The words have been stuck. As though something in the smooth flow of brain to fingers, heart to throat, soul to spoken word, has shattered into irretrievable bits that I couldn’t put back together, and the words were all everywhere and nowhere, building up like water against solid rock. What has always come so easy, suddenly locked away and not a key in sight. Writer’s block indeed.
As we live through this period of historical importance, where the records of ordinary lived experience, un-censored and crafted with truth, feel essential for the future understanding of this time, all my words have been trapped. Locked up. Stuck. A bit of a metaphor for the life we have all been asked to lead this last year, really. As writers block goes, I’ve never experienced it so hard, or for so long. Since it has already taken me two days to write two paragraphs, I’m not entirely sure I’m out the other side of it all yet either!
So I have filled my days, these lockdown days that have slid endlessly into one another, with the crafting of things, instead of words, learning new skills and working on staying present without stepping into the collective fear that seems to meet us on every corner just now. After an early summer zoom event called This Golden Fleece from the York Festival of Ideas, a journey with wool that began when I was 6, (learning to knit with red school jumper wool and wooden needles and mymother showing me how), called me back. Since then, I’ve learnt to spin with a drop spindle, a skill that I imagined I’d stumble about with, but which came unexpectedly easily. Somewhere down my family lines, there must have been women who spun yarn, for the muscle memory I found I had surely didn’t come from me. It has been a deep connection with ancestors that I have come to cherish, and that has had me pondering the creative nature of my forbearers ever more than usual. I’ve spun enough yarn now to make a new pair of cosy legwarmers, in ocean colours, a nod to our early morning seaside escapes in the early days of summer last year, and to the dawn Earthroll seascapes that singer-songwriter Beccy Owen has been providing daily for those of us who ache for the soothing, dependable pull of the tides. As legwarmers go, they’re not perfect by any means, and it seems I have much to learn about the art of tension in knitting, as they have stretched so considerably that I’m considering felting them to get them back to a wearable size! But it is incredibly satisfying to see wearable things appear on your needles as if by magic, and I’m enjoying the journey for all that it is.
I’ve not travelled my yarn appreciation journey alone, but with knitting needle wielding supporters cheerleading and decoding and generally encouraging from Whatsapp, often in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning. As someone who has never previously managed to complete a knitting pattern, ever, or knitted anything that wasn’t vaguely square and flat, this particular creative journey has felt nothing short of epic, and I owe much to the folk who have cheered me on with it.
Hats first, I learnt to decrease the crown from some very helpful YouTube videos, then on to socks (and Oh!! the turn of the HEEL!) and then mittens. I learnt how to pick up stitches, and that it is okay to unravel several lines of knitting and start again – something that initially I found incredibly difficult, being a make-it-up-as-I-go, wing-it sort of creative, where a “mistake” normally gets painted over, or stitched over, or accepted for it’s not-quite-rightness. I discovered Sheena, on Etsy, who offered knitting kits where the pattern was written like a story. Reading the story of a pattern, rather than a page filled with numbers and letters that dance about when I look at them, was so much easier and once I got the hang of double pointed needles, and holding four (or sometimes five!) all at once, I haven’t really stopped. While the words were stuck, the needles clicked, and I have felt the satisfaction of being productive in this time of pause. Knitting by way of this sort of sing-song story-telling makes me imagine that the family knitting patterns of my ancestors might have been taught and handed down this way – in story form, with no words and numbers on a page to be muddled by. It has been lovely to sit in bed, listening to a book on my phone, and clicking away. I’ve set my sights on jumpers, and learning to use a spinning wheel next, though the need for co-ordinating all my limbs to do different jobs at the same time re; spinning wheels feels rather more than a little daunting, but I am, as ever, determined!
A patchwork quilt top, my other main 2020 project – tiny triangle rainbow scraps slowly pieced together – is ready for quilting. I decided early last year that having spent years making quilts for other people, I’d start one for me. It is only the second quilt that I’ve made for myself, the first beginning it’s life as a Cinderella in rags skirt for the costume party of my best friend when he turned 18. It only became a quilt after having several other lives along the way, and is constructed from old sheets, a worn blanket, and held together with lots of random bits of embroidery, stitched across the years. Utterly threadbare and in need of mending again, it still adorns the back of our sofa, full of memories, and is one of my most treasured positions. This new one will be a super king size when its done, and big enough to fit us all under. I found the triangle piecing a lot trickier than my usual square offerings, but as with all things, it felt good to have the challenge, and whilst it isn’t perfect, and LOTS of the triangle points don’t quite meet where they’re meant to, I’m pleased with it, and excited to start hand quilting it. I’m hoping it will be finished before the end of the year, and though that feels like a long way off, I’m imagining it draped over my bed, ready for a winter hibernation.
