I’m embroidering again. It’s been a while. Last project was a collaboration with Maia: she’d paint some canvas and I’d embroider into it (Easier said than done. ouch ouch ouch), then she’d paint some more, responding to what I’d done. It was fun to mail canvas back and forth to Philadelphia, waiting to see how it all came out. She has posted photos of the end results on facebook, which was gratifying. Also nostalgic. I’d missed seeing my handiwork.
This time, I’m embroidering for myself, hanging on to it. Embroidery is all about time, must be one of the slowest arts there is. It can’t be rushed. Each stitch is a meditation, a being present to the sound and movement of thread through fabric. It is pointillism in slow motion.
I learned to embroider from my grandmother, when I was 9 or thereabouts. I was fascinated by the hoop, the tautness of stretched fabric, the silken color of embroidery floss. She taught me three basic stitches–a running stitch, chain stitch, and French knots. (French knots are the devil.) You don’t really need much more than that.
What you do need is a boatload of patience, and the humility and knowhow to undo clumsy, tangled stitches. Both of my daughters have t-shirts that are fully embroidered, front and back. Mythologies of images, veritable tapestries for each of them. And I still have the jeans I embroidered back in the 70′s. I started in ’68 or ’69, but it took time to complete the dragon, waterfall, trees, hummingbirds and whathaveyou the run up and down the legs. I lost enough weight to fit into them a year or two back, but I don’t see that happening again, so I’m planning a new project.
Actually, it was Marc’s idea. He bought me a silvery gray pashmina shawl and suggested that I embroider it. Not all at once, but over time, like till I’m 80 or so. Of course, I said No Way. My default position is always no. But then I thought about it. What the hell. I’m almost finished with a blue heron in one of the corners, near the fringe. Embroidering is like looking into a tide pool. Life emerges in the looking, reveals its beauty in minute bits of color. I sit in a chair by the window and look up sometimes, savoring the light. My breath deepens, slows. I have no idea what is going on inside my head, but I am very very happy.