Bolts of Color, Yards of Love



The hand that fed me knew the feel of fabric.

My father is in the textile industry. Riding the astounding economic boom of the 80’s in Taiwan, he found success exporting drapery and became a student of window coverings. Our family company’s division of drapery hardware, 735, is responsible for designing and crafting sconces and finials, stained in a rich textured bronze or a muted silver, ready to adorn the accompanying fabric. 736 dealt with the cloth, the actual material which would cascade from the hardware, enveloping a home in privacy and temporary relief from the brightness of the outside world.

I remember apprenticing with my sister as we traveled on a business trip to China to assemble sample books for our buyers. We’d visit factory after factory; grey, concrete buildings sprawled out across acres with thousands of staff, dedicated to the production of such an ordinary material: fabric. We trailed our fingertips across a myriad of textures, learning to detect the nuances between cotton and linen and polyester while feeling the weight of each combination as we lifted it and let it drape effortlessly off our arms.

We spoke with the experts of cloth who rattled off technical jargon I struggled to follow. They talked about the permeability, durability and elasticity of fabric; whether a piece is flame resistant or flame retardant, its fibers interlining or interlocking, stain resistant or thermoregulating. The science behind fabric is vast and bewildering.

And don’t even get me started on the color. We spent hours at work poring over inventory spreadsheets dedicated to all of the shades of a single color red: cranberry, crimson, lipstick, apple merlot, scarlet, mahogany, blush, sangria, ruby, scarlet, jam and wine. To the untrained eye, a fabric may simply be red. For the color professional, there exists an infinite number of possibilities on the palette within one primary color.

I love that we are in the business of providing curtains. I love that it is a simple accessory to almost every home and yet it presents with such a wide range of options. From blinds to valances to floor length draperies, from luxurious fabrics and glamorous hardware to a simple cloth thrown across the window, the curtain is as ordinary and diverse as the families living inside of each home.

We are, like fabric, both simple and complicated, doing the best we can in this paradox of life.

We share basic, essential needs: food, water and a roof over our heads. But the way we go about providing those needs vary so beautifully. We are united as one primary color, linked by shared humanity, common decency and collective survival. But if we paid more attention to the hearts beating within each individual, we would hear variant tempos and differing rhythms beating to a variety of passions.

Our life experiences dictate the shades we become. Pain and loss casting seasons of grey, dulling the brightness of our fabric, while the joys of life add a delightful splash of color, bringing out hidden hues. The words we receive affect the texture of our disposition. Harmful, toxic words lock the fibers of our souls tight, until we are hard and stiff and rough around the edges; while affirmation and inclusion work like a relaxant, softening us into a smooth blanket, offering warmth and protection to those we embrace.

We are nuanced and complex and we don’t stay static. We move along the color spectrum, shaped and shaded as we move about in this world.

The professionals of the textile industry meticulously study and uncover the science behind texture, color, composition and construction in order to deliver a product that fulfills a very simple purpose: a dress to clothe a little girl, blankets to cover a weary father or window coverings to protect a family from the brutality of direct light. The complexities are a means to serve the ordinary.

So, too, when we begin to pay attention to the nuances of human hearts, and appreciate the breadth of differences in regards to our skills, passions, personalities and character, we recognize that the dignities of our differences serve to highlight our ordinary dreams and hopes. Our simple desires in the faith knit us together in churches, synagogues and temples. Our universal longing for love draws us to form marriages, start families and make friends. Our collective drive for meaning fuels careers, organizations and engines for impactful change.

Our differences draw us together and propel us forward. Our multitude of colors form the larger fabric of society. We are complicated in order to become ordinary in simple faith, persistent hope and committed love. The fabric of our hearts each contain profound depth and become richer still when layered with the other fabric hearts. Together we mend what has been broken, patch wounds laid bare with shame and shield the unrelenting rays of the indiscriminate sun.

We each bring our own unique texture, color and qualities, but quilted together we become an ordinary fabric for extraordinary purposes.