Filztasche: How a Long-Awaited Object Finally Materialised
Ananya Jahanara Kabir
I am a person who gets unreasonably attached to things. Not all things, mind you, but those things that are intimately associated with my life, my personality and the expression of my self. One such thing is my Red Laptop (I capitalise it, because I think of it in that proper-noun kind of way. It has a name and an identity, as I, and all of you reading this blog, have). The Red Laptop made its way into my life as do all things I cherish: I had an idea of the kind of laptop I wanted finally to commit to, gave its specifications to someone who knows me and my predilections and knows a fair bit about computers; he sourced the model for me; I hunted it down; the only available model in Britain at that time happened to be at a Selfridges close to me; I bought it. Before it was brought to my notice, I had no idea that I wanted my laptop to be red; but once I saw its image, I knew that it was The One. And I haven’t regretted my decision since.
The fact is, with such a lovely and personal object at one’s side, it was appropriate, and indeed urgently necessary, to find for it a befitting sleeve. As Red Laptop is very small and light, it slips easily into a large handbag (of which I have, happily, several). Thus what was needed was a nice zipped up cover, possibly with some cushioning. I shunned all those anodyne slipcases on the market, bereft of all personality and individuality. I wanted something quirky, with a discernible touch of a maker radiating from it. In short, I was looking for a craft object. But I couldn’t find one. I looked in India and Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in all my favourite craft and lifestyle stores (a list of these will also appear for this blog). I did not go hunting for it in a determined fashion, for that would be against the spirit of the quest. Rather, I kept the desire for such a thing quietly alive in a corner of my brain, like a window minimised on the larger screen of life. Once, I tried to hurry fate by asking a tailor in India to cut and stitch a case out of some Japanese Ikat fabric I had got from Tokyo and that turned out to be too small a piece to make a sari blouse out of. As someone used to making salwar kameezes, he was dubious about turning his hand to ad hoc computer cases. Nevertheless he agreed. A week later his daughter called to say he had been struck down by a mysterious fever. I was due to leave for England imminently. I left without that experiment having even had begun. (The tailor is back on his feet, I should report, happily creating salwar kameezes again. The Ikat rests in a drawer in my Calcutta bedroom wardrobe. Its turn will come).
Two years passed. Red Laptop still lacked a suitable slipcase. In June this year, I was invited by those involved with Slow to speak at a summit for craft leadership at Liverpool. This summit coincided with the opening of the Liverpool Design Show. After saying what I had to say (which is archived on another blog), I wandered through the Design Show to get a sense of the range on display. I paused at several stalls, but everything I liked was far too expensive for what I could afford at that moment. Nevertheless, I took pleasure in just looking and noting, taking cards from those designer-makers whose work really caught my eye. I chanced upon Sabine Kaltenegger’s felt objects from her line ‘Bagsboxes’ (www.bagsboxes.co.uk). They resonated with the fact that, just a fortnight ago in Berlin, I had purchased a felt mobile phone case and a felt keychain, the first in bright leafy green, the second a cream felt loop with a blue phrase running down its side: mädchen, komm bald wieder (maiden, come back soon) (http://www.dekoop.de/). I am a fan of the German language and of Berlin, so I felt the key-hanger to be particularly appropriate. The simple yet beautiful lines of the felt objects I saw and bought in Berlin clearly signalled new ways of working this most ancient of all fabrics. In Sabine’s work, I saw the same impulse. If anything it had an even more austere manifestation: all her bags and boxes retained the pure grey colour original to felt. Some had bright patterns stencilled on, but what really caught my eye was a flat case with the word ‘Bag’ stencilled on it in white. Flat enough to work as a laptop case…
I started chatting to Sabine, showing her my keychain, and somewhere along the way realised she too was German, though living in England. I was carrying my laptop with me and I pulled it out for her inspection. It was too small for any of the bags on display but she agreed to remake ‘Bag’ to my specifications. Expertly gauging how much she would need to take in, we agreed to sort out the details over email. I left her my card and took hers, very happy. Over the next week or so, we corresponded over email about the Bag-In-The-Remaking. The best bit was when I consulted my dictionary and came up with ‘Filzenbeutel’ (which ends up as ‘felted-purse’) as an appropriate word to have stencilled on it. Sabine unobtrusively corrected my mangled German, writing that the word I was looking for was ‘Filztasche’ (felt-bag) and that yes, she would be happy to stencil it in place of ‘bag’. Further email discussions about dimensions continued and finally, about a month after our initial encounter at Liverpool, Filztasche arrived in the post. And it was every bit as special and beautiful as I had imagined it would be. Of a rough yet noble grey mien, it announces itself in plain white letters down its left-hand side. On the opposite side and face, Velcro fastenings keep the flap secure. Attached to one corner of the flap with a loop of hessian string is a little tag that says, ‘bagsboxes’ and a small paper label with a sepia-tinted picture of Sabine holding a lamb with black feet. Behind the photo is a handwritten message from her, asking me to enjoy Filztasche. I have of course retained the label, and will do so until and unless it naturally detaches through wear and tear.
Red Laptop fits most snugly into Filztasche and has found its perfect partner— the texture and colour of the felt complementing beautifully its smooth and shiny redness. The industrial product, which I had already individualised through my (admittedly idiosyncratic) attitude towards it, is now infused with the soul and the visible individuality of the maker. The craft object ratifies my worldview and completes the process of aligning to that worldview something as un-craftlike as a laptop. In fact, it can be said that Filztasche en-crafts Red Laptop. It envelops the mechanical object with the spirituality I believe inheres in every handmade thing, a spirituality that, paradoxically, emerges out of the act of making and is therefore very material. There are several morals to this tale, that I shall leave readers to ponder about and draw out for themselves—but for now, I’ll end with the most obvious one: if you want something badly, be prepared to wait, and be prepared to be surprised. Serendipity, like making, can’t be hurried.