In a world where everything is breaking, mend whatever you can.

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The words have been stuck. As though something in the smooth flow of brain to fingers, heart to throat, soul to spoken word, has shattered into irretrievable bits that I couldn’t put back together, and the words were all everywhere and nowhere, building up like water against solid rock. What has always come so easy, suddenly locked away and not a key in sight. Writer’s block indeed.

As we live through this period of historical importance, where the records of ordinary lived experience, un-censored and crafted with truth, feel essential for the future understanding of this time, all my words have been trapped. Locked up. Stuck. A bit of a metaphor for the life we have all been asked to lead this last year, really. As writers block goes, I’ve never experienced it so hard, or for so long. Since it has already taken me two days to write two paragraphs, I’m not entirely sure I’m out the other side of it all yet either!

So I have filled my days, these lockdown days that have slid endlessly into one another, with the crafting of things, instead of words, learning new skills and working on staying present without stepping into the collective fear that seems to meet us on every corner just now. After an early summer zoom event called This Golden Fleece from the York Festival of Ideas, a journey with wool that began when I was 6, (learning to knit with red school jumper wool and wooden needles and mymother showing me how), called me back. Since then, I’ve learnt to spin with a drop spindle, a skill that I imagined I’d stumble about with, but which came unexpectedly easily. Somewhere down my family lines, there must have been women who spun yarn, for the muscle memory I found I had surely didn’t come from me. It has been a deep connection with ancestors that I have come to cherish, and that has had me pondering the creative nature of my forbearers ever more than usual. I’ve spun enough yarn now to make a new pair of cosy legwarmers, in ocean colours, a nod to our early morning seaside escapes in the early days of summer last year, and to the dawn Earthroll seascapes that singer-songwriter Beccy Owen has been providing daily for those of us who ache for the soothing, dependable pull of the tides. As legwarmers go, they’re not perfect by any means, and it seems I have much to learn about the art of tension in knitting, as they have stretched so considerably that I’m considering felting them to get them back to a wearable size! But it is incredibly satisfying to see wearable things appear on your needles as if by magic, and I’m enjoying the journey for all that it is.

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I’ve not travelled my yarn appreciation journey alone, but with knitting needle wielding supporters cheerleading and decoding and generally encouraging from Whatsapp, often in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning. As someone who has never previously managed to complete a knitting pattern, ever, or knitted anything that wasn’t vaguely square and flat, this particular creative journey has felt nothing short of epic, and I owe much to the folk who have cheered me on with it.

Hats first, I learnt to decrease the crown from some very helpful YouTube videos, then on to socks (and Oh!! the turn of the HEEL!) and then mittens. I learnt how to pick up stitches, and that it is okay to unravel several lines of knitting and start again – something that initially I found incredibly difficult, being a make-it-up-as-I-go, wing-it sort of creative, where a “mistake” normally gets painted over, or stitched over, or accepted for it’s not-quite-rightness.  I discovered Sheena, on Etsy, who offered knitting kits where the pattern was written like a story. Reading the story of a pattern, rather than a page filled with numbers and letters that dance about when I look at them, was so much easier and once I got the hang of double pointed needles, and holding four (or sometimes five!) all at once, I haven’t really stopped. While the words were stuck, the needles clicked, and I have felt the satisfaction of being productive in this time of pause. Knitting by way of this sort of sing-song story-telling makes me imagine that the family knitting patterns of my ancestors might have been taught and handed down this way – in story form, with no words and numbers on a page to be muddled by. It has been lovely to sit in bed, listening to a book on my phone, and clicking away. I’ve set my sights on jumpers, and learning to use a spinning wheel next, though the need for co-ordinating all my limbs to do different jobs at the same time re; spinning wheels feels rather more than a little daunting, but I am, as ever, determined!

A patchwork quilt top, my other main 2020 project – tiny triangle rainbow scraps slowly pieced together – is ready for quilting. I decided early last year that having spent years making quilts for other people, I’d start one for me. It is only the second quilt that I’ve made for myself, the first beginning it’s life as a Cinderella in rags skirt for the costume party of my best friend when he turned 18. It only became a quilt after having several other lives along the way, and is constructed from old sheets, a worn blanket, and held together with lots of random bits of embroidery, stitched across the years. Utterly threadbare and in need of mending again, it still adorns the back of our sofa, full of memories, and is one of my most treasured positions. This new one will be a super king size when its done, and big enough to fit us all under. I found the triangle piecing a lot trickier than my usual square offerings, but as with all things, it felt good to have the challenge, and whilst it isn’t perfect, and LOTS of the triangle points don’t quite meet where they’re meant to, I’m pleased with it, and excited to start hand quilting it. I’m hoping it will be finished before the end of the year, and though that feels like a long way off, I’m imagining it draped over my bed, ready for a winter hibernation.

My #redflagsproject has been quietly waiting for me, with so many threads of realisations flowing out from it. Mostly how healing takes time, and mending the connections with ourselves, in heart and spirit, requires care and space and gentleness. Already we have patches and postcards from almost all the corners of the world, and more to come. The project seeks to explore and highlight the early warning signs of domestic abuse, and all women who have been affected in any way by this issue are welcome to be part of it. With a collaborative quilt, a postcard project, documentary photography and individual art installations all planned, it’s a project that has no set end date yet, so there is still time for you to be part of it – you can find out more here.

I continue on my journey to encourage and support those who seek to mend clothes and household textiles, and love all the inspirational like minded folk who are sharing their mends and methods on social media. I’m following the #MendMarch hashtag on Instagram, which is a veritable melting pot of inspiration. My blog post on the subject is still read by people all over the world, every day, and it amazes me and thrills me and fills me with joy that the mending movement is growing at such a pace. In a time where the world feels like its falling apart, and the systems that have held us in these stuck, dammed up places for so long rupture at the seams, there has never been a more important time for mending and healing, in whatever ways we can.

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Early into lockdown last year, a most beloved friend asked me to illustrate a book she was planning. A book about plants, herbal healing, connecting with nature. I said yes, of course. Then immediately got The Fear. You know, the OH MY GOODNESS what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t remember how to draw? What if I make a bloody great mess of it? What if my ego gets in the way and I draw what I want and not what she envisages, because, you know, sometimes that’s the easier path? All the what ifs and the overarching fear that I’d said yes to something I might not be able to do which always feels so much harder when the person you’ve said yes to is important to you. But I did it, and created illustrations that double as colouring pages to sit beside her beautiful, inspiring words. The process of drawing really felt needed, and I enjoyed carving out late night drawing sessions to complete the commission. The book is aimed at families, with the central theme of sharing knowledge to be carried forward. Plant knowledge, healing knowledge, earth knowledge. If you have spent any of this last year reconnecting with nature and the seasons, find yourself drawn to foraging, creating healing potions or want to learn what to look for and when, our ebook might just fit the bill. It is called Wild Ones and you can get a copy of it here.  I’m hugely proud of it, and with the positive energy we put into creating it – with seven children between us, much of our work on the book happened in the middle of the night. I look at the pages, and feel heart happy that we kept our energies up to send it out into the world to you.

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I think what has really challenged me most this year is finding space for stillness – a deep stillness outside of the fear-struck pause of the planet. A stillness separate from the working-in-the-middle-of-the-night stillness. Rather an inner stillness of mind and heart. Discovering that keeping your hands and head busy can be coping mechanisms for these strange days of change we are living through, was a revelation, but it’s taken longer to step into the knowing that it is okay to be still too, and to actively seek that stillness in heart and mind, however dark the day is, and however solid the walls of fear towering about us feel. And that actually, our stillness, our refusal to meet the fear with more of the same, and that overwhelming urge to meet fear with joy and peace, like the most powerful Patronus, is our greatest power.

As Spring is busy pushing green shoots of new beginnings through the dark, damp earth, I’m feeling the shift in me, in the collective energies of the people and the landscapes around me. As the tottering skyscrapers of fear start crumbling about us, there’s a sort of hesitant, tentative realisation that all that the words of this last year are not stuck, but rather just waiting for a good bit of sunshine to ease them through the detritus, the leaf mould, the soft, damp chaos of the forest floor. Some of the words will need to wait a while longer, and that feels hard, to keep in the things which feel important, but other words are ready, here, and it’s a relief to finally steer them out, like little boats onto the burn.

