Archive for the ‘Recovery improvisation’ Category

In the 1960s Andy Warhol told an interviewer, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” From whence came the common cliché, “15 minutes of fame.”

At present, I am having my 15 minutes of fame. The Erickson Tribune, the house organ, marketing organ, of the company that developed and manages Charlestown, published a story about me because I have a blog.


I was interviewed by e-mail, then two wonderfully interesting young women from The Tribune—an editor and graphic designer/photographer, came to my apartment. An editor who also writes and a graphic designer who also makes art. Oh how I enjoyed their visit! (And Sara, I love the design of the word “stitches’.)

Okay. The approach to me by the writer was that they wanted a story about a resident who blogs, and there is something about my blog in the story; but the comments made to me by residents who’ve seen the story have all been about my stitching. “Look,” they say, “there’s the stitcher.” Not “there’s the blogger.”

When I mentioned this reaction to my neighbor, fellow-stitcher, and Internet-savvy friend, she said, “They probably don’t know what a blog is.” So said my neighbor across the hall, too.


After photographing lots of my work, they published a shot of my crazy recovery patchwork improvisation. If you look closely, you’ll see the website of this blog, Parkview 616, on my computer screen.  But what people here got is not that I work at a computer, but that I work with needle and thread.


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Last May, when I was in the most manic phase of my recovery from ME-CFS, I could not sit still to stitch. I couldn’t bear to work on the Elizabethan embroidery I’d been laboring since January to learn. You may remember that hanging on my portable design board was a piece of orange silk scarf with some sample swatches of silks and some novelty threads. It had been there for a couple of years, I think, while I wondered what I might do with the materials. Here’s what it looked like.


Yesterday I finished the project I’ve been calling my crazy recovery improvisation. Now it looks like this. (Click to enlarge.)

You know that when I began, I had no idea of what I was doing. In fact, this piece is just a doodle cloth. There was never any design. Whenever I could make myself sit still long enough, I’d grab needle, thread, beads, or whatever came to mind and do something on this cloth. (By the way, every swatch, every patch, has been embellished.) I didn’t even count on keeping the darn thing. It was just a way to make myself do some stitching, something creative, something productive.

The closer I got to completion, however, the more I liked this crazy patchwork, this wild thing. So, how to finish it? How to make it presentable for display? It had to be stretched over foamcore to keep some of the sequin waste, motifs, and stitches in place. It couldn’t be a quilt-like wall hanging. It had to be firmly mounted. It also had to have a border, as I had stitched right up to the edges of the orange fabric. That made adding a border problematic. See what happens when I don’t plan?

I knew I wanted to use the purple scarf for the border, but it is thin silk, not sturdy enough in itself. I pulled out all my fusibles—6 or 7, looking for one that I could use to back the scarf.  No. Wouldn’t work.


I just folded the scarf so that I could use it doubled.

Ironing border

As you can see here, I had almost no margin of orange fabric to which to attach the border.

No margin

Moreover, the border fabric did not give me enough material to wrap around the foamcore and it is not strong enough to take the lacing to stretch the piece.  As backing and extension, I opted for more of my salvaged bedsheet. I hand-sewed strips of the cotton as extensions for the purple border, which then had to be hand-sewn to the orange fabric. Here’s the border, backed with white bedsheeting, pinned to the edge—barely.

Now what With the border attached, I was ready to mount the piece over padded foamcore—padded with two layers of Pellon fleece, wrapped over the edges of the board and glued to the back. Then began the lacing. Does anyone know a better way of stretching a large work like this over mounting board? I used fine crochet cotton for the lacing and the biggest-eye needle I could find.

First lacing

Using pins to hold the yarn/thread in place, I estimated how much I would need

Using pins

And what a lot of loose “string” I had to deal with, repeatedly tangled, of course.


But here it is, successfully laced and stretched taut.


Now, with such an opulent front, I couldn’t leave the back like this. Did I have a piece of fabric large enough to cover the back? The first piece in my under-bed stash that caught my eye was Tibetan brocade, the kind that’s used to border thangkas. I’ve had it and some other pieces of Tibetan fabrics for years.

The back

This brocade had to be hand-stitched to the wrapped-around border with the foamcore underneath. Not easy. Not easy.

