Another Mystery Cloth

I picked up this large-ish cloth at an estate sale. The technique is shibori, but at first I thought it was Korean because of the (rather odd) yin-yang symbol at the centre. Then I realised there were eight trigrams surrounding the centre, instead of the four on the Korean flag, so I researched a little further and figured out it is a bagua, a symbol used in Taoist cosmology, so probably Chinese. I have some similar pieces of shibori that are of Chinese origin, and the work is very fine, although I suspect that it is produced for commercial purposes. My cynicism makes even me wince, so if someone has more information, please, I welcome it.
The motif at each corner seems very much like a fertility or goddess symbol, as far as I can gather from Sheila Paine, who taught me much of what I know.
I love this stitch, although I can't quite figure out how it is done. Cross stitch on a fold? Double overcast in opposite directions on a fold? Amazing, however it is done.

I found the estate sale deeply affecting. An artist, a single woman with only one surviving relative died, leaving the most fabulous collection of art supplies, cloth, photographs, paintings, hats, books upon books upon books.... She had expensive, and exquisite, taste. Looking at what her executor was trying to dispose of felt like being a witness to the evidence of a wonderful life. I never knew her, but some who were at the sale did, and they commented on her passion for beauty, and fashion, and art.

I couldn't help but thinking "This is what might happen to me". I will go, and the things that meant so much to me will be sold at 10 cents on the dollar. Or not at all. I voiced this thought to another woman who was there, and she said, "Me too, me too." What is the value of our stuff, or maybe the question is "Where does the value come into it?" I've always thought my stash held my dreams, my ideas, my ambition, my possibilities. The stuff, without us, is just stuff.

But somehow, we gleaners who were picking over the earthly remains of a person's creative life, recognized the life force the objects still contained. I'm sure I was not the only one who felt that it was a duty, an honour to take these materials and carry them forward. I came away from the sale with far more things than I needed, or know what I will do with. I trust that inspiration will arise, but at the same time am aware that this stuff may bind me, weigh on me. The energy that drew me to it is mutable, can change, can be a yoke or a burden.

This may well be the flakiest thing I have ever said in public, but I believe that our job as artists is to be conduits for the great mystery, what I call the divine. I'm not talking any particular philosophy or faith here. Somehow this post, intended to be simply about a piece of cloth has led me to think about what might be beyond a simple piece of cloth. I will never know the circumstances in which this cloth was created, and bought, or what it might have meant to the owner. But it called to me.

Maybe I'm not so cynical after all.


  1. Wonderful post, food for thought.
    I have 4 children but none will be interested in my textile collection, my art, my beloved stash of fabrics and wools. The realization of this is another way of 'letting go' , so seems to me.

  2. I don't think that's flaky at all. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I like the idea of being a conduit for the divine. Cheers to you!

  3. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I do know that the four symbols around the yin-yang circle in the circle are "fire, water, wood and metal", which are the four elements that Chinese medicine-philosophy uses to divide all matter. Jean-Pierre

  4. ah the transforming power of art, this cloth was made by hand, stitch by stitch, holding symbols of power, it spoke to you and has changed your life

  5. Anonymous5:02 AM

    When my stuff is distributed maybe I will be so fortunate that a few pieces will be found by a person like you who will recognize what they might have meant to me. I hope your new treasures do not weigh you down. Diana

  6. Anonymous10:40 AM

    wonderful post, Heather, with many things to think about. I too, wonder what will happen to all my stuff and know that my mother felt the same way. I think that what is important to us, the memories connected to our collection can't be passed on and it just becomes stuff again. I'm going to try working out the cross stitch on the fold, it might drive me crazy.

  7. I love it when you are flakey.

    And thank you for doing your duty as an intuitive creative artistic person and carrying the deceased's passion forward.

  8. i love finding this on an overcast and chilly summer morning. your words feel so right to me. we are somehow curators or keepers...and sometimes the weight of that materiality is deadly, others it's featherlight. but it celebrates our making which is no little thing.

  9. Your post struck a chord. So honest. I have had these same thoughts--where will my treasures (mostly textiles) go? My sons are not interested in textiles. They are unmarried. So I do wonder. Thank you, Heather.

  10. Your post struck a chord with me too; when my mum died two years ago, and I had to go through everything in her house. Mum had cut things back to a minimum, to cause me as little work as possible; but the things I found went way back to my childhood.....I was surprised, as she was a chucker, not a hoarder. I'm a hoarder; I've thought a lot about the hideous job someone (probably my neice) will have, when emptying my place. Not just my books, belongings, and personal stuff; but yeah.....all the paintings and textile artworks. All the art materials; all the textile materials. Big sigh.....x


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