Women’s Work 2: Holding it all together/Tenir ferme

enter March was a difficult month to get through this year, my energy levels depleted after the (for me) over-long, searingly-hot summer, the parched winter and world events being the most depressing I can recall; that the month is named after Mars, the god of war, when the ancient Romans again took up their swords to mount their military campaigns (the remains of one such camp lie not far distant from here), seemed chilling and prescient. But, somehow we kept things going here by taking it slowly, as far as possible, and pacing ourselves realistically, rather than by making overly ambitious to-do lists (old habits die hard…). Celebrating the passing of winter and lengthening hours of daylight, then the imposed rest of the public holiday over the Easter weekend finally revived us, and the flowers and blossom suddenly starting to appear everywhere were so very welcome; Spring, and the prospect of work that has kept coming in regularly and continues to build, is finally pulling us through.

follow site The patterns of the year are often more marked down here, especially deep in the countryside, as is the feeling of being swept along by the seasons which influence the rhythm of life. Just as, astronomically, there are patterns which govern the seasons and tides, so our own lives are lived according to pre-set biological patterns, as in Shakespeare’s  ‘ages of man’, or the three ages of womanhood, as depicted in myth throughout the ancient world. We are creatures that like and see patterns to make sense of the world. The intricate and beautiful arrangements of crystals, cells and molecules in nature, as well as in the regular geometrical structure of a flower, are fascinating to us. Some of us have a particular ability to see patterns, whether visually, or in events. We are creatures that make patterns, whether in visual arts or in other modes of expression, such as in musical composition or the writing of a poem, when the sounds and form of lines combine with meaning for an accumulated effect.  Any study of anthropology or history will show repeated patterns in human behaviour and in the structure of human societies. There is an apparent desire in the human psyche for pattern, regularity and expected outcomes.

here But there is also in life that element of randomness in things to be taken into account, the moment when luck, chance, whatever its name, will throw the pattern out and the apparently set direction will change course. An idea familiar to anyone who has studied medieval literature – luck personified as Lady Fortune, turning her wheel on an impulse to raise people up or throw them down – probably went some way to explain the disruption of set patterns and the notion of perceived injustices, for fortune can bring happiness to some at the cost of sorrow to others. The image of her, always young and with a fatal allure, contrasts with that of the formidable Fates in Roman myth, or ‘wyrd sisters’ (wyrd = fate in Old English), in northern myth (and Shakespeare), although the concept is similar and, as women, all are blamed for the ‘inconstancy’ they deal by their association with the ever-changing moon.

And yet, it is often the women who hold it all together when the going gets tough. I have been reacquainting myself with the considerable writings of that medieval lady of letters, Christine de Pisan (1363-1429), a force of nature in herself, who managed to keep everything going through difficult times; her denunciation of the early French classic love poem Le Roman de la Rose as nothing more than a seducer’s handbook gained her a modicum of notoriety and/or acclaim, and certainly proved her the possessor of a formidable intellect, more than capable of dispelling the contemporarily prevalent low opinions of women’s literary acumen and providing for her family and household when left a young widow with responsibilities. There can be no doubt, too, that many resourceful women were living in more ordinary domestic circumstances in France, looking after their homes and families over the war-torn centuries, playing their part in holding things together, season by season, year by year.

I enjoyed the calming and restorative effect of slow-stitching this piece, which includes representations of the sun, moon, the wheel of the agricultural calendar (and of Lady Fortune) and the upward forces of Spring, this the second on the theme of Women’s Work. The warm tones reflect the soft colours of the local stone here from which the medieval castle, the mairie, church and our house are constructed, and the rocks on which the village is set, and on which our own home was directly built centuries ago. The piece is made from reused fabrics: found cottons, vintage linens, hand-made lace, all either left natural or solar-dyed in glass jars set on a sunny wall here last summer in concoctions of tea, avocado skins, red vine leaves, and wild fennel. The worked piece measures 27cm x 39cm (10.5” x 15.5”), invisibly hand-stitched by me onto a piece of vintage French home-spun and home-woven heavy linen hemp bearing the original tiny hand stitches visible at the top hem made by an anonymous needlewoman in the past, giving an overall finished size of 32cm x 46.5cm (12.5” x 18.25”).

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