I have been mulling over so much these last months – the literal phoenix nature of my little business, that has allowed me to keep doing, in small ways, the things that I love, the growing need for more self sufficiency in our daily lives, the desire to hear and speak truth and light, the joy to have spaces where connection still triumphs. That need I have to stay busy, to create and make and mend, and the effort I know I must keep on making to find enough quiet for creative meditation, stillness, reflection. And beside all that the constant noise of a world turned inside out and the growing understanding that while all things must break before they can be mended, we must offer sanctuary and healing wherever there is the opportunity to do so. And maybe most of all, a sense that despite the overarching themes of separation and loss that have been playing out over this last year, there’s a growing feeling, a stronger feeling, of deep, expanding connectedness – like mycelium, reaching out, joining, dancing together below the surface of the dark, damp earth, waiting for the right conditions to rise up with hope, and with healing, wild and free. And there it is, just waiting. A hopeful, joyful, courageous mending of all that is wild and all that is free. And there we all are, in the middle of the woods, with the sun on our faces, reflecting the light back out into these darkest of times.

Singing in the woods, watercolour by Katie Wilde, author of Wild Ones, available now here.

 

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. With thanks and love, Kate. 

Creative Call : #redflagsproject

When I was in my early twenties, I went on a date with a man who, as my Gran would say, could have charmed the birds from the trees. He was polite, opened doors for me, did that old fashioned waiting-til-you-sit-down-before-he-does thing. I remember sitting across from him at a Chinese restaurant he had chosen that wasn’t either of the ones I’d suggested when he’d asked where I’d like to go, smiling until my face hurt, trying to decide if it would be too impolite to just get up and leave. Nodding, sympathizing, while he ranted about his ex, who was, to anyone who would care to listen, a terrible person. She was the topic of conversation for the entire meal. When the meal was finished and he had refused to allow me to pay half, he then repeatedly offered to drive me home, and would not listen to my assurances that I would be quite fine getting the bus. There was no second date, despite his persistence that it had been a wonderful night and that I was his soulmate. Sometimes the red flags are easy to spot. Mostly, they are hidden behind a blindingly charismatic persona we rarely see again, once we are entangled in the relationship.

In the days and months after my 13 year relationship ended, what helped me most of all was reading the stories and experiences of other women, who had been similarly trapped in abusive relationships. What struck me, during that time, was how similar our stories were, and how overwhelming my feelings were that if I had only read those stories before, perhaps I would have seen what was happening earlier and felt empowered to do something about it. Domestic abuse is insidious, and hard to untangle or acknowledge, but knowledge, as they say, is power. For a while, I gave myself quite a hard time about it, stuck in the idea that I could have prevented it, or chosen a different path – all the while silencing myself, as I had learnt to do for so long. Silence keeps us safe, right? Keeping our mouths shut keeps us out of trouble. I’d pretty much perfected the art of keeping silent, all the while walking on eggshells, waiting for the next explosion. I broke my silence in December 2019, with this blog post, written around my experiences and emerging ideas to create a textile project around the red flags, or early warning signs, of abusive relationships.

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Being out of an abusive relationship makes it 100% easier to see what has been there all along – the red flags of abuse are always present, even in the early days, but part of the pattern of abusive behavior means that it is incredibly difficult to see them. The creeping, overpowering behaviors of abuse in the early days of a relationship are like ivy – beautiful, but gradually blocking our vision, suffocating us so that we lose the ability to really drill down into our gut feelings about what is happening to us. Quickly, quicker than most of us would imagine possible, we stop trusting ourselves, even when we do see warning signs that all is not well. By the time we see things for what they are, we’re so entangled and trauma bonded, that it’s hard to find a way out.

The following are what I believe now to be the main red flags in an abusive relationship – but with so many different behaviors manifesting under each one, they are incredibly hard to pinpoint or isolate in the early, heady days of a relationship. So much easier to spot in the aftermath. Nine red flags, each one stitched into the next, all of them coming together to blindside you – intensity, jealousy, control, isolation, criticism, sabotage, blame, anger, destruction. The man who tells you that you are his soul mate on the first date, who seems to like everything that you do, like he’s a mirror image of you, who wants to marry you after you’ve only been dating for 2 months, who wants to move in, who wants you pregnant. The man who wants to know who you’ve been with, and where, and what time you’ll be back and somehow manages to disguise it as concern for your well-being. The man who takes you to your favorite restaurant/movie/place only to pick so many holes in the service/storyline/atmosphere, that the restaurant you love, the movie you love, the place you love, becomes the restaurant you never eat at, the movie you never watch together, the place you never go. Ever again. The man who uses silent treatment, sulking and mood swings to control you. The man who places the responsibility for his well-being on your shoulders. The man who blames his angry, destructive outbursts on his work/his parents/the children/his ex and then, eventually, you. The man who constantly, in ways you can’t even see until you are miles and years away from him, pushes at your boundaries, slowly destroying them, one by one.

There are some deeply insightful articles and books in print and online that can help make sense of the warning signs of abuse. I’d recommend this article here, and the book Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft as a good place to start. The latter was gifted to me after a doorstop conversation with a women I barely knew, but who had walked the same path I was on, and who wanted to help. This book, above everything else I have read on the subject, helped me most, and ultimately sparked the idea to create the #redflagsproject.

This project proposes a journey together, to share the knowledge, experiences and stories of women who have been affected by domestic abuse, either directly or indirectly, through creativity. To bring together all those who want to support, in all the ways possible, women who have lived through domestic abuse, or who are living through it still. Inspired in part by The Women’s Quilt  (which was also a collaborative piece, but devastatingly, made to remember the 598 women who were killed as a result of domestic violence between 2009-2015), I want us to create a body of work that will help to highlight the early warning signs of domestic abuse.

To begin, you are invited to collaborate on two creative pieces.

The first will be a patchwork quilt, where each woman designs and makes a patchwork square, to be stitched together into a quilt of stories. Patchwork squares, once made, can be sent to me and they will be stitched together to form the quilt by local women who feel called to, during some sessions I have arranged with Woman’s Health Advocate Ruth Willis at The Red Shed. Stories will be shared and heard and honored as we stitch, and local photographer Vicki Cracknell will document this process for us as part of the story of the project itself. Her images are beautiful, and I’m confident they will capture the care we will take with every patch and every story we stitch together.

The second creative call will be a postcard contribution, inspired by the 52 Stitched Stories project run by textile artist Fiona Doubleday. Fiona will receive your postcard contributions, and stitch them together to form a banner of stories, which will be displayed with the quilt, and supporting material in an exhibition. Pieces can be multi-media – so paint, collage with paper or fabric or both, hand stitching, embroidery, applique, printing, weaving, felting – any craft discipline is welcome – what is important is to convey your story, the red flags you perhaps, with hindsight see now, your sense of solidarity if you are a woman who has not experienced domestic abuse, but want to stand beside those who have, acknowledging it’s existence and the impact it has on the lives of so many – all contributions that feel important enough to share are welcome, and will be honored.

As you create your patch and/or postcard, you may wish to write an artist’s statement about your contribution to the project. If you feel able to, include why you felt called to be involved in the project, how you hope the work may help other women and girls, how you decided to create your patch/postcard, and what part of your story you are sharing through your finished piece. You may find it healing to write a testament of your experiences of the red flags/warning signs you encountered, but remember, you do not have to do this if you will find it too triggering. Creative statements can be hand written or typed, and will be hand bound into a book that will travel in exhibition with the quilt and banner, and/or stitched into further art installations that will be added to the body of work exhibited.

Guidelines

For your patchwork square, begin with a piece of cotton fabric that measures 10 by 10 inches and mark out a 0.5 inch seam allowance. Work within the central area of your piece, keeping the seam allowance clear.

For your postcard, begin with any stitch-able surface that measures 6 by 4 inches. The final pieces will be attached to fabric, to create a banner of fragments of connected lives, lived experiences, and sisters standing in support of each other.

When you are creating your pieces, you may wish to include text, images, symbols, or choose particular colours that have significance for you. The work you create is personal to YOU, your story, and your experiences.

The primary aim in producing this collective body of work, is to offer a space for women to share their stories, to be heard, believed, held and know they are not alone. Long term, I hope that the work will travel around the country, being displayed with the aim of highlighting the warning signs of abusive relationships, to empower and support women and girls. If you feel called, and are safe to do so, please join us.

When you have completed your submission, please email us for more details on where to send your work.

Patchwork/written testaments: Kate at redflagsprojectuk@gmail.com

Postcards: Fiona at earththreadsuk@gmail.com

Thank you for considering being part of this important project. 

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. 

Find out more about what I do here

You can support this project by using the hashtag #redflagsproject in any information or in-progress images you share on social media.

Please share this safely with anyone who may benefit from reading it.

