life. When Granny travelled to see us, she always brought her mending kit (Figure 2), a small plaid case she made lined with felt that held thread, pins, needles, and a small ruler. This little case in my grandmother’s skilled hands transformed our clothing, this ability to alter and fix things became transformative for me. I too wanted those skills and spent as much time as I could by her side. In her capable hands, all the household towels, sheets and aprons were monogrammed. It was my grandmother that connected the sense of text and textiles for me. I also began embroidering and marking cloth as a way of valuing and focusing on the notion that nothing should be wasted or thrown out. Later in my life I made gallery installations of mending boxes to commemorate the sense of order and the belief in the sacredness of textiles that she passed on to me. This reverence, which I thought was Granny’s way, was deeply rooted in the worldwide traditions of reuse and stitching. This slow stitching connected us invisibly to the kantha makers in India, the Sind woman making ralli quilts, the Gees Bend quilters, and the boro traditions of Japan. Unknowingly I was initiated into these great traditions by this humble, unassuming woman.