A Journey Through Grief
Over the month of August, I embarked on what I thought was a simple task. Having found a bag of old embroidery threads in my fathers family home, I decided to weave a piece that incorporates these threads and allow me to discover where I was in my own grieving process. This is the tale of that process.
I had to start somewhere so I simply placed my hand into the bag and started to feel which colour appealed to me. As I chose each thread, I have to go through a process of first unravelling and unknotting the threads from an enmeshed ball and prepare them for the weave. Sometimes this takes longer than the weaving itself, but there is something ceremonial about moving my fingers and then my whole body as I lay threads out on the floor.
As I carefully create the warp (the tense vertical thread that holds the weave together), I am surprised by the smell of ‘old’ coming from the cotton thread: it catches my breath. I started to wonder why I decided to weave, why not knit or stitch? Yet as I fixed the thread to the frame and began to interweave a golden thread through the warp, I became overwhelmed by emotion. I realised that this weave was not just simply about myself and my father, two pieces of thread being interwoven with each other. This was about us and the line of ancestors that we came from. The warp threads were our lineage, eternity and all those that went before us.
At this stage, I picked up one of my aunt’s old darning needles. How could I possible weave with a needle? Yet, it felt good to hold this old tool in my hand and so I continued.
I wondered why I was driven to the golden coloured thread – not a colour I would usually work with. Yet it set a tone. I was entering into unfamiliar territory – grief was not a usual topic for me and not one that is widely discussed. I knotted each thread to the next one, feeling the need to ensure the weft (the horizontal lines that wove in and out of the vertical warp) was attached and connected to what had gone before. The more I wove, the more I realised this represented my father and I in our dance together through this world.
As I felt the vertical threads (the warp) represented our lineage and all those that went before us, then I felt it was important to show their place in our lives as we lived them. Were they dead and buried, their stories forgotten? It certainly didn’t feel that way. I felt their presence and I was drawn, over and over again, to expose them in the pattern. And as I wove the horizontal threads, the weft, I realised that there were no straight lines or singular colours. They jotted into each others presence, making their claims and taking their space.
As I touched each thread coming out of the bag, I couldn’t help but wonder who last touched these threads. Some of them were all tangled. Yet some were so carefully tied and knotted, ready for the next use. Such careful consideration for something that never eventuated.
Then, out of the blue, I opened one of the boxes we had in storage for the past 4 years. Inside is a book my father’s sister gave me many years ago. It charts my family, going back 5 generations. I can’t believe it – such timing. As I peal the pages back I am struck most by this picture. My aunt, my grandmother, my great grand mother and my great great grand mother all in the photo. Perhaps they were the ones to last touched these threads.
As I move through the making, more threads become involved and I begin to create is a large severe gap. There is a gap, a vacuum, that is left by my father’s passing. Grief is not what I thought it would be, if I ever thought about it. It’s a moment and then it’s gone. Like a wave that comes out of nowhere when you are playing on the beach and once it crashes you are left with its aftermath. You always know the person is gone, yet there are times when it is perfect for them to be there. For them to share your experience or hear your story. You almost turn to talk to them or call them, but they are not there. As the threads disappear off to the side of the piece, I cant help but feel his absence. I read a line of a song “Its like no pain, I’ve ever known”. This seems to capture it.
When the piece is placed against a dark background, the impact of the warp is obvious. Some times I feel that every thread needs attention. Every thread wants to be touched. It’s like they are making demands of me. Feel me. Read me. There are so many stories locked in these twines. Which part of this is me, which part is my father and which part is them. I’m wondering how many of their stories are intermingling with mine. As the generations pass, what gets transferred from generation to generation, and what gets left behind.
I place cardboard pieces into the empty spaces – perhaps I feel like they need support. So many feelings rushing around my system all week. Obligation. Responsibility. Commitment. I feel weighted by generations that went before me. Could we ever be free to decide our own fate? Was there always someone we could disappoint and let down. How can the bounds of love be so freeing and yet also tie you down? What did my father do because it was expected of him. Where were his choices? Where were theirs? Where are mine?
Again, I place the threads on a darker background, their presence is ever near. The threads often fight against me. They get knotted behind the piece, getting into a big ball. They tie themselves around each other. They pull on the warp, not always agreeing with the path I’m creating. I wonder about them, about the piece, about me. Am I carrying too much? Am I taking on histories that really are not relevant to me now? Am I trying to resolve something that does not want to be fixed or sorted or am I simply here to display something that wants to be aired. To be seen. To be viewed. To be remembered.
I observe and reflect on the weave. I gather up all those tiny pieces of paper that held the threads before I did. I attempt to feel, sense, what is moving through me as I make. Is this a celebration of a life once lived? Is this a feeling? One of shame or guilt? Is it, more than anything, that aspect of love that yearns for the other to accept them and to love them as they are. And when that goes, when that love dissolves, is there some sort of liberation? One less person and the weight of their disappointment. Am I freer now when making decisions?
Am I carrying the stories of those that went before me? Am I able now to simply return them? They are, after all, like a shadow of the pattern. They are there, but they do not have to be to the fore. They can remain behind and I can remain conscious of them. I can understand their importance in terms of where I come from, yet, they do not have to determine or steer the direction of my decision making.
The warp is so obvious, rarely covered by the threads passing through them. They are exposed where there is no thread, and even where there is thread, you can follow the lines. Indeed these are my bones, they are my DNA. When I see the piece laid out, I see so many imperfections. How could I think I could weave straight away? How could I think I would understand tension and the weaving of the threads? How could I chose embroidery threads that are so hard to weave? Surely a lovely soft wool would have been better. I laugh at myself. I am trying to perfect my grief. I want it to look pretty and ordered and angled correctly.
I slowly extract the piece from the frame, cutting each warp and knotting them off. I’m finding it hard to extract myself from this process. The piece begins to feel so ungrounded, losing its tight hold. I see how that grounding, that attachment is important, even if it feels too much at times. Do we need to ground ourselves in something, anything, so that we know a place to come back to. I feel removed, even isolated. I find it hard to let go.
I photograph the piece on a mount board, yet its cold neutrality doesn’t seem to match the soft weave. I find a canvas, its own woven cotton is more harmonious. And with that, I pierce the canvas and begin to stitch the piece on to it. It feels momentous, yet I cant explain why. Its like I am committing to something. And that commitment feels right, definite, powerful. I remember this poem, it pops into my head out of nowhere:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”
William Hutchinson Murray
I stitch the warp, the white threads of eternity, the lineage that goes back to when time began. It moves from the canvas, out into space and then back again. There is me, of course, the next line, the next generation, moving forward as a single green thread. This piece was not planned, the pattern was not formed before I started. I simply listened and moved. I hope I heard all that needs to be said and needed to be felt. I only assume that whoever wove this piece, me, him, them or indeed the threads themselves can look and gain what is needed for this moment in time. There is a calmness and a resolution in the piece, a giving in to whoever or whatever knows best.
The final piece, as it hangs, seems to be some sort of commitment. Only time will tell what that is.
Title and Year: Loss (2019)
Material: Embroidery Thread, Cotton yearn, Canvas
Dimensions: 61cm * 46cm * 4cm