Q&A with Sharon Kallis of EartHand Gleaners Society

2 November 2022
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The EartHand Gleaners Society, in Vancouver, describes its work as, “connecting makers with materials that come directly from the land around them; we model ‘How to be a Producer without first being a Consumer’. By working with the plants around us using ancestral skills common to all cultures, we inspire participants to discover cultural connections, learn new skills, and discover novel sources of raw materials for creative practices, including garden waste, invasive plants, and textile waste.”

To complement her profile of the organization’s work, Christi York wrote up a Q & A with EartHand Gleaners’s Founding Executive Director, Sharon Kallis. The following exchange has been edited for length and clarity.

Christi York: What are you working on?

Sharon Kallis: I am on year three of a seven-year self-imposed “buy nothing for my wardrobe” plan, working with the fibres, threads, and notions from within my house (my household fibreshed) to remake/sustain my wardrobe. I also use the plants and animals with whom I have a relationship—Barnston Island sheep from the Russell Farm for wool, and nettles and other fibres I grow for fibre and colour within the EartHand managed urban gardens. Also, I am interested in how I use technology, from old tech, like a warp-weighted loom, to new tech, like teaching weaving/spinning/fibre processing over Zoom.

C.Y.: Why do you go to all this trouble when you can just pick up a ball of flax at the store?

S.K.: That takes away most of the fun and ninety per cent of the learning journey (it is also very expensive and usually beyond my financial means). It also often puts me in a relationship that is tied to a trade/production system reliant on others’ labour and land in an exploitative way. We pay nowhere near the true value of the threads we wear. By understanding every step—watching the plants grow, knowing the seasonal wins and challenges those plants and animals have endured, nurturing them, harvesting, processing, and making a garment—I know the true value of what is on my back. I am not doing this alone, others are still in the process, but I know their names; I have had a fair and reciprocal exchange. Sharing skills/methods/labour and conversations is a huge part of the beauty in this work of clothing myself.

C.Y.: What is the future of EartHand, and what’s coming up that you are excited about?

S.K.: I think about the culture of cloth and clothing a lot: those who get to make by choice versus those who have to because there are limited other options for their income. Facilitating the Ancestral Cloth Guild through the pandemic was a powerful and life affirming time. These online cohorts explored our various and individual threads of connection to place, our ancestral textile processes, and developed skills in all the areas related to making our own cloth. The ideas that we collectively brought forward and unpicked—around cloth, family histories, and relationships to place—have profoundly influenced the conversations I wish to have when I bring people together. This work will continue for the next decade and beyond. It is how and why I bring people together. My own reconciliation work of understanding the various places my ancestors departed from, and arrived to, and who they disrupted by their arrival is ongoing through the research lens of plants, cloth, and textile labour history.

Homespun and homemade went from being a sign of poverty, or lack of wealth, to one of leisure time. It is now seen often as something that middle-aged (often white) women of a certain income do. As I have aged to be one of these white, middle-aged, white-haired women, I am interested in how I can use my privilege and EartHand’s collective momentum to push the needle a bit, to engage a younger, more diverse group of people to explore their own cultural roots through textiles and amplify those voices. The more I learn about the history of textiles, the more I am aware that greed and chasing the dream of cheap threads were huge drivers for colonization and industrialization and are a huge part of how we all have been disengaged from our humanity. Fast fashion is not new, it’s just the current iteration in our race to the bottom.

I think learning how we can take care of each other, take care of this planet, and regain a sense of who we are as individuals participating in a system bigger then ourselves, can start with learning how to mend, sew on a button or a patch, spin fibres for that patch, weave a simple basket to help us pick those tomatoes we grew—any of those small acts help shift our thinking and can aid us for the challenging times that lie ahead.

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Photo credit Kristen Man.

Sharon Kallis has received numerous Canada Council for the Arts and British Columbia Arts Council grants for both studio-based and community-focused projects. Her work has been acknowledged as the 2010 recipient of the Brandford/Elliott International Award for Excellence in Fibre Arts, the 2010 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Studio Design: Emerging Artist, and the Vancouver Mayor’s Award for Studio Design in 2017.

Her book, Common Threads: Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art, was published by New Society Publishers in 2014 and is used in many post-secondary programs as a model for creative engagement in shared green spaces.

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Featured image courtesy of Sharon Kallis/EartHand Gleaners.

Copyright © Christi York except as indicated.

About Christi York

Christi York is a mixed-media artist working with mainly sculptural basketry and botanical printing. She has unbounded enthusiasm for working with natural fibres and recycled materials, and an intense curiosity for exploring the natural world in general.

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