I have been stitching for years, if I may be allowed to proclaim. And yet, my skills were limited to the basic run and cross stitches. Over the years, I have discovered that there are hundreds of other stitches, of which, a few might be grasped by the limited aptitude that I possess. Despite of having realised so, I did not consciously make an effort to learn those. A fishbone or herringbone stitch looks very beautiful but involves a bit of learning and patience. I found this Embroidery Bingo on social media by Jessica Long and decided to give it a chance. At the end of the year, this was one of the highlights of my otherwise trashy year (2021).
I hadn’t played a Bingo ever, let alone an embroidery one! The task seemed daunting but the tutorial videos were so descriptive and assistive, that now I can assert of having mastered a few of these. Grasped, rather, not mastered. I can safely say that from the above board, French Knots have become my absolute favourite! Since then, I have been using them in my Embroidery Journal for 2022. More on that later. But let me show you the Bingo board for this year with more gorgeous stitches.
Death makes a person cold. Not the one who died, but some of those left behind. There’s a stone coldness in few people that is brought out to striking daylights with the death of a loved one. They struggle to cope, to accept the absence of the person closest to them. In this constant endeavour to ‘return’ to normal life, they lose any warmth left in their character. It depends a lot on the definition of ‘normal life.’ It’s quite normal that we would grieve a loss and the life we carry on after a loved one’s death, is normal in its own way. A ‘new normal’ that lets you accept facts gradually and tweak living accordingly.
I have been in the realisation of something for quite a while now and it deepened slowly in the last four months of my stay in Calcutta. Most people around me are living in their own way, within the cocoon of a comfort zone. It is often the eat-work-sleep-repeat routine that burns them out near the end of their work life. The ennui that a routine creates is very stifling to me. If I were to just eat-work-sleep-repeat, I’d burn out much sooner than my retirement age. I believe that every person should be able to do something in their daily routine to feed their creative self. Now, you might disagree and debate, that in this already distressing scenario, what is the role of art?
If you just give it a passing thought – art is not exclusive to galleries or theatres or concerts. A bit of art is present in all our daily lives to push us through in anticipation of tomorrow. And it need just be something tangible, to show off the creative angle of your persona. It could even be a thought, a few kind words to a stranger or something that you might find insignificant. I know someone who places a bowl of water in their balcony everyday in summer for birds. It gives them immense satisfaction to wake up listening to a dulcet conference of birds in their balcony, around the water. When I’m in Brussels, I go for long walks in the evenings, often not regimentally in a park but aimlessly in the quiet streets. If the weather is pleasant, I sit somewhere and soak in the sun, mostly in winters. On days that I feel dejected, I stop somewhere in the track and stare at the Art Nouveau/Art Deco houses. I believe I have even spoken to the stone gargoyles and motifs on them, just asking how they have been through the past century. This isn’t ‘art’, no, I wouldn’t call it that. But it is a way to do something different than my daily drill. Sometimes, I’d click a photo on my mobile and it has thus remained as a warm piece of memory, to be thawed and savoured on absolutely downcast days.
I’m grateful to my parents for having inculcated the idea of a hobby in my early years. I think it was part of the Bengali culture, at least till half a century ago, to introduce children into some form of hobby that would sustain them forever. It was looked upon as something that would save your life from the clutches of a regimen. I was encouraged to read, listen to music and watch movies. I began writing much later and was interested in embroidery watching Ma and my paternal aunts. I’ve been living on and off it for years, neglecting embroidery while being immersed in ‘life.’ It took a pandemic to instil the habit of stitching for at least half an hour every day as a mode of creating something by forming colours and patterns on fabric. I looked forward to that time in the evening or late afternoon post work when I’d be able to pick up on an unfinished part of the pattern and progress bit by bit. Once a pattern was complete, it would bring unprecedented joy and fulfilment. I’d suggest you pick up a hobby, it might be anything, as long as you look forward to it post work and household chores.
I did this satin stitch leaf yesterday on a used, washed fabric mask using Ma’s leftover shaded floss. It’s not perfect and I’m not very happy with the precision, but it is something. I did this bit that made me feel a little more alive and handy. What do you do, to live? I’d love to know, share in the comments.
Temporary exhibition on Jan van Eyck at Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna
I hadn’t heard of Jan van Eyck until I arrived in Belgium three years ago. Now when I think back, it seems a little embarrassing. Van Eyck is one of the best painters in the world, one of the legendary Flemish painters in Belgium, arguably the father of Northern (European) Renaissance art and presumably the first painter to have successfully implemented oil paint on canvas. He’s a part of the enormous legacy that Flemish painters have left behind in Belgium and in Europe, overall. I am, however, not ashamed to admit that I have been properly introduced to art after living in Europe. There’s art everywhere around – inside churches, outside on their façades, in the architecture, in sculptures strewn carelessly within parks, in fountains and little gates – it’s just indescribable. When you discover so much art around you, it inspires in ways that you didn’t know existed.
I can write pages about Van Eyck and his art, but I’d tell you how his inspired mine in a tiny way.
There are some things in life that come back at a later stage, like a memory or a habit and tend to give your life a new lease. It might be a hobby or a lifestyle quirk or a forgotten custom. After I’ve spent more than half of my lifespan, one of my hobbies made a huge resurgence – embroidery.
Pattern from Indian cross-stitch book.
I think for most of us growing up in India, embroidery has been equivalent to mandatory craft classes in school that were invariably boring. I felt so, too. My mother and paternal aunts are amateur seamstresses and I used to resort to them for sewing assignments in school. I tried a few but they weren’t too satisfactory. As long as the school assignments were being made by mother/aunt, I was happy. After my high school board exams, there was a lull of three months waiting for admission into college. Something struck me, probably boredom, and I picked up a plain cotton saree, drew some motifs and began stitching. If you have any idea about sarees from Bengal, there is a novel craft called Kantha stitch and the products are amazing. It began seamlessly, although an oxymoron for a stitching habit. Once I got the hang of it, with a little tutorial from mother, I did another saree in entirety. Then came table cloths and cross stitch. I guess I fell in love for the first time in my life with cross stitch and the saga still continues.