Thoughts on Women and cloth

What is it with women and cloth, fabrics, threads and draperies?

It’s like some kind of ancient secret bond. Be it silk or linen, stretchy modern fabrics or good old warm pure wool. Tapestry and weaving, sewing, knitting, stitching, embroidery work or loom; it seems as though women have been making fabric for years, decorating materials, combining patterns, designing textiles and doing needle work, since time immemorial.

We, women have been sitting around in circles, creating with cloth, with fabric since tribal life and still today. I travel around the globe and everywhere I go, I find women bonding with cloths, creating, exchanging knowledge and teaching one another.

This field of work was not only recognized traditionally as a woman’s job, but also her hobby and passion. I do find it is rather irresistible for most women to refrain from touching luxurious cloth, imagining it’s decorating and just generally playing with fabrics.

Traditionally, women always wore a lot of cloth. Modesty and moral values customarily covered women’s body and head. Their dresses were at times extremely heavy in cloth, huge and thick, they coats long, their mantles wide. They were wrapped in heavy saris, draped in shawls, kimonos and robes in the east. Adorned massive garments, high hats and stiff corset in the west.

Naturally, women were the ones that attended to the needs of mending cloths, knitting warm sweaters, making curtains, sowing a new blanket or fitting together a lacy wedding garment.

And even today, when everything is so unbelievably available to us with a click on the “checkout” button; women and fabric, are deeply connected.

In the beautiful Greek island – Naxos – where I spend much time, the traditional art of making cloth with a loom is still very much alive. This is seen as solely a women’s skill. In the mountain villages women of various ages sit behind their vast looms and make cloths in classical patterns they inherited from their grandmothers or aunts, as well as more modern ones they find or create. Making decorative textiles as well as functional fabrics such as table cloths, scarfs and other day-to-day cloths is their joy and profession.

When I look at old embroidery that is framed and hung in many women’s homes, I must admit I don’t particularly like it, however it seemed to me as though this has served as some open rout where women were not only expected to be creative and maybe also free expressive. Unlike practically all the other aspects of their lives, fabric was their domain, their kingdom, and they were expected to rule it well.

This is not to say that men never dealt with cloths, far from it; not only as international salesmen but as cloth makes, designers and talented craftsmen. However, the difference that I seem to find within this particular field, is that women were not only seen the customers of cloth goods, but they were naturally more involved and opinionated in all aspects of this matter.


A few women stories from across the world

When I lived in India I used to make many of my cloths with the help of a tailor. I never owned a sowing machine but I found such great tailors that I had no need. For many women in India, a sowing machine is their ticket into financial independency or a steady income, at times without even needing to leave their homes. Across the world I find women tailors wherever I go. A remember one in Thailand, she had a long rope, over 3 meters long, connected to her baby’s crib that was in another room, so that she would sit in her home’s porch and work, while she could still rock him to sleep when she would hear him waking up. Another time, in Costa Rica, a tailor I went to, had her small kids playing under her chair, delighted with each leftover cloths that would fall on the floor around them.

I know so young mothers in Israel that were fond of stitching together soft fabric in shapes of vegetables. They would stuff it with cotton, to provide for their small children such toys, instead of purchasing the plastic ones available in shops. My good friend’s grandmother, with her Persian roots used to knit perfect socks each winter, to all her many many grandchildren. These were so loved, that they could never truly be replaced in their adulthood.

I remember once an English neighbor told me she enjoys knitting, not for the knitting itself, but because she feels it connects her to a line of endless women that used throughout history would sit and knit together.

Personally, I enjoy to make dolls and fairies and other such creatures from raw wool. I love all my white curtains and my endless decorative pillow collection. I also enjoy mending my own cloths, this simple skill always feels to me like a great gift and privilege to have even nowadays.

And whenever I see this magical bond between women and cloth, it simply makes me smile.

(c) 2010 Meditative Art School, Mochita Har-Lev      Web Development: