the last 3 months

The future is postponed

Lockdown has been a time of sober reflection and trying to keep lots of plates spinning (despite the surrounding cacophony of breaking ceramics all around ). One reason I love cloth and embroidery is how resilient it is to external factors and how practical it can be. It’s been 3 years since I had the solo show ‘decorated’ in Sleaford. This was such a wonderful experience and in many ways brought those 4 years of research into WW1 to logical conclusion. During lockdown I’ve been making some ‘security blankets’. Scraps from previous projects repurposed and patched together. Hours of hand stitch create new surfaces. People always comment on my patience. I have zero patience, just oodles of determination. For me embroidery can be a little like the satisfaction people get from completing a jigsaw puzzle. There comes a point when you just have to keep going to get that last stitch in place and the work is complete.

I am a lucky man. At nearly 52 I’ve had a fantastic teaching career (25 years in Ireland) and am enjoying a ‘retirement’ back at the family home as a full-time artist and part-time carer for my elderly and vulnerable family. We are a great team. A chaotic team full to the brim of love seasoned with complaining and cuddling. We have a great support network of extended family and our neighbours, who have been wonderful during this time of lockdown. Underlying health conditions give us a different perspective of the pandemic from many younger family members. Trying to not be driven by rage at the selfishness of others, the news and social media stupidity is testing. Sewing is well documented to help with those stress levels. I dare not imagine what life would be like without it.

My textile work is normally directed at specific exhibitions (I’m a member of the 62Group and showed in Sleaford as part of the recent ‘Ctrl/Shift’ tour) and just prior to the lockdown I had packed up a new piece to send for consideration.

That ‘Conversations’ exhibition for St. Barbe’s is now rescheduled to March 2021. 

I had been preparing for a dozen workshops and lectures to different groups all over the East Midlands and Northern Ireland. Our loft is groaning under the suitcases full of kits I have pit together ready for nimble fingered participants in the future. Looking at the rest of the world weeks before lockdown it was clear my usual income streams and way of life was going to change dramatically and there was a time of complete creative despair. I used to thrive on deadlines and now struggle to plan further than the next mealtime. Things are opening up and plans are in place for some events but nothing for the rest of this year.

Making Money

Like many independent crafts people income has ceased. I am very fortunate to have independent supports in place. I see many people shifting to online teaching, and maximising their web shops. I haven’t the heart to update the website anymore and am uncomfortable trying to sell product when I’m so conscious of what a hard and uncertain time many are experiencing. I admire those who are doing so well, and I am focused on surviving by sewing. I have always sold better in person and through commissions. I still do dog portraits to order.

I have been busy with presents and memorials for friends and family. Giving my time is the most realistic gift I have for their losses.

I have focused on trying to finish those many stubborn projects that seem to accumulate prior to resolution. The momentum to complete them dries up and they gather dust in the forlorn state of ‘one day’. Lockdown has meant the ‘one day’ seems to be the new every day. The ‘suitcases full of cash’ began about 2 years ago but were never the right answer for specific exhibition briefs. Taking scans of decommissioned European bank notes because fo the gorgeous mix of colour, pattern and decoration. Decorating these vintage suitcases was a chance to play at being rich. Speculation about value, worth, and the capitalist model have fascinated me for many years. A 5000 lire note has no more commercial value than monopoly money. In the huge move towards online banking and contactless payments is cash redundant? Billionaires are richer whilst others are relying on food banks for the first time in their lives. For me the image of running away with a pile of cash resonates with our attitudes to immigration, money laundering and the stash of money under the bed for a rainy day.

Making do

I have a lot of stuff. I’m a maximalist with an approaching hoarding disorder. This time has made me be resourceful. How can I use what I have collected? I think it is a little like trying to prepare a banquet using only the contents of the cupboard including that suspiciously out of date tin with no label that you have no idea when you acquired. Textile collage is quite liberating after more academic style drawings and realistic stitch projects. An intuitive response to the ingredients in front of you works best when I see a series  so that I can use my scissors to chop and a mountain of pins to place and reposition the elements. 

Doing what I’m told. 

I’m  part of our local Embroiderer’s Guild, Market harborough’s ’Aspects of Stitch’group. We do a monthly swop of our ‘travelling notebooks’. This challenge of having to respond to a theme someone else has set is a challenge. This has become a virtual exercise now, emailing photos of what we have been up to. Last month was ‘geometric’ and that made me realise that I can’t remember ANYTHING from my 2 A’levels in Maths  form 35 years ago. These mini deadlines help me to focus and keep a track on where the days disappear to. We all look forward to meeting upon and seeing the work we have each produced in the thread.

Stay-cations

The hot weather makes sewing hard. Slippy fingers make sloppy stitches. As like so many others, this time has meant cancelled celebrations, booked trips and the plans for future holidays. It has been hard on my sister who has special needs and had been obsessed by her birthday trip that should have happened a few weeks ago to see her beloved chimps at Monkey World, Dorset. She has her ‘Thelma’ cushion, and her family, to cuddle. We truly hope the future is postponed and not cancelled. 

In the meantime we will make button worms together.

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