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.
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.
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.