A conversation the other day about artistic identity reminded me about this piece I wrote a few years ago for UK Handmade; I noticed that it’s no longer available there when I tried to revisit it and I’d like to share it again now.
Recently I have been musing on what making means to me. I think it is very personal and yet also quite social, a way of being in a world I often find mysterious and confusing. My making is influenced by beauty and curiosity, by the magical details that catch my eye as I walk with my camera. Mostly I use wool, which is plentiful and various, together with precious fibres like silk, and worn or waste fabrics with their imagined stories.
Making is a process of transformation. As I make, the materials are changed, and I am changed also. An idea is inside me, then it is outside me, made visible yet still part of me. Making is an extension of thought, not simply an expression of thought. We grow in the making.
Making is a child at play, seeing pink and yellow castles in the landscape and constructing them with green paper and blue crayon. It is the absence of preconceptions. ‘A lack of knowledge has turned into a refreshing asset,’ writes Jessica Hemmings of Kustaa Saksi, (Natural State, Selvedge 63, p.34).
Making is beginning, and beginning again. As Thomas Merton says, ‘We do not want to be beginners, but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our lives,’ (Contemplative Prayer, 1971, p.37). Making provides space for the amateur – which, by the way, means the lover. Making means always learning, and the freedom to be wrong.
And making is mastery – the assurance of long practice held in tension with the uncertainty, the vulnerability of experiment and exploration. Making is order, and channels in deep waters. The process sets boundaries on the imagination, freeing us to create. Limits hone choices.
Making is a woman whose voice is barely heard, slowly able to make herself known in another language altogether. Making is an antidote to hiding. Focused on a stitch by stitch rhythm, a profound stillness descends on a heart scattered by chaos and distraction. Making is a way of remembering, an embodiment of experience. Hands can recapture skills the mind has forgotten, and lay down new memories for the future.
Making is frustration, fear, disappointment. It is the tearing out of hair. It is sobbing and throwing things. Making is messy and mad. It is breaking and mending. Making and re-making. Making is a powerful healer.
Making is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. As we make, we are made. The story that undergirds my life starts, ‘In the beginning God created…’. Imaged as one who knits, throws pots, bakes bread, the Maker calls me also to create.
Making is material. When I wonder about the value of creating more stuff in an already overcrowded world, I remind myself that the pace of the handmade opposes the excesses of mass production. Take time, make less, care more.
Making is communication and connection. It draws individuals into community and offers a nurturing place for learning to understand the other. ‘Craft brings people together, creating a social space where ideas are swapped and made sense of, quite literally with the hands.’ (Ben Cartwright, Making the cloth that binds us). Making is a metaphor for inclusion: only by respecting the unique qualities of wool, or cloth, or clay, can we create a new, true, whole.
Making is a gift. Making is for everyone.