Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Wabi-Sabi Shirt for a Fractured America


The artist in an unguarded moment

Wabi = rustic simplicity

Sabi = transient beauty, taking pleasure in the imperfect authenticity of age

A serendipitous stumble into wabi-sabi occurred about a month ago when I got home from emergency eye surgery, idly looked down, discovered that the shirt I was wearing had dozens of holes in it, and started laughing. That’s what happens when you can’t see your shirt.

The shirt

The holes

This simple sleeveless top was originally stitched with a length of hand-dyed West African fabric gifted to me by a friend in London. Never one to give up on rotting garments, I considered my next steps. I decided to cannibalize the lower sleeves of a red cotton Indian shirt (gifted by the same friend) and cut them up into little squares. I decided on a relatively crude overhand stitch around the edges to secure the tiny patches to the shirt.  I meditated on wabi-sabi, a mindset that originated with the Japanese and involves a different way of looking and perceiving. It involves acceptance of the natural cycle of growth and decay, life and death, and the imperfections that come with it. And then I started stitching..,

Little squares, overhand stitched around the edges

...and stitching and stitching and stitching. Every time I thought I was done I held the garment up to the light and discovered more holes.

One evening, as the elections were looming over us and tensions were high, I glanced over at the shirt hanging on a door and awaiting more patches And realized I had created an American flag - a fractured American flag. I also, with philosophical wabi-sabi serenity, realized I was never going to outpace all of those tiny holes. The shirt was done. Time to don it and enjoy the slow decay.

Wabi-sabi shirt for a fractured America...

...with lingering little holes to let new light in

As I was trying to take a photo of me wearing the shirt as the final graphic for this post, I kept tossing out photos that showed the sagging skin on my arms, the wrinkled neck, the age spots. And then I realized wabi-sabi aesthetics apply to all things, including the beauty of an aging body. I donned my power cuffs embellished with embroidered drawings my grand nieces made of scary monsters, struck a few power Wakanda poses, and am ready for whatever crap the universe throws at us next.

Artist credit: the hanging wood sculpture behind me is by Creative Growth artist John Martin


  1. Wonder Woman to the rescue, again and absolutely fabulous.

  2. You look great and so does your top. Love what you've done.

  3. LOVE IT. You look awesome.
    -Erika Otter

  4. You are gorgeous. And my new hero.

  5. Thank you all. Each of your comments made my day. Xxx


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