More hospital art

Mal | Art Journal | Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Hospitalization, broken down

I had such a nice response when I shared some of my post-surgery artwork that I thought I would showcase this — my favorite in-hospital piece. It was one of the first I did after I was able to get upright and pick up a pen.

One of my friends kept bringing me magazines while I was in the hospital, which was great because my surgery happened less than 48 hours after Obama was elected president and I missed a lot of the post-election excitement. Well, in short order these magazines became art materials.


I had found this image of a scantily-clad Vegas showgirl in one of the magazine ads, and lying there in the hospital — with a neverending army of doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, specialists, social workers, and innocent bystanders marching in to raise my gown and poke at my naked body — I felt a certain kinship with her. I mean, I hadn’t so much as shaved my legs for over a week, but you catch my drift. Her body was for public consumption and, seemingly, so was mine.

So, I drew in 20 or so of the accoutrements of hospitalization — including my IV pole, my gown, the pajama pants I was finally able to send for, the sports bra that really only lasted for 2 days or so, my pulse-ox meter, JP drain, and other awfulness — and labeled them.

#7: IV site.

#8: Backup IV site for when #7 collapses in on itself.

Best of all, the dancer’s ridiculous headgear represented my awful case of bedhead, and her puffy blue tailfeathers were reminiscent of my hospital bed with its neverending supply of pillows.

It’s not fine art, but there was something about this piece that really, really satisfied me and, even now, brings me right back to that moment.

I’d rather be stitching!

Mal | Art Journal | Friday, January 30th, 2009

I am on deadline tonight for an academic chapter that I’m co-authoring with a friend. As fun as it is to see your name in print, to be honored by your peers and referenced by grad students everywhere in their mid-term research papers, I am growing tired of academic writing.

Stitches in the journal

I’d rather be stitching! I don’t want to write, I want to sew! But I’m not allowed to sew until I finish writing.


Stitching myself back together

Mal | Art Therapy | Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Like a persnickety teenager, I go through phases when it comes to my art-making. Sure, I’ve always written and kept journals, but began cycling through wildly variant media and techniques in the autumn of 2000. At that time I lived in Boston, was severely and profoundly depressed, and discovered a community pottery studio only 2 blocks from my house.

Pottery phase

I was not an artist or even really a crafter at that time. I was just lost. In that deep winter of loneliness, depression, and depression, the process of centering the earthy clay on a wheel, of cleaning and trimming it, and of offering it up to the temperamental Kiln God miraculously alleviated my suffering. It was then that I knew I wanted to become an art therapist.


The pottery phase lasted for a couple of years, and was followed by watercolor, bookbinding, art journals, and other art forms — each of which served a unique and powerful psychological purpose. I cycle through these phases organically, letting them come and go as they may, on the belief that the art itself has power to change and heal me in ways that I can’t understand and should not try to control.

After three months of fighting with my insurance company, in November of 2008 I was finally scheduled for surgery to remove my diseased gallbladder. These days, gallbladder surgery is a simple, laproscopic, same-day and outpatient surgery. Some people even call it a “procedure,” not a surgery. By that time, I had been so sick for so long that a one-day inconvenience hardly felt worthy of major concern.


But before the surgery was scheduled, I had already felt myself shifting into a new phase of making. Around October, I began to stitch like crazy. Whether it was embroidery or sewing or quilting, I just couldn’t get enough of fabric and thread and seams and needles. I handmade all of my Christmas gifts, embellished clothing and household linens, and endlessly researched textile techniques online.


When the time came for my surgery, there were complications on the operating table and suddenly my simple, same-day procedure turned into a 2-week hospital stay. It was almost a week before I could even pick up a pen and begin to document the events in my ever-present art journals.

Yo yo wreath

When I was released to go home, the first thing I wanted to do was sew. I had to sew something… anything. I started handstitching yo-yos while propped up on pillows. I made dozens and dozens of yo-yos. In practical terms, stitching is something that can be done from bed. It is the perfect recovery art, in that way. But, the glide of the fabric between my fingers, the repetitive up-down of the needle, the knotting and gathering, all combined to bring me peace. I could breathe. I stopped panicking at every twinge and twitter. The cloth — like the blankets and pillows and nightgowns and warm, wet washcloths of the hospital — was so nurturing. So healing. So comforting.

