Friday, August 03, 2007

A stitch in time

You lose things and you find things when you move house. I lost my temper, sleep and two dresses, both new, one of silk pink and red roses, the other, black, jet beaded and gathered at the hem. There are worse things to lose. And I found things too: my home, my mauve snakeskin sandals and a tapestry kit once my mother’s.

I am not a woman with a veil, a distaff and a wheel; have no pet sheep to shear and fleece to spin out yarn, then weave it into cloth. Unlike my mother, I do not sew, knit, pearl or craft in any kind of way. I do not ice tall white cakes for grateful niece brides or snip snap, then glue butterflies on to get well cards. A few years ago, this craft art stopped for my handy, never idle mother who could not knit another pair of eyes when hers gave out. She could not see to find and buy a pattern. She cannot see the faces of her grandchildren, read them tales. Sometimes she might weep, but I have never heard her grumble. Instead of a craft knife and a rubber stamp, my mother holds a white stick and decoupages smiles.

I found a half complete field of sunflowers caught up in a frame. Bundled wool skeins hang from card: lemon, whites, khaki green, dark moss green, pale apple green, dark olive and light tan. You hold up the hole punched card and a meadow of wool falls from it, ready for the harvest. She sorted them and mounted them, then named them for their colours. On a cardboard scene, she spelled out the wools that she should use, this line here at the heart of the sunflower, dark brown, around it medium brown, then tan. The petals, yellow, dark, medium and light, the background off and white. The borders round the flower and falling leaves, medium air force blue. She has sewn, half cross-stitch, four sunflowers to top and tail the bordering, winding leaves, mallow backdrop clouds, trees and grassy slope. Twenty-two sunflowers stand complete and tan hearts for 80 more. But the rest, the rest is empty painted canvas, waiting to be stitched.

Her sight lost, hope for remedy lost, she stuck the needle tidily in the canvas, swept up the half competed masterpiece in wool and said: “Here, you take this. Finish it for me. I’ve worked so hard on it. I want it finished. Will you finish it instead of me?” I looked at it, the complex graphs with crosses, dots and spots of colour, numbers walking up and down the lines. I thought: “I’ve no idea. I’d never have the patience.” I looked at my mother who hates to leave a job half-done and said: “Yes. OK. I can’t say when.”

I wrapped it in a pillow case, along with daughterly and good intentions and put it in a drawer. This week, when I unpacked, I found it. Took it out and read what I should do. Keep the tension even, the canvas taut, never start or finish with a knot; decent rules by which to live your life. I thought: “I’ll never do this.” Picked up a length of lemon, then threaded it. Sewed a line of sunflowers in the distance underneath the trees, one arm wrapped around the canvas, the needle pushed, then pulled, the stitch complete. I thought: “This will take me till I die. My mother’s work complete.”

22 comments:

@themill said...

So glad you found your home. I was beginning to worry.

Jeff said...

Something else to share with your babe in arms, or perhaps even your young lions. Better get them their own starter set, though--they'll need a bit of practice before starting in on Nanna's stuff...

Four Daughters, One Wife and Me said...

I lost my harmonica eleven years ago and am still hoping it turns up. Perhaps moving house will do the trick

Mike said...

that's great, new home, new hobby! Maybe your Mum could knit scarves for your children, without a pattern?

laurie said...

hmmmm. a mother's passion is not necessarily a daughter's. good of you to give it a go, but don't push the square peg of you into her round hole.

sunshine said...

What a perfect metaphor for your own life -- Your mother's canvas filled in, and your own just lightly sketched in. The fact that you don't know how you will ever finish the canvas is the way it has to be! We don't have a clue how we will color in the canvas of our lives, but somehow we do. And you will.

aminah said...

I so enjoyed reading this;it runs smoothly as if a piece of very beautiful music.

I Beatrice said...

I too am a weaver of tapestries and stitcher of dreams, Wife! But when my fingers gave out on me some years ago, leaving several pieces unfinished, I turned not to my daughter who doesn't care for such things, but to my sweet angelic grand-daughter who seems to admire fairy-sized stitches and wants to have a go....

On the other side of the picture was the intricate sampler that I stitched for my mother to celebrate her 80th birthday. Literally hundreds of hours it took me. I even stitched that line from St Paul about 'faith, hope,love'. And marked it "1 Corinthians, X111", in minute numerals. Her initials and mine, and the date, enclosed in a little heart at the bottom...

But when I flew out to New Zealand to give it to her she had gone to some other place, and no longer seemed to have any interest in me or it - or indeed in anything very much. So I brought it home again and hung it on my own wall...

Now, my grand-daughter looks at it, and has promised me she will look after it forever.

annie said...

My poor mother despairs of me but she too has found that my daughter loves to sew, make cards and do all the arty farty things - it's great for me as it is a sort of approval by default!

wealthcoach said...

Hi there, is your mother's problem cataracts? I know someone who is world famous in his field, and who has developed a second generation Carnosine eye drop, that is proven to improve age related and cataract related eyedrops in a very high percentage of cases (his dad had cataracts so he was on a mission). You can buy them if you live outside Europe (or know someone that does) and I think you can find them at www.TheOnlineEyeDoctor.com Hope this helps and love the blog. Nicola

Tina said...

Like life, this craft requires you to have patience. But the advantage with the craft is that if you make a mistake, you can undo it and start again. If life were that simple...

knifepainter said...

Yay wifey, well done. Finish it. x

Motheratlarge said...

I've lived most of my life surrounded by half-finished tapestries. They can be astonishingly soothing to work on in a crisis, not sure why, perhaps because they require so much attention. The problem is that as soon as the crisis passes, I tend to lose interest in them and start being with people again. So, to my shame, I've never actually completed one. That must be very difficult, inheriting one in those circumstances from your mother.

merry weather said...

That was another beautiful mother and daughter piece. Particularly the last few lines - they were very moving.

You will finish it for her won't you, one day. For now, she knows and tells you I'm sure, that you are already continuing so well with what she gave you. This was a lovely post.

Rainbow said...

That line about decoupaging smiles is so beautiful. I was the other way round - my mum never did anything other than knit very badly, while (at least while I still had the time) I used to knit complex lace, embroider, tapestry. Mind you, that was a few years ago, now I wouldn't even darn a sock...

ChrisJ said...

I do so enjoy your blog. I love the way you express things. You are a gifted writer -- but then you probably already know that

Stay at home dad said...

Vivid and tender - a joy to read.

patsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
patsy said...

Lovely writing Wifie! How poignantly you write about your mum. A metaphor for life in that unfinished canvas..please try and finish it. Put it up in your new house and it will become a home.

Jackie Luben said...

You are a weaver of words, WITN; you don't have to be good at everything. Perhaps you will never make the grade with the tapestry, but you'll be reminded of your mother, whatever stage you get to.

Retiredandcrazy said...

I was a disappointment to my mother. She sewed and did femine things. I climbed trees and tore my dresses.

My daughters will be saying the same of me no doubt.

Grandchildren - now there's the real thing. No baggage there! (Well, not much)

Great grandchildren - now there's the real thing. No baggage there!

Marianne said...

My lovely mother rushed to finish the tapesry cushion cover I asked her to stitch for me at Christmas, worried she might not be able to complete it, or indeed ever make another one. She has promised to teach me her craft, so that if needs be I can complete her next work. Tapestries are such a lovely memento, something you can always keep with you and smile and remember.

Glad to hear you have at last moved into your new home. I hope it will bring you much happiness.