Helenium: tears

The sixth and latest page of Milk Thistle is one of my favourites, possibly because it is about crying, which one could argue is my very favourite theme (see here, here, and also here).

I stitched some stanzas of Keats's Ode on Melancholy on to a handkerchief (aptly), and based the illustration to accompany the lines on this illustration from a book that I snagged from my Mum's work:



But more on that later.

The reason why tears feature prominently on this page is because it is based around a Kensitas Flowers card featuring Helenium, a flower which, in Greek mythology, grew where Helen wept.

Consequently, the text I have written and stitched for the page reads

Nobody brought me a bedside bouquet,

but everywhere I wept, flowers sprung,

until I watered a meadow




To accompany the Kensitas Flower, I stitched the following line from Keats's On Melancholy on to my handkerchief:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud

as I felt they were appropriate. The eye illustration that accompanies the text is the "weeping cloud" of the poem.























There are only two more pages to go now, and then I can (finally) stitch the whole thing together. It's been a long commitment but I think it will pay off.

Texere

And now for a little light etymology: the words text, textile and texture all derive from the same Latin verb, texere, which means to weave, to plait, or to construct with elaborate care.


I am attempting to construct On Being Soft with elaborate care
(in broken Google Translate Latin, Ego conantur texere libro cum cura); "weaving" together snippets of text and textile, embellishing with embroidery, tall tales, buttons, and beads.


The most recently completed page of the book plays on the shared root of text and texture, texere.






I have cross-stitched the tongue-in-cheek phrases "textually active" and "texturally active" (for which I must give credit to my housemate Mark, as he suggested I stitch up the former of the phrases) on miniscule aida fabric in a plethora of cheap and cheerful colours. The words are surrounded by different textures; light-reflecting orange velvet, a coarse checker-board fabric, thick, fleecy patterned carpet (the remainder of which will make a marvellous appliqued owl one day), antique lace, and plastic buttons.

The book will be both textually and texturally active; made to be read, but also touched.




"To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world"

Liz Whitehouse introduced me to this gorgeous poem by Cecilia Vicuña (translated by Rosa Alcalá). Thanks Liz!


Word & Thread

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional plane.
Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.
*

The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.

*

The weaver sees her fiber as the poet see her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

*
Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread conduct the word-
making?
Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting and connecting.
A word carries another word as thread searches for thread.
A word is pregnant with other words and a thread contains
other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread carry us beyond
threading and speaking, to what unites us, the immortal fiber.
*
To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world.

*
In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a cord of twisted straw,
two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers, to pick them up.
To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors and directions
that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they themselves are
one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)
*
Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and chumpis are beings
who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signifying."
René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing, the language
and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying, I would say).
*

And the energy of the movement has a name and a direction: lluq'i,to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the thread
transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in opposition:
a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical meanings in one.
The word and the thread behave as processes in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design is a process re-
presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a diamond star.
"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal action whereby the
interworking of adjacent elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in the fibres
a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry that reiterates "the concept
of complementarity that imbues Andean thought."
*
The thread dies when it is released, but comes alive in the
loom:
the tension gives it a heart.
Soncco,
judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.
is heart and guts, stomach and conscience, memory, judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.

"As I cannot write"

I received a very interesting email yesterday from Liz Whitehouse, a graduate and fellow ex-student of Dartington College of Arts. My tutor put me in touch with her as she had explored embroidery as a medium and context for the final project of her final year.

Her research initially focused on the etymological roots of the words "text" and "textile"; both derive from the Latin "texere", "to weave". Clearly there is an ancient relationship between writing and textile art even before one begins to embroider words!

(When researching the etymology of the two terms myself I stumbled across the blog Text, Textile, Exile, which I must return to at some point.)

