Cotton Yarn Riddle

Q: What begins as a beanie and ends as a basket?

A: The crocheted vessel, made by Dianne, pictured above.

The softness of the high-grade cotton is a perfect match for the rolls of Japanese tissue corralled within. On the studio table, having this pair near to hand, makes book/spine reinforcement work an ongoing pleasure.

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Thank you

A warm thank you to all who came to the Hackett Shops Party yesterday. Magic & Medicine ran a successful stall and we look forward to seeing you all again soon. Although our wares are available to enjoy via our online store, meeting other crusaders in person is what makes our efforts worthwhile.

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Coming soon…

Magic&Medicine are holding a stall this Saturday, 26 October, as part of the ‘Party at the Shops’ event on Madigan Street, Hackett, ACT.

Come along and say hello. Our curious and wonderful wares will be for sale including the famous handmade sashiko-stitched Thinking Headbands and our full range of creative mints.

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On silver thimbles and beautiful tools

Having the tools you need to do your work is a way of telling yourself that your work is important. We all know how to make do and get by. Making do can be a great well-spring for invention. Coming to your workspace each day, however, and handling your tools that support you and carry you along through the dark and the rough is a reminder that your art has worth.

Do you have a favourite tool at this moment? Appreciate all it does for you.

Have you been postponing your work for lack of a functional tool? Sharpen your scissors. Borrow a friend’s palette knives. Start a fresh notebook.

The photograph above is a bespoke silver thimble cast in honour of those who crusade with Magic & Medicine. Beautiful tools, like the thimble, are our invitation to pick up the needle.

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Hot Ashes for Trees (Weaving Project v)

There are people out there who want to tell you that you are doing it wrong.

“That’s not how you do a French knot.”

“You shouldn’t angle your weft like that.”

“Seams are meant to be even and invisible.”

“The fibres ought to be properly fused.”

Do you have a response for the self-appointed textile police?

If not, practice one. You’ll need it. And don’t be afraid to invoke truth with a dash of aggressivity; it’ll make your work stronger.

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Honest stories, bare struggles (Weaving Project iv)

What do you lose by making or watching a time-lapse film of a long-term, complicated work? While it can be an amusing gimmick to witness the making of a two-year work in under a minute, what is the cost to process, art, knowledge, truth?

Do we want to throw away our honest lived time for the sake of cuteness?

What about making a film of only your struggles with a work? All the stalls. All the unpicking, unravelling, undoing? All the false-starts that are behind every grand experiment?

What about a film of only you in flow, where there is no time? A film of your hands in motion with a small knit of your brow in the joyous discomfort of uncertainty?

Time-lapse films are a lie. Be certain they are a lie you want to tell about your work.

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The Physics of the Spell (Weaving Project iii)

Weaving is an act of creating tension. It is a process of working with and furthering a pulling force. In textile work it is the opposite of compression. Felting is an example of textile compression.

Weaving by hand on a loom is the act of making tapestry. This is a process of creating and holding force. So long as a finished textile remains intact the weaver’s force will be forever ‘entrapped’ within the work.

To be near a tapestry, physically, is an opportunity to read the force between the threads giving the piece that sense of liveliness we crave in our hand-wrought works.

 

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Enoughness (Weaving Project ii)

There is never ‘not enough’ wherein idea drinks from the well of a work’s process.

In this large tapestry (in-progress pictured) Dianne works with only five colours of cotton yarn.

White.

Light grey.

Mid grey.

Dark grey.

Black.

This was both the artist’s chosen restriction and an externally forced constraint within the work.

Is the restriction to only five primary sources unworkable for a large scale design?

Nope.

The colour choices are more than five, as you can clearly see from the in-progress photograph.

Using either the primary source tones at their current ply, or by combining threads of ply from differing colours, Dianne can generate an excess of tonal potential; more tones than needed for this large work.

Possible tones from mixing threads from five colours of a five ply yarn will yield a minimum of 125 tones.

