Tiny pleasures, snatched

imageYour coat, my scarf, thermal underwear. A hot bath, central heating, a down duvet. Blankets, socks, water bottles – worn in bed, never shed. A stranger’s shoulders, a child’s hand, a dog’s torso: tiny pleasures, snatched.

A cup of tea, a park bench, afternoon sunshine. Mulled wine, an open fire, pine logs. Shops, galleries, theatres, cafés. Museums, markets, buskers, bands. People, places. Arms, legs. Bags, umbrellas. Taxis, cars. Constant motion: the lo-comotion – only without Jason and Kyle.

You, me; us, them. Up, down; right, wrong. Left bereft: heart aching. Confused. Bruised.

Try hard: fail heavy. Fight for: come up against. Never-ending; constant bending: always. Bitten. Shy.

World: oyster. House: cave. Some day…

Returning backwards; landing sideways: upside down.

Your face: Billy. Mine: Peep. Lost… sheep without a shepherd, people without a God, a leader without a clan.

Stoop, whisper, tiptoe. Fold into, close off, shut down. Attempting invisible: achieving sunshine, only hostile and hot.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Snowmen in winter

imageBetter the devil you know than the prince you are chasing after. Better the life you have than the future you would like to arrive. Birds in the hand are worth more than mammals in the distance. Eggs more reliable assets than chickens down the line.

Thank God for what you have and count your lucky stars. Let absence take care of what is missing and providence provide. Tread softly around others, be mindful of their dreams. Give what you can to the less fortunate, take only what you need from those who can provide.

Think big, stand tall, set goals, climb skyscrapers. Plan ahead, take action, share often, do more. Walk with courage, run with enthusiasm, sit down with dignity, sleep with pride. Love each season as if it were the only one available. Embrace all weather, as if it were all there were.

Build snowmen in winter. Plant daisies in spring. Pick apples in summer. Make fires in fall. Smile at those who hurt you, laugh with those who don’t. Listen to your elders, teach your youth. Show those who are searching, lead them who would like to learn. Imagine it all different, then get up and take a turn.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The question she was chewing on these days

imageTrying to keep the peace in a turbulent household is a full-time job, especially when surrounded by eggshells. One forgets how many landmines can be hidden beneath the floors, knives concealed underneath the smooth veneer of carpets and rugs; how much, in treading onto and then later exploding (albeit, by accident), they hurt. Having navigated a relatively uneventful path for a hand-span of days – commendable, given the circumstances – it was inevitable she would eventually slip up. That it had taken so long and gone so smoothly up until this point was what surprised her. At the end of the day, it all came down to leopards and dogs. You couldn’t repaint the sitting room, just because you didn’t like the colour. Nor could you rearrange the make-up of the stew, just because you were now a vegetarian. People were who they were. They looked and acted a certain way. After a lifetime of operating as such, they weren’t about to change for you or anyone else. And besides… life was a series of challenges, most irksome when you were already struggling. It stood to reason that there were additional bumps.

It had been a difficult summer: hard on the body, worse on the mind. There had been decisions, sacrifices, tests… They had had to prove they wanted it, and how much. Cross bridges. Climb mountains. There was loss, and cost. And it carried on costing. Even now – here, on the other side; standing, walking, running; somewhere in the middle of where they used to be and where they wanted to be eventually, where they were trying to get to when they figured it all out – they were hitting walls and coming up against barriers. If there was a God – a matter that, lately, had come up for dispute – he had a wicked sense of humour. Each morning as she walked across the bridge, the one just shy of Charring Cross, the one on the Embankment; passing the bible bashers with their books on Christianity and their poster asking: “does Satan exist?”, she had to wonder. Either she was being tested for something bigger, better, beautiful… that would eventually become clear – like daylight, sunshine; something she suddenly didn’t have much of. Or she was being sabotaged and thwarted by a tyrant. For now, she had no alternative but to go with the punches. But that didn’t mean she had to like it or pretend that it didn’t hurt. Her back ached, her feet throbbed, her shoulders screamed continuously. And as for her head and stomach… it was best not to go there. She was managing in much the same way as she always did: reverting to the tried and tested, resorting to medicating in imaginative and stereotypical ways. But it was a short-term fix. Sooner or later the facade would crack, causing her to crumble. There was only so long things like thoughts and feelings could be suppressed. Her backpack was heavy. Her suitcase dragged. It was high-time she unpacked.

