A couple of weeks ago, I undertook a new interpretation of the therapy I fondly refer to as “sticks and strings”.  Until now, my particular version of this therapy has been primarily knitting, with some forays into crochet.  I find the busying of hands at some creative activity to be very soothing and calming for the soul, and in those times when my mind is abuzz with the activity of a thousand bees I need some physical pursuit to calm me.  Unfortunately in those times I also find myself quite literally unable to do all those practical day to day tasks such as housework and laundry.

Sticks and strings offers me a tremendous release and I’m certain that the creative aspect of making something is key.  Additionally I am constantly struck by the beauty of the contradiction of such arts as knitting and crochet.  Beginning with a solid, unyielding stick and a fluid, often unmanageable string that refuses to hold its shape, I end up with an object that is beautiful, defined in shape yet flexible in texture, and more often than not with a practical purpose.  It is, to me, a thing of beauty.

More recently, in search of something “new” (I am easily bored), I entered into the rather different craft of cross stitching.  The appeal at first was the new.  I am also a follower on Facebook of the rather wonderful charity Love Quilts UK.  These lovely people gather together something of a cottage industry in which some volunteers craft cross stitch squares (often themed for a particular child) to specific sizing criteria, and other volunteers then piece these square together into beautiful quilts which are donated to ill children.  All three of my children have benefited from donated quilts from a different organisations, and they have provided enormous comfort to them in times of sadness or illness.

So I found myself in need of Sticks and Strings therapy, keen to attempt something new (my current knitting project is beautiful but requires more concentration than I am able to afford it at the moment), and also desperate not to add to the clutter in my very little home.  Love Quilts and cross stitch provided the perfect opportunity.  Having found a free pattern to download, I printed it, ordered the necessary supplies and got started as soon as the Royal Mail saw fit to deliver the goods.  It was thoroughly enjoyable, up to and including the pleasure of posting my finished square in my local post office. (Strangely and happily, it was the first time in about 13 years that the postmaster saw fit to smile at me!)

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The cross stitch bug having hit me, I found myself with a project in mind.

I am not good at celebrations, I’m fairly sure I’ve covered that in an earlier post.  Shamefully I am not good at celebrating family birthdays (I even struggle to do the children, though the quartet of little girls chatting away with their hair in curlers downstairs would belie that statement), and extraneous holidays such as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day are made even more difficult for me by having different dates in France and England.  All too easily I simply forget them.

And yet my loved ones are fairly constantly in my thoughts.  I am heading towards an interesting therapy session I suspect in which I explore how one can protect oneself from loved ones’ pain without distancing oneself to the extent of being emotionally absent.  Questions rife in my mind that need thinking about.

Anyway… thinky thoughts aside, here I am with a project in mind.  It is modestly ambitious and I am fairly certain that if successful it will have the desired result of making my Maman and Papa rather happy.

So I gathered my necessaries… asking my lovely mother for photographs, yet demanding of her that she remain curious and in the dark.  And I have to say that she did so beautifully and kindly.

My project is underway and I am now taken with this thought.  Is it better to keep recipients of a gift in the dark during the making of the gift ortell them and rob them of the sweetness of surprise?  Is anticipation just as sweet?  Is it possible, in fact, for the gift to be in its gradual unveiling?

I am also taken with the idea that life has no thought for our plans.  It takes its path, with its twists and turns, regardless of our hopes and dreams.  So while I happily wield my sticks and strings (a cross stitch needle is a much tinier stick than I am accustomed to), I have become aware that across the sea, and the hills and the plains of France, those I love are in the dark.  They are no doubt wondering what new scheme I have up my sleeve, and I am quite sure thery is no upset.  But life could easily upset my plans and there is a multitude of ways in which those for whom I am stitching might never see the finished work.

My intention is not only to finish, but finish well and sooner rather than later, but I am taken by the fleeting nature of “now”.

And I have come to think that “now” is worthy of being shared.

My project!  To reinterpret my parent’s ancestral family home – that has been in my Paps’ family for around 400 years, and which is now my parents home in the very real, very “now” sense – as a cross stitch image.

So I started with a photograph.

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And then tried to find a way to change it, to turn it into a 2 dimensional image, and reimagine what is a rambling farmhouse attached to a tithe barn into a picture more in keeping with the cross stitch sampler.

I started with a picture on graph paper.

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And off to stitch I went!  As usual I am far less fastidious than i should be.  There is much of this progect that will be altered and made up as I stitch.  But so far I am rather happy with my progress and so I find myself rather keen to share it!

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Maman has long found pleasure in cross stitc – at a time when I found it rather dreary and painstaking.  And the one lesson I remember from her stitching is the importance she placed on the neatness of the back of the work.  The pride a  crafter takes in making even the invisible look beautiful.  And in honour of that lesson, I wanted also to share the back!  When finished I plan for this project to be framed as a picture to hang on the wall.  No-one will see the back, sothis is my opportunity to share, to allow the invisible to be seen.

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