–125 tonal possibilities from five balls of yarn–

A 125 tones is not everything. It is better than everything. It is enough.

 

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Textile Sports (Weaving Project i)

There are multiple versions of the Greek myth of Arachne; a mortal woman bestowed with the gift of artful weaving.

In each version Arachne and the goddess Athena engage in a weave-off.

Competitive tapestry (weft-faced weaving on a loom) is not the national sport of anywhere. Perhaps its time has come?

 

 

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Mending

The word ‘mend’ is a shortened version of the word ‘amend’. From Latin it means to free from fault. We use the word, today, in two senses. It can mean ‘to repair’ but it can also mean ‘to cure’.

An on-going aspect of Dianne’s work is based around her philosophical mending project.

Dianne began mending in the way we are traditionally taught; to repair a textile so that it returns, as close as possible, to the original form. Invisible mending is often considered the most skillful form of mending.

Following this, Dianne developed a series of textiles that were mended in the fashion of kintsugi; drawing attention to the beauty of the repair and the new emergent form.

This led her to explore mending as ‘cure’, not ‘repair’. Dianne purchased new ‘fast fashion’ garments that were sold new but were in disrepair. Denim garments with fabricated holes are one example.

After sourcing new garments, she prepared them up in her studio, and mended them. The photograph above shows one example of denim mended with beautiful hand embroidery.

Why is this practice a cure and not a repair?

We cannot afford, environmentally, to denigrate new textiles. This is a poor use of our limited resources. If we view textiles and garments as investments, not consumables, we choose designs and techniques that prolong the productive life of the textile. We can, then, save our mending for repair.

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Folding

One of the most satisfying processes in book-binding is folding.

With secret binder’s magic one simple fold can transform a piece of paper into a divided sequence.

Many binder’s do not consider the accordion book, or concertina book, to be a ‘proper’ book. To them we ask, What is a book?

fold

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An acorn book

Asemic writing in nature can be read in almost any natural phenomenon. Asemic writing can be read in a strike of lightning, in the cracks of sun-baked mud and in the clusters and lines of moving ants. Patterns in tree bark, winds howling through bare branches, the lining of a magpie’s nest can all be read for asemic writing and, often, a story or narrative emerges from the writing.

The Acorn book emerged from the idea of natural narratives and the already written. When closed, the acorn carpule (the book’s hat) sits in place over the pericarp (fruit wall). The pages are one section of sewn, hand-cut cold-pressed water colour paper. There is one set of end-papers which are visible under the additional strip of mull that was added for spine strength. Casing in would have been more tidy with an additional pair of end papers.

 

Acorn

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Crochet language and time travel

When you enter an art practice that has its own vocabulary you’re crossing into history. Using the words and meanings specific to crochet connects you with people across time and space.

‘Crochet’ is an old French word for small hook. If we trace the word back to the medieval period it also means ‘canine tooth’.

Like musical notation, or an editing mark-up, crochet stitches have their own symbols, their own language. Crochet symbols operate like ideographs. A slightly flattened circle represents chain stitch. A half double stitch looks like an uppercase letter ‘T’ with a sloping top stroke. The symbols, read in sequence, are a secret code that is unlocked by looping a spun fibre with a small hard hook.

We use the word ‘crochet’ when we do the activity and when we refer to the objects made by the activity. ‘Crochet’ is a verb and a noun like the word ‘echo’ and ‘dye’ and ‘fold’.

Are you hooked?

Dianne’s pattern, tips and tricks for making your own sweet bear (pictured), and learning all things crochet is scheduled to run soon. Expect luxury, good company, world-class teaching and a canine tooth of your own to take home. Message for more details.

 

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Spineless egg book

What is a book? A sequence within a cover? A study of form and time?

An egg is a body formed within a female body. What stories can an egg tell? What narratives are possible within an oval?

Monica hinged two egg-shell pieces to make a spineless book (see the feature image above). The endpapers are a decorated textile that line the inner shell. She will try a traditional marbled endpaper for the next egg book.

