August

Up early this morning, before going to the day job in the office, to sit with the stitch journal for a few minutes to complete the last day of August.

August

I am starting to feel autumn in the air, and I can see the light starting to change. Summer is my least favourite time of year – too bright, too hot, too noisy – so I’m looking forward to a little more quiet and a bit more darkness. I think of darkness as restful, like a cosy blanket or a thick curtain, but I know a lot of people struggle with the shortening days.

We are lucky to have seasons in this part of the world, to move through the months and be able to see the continuing cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Many of the flowers in our garden are just seed heads now, but they contain a whole new cycle of life ready to begin again after the winter. I guess stitches are like seeds too. There is a pun here, right, about sewing and sowing but I think I’ll probably just leave that there.

August, detail

I worry sometimes that the stitch journal will become too busy, too much of a maelstrom of colour and texture, but so far it seems to be still quite cohesive. The colours and textures need quite careful managing but the stitches themselves just seem to happen along and pop out of nowhere.

I’m already thinking about how I will structure next year’s stitch journal and I think it will be different from this year somehow. I may choose a coloured background rather than white. It’s still a way off, so there is time to think about it some more.

August, with a glimpse of September ahead

Planning, the right way

I’ve been trying to write a business plan, because I know I will need one if I ever get to give up the day job, but haven’t made much progress.

I don’t know what operations and logistics even means

It’s all boxes and straight lines and charts and columns. I have no idea what to write. I don’t even understand some of the questions. Key findings from desk research, marketing strategy, financial forecasts… how are you supposed to know all that when you haven’t started yet?

And then I found this:

Right Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee

I’ve had it in my hands for about three hours and already it has changed my life. It comes with a handy checklist:

Yes, yes, and yes

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but there we are. It’s much easier to think ‘what’s wrong with me?’ rather than ‘what is it about this format that isn’t working for me?’ My left-brained husband wouldn’t dream of hanging a picture without a spirit level. I would bang a nail in and eyeball it. It wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t even straight.

Almost every sentence in the first chapter has me jumping up and down in my chair. This particularly:

“The challenge is when left-brain thinking comes too early in the visioning and planning process and kills the party with its questioning, judgement, and need for every single piece of the puzzle to make absolute sense before taking that first step. This limits your thinking: good ideas are quashed before they’ve even had a chance to form.”

So now I know a business plan can be pictures and colours and shapes, there is nothing stopping me and I find I know exactly what I want and where I’m wanting to go.

Business plan

The Business Plan book says ‘let it unfold’. I’ve had this accordion-style sketch book since Christmas and have been waiting for it to tell me what it wants. Of course, all this time it’s just been waiting for me.

A call to action, from an old poetry anthology

I’ve gone from constantly putting it off because it’s dull to actually wanting to get started on it.

Business plan in progress

July

And that was July. I blinked and almost missed it. Just as well I had the stitch journal to keep me focused and present for at least some of it.

Stitch journal, July 2022

As always, it’s still made of mostly very simple stitches – running stitch, couching, blanket stitch, chain stitch, herringbone and fly. I’ve used a wide variety of threads, from very chunky perle no. 3 or 5 to very fine silk sewing thread. Some days are light as a feather, and some days really weigh you down.

Stitch journal, July (details)

Lots of summer colours in this month. Parts of July have been almost unbearable, it was so hot. The heat was suffocating.

Stitch journal, July (detail)

Summer is my least favourite season but I have tried to find something to love about each day. I think that’s what keeps most people going. And that’s all the stitch journal is ever going to be, of course. Just a record of days passing, with needle and thread as witness.

Stitch journal, July (detail)

Yesterday was World Embroidery Day (how do these things come about? Who decides?)

I turned yesterday’s block into a little embroidery sampler. It was that kind of day.

A sampler block on the stitch journal for World Embroidery Day

Tomorrow is 1st August, in the pagan calendar Lammas, which marks first harvest and the start of autumn. It may still feel like summer, but seasons and weather are not the same thing. Already I can see the light starting to change as nature prepares to move us from one season to the next. And there is space on the stitch journal to take another step forward into a new month.

May: stitch journal

Another month gone, and another 31 blocks on the stitch journal.

31 days of May

Time is flying. There is really not much more to say about that.

Summer colours
Hand-dyed threads, simple stitches

I ended with a square for no-mow May. We did this last year too but this year seems to have brought lots more buttercups and daisies, the prettiest of flowers.

No-mow May

I like the way we stand between, sometimes – between day and night, between the old month and the new. Standing still for a moment, to look back and then ahead. A bit like pausing before crossing a road. So onwards, into June:

Goodbye May, hello June

April

The last day of April completes another month on the stitch journal.

April, complete. This section approximately 8” x 10”

April brought us news and worries of various kinds, some it partially resolved and some still ongoing. Daily stitching in a designated place like the stitch journal has helped to bring calm and focus, and to get a sense of the bigger, wider picture.

Early April

Each block is about an inch and a half or so, thereabouts. I don’t plan the stitches or draw a pattern, I just choose a colour and let the needle carry the thread wherever it needs to go. Some blocks turn out to be quite literal or pictorial, like the rapeseed fields and the lilac. Most turn out to be a little more abstract, which I prefer. I like the way abstract marks can mean more than one thing, and the way they can mean different things to different viewers.

This section turned into a triptych of days: part of a bigger picture

A few people have asked what this is going to be, or what I’m going to do with it, and the question puzzles me a bit. To me, the stitch journal is a kind of visual diary, so it’s a bit like asking someone who writes a diary what they’re going to do with it or what it’s going to be. The answer in both cases, I think, is that it already is something. It is itself, a visual record of my voyage through a year, and that’s enough for me.

Late April

In the pagan calendar, the first day of May brings the start of summer: a season of growth and expansion, of colour and light. Everything in our garden has already grown enormously this last week or so. The hedges have grown more leaves to hide and protect the birds’ nests. The insects are multiplying to provide food for foraging animals, flowers are producing nectar for the bees and pollinators, tadpoles are swimming in the pond, and the circle of life is all around. Everything is connected, and everything depends on something else for its survival. I love being part of this beautiful pattern. And so May lies ahead in the blank space that is the future, and this particular future starts tomorrow.

May is waiting

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?

(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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: