February mending

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February is my three year anniversary of having an abortion.

Anyone that has gone through an abortion knows that it’s a month long process at least. The exact day was February 17th. It was cold and lightly snowing on and off all week. I remember going for many walks prior to the procedure. I remember watching the trees through our second floor windows and saying nothing at all. I felt empty of words.

I suppose that’s why when I was bed-ridden and needed something to do with my hands, I turned to embroidery instead of drawing, writing, or painting. All familiar modes of expression felt too weighted compared to my delicate lightness. I learned later about the relationship between embroidery and death throughout history and realized I not only made space for myself to enact a traditional female role, but was making mourning embroidery. It had my blood on it. It spoke for me.

Embroidery taught me that you must love the scissors that sever and the needle that mends.

Eventually I started writing a lot, though in short fragments. I could not write a perfectly linear and coherent narrative because that’s not how I have experienced it. None of it has been shared much, for the likely and obvious reasons.

My desire to describe the trauma was born (pun intended) by the disappointment of how abortion is typically talked about, privately and publicly. Surely there are other people that feel devastated by having an abortion, yet also recognize that it’s better for themselves and the life growing inside them to terminate the pregnancy.

Actually, better isn’t really the word for it. I don’t know for certain what would have happened if I had not chosen to abort. I do know that me and my husband could barely afford to support ourselves and I had a lot of health problems that were already making pregnancy extremely difficult only eight weeks into it. I do know that I spent my whole life believing that I could not be a mother. That’s how I ended up pregnant in the first place. (The copious amount of whiskey didn’t help. That’s right. It can really only take one time, kids.)

Better is not the word for it. I have seen people pull through tremendous difficulties to establish and maintain the security and well-being of their families. I have also seen people become bitter, sad, demanding, or mean. Performing a biological function does not make you a giving, loving, and courageous human being.* It’s something you build, like a muscle, with repeated use. It’s something you learn to see in yourself.

I try to be giving, loving, and courageous. I know that when I am pregnant again someday, I will create a good home for my child. I’ve had almost three years to carry the memory of an ultrasound in my heart. Almost three years to learn how to be invested in myself and in a future that includes children who know love.

The time does not feel wasted. It would be a waste, however, if I continued to hide what has helped me grow so substantially.

About three years ago on February 17th I looked at an ultrasound and with a rare clarity regarded the tiny orb of life as perfect. It is still perfect.

* It is, of course, absolutely possible to be giving, loving, and courageous human beings without having any children. I just dislike the general assumption that birthing a child magically turns you into a parent.

for golden-haired maidens

I’ve taken quite a liking to embroidering perishable materials.

Orange skin studies. Embroidered while "fresh", photographed after dried. J.S-P

I’ve done some other stitching with plants, but haven’t photographed them yet. Since the material base is something that changes quickly (just the plant drying out alters the stitch), how and when they are photographed becomes important. There is a developing relationship here — in line with my creativity linked to the mediums — that I’ve never really experienced before. More on that soon. In the mean time, here’s an updated (and poorly photographed) version of my first sampler:

Sampler (parting sea), 2012. In progress. J.S-P

Mira and I try to meet at least once a week to embroider together, and it looks like our friend Kelli will be joining us soon, whenever she can. I took a few pictures of Mira’s unfinished work the last time I was at her house. The fabrics themselves are so lovely, it makes me want to look at antique stores and junk shops for old aprons, slips, and handkerchiefs.

I’m meeting with Kelli on Tuesday to show her a few stitches that I’ve learned. In the future, I’m going to demand that she teach me how to knit in exchange for my “guidance”. (I hope you’re reading this, Kelli.) More images can be found here.

follow it down

I’ve been doing quite a bit of embroidery and I am planning to start making things to sell soon. (“Soon” = probably not for a few months.) I could use the money and I enjoy embroidery quite a lot. It’s very pleasing to sit for hours stitching. If you don’t believe me, behold below the internet-sourced collection of embroidery I have scoured in a few obsessive fits.

Thanks to an article posted to ArtInfo about the Whitney Biennial, I found out about Elaine Reichek‘s work. The writer in me (“writer” + “me” = verbose, self-important, insatiable) really appreciates her use of quotes from friends, family, and literature. I also really like the cultural anthropological feel to her work, that is both intellectually and visually stimulating.

Detail of "Sampler (Scarlet Letter)", 1996. Hand embroidery on linen. Elaine Reichek.

Mr. X Stitch’s blog is a bit overwhelming for me. In a lot of ways. Here’s a bit of a sampler (oh yeah, embroidery pun): The Cutting (& Stitching) Edge. Really, I can’t even pick one image. There are so many talented artists posted to this blog. Embroidery as Art is another great embroidery blog, especially as an approachable and inspiring introduction to embroidery.

Mira directed me toward Kate Kretz and Erin Endicott’s embroidery. I had been thinking about hair embroidery because of how all my life I’ve been very interested in hair, to the extent that I collect hair in jars. (Although, for the record, no pubic hair.) And then I got the link to the hair embroidery of Kretz and it made me all the more excited to try it out sometime.

Oubliette 1 (detail), 2006. Human hair embroidery. Kate Kretz.
Healing Sutra #3. Hand embroidery on antique fabric stained with walnut ink cut to pattern of child's dress. Erin Endicott.

Husband found an article on Huffington Post about Kathy Halper’s work, which has a sense of humor and ugliness about its content that I can appreciate.  She uses images from Facebook that teenagers post of themselves, and it’s paired with text that heightens the kind of grotesque absurdity of the images. They’re not very visceral, though. Mostly outlines. At first this turned me off a bit, but considering the subject, it seems really appropriate. Most of the images include teenagers engaging some kind of sexual, pseudo-sexual, or intensely physical activity, implying a kind of hedonism, and yet there’s nothing truly sensual about what they’re doing. The images and the text are generic, belonging to anyone and no one.

Girl just have to accept. Kathy Halper.

I love the way Joetta Maue creates a kind of sentimentality that feels sincere yet lacks presumption. Admittedly, sometimes it goes a little too far for me, but that’s okay. My favourite pieces of Maue’s use a variety of fabrics, creating an odd sense of texture and space. But who doesn’t like embroidered handwriting? Only robots. Poorly programmed robots. So there’s quite a number of charming pieces on her website.

8 months, 2011. Hand embroidered, appliqued, and painted re-appropriated linen with found cloth. Joetta Maue.

There’s more, but I feel like I should stop now… until tomorrow.

something to do with my hands

I’ve begun learning how to embroider.

Lately I haven’t been feeling well, so I needed something to do while resting. And while not sleeping at night. For the time being, it’s mostly experimentation and practice. I like that I have to sit with a line for a while, yet it feels loose and unassuming. Writing and drawing has been too intimidating lately. It has to mean too much, and I just can’t deal with that right now. Stitching. Stitching feels appropriate.