A wet November morning, the edge of winter. A small cafe in a suburban town. Having been soaked by the rain as she attempted to save her dignity from foul things in the kitchen, she was hunched over and shivering, cursing her mediterranean excuse of a coat. While it might serve adequately in climates used to providing: it offered little by way of protection from the elements right now. Once it dropped below 18 degrees, it was basically useless: more frivolous accessory than practical attire. Why she had brought it in the first place, escaped her. Something to do with a cute shop, a bad day and someone owing her a gift. In that sense, it had served its purpose, removing a thorn that might otherwise have festered, dragging out the matter, causing yet more pain.

But what about the coat of now? How was she supposed to navigate the mean-time: the time in the middle, the time with its own agenda?

As she bit back the tears, cursing her skin for being so thin, her heart so pathetically fragile, she was involuntarily rewound, returning kicking and screaming to where it had all begun, the reasons for the adventure rising from the grave to press against her eyelids. She had fled, running away from it all, taking her almost entirely broken and still breaking as far away as she could. It had been an act of self-preservation. That it hadn’t entirely worked out, that it had tested her in new and unanticipated ways, was something she had then had to accommodate. But she had borne it all without complaint or hesitation, resuming vertical, relocating upright, glueing back together and replacing her cracked and chipped. Was there no end to the assault? Everywhere she went, every path she took, there seemed to be a new monster. What was that all about? And did it happen to everyone or just to her? That was the question she was chewing on these days.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The Prince who Favoured the Beast

imageFor years now I have shared my bed with a beast, although he used to be a prince and still was one when I met him and when we married. “How did it come to this?” I ask myself, querying the question. “And why won’t I leave?” To which there is no reply. These are but a handful of questions pulled from a list of intimidating length.

They say that love is strange and life is complex, that there is no understanding either one of them, no dissecting the element to make sense of the parts. And I am inclined (albeit reluctantly) to agree; after all, who am I to argue with those who are in charge the universe, the people who research and study to lay down and prove? Besides, given my current predicament, I would have to say that they are right. But it’s not all bad, not always…

The man behind the mask is still present inside and on good days he even comes out.

The boy next door still lives on my road and when I visit, I can sit quietly in my car and watch him come out.

In fact, if I am truthful – and I suppose I should be because this tale is more truth than fiction and honesty is the main point: I suppose he is around for half of my waking life. But the nature of that percentage is fragmented and split up and cannot be relied upon to present itself. One can be walking, working, socialising, shopping, etc…. and suddenly he –the beast, the demon – arrives, descending like a cloud to swallow everything else up. Then, the hand that I was holding is replaced by a paw, the eyes I was swimming in turn to ice, the voice that was whispering growls complaints and I am trodden on and trampled until I submit. It’s all rather pitiful and I am ashamed to say it out loud. But sometimes speaking difficult things is the bravest thing we can do and sharing can help others to avoid similar mistakes and, who knows: medicine can come from anywhere and take many forms; mine may arrive as a result of this.

Anyhow, this is a cautionary tale and I implore you proceed with care: you never know when something inadvertently encountered is going to rise to trip you up. I’ve cried over poems and wept over books, made decisions based upon films. I’ve travelled far, experimented widely and challenged myself in ways I never imagined I would. I’ve admired, praised, loved; rejected, run towards and fled from. I’ve hidden, stolen, joked; lied, laughed and wept, etc… all inspired by creativity, in one form or another. It’s a powerful element and can do strange things – healing and hurting, helping and hindering, in equal measure.

A fairytale in reverse, this is the story of a Cinderella deprived of a ceremony, a Rapunzel raped of her virginity, a Sleeping Beauty hooked on Prozac and a Snow White sold into slavery. It’s a child abandoned, a sister denied, a lover subjected to violence and a mother deprived. All very tragic.

So how did it start and where are we now and why do we allow it to go on? And what went wrong and why did it happen and who’s really to blame? And do these things matter to anyone but me, when the result is just the same: unhappy, heartbroken, sick? I’m asking you to provide the answer because you are the only ones who can.

