⟨ Craft ⟩

The Unyielding Power of Gentleness

SLW Workshop

Words & Photography / MINICHERRYB
Translation / Fanny Chan

我好奇線的製作,手執棉絮,運用紡車製作手捻線,這畫面在動畫《千與千尋》和《睡公主》也有出現過,在還沒有電動製線、織布機前,線都是人手捻出來,再織成布,再成布藝品,線成了初衷。在台南學甲,怡君創辦了巧婦織布工藝室,學甲在台南是偏鄉之地,怡君(i chun)在這裡生活、教授及創作關於線及織布的工藝,她是現代織女,從手捻線開始。

「不只是棉絮纖維,羊毛、棉、苧麻、亞麻、黃麻、構樹也可以製成手捻線。」怡君剛把孩子送回娘家,便開車到店跟我見面,店內也正好有幾位學生邊織布邊跟她閒聊。

「手捻線都是獨一無二,不同機械製作整齊有序,在製作時以時間換取的創作靈感,以力度混合不同纖維,捻成屬於自己的毛線球。」擦著汗的怡君,一邊準備棉線染料
一邊跟我說明手捻線。

在台灣,像怡君於偏鄉創作的青年被城市人稱為「農青」,學甲區青年人口很少,別以為「農青」時間一定比城市人閒,在創作上跟城市人遇到的機會及困難是截然不同,但相同的是創作的決心。

怡君除了打理布藝工作室外,還要照顧孩子、家事,雖然幾乎所有家長都一樣,但因著城鄉距離,怡君每次出門授課、宣傳、甚至跟文化團體開會,都要付出很長的交通時間,如果沒有溫柔且堅定的力量,是沒法創作出細膩的作品。

I am curious as to how yarn is made. My very limited understanding of hand-spinning originated from scenes in the animations Spirited Away and Sleeping Princess where the characters spin yarn out of clumps of cotton on a spinning wheel. Before electric spinning wheels and weaving machines were ubiquitous, cloth works were made by handspun yarn and handwoven fabric; Yarn was considered the basis of all cloth works. In Xuejia, a rural district in Tainan City, there is a local resident, artist, and modern weaver named i chun. I chun is the founder of SLW Workshop where she crafts as well as teaches hand spinning and weaving. Her story begins with handspun yarn. 

“It’s not only cotton fiber. Wool, ramie, linen, jute, and paper mulberry can also be spun into yarn.” After sending her child to grandma and grandpa, I chun came to the workshop to meet me. There were several students weaving and chatting.

“Unlike the neat and well-formed yarn produced by machines, hand-spun yarn is unique and special. It is the strength and fiber used as well as the time spent in the spinning process that makes such a difference. Every yan is unique to its creator.” i chun, who was soaked in sweat, explained what hand spinning is about as she prepared for yarn dyeing.

In Taiwan, young artisans like i chun who reside in rural areas are called Nong Qing (agricultural youths). There are not many young people living in Xuejia, and some people might think that Nong Qing who reside in such an area would live a more relaxed life compared to the young people living in the city. The truth is, even though they share the same passion for arts and crafts, Nong Qing and the urban citizens encounter very different difficulties and chances. 

In addition to taking care of her workshop, I chun also needs to take care of her family and child.  Although what she does is like any other parent, due to the physical distance between Xuejia and the city, I chun needs to spend extra time and effort doing chores, may it be teaching, doing promotions for her projects, or having meetings with cultural groups. Without unyielding strength and gentleness, it would be impossible for i chun to complete different tasks while creating such delicate and precious works.

〈那些古老或被遺棄的事〉

這年頭,手作回歸到初始,最早期的手工捻線技術,是人類以雙手抽取植物纖維,再揉成線作編織器物、衣服之用,現在製作手工捻線會利用手捻機輔助,而手捻機大多以木頭製成,對比現代科技,這種製作,單是過程便令人感到溫暖。