The pages are hand-dyed, cold-pressed watercolour paper cut into descending ovals threaded onto cotton floss. The dye was leftover from egg work at Easter.

How would you make a spineless egg book?

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Is this the start of something big for you?

Do you like gentle conversation? Can you handle a supportive, creative environment? Have you ever wanted to learn, or re-learn, to crochet?

If so, good news! Crochet an Octopus Class is on this Thursday. All completed octopi are donated to the neo-natal unit (see our earlier blog posts for more on this).

We have everything you need to get started. Message or comment for more information.

 

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Mother of necessity

In 1974, John Petrakes, a Patent Examiner in the USA, approved the patent number 3855915. The invention was manufactured by MH Products (Inventors: Marjorie and Harold Hoyt from Shawnee Mission, Kanas).

In 2017, ‘Aunt Marge’s Egg Blower’ was dug out from the top of our baking cupboard and used to empty, dry and dye our chicken’s eggs in celebration of Easter.

Thanks Aunt Marge. And thank you to all the unnamed women who gave their time, and devoted their energy, to improving, inventing and fashioning for those of us in the future. Patented or not, we make our art today under the guard of your creative shadow.

Egg

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The cruelty of crewel work

At the Royal School of Needlework, London campus, Dianne has been working on her certification in Jacobean crewel work. The level of excellence required at RSN seems to involve as much sewing as it does unpicking. In this way, embroidery is a lot like writing. Writing, after all, is really rewriting.

When we ‘sew’ an embroidery stitch on canvas we do not ‘un-sew’ it. When we ‘write’ a word on a page we do not ‘un-write’. The words for these actions, ‘unpick’, ‘unravel’, ‘erase’, ‘edit out’ and so forth, are their own creative act. To remove an act of creation does not undo the creation. Our words of undoing reflect the new creation of erasure.

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You have autonomy

Your autonomy, as the author of your ideas, is your locus of power. Autonomy is control over the form of your work. If you write, you do not have to write novels. If you sew, you do not have to sew garments. Your story, your ideas, your narrative, voice, words, thread will dictate their form to you.

Could The Bayeux Tapestry have been anything other than the form that it takes? Could it be other than seventy scenes embroidered on 68 metres of linen. No. Could The Merchant of Venice have been anything other than a tragicomedy? Could it be a three act play rather than five? No.

Your work—in textiles or text—shapes the commercial arm of your medium, not the other way round. For example, the long written narrative form we call ‘the novel’ did not emerge because Barnes & Noble needed merchandise they could sell for profit. No one held focus groups in the 4th century BCE to test if the long legs of an Etruscan bronze horse would sell well in Target. Crewel work, dying, carving, penning are activities done for the sake of themselves. That is their point, their purpose.

Some people scour fashion shows, or Kindle analytics, looking for the Next Big Thing; they chase trend waves to ride by producing passable commercial products generated for a market. Yes, there is a place in society for commercial needs to be fulfilled. Entertainment needs content. Let’s not, however, misname content production. Let’s not use words for content production like ‘weaving’, ‘writing’, ‘creating’ or ‘crafting’.

Write what has never been written before. Felt fibres that have never been struck before. Braid articles that have never been woven before. Make your own market.

 

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Crochet doily: a humble and enduring form

Today’s beautiful photographs shows some of Dianne’s contribution to a collaborative art project, Retro Galactic Communitree, installed in 2017-18. While part of the strangeness of the project generates it appeal, today’s post delves into the history of how a tree may come to be cloaked in looped yarn. When we look at the project we recognise a distinct crochet form from the past, the doily.

The crocheted doily, a small starched mat, reached production heights in the 1930s and 40s. Doilies were made by women in their home. The popularity of doily making is attributed to women’s desire to temporarily break from the weighty reality of economic depression and the volatile political environment. Rationing strategies of this period shaped the rise in doily as the small round mat could be made with a simple tool and minimal yarn.