And after I’d done that, I belatedly decided to put a label on it. I printed the label on cotton, then stitched over the printed letters and numbers. To attach the label, once again, I was stitching to fabric already stretched over board.

What a job of work I made for myself when I started this project—without a plan. Everything about it was so much harder to do than it would have been had I planned it out in advance, had I known what I was doing.

Nevertheless, I am surprised at how pleased I am with this project. Not elegant. Not, definitely not, impeccable stitching. Not refined. As far from Elizabethan embroidery as I could get with a needle and thread! Wild, exuberant, flamboyant. Crazy!

As crazy as I’ve been feeling since I began to recover. Though I am 100% functional, can do anything that my circumstances allow, I am still dealing with residual symptoms of ADHD—agitation and anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty getting to sleep. Some evenings I pace the hallways, sometimes seeing one or two other, perhaps equally frantic, inmates. I am not the calm, content, reclusive contemplative I was for 15 years or more. More work to be done, figuring this out.

Anyhow, my recovery crazy patchwork improvisation announces that I have recovered, right in the entry-way of our apartment. At Ernie’s suggestion, it is attached to the wall with Velcro.


Now I have to prepare to teach my course. I’m having even worse panic attacks!

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As you know, since about the beginning of May, my recovery from ME-CFS has been explosive. No amount of activity has been too much. Saturday night I danced most of 2 1/2 hours and could have danced all night. That was after swimming half a mile in the morning and walking more than a mile in the afternoon. But this excessive energy has been driving me crazy. Often it’s as though I have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—out of control.

And that’s what my Recovery Improvisation project reflects. It is crazy, and anybody doing the work on it that I’ve been doing has to be crazy, too. I want to show you what working on this project looks like.

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I hold the unwieldy frame against my table and various parts of my body, turning it frequently to put the stitches or beads where I want them. Because I started with no plan and have been working randomly, many areas to be stitched are hard to get to, no matter how I position the frame. And when I tried using hoops for small areas, I couldn’t. There are too many hard bits—wrapped plastic rings, clay beads, and glass beads; and places too heavily stitched—to put hoops where I need them. When I tried putting the frame in my floor stand, I shattered some beads—the work is so close to the edge. In fact, I’ve even stitched right against the wooden frame! Anyhow, I have to keep turning it too frequently for a frame holder to be of use.

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The work has taken a terrific beating, as I toss it around to get to where I want to stitch. In the sequence below you can see some of my contortions. (I’m wearing magnifying lenses; I guess I was attaching beads.)

Here I was bracing the frame between my knees and holding it in various positions as I stitched.

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It is really, really difficult to work this way. I  must be crazy, doing this! Here are some damaged areas that I have to re-work.

One of these beads went missing. I re-attached all five of them for security.


Somehow, in the rough treatment, the Sculpey bead with the glass bead in the center got broken.


Here’s where I smashed a glass bead by clamping down on it with my floor stand frame holder.


And here, the bottom oyster stitch has come apart.


Now, though, I’m eager to finish it, and for a few weeks, I’ve been able to work concentratedly, several hours at a time, many days. I seem to be settling down, getting calmer. Meanwhile, the piece keeps getting crazier. I think I’m almost done.

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Lots has been going on here, which I will probably write about eventually. In the meantime, I’ll show you some details of the “recovery improvisation”—some far-out “patchwork.”





I’m just going on, no plan; but now I am motivated to finish this piece, to be finished with it.

I started working on this project in May, after weeks of not being able to stitch at all,  not knowing what I was doing. I still don’t.

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Though I still don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t stop. Now I’m adding curving lines of feather stitch in spaces between patches—patches of fabric and patches of stitching around wrapped rings and over sequin waste. For these lines I’m using strong values of the dominant hues—red, green, and purple in #8 pearl cotton.

Connecting the patches

See the purple bit hanging from the bottom left? That’s a silk scarf that I plan to use for a border. (See, there is some planning going on.)

This is the wildest, most chaotic needlework I have ever done. Improvised. It very much represents the way my life has been since around April—wild and weird. After 17 years of solitary, sedentary life, I’m bursting with energy and going off in many directions. It’s as though I have ADHD. Whereas I spent the past many years reading, studying, stitching, and meditating, now I can’t sit still, can hardly read for any length of time, and I stitch only for an hour or two, and not every day.

