March

Another month on the stitch journal, and in total (as of today) there are now 92 blocks of meditative stitching, each one witnessing the passing of a little more time.

Stitch journal, 31 days of March

I’ve deliberately not added space between the days because in reality there isn’t any. Day turns to night and night turns to day, and it is all just time. I continually find myself thinking these are days of my life that have gone forever. Not in a sad way, just noticing the transience and inevitability of it, the impermanence of living. Every day a bit less life left, but every day a bit more life lived. Philip Larkin (‘Days’, 1953) wrote ‘days are where we live…. Where can we live but days?’

March in progress

I like the way the stitch journal is filling up with these moments, and I like the empty space that stretches ahead.

Looking at it from the other end: April days, waiting

I wonder what this new month will bring. April is the cruellest month, according to T S Eliot. Everything is growing, leaves are starting to burst from their buds, and another cycle of life begins. In the garden my young flowering currant is looking particularly splendid at the moment, and I like to memorialise these little moments of recognition.

1st and 2nd April
April: the beginning

One day at a time, going on.

On paper

I really like paper. I especially like painting sheets of paper and then tearing them up to make collages for sketchbook pages – I find this much easier than drawing on a blank page with a pen or pencil. I like the accidental shadings that occur, and the blocks of colour. It’s like patchwork, really.

sketchbook page, collage with painted paper

I’m in the process of making two sketchbooks: one that explores the marks on ancient rocks and stones, and one that explores the marks on ancient landscapes. I find land particularly fascinating because it holds so much time and has witnessed millions of years of life. Land and ground can be synonyms, and grounding is what happens when we connect to the land.

sketchbook page, collage with painted and textured papers
sketchbook page, drawing over collage
Sketchbook page, cut and torn painted papers
sketchbook page, mark-making over monoprint

While I’ve been working on these pages, some thoughts about the fiction I’ve read recently have been weaving themselves together. A couple of months ago I read All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville West (first published in 1931), which is about an elderly woman who, when widowed, decides to live where she chooses and on her own terms. There is a passage at the beginning of Part Two, where Lady Slane finds that for once she has time to reflect:

‘She had plenty of leisure now, day in, day out, to survey her life as a tract of country traversed, and at last become a landscape instead of separate fields or separate years and days, so that it became a unity and she could see the whole view, and could even pick out a particular field and wander around it again in spirit, though seeing it all the while as it were from a height, fallen into its proper place, with the exact pattern drawn round it by the hedge, and the next field into which the gap in the hedge would lead. So, she thought, could she at last put circles around her life.’

Sketchbook page, collage – ‘so could she at last put circles around her life’

I recall seeing a fascinating interview with the actor Liz Smith a few months ago, and she said it’s only when you get older that you can look back at your life and begin to see the recurring patterns that have always been there. You don’t notice the patterns at the time because you’re too close to recognise them.

In another novel I’ve read recently, Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood (1996), one of the characters, Reverend Verringer, speaks this line:

“What becomes of the soul? We cannot be mere patchworks!” (p. 471, ‘Pandora’s Box’)

Patchwork, silk and cotton fabrics

All these thoughts and patterns are coming together, like paths converging, and it feels as if I am going somewhere. I am still drawing the map, but I have a compass and a vague sense of direction. I am travelling slowly, on foot. Step by step, or stitch by stitch, or piece by piece, it will come together somehow, in its own time.

And *of course* we are all patchworks. What else could we possibly be?

Stitch journal cover

I finished the cover/bag for the stitch journal – something to carry it round in, and something to keep the sun off it now we’re heading for longer days.

stitch journal cover, about 15″ long

It’s basically a quilted/lined tube with a circular base and a casing around the top for some hand-dyed ribbon to tie it closed. Initially I was a bit disappointed because it turned out bigger and bulkier than I intended, and the stitch journal rolls up quite small. And then I saw this:

very large industrial wooden bobbin

I bought the large wooden bobbin some time ago with no real purpose in mind. But – what do you know – it fits the stitch journal cover *perfectly*. And furthermore, the stitch journal itself fits the bobbin *perfectly* if I hem the edges:

stitch journal with bobbin, on a roll

So the over-sized cover is actually exactly the right size, I have a purpose for a spare bobbin, and a permanent home for the stitch journal when it’s finished. I don’t know about you but I call that a roaring success. An accident for the most part, for which I can’t take much credit, but a success nevertheless.

a little gentle seeding and running stitch on beautiful eco-printed silk by Jane Hunter Textiles

So I’m taking this as a little life lesson: most things really do turn out OK in the end.

