Little Boxes, Filled with … what?

A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.

I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey.  Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.

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The Contemplative Nature of Hand-Stitching

There’s something I love about hand stitching. Actually several things.

  • The stitcher must slow down and focus on the work at hand.
  • There are choices to be made (threads, colors, designs), or not – free your mind and choose intuitively and quickly, with no plan.
  • The mind opens to dimensional possibility (beads, buttons, tassels)
  • Stitches, colors, shapes bring memories of past projects, events and people
  • Thoughts and feelings, sometimes about others, are incorporated into the stitches

When I stitch I do not always plan the colors or stitches. I like to see what develops as I go along. I add dimension as I stitch, and use a variety of stitch styles and a variety of cords and threads. Today, I used wool felt squares and DMC #8 cotton embroidery thread – my fave. These are what I call Prayer Flags. I know, there are prayer flag traditions all over the world. And each style is unique. Mine are a little unorthodox and wonky, but meaningful to me. I stitch tiny pockets on the back and write names of people, events and such on small papers and tuck those into the pockets as prayers. As I complete each set of 5, they represent time spent in conversation with the creator of the universe, and a time spent not thinking about myself.

As I stitch each ‘flag’, I may go back and forth between them until I’m satisfied that the square holds all the stitches (prayers) it can hold.

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The chaos of every day.  How do I focus on each one? Do we need to? should I prioritize?

 

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And then there are the storms. Do I cause the storms? Am I in the middle? the sidelines? Am I being injured by the swirling winds? Can I escape? Where can I hide?

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Roots run deep. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Patience is the gift of the gardener. Nurture the place where you are. Can I really do that?

 

 

 

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Do I struggle to open the door to something different? Why is the door closed? What is hiding there?. Is it locked? Perhaps it’s the wrong door.

 

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Am I in a precarious place? Should I run away? Or should I stay? There is comfort in a safe secure place. Remember, the ship that never leaves the dock does not experience adventure. Fly. Fly Away.

 

 

Done.
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When do you find time to think of others – of their pain, their needs? How do those thoughts manifest in your life?

Fabric as Art, Art as Fabric

One of our new endeavors here at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks is fabric design. I’ve danced around the edges of this art form for years. I’m a kinetic learner and experience is my friend. I wanted to jump right in, get dye under my fingernails, dye everything at once with intense color. Can’t do that when it comes to fabric design.

One must first learn how fibers absorb color, how to prepare them, and think through the entire process of fabric design and dyeing. Like most things meaningful, it’s a process. When I found the new book Playful Fabric Printing by Carol Soderlund and Melanie Testa, I found my roadmap.

612+8-dgE7L._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_First I read through the volume, underlined, highlighted and added sticky-notes to places that I wanted further clarity or items I needed to purchase. Once I had all the supplies and equipment, making stamps and stencils became my first task. I was in creativity heaven. My first stamp, using craft foam and a square of plexiglas, was  design from my sketchbook – umbrellas. The stamp was designed so that there was a repeat every 6″. Once I had a few stamps prepared, fabrics soaked in the soda ash and salt vat, and a few sample Procion fiber reactive dyes mixed, I turned up my jazz music, printed fabrics, and …. played! And I invited friends! The designs and colors are fantastic.printing4
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Want to come play with us? Another class is coming soon!

Family visit and a nice surprise!

My cousins Nancy, Mary Ann and Theresa from Meridian MS and beyond came in the shop yesterday for a brief visit. I have not seem them in many years so always good to see family faces, familiar cheekbones, eyes and smiles. They brought me gifts. Press photos of my Great Aunts Neill and Jane, along with vintage newspaper clippings from the 1930s and ’40s. Along with all this was a stack of love letters that Jane and her husband Frank (Marine Corps General Frank Loomis) wrote to each other during their separation because of WWII – tissue-thin typewritten carbon copies, dated and numbered.

Both Aunt Neill James and Aunt Jane Loomis have been important to my existence – not just because they are my family – because they were strong courageous independent women at a time when women were encouraged by culture to be seen and not heard. Aunt Neill James was celebrated in her day (the ’30s & ’40s) as a writer, world traveler and amateur anthropologist of sorts, and I have written several essays about her life that have been published. She was my hero when I was a child. I did not get to know Aunt Jane until I was an adult and my husband Robert and I visited her, along with cousins Thomas and June Snowden, in San Diego in her home on Sunrise Circle. At that time, Jane was sinking into Alzhiemer’s and eventually needed an assisted living arrangement. Thus, Thomas and June stayed at length in Jane’s home to begin closing it up and settling where Jane’s and Frank’s belongings should go. While assisting them clean out the attic there, we found the stack of letters, still in envelopes and tied together. These were eventually stored in the Snowden’s home in Meridian. June has since passed from this world into the next and wanted me to have these letters.

jane neill lettersReading these letters was (and still is) somehow a feeling of violating Jane and Frank’s privacy. On the other hand, Jane saved these letters for a reason – perhaps to let the family know how they lived, what they did, where they traveled, and how much they loved each other. Like Neill, Jane was a world traveler and experienced cultures that most small-town girls (born in Gore Springs MS) did not.

Attic treasures. Threads of commonality. Story material.

What’s in YOUR attic?

Jazz Fest is over, now what?

The creative team at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks 
thanks you for subscribing to our newsletter.
YOU’RE INVITED: Don’t forget the Magazine Street Champagne Stroll on Saturday May 13, 5pm-9pm. We will be open!
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The Frannie Baby dress by Children’s Corner has to be one of the cutest baby and toddler dresses ever designed. Summertime COOL! Make it and let Kate monogram it for you!  And, we have a workshop coming up!