For her final piece, Liz took as a starting point an extraordinarily moving sampler completed by a young woman named Elizabeth Parker in the 19th Century, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The sampler is worked in miniscule red cross stitch, forming tiny letters which make up the story of Elizabeth's (rather traumatic) life up to the present; there are details of employers treating her "with cruelty too horrible to mention", and of her thoughts of suicide. The piece ends abruptly and hauntingly with the phrase "what will become of my soul"; it is unfinished, and this only serves to make the sampler all the more poignant and heartbreaking. Whereas a sampler would generally be comprised of an alphabet and decorative floral design, Elizabeth's is midway between cathartic diary entry and soulful prayer. Its opening phrase, "As I cannot write" is immediately contradicted by the uniformly perfect stream of words which issue from her needle.

The text that Liz wrote and then embroidered as a "sampler" of her own echoes this opening line of Elizabeth Parker's sampler in its first line ("though I cannot stitch or write/With your patience"):

 Blood Lines

These are my blood lines; though I cannot stitch or write
With your patience
Spoilt by the freedoms of my generation, I try to summon your strength
Recall your nimble hands. I find myself beside you
In those quiet moments of my childhood. I listen to your words.
****random stitches here****
So that I can write my veins in thread and not be orphaned by my pen.
I am undone. To be a woman is to sit with you.
T know my place, my point;
To stitch myself ... a patch ... on to our maternal quilt;
So that I can carry your words and share them with our daughters
You wield a power that I cannot muster from my pen.
I am gender-illiterate, but I write.
Thus I dedicate my every effort as a woman
to yours.

Fittingly, Liz embroidered this text with red thread, symbolising these "blood lines".


The text was embroidered on to images of groups of women sewing, which Liz transferred on to fabric and then quilted together, referencing, through making, the following quotation from Géraldine Chouard's essay Sew to Speak: Text and Textile in Eudora Welty:

"Writing, as piecing, is the art of arranging disparate scraps of material into a unique and distinctive design. A text is always a second-hand piece, made of words which have had a life of their own in previous arrangements, as are the fragments of fabrics of a patchwork quilt which have served other purposes and which, stitched together in a particular fashion, form new patterns."

Liz's sampler is also a touching tribute to her grandmother.

As Liz pointed out to me in her email, it's very fitting that she should have shared her work and research with me via the internet; after all, one of my main contexts of this project is the dissemination of embroidery via the web, which is itself an interwoven network of threads. Similarly, it's appropriate that the interviews I conducted with Iviva Olenick, Joetta Maue, and Debbie of the East London Craft Guerrilla were online.

Too Wit To Woo



The text reads:

TOO WIT TO WOO

Too intellectual to function
Too intellectual to eat luncheon
I survive on a diet of musty books and air
I'm pallid and wan, I'm fey and fair
And I'm far too academic for affection
I'm hard at work practising the studious purse of my lips
I've hired horn rimmed glasses I can hardly see through
I've acquired a socially stunting lisp
My minds is filled with higher things
Than Gretna Green and wedding rings
And in the evening the owls coo
"Too wit to woo, too wit to woo".

Joetta Maue

Joetta Maue explores familial love through her textile art. She embroiders intimate scenes of herself, her husband and infant son sleeping together. She posits the bed as the site of love, between husband and wife, and mother and son. These pieces are large in scale (life size) but simultaneously incredibly intimate; insights into a private life lived together.

With My Boys

My Love

Him and You

In her project Waking With You, Maue documented daily her emotions on waking, as well as the bed itself in photographic format. The "You" of the project's title refers to her husband; the posts on the project's blog concerning him are incredibly touching. In one, she writes "I thought how unbelievable it was that I woke with you everyday of my life and have been for 10 years... and you still take my breath away". The project culminated in an exhibition at the Elizabeth A Beland Gallery in Massachusetts, the centre piece of which was a hand stitched self portrait bed installation, shown below.


Waking With You

In addition to her figurative pieces, Maue also creates text-based works on found antique linens. Many of these also focus on love; familial love (once again), romantic love, and the loss of love.

Breaks My Heart
A Fragile Heart


Skin

Together

Maue has said of her work that "By using found, used linens that have been hand made by women of the past I am able to connect my everyday experience with that of my heritage. I pay homage to the women that have come before me and connect to the lineage that I have with them in the domestic, everyday sphere of life." Through embroidering onto found linens and those handed down to me by my grandmother, I also hope to connect to this lineage.