In the middle

I don’t feel very productive at the moment. It’s not really a question of being stuck, since I think I know where I’m going next in terms of creating a new series of art work. Nor is it a matter of not knowing where to start, because I think I know that too. It isn’t lack of energy or motivation either as I have plenty of both. It isn’t even the unrest and terrible conflict out there in the world, I don’t think. I wonder if it is to do with the season. We have just passed the spring equinox, where day and night are perfectly balanced, and I wonder if the temporary desire to stand still, to look and think for a while, is an expression of that pivotal moment of poise, standing between two halves. I see a lot of people calling this the first day of spring, but in fact the equinox is the mid-point of spring, since it falls exactly halfway between the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Despite the hesitation in starting something big, I do like to keep busy and I usually find myself in the middle of something. At the moment it’s a useful thing as well as a decorative thing – and it’s interesting that I feel the need to make the distinction between useful and decorative. It’s that old establishment-driven art/craft chestnut, isn’t it, where art is purely decorative and craft is useful. I like to think textiles work confounds that over-simplified distinction.

Anyway, here I am, finally getting to the point after a bit of waffle and introspection. I’ve started making a cover for the stitch journal, which will be a cylindrical bag. I’ve made a start by layering strips of ribbon and tape onto a piece of hand-dyed cotton sheet.

cover for the stitch journal in progress

The strips of silk are from a hank of white sari ribbon that I dyed and ironed flat. I’ve turned the edges under by about 1/8″ and attached them with very simple straight stitches. I will probably go back and add more hand-stitching. It’s an intuitive process, and I will know when it’s had enough.

strips of hand-dyed silk sari ribbon, ironed flat
hand-dyed silk ribbon ready for couching

When all the vertical lines have been attached, I will add this horizontal band of silk expertly and beautifully eco-printed by Jane Hunter:

strip of eco-printed silk by Jane Hunter Textiles – see link in text above

This will keep me busy, while I think about where I’m going next. I find the mind ticks over nicely while the hands are engaged in some quiet stitching.

Sampler book cover

In the interests of keeping busy, I made a start on the cover for my sampler book.

birdie in his natural habitat

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to tackle the cover. I considered various kinds of needlepoint, cross stitch (really didn’t want to do any more of that) and a variety of seams. In the end I went for my usual style of book cover, which is layers of strips laid on a foundation fabric. I used modern, vintage and antique silk and cotton fabrics, mostly hand-dyed.

cover in progress

I really like old lace and ribbon, but I don’t tend to use it much. I thought this was probably a good place for it.

layered fabrics, lace and ribbon with hand stitch

A couple of weeks ago I acquired a few old wooden bobbin reels – more on that later, there are plans afoot – all of which came with very old dusty thread still in place. Most of the thread was unusable, very brittle from age and light damage. But on two of the bobbins, once the outer layer of damaged thread was removed, the rest of it appears to be sound. I’ve dyed some, and have road-tested the finer of the threads on this cover. It breaks quite easily so wouldn’t be any good for sewing seams, but it seems fine for surface decoration.

vintage cotton thread from an old mill bobbin, hand-dyed

As with the sampler book itself, I found myself wondering whether Ellen Mahon would like the cover I’ve made. I wanted to make it pretty for her.

Hand-dyed vintage viscose ribbon, very soft and silky

I wondered about whether I should label the cover with words, whether I should stitch the words ‘sampler book’ somewhere on it. I decided not, in the end. For one thing I’m not very good at stitching lettering, and for another thing I didn’t think it needed words. I really like the way stitching conveys its own meaning without the need for words as well. I always think hand-stitching is more like writing than drawing. I often find myself recognising artists’ work by their stitching the same way I might recognise the handwriting on an envelope.

Sampler book with cover
Back cover

I hope Ellen would approve.

(Not) numbering the days

I have taken to rolling up and pinning the stitch journal, just to stop it getting so unwieldy. It’s a long strip, about 7 or 8 feet, and it tends to unroll itself as I stitch each daily block.

Safety pins keeping it together

I unrolled it today, just to see everything in context. Winter into spring.

The year so far

And what I find myself thinking is: those are 69 days of my life that I will never see again. I know I was there, because I stitched each block. But do I remember all those days? I don’t. And, of course, we can’t possibly remember everything. We only tend to remember the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad things that happened on those days.

A number of days

I’m deliberately choosing not to mark the stitch journal with numbers or dates, because the calendar is arbitrary really. Who decided that our years begin on January 1st? We are born, and we live for some days, and then our days end, and the calendar has very little to do with it. The calendar just gives us something on which to pin and memorialise our experience. The days just join up.

I found myself wondering about how many days we can expect, in general. If you live to be 80 you get about 30,000 days. You spend about 10,000 of those days asleep. Factor in all the other practical necessary things that take time – washing, cooking, eating, going to work, etc – and it really isn’t very long. Factor in war and disease, for those people in terrible circumstances, and it’s even less.

