Thursday 10 March 2022

Personal Threads: Portraits Without Faces, Guest Post by Stewart Kelly

Stewart Kelly’s work is one that revolves around the observation of the human form. He produces work that gives insight as to who we really are as an organic entity, stripping away the layers of pretence. These are not portraits of obvious personality, there are no faces, no identifiable poses, no costumes, no props.”

John Hopper (Inspirational 8)

Studying Kantha Embroidery, West Bengal, 2019.

My current practice lies at the intersection of art, health and wellbeing. Through practice-based research, I am interested in reflecting on how the ritual of hand stitching can document emotional experiences. 

During 2019, I travelled to West Bengal and visited artists, often in remote villages, working in their studios. My interest was in researching Indian textiles, specifically Kantha embroidery, which is synonymous with this region. Experiencing the sights, sounds, colours and people of India was a revelation in many ways. Through speaking to artisans, I became increasingly aware how tradition and beliefs are integral to the nation’s cultural identity. 

 West Bengal 

Map of West Bengal, India.

West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India along the Bay of Bengal. With over 91 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous state and the fourteenth-largest state by area in India. Part of the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, it borders Bangladesh in the east, Nepal and Bhutan in the north. It also borders the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata, the third-largest metropolis, and seventh largest city by population in India. 

 Kantha Embroidery 

 Kantha Embroidery, Kolkata, 2019.

In Sanskrit, the word 'kontha' means rags. Kantha is the most popular form of embroidery in West Bengal, and has been around for more than 500 years. Initially, Kantha was used on cotton or silk, however, it is now used on other fabrics as well like Georgette, crepe and chiffon. 

Originally made from old, recycled fabrics, the traditional kantha cloth is an example of flat, or un-wadded quilting, worked on multiple layers of fabric. Bangladeshi or Bengali kantha cloths were made by women for use in their own homes as bedcovers, mats and all-purpose wrappers. The stitching consists of embroidered patterns, ranging from simple floral motifs to elaborate scenes, combined with running-stitch quilting in a colour matching the background fabric. 

Portraits without Faces 

 Although there is a wealth of traditional textiles produced in India, my thoughts focused on the lives of the artists. Many of whom work long hours, tirelessly investing their skills, for little financial reward. On my return from India, I revisited drawings I had created prior to my trip, consisting of multiple figure studies. I began to embellish the surface, emulating labour and repetition through intensive periods of stitching. 

Baptism of Fire and Wake Up 

The first two pieces I created for this project were called 'Baptism of Fire and Wake Up'

Baptism of FireInk & Machine Embroidery on Paper, 

80 X 60cm, 2020.

The pieces evolved in several stages, over many months. The basis of each piece was an ink drawing on paper. The drawings consist of multiple figure studies, made from observation, overlaid over a period of time. In the studio, I began to machine stitch over the surface of the drawings, initially to enhance certain lines and fill in spaces. 

However, through intensive periods of stitching, the pieces began to transform dramatically. I frequently stitched on the reverse side of the work, unaware of the image evolving on the front. The image almost became irrelevant, and the process of repetitive stitching, became the focus of the work. 

Baptism of Fire (Detail), Ink & Machine Embroidery

 on Paper, 80 X 60cm, 2020.

As the pieces evolved, the paper began to break away in places, caused by the perforations made by the machine needle. At this point it was necessary to add additional support to the work in order to progress. This process of working became an interesting metaphor in the work, especially as my practice is informed by themes surrounding the human condition. 

Wake Up, Ink & Machine Embroidery on Paper, 

80cm X 60cm, 2020.

Through the process of creating the work, the work became fragile and began to degenerate. 

Out of the Blue and Spectrum 

 Out of the Blue (Detail), 

Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print 65 X 50cm, 2020.

The following two pieces in this series were called 'Out of the Blue and Spectrum'. These pieces also evolved in several stages over many months. Initially, I photographed a series of drawings before digitally manipulating the images to add colour and definition. Following this, I collaborated with the Centre for Advanced Textiles at Glasgow School of Art in order to digitally print the images on to cloth.

In the studio, I began to hand and machine embroider onto the surface of the printed cloth. However, these pieces began to evolve in a different way to the earlier works on paper. Through intensive periods of stitching, the cloth began to gather and sculpt in unpredictable ways. Through this process of working, the pieces were transformed, and formed a new identity. 