During the 11 years we have lived at Charlestown, I loved everything about it except the food, which I deal with creatively at home. But I had no knowledge of the culture of Charlestown, what the resident population was like. The only Charlestown residents with whom Ernie and I have socialized are Gloria and Esther. Now I’ve tried out some of the many activities and events offered here and I’m meeting people.

Oh my goodness! What a discovery! I feel as though I am living among my parents—the very people against whom I rebelled and from whom I fled in the 1960s. They’re all here! White, suburban, Republican, homogeneous, and mostly women who were homemakers and volunteers, not “career women”, as they were called in the 1950s when I was growing up. I don’t mean everyone, of course. This is simply the general impression I’ve gotten as I’ve come out of my room into the community. It lacks diversity!

In meetings this week, I’ve made some more discoveries: firstly, that I am not alone in my perception of Charlestown’s culture. The Community Resources Manager told me that the population here ranges in age from 60 to over 100—three generations, in effect, living here. Further, she said, newer and younger people moving in are finding it not as hospitable a community as they had expected. Not that people aren’t friendly and helpful; they certainly are. But that their interests and, said Mary, “way of thinking” are so different from the newcomers.

Well, those differences can only be exacerbated as baby-boomers start to move in! There was such an immense cultural shift during the 1960s and 70s that the generational differences are much greater than in earlier eras. These thoughts were reinforced in a meeting I had with our campus television channel staff. They have already observed the disconnect between the dominant culture at Charlestown and that of some new residents. Although we’ve been here for 11 years, I qualify as a newcomer. I’m just getting to know Charlestown. What I’ve realized is that I have to make Charlestown hospitable to me, and for people more like me. Mary said there is a “hunger for it” but that people have not taken the initiative to make changes.

As I adapt to my recovery, struggle with my abundant energy, and work at creating a satisfying and different life for myself, my life feels chaotic: exuberant, full of potential, and joyful but at the same time, unorganized, random, strange, (did I already say “chaotic”?) and therefore, not yet satisfying. It’s messy and it’s vibrant.

Some new things I’m doing:

  • visiting in the Care Center two people with dementia and taking one of them to church on Sundays;
  • praying the liturgy of the hours every Monday with my new Roman Catholic friend, a long-time contemplative Christian who is also interested in Buddhism;
  • organizing Charlestown transportation for season subscribers to Center Stage and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which I hope will lead to the formation of groups that attend together;
  • hosting the leader of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center for a showing of the video of his pilgrimage to India’s most holy Buddhist sites; and
  • preparing to teach two courses: Fabric of Survival and Playing with Stitches (to be described later).

Of course you know that I swim half a mile every morning, walk several miles a day, and do the shopping. (When I returned from walking to the Giant and back with my groceries, the security guard at the Charlestown entrance told me I should not be down there so late –8:45 p.m., by myself. Who knew that our shopping center was dangerous?)

I feel the way this work looks—vibrant and messy. Unsettled.

Connecting the patches

P.S. It’s now 9:05 p.m. here. I posted this a few hours ago. I’ve just come back after walking for 40 minutes, two miles.

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Here are the threads I’m working with on my improvisation. There have been others, already put away, but in the same colors. These include cotton in various weights, silk, rayon, rayon/silk, and wool.

My palette--roughly

It struck me yesterday as interesting. The only primary color I’m using is red.  No yellow or blue. They are present in the secondary and tertiary colors–green, purple, and orange in various shades and intensities. What kind of color scheme is this?

Here it is, hanging on its too-small frame on my portable design board. I have two more wrapped rings to embellish, on the far right, and some more patches of sequin waste to treat in some way.

More progress

I’ve used some of my homemade Sculpey beads. That was fun.

Sculpey beads

They appear elsewhere, too.

Then, how am I going to tie the disparate parts together? I still don’t know what I’m doing! Just fooling around.

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Still playing with this crazy patchwork, crazy something—just a little every evening. What I’m doing to create texture around the wrapped rings is very slow stitching. I just grab a thread and start, not knowing what I’m going to do until I’m doing it. No planning. No precision.

Here it is on its too-small frame, which is necessary because of the rings and the sequin waste patches.


One corner


Another detail shot


I can’t figure out how to get all the colors right, but these shots are an approximation. Probably should have put these on Flickr, but I’m too embarrassed to show them there!

What am I doing? Where am I going?

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