Yesterday was incredibly muggy. I felt very sluggish. I am usually disciplined about my exercise in the evenings, but the pool was shut and my legs just refused to walk.
Tuesday is also teaching day for me. Much as I enjoy it, I also feel drained. Getting to understand someone and how to draw out their creativity can be taxing and I look forward to my own thread ramblings at the end of the day. But I was fidgety yesterday. I did not feel like doing anything. I had this craving for chocolate so decided to get a Snickers bar and worry about the calories another day. Well, I did sort of consider it a possible bribe to persuade myself to walk around afterwards, but it did not happen.
Finally, around 8.30pm, when I saw that I was not inclined to do anything else, I did get down to doing some embroidery and before I knew it, the time was 1.00 am. All I had done in over four hours was rows and rows of Kantha - one stitch running after the other. It’s on days like this that the magic of embroidery reveals itself anew.
Stitching never seems like work and I can keep doing it for hours together. I wonder if any of you feel the same way too. Often, I feel guilty if I spend the whole day doing this instead of writing and attending to other mundane stuff like accounts and household chores. I usually do my needlework at night when all the rest has been taken care of and I can just sew.
I find Kantha with its almost mechanical steps - of needle in, picking up the cloth at three to four points together, keeping the thread length, as equal as possible and then, a gentle tug that creates a healing whisper as the thread passes through the ruptured fabric, is very calming. You need to concentrate, but after a while its almost automatic, like breathing, you almost don’t realise you are doing it until the thread finishes or somehow a knot appears.
I went round and round the fabric with neat rows of running stitch. By now I have added some more fabric stained with tea leaves onto the white muslin, alongside the burned-and-cooked-one-inch-bit I started out with. On Saturday, I took out some nylon net, silk organza and cotton organdie and using Red label tea, dyed these fabrics. To my surprise, the cotton fabric barely stained, but the organza dyed a delicious umber and the nylon net took on an interesting ochre shade that veered towards a hint of burnt sienna. I did not iron out the creases in the organza as I thought this would add texture to the muslin. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do as this piece has been a bit of a challenge. The process has been more intuitive than planned.
Working with photographed images, as I did earlier, was much easier because the marks were already there and there was a kind of narrative that I could develop through them. Here, I started out with a blank canvas. There was so much to say, but needle and thread demands patience. I have to tell my story slowly, at the pace of the needle. And today, what intrigued me was doing Kantha over creased organza and yellowed net and the unusual texture the running stitch took on. It’s hard to describe in words so do look at the photos. I found the thread almost luminous when it stitched over the net.
Yes, I know. I have cut and torn the fabric quite brutally after the delicious layers of thread running neatly around. It happens, I need to vent my frustration and in a sense it is also the frustration of stitch – its painstaking process is pitted against the speed of a digital age. Running against the tide of time would frustrate anyone and to keep going at snail’s pace because that is the best you can do is not just a challenge, it’s the only way to keep alive a tradition – its skill and art.
Imagine, if no-one stitched with the hand anymore, if there were no needles left on the planet. Imagine then, a planet of people that did not know how to sew with their hands. Imagine our Earth without all the beautiful embroideries that mankind has made and seen.
Needles have to sew.... to ensure stitch lives on.