Just thought I would check in.
I’ve been missing this place.
I know I posted something very similar a few months ago (I guess feelings of overwhelm are common around here), but it is really hard to fit everything in right now.
I’m trying to evaluate the everything’s place in the grand scheme of things — including blogging.
I highly recommend subscribing to this blog so that you don’t miss it when I do post.
What I worked on this week
5 comments worth reading
I really appreciate the conversation that is generated in the comments section, and each week I highlight 5 thoughts that were particularly keen.
Honorable mention goes to fellow art therapist Megan of When We Were Made who writes:
i had a dream about you! you were getting married and your hubby was carrying you in your wedding dress. which is funny because i don’t even know what you look like.
i know that seems odd, but i think it relates to seeing your turning*turning name in my blackberry inbox in the middle of the night. i have weird dreams but your dress was amazing!
First off, any comment that talks about me getting married totally wins. Unfortunately, in spite of my better efforts, that blessed event does not seem to be in my near future. Megan, if you can scare me up a husband, I promise to make your dream come true! Don’t any of you have a kind, smart, 30-something brother that you want me to meet!?
Back to business, then.
Nina Wise is a performance artist who has “taught improvisation since 1972.” Her book, A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self Expression and Spiritual Practice for Those Who Have Time for Neither, boasts one of the longest, most confusing titles I’ve ever read! Clearly, this is a book that aspires to be all things to all people.
I have actually owned this book for many years because a good friend (a free spirit, spritely, fairy of a friend) recommended it to me. In all those years, I have never been able to get through reading the entire book. I decided to give it one more shot before I parted with it, read it cover to cover, then sold it almost immediately after listing it for sale on amazon. I guess that speaks to (a) the popularity of the book, (b) the allure of the title, or (c) my incredible ability to miss the point.
I’ve been teaching my dear friend/ex-boyfriend how to cross-stitch and he’s making good progress with Obama. I’ve photographed it with a US quarter coin to show you scale. This is Aida 11-count fabric, and he is stitching over two squares with double threads of DMC floss to give the largest, boldest effect possible. The finished product, which was originally designed to be about 3″x5″, will be larger than a sheet of typing paper when it’s done. His careful, meticulous nature is yielding wonderful results and I’ll never get enough of that sweet sight — him in horn-rimmed glasses, beanie cap, and Converse All Stars hunched around an embroidery hoop.
Between this teaching experience and the recent visit with my mother, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mentor-ly, multi-generational, tutor-iffic nature of traditional textile arts.
Grandma M. was my dad’s mother, and she taught piano lessons. In addition to teaching me how to play the hymns on piano and organ, she also taught me to crochet and to follow a simple sewing pattern. She taught me how to press clothing and how to piece afghans. The only thing that Grandma M. was unable to successfully teach me was tatting (but we tried — oh, how we tried!).
Granny V., my mother’s mother, was a school teacher and a librarian and she lived on a self-sustaining farm. Granny V. taught me to bake bread, to grow my own food, and to knit. Embroidery, cross stitch, french knots, and needlepoint were activities I also did with Granny V. She encouraged me by choosing patterns and motifs that she knew I would like. She was patient and understanding of me as a petulant teenager whose whims would change on a dime. She would set up huge quilting frames in her front room and we would stitch together with the aunties for hours on end — cackling about this or that and “solving the world’s problems.”
A required Home Economics class in Junior High did me little good, as I had already learned to construct basic clothing and household items from my mother. Mom understands the basics of fitting clothing and working with utilitarian fabrics, but she is also a gifted quilter. When I take the time to
In a recent bestowal of good fortune (that is, in a box of discards from mom’s craftroom), I found this book:
I bring it up here because of its dedication page:
She nods to the artists of the past and passes her knowledge along to us, the artists of future generations. Later, I’ll explore a little bit more about this mentorship, multi-generational thing and why it may be so unique to textile arts.
What about you? Who taught you? Whom have you taught?
Now that the french knots are temporarily put to rest, I am back to the hexagons. Last night, I pulled out the box of basted hexes and laid them out randomly, testing out color combinations and feeling very satisfied with the results.
This project definitely does chew up a lot of time. But, I find the stitching so meditative and a little bit sweet, so I don’ tmind it at all. Because the hexes are so small, it’s a breeze to do this work during my subway commute. I’ve got my supplies packed in a small plastic container and as long as I’ve got a seat, I can stitch about 10 hexes before I get to work and another 10 on the way home.
This is the first in a series of guest posts written by fellow bloggers. I’m so pleased to introduce this series by featuring Emma, whose blog furrybees includes thoughtful, well-written posts about her experiments with embroidery, crochet, clay, poetry, and other creative media. If you’d like to write a guest entry about your creative process, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
Thanks to Mal* for giving me this opportunity to reflect on meaning and creativity. Her blog is a welcome dose of thoughtful reflection on the creative process.
I credit creativity with great powers of restoration. (I also sometimes credit it with great powers of anxiety-making, but that’s another story.) This story is about the intimate connection between identity and creativity and how one lost, academically-minded woman found her way slowly back to herself, or one part of her self, through crochet, embroidery and the vagaries of an old Rolls sewing machine she inherited from her grandmother. As with most stories, there are many ways of telling it and many ways of making sense of it. Here is one.
