I’m holding up a nubby boiled-wool jumper with puckered leather elbow patches, asking myself if it sparks joy. It’s the Margiela jumper that my boyfriend deliberately shrank in the wash. It was too small for him and too big for me, so we tried a little wabi-sabi DIY and gave it a cycle in the Miele. It’s now my favourite thing, an imperfect comfort blanket that feels tactile and familiar.
“Spark joy” is the mantra of Marie Kondo, the saviour of slobs, hoarders and shopaholics everywhere. Her decluttering manual, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, has rewired almost six million recovering hoarders into thinking more decisively about the stuff they have. Suddenly, the “buy less, buy better” schtick seems to stick.
Meanwhile, fashion is having its own KonMari decluttering epiphany. There’s the – contradictory, I know – shift towards thoughtful consumerism, notably from high-street brands keen to trumpet their new sustainability initiatives. Could there possibly be a filthier phrase than “fast fashion” in our lexicon right now? Consequently, the most coveted designers are those whose collections have lovingly homespun craft at their heart. Faustine Steinmetz’s shibori denim, and Matty Bovan’s hand-patchworked jumpers come to mind, while the Loewe Craft Prize is the ultimate champion of toil and technique.
Because it’s not just an aesthetic thing. It’s not about “getting the look”; it’s about feeling and meaning first, looks second. A respect for the human hand, the time taken, and the tactility of fabric on skin. A couple of years ago, I visited a Scottish mill to watch the transformation of raw wool fibre into angel-soft scarves. What stuck with me were the wet-dog smell of the dyed wools, and the cacophony of the weaving machines. They engaged all the senses, right up until the final stroke of the finished scarves, buffed and fluffed by the spiky head of a teasel plant.
But does this touchy-feely fetish denote a movement or a fleeting trend? Well, not to get all dystopian on you, but we’re living in shaky political and economic times, which is enough to drive anyone to take refuge under a (hand-stitched, one-of-a-kind) Dosa quilt. And, as much as I love my many tech devices and the serotonin boost of a WhatsApp text, there’s definitely a breaking point, which I fear I may be close to.
That explains to me why the appetite for hand-wrought craft is far from waning. And that I don’t just consuming it, but doing it, too. Rolling up the sleeves and getting intimate with a calligraphy kit or a pottery wheel is the new going out. Who needs clubbing when there are ceramics classes to be taken and hand-glazed sake cups to be made? Silicon Valley’s tech titans are also embracing the tangible experience as an antidote to screen overload. Weaving workshops are apparently all the rage in the Valley, and let’s not forget that Steve Jobs himself was partial to a calligraphy class or two.
Marie Kondo would possibly balk at the array of vintage ceramics lining the top of our bookshelf. But don’t worry, Marie, each one is deeply cherished. Home is where the heart is, they say, and in today’s work-from-home gig economy, it’s increasingly where our office is, as well. How nice to surround yourself with cosy comfort while grappling with the day’s Trello to-dos and Slack notifications. For this freelance home-worker, life in the slightly slower lane is a welcome breather. And burrowing down in a love-worn jumper sparks its own Zen-like form of joy.