Out of the Blue (Detail), 

Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 65 X 50cm, 2020.


My creative process can vary depending on a specific project, however, many of my pieces evolve over a period of time. I find this approach enables me to explore the full potential of working in a particular way. I frequently work on more than one piece of work at any one time. I find this process of working valuable in being able to reflect and assess the progression of a particular project. I normally work on one piece for a while, put it away, try to forget about it, and start to work on a different piece. After a period of time, I will return to the first piece, and for a short time, I can be the viewer of my own work. I can assess what is going well, and what is not working. At that point I am often able to make bold decisions about how to move the piece forward. 

Spectrum, Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 

65 X 50cm, 2020.

Slow Motion and Daydreamer 

The final two pieces in this series were called 'Slow Motion and Daydreamer'. The basis of these pieces were drawings digitally printed on to cloth. However, hand stitching and the inclusion of kantha embroidery is more predominant in these pieces. 

 Slow Motion, Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 

75 X 55cm, 2020.

On reflection, I began to consider how the drawn line is immediate, whilst stitching is slower and more reflective. Through a complex network of drawn gestures and stitched lines, I attempted to establish order amongst the chaotic background of lines and colours. 

What lies beneath the surface? How can hand embroidery enable communication between the conscious and subconscious, and serve as a subliminal connection to the world? In addition, how can the hand drawn qualities of stitching, create a narrative to intertwine the fabric of this inner and outer connection?

Slow Motion (Detail), Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 75 X 55cm, 2020.

I also considered how my practice seeks to explore reasons for using stitch to express male identity, and how embodied textile practice encourages well-being in men. The significance of stitch as a feminist-based practice is well documented. However, the use of stitch as a reparative tool, and craft as a method of embodied textile practice for men, has rarely been assessed. 

Daydreamer, Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 

75 X 55cm, 2020.

How can engaging with material processes report, reflect and discover the spiritual act of stitching through contemplation, meditation, resilience, transition, physical and emotional healing? In addition, how does the intimacy of repetitive touch leave a trace of the artist’s presence? 

Craft is immortalised by the hands, and draws an association with the processes it is engaged with. The artist initiates a dialogue with the material, and the act of the hand. However, is there a relationship between craftsmanship and sensitivity in a conversation of the hands? 

Daydreamer,(detail) Hand & Machine Embroidery on Digital Print, 75 X 55cm, 2020.


Through the development of this project, I reflected on how the ritual of hand stitching can document emotional experiences. The intimacy of the medium itself, with the suggestion of repetitive touch, lends a poignancy to bodily associations, providing an intimate and ambiguous trace of the artist’s presence.

Out of the Blue (Detail), Hand & Machine 

Embroidery on Digital Print 65 X 50cm, 2020.

Making hand stitched textiles can be therapeutic, a crucial tool for reflection and developing self-awareness. Working on slow, reflective projects has allowed a better understanding of the connection between the self and my desire to make art. 

 The work marks time, and chronicles emotional changes through the physical and reflective act of stitch. In addition, the work aims to convey the concept of transformation in life, the importance of reflection, and the exploration of creativity as part of artistic identity.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Personal Threads: The Needlecraft Road, Guest Post by Beth Arnold (assisted by Julia Robinson Shimuzu)

It started with a skid on the low pile carpet at work, then a shaky left foot, then a slow uneven gait, my left arm no longer swinging…it was Parkinson’s.  It does not and will not define me.  My needlework defines me.  My travels define me.  My family defines me.  

Several years ago, on a weekend beach trip in southern California with two women who also have PD, we stopped at a needlework shop in Ventura where I found a kit for a glorious, red-headed counted-cross stitch Mermaid.  She came with beads and required over 40 skeins of colored cotton embroidery floss.  I bought the kit and ordered olive green 30-count linen.  I could not wait to get started.   I love going through my collection of embroidery thread that is organized by number, pulling out the ones I have and making a list of those I don’t.  I also love going to the craft store and pulling the new colors I need.  Over the years I have worked on her and she now stands at about 80% complete. 



