This is the piece of that name I made for an open exhibition with the theme ‘family’ (call out to the organiser, P, hope you are happy in New Zealand, we miss you!) which was in the Nottingham Art Organisation Gallery the week after the joint show I had with Andy. (nothing is ever wasted, 2008) It was lovely after all the running round getting the exhibition up to sit in the deep sofas while invigilating and stitch away on a new piece, lots of beads and ribbons and lace laid out in front of me, but also masonry nails, crocodile clips and safety pins.

I am very relieved to have no contact with my family, I feel far safer this way, but I recognise that they have taught me many useful things – that political and ethical choices are as simple as what oranges you buy and lifelong learning and opening to the new will keep life interesting. There is a thread to my development as a person that links to what I have HAD to learn in order to survive the way they tried to eradicate my sense of myself as a person in my own right, but some of how I have done that, paradoxically comes from skills in the family.

Both my grandmothers were very gifted creatively, one more obviously artistic; the other, a very warm loving woman I remember with great affection, could make something from nothing, and normally a very lovely something. For a very long time I had a proggy rug she made for me being born, which marked a turn in family finances: the inner diamonds were all recycled cloth scraps, the outer edges were in rugging yarn – for the first time she PAID to make a rug. I have been a craft tutor and when teaching rugmaking, such interesting stories come out: putting your name down at the co-op to get the next hessian sack; on xmas eve all the rugs moving round the house, as the new one went in front of the fire and the oldest went on the compost heap, (which would keep it warm and ‘fettling’ through shallow snow); the country hooks from grooms’ hoofspikes or miners’ pit spikes; the Newcastle upon Tyne city ones made from cartridge and bullet casings from Vickers Armstrong munitions factories; the proggers made from dolly pegs and safe for children to use; as a child, (even the boys!) having to prog your square before you could go out to play; the oldest trusted to use the scissors to cut strips, once mum or gran had ‘taken down’ the battered clothing only fit for rugging…

Granny also taught me to cook a full meal on an open fire, and that when you sweep down the hearth, if you clang the brush and shovel too much, the fairies know you’re having a bad day (and if you’re lucky will come help you ;)) I also had two great aunts who worked in catering, one worked till she was over 80 because the hotel couldn’t find a lighter hand with pastry…and a great uncle who made an invention that was on show in one of the Newcastle museums for a long time…

My aunts were also very capable and affectionate women, one a farmer, one a midwife. The farmer wrote poetry, the midwife could knit or crochet anything and taught me to knit a scarf for my teddy when I was 7 or 8, and a slipover at 14 and lace stitch at 17, but also how to frog (rip it, rip it) a whole jumper, skein it, wash it and rewind it good as new. I grew up making presents for all these women, patchwork, cross stitch and tapestry, art cards, scented sachets…all with embellishments, all ‘making nice’ some otherwise plain object…and learning how to deal with mistakes, how to undo, how to re-make, how to refresh/renew/upcycle/recycle/ before we thought of it in those terms….this did tie in with my father’s commitment to recycling/good husbandry (farmer and then allotmenteer) and the necessity of being frugal after he gave up his well paid office job to go self employed just as Britain went into the 80s recession…  but it couldn’t override the nuclear family’s toxic insistence on never making a mistake and most importantly never letting the gaps show…

Somehow,  I got free enough of the dysfunction to build up my courage to fight the block I’d internalised on being an artist ( who refuses to take their 12 year old to see the exhibition they won a place in out of over twenty thousand entries? And insists the child will never be any good at art? My poor art teacher was speechless…)

It took a long time to beat a lot of setbacks, but perhaps that is why I still make art almost everyday, even though I have fibromyalgia and am accident prone so normally have some injury interfering/having to be worked around…and why I am so committed to process art, where all the incidents in the life/making of a piece become part of its history.

That is the repair that has worked for my life, knowing where and how and why things are this way, and figuring out how to make life better, opening my mind to learn techniques and applying them as creatively as I can…and coming from right here, right now (thanks Dogen) and this extended practice in making do, making nice, making better has even mended my ability to make “family”, where I have no blood relatives, but a host of friends and loving, loved ones who are going to have trouble squeezing in the flat for my birthday party, even without the long distance connections who can’t come anyway…

when you fix what was wrong CREATIVELY, it can be better than it was in the first place…

and that is truly the art of creative living

and living it for years, means that when you break a needle on your midarm quilter, with the most terrible grinding crunch (omg, that’s my most expensive possession!) and open out your quilt, and see the shard of needle is trapped, and you cut it out AND THEN YOU REALISE you cut on the WRONG side of the seam…and you now have a hole in the centre of a double quilt that has taken TWO YEARS to make and you are handing over to its new owner in FIVE DAYS…

you breathe deeply

you put your hand through the hole…

you repin the seam and stitch it on the topside

then you make an embellished taffeta strip 2 metres by 5cm and you stitch it over the….mess…on the other side and 3 seams later, you think, well if I never tell anyone, they’ll never know that was the scariest mistake I’ve ever fixed in stitchwork…

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