Friday 24 May 2013

'Safety is Six-Sided': Patchwork As Therapy

Hello again, real world. I’ve been away for a while. Not-so-good things have been going on, and because of these, let me tell you about my latest stitch project.

 Unlike the majority of what I would consider my ‘work’, here is something entirely to do with the stitch process itself with any aesthetic value being secondary. In other words, it’s the act of stitch itself, the tactile qualities of holding and working with the fabric....the end result, whatever that may be, is almost irrelevant to the process of producing.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, clawing myself back from a minor nervous breakdown and a month signed off work, I present to you..... more patchwork as therapy. I fell in love, and my partner went to prison: a bullying campaign against me also reared its ugly head, and I found both my creativity and ability to function in general severely compromised. This project was not so much inspired by awful events as insisted by them: I needed something to calm me down besides Valium, and previous patchwork experiences led me blindly back to the one thing I could start ‘re-engaging with myself’ through. ‘Safety is six sided.’

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote: If you will, persevere with my rambling, my perspective on this should hopefully prevail......

 My passion for embroidery extends beyond the purely professional, recognising its highly therapeutic and emotionally beneficial nature.  A number of years ago, alongside my professional practice and my subsequent degree, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and as such fell prey to a circumstance of seven shades of hell. It was during this dark period that I was unable to get out of bed, to function normally: trapped in my own ‘mental prison’ of clinical depression and an eating disorder, I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. Gradually, unconsciously constructed self-condemnations of worthlessness gave way to utter personal conviction that there was no hope and as such I became suicidal.

 It was at this point that I discovered patchwork. It became my therapy, a reason not to despise consciousness, and a method with which to start reclaiming my sense of self-worth. Mundane as it sounds, rhythmically preparing paper hexagons with fabric and combining them into the beginnings of a quilt became my highlight of the darkness I was lost adrift in. I would find myself able to engage mentally with an activity that then progressed into long periods of time, hours on end, happily immersed in something other than my own apathy. Patchwork completed for me what Prozac couldn’t, and as my quilt grew, so did I: eventually, I was able to go back to ‘the real world’ and my quilt was displayed at the 2011 NEC Festival of Quilts.

 But what really inspired me to start this project is events of recent months. My partner was in court six weeks ago and sentenced to prison. This event alone, along with a subsequent bullying campaign from those around me and other events prompting a severe emotional fallout, had put me in a bad place yet again. Unable to eat, losing weight, sick with worry, running on no sleep and awake at every hour of the night was showing warning signs of another depressive episode. So somehow, without even thinking about it, I found myself in my studio at 3am beginning another quilt. Just the repetitive, rhythmic action of sewing – of engaging with the fabric, of the tactile qualities, of having something to hold when I was wide awake in an empty bed – helped.  Using the English traditional method of piecing over papers, the back of every piece has a thought or an emotion – mostly about my boyfriend – written into them, thus I am quite literally ‘stitching my thoughts together’.

The pieces are a sensible size, 6cms from tip to tip, and it’s extraordinary not to care about the colour arrangement or any such sense of ‘outcome’. Hopefully it’s the first step into re-engaging with my craft, and hopefully something a little less ‘robotic’ and more spontaneously creative should emerge next.....
Urgh. Spilt my guts yet again....



  1. Thank you for sharing this. Patchwork and quilting litterally saved my life after many years of 'not-living'. I'm not an artist but love to engage in all kinds of technical challenges and I too have several handmade hexagon quilts on the go - for those times I need the calm and tranquility that comes from 'just' stitching. I hope you know that this post of yours is a very brave one - and an important one too. All the best :-)

  2. My goodness what you have been through! Patchwork is soothing for the soul and wish for you many happy hours of playing with your fabric :)