In 2015 or was it 2016(?) things were in flux. I was re-evaluating what I was doing, where I was headed, what I wanted… There were a number of things going on that led to this, but it was one of those moments that didn’t seem particularly extraordinary or even interesting, but in hindsight I see that it was a pivotal moment. A moment when I re-found hand stitching.
My mother taught me to embroider with crewel and a hoop at an early age. This is the Christmas creche we made together. It was while making one of those sheep that I came to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of the simple French Knot done hundreds of times.
Christmas Creche embroidered with my mother
Since then I have gone down many paths, but the hand stitching path is perhaps the most surprising, to me. While at Parsons School of Design I would do anything I could to avoid hand stitching. And then I discovered draping and for a time it was my new love. Draping is a whole art in and of itself. Cutting fabric on the bias and then draping it onto a form and manipulating it so the fabric falls in specific ways was something I loved, but it was also time consuming and I was young and impatient and so my love for draping was set aside.
Funnily enough when I moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school and before I went to Parsons my first job was in a tailor’s shop in Beverly Hills. My favorite thing to do was to sit in the back room with the master tailor, an Armenian man who tried to teach me the fine art of tailoring. Hand stitching hemlines and buttonholes was something I never quite mastered during my time there, but I loved it never-the-less.
Hand stitching can be slow and arduous and very, very time consuming, and it can also be meditative, serene, calming and restorative, depending on one’s perspective. These days I find hand stitching to be all of the latter and none of the former.
A detail of my most recent work hand stitching on Pat Pauly hand dyed linen using Stef Francis threads, Painter’s Threads, House Of Embroidery Threads, Mulberry Bark from Stef Francis, Sari Cording from Stef Francis and wool roving.
When I began hand stitching again I followed other people’s patterns and instructions and while that was interesting and I learned a great deal, it wasn’t completely fulfilling. I have always gone off script and the farther I go, the happier I am. So when I began doing what I call “Improvisational Stitching” I knew I’d fallen into something important. Not only was I creating original pieces that didn’t look like other things I was seeing out in the hand stitching world, but it was an expression of my moods, my thoughts, the things that were going on in my life. Hand stitching is the way I express myself.
A few things I’ve learned through hand stitching, which can be applied to the piece I’m working on, but also to life:
Any emotion is fair game and can be expressed through stitching.
Any emotion is okay and when expressed through stitching creates a vibrant, interesting piece.
Impatience is a frame of mind and a choice.
When I don’t know what to do, stand back, take a photo and get a new perspective on the situation.
Compare and despair.
Everything has its own timeline.
Divas can be fun, but they also can silence everyone else.
Diversity makes anything and everything better.
Rules are helpful, until they’re not, in which case, break them or ignore them.
This blog is a reminder of my mother. She was my biggest supporter and commented over the years more than anyone else. It was through this blog that I often kept in touch with her and towards the end it was the one full proof way I knew I could reach her, especially when my emails would go unanswered and my phone calls went to voicemail. I knew she would read whatever I was posting. Over the last few years when she could no longer speak, she would send me things that she knew I’d post here, much to everyone’s delight, because the things she sent were such fun.
Like this video:
And then there was this one that I loved:
Mostly I’m missing my mom and while I know this will ease over time, it’s still causing me to wake up many days feeling listless and kind of “blah”. I know from other periods in my life when I’ve felt down and a loss of energy that doing the things that I don’t feel like doing are the things that often make me feel better. It’s funny how that works. It’s counterintuitive, but if I can remind myself to do those things anyway, I’m halfway there.
It reminds me of when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had organized to have Michael Crichton speak to kick off the conference. During his talk he was spoke of a work ethic. He was speaking of what artists, specifically writers, but it applied to anyone in the arts, often do. He said, imagine if you were an airplane pilot working for a major airline and got up in the morning and thought – you know I don’t really feel like flying today, I think I’ll sleep a few more hours. – You’d expect to be fired immediately or at the very least given a stern warning and if you tried that again, you’d be out of a job. He then went on to ask, why do artists treat their work any less seriously? If you’re a writer get up and write. If you’re a painter, paint and so on. The point was, our feelings don’t really matter when it comes to getting the work done. If we think of ourselves as an artist then put in the hours and create the art, regardless of the feelings.
With that in mind I keep showing up for the work, regardless of how I’m feeling, because I create. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. Today is no different than any other in that way. Yesterday I taped a video on this idea, and some of the things I do when I’m feeling low energy, which almost always comes hand in hand with doubt.