But, more than that — it’s as though I am metaphorically stitching myself back together. Healing myself inside and out. I stitch and stitch. Embroidery seems to soothe like nothing else.


It’s funny — Alica wrote today about embroidery and a similar phenomenon that occurred with her when she was hospitalized after an accident. Jenny, too, dove into yo-yos at a time when she needed to find peace.

I believe in the power of art to heal us, if we let it. Right now, I am stitching.

What I wonder

Mal | Simplicity | Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


  • Do machines simplify or complicate my life?
  • What did our ancestors gain from their particular type of traditional, cultural, folk, and other arts? Can I benefit from the same gains?
  • Can I live more simply? How? Why? At what cost?
  • How can I better harness the healing power of art for my own well-being?
  • How good is good enough?

Modular living

Mal | Home,Simplicity | Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Wowie zowie. Check out this tiny apartment and all of its many possibilities.

Image is from the New York Times, and shows a library wall concealing washer/dryer, and a television wall concealing a kitchen.

The image is from the NY Times and shows a library wall concealing a washer/dryer and a television wall concealing a kitchen. It was designed by Gary Chang and reported in the New York Times, the 344-square-foot apartment allows him to live as though he had much more space.

Where I lived in grad school

I myself am no stranger to modular living in tiny spaces. During my first year in grad school, I lived in a studio apartment of about the same size as Mr. Chang’s in which I carefully maximized space. It allowed me to have a live/work art studio for a fairly reasonable price. Sure, I had to fold the futon up and down every single day, did not have a table or other surface for eating, and could not entertain more than one visitor at a time, but there are certain things about it that I still miss.

I miss my singular purpose, my solitary focus of creating art and becoming an art therapist. I miss the spartan, slimmed-down set of furniture and belongings. There was no room in that apartment for anything that I wasn’t using or wouldn’t be using soon. I miss being forced outside — I walked the dog more, took in the neighborhood sights, and generally acted like more of a local when living there, in part because I needed my world to be larger than those 350 square feet.

Neighborhood walk

But I made tons of art in that space, and mostly because it was a space designed to foster art-making. That’s a good reminder to me, as I go through my living space and attempt to make it meaningful. What behaviors do I want to foster? How can I use my space to foster them?

If I could get accustomed to the idea of maximizing a utilitarian, small space, maybe I could live in one of those tiny-footprint homes on some nice acreage. This would allow me to have more interaction with nature, live more simply, and perhaps be able to afford my dream of owning and cultivating a plot of land.

But, maybe not. I’m keenly aware that this sort of modular, small-space living probably only works if you are living by yourself. If I had been forced to coordinate the futon-folding hour with another person, it probably wouldn’t have worked.

Cooking and creativity

Mal | Home | Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Crockpot self-care

It makes sense, but has only recently occurred to me that cooking draws on the same reserves of creativity as sewing, painting, or writing. I don’t really use recipes, but rely heavily on traditional, whole foods and attempts to avoid the processed, the machine-made, and the “perfected.”

When I am doing a lot of cooking, I feel physically healthier but don’t have a lot of energy and creativity left over for my art journaling or writing. When I spend my evenings in paint and yarn, I don’t leave time for packing healthy lunches, saving money and planning ahead for meals. The solution, as with everything, is to strike a better balance.

Apron gift

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Sewing | Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Gift aprons

This is a gift I made for my sister-in-law to-be, whose wedding shower is being held this weekend far away. It was made to match an apron I made for my brother at Christmas, whose embroidery announced, “I am being helpful.” Note the snaps on the neckstrap — this is to make the apron adjustable. (And also to satisfy my current obsession with snaps! snaps! snaps!) I guess being a super tall amazon lady (6’1″ tall!) makes me hypersensitive about the fallacy of one size fits all.

Ready to wrap

I’ve developed a method for folding these aprons before I wrap them for gifts, because I want to showcase the embroidery right when it is pulled from the wrapping.

Folded apron

This is the folded apron from the back. Neat! (But please clip that errant thread!)

Experimenting with wrapping

At Christmas, I found Wild Olive’s marvelous wrapping idea to be one of the best time-savers of the season. I haven’t found a better, box-less way to wrap fabric-based and sewn gifts so I’m so glad she shared.

