Dr. Emma Shercliff’s professional output

A Poetics of Waste: evaluating time and effort spent sewing

Conference – Published 18th Sep 09

Waste v. 1. To use to no purpose or for inadequate result. 2. To fail to be appreciated or used properly. 3. To treat as valueless. 4. To be expended without useful effect. n. Unwanted or unusable remains or by-products. (OED)

Makers in Britain today usually strive to limit wasted time and effort in the production of crafted objects. The result of this labour is of primary interest and must be seen to encompass and reflect the high premium placed on time and effort. Its value, both commercially and culturally, is calculated accordingly.

This paper examines an understanding of waste as fault or weakness when applied to the labour intensive and time-consuming making processes of patchwork quilting. Drawing on findings from a case study that formed part of my doctoral research, it reconsiders assumptions that ‘wasted’ time and effort compromise the experienced value of making an object, and suggests alternative approaches for addressing this as productive and constructive. ‘Other’ work, of a social and relational nature, is generated that has significance for the maker as an individual, for the individual as part of a group, and for the collective as part of a wider community.

Our common understanding of efficient production values, failing to account for this invisible ‘other’ work, will assess the time and effort invested to have failed to be appreciated or used properly, or to have been expended without useful effect. Undervalued in this way, it will have been ‘wasted’. On the contrary, might it be possible to propose that this ‘other’ work, serves a primary purpose, is an effectual use of assets such as time and effort, and produces wanted and usable remainders?

Publication details

Publication status Published
Refereed 1
Publication title Making Futures 2009: The Crafts in the Context of Emerging Global Sustainability Agendas
Publishers name Plymouth College of Art
Volume Vol. 1
Number of pages 12
Page range 186–197
ISSN 2042-1664