我在倉庫看到一大箱米白色棉絮,有點像拖把,但都是約兩厘米短的毛線,我伸手把它們棒在掌手,方發現它們是相連的棉絮。

「那是毛巾工廠製作毛巾時,剪下多餘的毛邊,那是以車縫的棉絮,所以那算是線,只是混合不同長短纖維的棉線」在怡君眼中看到平凡,理所當然地珍惜這天然米白的棉絮。

其實,台灣雲林是毛巾製造重鎮,每日棄置大量棉絮,怡君經過清刷、梳理,才把棉絮製成創作素材,並將此實際應用於生活上。

被遺棄的技術,被遺棄的棉絮,被遺棄的鄉郊,只要有人不放棄,便有重生的機會。

<Those old or abandoned things>

From the extraction of plant fibers to teasing and twisting into yarn for weaving, the earliest yarn spinning technique relied solely on human hands. Nowadays, when handcrafting is moving back to the basics, craftspeople use wooden spinning wheels to aid the process compared with machine production. This kind of manual production involving so much human touch can still warm one’s heart.

I spotted a large box of off-white cotton fibres in the warehouse. They are mostly about two centimeters long, and together they look like a mop. I grabbed a clump of the fibers and placed them on my palm; it was then I realized these fibres are all connected.

“Those are the trimmed excess parts of the towels. I got them from the towel factory.  They are sewn together by machines, so they are more like yarn. Just that they have fibers of different lengths.” i chun is someone who pays attention to the ordinary. It’s quite natural for her to cherish these off-white fiber excesses. 

In fact, Taiwan’s Yunlin county houses some major towel manufacturers. A large amount of cotton fibers are discarded every day. I chun cleans and sorts through the unwanted excess, and turns them into raw materials for her creative works.

Old techniques are being abandoned, so are the cotton fibers and even the countryside. But as long as someone doesn’t give up, there is always a chance of rebirth.

〈染色是一種能量轉化〉

如果世上的事都是一場能量轉化,創作也理應如此,怡君不僅把毛巾製作時的多餘棉絮,轉化成手工捻線,她也把植物的顏色轉染在棉絮之間。

「學甲,這地方,很多女生都很巧手,她們有些是從城市嫁進來,也有是本地土生土長的女生,當然我們也有男同學,但主要還是女學生居多。」怡君教我把線放入染料中浸泡、柔洗。

現在在城市,手捻線、染線技術成了假日休閒課程,但在傳統上那是一種生活所需,而在學甲,則是女生們在送小孩上學後、下課前的平日日常,母親轉化成學生,在那空間,彌漫著少女的氣息,自在,心甘情願。

台灣在地種植的薑黃、薯榔等植物化成顏料包圍了纖維線,染了色的線,不管材質有了新的面貌,雖然從外表已未必聯想到它們本來都是植物,但帶著植物的分身,被注入時間及溫柔的力量,讓織者有更多空間創作作品,就是能量轉化。

<Dyeing is a kind of energy transformation>

If everything happening on earth is some sort of an energy transformation, the creation process should bear the same notion. For i chun, she doesn’t only transform the cotton excesses from towel making into hand-spun yarn, she also transfers the colors of plants to the cotton fibres.

“In Xuejia, we have many girls who are very talented crafters. Some of them moved here from the city after they got married, and some are local girls. Of course we have male students, but the majority is female,” i chun showed me how to soak and wash the yarn in dye as she explained. 

In the modern world, hand spinning and yarn dyeing are no longer the survival skills that have long been embraced; they are merely activities for enjoyment during leisure time. But to the women in Xuejia, hand spinning and yarn dyeing are part of the normal routine that they’d go through on any given day when their kids are at school. In the workshop, mothers transform into students. The spirit of youth fills the air. Everybody feels comfortable and at ease. 

The locally grown plants such as turmeric and Shoulang Yam are turned into dyes to give the yarn a brand-new look. It might be hard to tell from its appearance that yarn is made of plants. Regardless, the plant-based yarn carries the significance of time and the power of gentleness which in turn allows the weavers to freely interpret and create; this is what I consider the energy transformation.

「那些我們習以為常的生活用品,如果花時間仔細研究,或者會發現有更多的可能性,利用雙手以更傳統、天然的方式創作,誕生的跨遠單純的用品價值,工藝就是這種意思。」

“If we take time to study carefully those daily necessities that we are so accustomed to, we might encounter numerous possibilities. To create with our hands in a more traditional and natural way, results in something more valuable than simply existing as an object. This is what craftsmanship is about.”