We’ve always needed cloth. With food and shelter, it completes the big survival triangle. Without something to wear, we wouldn’t have come out of the cave. Food and fiber crops formed civilizations. People tended to stay and work with what grew naturally around them, and as societies developed, so did their textiles.
The Chinese developed basketry before pottery, and created draw looms capable of weaving the finest silks with EPI’s in the hundreds. The Inca considered fine weavings a special offering suitable for the Gods, and the highest social levels, the most talented weavers became the most desirable wives. Scottish tradition demanded a young lass spin and weave all the linens and towels her household would need to prove herself a fit bride.
Before the industrial revolution, home spun and handwoven was the norm. You could clothe your own family, but you could also feed your family by clothing others. Employment in the textile trade ranged from corners to castles. In stable societies, cloth ranged from coarse and sturdy to uselessly ornate. The better your cloth, the higher your status.
Then the machines took the hand out of weaving, and most people forgot. Handwork lost its high societal status, and today most consumers can’t or won’t pay more for the novelty. Without financial incentive, the skills atrophy and the knowledge is lost to the next generation. It’s all about marketing, sales and survival.
The ladies of Koniakow in Poland figured that out. For centuries, they had produced beautiful bobbin lace. Visitors to their towns bought the fine lacework, and everyone was happy and fed. Now the tourists look at the intricate doilies and dresser scarves. They may appreciate, but they are less likely to acquire. In a stroke of genius, someone realized they had been ignoring a huge percentage of touring population: Men would suffer through they’re traveling companions stop to look through the lace, but they’d remember the store and want to return if it sold sexy underwear. And they would buy!
To keep the art of bobbin lace alive, they started making thongs (for those who don’t know: a thong is the smallest amount of cloth able to be defined as clothing, with hardly enough under to be called underwear). The image of grannies selling g-strings could be disturbing to some; others would think it fabulous they found a way to keep the business alive. I say, “cheers!” to the ladies of Koniakow. Lace one up and snap one on for the rest of us.