Pearls of wisdom

I’ve just had my sister staying with me for a few days and it was a remarkable, wonderful time; I find I want to say, it was quietly transformational. There is nothing like spending time with “kin” to feel more completely comfortable and honest than in any other company and, when those relatives are female and share that sense of rootedness in a particular heritage, it can catalyse seriously powerful stuff. In my case, I don’t know when I last spent a few days with my sister like this…three uninterupted days of being solidly in each other’s company; probably not since I was an adolescent visiting her first marital home and we certainly didn’t bond like this then! Decades on, time spent living 150 miles apart, we find we have reached remarkably similar places in our perspective and our aspirations; only hers are much more grounded than mine (and you know how important I think that is for the goddess of our times) so she came bearing gifts for me that I was over-ripe to receive. I am in a place of needing to re-learn the skills that, I realise, my extremely grounded family has in spadefuls. Fingers in the earth, needles in the hands, practical support offered freely to those who needed it in the community; this was my family when I was growing up. We absorbed these skills from a very young age; in my father’s shed, where he carved wood, made everything and did marquetry or observing my mother’s needle and baking craft, along with the way she went out somewhere, every day, to help elderly neighbours while my father handed out veg and flowers from our garden. Never without knitting needles in her hands, my mother could put the world to rights and do at least one other thing while her needles were flying…and they always were. It’s a gene I have in me and yet I always directed it at grander aspirations; reaching towards higher projects like “lets change the world” or “be a world class painter”…never contented and, yes, wearing myself thin with the relentless need to strive at these ambitions.

I already had the burgeoning feeling that I wanted to go back to my crafty roots; to days gone by when wool, of all things, was my best friend and chosen medium. Long before painting or photography became my methods of choice, I salivated over textiles such as wool and silk, collecting them even when I had no reason to. I started needlepoint, or “tapestry” as we call it in the UK, when I was just 7 or 8 and continued it almost without pause until my daughter was born in my early thirties. Unfinished projects still languish in my big cupboard yet I never feel right about returning to them for we stitch ourselves into our canvases…and I have come such a long way since then. I even flirted with doing a textile degree when I was eighteen but the best course was in my hometown and my burning urge was to move away from there; yet I’ve often wondered how things might have been different if I had gone that route. I’ve even spun wool, many years ago; and the feeling of lanolin rich fleece between finger and thumb as my foot works the peddle still haunts me at times, as though it was only yesterday (not well over thirty years ago…) that I last did this. In fact, the very first time I sat at a wheel, my instructor told me (didn’t ask) “you’ve done this before” and when I said no I hadn’t she insisted “oh yes you have” and I knew very deep down that she was right. I still pick up wool caught on gateposts on my walks and find myself fingering it in my pocket as I walk my dog, knowing that I know its sensation very well. Lately, that too has haunted me, like something pressing upon me “do something with this, act on the feeling” and, at these times, I catch glimpses of myself dying wool using natural pigments and making things with it…though I am never quite sure what (and that is where my left-brain trips me up with all of its so-called “practical” ideas trying to make a thing of it until I shrug the thoughts away and get on with my life).

My sister, newly retired (somewhat earlier than expected) came brimful of enthusiasm for all her pursuits in textiles that she has reignited in the last year. Now running the quilting group that she initially joined as a novice, she is doing that and many more stitchery-based hobbies, including knitting at least one garment a fortnight, drafting up embroidery designs of her own making and feverish with excitement about what to tackle next. More than that, the group of other women that she is now part of has spawned friendships and conversations, a never-ending experience of like-heartedness and support that has brought light to her eyes and colour to her cheeks; she has never looked more relaxed or at home in herself. All those years of work and of wedging herself into routines (and so much career stress) that were never really “hers” have been shed like scales to the floor and she has come out of them shining with new-found passion for life. When I imagine her now, I imagine colour and playful expression; a rich tapestry of a life where once she seemed heckled by it.