I began a PhD in feminist theory and applied ethics in February of 2001. “What’s that!?”, I hear you ask. Well, I thought it would be a good idea to try and write a long treatise on the different ways women can feel both powerful and powerless (for don’t we, at some point, feel both as we go about our days?) and how that affects the way we see others, how we treat them, and, more importantly, how we should respond to them.
I felt a tentative enthusiasm for my new life at first, and had a thinly sketched idea of what kind of a person I thought I should be as an academic. I would be brilliant (making immediate and spontaneously fabulous connections between ideas), a quick reader of complex academic writing, and an inspired and prolific writer. I imagined that I would find joy in books and ideas, relish in the mystery and detective work of research, and flourish in the quiet solitude of the contemplative academic life. And, in many ways, I did. Or, I tried hard to, at least. However, just as virtues can swing to vices, my vision of who, and how, I was supposed to be began to distort.
Over time, I wondered if I would drown in the books and ideas, if the mystery of my research would ever resolve itself, and if the isolation I felt – alone in my cubicle and alone in my academic field – would ever abate into a quiet, enjoyable solitude. Needless to say, I felt adrift in this new life and my sense of self — my sense of knowing with any certainty who I was and what I was capable of — began to erode.
However, sometimes the universe intervenes and saves you from yourself.
Two things happened almost simultaneously. Firstly, after one of our many chats full of existential angst, a good friend and I decided we needed to pursue activities that would keep us “in the moment” and give our minds a break from the constant self-analysis that could leave us tied in complex knots. So, she began to knit and I, spontaneously, bought and began a small cross-stitch bookmark that came in kit form from the local supermarket (of all places) — something I’d never previously contemplated and probably associated it unfairly, and in a dreadfully ageist way, with “granny” and her projects for idle entertainment. I finished it quickly and was surprised by the strange, glowing satisfaction that followed.
Shortly thereafter, another close friend announced she was pregnant (the first to start the inexorable tide of pregnant friends that were to gradually follow). In imagining which gift would be appropriate for her and her new one, I remembered how she’d laboured over a crocheted baby’s blanket for another friend’s first baby. I had watched as, with each stitch, she hoped her friend would cherish this blanket and see it as the lovingly created heirloom that it was intended to be. I knew I wanted to give the same to her.
Except for one small matter – I didn’t know how to crochet.
Enter Google and exit, at least for a small part of every day, my PhD project. Before long, my isolated cubicle was filled with the vibrant energy of a new research project that tugged at my attention and constantly tempted me away from more scholarly pursuits. Within a short time I had taught myself to crochet and after much thought given to style (interesting but not too “interesting”), colours (no pastels!) and textures (definitely soft and snugly) I made a small white woollen baby’s blanket, in a repeated shell pattern, with a navy blue shell border.
Those humble beginnings created a kind of urgency in me to keep making things, as well as an insatiable desire to find out about different textile-related arts and crafts. I quickly picked up embroidery and then sewing things of my own design on an ancient, one-stitch sewing machine gifted to me by my mother’s mother before she died. With each new skill revealed, with each thrifted piece of fabric transformed, and with each project worked I felt excitement, satisfaction, and accomplishment. And I felt a kind of existential relief.
It’s only recently, with time and distance (figurative and literal – I moved from Australia to Canada in 2007) that I have been able to reflect on these happenings and how they served to create the woman I am today. My academic life, then, was a world where I felt lost – adrift in a sea of ideas and competing claims to the “truth” – and where I felt powerless, alone and strangely unskilled at being able to find The Answer to my research questions. To make matters worse, the academic identity I had tried to fashion to help me with this task was uncomfortable, difficult and ill-fitted to me. In hindsight, it is no surprise that the methodical learning, grasping and practising of different creative techniques would help to mend the frayed edges of self left by the uncertainties and difficulties of my scholarly life.
Seeking solace in creativity taught me new lessons about my self. The gentle, achievable goal of taking stitches, one at a time, of learning new skills, one step at a time, and the act of holding and working with the tactile pleasures of fabric, thread, buttons and beads enabled me to witness a different Emma emerge – someone who was competent, creative, inspired and capable of beginning and finishing projects both big and small. It is no wonder that I often struggled at that time to choose between the mesmerising meditation of crochet and the tumult of working with complex feminist ethical theory.
So, I credit my creative life with both restoring a sense of my self to me and with providing the space to begin to imagine a new sense of who I am and who I might become. Some days as I dream up new ideas in my workspace, or sew up a new creation for another new being fresh to our world, I am aware that there is a dual process of creation going on: one with thread and needle, fabric and hoop; and one with me and my ever evolving sense of my self.
Emma Woodley aspires to be a creator of beautiful, meaningful, useful things. She is currently trying on the identity of “textile artist” for size. You can follow her adventures in being Creative and Courageous (New Year’s resolutions that delight her on some days and haunt her on others) on her blog furrybees.
Would you like to be a guest author on turning*turning.com? I’m especially interested in reading about your creative process and the emotions that are related to art-making. Could you share about a project that you found particularly meaningful? Does making art help you to cope in some way? Do you have associations with certain colors, media, or motifs? Check out the guidelines and then please contact me! (photo by joehardy)