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.”