November 15, 2010 by Natalie
I stab once. Then again. Over and over again my needle pierces a piece of fabric and a length of thread traces a repeating pattern in even running stitches. I’m playing around with sashiko, an old Japanese embroidery style that literally means “little stabs.” It may look like I am stitching a tea towel; but really, sashiko is a walking meditation with thread.
Sashiko is now primarily a decorative art, but it originates from a time in Japan when cloth was scarce and clothes had to be mended and patched to extend their life. Dense, intricate stitching patterns reinforced thin fabric and patched holes and tears. But that’s not what I’m doing. I am merely embellishing.
Still, concentrating on the work in my hands slows down my mind and cultivates a state of active observation, a gently held engagement.
My hands have a knack for decoding the material world through tinkering and making.
Through making stuff, they make sense of stuff.
But as I stab and stab again, I admit to myself that that I have a creative bias. What I mean is that the activities that are involved in creation – building a bike, canning tomatoes, knitting socks – seem more exalted to me than the activities that are involved in repair and restoration – patching a punctured tube, doing dishes, folding laundry. Some work just looks like grunt labor.
But the life of physical stuff is as much maintaining and repairing as it is creation. When you turn over a piece of sashiko, you see the same pattern of stitches, but punctuated with knots. The underside is less orderly, but maybe more instructive. You see where the thread ends and how the size of the knots and the weave of the fabric have a practical relationship. One side holds the other in place.
One stab at a time, my frivilous sashiko tea towel reminds me that some parts of a repair you will never see:
The glue in the seams of broken pottery.
The words unspoken in an apology.
But the overall pattern, returning to the surface of wholeness, should be an ongoing practice of beauty.