I too have become drab and grey lately, I feel it and I see it when I look in the mirror. Painting used to bring colour to my life but I seem to have lost my way with that; my recent attempts felt like going backwards and there’s more that I still long to explore; threads as yet unfollowed. The longing to return to textiles had been biting at my heels…I knew it was there; but something told me it wasn’t enough…wasn’t big enough or important enough, it feels domestic and mundane to play around with wools when there is a world to save. Yes, I hear myself say this and I laugh outloud…but it was always there, this stumbling block around an idea of scale that had me stopping myself from going where my heart led, thinking that it was laughable to try and change the world one stitch at a time.

Knitting circle

My mother with her friend and my grandma knitting together 1955…it was just something they all did together.

The book I have been reading “If women rose rooted” (by Sharon Blackie), I know, has been seeping deeply into my encrusted ground-soil like a healing shower of rain, allowing the brittle cracks to swell into a new kind of looseness. I can feel where it has been tickling my roots with ideas of opting out of all that feels pressured and contrived, forced, or achievement driven (yes, even projects to save the world!) and allowing that a simpler life, even a life on a small holding or in the anonymity of the Outer Hebrides, though I know I don’t need to go that far, can be just as powerful and transformational for all women-kind. Such a feminine-inspired life of deep connection with the earth, with its richness, its colours, its textures without needing to roll this out as a product or a plan, is our version of doing our bit, just as much as doing what some of my friends do travelling the world and pow-wowing with elders and change agents or starting charities in Africa, running coaching programs and altering the way businesses operate and so on. “But how?” I hear myself wail, knowing I want to do none of these things (for all I applaud them). Because I know just how much we are all connected at the root and how any version of finding our true essence and allowing it to be grounded in whatever soil feels, to us, like home is playing our part. We are singing the song of the feminine, demonstrating what it is to have roots again, giving ourselves and others permission to do likewise and being that agent of change at the level where it really happens…at the grassroots of the extremely ordinary. And if we happen to inspire others along the way then good…but its not, directly, why we do it. That is the whole point; our focus is stepped away from that terribly masculine urge to roll everything our like it is some sort of strategy or means to an end. We hold space for doing what is already complete “as it is”; for it brings us such profound joy in connection with where we are in this moment. Nothing disperses anxiety or fear more quickly than spending time in such a place; and this ripples out to our families, our communities and so the world at large.

When women get together doing what they love for no other reason than they relish doing it, the “accidental” results catalysed by this can be incredibly powerful. My sister, who is not prone to hyperbole or flights of fancy, described how it feels like they are sat around a fireplace in times of old when they get into the flow of stitchery and chatting, the conversation weaving freely around their circle like the threads on a spider’s web. In my mind’s eye, when I hear this kind of women’s pow-wow in full flow, it is like they are unwittingly casting a spell…and, in a way, they are; for they make realities shift. I know for myself how some of the conversations I have ignited at the hairdressers (one of the few collectively female places I ever go in my extremely solitary life) have taken on legs of their own and made serious indents in people’s lives as changes and new perspectives have been sparked around the room. Once, I returned for my trim and received an unexpected hug for all the positive changes I had instigated on my previous visit and I am told that I am looked forward to in the diary. Knowing this brings back such warm glow to the embers in my heart and it reminds me that a woman’s life lived in solitary confinement can be, in many ways, a wasted life for we all feed off one another (and written words are not always as powerful as when eyes or hands meet across a table; an admission I am newly taking to heart). We often thrive most in community for that is what we once knew before; and is what we are modelling again in this fragmented world of collectively separate beings.

Women the world over gather this way over crafts and cups of whatever they happen to drink; these are the real crucibles of change, their origin going all the way back to when men used to seek women-wisdom before making any decisions that might impact communal life. Well, we are there again, needing just that very thing; and we spark the process off when we gather in the collective on equal footing (no egos here) and pool our energies at the same time as bringing our individual skills and projects to the table. We inspire and we catalyse though we meant only to sit where we had company; in fact, we simply can’t help ourselves and it is that unexpected, undirected and “accidental” kind of inspiration that is more potent than we can sometimes find words for.  I find I feel almost envious with longing for such a gathering to join in with…and that I am no longer assuming that such a collective has to be “spiritual” or anything to do with any of the topics I write about in this space; in fact, the more ordinary its focus the better, I am now prepared to admit. My eyes are newly opened to find such a community to tag onto.

