On Fabric 🧵
Cloth and food both come from the soil, and both are avenues of care.
To be tied to someone’s apron strings usually denotes that a woman has too much influence over you. Aprons aren’t a gendered garment, not really, but this phrase certainly is, and it’s also been interesting to realize how I myself interact with my various aprons: I wear a denim one when I’m “at work” in the kitchen, and I wear a multi-colored one when people will see me serving food. When I looked up “apron” on Jstor, just to see what I could find, I found poems by women, all about women performing roles with aprons on, turning into mothers and teachers. It’s a key piece of domesticity. My husband has an apron, too, but he rarely puts it on; he used to wear it when he worked at a cocktail bar.
I was looking up “apron” because I have been thinking about fabric, how the ones we most commonly wear and use are from the soil, like our food. The apron is the clearest bridge between the worlds of food and fashion, though these connections continue to become stronger. The tablescape is an increasingly important way to signal one’s aesthetic on social media. Who formed your candlesticks? Who sewed that tablecloth? Who made those plates?
I care about these things as much as I care about the food on the table, as much as I care about the clothing I wear myself. The full performance has come to be of increasing importance to me, and I don’t think that cheapens anything. I was watching people recently at a bakery taking photos of their food, of their coffee, with excitement at these joys and lovely handmade things they had the opportunity to experience: Social media performance is often criticized and it’s cliché to make fun of taking pictures of food, but I think it’s given us a chance to also appreciate the things we feed ourselves, the things that other people take pride in making. Maybe it makes us care a bit more, and that care brings us a bit more happiness.
I feel that care when I put on my aprons. To put the apron on means that I am taking myself and the task at hand seriously. Both of my aprons are made of beautiful, strong textiles, sourced sustainably. (I am also sent so many promotional aprons that I’m constantly giving them away.) The colorful one is from NorBlack NorWhite and was a collaboration with Diaspora Co. that they sent to me. The denim one is from White Bark Workwear. When I asked on Instagram for an apron recommendation, this company received basically universal praise from everyone who professionally works in kitchens, especially women. That was surprising to me, actually, because there are a couple of very big brands that emerged last decade to “revolutionize” kitchen workwear—but White Bark uses hemp, and because I’ve been trying to make clothing decisions that reflect my food values, I ordered one last year.
Charlie Pennes founded the company in 2016, inspired by his work in fashion, bread-baking, and natural wine. In baking, he found that traditional around-the-neck aprons hurt after a while, and in natural wine, he saw the deep connections between soil and everything else. And so he started to make aprons, T-shirts, and some other workwear from hemp. He’s the only employee right now, and the products are all manufactured in Los Angeles, where the company is based.
“I saw that connection right away,” Pennes tells me, of soil, food, and fabric. “All the chefs I was following were talking about, they got their got their ingredients from some butcher or they got their ingredients from the farmers’ market. And meanwhile, you look inside the kitchen or you look in the restaurant and everything is just polyester or conventional cotton. It didn't make sense to me. It has been a teaching moment for me this whole time to be like, ‘Hey, you know, they're all grown in the same place. All the commercial stuff that's grown is grown with the same chemicals.’”
The care we take in our food can lead to care in other facets of our lives. Another fabric object that drives this point home are the reusable coffee filters made by GDS Cloth Goods, founded by Geana Sieburger. Made with organic cotton, they can eventually be composted. GDS also makes aprons. Sieburger studied sculpture and began her company as a hobby while working a job that didn’t align, necessarily, with her values. “The most honest way I can put it is that it was born out of me just needing to create a little bit more purpose in my life,” she tells me.
In terms of what she designs, she says that it all comes back to that idea of care in everyday life. “I'm obsessed with the idea of the mundane,” Sieburger says. “Like, to me, that is the reason for living—that is the meaning of life, in a way. It's like to get up, do the things you do to be well, at that moment to take care of yourself, whether it's feeding yourself and sometimes it's washing dishes, you know, like, all of that just mundane stuff.” That’s where coffee filters come in, which also remind her of how her grandmother made coffee in her native Brazil. (“Coffee forces you to notice the world around you through its quiet simplicity and complete unrepeatability,” wrote Ashley Rodriguez at Boss Barista last week.)
“I didn't want to just make another reusable product, because there were hemp filters, linen filters, cotton filters—these products were already in the market,” she says. “I wanted something that was going to capture the attention of people in a different way.” Through a reusable filter that can be composted after a few months of daily use, she challenges Western capitalist notions about the superior “cleanliness” of single-use items. Extending the coffee ritual into the upkeep of the filter, while it can be cumbersome, provides another space for showing care to oneself and the world around us.
Food has been my gateway into so many avenues of care, and fabric is another one—one I couldn’t have anticipated. When I put on an apron, when I create a space of peace for myself out of the mundane acts of the kitchen—the cooking, the washing, the serving—I like knowing that the objects that are part of it were also made with care for the soil, the workers, the future.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen will be tips for tofu: how to make the most of a block, with a key marinade recommendation and plenty of recipe links. See the recipe index for all past recipes available to paid subscribers.
Nothing, I think—but I had quite the streak going!
All sorts of indie food magazines or indie magazine issues about food. I will be writing about ’em, so get me recommendations.
I made pesto by hand recently in my new pilón, which was quite worth it. Above is spicy cucumber salad made with salsa macha.
The British Guild of Beer Writers and Good Beer Hunting are partnering to launch a new diversity grant open to U.K.-based writers and journalists, both current and aspiring. They asked me to share with readers who might be interested, as the deadline of August 1st is fast approaching! They’re awarding three grants of £350 each. “The grant will platform and highlight stories that celebrate diversity and inclusion within beer, pubs, and the wider hospitality industry,” they say. “We also welcome pitches from people who are new to, or seeking a career within, beer writing, brewing, pubs, and the drinks industry at large.” Find out more and apply here!
I so admire your curiosity and ability to make connections. And that poem was a find.
This is a huge part of why I took up sewing again in my early 50s. Not only do I have a very non-standard sized body, and I vowed never to wear anything binding or uncomfortable again, but I also LOVE linen clothes. I love that they're biodegradable. I love that they breathe when it's hot, and are warm when it's cool. Same with wool. That I live in a part of the world where we grow a lot of sheep, and some flax makes me feel even more grounded to this tiny patch of town I've been gardening on for 20 years this year. (How'd THAT happen so fast?) And now I'm going to make a couple more aprons ...