The domestic commonness of doilies tends to mask their versatility and ingenuity. Doilies were often used as a table mat to protect wooden furniture, as chair covers such as an antimacassar, as covers to protect bowls and jars of conserves and chutneys, as plate ornaments and a framing device under cakes and sandwiches, and as cushions and bedspreads.

Doilies of this time were often made using one monochrome colour such as white or bone. This simplicity in colour is counter-balanced by tremendously complex geometric patterns in design. Doilies are deceptive; as a small-scale object they can appear to be a quick and easy project. Yet, this false sense of simpleness and ease betrays the skills of tension and stich which are only visible in a doily when absent.

Crocheted doilies have undergone a revival in recent years. Where original production in the 1930s and 40s reflected ideas of industrial processes and modernist ideals of precision and symmetry, many of today’s crocheted doilies seek to represent community, connection and the values of women’s hand-crafted labour. Doily yarn-bombing brings together ideas of protective cloaking, holding together and loops that gather women from the past and the present.

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Do crocheted octopi help babies in neonatal? Part Two.

As discussed in our last post, ‘The Tentacles for Tinies’ is a 2017 pilot study of the efficacy of using crocheted octopi in the neonatal unit of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.

This week we will analyse the social and emotional findings of the study. In addition to measuring biological markers of the babies engaged in this study, the researchers surveyed impressions of the crocheted octopus project from parents of the subject babies. According to the report, 100% of parents surveyed said that they liked the project. More specifically, every surveyed parent reported

  • they perceived the project to be beneficial to their baby, and
  • the project helped them improve their involvement in their babies care.

Good-will, hope, confidence, encouragement are difficult to measure compared to heart-rate and blood pressure. It is, perhaps, unhelpful to seek validation of these positive qualities through quantification.

Other reports (not research studies) on the use of crocheted octopus reveal similar sentiments. For example, Poole Hospital in Dorset, England called for volunteers to crochet octopi to supply their babies in NICU. In response, an article in Modern Healthcare (20/2/17) says,

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the kind response to our appeal for crocheted octopi,” said Daniel Lockyer, matron of neonatal services. “Patients are already telling us that their babies seem calmer with an octopus friend to keep them company so we’re looking forward to continuing the project in the future.”

Similarly, TCA Regional News (5/1/19) reports from Thumbay Hospital Fujairah, UAE, that Mohammad Ali, father of a 33-week baby girl in the neonatal intensive care unit said,

“After being introduced to the crochet octopus last week, our baby seems to have become calmer and is responding well. I am thankful to the doctors and staff for this initiative.”

The perception of the babies as calmer is cited as anecdotal evidence which implies a degree of unreliability or untrustworthiness in the claims. Yet, is any other sort of reliable evidence possible under these circumstances? Is evidence of hope during hardship and peace during uncertainty even an appropriate request?

Returning to the social dimension of the study from Rotunda, Dublin highlights broader, immeasurable benefits. For example, some of the crochet volunteers had themselves experienced premature birth, birth complications or loss. Participating in the project, for these people, reportedly provided an unexpected positive therapeutic dimension. Similarly, staff at the hospital experienced community support in ways that were otherwise not possible.

The good in a human activity is not reliably measurable through a medical or scientific method. Accounting for the social aspects of the crocheted octopus project in a respectful and comprehensive fashion is complicated but worthwhile.

If you want to be involved in our Octopus Crochet project comment below or email for more information. Don’t know how to crochet? No problem. We’ll give you everything you need and support your every stitch.

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Do crocheted octopi help babies in neonatal?

‘The Tentacles for Tinies’ is a 2017 pilot study of the efficacy of using crocheted octopi in the neonatal unit of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.

Our analysis of the study shows that the findings are written up into two broad categories, biological findings and social findings. Today’s post will discuss the biological findings. Next week we will share our analysis of the social findings.

The biological findings were derived from measuring a range of each baby’s physical indicators both with and without interaction with an octopus. The study concludes that overall, the biological indicators such as heart-rate, did not significantly change between the two states (i.e. with and without an octopus companion).