We all have our own story, each one containing multiple chapters. Some of us live a new one each day, our pages turning rapidly, our words snappy and fast-paced. Others are slower to reveal themselves and are longer in length, appearing more like entire narratives, a book in themselves. At different times in our lives, their durations will vary. And, depending on what we are experiencing, so will their themes. Some will be romantic in nature, others more comedic, presenting as silly, carefree, frivolous and light. Others still will be tragic and sad, pensive and deep. We will reflect upon the passing of the years, the coming and going of people, who we are, who we were and who we have become. Despite being hard: it is never boring, for we never know what to expect.

For some of us, the element of surprise is alarming and we suffer greatly as a result. For others, not knowing is liberating, allowing space in which to experiment and expand. Ideally, we fall somewhere in the centre, permitting what will be to be without attempting to block it or stand in its way.

Love is equally as unpredictable and unreliable in nature. It comes and goes. It mutates. The quality rises and falls, often depending on external circumstances we lack the ability to control or predict. If we choose to indulge in this most human of experiences, seeking that perfect other half to complete our own gaping whole, then we risk falling and breaking. And if we decide to stick it out, believing still in spite of evidence that might suggest the opposite that things will improve, then we accept that the journey will be difficult. All this I have learned from experience. It is the hard way. But if we truly desire our happy ending, it may be the only one.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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One step far away

imageShe’d been there for seven days and so far she’d survived. Done better, in fact, than she had imagined when envisaging it in advance from one step far away. Given the circumstances, the disruption, the different location and altered routine – a routine she stuck to, swore by and depended upon as if her life were a cup made out of the finest bone china, her routine an armoured tank to huddle inside – she was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad after all, or not nearly so bad, anyway? And anything not so bad after all or not nearly so bad anyway, was good in her books. If she was going to be bold: perhaps even better? Her doom and gloom predictions were bleak, end of the worldy, of the cut her down and slice her apart variety. She had thoroughly expected to be lying in a heap by now, catching boot heels and trainer soles and fending off umbrellas. To be upright, standing, walking even, was a miracle she couldn’t help thanking the constellations for. Maybe the misfortune that had dogged her ever since her real life dog had died had realised it was time it departed, making way in its absence for another breed of fortune to arrive; one that was bright, shiny and pleasant, a joy to have around? Maybe her dreams would come true, allowing along the way her wants, needs, hopes and goals to be both met and realised?

Ok, so it was still winter and wet, dark and cold most of the time. But it was also unseasonably mild, given that by now it would usually be freezing and the rain, although persistent, was at least intermittent and light. For England, that was unusual.

It was also unusual for her to be feeling so chirpy at this time of year and so excited about the future. She had energy and enthusiasm to spare. By all accounts, she should really be holed up inside, hiding behind the walls of an apartment or snuggled beneath the folds of a duvet, curtains drawn, lights low, music bleating softly… She hadn’t realised how much she had missed her former life – her friends, her family, her country – until she had come home from being away for a while.

Maybe in order to appreciate what you have and know what it is it does for you, you have to journey outside, venturing beyond what feels comfortable and safe to then realise in coming back that it was enough in the first place?

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A skirt for a kitten

imageA skirt for a kitten.
A scarf for a cat.
A cardigan for a guinea pig.
A coat for a rat.

A jumper for a hamster.
A jacket for a dog.
A sock for a chinchilla.
A stocking for a frog.

A sheep in the garden.
A cow in the shed.
A horse in the kitchen.
A goat in the bed.

A mind in the gutter.
A mouth in the sink.
A finger in the cookie jar.
A toe in the drink.

An eye on the future.
An ear on the floor.
A foot on the ladder.
A hand on the door.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The dishcloth dog

imageI have begun a new piece. It is three days young. Starting as a simple, non-challenging project – one designed to take me from A to B (with A being Mallorca and B England), a sad parting attached to a reluctant returning – it has quickly evolved, presenting me with a list of demands: a cashmere circumference, merino eyes, a mohair tongue and snowflakes of mixed synthetic origin in an array of colours: coal, chalk, slate, berry, pearl and ice… I expect glass beads and metalic sequins to follow, as well as lace edging in a yet-to-be-determined yarn. Promising to be many-layered and complex, it should help to keep me occupied for a while. And while I cannot speak for the length of that illusive allotment of time, that intangible allocation of clock and calendar digits, I can at least relax in the knowledge that it will be long enough for me to start to settle and adjust. It’s a brave new world out there (big, loud and scary) and I am a timid old thing (small, quiet and soft), it could take some practice.