When I told a good friend about my predicament with my mermaid she said “your mermaid is beautiful and unfinished, just like you”.  And I thought, she is right, at least about the unfinished part.  She taught me that I have more to give, more art to create where I will be inspired and energized by color and texture and flowers and my travels. 

Wild Flower

My husband was working in the Bay Area for several years while I remained in Los Angeles and I had many nights and weekends alone where my Mermaid kept me company along with other needle crafts like knitting, embroidery and sewing (both hand and machine).  That ended a few years ago and I put my mermaid and other projects aside after my husband and I bought a new home on a hill that we have decked out with interior and exterior entertainment spaces.  My favorite is our rose terrace that has over 30 rose bushes.   Sometimes I joke that I raise roses in lieu of not having children.  We also have a parterre, fruit trees and a Zen garden with topiaries.  We have a lovely view of the glen from our living area bay window.  

About a year ago I started having double vision. My doctor says it’s the PD.  One of the many odd PD symptoms.   There is nothing to be done.  My fine motor skills are also changing, making it harder to thread a needle and sew or knit or write or type when I am “off”.  This “off” period that can vary but in my case is about an hour, refers to the transition time between medication doses which I take at six different times a day.  So we go on and off, up and down, just like in sewing.  

It was startling when I realized I could no longer work on my Mermaid. Thirty count linen was just too small and I have not been able to find a comfortable magnifier stronger than the one I own.  So I started anew with a blank slate thinking of what I could make with my growing collection of tulle, felted wool, beads, fabric and metallic thread.  Starting with my tulle collection I did an internet search and learned you can singe the edge of a round piece of tulle to make flower petals.  I made a few small flowers this way and sewed them on little felt jewelry pouches.

I began thinking about how I could use the tulle in other ways. For years I have been buying up tulle remnants from fabric stores, tucking them in a drawer to my craft table.  Like with the embroidery floss, I adored the colors and the idea that something fancy could be made with them and I needed to own as many as I could find on sale. 

I have always enjoyed close up pictures of flowers, maybe from the influence of Georgia O’Keefe who I discovered in college, and ever since getting my first camera I have taken hundreds of flower close-ups from places I have traveled to such as Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was particularly “fruitful.” On a trip to Denmark in the midd-80’s I fell in love with their brightly colored Danish Flower Thread, cross-stitched linen botanical designs.  

Yellow Embroidered Pillow 

With the grace of God, I was inspired to pull up a few of my flower photos and began piecing together the felted wool and tulle petals in small tapestries.  I needed to hold the tulle and felt in place.  I tried stabbing wool roving into both and the result was really pleasing.  I am able to use the wool roving like oil paint, mixing color, using contrasting colors. It was thrilling to find online retailers selling roving samplers. I now own over 100 colors.  I recently organized my roving using “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair.    There were names I have never heard of before like “woad” (in the blue family) and “verdigris”.  I spent hours grouping and re-grouping my lovely colors into eight boxes like a rainbow. 

To help use felted wool remnants and add unique detail to my tapestries, I use small dots or beads for tiny [part of flower that looks like dots].  To make this easier I purchased a Japanese punch needle for making small wool dots.  Oh, and I also have lots of beads, purchased at General Bead in San Francisco (can you imagine two floors of colored beads)? I’m also building up my metallic thread collection


My interest in needle felting goes back to 2005 when I befriended a little neighbor girl who love doing “hands-on” projects with me.   I found a kit for her to make a penguin using wool roving.   That is when I first started working with roving.  Like embroidery floss, it comes in many colors.  A few years later I stumbled on a shop called “The Wool Lady”, now sadly closed, and I got my first taste for felted wool applique. 

Tapestry 1, Daffodils

The colors, textures and designs were endless.  I became interested in Jacobean designs and made several pillow tops with intricate designs.   [photo?] I continued to make counted cross stitch pieces, looking for patterns with lots of color.  [consider photo of partially finished mermaid – cannot see to finis due to PD – caused blurry vision] Parkinson’s can affect fine motor skills so my hand-writing has become a mess unless I go super slow.  This makes embroidery and knitting difficult so I schedule my crafting that requires a steady hand during my “on” times.

