We at the Craft Council of BC are beyond excited to host Nadine Flagel’s upcoming exhibition Snagged which will occupy the CCBC gallery from January 21 to March 4, 2021. In the mean time, Nadine has taken the time to tell us about works-in-progress that explore the rag yard as a source of crisis and creativity. The central concept of Nadine’s exhibition will be the snag: the emergence of the unexpected, the jolting sensation when your sweater catches on a rusty nail. Whereas others might see snags as imperfections, difficulties, or dangers, we can see moments that require presence, that require the rug hooker’s celebration of discarded, damaged fabric and fibres.
I thought a lot about snags during a residency in New Brunswick last year. What I came up with: a snag can be a hidden obstacle, an unexpected hitch in a plan. It’s also a great deal, as in “I snagged this sweater in the sale.” A snag is a run in a stocking, a caught thread making the weave jagged. These are all moments that pull the fabric out of conventional shape. The snag is when something beneath the surface – the latent content, as it were – becomes manifest, obtrusive. For rug hookers, that moment when a garment gets a snag or moth hole or stain is when the fabric becomes more interesting, more valuable, when it snags or catches at one’s attention. A snag is the fascinating detail that invites repetitive return and touch.
“Snagged or spoiled clothing can enter the creative realm of possibility in addition to the rag yard or landfill. It can point the way toward cultural shift”
Some parts of our consumer culture are extremely visible: photoshopped advertisements, glossy shops, gleaming cars, new clothes. Other parts – especially production and waste – are nearly invisible. Even those of us who diligently take waste to recycling depots or try to buy local food rarely visit sweatshops, animal slaughterhouses, landfills, or rag yards. Consumer culture imperatives tell us to discard textiles, and North Americans do. We put old clothes in bags for charity hoping we won’t have to think about them anymore – in the US, 68 lbs per person per year. But that clothing might only be in the shop days before going to a rag yard. We cannot easily measure or mitigate the overwhelming environmental and social impacts of textile production and waste. However, snagged or spoiled clothing can enter the creative realm of possibility in addition to the rag yard or landfill. It can point the way toward cultural shift.
Rug hooking in its origins was about re-using fabrics that had already lived many lives. Many people who make rugs today use new wool fabric and yarn, but I’ve remained faithful to reused materials, though my range of materials extends beyond wool.
The old fabric is cut into strips, and the technique of rug hooking relies on pulling up those strips of fabric from underneath to make loops on the surface of a foundation cloth. Rug hooking can, therefore, be seen as the purposeful snagging of fabric that has, on a smaller scale, already been snagged.
What does it mean to occupy the snagged space, to see not a space for correction or imperfection but a space of possibility?
A rag yard is a giant warehouse that sorts fabric for recycling and disposal. It sells used fabric by the pound – sometimes by the hundredweight. The scale is inconceivable to ordinary consumers. A lot of fibres don’t disappear or decompose. Only certain fibres such as silk and wool can be recovered and recycled.
Let’s think about other yards. A yard is the area outside your home, exposed to elements, so beloved of North American families; in the UK, a yard is your territory, your neighbourhood. A yard is a measurement: 36” long, imperial. It’s a measurement frequently still used in Canada, and textile artists still buy fabric by the yard.
While I was thinking about this, Melissa Ferreira (who reuses clothing under the label Adhesif Designs), posted on Instagram photos of a rag yard she visits. Very few other photos of rag yards are available – and this absence is compelling evidence of our culture’s disregard for the costs of fast fashion. In such rare images, the strapping on bales of clothing or the square arrangement of metal bars visually reminded me of the distinctive grid of the warp and weft threads in the linen I use as a foundation cloth for my rugs. So, I started thinking about a hooked rug made from repurposed fabric as another (very small) version of a rag yard. A home, a territory, a collection of old clothing and old stories and attachments.
One common traditional type of hooked rug is even called an inch mat. The area is divided into one-inch squares and each square is outlined. The simple geometric allows you to use almost any type or colour of reused fabric and creates a mosaic-like effect. I knew I’d need to include a contemporary version of an inch mat in the exhibition.
But my use of textiles – however sustainable – feels so small in scale. It’s symbolic, but ineffective. The situation might be summed up like this: against the backdrop of nearly-invisible, inconceivable waste, the yard that expands exponentially, I feel I measure out inches and other tiny units. And even those tiny measurements are unstable: garments become asymmetrical as you wear them, a hooked rug’s dimensions change from the pattern as you hook it.
I’m planning to construct an interactive piece in this show that expresses (and allows visitors to express) some of the confusion and potential and frustration and inspiration that are part of our relationship to fabric and how we measure it: by the yard.
How do I – how do any of us – reach beyond our small, personal efforts to have an impact on colossal waste? I suspect we need to not only reduce, reuse, and recycle, but we need to tackle an entire system that favours the new and pristine. We need an esthetics and philosophy that value imperfection, damage. What if the inherent snags of rug hooking could help to adjust our thinking