“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help”
The rhythms of thread through fabric, the enjoyment in the act of making something thoughtfully with slow deliberate movements, while letting thoughts collect at quiet times, is what this blog is about.
So here we are…
We’re all living through a time when change seems to come faster and more dramatically than many of us have ever known. While it’s normal to adapt to change over time, every day seems to dawn with new possibilities, or increasing likelihood, of doom, be it from global warming or the domino-like fall of more tolerant, inclusive societies. Threats appear to come at us from all quarters, no matter where.
In 2012, Duncan and I made the decision to leave for France. Our lives in the UK had become insupportably hectic, the careers we had loved become inhumanely demanding so that our health was suffering as a result. We had enjoyed retreating to France to recuperate when time allowed and it felt familiar enough for us to consider it a relatively easy move to make. The naivety still astounds: trying to start up businesses on arrival, as well as restoring the old village farmhouse we’d bought was challenging enough to say the least and far from the more relaxing lifestyle we’d envisaged. Our first summer here passed in clouds of dust as we repaired and decorated, cleaning up only to sit patiently in a succession of government waiting-rooms and offices, to receive yet more forms to fill. (We have still to enjoy the ‘expat lifestyle’ which seems to have such a hold on the imagination of our fellow northern Europeans).
Then, terrorism came to France, striking at the heart of its loved capital. More incidents occurred, including the horrific attack in Nice, again also a symbolic affront to the nation’s identity. In addition, the shock of Brexit with its attendant threat to our remaining here, and the shift to a world where our perspectives are being distorted almost daily have made us aware of how we remain connected, affected by the spirit of the times which influence us wherever we are.
It is said that times of stress can also be times of great creativity: some paint; some write; some make; some do all three. As a diversion, the act of being absorbed in an occupation provides, for me, a wonderful relief from the everyday and extraordinary worries which might otherwise have me plunging to the depths of despair.
Life is full of uncertainties – yes, life has taught me that. The image of Lady Fortune turning her wheel at random, on a whim, is a familiar one in medieval literature to explain the fall of some and the rise of others, seemingly unjustified and unbidden. Such is life. Coping mechanisms abound in a world where, to keep us working, we are offered ‘cures’ (usually at a price) for the stresses to which we are now inevitably subjected. I have tried several, some of which have worked for a while.
The one relaxation I always return to is sewing, not dress-making or home-making (much as I enjoy these too) but meditative sewing, or making sewn narratives which are freer. I make textile art from scraps of fabric, vintage pieces from local ‘brocante’ or ‘vide-greniers’ here (garage-sales, car-boot, or jumble sales might also be good resource for this), combining them with leftover pieces from other projects or remnants from my fabric stash. Similarly, I have found threads, lace, buttons and beads, all of which cost next to nothing, if anything at all. The possibility of making something out of otherwise useless bits and pieces is an act of creation satisfying in itself. When I was young, I made patchwork quilts. Laura Ashley had recently opened a shop in an Oxford side-street, and I remember there was a large wicker basket filled with small fabric scraps, the leftovers from her dress-manufacturing, to which customers could just help themselves. Patchwork then became something of a trend, and Laura Ashley an internationally successful business woman, but I still have those first two quilts, made by hand from a one-inch hexagon, as my baby slept.
Quilt-making, particularly when made by hand, is a slow, methodical, repetitive process, which appeals to me. Meditative stitching, like the Japanese form of simple running stitch patching to form different effects (sashiko) is also very calming. Creating a stitch narrative which can connect us to an event or time in the past, or simply to explore an idea, can also be very satisfying, and can use a combination of hand and machine stitching to produce all manner of effects.
Mindfulness, concentration, absorption: call it what you will, the act of giving oneself over to creativity can be very calming. The results can be random: maybe what you produce will turn out to be beautiful and useful, maybe it will not. It doesn’t matter. The act of creation in itself will have fulfilled its purpose in having been a break from the stresses of life today.