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.

(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.

Colour

I am learning a lot from the stitch journal. I don’t often stitch on plain white fabric, preferring generally to use layered, hand-dyed bases. I understand colour theory, of course, and I know about the different effects that colours can have on their neighbours, but the stitch journal has enabled me to have a better understanding of how this works. The stitch journal is more about line, whereas in my usual work I focus more on shape.

This set of green silk threads is from Airedale Yarns and when it first arrived I took one look at the bright emerald green and thought that was a colour I would probably never use. Too bright, too shiny, too ‘green’ (if there can possibly be such a thing). I like the more muted shades.

Regency silk palette ‘Baroque’

When you stitch a fine line on a white background, however, the colour becomes something quite different. It completely loses its in-your-face greenness and sits quite happily alongside the hand-dyed silk threads on today’s journal block. It becomes a bit more subdued against the white, which I really like.

Bright shiny emerald green in between lines of couched silk perle no. 3

My stitch journal is already very green, I know. What can I say? I like green. I even like the bright shiny emerald green as well now. What I love most about working with colour is how perfectly it can express a feeling or state of mind, without the need for a single word. I have probably used too many words here, but it continually amazes me how much more there is to learn, even after 40+ years of needlework.

January, days

stitch journal, January complete. I see Birdie has given himself a comical-looking monocle with an accidental loop of red thread. Always photobombing.

31 little blocks, side by side, one per day. I keep saying there is no plan, but of course there is a plan – the plan is to stitch a little box for every day of 2022. What I mean is, there isn’t a design. There isn’t a design or drawing for each day, I just thread a needle and see what happens. And really, this isn’t true either. It would be more accurate to say that I thread a needle and reflect on where I am in time and space and then translate that feeling into thread on linen. It is mindful, and it is meditative, to witness the passing of time in this way. It means we are alive.

a long day in January

Some days seem longer than others. Some days bring bad news that hangs around for weeks. Some days make you feel lost. Some bring peace.

Some days are blue

The fact that days always have more coming after them I think can bring a helpful sense of perspective – if every day is followed by another, then sometimes the next day can be a new beginning. I find optimism in this stitch journal, and I find myself wondering where I will be in say, May or June, and what the days will bring to me. Or what I will discover in them. Sewing, for me, is always about healing and connection, about anchoring myself to my life with thread, stitching old wounds closed, looking behind and ahead while standing in the present.

January 31st, looking back across winter and looking forward to spring

Tomorrow is 1st February, Imbolc in the pagan calendar. The first day of spring, where hope reaches a tentative hand out of the cold ground, clutching the green shoots of new life.

Stitch journal

It seems impossible that we’re just over halfway through January already, which means I have completed 18 blocks of my stitch journal.

top right, January 2022

I worried that it might be a chore to work on this every day, but in fact I look forward to stitching a daily section. I sew every day anyway, so it’s just a matter of making a separate space for it. I don’t always like what I’ve stitched, but it surprises me to find that I don’t mind that so much. These are days, and some days are great, and some days are not so good. Most days are a mixture of the two.

Top left, January 2022

I set out with the premise that this would be just thread on a single piece of cloth, so no lining, backing, applique, paint, dye, or patching. I hardly ever sew on a single layer, and whereas I usually bury thread ends etc between layers, I really wanted the back to be visible on this one. I’m already finding it challenging that the background is always white, which is also unusual for me. Some days I have wanted to stitch a white thread on a coloured ground, but I said no paint or dye, so the only way to colour the ground is to fill it with stitch and then stitch over it. That has been working just fine.

Stitch journal ready to unroll

I see this as less of a personal diary and more as a universal marker of time, a record of the passing days, the turning of the wheel. We all live through the same day, at the same time if we’re in the same time zone, and the days mean different things to all of us. I find there is something very moving about witnessing the passage of time in this way, and to see it recorded on a roll of cloth.

The rest of the year awaits

I look at the blank outlined blocks and think of the days and weeks ahead, and wonder what they will bring.

Stitch journal for 2022

Here we are in a whole new January, and a happy new year to you. One of the things I’ve been wanting to make for a while now is a stitch journal – some sort of ongoing cloth with a little stitching every day. I sew most days anyway, of course, but hardly ever in the same place. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to see how the threads of days join up over time. I don’t keep a written diary or journal, because not that much happens in my life – which is just the way I like it, incidentally. A new year seems like a good time to start.

I’m using a long strip torn from an antique linen sheet, about 12″ wide and about 8 feet long, and I’ve mapped out a block of 31 fields that I can use as a template for each month – obviously, some months are shorter than that so I can adapt the template as necessary. Each monthly block is about 8″ x 10″ altogether, so each daily field is an inch and a half or so. I will fill in a field every day for the rest of this year, and I’m hoping that the end result will look something like a cross between a map and a path through the year.

I really want this to be just thread, on one single layer of cloth – so no patching, applique, layering, lining, etc – just thread, whatever happens to be at hand, and whatever kind of stitch presents itself on the day. I will let it unfold in its own way and in its own time, and create an overall pattern (or not) as time goes by. Because I don’t know how this is going to go, I’m starting with very simple running stitches, but I think that will change as I settle in to working with this cloth.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this unfolds. The older I get, the more quickly time seems to pass, and the more precious time seems. I’m hoping that a daily stitch journal will help me to slow down more and notice each single day for the gift that it is.

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