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Get your hands in some dye paste! Make your own stamps and print your own fabric. 2-day workshop the weekend of May 20. 

Calling all knitters! Bring friends! Help us make “knitted knockers” for breast cancer survivors who need prostheses, 3rd Sundays.

May 21, 4pm-6pm.

KID’S FIBER ARTS CAMP
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We’re with you every step of the way. 
The team at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks thanks you for supporting our funky little shop. 

Emma, Robert, Kate, Hannah, Kit, Meredith, Jennifer, Rebecca and Grace (our shop dog) hope to see you soon and very soon.
 
UPTOWN NEEDLE & CRAFTWORKS
4610 Magazine Street
New Orleans La 70115
504-302-9434

A New Year Begins

Like many women of a certain age, I’ve had a few past lives. When we lived in Memphis I organized a non-profit literacy program focusing on creative writing. It was called WriteMemphis. We had 27 volunteers working with inner-city teen girls in several Memphis locations. These young writers created awesome poetry and prose about their lives in Memphis – from the strong women in their lives to gunshots through the front door to becoming teen mothers. When I left Memphis in 2014 I gave the program to Literacy Mid-South, which was a natural fit for the life-changing work they do.

Fast forward to where I am today. New Orleans. New business. New home. New life.

I miss writing. I really do. Even though I love the work I do every day in our shop I miss the creative energy of word to page. I have resolved to make more time for writing in 2017. And in celebration of that promise to myself, I want to share exciting news! One of my essays is included in a new anthology (slated for March publication) edited by my friend Susan Cushman,  A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be.

A Second Blooming includes work by fabulous writers – Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Beth Ann Fennelly, and my friends Ellen Prewitt, Susan Marquez and Nancy-Kay Wessman – twenty-one in all! I am in awe of these fabulous women and I am honored to be among them. Readings and signings are scheduled in Memphis TN,  Jackson MS and soon in my home city of New Orleans.  I’m so excited I’ll let the world know when that will be! Here’s the catalog page from Mercer Press:asb-mup-catalog-page

Calling All New Orleans Creatives!

TO LAUGH, LEARN, CONNECT, AND BE EMPOWERED

Over a 12-week period this fall a group of creatives met each Tuesday evening for a couple of hours at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks to discuss and act on Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.  The volume follows the basic formula presented in Cameron’s ever-popular bestselling, The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Through a set of exercises including morning pages, artist’s dates, memoir writing, and weekly readings the participants embarked on an exploration of their creative selves that in some cases had lain dormant for years.

At the end of the 12-week period in late November, those present wanted to continue the process and also invite others in New Orleans’ rich creative community to join.  Here were some of the group takeaways from the fall experience:

  • We liked the reflective practices such as morning pages, memoir writing, artist’s dates – and the opportunity and freedom to share (or not share) them in a group.
  • We liked the camaraderie of spirit in going through the process, making friends with other creatives, finding common interests, and acting as an incubator for ideas often bubbling in our heads for a while.
  • While we enjoyed following the pattern and content in Cameron’s book, we wanted a bit more flexibility in going forward and to place a greater emphasis on creative actions.
  • We also envisioned a process where folks could pick and choose those sessions they wished to attend and not feel the need to commit for a 12-week, 12-month or any other set timeframe. Rather, we envisioned participation to be guided based on interest in a particular planned creative area.
  • We wanted input from other creatives who might offer their insights, experience, and passions in the next phase.
  • Some of the creative processes suggested for the spring include making and exploring masks, encaustics, fiber arts, sculpting, headdresses, or anything else in which a group might like to participate.

Mark Your Calendar – Tuesday December 27th, 5:30 – 8:30 pm
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To launch our 2017 creative actions:

  • On Tuesday December 27th we will meet at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks from 5:30 – 8:30 pm for a brainstorming session on our next phase.  The get-together will be an opportunity to gather in an informal setting, visit, snack, drink, and most importantly consider the wants and needs for creatives that can be accommodated at the Uptown CraftWorks venue.
  • On the 27th we will also explore and create bullet journals as our first session activity (7:00pm-8:30pm).  This tracking/scheduling process is formally defined on the Bullet Journal website or more informally on Buzzfeed where we learn that Bullet Journals are good for:
  • People who have a million little to-do lists floating around
  • People who like pen and paper to-do lists
  • People who are into goal-setting and habit tracking
  • People who like stationery, journaling, scrapbooking, beautiful pens, etc.
  • People who really love planners
  • People who want to really love planners, or who want to be more organized
  • People who would really like to keep a journal/diary but are having trouble sticking with the habit

We had a discussion of bullet journals in the fall and wanted a return opportunity when we kicked things off this spring. We invite you to join us on Dec. 27th to visit, drink a glass of wine, meet with other creatives, and share your ideas on where this collective experience might go.  Though not required, consider joining us for the bullet journal exercise as well, or just come to visit and share your ideas.

We’ve created an Eventbrite private meetup for the gathering above. If you can’t make it to this event, please email us  (info at uptowncraftworks.com) if you’d like to know about future meetups.

Makers that we dream, plan, and collaborate with are doing some amazing things in New Orleans. Others with latent creative genes are ready to dip their toes in gently swirling creative waters. It is by supporting each other that we unite the head, the heart, and the hands.

In the New Year, let’s be a force for good.

Please forward to your creative friends that you think may have an interest.
Thank you,
Merry Merry and Happy New Year!
Emma & Robert Connolly and the Team