The Ballad of Lockdown Life

I don’t think I have ever, in my life, struggled with finding words as much as I have this past 3 months. Lockdown life is bewildering, challenging, tearful, gloriously quiet, restful, heartachingly sad, furiously angry, grief filled, joyful, and all the feelings inbetween. Often all of the feelings all in one go, which is a challenge in itself. Creating a protective bubble around my kids, where they know what is happening, and why, but feel safe, connected with friends and largely unaffected, has been the challenge of my life. I am tired and yet still my mind is full of the never ending lists of things I want to get done. Reminding myself to slow down, take it steady and just breathe is a daily affair. I have been trying harder recently to follow the advice of a wise friend, Fiona, who has shared guided meditations and mindful wisdom on Insta. Be like water, let it flow – easier said than done in these challenging times, but impossible unless you try. Writing down the never ending lists before I go to bed has been helpful too, as well as making time to listen to restful music, meditations and my weekly engagement with Beccy Owen’s Couch Choir. A weekly Zoom choir where I get to both sing my heart out AND see the faces of friends lost in their own song, is truly uplifting and deeply cathartic. I have been anchoring my weeks with gratitude and joy to these regular hours of Sunday song.

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Through the days we have been tethered to our home, (77 days so far as I write this) one thing we have managed to not be, or at least, not be for very long, is bored. I realize that despite our financial poorness, we live in a house rich with creative resources, brimming bookshelves, healthy supplies of paint and pastel and pens, endless boxes of scrap fabric. I feel heart achingly aware of the privilege of that. I have had days where deciding on which job or creative task to do first has been a struggle, as a half dozen of them present themselves on any given day. But our days have felt mostly productive, oddly fulfilling, calm and peaceful. I have learnt to spin. The children are raising Painted Lady butterflies. I have made quilts and worked on special secret gifts for friends. We have approached this planetary pause with a sort of “one day at a time” motto, and we are making it work, as best we can, in all the ways we can. The garden has featured hugely in this, from planting, pond planning, camping and just being and I feel so glad to have the privilege of all that our outdoor space that has afforded us over the last 11 weeks.

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Today, I tackled the overgrown potato pots in the back garden. They’ve been the home to snails and a million Herb Robert seedlings since we dug up last years potatoes. Top growth of plant matter went into the wormery, and the soil into a huge bucket, to be used for earthing up the pots as the potatoes grow. No fancy seed potatoes here – the bottom drawer of my fridge was had a collection of long forgotten potatoes that had chitted themselves, so in they went with a covering of soil and lots of hope for a good crop later in the year. No fancy pots either, we have been reclaiming and re-purposing all the storage boxes and planters that have been gathering dust, cracked or broken, and just wedged them all together to keep the soil in. It’s an experiment in container gardening for sure!

We are hugely behind in our efforts to grow things this year – but are going for it anyway. I have sown cucumber seeds this week, and have strong healthy courgettes almost ready to plant out. The children have grown peas, and sweet peas, and they seem to be doing well in the sunshine. I am thrilled too – I got some comfrey roots a month or so back, from my friend Sarah – and I’m so delighted that they are already flowering. The bees are happy too. In a year they will be big enough to harvest for more healing comfrey ointment (find my recipe here) and I’m planning to try and grow some more from seed so I have a second patch for making comfrey tea for our plants. I am feeling hopeful that things will grow, and that in the growing and tending of our plants, in weekly song and in all of our creative endeavors we will continue to find much needed solace.

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

 

Crafting Our Way Through Corona

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Craft, whether of words or paint, yarn or cloth, has always been the beating heart of my life. The fuel that takes me through each day of my journey in this world. There has never been a time when I have not used creativity as a crutch to hold my head above the stormy waves of existence. My first really strong memory, is three year old me, at a playgroup in a wooden church hall, standing with a paint brush, in front of an easel that was bigger than I was, with a clutch of colour filled jam jars on the table at my side. I remember the skin stretching feeling of tears drying on my face, the ache of loss for my mum, who had left me there to have fun while she took my baby sister to the shops. And then the joy of painting, absorbing my whole being so much so that I forgot to be sad. If I close my  eyes I can still smell the paint, hear the brush over the paper, feel the breathtaking happiness of watching colour consume all the white spaces.

When my brother died, I was 17, and months away from exams that should really have been my priority. Recklessly, I skipped more Geology lessons that I care to admit as I grieved for him. Whole days and weeks were spent, hidden away behind heavy stage curtains, painting scenery for a school show, getting lost in that movement of colour. Five years later, my father’s death and my grief around his loss informed and directed my degree show work. What began as an exploration of synesthesia between colour, form and music, became an honouring of my father’s life and a working through of our difficult relationship. Many years later still, the processing of the long ago loss of a deeply beloved friend was worked through in colour, stitching, words. To busy my hands and my brain with creativity affords my unconscious mind the space and time to process whatever it sitting, unresolved. Creativity has always been the storm drain for my emotional energies.

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Some time ago, near the beginning of our collective global solitary confinement, I read an article by Lola Thorne about our flight/flight/freeze/flop responses in times of crisis and of grief. It really struck a cord with me, and helped me recognize that my trauma response has always been, throughout every traumatic event I have lived through, to fight. Of this response, Lola says:

“Many of the fighters will be filling their time, feeling productive – they know they cannot control the outside but they can choose how to use their time. It may not be the case for everyone who is doing this, but if this was your first day in quarantine, I invite you to think about how you have previously reacted to stress or grief? Have you always found ways to take action? Have you always pushed yourself to achieve something? Perhaps your trauma response is to fight.”

So we’re not talking fight in a combative sense, but as a need to be moving, making, completing tasks, creating, achieving. Filling time. By doing stuff, and spending time concentrating on my stitching, singing, gardening, baking – there is less time to sit with the reality of our current global pandemic. I felt absolutely okay with that, and spent time learning how to spin, cutting patches for a new patchwork quilt (the only one that I’ve ever made just for me since the first quilt I made at the age of 17), until I found myself so worn out and exhausted from the constant busy-ness that I developed a headache that lasted 3 days. I’d stopped listening to what my body needed in the search for stuff to silence my mind.

It became important then, for me, to acknowledge that we are living through grief, as much as anything else during this time of global pandemic. The loss of a way of life, of what we know, connections with family and friends, daily routines, beloved landscapes. The inability to seek and immerse myself in wild nature feels as difficult as anything else, and it is a grief, knowing I may not be able to do so for some time yet. And for some, sadly, the loss of friends and family who have died since COVID-19 stepped onto the world stage, makes everything else pale in comparison.

But amongst it all – all the grief and the dark and the overwhelm, creativity is flourishing. I can see it breaking through like tiny wildflowers growing in the cracks in the pavements. And it gives me hope.

As long time followers of my work will know, both of my children are Home Educated, and when people beginning this journey ask me for advice on the subject, I always say this. What does your child love, what moves them, what inspires them, what are they really interested in? Start there. At the beginning of any good home education journey, is a pause, where all that motivates the child is discovered, and a learning journey carved and facilitated around that. Home educated children have the freedom to learn exactly what they want to, in the way they want to, and what I am seeing more and more over the last few weeks is adults finding themselves with that same level of educational freedom that they perhaps had never experienced before. And with time on their hands to see explorations through. In truth, the education of children doesn’t actually have to be any different to the way adults search out learning experiences. It’s really interesting to observe people seeking out their creative sides and discovering all the activities they hadn’t been able to make space for before, and then running with them. Given this pause, this space, this time for “other”, there is a blooming creative cacophony, a symphony, a song. From painting and writing and film making and singing to baking and gardening and stitching and drawing. In these days of social media, we are all watching this global symphony unfurling, like ferns in the spring. It is inspiring to see folk using lockdown to hone their skills, learn that thing they’d always longed to learn, read all the books, create all the art, sing all the songs. And if, like me, your trauma response is the fighter, then you’re probably right there, doing all the stuff too.

What feels as important though, is that I take time to acknowledge and honour that everyone is having different responses. And to sit with how crucial it is to give ourselves the permission to change and adapt our response as our needs change. I am reminding myself to rest, when I step close to creative and emotional overload. Listening to what we need as a family, and creating the space for that, in the moment, as it occurs. I’m trying hard to tune into my own and my children’s needs, and go with them, wherever they take us, to help us cope with the changes and work through the frustrations and grief of this time. Whether that’s camping in the back garden, watching films back to back all afternoon, taking naps when we need them or spending whole days crafting. For now, we are taking every day slow and steady. I’m working on avoiding creative burnout, feeling my way through with hope and calmness and adopting a one-day-at-a-time approach to both my family life and the craft projects that are helping me process all that feels so difficult in these challenging times. Crafting my way through Corona. Hopeful that brighter, easier days are on the way.

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

 

Death in Corona

 

My Dad died on the 17th of May 1996 – a Friday afternoon in a busy hospital, a stones throw from what is now my children’s favorite park. I’d traveled up from Uni that morning, jumping on the first train I could get out of Liverpool Lime Street. Mum said he waited, as the dying often do, until we were all there. He was buried a week later, on my 22nd birthday. For such a long time, I tried to untangle the threads of his life and his death, carrying them around with me like a huge ball of knotted wool. We were with him when he died, in chairs set round the edges of the room he took last, unexpectedly loud breaths in. I had never watched someone die before, and I remember feeling more that I was an observer, a witness to his death than someone who could have made a difference to it. He was alone in his final moments, despite the room holding the muffled tears of his wife and children. I didn’t realize that until today. Or acknowledge that I have carried my grief for him, for all that he was and wasn’t to me, and for the better death we could have afforded him, within that great tangle of threads.

In a sharp contrast, when my mum died, in December 2016, the atmosphere in the room held her. We waited, with the same quiet expectation you have when a baby is being born, for her last breath, honoring it when it came and went. Her hands were held, chairs pulled close to her bedside, her favorite choral music was played, and the last words she heard were that she wasn’t alone, and that she was loved. Death is such a taboo subject but knowing what can comfort a person in their last hours, and being able to be present to make it so can have a profound effect on not just the person who is dying, but all who are there with them. Having that time with her, knowing she wasn’t alone in her last moments of life, really helped me process my grief for her so very differently.

I have been struggling, throughout the current global pandemic, with the stories of people dying alone, separated from loved ones, without the possibility of a “good” death. Filled with sorrow for those left behind who will carry all their days the devastation of not being able to be there for their loved ones at the last. It has brought so many feelings up for me, and a great desire to want to make those feelings better, easier, more bearable for someone else; anyone else. The innate need to help rising up against the grief.

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And so this week, I have been making embroidered hearts, and crying for all the hands who will hold them. I answered a call from local hospital trusts to make hearts for patients in palliative care and their families. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, I am reading about so many ill patients who are dying without family beside them, and so the hearts are meant to offer comfort both to the patients and to the families. One heart stays with the person who is dying, and the other is held by the family. A small connection between the two, at a time when any connection is better than none at all. An opportunity for comfort and light in the darkest hours.

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No one should have to die alone, and everyone should feel and hear that they were loved as they leave this life. I know that hospital staff and palliative care teams always do their best to sit with the dying, but it’s not always possible. It’s that idea of being alone at the last that has impacted me most these last few days, more than anything else surrounding the COVID-19 tragedy our world is carrying just now. And what a difficult subject it is. There is a place for important, vital conversation about death, but oh, how hard it is to begin.

So I have embroidered “You are loved” onto every heart I’ve made, so that the people whose hands hold them will know, in those last moments, that they were loved. And I have brought my thoughts to this place here, in the hope that a conversation will begin, and that we might all live and die in these times of Corona a little better for it. It is not enough, but it is all I have to offer right now. And I sit here writing these words, wishing with all my heart that I could do more, feeling humble and grateful for all those who are out there healing, holding hands and sharing the last moments of the dying with grace and peace.

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

Breathing Room and Rainbows

It is the strangest feeling to sit with the cursor blinking, unable to find enough words, the right words, any words to properly describe what is happening in the world right now. I’ve been writing, deleting, writing, for what feels like weeks. Feeling battered by the storm of stories, like an ocean full of currents, pulling me one way and then another. On the one hand, loss, grief, heart achingly sad stories that bring tears often more than a few times a day. The stories of people dying alone, without family beside them. The stories of illness and loneliness and hunger and fear and grief. Then on the other, the great coming together of humankind in a mass collective act of compassion, of togetherness, of desire to make the best of a terrible situation. The joy of shared song, voices reaching from one balcony to another. The people looking out for neighbors, delivering food, sharing their skills to bring whatever they have to the story of global community. The overwhelming human need to be the helper, to make it right for whomever we can, even if just our own little families, our neighbors, our friends. These stories are not uncommon ones. They are stories that play out every single day of every single year in towns and cities across the globe but are amplified now, like a transistor radio in a pudding basin. During these unreal times we are physically separated but still deeply connected spiritually and emotionally in ways we perhaps have not been for the longest time.

