The meaning of making

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.

Ivy berries

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).

wool rolags

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.

handweaving

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.

soda bread

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.

handweaving

What does art mean to you?

What is art? What does it mean to you? These are some of the thoughts I wrote down a few days ago when I was asked to reflect on these questions (by Anastasia Azure):

Art is making that expresses meaning and intention, questioning, exploration, attention. It does so by representing, by abstracting, by simply celebrating its own being. It can create or discern meaning, or even say that there is none. It springs from the longing of the artist to recreate in another way what is seen, heard, felt, thought, eaten, worn. It asks questions and sometimes suggests answers. It can break and mend your heart, transform your thoughts, make you want to dance or be still.

rusted groyne

A handmade bowl can be a beautiful vessel for soup in the mind of the cook and an expression of grief for the destruction of the oceans in the mind of the artist. Yet another person sees nothing but that it is beautiful and places it on a shelf to be gazed at. All these meanings are held, often in tension, in the art work.

I deeply believe that art is for everyone: that the way a person washes the dishes or makes the breakfast can be art; that art can be fleeting or solid, hidden or visible; that art not shared can still be art. I think that a child can make art; that imperfect art can be perfect, even that bad art can be good – perhaps it brings creative joy to the maker, perhaps we don’t need to judge.

I would love to know what art means to you…

Blessing prayer to begin a creative work

Arising from an online retreat, Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist, with Christine Valters Paintner at abbeyofthearts.com

coloured yarn

Jesus, born of dust, I seize the hem of your robe with fierce longing, bless my work.
Brigid, Sant Ffraid, your mantle heals the ground, brings forth growth, bless my work.
Foremothers, family, your creative spirits burn in my hearth, bless my work.
Madonna, black and beautiful, mother of God, bless my work.
Beloved writers, your words wrap me in rhythm, bless my work.
Dear friend, knit to my heart by all that we shared, all that is new, bless my work.

Blessing upon fibre and fabric, wool, silk, cherished cloth.
Blessing upon loom and shuttle, wheel and bobbin.
Blessing upon warp and weft and every knot.
Blessing upon pen and ink, paper and paint.
Blessing upon devices and machines and all intricate workings.
Blessing upon these hands, this body, this mind and heart.
Blessing upon the day, the hour, this now.
Blessing upon all small things that inspire, all glimpses of joy, all whispered beauty.

May what is hidden within me emerge, shine, make its slow bright way into the world.
May my making be gift and glow.

Ruly unruly weaving

This warp started as a deflected doubleweave draft from The Deflected Doubleweave Handbook, which accompanies a video by Madelyn van der Hoogt, adapted to the yarns I had on hand when I began it while staying with my sister and with limited supplies.

Deflected doubleweave is a weaving structure with separate yet interwoven layers where the movement of the yarns, once the cloth is off the loom and wet finished, creates new shapes, curves, even circles, and the front and back are different, sometimes very different.

When I picked it up again after arriving in Swansea, with a different limited set of supplies, I wandered away from the pattern, trying different yarns, using up bobbins and experimenting to see what would happen with different combinations of fibre and pattern.

I find the fibre interactions astonishing, what happens with the colours and the textures and how it can all shift into something so different. And even more than that, I am seeing so much potential in this weave as a metaphor for expressing the magical spaces that fascinate me – this world and the otherworld and the thin places between, those liminal borderlands and thresholds where one thing becomes another, the integration of images, ideas and emotions that seem to be in opposition but can be experienced as both/and, not either/or. What Rowan Williams calls ‘a layered and broken reality’. I’m nowhere near the technical mastery to embody any of this in the weaving yet, but I mean to practise all I can, till I am able to break (or keep) the rules through choice and not through ignorance; and to explore the debatable land a little further with every warp.

tree and moon

New beginnings

So … I’ve lost my tagline temporarily … because what I do from now on will no longer be ‘art textiles from the Isle of Tiree’ – though Tiree will always be a huge part of my heart and I’m sure will echo into my work for a long while yet.

But here I am, on the mainland, in Swansea, South Wales, in a new place and a rented home, rootless. Alan is Welsh, of course, but I’m a mixture of Scottish, Irish and Cumbrian – though I have learned that Cumbria is known as Yr Hen Ogledd (the Old North) of Wales.

It’s been a strange year, with so much uncertainty, decision-making, absence, then packing and the logistics – and emotions – of leaving a ten-year home and going into a furnished rental. Some of my equipment and most of my materials and books are in Northumberland (where I’ll be spending some of my time as well – another story). But I have a loom or two here, an almost working wheel, and enough fibre and yarn to be going on with. And I went to the West Wales Wool Show yesterday and came back with some Llanwenog yarn and some fibre – locally raised Shetland and overdyed British Jacob in autumnal colours. Just as on Tiree, there are a lot of sheep in Wales, and some unique breeds that I’m looking forward to learning about.

Newly made rolags blended with several colours of dyed Jacob fibre from Ewe Spinning Me a Yarn, ‘bramble’ coloured Merino/Zwartbles blend from John Arbon‘s ‘Harvest Hues’ range and some little bits of silk and locks from my treasure trove. I’ll be making more of these and taking them to Northumberland where my working wheel is living just now; I can’t wait to be spinning again.