Category Archives: Textile Art

Handwork: Slow Art for a Busy Life

Handwork and Sewing

In my personal art, my favourite mediums are fibres, textiles, and embellishment, worked by hand. Occasionally basketry, weaving, embroidery, felting, and knitting can show up in my therapeutic work, although not very often.  Handwork techniques are slow, and don’t always fit well into the standard individual session length. But essentially they are simply another way of creating form or making marks, like clay sculpture or painting. Unlike working with clay or paint, however, it is much harder to create a complete image rapidly. The medium forces a pace that is nearly foreign to our compulsion for speed and efficiency. Patience and time themselves become our materials in this work.

Handwork created in community.

Recently I treated myself by attending an embroidery workshop, called “Talking Thread,” at the Makehouse  with Diana Weymar. Diana’s work speaks to many levels of experience, from the intimate and personal to the political place of women in society. You can see more about her HERE. One of the things I liked best about the project she shared with us (Interwoven Stories) and about the workshop, was the experience of community. Ten women gathered around a wooden table, to touch and see the handwork of people from far away, and to create our own. No one was expected to finish anything during our time together, just to spend the time with needle and thread and each other. We talked, laughed, and stitched. It was not hard to imagine a quilting bee taking place in just that way.

Handwork connects us to an eons-old lineage.

Women and artisans throughout time have shaped fibers and textiles into the forms of clothing, bedding, housewares, and even housing for their families and societies. The same movements of the hand create the most ornate royal embroidery and the simplest homespun shift or apron. The work today requires the same dexterity, the same attention to posture, and the same eye-hand coordination that it required in the medieval era in Europe or on this continent many thousands of years before that, in the construction of basketry, clothing, and regalia.

There is something about handwork that is deeply satisfying.

It always reminds me there are no fewer hours in a day now, than there were many thousands of years ago, when needlework began, or even longer ago when felting emerged. A needle moves in and out of the fabric; a breath moves in and out of my lungs. My heart beats. Sewing, beadwork, knitting: any of the handwork arts can have the quality of meditation if we allow them.  One therapeutic value of working this way is inherent in its mindful pace.

The products of handwork are also full of metaphor.

Therapeutically speaking, baskets can hold more than bread or apples – they can hold meaning, feelings like grief or joy, and experiences. We speak often of the need to have containment, or to be contained or held. Clothing can do more than cover us – it can be armour, define us as having a particular rank, or even allow us to be someone else. A relationship can be seen as a comforting blanket, or a binding rope. We speak of assuming a cloak of authority. Even the techniques of textile construction are metaphors themselves – “woven together,” “tangled,” “interlaced,” and “felt.” As we work with them, taking our time, we can spin the fibres of our lives into a thread with which we can create new beauty and new strength

What’s your personal history and connection with handwork?

Do you have memories of a family member sewing handmade clothing or knitting you a pair of socks? Do you keep items that have been passed down to you through generations of sewers, knitters, or weavers? What place does slow work have in your life?

 During the slow, dark days of winter, consider lighting the lamps and sitting with a cup of tea and ball of yarn, a spool of thread, knitting or sewing needles, and see what comes of it. This winter I will be offering a couple of opportunities to join me in mindful handwork workshops. See the Workshops page for more information.