The most recent days

This isn’t about making the most of every minute, or trying to cram more things in because life is short. Sometimes just being alive – just being – is enough, and sometimes that takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. Even when we’re sitting still, time is passing and taking us along for the ride.

The day before yesterday. The Welsh have a lovely word for it: echdoe

I wonder about the empty space still to come, the section of blank sheet that is still to be unrolled. The days I will stitch together. The white sheet, that is the foundation for the stitch journal, is antique/vintage French metis (a linen/cotton blend), and will itself have seen birth, life, and death. So much time rolled up in my hands. We are lucky to be here.

Dream

I am having some very strange dreams lately. It’s all the tumult and conflict in Ukraine, I think. The daily news pictures and reports are truly harrowing. I believe that we are all connected by the single thread of humanity, and seeing others suffering on this huge scale causes the rest of us to feel it, one way or another.

Detail from ‘Dream’ wall hanging

It seemed like a good time to finish this little wall hanging that has been, well, hanging around for a while. It started life as the sleeve of an outrageous coat that I was realistically never going to finish. It’s an image of a town house that dreams of being in the countryside, far away from pavements and roads, where it can hear the breeze blowing through the trees.

Detail from ‘Dream’ wall hanging

I don’t know if it’s reasonable to be carrying on, keeping going like this, amid all the trouble in the world right now. It feels somehow wrong but also right, if that makes any sense. In many ways it’s one of the few things we can do. My immediate environment is the only thing I have any control over right now, and I know even that’s an illusion. In fact we have very little control over anything that happens beyond ourselves and yet we learn to trust life and its processes, and we learn to assume that we will wake up every morning to a new day.

‘Dream’ wall hanging, 8” x 24”

The backing on this piece is part of a viscose scarf with a ragged fringe, hanging by a frayed thread. As many of us are.

Colouring life

Difficult to concentrate on anything at the moment with all the conflict and trouble in Ukraine, so I rounded up everything that needed dyeing. It takes days to wind skeins of thread, dye fabric and thread, wash it, dry it, iron it, and unwind all the skeins, but it’s worth the effort.

Pile of newly-dyed fabrics and thread wound into little balls

Most of this is vintage linen/cotton, and the threads are mostly new and vintage crochet cottons. I find they work well as hand embroidery threads.

They look delicious don’t they? Like a box of chocolates

I prefer my threads wound into balls like this rather than wrapped onto thread cards. I don’t like the creases you get when you wind onto cardboard bobbins.

Difficult to get decent greens with procion but I’m happy with these

There is a lot of fabric here. There always seems to be more than I think there is, and it seems to last forever. This is a Good Thing. Some of it will find its way into the shop eventually.

Stitch doodling

It rained a lot today. I spent my lunch hour road-testing some of the threads while the frogs hopped around on the patio. I have plans for some new work, which I will start at some point. I still have a couple of ongoing things to finish first. I added this one to the shop this week:

Make a Wish

It was originally the sleeve of a coat that I was never going to finish but then it took on a life of its own. It seemed to find its own time, as these things do.

February stitching

And that was February. One-sixth of the year gone already. The stitch journal doesn’t slow down the passing of time after all.

February stitch journal block, overall size about 8″ x 10″

I don’t want to say too much here about what’s happening in the rest of the world, but February brought Mr Stitching Life and me some big news (good news, I think) and the prospect of enormous change.

detail from mid-February. A heart for Valentines and rain in the preceding days

I used to worry about all kinds of things. Small things, mostly. It’s taken many years to realise that I probably have a degree of social anxiety, and I am happier when I don’t have to talk to real live people. I used to worry about everything I said, everything I did, whether I had offended someone or said the wrong thing. Silly, really, because it’s much easier to do all of that in writing. The written word lasts so much longer than the spoken one.

the last days of February

I find these days that I worry less. The last few days on the world stage (and probably the coming ones too) demonstrate that literally anything could happen, and most of us have no control over quite a lot of it. There really isn’t anything to be gained by worrying. It uses up energy reserves for no good reason. I’m finding that the stitch journal allows me to witness the passing of time without really agonising about the daily minutiae. I find myself wondering rather than worrying, which is quite refreshing. In particular I find myself wondering about this empty space that will be filled by March:

Unrolling a new month

There are some big changes coming, and I think I am ready for them.

Fabric scrap bags

Another shop update imminent – help me make some space in my work room (and in my head too). I have more fabric than I need (don’t we all?) so I’ve made up some scrap bags that are good for all kinds of creative embroidery and needlework. I really don’t like calling them scraps – they are all treasure.

small scrap bags ready for travelling to their new homes
sample pack – they’re all different but similar

The link to my shop is in the menu bar at the top (or at the bottom if you’re on a mobile) – thanks for taking a look.

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