I finished a new textile piece and I think it needs a bit of explanation.
I started this work somewhere in the middle of 2021, after listening to the audiobook of Oliver Burkeman’s ‘The Antidote’ (subtitled ‘happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking). In one chapter he presents the idea of eschewing a goal-driven way of life, suggesting (via the Stoics) that we instead simply ‘see what happens’. At the time I was struggling with the banal agonies of writing up a PhD.
I’d been thinking about maps, following on from the simple textile map I’d made a couple of months previously, and had also been thinking about the delights of narrow bias binding, appliqued onto the surface of a piece of fabric rather than being used for, well, binding – inspired by Florence Knapp’s London Tube map interpreted in Liberty lawn fabric. I thought about how I might use bias strips to represent roads… which led on to thinking about junctions, as this mirrored the notion of finding oneself at a crossroads (hence the exhortation to ‘see what happens’). I started looking at examples of junctions on Google Maps, discarded Birmingham’s ‘spaghetti junction’ as too simple (!) and then happened across the Kennedy Interchange in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. As a way of understanding which roads went where, I coloured the different routes on a printout; this became a pile of three different colours of bias binding, which sat on my desk for a while as I steeled myself for the task of sorting and pinning them into place.
The project sat for a month… and another month, while I paused the PhD… and another month, while I tried to get my head together… and then it got buried under a pile of paperwork when my husband died unexpectedly. He’d been particularly interested in how this piece would come together, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything more than finding ways of hauling myself through each day.
Three months later, and after finishing my stitched diary of 2021 (seen here), I decided to return to the project, as much for distraction as anything, but it turns out grief does strange and unexpected things to a person, and in wearing my shoulders somewhere round my ears, the act of slipstitching the bias strips to the blue fabric soon became very uncomfortable. The project paused again. Two more months passed, with the project visible and nagging, before I decided to wade back in with a slightly bigger needle than the 5cm embroidery needle I was using previously, and suddenly my shoulder no longer hurt as much and the pace picked up significantly.
This project was intended as a quick experiment, to ‘see what happens’, rather than an nine-month process, but its message has gained new significance for me now that I find that I am unable to rely on how I will find myself from one day to the next. I have various other projects trundling along, one large and several small (not counting the small matter of the PhD), but there’s lots to return to in this piece.