A Meditative Journey In Thread
Embroidering A Fabric Book
Emma Freeman recently taught a mini mixed media class for the Handmade Book Club network that I attended. She taught us how to create a fabric meditation book. I won’t go into her specifics. She does a wonderful job of explaining things herself. I highly recommend checking out her blog, even if you have no intention of making a fabric book.
I did not make a fabric book along with the class. I took notes and I watched Emma and her techniques. Afterward, I went online and ordered some cotton fabric. I already had some cotton embroidery thread that I had found at a thrift store. I also have a stash of needles all over the house because I sew and I do embroidery.
As soon as the fabric arrived, I cut four pieces into roughly four inches by five inches. I worked so hard to sew as neatly as I could, with tiny stitches, along the one edge of the book to ensure that all four pages stayed securely together. Then, I re-threaded my needle with more thread and somehow managed to flip the little book the wrong way round so that by the time I finished that page I noticed that I had chosen to sew the back of one page instead of the front. All of that slow meticulous work on the front cover binding now sat at the back. The new front showed stitches and caught threads and some erratic flutterings of thread from my earlier work. I decided to allow that to stand and to move forward with the project.
I worked on the pages, leaving the front cover and the back cover untouched until I finished all the internal pages. I worked every page first in a white thread. I didn’t plan anything. I didn’t think about where things went or were going. I simply sewed.
I simply sewed.
The needle drew the thread easily up and through the fabric. There were times it would get caught. There were times I would sew through stitches in the back of the work. Sewing became a grace and a goodness for me. I could not believe how relaxing not having a plan or a thought could be.
Frequently when I am embroidering, I have to follow someone else’s pattern. I have to make sure I know where I am, what stitch I am doing, and how that stitch sits and works in relation to other stitches that are already there, and to other stitches that are not there yet. I can get anxious trying to make sure I don’t screw up the pattern or make a mess of things. I hate to frog things, which means to tear work out and rip it back.
This experience was something else entirely. A powerful calm came over me. My body and my mind relaxed together, all at once. No matter what was going on around me or beyond me.
Once I finished with the white thread on every page, working only on the front of the pages, I chose a different color. I picked up the purple first. I used the purple on the front cover because I loved the shade. Once I completed the cover, I went to get some more of the purple and it was gone. I did not find that thread again until long after the project was completed. I found out one of our cats had snatched up the skein of thread and absconded with it. He hid it in my office, under my chair. Under that chair in that room is not a place I would look for anything like embroidery thread.
Since the purple was done, I chose a lovely pale yellow to work with on the inside pages. It actually does all work quite well together, the colors of white, purple, and yellow. I didn’t try to work any sort of pattern at all. Not on any page. I tried a few different stitches. I played around. I did nothing at all specific.
Once it was done, I took my time. I held the book in my hands. I played my fingers over each and every stitch. Every so-called pretty stitch on the front of the pages and every unruly stitch on the back of the pages. For me, the piece is a work of art.
Now, on Emma’s website, she has a project called, “Buried Books”. It is something Emma spoke about throughout our class as she sewed her fabric book for and with us. She has opened this personal project of hers up to the global community at large which she calls “The Buried Earth Book Project”. It is exactly what it sounds like. She sews by hand these amazingly gorgeous books and then buries them under the ground for thirty or more days.
When I began to put together my own fabric book, I steadfastly held onto the belief that there was no way, come hell or high water, that I would bury my book in the ground. Even though I wasn’t doing anything so fine, so beautiful, so artistic as Emma. I refused to entertain the idea of burying my book.
As I stitched my book, the idea of burying the book began to take hold of me. I knew this book would have to be buried. Once I finished the sewing, I held and petted the book for three days. I spoke to the book, to the Earth, to the Spirits of Above and Below. I told them my secrets. I told them my desires. I gave them an offering. And then, I dug a hole in the ground, not all that deep, but deep enough, and I tucked my book carefully into its muddy home and I covered it up with the soil that had come out of the hole, to begin with.
I buried the book on the New Moon. I plan to dig her back up on the Full Moon.
What happens then? The only thing I can say for sure is that I will wash the book. I do not know if she will want more stitches added. I do not know if she will need a closure or a tie. I don’t know. It depends on the book herself and how I feel about her when I pull her out of the ground.
In the meantime, I have a much thinner thread now. I have different fabrics. I have new ideas for how to sew and what to sew and so many other things. I already have pages for four more four-page fabric books ready to be sewn.
That’s all I have for now. I will keep you updated on this project as it continues and grows.
The journey continues on my newsletter over at Substack: