stitching to stillness

I’ve been stitching, knitting, painting, and crafting things since I was around 6 years old. I qualified as an art therapist 30 years ago. I’ve been learning about meditation for most of that 30 years, on and off. Sometimes I’ve felt accomplished, and often I’ve felt incompetent and frustrated. In my late 50s I’m learning much more as I let go of the need to achieve a high ¬£value result (although mostly I am making something to use) and I’m focussing much more on the process of the making.

I spend a good deal of my time handling raw fleece, spinning it up into yarn, and then knitting with it. Sometimes I draw or paint. Sometimes, I am crocheting or tying up bundles of things I find in the woods into shapes. And quite a lot right now I am stitching tiny pieces every week as part of a slow stitch project being led by Kathryn Chapman – k3n of Cloth Tales

When I spin, knit or stitch, my mind is on the task in my hands, or it’s elsewhere. Not thinking exactly but wandering about. You could say aimlessly. A something and nothing kind of thinking that carries on like a stream endlessly as my hands work, but I’m paying little attention to it as my focus is on the next stitch, or twist, or texture. Or on the physical sensations of a needle jabbing, a finger tugging, or a tickle of wool.

When I was a child and walking or lazing around in the fields, or hiding in the lane edges of my childhood, I was often twirling pieces of grass, dried reed, twigs, leafs or flowers, aimlessly making something that wasn’t anything at all. A circle, a rope, a piece of fragile yarn. I didn’t have a goal, but I was in some unconscious way using this tactile expression to calm, distract, or simply bring enjoyment. I still pluck things from the hedgerow as I go: twirling leaves between fingers, twining grass into plaits, collecting twigs to make patterns. In my car I have a small twig circlet hanging from my mirror (along with feathers and other janglies of no great significance) that I love and cherish, with no idea now when or where I made it.

I collect acorns, beech masts, bits of stick and wood that look or feel right. Shells, fleece, stones, leaves and other curious finds. My windowsills and car dash often have dried up berries or tree offerings skittering about getting cobwebby and disintegrated.

There isn’t always an intention to make, but I never know when something will present its purpose and be just the thing for a hanging decoration, a gift to a friend, or an offering to the fire. The end result is never the real point. There is pleasure, love and yes, Joy and Peace that comes from the touching, gripping, handling, rolling, and shaping.

It’s a tricksy thing to articulate, the calming-ness and healing-ness of making. And I’m only just realising now how deeply embedded it is in my being, how unconscious it has been all these years when I might have honoured it more. Certainly my art therapy training didn’t help me to express or identify this natural habit that is a part of me. Instead, I wasted time painfully judging myself against the accomplished art works of others, sleepwalking my way through a world where the magical-natural side of myself has been sidelined until now.

My Wild Therapy training opened up my awareness by placing value on that childhood world of twirling leaves and feathers to make a something and nothing; the benefits shared and offered to others just by being in physical connection with nature.

And I am re-discovering the joy of stitching alongside other women, a thing that has become so de-valued in our male world of progress and work: the quietude that comes from handling cloth and thread in community. I am astounded at the healing my sisters and I are tapping into as we take part in the Slow Stitch project.

I’m full of appreciation for the childhood foundations gifted to me by the land of the Yorkshire Wolds where I grew up, and our maternal heritage of stitchery and craftery (somehow bound so closely to witchery and herbery). I’m excited by the opportunities that are coming forward for me to share some of this making-world with more people.

I love sharing the benefits of sitting still with the curl of the wind, the heat of the early morning or late evening sun, the touch of the grasses and leaves; reaching out to touch and find resonance there.

A world of green and stitchy magic that contains my soul.