Tapestry 2

My mom would be so pleased to see my latest creations. She grew up on a small farm in Buffalo, Kentucky and her mom, my Grandma Mom, moved around the south because my great grandfather was a heavy handed school teacher and kept getting fired.  Both my mom and grandma influenced my interest in crafts.  My grandma crocheted me a colorful doll blanket using remnants.  I think that may have been my first experience with fiber arts and I was certainly captured by the colors in my blanket. The blanket sits safely in my cedar chest. 


Grandma's Colorful Crocheted Blanket

My mom went on to be a homemaker with four of us kids, me being the oldest. My first memory of sewing is with her using her old Singer sewing machine. She made clothes for my Chatty Cathy doll. A favorite is a purple grape print with white rickrack. And my mom made most of my clothes (we wore uniforms to school).  One year my mom made red flannel pajamas (3 girls and 1 boy) for each of us.  Can you imagine all that red flannel?!! Her work was beautifully done and immaculate.

Red Flannel Pyjamas

My mom taught me to sew on her Singer and I made rudimentary attempts at making doll clothes.  As a girl scout I learned about embroidery and our troop leader taught us how to knit using sharpened No. 2 pencils for needles!

Pink Dress

In high school I took   Home Economics and continued honing my sewing skills. By the time I started college, I was able to make blouses, dresses and skirts.   My freshman year I took a life-drawing class.  I will never forget my embarrassment seeing a stark naked man for the first time.  The model at one point turned his seat so he faced me and then took a pose where he pointed directly at me!  

I took art history classes in additional to business administration and planned to become a CPA.  And once out of college I headed to Texas to begin my career in accounting and finance.  

Having little money, I made most of my clothes including blazers and skirts and blouses.  After passing the CPA exam I had more free time and that afforded me visits to art museums and galleries which I had loved since my teens when my dad introduced them to me on a family trip to NYC. Over the years I took various painting classes.  I loved oil painting and mixing and merging colors.  As I progressed in my career over the years I spent less time sewing my own clothes and painting (oils are pretty messy and having proper space and light became an issue.) But I always planned to come back to oil painting.

To satisfy my creative leanings I continued to knit, sew, embroider over the years.  I have a habit of not finishing my knitting and embroidery projects. Fortunately, our new home has a small basement and a loft in the garage, affording me space to safely store my work.  I sometimes wonder how many hours were consumed while I thought about work problems that needed solving or family issues or what to fix for dinner. I always planned on returning to my projects when I retired.   

Beth Arnold with her friend Julia
who helped type out her story

Life is a wonderful journey.  My niece recently told me she wants to learn to knit.  And she inherited mom’s old singer sewing machine. I look forward to showing her my mermaid and other projects.  Maybe she will be interested in my tapestries too. It’s comforting to know during these pandemic times with so many options and distractions to know that some of life’s basics matter.  Sewing, knitting, embroidery live on.

I am 62 years old (and) live in Los Angeles (I) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 10 years ago. (I) love color love art love wildflowers especially thistle. I’ve started making small tapestries using some of my favorite media: tool, wool, beads, metallic thread here is a couple of examples Based on some of my own photographs. (this is how Beth introduced herself to me via email. Parkinson's makes it hard for her to type, so I have left the typos intact. Her friend Julia assisted in  putting together this story, which took quite a while.

Beth Arnold is a retired chief financial officer who has been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2009, when she was diagnosed, at the age of 50. Her lifelong passion for color has been satisfied by working with embroidery, knitting, oil painting and most recently tapestries where she combines felted wool, wool roving, beads and metallic thread to make colorful tapestries inspired by her own botanical photographs taken during her travels. 

Monday 28 June 2021

Personal Threads: Stitching Up the Wounds - Guest Post by Sunaina Bhalla

Rhythm # 1

Growing up I was told I would never be an artist because my drawing was deemed terrible! Both my sisters were creative and I would get yelled at by my chemistry teacher for being unable to draw even a beaker. Who knew then, that I would end up being an artist, and that too working with textiles.

After school, I had no idea what course I wanted to enroll for. My closest friend was applying to the Polytechnic for a Fashion design course, so I decided to follow her there. With a total lack of understanding I sat for the entrance exam for Textile Design assuming it had the least drawing requirements, but I got in and the rest is history. I loved the course turned out to be a fairly student. I found working with patterns, repeats and creating motifs to be relaxing and meditative and it was these facets that later transformed my practice from mere art making to healing.