As it turns out the bobbin winder on my new Bernina is broken. Silly me, thinking I could wind the bobbin upside down, I didn’t realize this until it was too late, and it did us both in. Off to the shop it will go, but in the meantime, I continue to fine tune my newly organized working space. In between stitching, reorganizing and preparing for our upcoming trip, I did manage to do a livestream for my YouTube followers.
Some love the livestreams and others dislike them. Part of what’s fun, in my opinion, about livestreaming is the interactive aspect. It’s really what sets these videos apart from a recorded video. For me it’s fun to hear from all of you as I’m working. There’s an easy going banter that is often funny, there’s lots of laughter, with the added plus that I’m able to answer questions in real time, demonstrate different things as I’m working and in general have fun. However part of the livestreaming experience is that I also greet people when they say hi, sometimes get side tracked, but usually am able to stay on target, and try things I might not otherwise try because of things suggested by others.
In preparation for our trip I found the following video.
This is where we will be going. In fact, in one week from today we will be in Rwanda! Hard to believe.
I’ve always worked with my hands. As a child it was embroidery with a hoop and sewing my own clothing. At around nine years old my mother taught me to knit, then there was a brief macrame obsession in the 70’s where I decorated my bedroom with intricately knotted macramé pot hangers into which I hung plants of various kinds. Later, when living in LA I worked for a tailor and watched how he would transform yards of material into the most elegant suit and was taught how to assist. Hollywood’s finest came to him.
Later is was fashion design, draping was particularly appealing because you could manipulate the fabric to hang in interesting ways on the human body, and then I began designing knitwear. Jewelry design and learning to solder and manipulate metals of various kinds, then hand stitching and now textile art, improvisational stitching, and all along the way there were forays into other things such as origami, painting, collage, throwing clay onto a wheel; always there’s been something to occupy my hands.
And then this morning I saw the following on my facebook feed:
“Grandma how do you deal with pain?”
“With your hands, dear. When you do it with your mind, the pain hardens even more.”
“With your hands, grandma?”
“Yes, yes. Our hands are the antennas of our Soul. When you move them by sewing, cooking, painting, touching the earth or sinking them into the earth, they send signals to the deepest part of you and you calm down. This way she doesn’t have to send pain anymore to show it.”
Are hands really that important?”
“Yes my grandchild. Think of babies: they get to know the world thanks to their touch. When you look at the hands of older people, they tell more about their lives than any other part of the body. Everything that is made by hand, so it is said, is made with the heart because it really is like this: hands and heart are connected. Think of lovers: When their hands touch, they love each other in the most sublime way.”
“My hands grandma… how long since I used them like that!”
“Move them my love, start creating with them and everything in you will move. The pain will not go away. But it will be the best masterpiece. And it won’t hurt as much anymore, because you managed to embroider your essence.”
By: Elena Bernabe of the wall of San Arte
Our hands. A friend of mine told me that she met a man who could tell the age of anyone who came to him. She said he didn’t look at her face or her eyes or her body, he looked at her hands, held them in his and then announced her age accurately.
Someone commented on my Youtube channel about messiness, saying that she was happy my work area isn’t pristine as that would be intimidating. And it made me think about the various stages of messiness.
The gradient scale of messiness, because this is important.
1. Kind of “messy”, but it’s not a problem and anyway to my mind, this is actually incredibly neat. Everything has its place, I know where things are, it’s easy to work on my current project and all is well with the world.
2. Okay, okay, things are getting “messy” but really it’s all subjective and yes, I’m having trouble finding things, but nothing I can’t handle. Besides, I’m working here and a certain degree of messiness is to be expected and even necessary.
3. Messy is to some, what neat is to others, I tell myself, and I’m working and anyway I just grab whatever is easiest and closest and call it a “prompt”. However if I’m being honest it’s starting to be a problem and I can’t find things I want to use, though I will never admit this out loud.
4. The tipping point: things have gotten out of control. I know it, in my heart, but I still continue to work, despite the mess, because the work takes priority and anyway I know what happens once I start “cleaning” things up. Still this has gotten beyond “messy” and I’m spending more time looking for things than actually stitching.
5. Clearly something has to change. I can’t even find the piece I’m working on and so resolve to clean everything up… tomorrow.
6. A thorough cleaning is done. I carefully put things in places that seem reasonable and make sense to me at that moment. It’s all so neat and tidy, I hardly know where to start!
7. My work area is clear of everything but the piece I’m working on, only now I can’t find anything and spend hours looking for things that I knew were “just over there”.
8. Begin ripping the place apart in search of various much needed items.
Repeat steps 1-8.
You’ll be relieved to know I’m currently hovering at around a 3. Totally doable!