My #redflagsproject has been quietly waiting for me, with so many threads of realisations flowing out from it. Mostly how healing takes time, and mending the connections with ourselves, in heart and spirit, requires care and space and gentleness. Already we have patches and postcards from almost all the corners of the world, and more to come. The project seeks to explore and highlight the early warning signs of domestic abuse, and all women who have been affected in any way by this issue are welcome to be part of it. With a collaborative quilt, a postcard project, documentary photography and individual art installations all planned, it’s a project that has no set end date yet, so there is still time for you to be part of it – you can find out more here.
I continue on my journey to encourage and support those who seek to mend clothes and household textiles, and love all the inspirational like minded folk who are sharing their mends and methods on social media. I’m following the #MendMarch hashtag on Instagram, which is a veritable melting pot of inspiration. My blog post on the subject is still read by people all over the world, every day, and it amazes me and thrills me and fills me with joy that the mending movement is growing at such a pace. In a time where the world feels like its falling apart, and the systems that have held us in these stuck, dammed up places for so long rupture at the seams, there has never been a more important time for mending and healing, in whatever ways we can.
Early into lockdown last year, a most beloved friend asked me to illustrate a book she was planning. A book about plants, herbal healing, connecting with nature. I said yes, of course. Then immediately got The Fear. You know, the OH MY GOODNESS what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t remember how to draw? What if I make a bloody great mess of it? What if my ego gets in the way and I draw what I want and not what she envisages, because, you know, sometimes that’s the easier path? All the what ifs and the overarching fear that I’d said yes to something I might not be able to do which always feels so much harder when the person you’ve said yes to is important to you. But I did it, and created illustrations that double as colouring pages to sit beside her beautiful, inspiring words. The process of drawing really felt needed, and I enjoyed carving out late night drawing sessions to complete the commission. The book is aimed at families, with the central theme of sharing knowledge to be carried forward. Plant knowledge, healing knowledge, earth knowledge. If you have spent any of this last year reconnecting with nature and the seasons, find yourself drawn to foraging, creating healing potions or want to learn what to look for and when, our ebook might just fit the bill. It is called Wild Ones and you can get a copy of it here. I’m hugely proud of it, and with the positive energy we put into creating it – with seven children between us, much of our work on the book happened in the middle of the night. I look at the pages, and feel heart happy that we kept our energies up to send it out into the world to you.
I think what has really challenged me most this year is finding space for stillness – a deep stillness outside of the fear-struck pause of the planet. A stillness separate from the working-in-the-middle-of-the-night stillness. Rather an inner stillness of mind and heart. Discovering that keeping your hands and head busy can be coping mechanisms for these strange days of change we are living through, was a revelation, but it’s taken longer to step into the knowing that it is okay to be still too, and to actively seek that stillness in heart and mind, however dark the day is, and however solid the walls of fear towering about us feel. And that actually, our stillness, our refusal to meet the fear with more of the same, and that overwhelming urge to meet fear with joy and peace, like the most powerful Patronus, is our greatest power.
As Spring is busy pushing green shoots of new beginnings through the dark, damp earth, I’m feeling the shift in me, in the collective energies of the people and the landscapes around me. As the tottering skyscrapers of fear start crumbling about us, there’s a sort of hesitant, tentative realisation that all that the words of this last year are not stuck, but rather just waiting for a good bit of sunshine to ease them through the detritus, the leaf mould, the soft, damp chaos of the forest floor. Some of the words will need to wait a while longer, and that feels hard, to keep in the things which feel important, but other words are ready, here, and it’s a relief to finally steer them out, like little boats onto the burn.
I have been mulling over so much these last months – the literal phoenix nature of my little business, that has allowed me to keep doing, in small ways, the things that I love, the growing need for more self sufficiency in our daily lives, the desire to hear and speak truth and light, the joy to have spaces where connection still triumphs. That need I have to stay busy, to create and make and mend, and the effort I know I must keep on making to find enough quiet for creative meditation, stillness, reflection. And beside all that the constant noise of a world turned inside out and the growing understanding that while all things must break before they can be mended, we must offer sanctuary and healing wherever there is the opportunity to do so. And maybe most of all, a sense that despite the overarching themes of separation and loss that have been playing out over this last year, there’s a growing feeling, a stronger feeling, of deep, expanding connectedness – like mycelium, reaching out, joining, dancing together below the surface of the dark, damp earth, waiting for the right conditions to rise up with hope, and with healing, wild and free. And there it is, just waiting. A hopeful, joyful, courageous mending of all that is wild and all that is free. And there we all are, in the middle of the woods, with the sun on our faces, reflecting the light back out into these darkest of times.
My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. With thanks and love, Kate.