To Be Neat Or Not?
Life plods along, the world seems to be going crazy in its wake. Since I last updated war has writ large on Ukraine and there are whispers of World War 3, Putin suddenly roaring up monstrously in front of us all like the mini tyrant he has always been. The heady days of our carefree pre pandemic ignorant haze seem so long ago. At that time we thought such challenges were mere history, lost to the echoes of time and something we would never have to face. Now we are all weighed down by the threat of danger, the gobsmacking rise in the cost of living, a pandemic that never seems to truly end, and a looming climate catastrophe that feels suffocating in its breadth.
My childhood troubles and subsequent trauma all of a sudden seem to have been really good preparation for what is ultimately a tumultuous world. I no longer feel that ‘this only happened to me’ in ‘this place’ at ‘this time’. It’s all happening to everyone; everywhere. Even those who are ultra-rich, mind bogglingly buried in denial, or utterly optimistic, still have to live with reality creeping in around the edges.
It seems so fortuitous – an utter blessing – that I have been writing this blog and developing a practice around the very idea that creating, making, and losing myself to the process can help me navigate choppy waters and difficult moments. Breathing in deeply the sacred of every day moments by watching cyanotype prints dance magically under the gleam of sunlight, coaxing wonderful hues from natural dyes, sorting through the nostalgia of vintage table linens. All of this helps to ground me firmly in the safety of the present moment.
Throughout 2022 I’ve been helping to facilitate two wonderful textile projects: ‘Where Are You Really From?’ and ‘Bandage Me Better: Sacred Stitches’. You can read more about either of them in earlier posts, or at this link:
During the last session of ‘Where Are You Really From?’, hosted by Hastings Museum, we were treated to an up close study of a selection of beautifully stitched samplers and other textile works from the museum’s collection, items ranging from 70 to 200 years of age. I absolutely adored donning the prerequisite white gloves and becoming historian for the afternoon as I was allowed to gently handle each piece.
It was utterly moving to hold the work of another who lived so long ago, examine their stitched name, age and date of completion. What struck me was the accuracy; a sharp reminder that textiles have been inherently associated with neatness and conformity – a tool in the taming of women across the decades. Mentally I compare these tiny careful stitches with my own messy, wobbly seams and loose hanging threads, feeling like I’ve somehow come up utterly short. I contemplate Sarah White, aged 10, poring over her sewing and wondering whether it was a source of joy or anxiety for her. This sampler is all that it left of her delicate human hand; I can only guess at what she felt, what she hoped for, what gave her joy. Whether she too listened to birds singing and felt a little leap of happiness, whether the sight of the sun setting brought peace to her being.
I am lucky to live in an era when I can choose whether my stitches look neat or dishevelled; it’s a luxury to choose my loose sewing as an aesthetic expression. My shirking of neatness is the same reason I love cacti best of all the plants, and appreciate a grey, grim and gloomy sky. I am from a dark, gritty place and I will not banish the chaotic and uncontrolled from my life. Because to do so would be to banish life itself.
About Northern Ireland; conflict, walls & resolution