Author: Kate Irvin
In celebration of the fourth annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.
I’m interested in the layers of work, in keeping the memory of every gesture that we make.
—Christina Kim, “The Life of Jamdani,” in Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse
Transparency and layering, eloquently expressed in this ethereal “Recycled Jamdani” panel, inform much of the work and practice of Los Angeles–based artist and designer Christina Kim. Though these are characteristics—and concepts—that don’t always play well together, in the deft hands of Kim and the various artisans she works with via her clothing label dosa, not only do they aesthetically coexist but they also define the label’s ethos of profound care and respect for makers and making.
Hand-woven in Bengal using the finest of cotton threads and famously described as “woven air,” jamdani textiles are by definition translucent, emerging from the loom as subtle veils of color sprinkled with floral or figured motifs painstakingly laid in by hand as the weaver progresses inch by careful inch. On a 2002 working trip to Ahmedabad, India, Kim was struck by the intricacies and color palette she saw in a stack of jamdani saris on display at the West Bengal booth of an Indian textile fair. Drawn in by their hues, patterns, and the palpable labor involved in their making, she delved into jamdani’s royal history and its contemporary production and mindfully folded this yardage into her dosa clothing line for the ensuing five years.
Far from obfuscating the fabric’s origins, Kim’s process of incorporating the jamdani lengths into dosa’s garment silhouettes entailed deep research and direct engagement with the makers, increasing rather than obscuring the visibility of the Bengali artisans and the sophistication of their work. Through visual and written narratives that promote the collection and celebrate the many aspects of artisan involvement (see, for example, the dosa glossary), Kim brings to light the many layers that comprise her final forms. Final, perhaps, is not quite the right word, though. Kim keeps the narrative alive as she saves every scrap left on the cutting room floor of her LA sewing studio.
Kim has long been interested in mending and reusing leftover materials. Her childhood memories of South Korea are colored by the scarcity of material objects and the need to care for them. In light of this personal history, she made sure to preserve the jamdani narrative by designing panels such as this one, patched, layered, and appliquéd together by artisans in Gujarat, India, who employed their traditional skills on scraps of fabric made on the other side of the Indian subcontinent. In the end, the finished panels of recycled scraps made 800 meters of new material that went into the making of 409 new garments. And the leftovers from that made another generation of recycled panels for garments and curtains. Even the smallest tidbits ended up in amulets with Hindu blessings inside.
Just one of many in Kim’s thoughtful design oeuvre, this panel exemplifies the ways that this gifted designer connects fabric and people and engages with cultural and material history. Recut, rearranged, pieced, and layered together to form a new whole, such designs crystallize makers’ histories and memories and the value of material goods.
Kate Irvin is the Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the RISD Museum.