Stitching a new friend out of yarn and thread

In times of upheaval, being busy is important, distracting us from what we cannot cope with or do not wish to see, acting (if you like) as the ideal wall of defence against externals that could otherwise turn around and bite. Fearing change and needing routine, this (the necessary employment) is especially true for me. Think of it as a holding agent – a boat to cling to or ride within whilst navigating a vast and choppy sea roughly the size and temperament of the Atlantic. I need my dishcloth mutt: today, tomorrow and next week.

Since arriving (four days ago for me writing, longer for those of you reading this), words have deserted me and what I have managed is painful, taking ages in gestation and demanding much in labour to be set down. I’m also unable to read, my mind resisting the page like two opposing magnets. Television works better, although only intermittently depending on what I’m trying to watch. Having been away for three years and not having watched anything at all for two of those, I am out of touch.

It was the same yesterday when I went into town (and here, I mean Windsor not London: diddy rather than hulking, slow rather than fast, outskirts rather than central). The world appears to have grown in my absence, leaping forward several decades in the course of several years, so that – walking into a bank, navigating the likes of Superdrug or Boots, attempting to connect to WiFi in a café or pub – I have no idea what to do or where to start. Even the bank has changed. What happened to the cashiers? Like Scarlet Johansen in Lost in Translation, I am totally confused. And the confusion is like a weight bearing down on me, crushing my ability to navigate.

I’m trying to stay positive and strong, placating my inner brat with all of the things it likes: hot drinks in take away cups, people-filled venues, central heating and warm clothes, quiet time, creative time, cuddles and company, upbeat music, light and fresh air, exercise, routine, sewing and yarn, plans, projects, ideas and dreams, romantic notions I choose to believe in, life after the brief diversion of here… And while it might not be the solution I am seeking or anywhere near a cure to my current malaise, it’s a start to somewhere and something and that’s good enough for now.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The Clucking of Hens

image
“There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains. So if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens.” Alan Watts

It’s my last day. My flight leaves tomorrow. I’m packed, the boxes have gone, the dog has been to the vets for pre-flight jabs. And I’ve tidied, washed, ironed and cleaned, to the extent that the house feels empty. I am no longer here.

I am lying in bed beneath a blanket writing by candlelight. In the main room, a fire burns. Outside, its raining. It has been for hours. The shift I had hoped to avoid caught me unawares, materialising without warning. It’s winter now, properly; not sometimes or some days… Still, at least I will be better prepared when I land, which is something.

I’m not sure how I feel, as I’m doing my best to avoid thinking and feeling is strictly banned. I’m scared that if I pause for long enough for it to sink in, the everything that’s happening around me (which is pretty scary and big) will rise up causing me to drown. I have a tendency to suffer from overwhelm at the best of times.

To keep the monster at bay, I drink lots of camomile tea and dose up on sedatives – all herbal, mind. I move a lot, too – all nervous energy atop impatient feet.

Looking after my dog is helping; tending her agitation, aiding my own dis-ease. What she is suffering is bad enough: she sees boxes, cases; knows something is happening to her environment, chipping away at it, but she can’t quite explain what it is. Is mummy leaving? Is daddy going on a trip? Has she done something to anger or upset? Why are things disappearing: her blanket, her bowl, her bed? I know where she is. Being in limbo is uncomfortable.

I wish I knew what was on the other side, whether I will love or loathe it. I wish I knew how long it will take, the exact length of this interlude. I wish I could have a guarantee that if I hate it, if I am unhappy, I don’t have to stay that long. I wish someone could promise me that the temperature will be favourable, that there won’t be much rain and that the sun will always shine. I wish there were answers. In their absence, I have no idea where I am, how I feel, what is happening. Like my dog, I am confused.

I reach out my hand to those around me, looking to them for comfort, only to realise too late that they are only interested in subtracting. I lend my shoulders, my arms, my breasts… while my heart endures a battering. I need to widen my circuit, balancing the flow between to and from.