After graduating with a Diploma, I was employed by Satya Paul as part of the small team of designers who drew and painted each pattern for their printed sarees. It was quite a laboured task, taking up to a month to finish an intricate ‘pallu’ design. Subsequently, I got married and moved to Bangalore. Here, I did some freelancing work where I found a lot of opportunities for printing and hand painting on running fabric for salwar suits as well as sarees, which allowed me to experimented pattern making and printing.


Another shift occurred when my husband was given a project in Tokyo. I had never been outside of India and the prospect of going to Japan filled me with dread. Even though I accompanied him with trepidation, the minute I stepped into Tokyo’s Narita airport I fell in love with the country and felt welcome. We were supposed to have been there just three months, which was extended to a year and then longer. At this point I decided to find some work. However my Diploma in Textile Design from India and no knowledge of the Japanese language, made it impossible. However I found a textile teacher at a university who spoke a smattering of English and I started learning fabric dyeing and printing with a technique called ‘Tsutsugaki’, using rice paste as a resist-dyeing patterns on fabric. The names of the materials and dyes are lost to me since I only knew the Japanese names. At the same time I also got pregnant and once my son was born, time for any creative work became limited. 

About a year into my apprenticeship, my teacher retired and once again I was left with no idea what to do. As luck would have it,  a friend introduced me to  a fantastic class on ‘Nihonga’ Painting - a traditional form of Japanese painting using ink and gouache on silk boards. These classes were pivotal in the direction my art practice would take. The rules of Nihonga are very strict in respect of colour palettes and subject of the painting etc. To gain knowledge of the technique, the first couple of years were spent creating replicas of work by Grand Master works.  Our sensei Suiko Ohta organized several group shows which gave me the confidence to venture into India for my first solo show of these paintings. 

In we left Japan in 2003, moving to Singapore. It was here that my art became truly independent of any external influences,  creating my own  ideas of colour, form and subject. For me the hardest part was to change my mindset from that of a designer to being an artist. A designer works within parameters of printing techniques and is looking for solutions. However, as an artist I needed to allow  ideas and visuals  to flow freely – away from the security of repeating patterns, borders et al. 

Block-printing and Embroidery on Gauze bandage

In those days, Singapore had few galleries, where most focused on  showing Chinese art, which meant that there weren’t many opportunities to exhibit my work. This made me look towards India to connect with galleries and curators. Aided by Singapore’s geographical proximity to India as also the opening up of  the internet and email becoming standard practice.

In 2005 I gave birth to my second child, a daughter. Domestic  chores took precedence over art,  but I started feeling restless and wasn’t content  just being a mother and wife. I created a small makeshift studio  in our guest bedroom. For years I struggled to create a dedicated space to work in and only in he last seven years, that I have a studio at home – an actual workspace.  


However, as is often with life, it threw me a curveball. In 2010 my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, completely different from Type 2 diabetes which is more common and arises from high sugar content in the blood. The impact on all our lives was devastating. Adjusting to a new life based on keeping my three year old daughter alive by regulating insulin injections and controlling her food intake, was mentally and physically exhausting. But I never stopped making art. This became an outlet for the angst I felt and, though few and far in between, I continued having exhibitions in India.

Two years later, in 2005, I was diagnosed with  Breast Cancer and given just one week to decide whether to keep my breast or lose it. I kept it. Fearing that I may not have much time left I also went into overdrive and got all the medical check-ups needed for my daughter. It turned out that she had developed two more auto immune conditions-Celiac disease and Hashimoto’s syndrome. At that point I laughed  hysterically, and then became hysterical to think that the universe really was testing me in such an unbelievably cruel way.  To cut a long and agonizing story short I survived it all  and during that bizarre year decided to further my art education.

Pain, Prayer, Peace...

Something was missing in my art practice but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I took several online courses on art history, and an online course with Gopika Nath, an established textile artist in India. She helped me break through some of the rigid mindsets and ideas I was working with,  but I needed more. I enrolled into the MFA programme at Lasalle College in Singapore; graduating with a dual degree from Lasalle and its affiliate - Goldsmiths College in U.K.