It could be, on first reading of the physical results, easy to dismiss the presence of a crocheted octopus as having any physical benefit to the babies. This, however, is not an accurate conclusion. Firstly, the babies did not show any deterioration in physical indicators such as decreased oxygen absorption. No ill effect is a positive conclusion we can draw from the results.

Physical indicators from the babies were measured after only fifteen minutes of holding the octopus. Fifteen minutes, as a length of time, compared to the weeks, days and hours that babies are cared for in a neonatal environment, is a relatively short time. If you have ever been a patient in hospital you will remember that interventions, interruptions and monitoring at your bedside are more enduring than the experience of rest or recovery. Being in hospital is a busy and social experience. It is plausible to suggest that fifteen minutes cannot give any real picture of the physical benefit of an octopus companion.

Maybe, though, there are significant positive effects of the crocheted octopus which we do not have the tools to measure. There are some things in life that cannot and should not be measured. Our analysis of the social findings of the pilot study point in this direction.

If you are interested in having Part Two of this post sent directly to your inbox, or if you want to join our crusade in creative resistance, use the email subscription option below.

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Ladybird, lady beetle, lady bug

As children, we learnt that to find a ladybird in the garden meant you’d found pure luck. Ladybirds were a good omen and would bear any wish we bestowed upon them. In France, if a ladybird lands on you, when she leaves she will take with her any ailment you were experiencing. In Switzerland it is the ladybird who brings babies, not a stork.

The ladybird family name coccinellids is derived from the Latin word for scarlet which is also where we get the word cochineal. These days, when we say cochineal we’re usually talking about a colour but it used to refer to deeply crimson dye made from the dried bodies of a species of insect.

The dome shape of the ladybird’s body perfectly echoes the aesthetics and shape of a regular shirt button. These buttons, designed and hand-embroidered by Dianne, are only 8mm in diameter. They are six little circles of happiness and good luck. We’re hoping to sell them in sets at a market stall in March.

We’d love to hear your ladybird stories. Do you have a cultural story about the meaning or special powers of the ladybird? Comment below, or email us.

 

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Private dreams in public spaces

The private dreams we hold for ourselves can be the most timid, submissive and easily silenced part of ourselves.

Monica is happy to report that after many empty intentions, and several false starts, she submitted an embroidery for judging to the Royal National Agricultural Show. She did not win a ribbon, nor was she awarded a place, but her work was framed, and hung, as though it belonged and deserved to be there.

The best thing about realising her aspiration, about turning this small dream into application, is not the sense of achievement but the new space that opened beyond the ‘I wish I could…’ and the ‘One day I will…’. Seeing the artwork hung in this peculiarly special venue opened a door into new chambers of possibility that Monica never realised were there, all the while waiting for her.

Check back with us in February 2020, or sign-up to have these posts emailed directly to you, as rumours indicate Monica may have something spectacular taking shape on the hoop.

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The Miracle of 1440

Have you ever counted how many minutes from each day you spend waiting, in delay, pausing, prevented from moving forward? We stop for traffic lights, wait in line, walk at the pace of the littlest legs in our family. We are put on hold, watch screens loading, count the floors of elevators travelling to or from us. We wait while our children play sport, while a colleague prints a big report on the shared printer, while our nail polish hardens.

We all get the same number of minutes every day: 1440.

Do you want to make more of your minutes? Do you want to re-claim those hours spent waiting?

Try crochet.

Crochet is affordable, low tech, requires no batteries, fits in your bag, is as easy or as hard as you want it to be, is silent, and deeply engages your mind and soul.

Turn your waiting into making. Try crochet.

[Dianne is currently enrolling people in the Coolest Crochet Ever. Email or comment to find out more.]

 

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What’s the point?