Tired, drained, I shrink back, taking refuge in the one place only I can find. It’s quiet and dark. Even in a busy cafe, nothing reaches in. Safe within the void, held by the flow, I find comfort. For now, it works.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The Potential Possum and the Mostly Moon (as featured on Let’s Knit)

imageRead full-length piece.
Read Let’s Knit blog

Up until now:

The majority of my pieces are colourful narratives – bright, shiny and cheerful. They depict wonderful beginnings, beautiful middles and happy endings.

my textile work

My drawing, on the other hand, tends towards the opposite.

my illustration

Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of the craft and how I see it: gainfull employment for hands that would be idle. It reminds me of classic novels and of women who were well-behaved. It is passive and quiet, undeniably elegant. It has no room for rage or despair; for the mess of external expression.

how I see the craft

Or maybe it’s because it was my grandmother who taught me and I see her as this shining light, someone who always managed to put a positive spin on things? Perhaps I am scared to taint her memory and infect her gift?

my grandmother

Or it could be that I am attached to the concept that we traditionally knit items to wear or use and embroider things to decorate and gift?

In trying to turn something ‘crafty’ into something ‘arty’, I am changing the rules and I think this attempted remodelling is where I have become tangled up. So this project is all about letting go.

Instead of having a vague idea of a theme for a piece, I shall clear my mind and work without attachment to direction or outcome, allowing my inner guide and my outer muse (the below-featured chihuahua) to steer the journey.


Something new:

Having decided to try my hand at something new, I decided it was only right that I use a new ball of wool and a new colour; that way everything would be different – the background, the method, the colouring. Worst case scenario, should I mess up entirely, I would simply fail to swim. And from the bottom of the pool, lake or ocean, I could float my way back up, either unpicking and correcting in order to continue or starting over afresh.

Sidar Snuggly Baby Crofter – Winnie (178)

I elect to make a plain square and begin by casting on 40 stitches. The purpose here was for the tension square to serve as a pseudo-type therapist; an entity both strong enough and reliable enough to accommodate my emotions, thereby enabling me space to temporarily switch off from all catastrophizing about the future in order to sit still and silent within the present. It kind of works.

40 stitches x 22 rows

Having completed my square, I am then ready to move on to the frame. This will serve to ground the square visually. It will also catch and hold straight the edges, which would otherwise curl. I have chosen to use white because it is clean and fresh and also because, being plain and simple, it won’t distract from what’s going on inside. The only complication I allow myself I limit to one row:

k2tog, yo; repeat

At the same time, I decide to approach the inside: the space where the story will sit.

Picking up my knitting doll, I select a length of yarn and proceed to make a cord, which I will coil in much the same way as with a coaster or mat. The process is quick, simple and meditative and I lose myself effortlessly to the rhythm of it.

My moon takes me three days: one to make the coil and two to decorate.

knitted edges and a spool moon

Next up, the focus of my piece: my person or animal. I have no idea what will come out; I simply pick up my needles and trust in the process. I watch with interest until it starts to look like a ‘something’ and then I intrude.

In this instance, the suggested is of animal inclination. Beginning as a cat, it later becomes a rat and then, finally, joyously, a possum. This feels right, reminiscent of my time in Australia and my love for the family of possums who lived in the trees surrounding my house. I loved watching them, constantly surprised that in their lack of dexterity and elegance, they never seemed to fall.

I give my possum a tail, slightly curled. Then I add two ears – one that sticks up, the other out. After this, I add a nose, a mouth and a cheek, all in various shades of pink. Lastly, I give it claws, a necklace and a bracelet.

my possum

Because at the moment it’s top right and bottom left with nothing in between, I decide to make a star, which, along with providing company for the moon, will help to balance it out. But as it evolves, it transforms into a flower – jasmine or honeysuckle. Knitted in mohair and angora, it is soft with a fluffy sheen. I decorate it in pearls with a single sequin at its centre, then surround it with more flowers, only smaller this time, made of pearl and sequin.

my star

Three feels like the correct number of elements for the piece, so I decide to leave it there. But something is missing. I decide to add some sequins and beads to the area beneath the moon. I leave their translation open to the spectator. To me, however, they are many things: raindrops, snowflakes, tears, shooting stars, meteorites, petals; their essence changing with my mood.

my moon

Overall, this piece has two levels. The surface one – which is sweet, playful and fun; almost childlike in presentation. And the underlying one – which speaks of hope and faith, goal and intent, apprehension and fear, sorrow and grief; of things let go and left behind, and of things yet to be encountered and enjoyed.

the potential possum and the mostly moon

I miss Australia: the buzz of the city, the contrast of towering skyscraper against colonial relic, the warmth of the people; Chinatown, it’s smells and tastes; the beach – Bondi, Manley, Cooggie, Bronte, with its bronzed swimmers and surfers, its vistas and cliffs; the animals – pelican, cockatiel, fruit bat, koala, possum, kangaroo; my house; the places I went, the experiences I had, the people I met.

