I’m currently in the process of getting some of my work up online, and as I do this, I’m realizing there are aspects of process that I really want to share. Before I went back to design school, I had very little idea of how most things were made, and learning about manufacturing and production has been one of the most thrilling aspects of becoming a designer. I’m fascinated by molds, lathes, mills, laser-cutters, and all the other technical and not-so-technical tools and processes used to transform material into product.
But beyond my own fascination, I feel that it’s important for everyone to start becoming more aware of how the things we use are made. One of the biggest challenges in creating more sustainable production and consumption cycles is that we have lost touch with these processes. Products appear on our shelves and in our homes like magic, and it’s easy that way not to appreciate the tremendous amounts of energy, expertise, and material that went into getting them there. I feel about products much the way that many in the slow and local food movements feel about food – that our loss of connection to the production of our consumables makes it hard for us to understand why we should value these things.
Understanding how things are made also helps consumers parse tradeoffs in cost and quality. Is the product more expensive because of the name and logo, or is there actual handcrafting that augments the value and therefore the cost? Manufacturers are catching on to the idea that a story of craft helps justify a premium, but how to know how much truth is behind the story without some education in the basic ways that materials are shaped and formed?
I’ll be showing photos from my own processes in future posts, but for now, I wanted to show this photo from a silk factory I visited in the Fergana Valley, in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is famous for the now-ubiquitous ikat print, which there is made from weaving a silk warp with a cotton or silk weft. But the silk all starts this way, as pods which are boiled in an iron vat over an open fire. The women use sticks to gather the strands from the pods as they are loosened by the hot water and pass them over a hook to a woman who spins the filaments together into a continuous thread.
I know that most silk factories are more modern-looking than this Uzbek one, but I never buy silk at Mood without thinking of matter-of-fact way these women went about that first step of coaxing open the papery pods and reeling in those translucent fibers.