I was exposed to art theory and learned how to question and critique my own work. It was ground breaking and the materiality of my work changed completely. I could now view material from the standpoint of their inherent characteristics, textures and visual and tactile language – expanding my visual vocabulary.


Throughout this time,  I was in constant touch with my textile print making. I conducted, and continue to do block printing workshops in Singapore, South East Asia and the US . Recently commencing the first workshop at the National Gallery in Singapore. In addition, I have been working with a block carver in India, who belongs to a family of block makers. His grandfather had an atelier during the East India Company over a 100 years ago, and his father is the recipient of four National Awards. In my endeavour to  support his craft, I offer these hand carved blocks for sale at each workshop, the proceeds of which go to  him and his family. He also carves block that I have designed for use in my own art practice. In total, I  have amassed a collection of over two hundred blocks.

In the past couple of years there has been a renewed focus of working with fabric, where I have added usage of medical detritus and embroidery. I was never trained in it but I find the basic stitch very powerful, visually and metaphorically. A lot of stories can be mapped out with the simple stitch.

I am now focusing on the body and exploring traditions in healing, mapping the physical and mental shifts in perception, behavior and reaction to pain and chronic health conditions.

I am a proud survivor of a number of interactions with disease and health conditions and I hope I will be just as positive for the next phases in my life as I grow older.  Working with the hand and especially with embroidery is an important  part of my practice and I hope to continue evolving as an artist through this medium .


Sunaina Bhalla has an MFA from Lassalle College Singapore. A conceptual artist, art educator, printmaker and a mother, Sunaina is a textile artist who has experimented with various art forms but returns to work with textiles. More of her work can be seen on her website: and her instagram handle: bhalla.sunaina


Wednesday 24 March 2021

Kya Soch Rahe Ho........(What are you Thinking)


Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m thinking. Especially when engaged in doing household chores, cooking and such stuff that I try and get over with as fast as I can, I’m rarely focused on what’s going on the mind screen. Thoughts come and go but I am too busy with the job in hand that I can rarely recollect what they were.

Often, when I’m knitting and crocheting my ‘thought-nets’, I’m also not really focusing on thoughts either. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s not always easy to understand one’s own disposition. And the essence of issues that plague the mind - the deeper and untiring dialogue with self, is usually buried under the busyness of the day. If I want to look at myself think I do, but otherwise I watch something on nextflix, listen to a talk on YouTube or a book on Audible, to switch off from the superficial chatter of the daily rubble.

Sometimes, when the rant spills over, I can’t watch or listen to anything. My head is just screaming to be heard. If I can, I write in my journal or if it’s too chaotic to form sentences and if there too much emotion, I may speak to a friend. If I don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone, I babble into my phone and record the tirade. When I hear it back - the emotion, irritation and anxiety of what’s been said -that is if I can bear to go over the whole thing again, I do get a clearer picture of the problem at hand. Of why I’m feeling stressed. If I can’t hear that stuff again, I’m relieved that my mind is lighter for off-loading it. Usually it’s stuff that’s deemed unnecessary, pertaining to a whole host of mundane things that are detracting from the essence of what some part of me wants to think about, but the mind is exhausted with itself and cannot muster the discipline to do so. Sometimes feelings overwhelm and they cannot easily be put into thoughts and words – at best disjointed ones.

I’m a reflective sort of person, so I usually begin my day, writing in my journal. I start with reading the previous entry to get a sense of where I left off, because unresolved things have a habit of playing like elevator music, that’s heard but not really listened to - not enough to recognise the melody, not unless it’s a familiar tune, when we do sing along effortlessly – if we like the tune. In trying to get through the processes of living, which requires focus on the mundane, on driving, cooking, folding clothes and other tasks - the screaming is actually this underlying background dialogue that’s unfinished and unresolved, which is demanding it’s time and share of attention.

When I start this morning dialogue with myself, if I’m in a self-reflective mood, I can write for hours. If not, I leave off where I cannot go farther with the thought. Either I’ve said enough or I just can’t quite get to any point of understanding. Often I have to leave things for the thoughts to emerge. Where a movie, a talk or something else - even the rhythm of knitting sheds light.