Australia

I know that when I leave here, Mallorca, I shall miss the landscape, the sky, and the light; watching the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane; spotting shapes in the clouds; counting the stars and looking for various formations, every so often chancing upon a lone crusader as it flies past on its way to earth. I shall also miss the peace and quiet, the land that surrounds my house and the walled orchard with its fruit trees: lemon, lime, orange, pear, plum and fig… each month delivering a new surprise.

Mallorca

In its intentions, this piece has been fairly successful. In telling a story that wanted to be told, it has given voice to a handful of emotions and feelings, setting some free while merely drawing attention to the presence of others. I have gained information and advice about necessary inner work and learnt that as well as grieving the departure of people, it is also important to mourn the loss of home and place.

Everything we touch, everywhere we settle, every experience we have… impacts upon us in some way. And whether small or large, pleasant or terrible, they need to be honoured and thanked.

This lesson shall go with me into the next chapter and the next piece.

• see the rest of the collection (as and when it arrives)
• learn about other pieces I have made
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The potential possum and the mostly moon (full-length version)

image• Read short version (as featured on Let’s Knit)
• Read Let’s Knit guest post

Objects of beauty:

I am starting to tire of my current series: the pieces take too long to make and the repetition, although pleasantly meditative, has become boring. I need to shake it up, increasing the pressure in order to scare myself; for while I am a creature of habit in my daily life: when it comes to creativity I need to be challenged and stimulated.

Vitruvian Woman

This piece is part of a new series I am making entitled Square Pegs. It is based on the following concepts:

1) the suggested tension square accompanying almost every pattern (something I rarely do and so have decided to practice)
2) patchwork quilts – old, beautiful and steeped in tradition
3) my own obstinate peg, namely accepting and embracing it

In knitting square after square, working within the security of a fixed environment, I hope to provide an outlet for life’s challenges, honouring the grazes by transforming them into objects of beauty; the idea being that these small squares, with their individual narratives, come together to form a whole that tells an entire story.

A natural disposition to be good:

Most of what I am about to do is undecided and I have restricted myself to three changes:

• a yarn background instead of a felt one
• a smaller workspace
• a square canvas

This expanse of unknown excites me and I am keen to see how it will translate.

Up until now:

Up until now, the majority of my pieces have been colourful narratives – bright, sparkly and cheerful. They depict wonderful beginnings, beautiful middles and happy endings.

my textile work

My drawing, on the other hand, tends towards the opposite; although here, too, you have to know what you are looking for.

my illustration

My poetry and prose, also; both reflecting (often with alarming honesty) exactly what is going on inside my head.

Why then, when I pick up a yarn or thread, does it always come out with a smile? I don’t understand it and while I don’t necessarily mind (for cheerful is always good), I would like to have more of a choice. That way, when I’ve got something on my mind: like when I’m worried or stressed or upset… I can allow its story an outlet along with the emotion it contains.

how I see the craft

Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of the craft and how I see it: gainfull employment for hands that would be idle, domesticity at its best, a relic from a time that no longer exists? It reminds me of classic novels and of women who were well-behaved. It is passive and quiet; undeniably elegant. It has no room for rage or despair, for the mess of external expression. It was something that you sat and did, either in solitude or in company. Perhaps it is this that is stopping me, along with a natural disposition to be good?

a natural disposition to be good

Or maybe it’s because it was my grandmother who taught me and I see her as this shining light, someone who always managed to put a positive spin on things? Perhaps I am scared to taint her memory and infect her gift?

my grandmother

Or it could be that I am attached to the concept that we traditionally knit items to wear or use and embroider things to decorate and gift? Both are seen as crafts and craft, by its very nature, or at least according to it’s stereotype, is typically an airhead.

