Decision Fields : capitalism experiments

Block printing in one of the most expensive locations in North America.




Dym | california textiles, an on-going project, is an artisan studio / workshop that produces block printed textiles. Mixing an ancient technique with embodied algorithms, Dym | california textiles insists on slow manufacturing in Northern California where cost of living and wages are high, far from the traditional homes of this craft.


Dym | california textiles official website.


Launched with sincerity as an artisan business, Dym | california textiles, behind the scenes, conducts research in different disciplines: economic models; decision-making; embodied and fully analog production (and values); materials ("sustainability"); and algorithmic, flexible patterns. This latter has emerged as a separate project, now called Decision Fields.


As we practice block printing at Dym, the process's deliberateness fosters creativity on more than one level : Complex, evolving, changeable patterns require an embodied human with a capacity to make decisions on the fly and strategically.

The economics of artisan work correspond to the larger economic system. There are no economies of scale in block printing, or hardly enough to make a difference. Though faster than hand-weaving patterns into cloth, block printing is perhaps the slowest way to print pattern onto cloth. (I suspect that printing was invented to get decoration onto cloth more quickly than pre-industrial weaving or embroidery allows.) Though inimical to ready profit, this slowness becomes useful—and then valuable—when it enables the "laborers" to have agency and to responsively interact with their work; to create endless variation with limited means [1]; to have an engagement with their work as though what we make and how we make it matters both to us and to our customers. [2] 


We amplify what's possible with a modular, interactive design system. This happens through teaching and learning from the printers, an on-going, generative feedback loop. As we practice block printing itself, even with its physical costs and repetitive labor, it offers deep satisfaction. watching designs emerge from capable hands, gazing at and wielding color, in the integration of play and camaraderie in the work process.


Still, I think of William Morris, who wanted his workers to be satisfied and proud of their work, and to be well compensated. He wanted humans to have beautiful things they'd care for and cherish. He wanted craft to replace mass production. His battle, like mine, was lost long before he was born. The Luddites rebelled when machines replaced their handcraft spinning labor. They fought not only for paid work, but for work with its own rewards—whether meditative or from pride at skill or more. Capitalism's insistence on economies of scale that benefit only the few isn't news, but it is still exhausting. 

[1] The limited means are the quite small number of printing blocks that have led to "infinite stripes".

[2] W. Edwards Deming discusses the values of engaging the gifts of all "stakeholders" in an organization: workers, management, executives, board, stockholders. [ need citation ]