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The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure of our shared history of handiwork with this appeal for embracing continuity and belonging in a time of destabilizing change.
Sensing a need to preserve the crafts and stories of our founding communities, and inspired by an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featuring Yves St. Laurent’s “sardine” dress, Deming turned to the industries of her ancestors, both the dressmakers and designers in Manhattan in the nineteenth century and the fishermen on Grand Manan Island, a community of 2,500 residents, where the dignity of work and the bounty of the sea ruled for hundreds of years.
Reweaving the fabric of those lives, A Woven World gives presence on the page to the people, places, and practices, uncovering and preserving a record of the ingenuity and dignity that comes with such work. In this way the lament becomes a song of praise and a testament to the beauty and fragility of human making.
"A Woven World juxtaposes stories—fishing weirs and high fashion—in surprising ways, but the weaving is magical and wise. Deming’s focus is on the labor of hands and the materials they work with, from saplings and brush to sequins and silk. This is, in other words, a deep inquiry into the nature of character and craft. Throughout it all, Deming’s fierce urge to re-ravel the world shows us what we risk losing if we disentangle ourselves from the stories that help shape who we are. This is a celebratory book, full of scrutiny and longing." —Barbara Hurd, author of The Epilogues
“With the skill and care of an artisan poet, Alison Hawthorne Deming brings us the textures of nearly lost words and the craft that required them. Her tactile exploration of makers from fisherfolk to dressmakers makes me long for the embrace of a handsewn garment, stitched of relationships to land and history, embroidered with story.” —Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass
"Only a daring poet, who happens also to be a superb essayist, would try stitching together two endeavors seemingly so disparate as high-fashion dressmaking and ocean-edge fishing. But Alison Deming succeeds brilliantly. To these twin themes of fish and fashion, she adds threads of family and cultural history stretching from Paris to New York to a Canadian island in the Bay of Fundy, from the mid-nineteenth century to our own day. What binds the book together is her admiration for 'the maker class,' people skilled in the use of hand and eye to produce the essentials of life. Deming reminds us that literature is one of those essentials—a truth captured by the word 'poet,' whose Greek root means 'one who makes.'” —Scott Russell Sanders, author of The Way of Imagination
"Alison Hawthorne Deming is one of our wisest investigators of the relationship between humans and nature—a relationship in which humans are both part of nature and also serve as nature’s remakers and destroyers. In A Woven World, using fish, fashion, and family to frame her tapestry, Deming explores her deep attachments to particular places and her grief and hope for places being transformed by human incursion and fecklessness. In (sometimes barely) measured passion, and (always) passionate measures, Deming threads her way from beloved place to place, from ocean to city, crossing the line between hope and despair and back, always asking, What is the natural place for human making in the world? What acts of fabrication are worthy of celebration, and which are wasteful and destructive? And, most importantly, what is worth recovering, and is it too late for us to do so?" —Katharine Coles, author of Wayward