After exhausting the painting/drawing avenue of embellishment, I started pushing the idea in different directions, including the method above. I use a die-cutter that my mother gave me (but which I haven’t otherwise found much use for) and randomly glue the shapes to the paper before folding and stitching the packages together. In my natural state, I wouldn’t be terribly interested in mass-producing dozens of precise and exact shapes. But for a throw-away item like wrapping paper, sure!

At Christmas, I used a snowflake shape. For the wedding shower — hearts, of course!

Quilt finished

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Rough draft quilt

I finished the rough-draft quilt and bound it off last night. I’m a bit sad to admit that this is the first quilt binding I’ve ever completed. There are imperfections, but overall I think the quilt is adorable and I can’t wait to make a larger version of it to give away.

I’ve decided to make a bunch of rough-draft quilts and hang them along this wall leading to my bedroom.

Cartwheel doll quilt

Mal | Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

I wanted to try a “rough draft” before I jumped right in to this quilt project. I hoped it would work for a gift — a friend of mine from grad school is pregnant with a girl and I wanted to create something that was both whimsical and traditional, girly but interesting, and baby-like, not granny-like.

Love these colors

First, the problem of colors. Since I primarily see quilts as cloth color studies, and because I didn’t want to resort to pastel pinks, blues, and greens, I was pleased to hit on this combination of rich pinks, reds, and oranges.

Locking together

I was even more pleased to find that by taking my time, I could make these simple blocks “lock together” and even managed to develop that cute “four patch” seam that Eleanor Burns is always crooning about on the backsides of her blocks. See it in the middle of the block, there? Of course, I had to manually trim all the blocks, because I tend to eyeball things and not work with templates.

Layout 1: Straight on

My original intention was to lay the blocks out straight…

Layout 2: On point

But putting them “on point” definitely added a different kind of liveliness to them…

Blocks in progress

I’m really glad I am doing a rough draft.

What I aspire to be

Mal | Current Events,Media | Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Work in progress

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

I aspire to be one of those people that President Obama talked about in his inauguration. I want to be known as a risk-taker, a doer, a maker of things. It would be such an honor!

PS: Yes, I finally cracked open my new sewing machine and I am in love.

Work to be done

Mal | Current Events,Home | Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Obama taking the oath

I called out “sick” from work today — something I am hesitant to do — because I wanted to celebrate the inauguration and catch up on some chores.

Power couple

It was such a thrill to see President Obama and his beautiful family. I am so inspired by his calm, collected demeanor and his articulate and appropriate speeches.

Inauguration speech

I was particularly pleased when some of the favorite musicians from my childhood played a version of the song — Simple Gifts — that inspired the title of this blog.

Simple Gifts at the inauguration

And now, as our new President said,

…everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

Everywhere we look, there is work to be done

Amen, Brother Obama.

New sewing machine!

Mal | Sewing,Simplicity | Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Viking Emerald 118

For Christmas, my mother generously bought me a new sewing machine. She had wanted to get me a very fancy machine with a computer and all kinds of embroidery features. But I didn’t want a fancy machine. I had plans to buy myself a new ultra-basic machine. As far as I’m concerned, a fancy computer in a sewing machine is just one more things that can go wrong! (Or, one million more things, depending on how you look at it.)  And I sort of want to work on my hand embroidery this year. I am a single woman living in an apartment. The sewing machine sometimes has to go into storage, sometimes gets bumped around from kitchen table to the back of my car, and generally needs to be, well, a work-horse rather than a show-pony. As with everything else in life, I reasoned, simpler is better when it comes to machines.

Well loved

This attitude has developed over the past 20 years as I’ve sewn on my old Elnita. It was a Christmas gift from my mother when I was 13 years old, and could only accomplish the very most basic of functions. I could, in most instances, crack open the machine and make minor repairs and adjustments on my own. I could count on it to work, day or night, and that’s what mattered.

Old elnita stitch length...

You get the feeling from this machine that even the backstitch function is sort of a luxury. In addition, no matter how many times I had it professionally serviced, I could never get the tension quite right and the variable stitch-length was severely compromised. I constantly sewed with the length set to 4 mm in hopes of getting a stitch of 1.5mm or more. I learned to work around these and other quirks, though.

Elnita presser foot

I’m grateful that my mom let me have some input into the new machine. It’s a solid, basic machine that has every feature I need plus a couple of luxuries (needle up/down control!) which will make my life a lot easier without complicating it unnecessarily. In a nutshell, that’s my life mission.

Goodbye, old Elnita. You’ve been a good girl.

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