Meanwhile, I am back to playing with my wool…two projects birthed in the twenty-four hours since my sister left on her train; both a knitting project (the steady rhythm of knit one, pearl one a sustained meditation of sorts) and a brand-new tapestry from one of my own ambitious designs onto canvas so, maybe there is a new direction there; yet I have never been less focused on the commercial potential or becoming a specialist. Like with all avenues that seem to be converging as my life right now, I find I just want to bring it all together…all the skills, the aspirations, the colours and textures, the mediums, the very diverse activities that amount to who I am and what gets me feeling excited and see where it all leads me. A phrase came to mind as I drove to the craft shop (where I was greeted by a friendly woman who poured over my design with such relish, helping me select just the right shades of wool…and who offered to teach me to knit if I struggled with my pattern): Grass Roots Goddess. That’s what I feel I am longing to be and am best equipped for at that; a grass-roots change maker, putting the world to rights through accidental encounters with everyday women over everyday projects that bring colour to all of our cheeks and laughter to our eyes. Real life encounters, every-day-domestic things that get new thinking out there or remembered from the rich heritage of our hearts…for we all have it in there, we just need to spin and weave and embellish it with our free-flowing thoughts as our flying fingers provide the wind beneath our wings.

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About Helen White

Helen White is a full-time professional artist (painting moments of everyday radiance in oil on canvas), a photographer, fabric designer and published writer with several blogs, on various topics, to her name. Light on Art is her art-related blog sharing recent artworks and inspiration.Living Your Whole Life is a health and lifestyle blog sharing all the many highlights of learning how to transform your health and wellbeing (spiralling out of ten years recovering from fibromyalgia). Spinning the Light is a very broad-based platform of self-discovery where she explores the everyday alchemy that is available to all beings just as soon as they open up to life's fullest potential.Helen White Photography is a portal for sharing her Fine Art photographs which are available as Limited Edition prints.
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3 Responses to Pearls of wisdom

  1. cathytea says:

    I think of grassroots a lot, too . The large school district where I work is moving through a paradigm shift in its use of technology , and our IT director often uses the term organic to describe the growth of new systems and new ways of doing things . .. When I talk with others , especially women , I feel that our work is to bring about this shifts at a grassroots level , in an almost tactile way, weaving the connections between the threads of technology and instructional systems . .. through conversation , we engage our creativity , and it feels much like talking around a quilting circle as we envision what we are trying to stitch and how it will serve.

    Your tapestry sounds intriguing ! I’ll look forward to hearing more about the process of creating it!

    • Helen White says:

      I’m so excited about starting it, the canvas is on its way to me and I have the wool already…you can tell you’re onto something when you feel this fired-up. Its wonderful to hear about these organic processes occuring at “grassroots” as you described. Last week, I happened upon a wonderful quote by Germaine Greer from probably three decades ago (I almost wrote a blog about it…maybe I still will) in which she said: “I do think that women could make politics irrelevant by a kind of spontaneous cooperative action the like of which we have never seen, which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure and viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy and what it really is is a very subtle form of interrellation which does not follow a sort of hierachical pattern, which is fundamentally patriarchal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity and I think it’s women who are going to have to break this spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.” I think we are only just starting to get the hang of this now…only its a remembered skill, from days spent in communal crafting around the fire.

      • cathytea says:

        Oh, I like that quotation very much! I would choose a different word from “fraternal,” (due to the gender-bias of the word). How about “community”? I find that this type of subversion is something that I instinctually strive for in my work cultures… It makes me think of Spiral Dynamics, with the communitarian, integrative, and holistic memes… And I agree that it feels very remembered!

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