There’s a lot of stuff out there. We’ve reached peak stuff. In the city where Monica lives, people have so much stuff they have started to leave the excess on the kerb. Almost every second house has furniture, kitchenware, whitegoods, manchester, electricals or toys stacked on the kerb with a handwritten sign ‘For Free’.

But it is not for free. Something, someone, somewhere picked up the tab for all this stuff. Materials mined from our earth, animals displaced or species made extinct, waterways polluted with the waste from production, good air turned toxic. Our living breathing biosphere pays for all this stuff.

The point is not to stop making stuff.

  • The point is to make the stuff that we need. NEED.
  • The point is to reclaim those skills that we’re losing. SKILLS
  • The point is to relearn the real-world knowledge that we’ve forgotten. REAL WORLD

Dianne’s new weekly face-to-face classes, ‘Crochet an Octopus for a Premmie’ are about need and skills in the real world.

Prematurely born babies need additional physical comfort and a sense of tactile security to grow strong. The design of Dianne’s umbilical octopus toy fills this need.

Over the past few weeks, dozens of women have walked into Dianne’s studio never before having picked up a crochet hook. You won’t believe what they haev achieved. They are reclaiming the skills of their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They are making something that we need. They are mending our broken world through the humble craft of crochet. Will you join us?

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Why poverty? Why excess? Why numb? Why neglect?

At Magic & Medicine we think art, creation, is for its own sake. Often, our art is a reply to the world; we make to be heard, to broaden the conversation. We answer the Why that we read every day in our worlds. Why poverty? Why excess? Why numb? Why neglect?

We do not create in order to bring about change. Art is not a means. Dianne and Monica live in two very different worlds, different cultures, different nations. Our reply to the Why is from two differing, but coinciding, spheres. We both speak to the destruction in our worlds with the creation of art as an end itself.

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To thine own art be true

Dianne was recently commissioned to design and create a promotional poster for an upcoming British Women’s Association charity event. The feature image of this blog post is the ingenious outcome of her principled approach to process.

The poster is consistent with Dianne’s method for all her creative work. It conveys not only the details of the BWA 2019 Recycle-A-Ball, but also evokes the essence of the event too.

The medium is the message.

Remaining true to meaning, while arousing a ‘Mend and Make Do’ aesthetic, Dianne created the poster wholly from recycled, ready-to-hand materials. This artistic constraint was a deliberate ambition of the project.

  • The background is an old tablecloth
  • The paint is mixed from what was available in the studio
  • The letters are left-overs from an iron-on lettering kit
  • The drawing is from free-hand markers
  • The skirt is gathered sheets of newspaper
  • The top is fashioned from packing tape printed with the repeated red word ‘Fragile’

Do you feel compelled to create with materials in harmony with your meaning? If not, try it. You might find that deeper resonance you’ve been searching for. We’d love to hear your ideas on harmony in process and material.

 

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Embroidery speaks evidence

Embroidery is a busy stillness. It is a full silence. Each day so many mouths talk at us, so very many fingers point towards our deficiencies and our needs. To pick up a needle and attend to our fabric is our blotting paper for the excess of existence. Is your husband ignoring you for a perceived misdemeanor? Embroider through it. Are your children pressuring you to buy buy, supply supply? Feel the quiet completeness of curling thread into a French knot. A friend wants to talk herself through her problems, again? You can listen and sew. You can embroider together.  At day’s end nothing may be solved nor secured but you will have, at least, lived out some moments in creation. You have stitches that show you lived through this day.

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Why is it a rejection?

We recently received a rejection from an art gallery for our embroidered letters project. It was a generic, distant rejection that communicated its message: no thanks.

We’re still embroidering letters to each other on interesting and outlandish fabrics. We’ve learnt that when you embroider a letter by hand you really want to mean what you say because it is, clearly, a commitment of time. And in this project, time = love.

Why is it a rejection? It’s not. It’s a chance to do more, stitch more, love more.

We choose to create, not consume. We stitch, not swipe. We hold a hoop, not a phone. That’s magic and medicine. 

Photo 28-08-2018, 9 15 52 AM

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