And, more often than not, it is conversations or interactions with someone else that really helps shed light on what’s going on in one’s own mind - a reflective surface kind of mirroring dialogue. If it doesn’t automatically occur to me, I put my attention on what about the conversation struck me, moved me, or the advice I may have given . And it’s almost always what I need to think about for myself, albeit in a varying degree or context. This then requires deeper reflection which takes me into those areas that eons of exploration leave me tired and unfulfilled, but ideas that I need to resolve to whatever extent possible, because unless I do so I’ll never be free of the distressing inner rant.


A net by its very nature is something to catch things. Fishermen use it to catch fish, which is food for the human body. In Goa, many outdoor restaurants and cafes suspend nets under over-arching trees to catch the falling leaves so that the foliage debris doesn’t hamper happily chomping guests.

So what does a ‘thought-net’ do? What does it catch, or prevent from imposing or entering a protected space or field of vision?


If I put the larger and more cumbersome nets that I’ve created over my head, as an extension of my mind - an evocation of what’s going on inside my head, then it’s a kind of trap. A net that binds me within its threads. And not unlike repeating thoughts which bind us to people, situations and circumstance. But, the irony is that ranting and venting - going over the same ideas - creating this ‘thought-net’, is also a way out of this bind.

When we vent or rant - go on and on about a situation, most of us want sympathy because we see ourselves as victims of an unfair circumstance or relationship. Or we don’t have the courage to do or say what we really feel. Or perhaps we don’t have clarity and have conflicting feelings that need detailed analysis. In some sense, the situation challenges us.

I’ve often noticed this about myself that, if I’m on top of things, or matters are going well, there is no need for a dialogue. It’s only when I’m not able to get a grip on what’s going on that, the why’s and why-not’s circle around endlessly. And depending upon the intensity of the situation and emotion it evokes, I may lie awake at night, wondering why I can’t sleep despite vigorous exercise and feeling pretty darn sleepy too.


I was speaking quite recently to a friend, about the paradoxical beauty of our thoughts. This had occurred to me when I was looking at an embroidery pattern I had created within a series of ‘thought-nets’. The resultant ‘thought-net’ was visually attractive and led me rethink the very idea of ‘thoughts’ as being a burden. Of our ‘thought-patterns’ being something destructive. Such that new age philosophy underlines, telling us to get let go the past, to change our thoughts etc. Enticing us with absolutely miraculously solutions that almost never work quite as effectively and definitely not in the long term. Not unless we are on the brink of taking that leap by having done plenty of the work already.


Our thinking patterns, the template of our moral, ideas and ideals arise from societal norms, familial dictates, cultural morals and more that have evolved through individual, social, cultural, national and world events. All of which have collectively framed the psyche of our elders and educators, their ancestors and theirs: going as far back as time itself. Therefore, inherited ‘patterns’ are really not something we can get past easily enough. And, they are the real reason that the thread of ‘thought-nets’ catch us, binding the imaginative mind, curtailing the freedom of our spirits - keeping us from transforming our human destinies and exploring the potential of our human selves, even going beyond this.

My friend’s response was that negative thinking cannot be seen as beautiful, despite what the ‘thought-net’ I was showing her was proof of. She appreciated the artwork, but couldn’t correlate it with what she herself experienced when her mind is gripped with dismaying thoughts - negative thoughts in common parlance.

At one level, I agree with her. When you’re going on and on in a non-empowering way it’s enervating - for both you and the person listening to you. Fact is that negative gives power, when it’s changed through its charge into positive, and the two together is what generates energy. Negative thinking disembowels, but it is also creating an unacknowledged impetus within us, to rise above. If we were happy in that state, there really wouldn’t be any need to rant, complain or drag us and everyone around us, down the dingy steps of despair. We do that because we want a way out, but can’t see it. But lightening the load, getting consolation from friends, seeing that we are not alone in these things, lends confidence to delve within. That’s what we really want. Not necessarily advice, but solace. Not solutions that someone else gives but a means to reduce the thought load and find a way to the subtler voice of our own wise being. At times advice is sought, solution providers can be useful too but essentially the two charges of negative leading to positive - self-affirmation and feeling good, is what brings forth the energy. And in an instant the binds of the ‘thought-net’ are torn asunder. And we taste that enviable taste of freedom. Of being unstoppable.

I think that makes the process quite beautiful, don’t you?