I am drawn to the process of stitching. I’ve done a lot of crafting in my 33 years on this planet, but it’s the stitching that’s had staying power. I painted for awhile, but it wasn’t tactile enough. There is a brush between you and the image you’re producing and I could never control it well enough for my tastes. I could never achieve the magical realism that, for me, is the hallmark of good art. I wanted to be able to perfectly recreate an eye, and add something that made it more than an eye, made it a symbol for something greater, but I kept failing. I stopped painting after high school. Clay was too messy, scrap-booking required too many supplies, paper crafts in general carried the nasty sharpness of paper cuts and so weren’t soothing. But fiber, threads, wool–these things carried with them a characteristic warmth and something alluringly alchemical. I kept returning to the process of making stitches: knitting, crochet, sewing, cross-stitch, and molding fibers: needle felting, wet felting, fabric sculpture. The act of stitching feels elemental. Thread passes through my fingers and becomes the connective tissue of a body of art. Knitting is rhythmic and calming, needle felting holds a satisfying violence as the fibers are forced into place with a sharp barbed needle. There’s balance to be struck between the creative act of stitching and the fragility of the stitches that might unravel at any moment into a forlorn birds nest of yarn that will never be recovered. A wool sweater is at the mercy of moths, and fraying, and pilling. It’s like life. Sometimes things fall apart, and sometimes, magically almost, they hold together against the odds, full of lacy holes and all the more beautiful for those absences.
In 2017 I have vowed to read more. The past year and a half has been mostly devoid of books and I have found my ability to think critically hindered by my lack of exposure to literature and alternate viewpoints. My lenses for seeing the world grow foggy if I don’t renew and replace them and add to my collection.
I began this year by reading Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster. I urge you to run out and get a copy of this book right now and settle in for a deeply delightful read. Foster is at once profound and hilarious. While he attempts to embody various animals he never takes himself so seriously that he can’t find the humour in a day spent naked in the back yard trying to be a fox. He will open you up to a completely new way of seeing, and it’s unlikely that you’ll see animals (or humans) in the same light again.
One passage that particularly struck me was in the chapter about badgers where Foster digs himself a sett in a farmer’s field and goes about the business of badgering. At one point he reflects on the symbolic associations of badgers and has this to say:
“When a badger disappears into the earth it is on a shamanic journey. It can, if the ritual is right, carry on its broad shoulders the petitions of the people. It will take them to the Great One, of which it is an acolyte, and if the Great One is pleased to do so, it will send the badger back to the upper world with the transforming blessing…The fact that the badger was seen specifically as a word bearer, a logos-smith, an incantator, is significant. Here’s my fancy. The badger carried between the world above and the world below the words that interpreted each side to the other. It enabled each side to make sense of its context, and hence of itself. It shuttled like a sewing machine, stitching the world together; making it whole; giving it an integrity it would otherwise have lacked. And it still does.
“If this is possible for a badger, perhaps it is possible for us. Perhaps even for me. Perhaps if we all shuttle enough across frontiers the world won’t fall apart” (Foster 70-71).
Perhaps if we all shuttle across frontiers the world won’t fall apart. Take a moment. I had to take several. Because if there is a timely statement, and one so desperately in need of dissemination, this is it. And I think it has something to do with my obsession with stitching. To some degree I feel that the stitches born of art and craft are holding my life together. Without stitching my center cannot hold, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. My world falls apart. Anxiety creeps in if the holes in my life’s fabric get too big. I have to keep stitching to keep it at bay.
There is a much bigger message here, of course. If the sewing machine in some way holds my life together then I am also a needle that can contribute in a small way to holding the world together. If I am brave enough and strong enough and forward enough to puncture the frontiers that divide people then perhaps I can play my role in keeping the world together. It is certainly badly damaged right now. The fabric of the world is full of rot and is in need of furious patching. Frontiers have been violently guarded and we’ve all been holed up in our own bias confirming existences, refusing to listen to the voices coming from beyond. It may still be possible to move between worlds carrying a golden thread to begin the work of stitching things back together. “If this is possible for a badger, perhaps it is possible for us.”
Foster, Charles. Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide. Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company, New York: 2016.