In trying to turn something ‘crafty’ into something ‘arty’, something with a message that goes deeper than a surface: “Hey look at me! Am I not the most lovely scarf, the most delicious hat? ”, I am changing the rules and I think this, the attempted remodelling, is where I have become tangled up.

An idealistic approach:

So this project is all about breaking the rules and moving away from the place where it all started. My previous work was different in the sense that it took embroidery and knitting as crafts and turned them into art, reinventing them and our perception of the form they take.

This work is all about exploration and doubly letting go, letting go a second time. Instead of having a vague idea of a theme for a piece: a pregnant rabbit, a frog in drag, a horse eating ice cream; I shall clear my mind and work without attachment to direction or outcome, allowing my inner guide and my outer muse to steer the journey. It is an idealistic approach, but one that excites me.

Phase one: humble beginnings

Sidar Snuggly Baby Crofter – Winnie (178)

Having decided to try my hand at something new, I decided it was only right that I use a new ball of wool and a new colour; that way, everything would be different – the background, the method, the colouring – reducing the risk of any and all attempts on my part to cling to the previously tested. I would dive in and wait to see. Worst case scenario, should I mess up entirely, I would simply fail to swim. And from the bottom of the pool, lake or ocean, (it’s length and breadth dependent on the extent of the mess I am in ), I could simply float my way back up, either unpicking and correcting in order to continue or starting over afresh. No big deal. It’s not like the wellbeing of the world or even myself depends upon it, although my confidence might be dented somewhat.

image

I elect to make a plain square and begin by casting on 40 stitches. My first time slot (I work in the car) allows me 22 rows. So far, so good. Not that that says much; although to a novice, even this might be a significant success. In my classes (I offer small workshops and private lessons) I have seen all kinds of things and it always surprises me how diverse people’s blocks and difficulties are – some struggling to cast on; while others steam ahead, only stumbling when they try to end. It fascinates me, this first dipped toe, this initial sampling, and I am always honoured to be a part of it.

Phase two: the next step

Repetition therapy

Having completed my square (roughly K40 x K36, although I must confess I forgot to count them), I am ready to move on to the next step and already I have an inkling about what I want it to be. But I shall keep that part of the narrative a secret until I have a photograph to accompany it: that way I maintain your attention for a little longer, allowing me pause to examine the benefits, if there were any, of the square.

Brief interlude in which I attempt to examine the benefits, if there were any, of the square:

The purpose here was to provide an outlet: the tension square serving as a pseudo-type therapist; an entity both strong enough and reliable enough to accommodate my emotions, thereby enabling me space to temporarily switch off from all catastrophizing about the future in order to sit still and silent within the present. And while it is far from a cure or a remedy: it’s a something, and something’s are things I am always grateful for. One doesn’t reject a thing just because it only delivers part of what is desired: a ball of acrylic is infinitely better than having no ball at all.

I think the solution is to keep making – increasing the pressure and the challenge, experimenting with what works on the outside and trying, as much as possible, to draw a parallel between that which is kind to my inside. The trick will be in uniting the two, so that my squares not only serve to tell a story but also to exorcise the emotions attached.

Phase three: two birds

Moonlight and right angles

Moving on, it is time for the frame: the knitted edging to replace what has previously been in ribbon. This will serve to ground the square visually, making it easier to work with. It will also catch and hold straight the edges, which would otherwise curl. I have chosen to use white because it is clean and fresh and also because, being plain and simple, it won’t distract from what’s going on inside. The only complication I allow myself (for even when striving for simplicity, there has to be one), I limit to one row: k2tog, yo; repeat.

At the same time, because I work my interiors while stationary and because I don’t want to start anything else for fear of overwhelm or distraction from the task, I decide to approach the inside: the space where the story will sit.

The mostly moon

Picking up my knitting doll (old and much-loved), I select a length of yarn and proceed to make a cord, which, when done, I will coil in much the same way one does a coaster or mat. The process is quick, simple and meditative and I lose myself effortlessly to the rhythm of it, re-emerging only when I am done. One of the things that I love most about sewing and knitting is that it is all-encompassing – swallowing me up thoughts, worries, distractions, life pressures and all… rescuing me (albeit temporarily) from the current weight of the world and the speed in which it invariably flows.

When I have roughly 25cm of cord, I make my coil, which I then loosely secure with cotton so that I can work on it. I then bring out my collection of sequins and beads and deliberate over which sizes and colours to pick. The larger my collection, the harder the task, despite my intention being the opposite.

