Pink is Just a Colour

I wasn't waiting to post just so the anticipation would grow. You can all exhale now and be reassured that I have just been busy trying to get ready for the studio tour. My Maiwa workshop report may not be the showstopper I would love to give you, but I have the feeling that the slow and subtle approach is better anyway.

First off in the Memory Cloth workshop, Beverly Gordon gave us a lovely welcome and began with an invocation, a blessing that created a nurturing, safe space for us to work in. It felt very warm and genuine, and as I'm not surprised as I look back on those two days and I realize that of all the Maiwa workshops I have taken, this was the only one I felt no competition or defensiveness with or from the other participants. (That may sound a little weird, but in the past I have felt like a token country mouse amongst the apparently wealthy, well-traveled matrons of exclusive suburbs. But that's another post.) ( And I have to clarify here, I'm sure that attitude was much more of a problem from my end than theirs.) It was a lovely, varied group of women with a high-level range of skill and experience.

Beverly showed lots of slides of the many ways people from around the world have commemorated, celebrated or found catharsis in expressing themselves through cloth. From the South African Truth and Reconciliation embroideries to the arpilleras of Chile to contemporary "Passage Quilt" making workshops led by Sherri Lynn Wood, people have found healing in stitching. It was an inspiring slide show. Beverly then had us do a few writing exercises to help get the vivid details of memories flowing.

It wasn't until after lunch that we finally got to work. Beverly and Maiwa had supplied all the materials and tools we would need. Some of us had brought materials of our own to work with as well. I had brought a little handknit dress that my mother alleged I had worn as a one or two year-old. I have no memories of wearing the dress and there aren't any old photos to back up her story, but it has resided in my cedar chest for the last twenty-odd years,  ever since she had been going through some things and decided the dress could live with me.
Sorry, this story is getting long. I'll cut to the chase. Turns out that when I had been visiting Val Galvin at her rug hooking studio last June, I saw this list of "97 Ways to Encourage and Praise a Child" on her fridge door. Val was retiring from twenty-five years as a daycare provider and I could just imagine how much her kids would have loved her relaxed, open-hearted, cheery way of being. At the same time my heart sank a little when I though how much I would have loved to have heard a little more positive encouragement as a child. It just wasn't done back then. Too much praise would spoil a child, give them a big head, and make them think too well of themselves. No one had ever heard of such a thing as self-esteem, and if you had a time machine to go back and explain the concept to them, there would be nothing but derision.

So in the days before the workshop I took the little pink dress out of the cedar chest and printed out the photo of Val's list that my friend Roberta snapped for me. I thought I might embroider some of the positive words on the dress in an offering of love and support for the wee Heather still inside me.
It went pretty much as planned. I decided on the shiny perle cotton in a variety of lipstick-y colours as I thought it would contrast well with the slightly felted pale pink wool. What surprised me was the memory of the Raggedy Anne doll my mom had made me that had a red heart over her chest, embroidered with the words, "I Love You". I needle felted a red heart and appliqued it over the bodice of the dress.
I also felt rather sheepish embroidering the positive words, reminded of Stuart Smalley's affirmations on SNL. Wasn't this all a little silly? I noticed myself thinking, "I can't embroider "Super Star!" Maybe I will say something more neutral like, "How imaginative", without an exclamation mark. Then I felt a little sad, thinking, "My God, if I can't even stand up for myself! Who the hell else is going to?"
For all the talk with interesting table mates and nicely paced check-ins by Beverly to see how we were doing, it was a fairly internal process. I didn't get as much done as I hoped, and it took several more hours on my own before I finished. I chose to stitch it at work (I have a part-time job at a neighbourhood liquor store. It's pretty slow, and I'm allowed to stitch. To ally my concerns about working in an environment that may play in to my co-dependent tendencies, I use needlework as a means of balancing the forces of good and evil.)
Anyways, stitching on the little dress created the opportunity for me to engage in non-alcohol-related conversations with my customers about "What was I working on now?" One guy, a talented artist who has battled the elements, was visibly moved by the dress. "Yeah, you've gotta say those things to yourself," he murmured.
Only tonight, as I was lucky to be in the audience listening to the mind-boggling artistry of John Kameel Farah, did I realize that my latest bout of insomnia had eased. Awake, during those 3 AM rounds of self-flagellation, I couldn't sleep, going over my various transgressions of life in excruciating detail. Since finishing the dress, my wakefulness has diminished. My ruminations, if they occur, are mostly about recent events.

Well, I've gone off on quite a tangent. Hardly anything at all about the wonderful things my fellow participants shared. And they say bloggers are narcissists.

P.S. Looking at the dress, I think of it as "She". I have a relationship with her. The words are directly about relationship: "You mean a lot to me", or observational: "You tried hard". There is always an implied relationship contained in encouraging words -  the inner/outer, the parent/teacher/child, the subject and the object. I like that.


  1. i have to come back to this................

  2. Mo Crow has left a new comment on your post "Pretty in Pink":

    (((Heather))) this could have been too gooey sweet in anyone else's hands... you make good art

  3. Sorry Mo, I accidentally deleted your comment. This was the only way Blogger would let me re-post.
    And thanks for your kind words!

  4. A thank you for your thoughts on the young Heather from an older, but not always wiser, woman. The little dress is beautifully done in so many ways.

  5. Anonymous10:58 AM

    Childhood is so important, isn't it? So easy to mess up a life by not providing enough care and support during those very early years. I hope you find a good display spot for that little dress, some place you can look at easily whenever you need some encouragement. Jean-Pierre

  6. Like Arlee, I had to read this post twice. The first time I was swept away by some kind of emotion. Even though it's pink - it's really powerful Heather.

    If it was displayed in a white cube gallery with a lot of white space around it - what would that be like? Or would it be too shy to show off like that.

  7. Judy, thank you. That means so much to me. The connection with other women who may have had similar experiences is powereul. That little girl is stronger than we know.

  8. Powerful, dammit!

  9. Oh golly. This post has stirred some strong reactions in me. All children are looking for the signs that they belong and are welcome. Its too bad it often isn't obvious.


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