When I say "boxes of mystery" here, what I really mean are "2 envelopes plus a gallon-sized ziplock bag of mystery," not as poetic, nor as mysterious, but still filled with treasure and history. The 2 envelopes arrived here in Alaska on the same day last week -- one from England, one from New York state, but the bag was delivered to my dark-morning door the other day by a local friend I was so happy to see. The fact that I'm connecting and reconnecting with women over handwork they are pleased to pass on is the best part about this little crowd-sourcing project.
This first piece of handwork has the longest story and the longest journey.
It took my breath away when I opened it:
This unfinished cross stitch came from fellow textile artist, Olga Norris, by way of Hampshire, England. Olga's art (as described on her website) is "figurative and marks emotional narratives. From small stories whole worlds can be read." She has shown at Quilt National three times and uses a digital process to manipulate her initial images, which are then printed on fabric and worked further with hand and machine stitch. If you aren't familiar with her current work, I encourage you to follow the link and learn more.
This cross stitch is very much a work of the past (her history used here with permission): "This is my last piece of counted cross stitch. It was designed by me, based on the paper patterns I previously used. It was started in my final summer en famille in Greece, immediately after graduation from Edinburgh University, just being engaged and about to be married the following year. It represents, in its unfinished state, my futile attempt that summer to remain the daughter/niece/grand-daughter everyone expected. Little did I know that this struggle would go on until just a few years ago when my mother died. I would like the piece, like me, to go on to become something more positive."
"My difficult relationship with my parents, and especially with my mother really formed a great deal of the kind of person I am. The work I do now is under my married name, the person I feel more as the ‘real’ me –- and all the cross stitch work was done by the child I was then (which of course was the foundation of who I am now)."
She said she felt that the work had "glowered" at her from the cupboard for decades, so, she sent it to me. And I am in awe of this work. It is perfect in its striving, its empty moments and in its release.
I can relate, in part, to a "glowering cross stitch" not because of a strained relationship with my mother, but because I had a childhood embroidery that also scowled at me for years: It was ambitious, colorful, I'd had to have that expensive kit (Unicorn + rainbow + heart? Can I , can I, please?) and my mom gave in, feeling that counted cross stitch was a good place to begin a proper embroidery lesson at age 7 or 8 or 9. (Yes! Let's start right now!) After locating the center of the Aida weave (Right, can we start now?), basting the center lines in contrasting thread (Except, when are we going to start?), organizing a-a-a-a-a-ll the embroidery floss a certain way so it doesn't ever get tangled (Why can't we just START? Let's do the rainbow first, no, wait, the unicorn. Unicorn first. I love its face), then steaming the Aida cloth with the iron (Mom, I just want to START!), then whip-stitching the edges by hand so they don't fray (Oh my god, can we just make this thing?), then learning how to read the pattern and counting up from the center point so I'd know where to begin my first stitches (But I don't want to make the top of the heart, that's so boring! I want to make its face), and learning how to count each square and then stitch a certain direction so the back looked just as nice as the front (No, I am NOT crying!), I finally completed about 32 tense stitches before giving up and going outside to swing.
Let's be clear, I in no way blame my mother for that invisible unicorn chomping at me for 30+ years. She is an excellent embroiderer and a good teacher. I did, however, think for a long time that I wasn't good enough to make this pattern, that I wasn't math savvy enough for all that counting, that I'd been greedy; my own little guilty conscious stabbed into that short curving blue line.
This feeling ended two years ago when I cut the damned thing up, incorporated it into a big piece of artwork, entered this in a show, won a prize, sold it to the Anchorage Museum for their permanent collection and launched this current body of work.
F***ing unicorn. F*** you. Enough said.
Release, I'm telling you. Release.
And, of course, understanding.
I, for example, understand that I have no patience for other people's patterns.
Now for something completely different:
These sweet confections came to me from Natalya Aikens, also a textile and mixed media artist (are you sensing a contributor theme here?). She was happy to pass them on to me, and while she couldn't attest to their provenance, nor did she have a weighty story to share, I think she was excited to know that I could use them. Oh, little primroses! Oh saccharine variegated chevron edge! Yes, please.
The last bundle of grytlappar (and these are authentic Swedish pot holders, I assure you), came to me by way of my Swedish friend, Inger, who contacted me right away to say she definitely had some to offer. We stood on my frosty front steps while she shared her "arrive with an empty suitcase" strategy for her family's various Scandinavian travels. She's got it down to a science. It was so lovely to see her on a dark Alaskan morning.
I'm sending thank you cards, of course (mail for mail), and now I have also started making a teeny tiny doily to slip into each card as well (doily for doilies). No one should be without at least one doily in their life. I hate to think I've cleaned anybody out completely.
If you, too, have a piece of unfinished needlepoint, cross-stitch, or other embroidery that is glowering at you, or festering, or just plain taking up space and you'd like to see it move on to become something else in this world, bringing all its stories with it, then consider contacting me. If you'd like, I'll feature your website here, make sure you get a proper thank you and something handmade in return (which will take up just the right amount of space as a place holder in your favorite book).
If you are brand spanking new to the blog and have sort of an idea of what is going on but would like more information, please check out the following links:
Splitting open the idea and the various posts under the sidebar category Boxes of mystery.
Around this time last year -- Solstice in Alaska -- I posted this: Into Darkness.
If you've never been to Alaska or another northern locale in deep winter, it's something you should consider. I've spent 15 years wrongly believing I needed to get used to it. Now I believe I'd rather get used to to being in awe of the earth and its hearty inhabitants instead.