My moon takes me three days: one to make the coil and two to decorate.

The potential possum a

Next up: the focus of my piece: my person or animal. At this point, I have no idea what will come out; I simply pick up my needles and trust in the process. My hands move independently and gradually a shape emerges. I watch with interest until it starts to look like a ‘something’ and then I intrude.

In this instance, the suggested is of animal inclination. Beginning as a cat, it later becomes a rat and then, finally, joyously, (I couldn’t abide having to devote myself to such an odious creature: its yellow teeth, its scaly tail) a possum. This feels right, reminiscent of my time in Australia and my love for the family of possums who lived in the trees surrounding my house. A cross between a cat, a rat and a squirrel, they were among the most curious of all the creatures I had the pleasure of meeting. I loved watching them, constantly surprised that, in their lack of dexterity and elegance, they never seemed to fall. I still struggle to accept that something that maladroit can live securely amongst branches and leaves.

I give my possum a tail, slightly curled. Then I add two ears – one that sticks up, the other out, separate to the piece so that’s 3-dimensional. After this, I add a nose, a mouth and a cheek, all in various shades of pink. And lastly, an eye: fishlike and slightly Egyptian, reminiscent of pyramids and the calligraphy that decorates their walls. Lastly, I give it claws, grey, a pearl necklace and a tail bracelet. I work slowly, concentrating on each addition, careful not to overload it. I want it to be likeable, and the jewelery helps this, but at the same time I don’t want it to feel overdone. I’m pleased with the result as well as my restraint.

The budding star

To balance the piece out, I decide to make a star, which, along with providing company for the moon, will help to balance the piece out. But as it evolves, it transforms into a flower, jasmine or honeysuckle. Knitted in mohair and angora, it is soft with a fluffy sheen. I decorate it in pearls with a single sequin at its centre, then surround it with more flowers, pearl and sequin in nature.

Three feels like the correct number of elements for the piece, so I decide to leave it there. But something is missing. Sitting with it for several days, looking at it often, thinking both in front of it and away, I decide to add some sequins and beads to the area beneath the moon. I leave their translation open to the spectator. To me, however, they are many things: raindrops, snowflakes, tears, shooting stars, meteorites, petals; their essence changing with my mood. Raindrops and tears are sorrowful, regretful, remorseful and hurt, representing certain people and events and the way I feel about them, along with the future and what it potentially holds. Shooting stars, snowflakes, petals and meteorites are more positive, signifying birth and transformation, possibility and change. Again, elements belonging to the future, but one I feel more warmth towards.

Summing up:

The potential possum and the mostly moon

Overall, this piece has two levels. The surface one, which is sweet, playful and fun, almost childlike in presentation. And the underlying one, which speaks of hope and faith, goal and intent, apprehension and fear, sorrow and grief; of things let go and left behind, and of things yet to be encountered and enjoyed.

Australia

I miss Australia: the buzz of the city, the contrast of towering skyscrape against colonial relic, the warmth of the people; Chinatown, it’s smells and tastes; the beach – Bondi, Manley, Cooggie, Bronte with its bronzed swimmers and surfers, its vistas and cliffs; the animals – pelican, cockatiel, fruit bat, koala, possum, kangaroo; my house, the places I went, the experiences I had, the people I met.

Mallorca

I know that when I leave here, Mallorca, I shall miss the landscape, the sky and the light; watching the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane, spotting shapes in the clouds, counting the stars and looking for various formations, every so often chancing upon a lone crusader as it flies past on its way to earth. I shall also miss the peace and quiet, the land that surrounds my house and the walled orchard with its fruit trees: lemon, lime, orange, pear, plum and fig, each month delivering a new surprise.

In its intentions, this piece has been fairly successful, although incomplete in its remedy. In telling a story that wanted to be told, it has given voice to a handful of emotions and the feelings that were attached, setting some free, while merely drawing attention to the presence of others. I have gained information and advice about necessary inner work and learnt that as well as grieving the departure of people, it is also important to mourn the loss of place and home.

Everything we touch, everywhere we settle, every experience we have, impacts upon us in some way. And whether small or large, pleasant or terrible, they need to be honoured and thanked.

This lesson shall go with me into the next chapter and the next piece.

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