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In our little house, we are easing into this strange time of staying home. The girls struggled initially with all the plans we had to cancel, the home education trips we couldn’t go on, the friends we can now only see via Zoom or Skype, and particularly the empty shelves in supermarkets. But 2 weeks in we are finding our way through, knowing that staying home is a privilege not afforded to everyone. We are taking a daily walk, waving at all the bus drivers that pass, like The Railway Children, in thanks that they are still driving buses for the people who need them. Chalking rainbows on our front wall. Spending time in the garden, remembering what a gift it is to have a private outdoor space. I am trying to focus on all the stuff I can be positive with – and encouraging the girls to do the same, whilst still making sure there is space to talk about the worries that obviously come up with young children who are going through something we adults have no past experience to fall back on and to usefully reassure with. Some days are easier than others. We are mostly making it up as we go along.

The natural response to everything that is going on seems to be to keep busy. To shelter our brains from the loss of our freedom. In the same way that after a death, we fill our days with all the things that need to be done, almost as though the grief is so huge that our minds know we will crumble beneath its weight, and so we are propelled to do one more thing and another, until we fall into our beds too exhausted to do anything but sleep… Hiding our emotions away in a cardboard box full of to-do lists. I have been guilty of that these last few weeks. I already have an to-do list that has covered several pages in my diary. Jobs that have been sitting for weeks, months, in some cases, years, that I yearn to tick off the list and feel the satisfaction of completion. Things I want to learn but haven’t had time for. I have started spinning, and am finding such comfort and peace in keeping my hands busy. I’ve re-upholstered the dining room chairs with some gifted green stripey canvas, hiding the Sunday dinner gravy spillages and poster paint splodges beneath bright new cloth. I’ve made a huge new stash of family cloth, which has eased our loo roll usage further. I’ve been planning a tutorial to help you make your own, which will be available exclusively on my new Patreon site. Finding new ways to earn a living, when the usual avenues have closed down is another challenge that most of us self employed folk are faced with. Keeping my hands busy helps distract my brain from how unbalanced my books are.

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But among the busyness, I am finding the slower pace of life soothing, and the new, gentle rhythms of our daily life, whilst restrictive in so many ways, still filled with joyful moments. There is a deep gratitude for all the small moments of life, so many of them missed in the hurry and pace of “normal” life. A realization too, that life before COVID-19 was like another world, one that we may not see again. A greiving for that old life, but a quiet excitement for the world that might emerge from these dark days. A new world of compassion and kindness, of communities coming together to protect and support each other, of new ways of working, this new world could have many wonderful and positive possibilities. A rainbow after the storm. We’re hoisting the mainsail, heading out into waves higher than we’ve ever seen, and ready to embrace all that comes with courage and kindness.

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

Can Hemp Equal Hope? Bringing Cannabis Sativa to The Climate Conversation.

In the time before plastic permeated every part of our lives, hemp was a valuable, sustainable, versatile plant that was cultivated without the hugely negative associations that have been fashioned around it over the last 100 years. A plant that can become food, medicine, textiles, shoes, rope, animal feed/bedding, building material, paper, insulation, bioplastic and biofuel, that can be grown quickly, without the need for huge volumes of water, pesticides or herbicides, should be grabbing the attention of anyone who is engaged in climate activism.

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Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Jonathan Spencer in his Hexham based shop, Northumbrian Hemp, to chat about the challenges of bringing hemp to the High Street. The shop stands in the Meal Market area of Hexham, a bustling market town in Northumberland, in the North East of England.  It’s a small shop, but packed full of carefully chosen stock that instantly informs customers of the true versatility of hemp. From tea to t-shirts and bags to building materials, every part of the shop has a connection to hemp – even the till counter has been made from hempcrete.

Established in late 2019, Northumbrian Hemp is a small business with big plans to bring hemp to a new audience, alongside a deeper understanding for all that this misunderstood plant is capable of. I asked Jonathan why he chose to set up his business in Hexham, and what the response from the local community had been.

“I chose Hexham firstly because we have just moved to the area and [it] seemed like a good place to start,” he told me. “I wanted to be located close to a big agricultural industry with the aim to show traditional farmers that hemp can be a profitable addition to their farming schedule. Another factor for the choice of location is to meet like minded forward thinking eco conscious people within the community.”

As any small business owner will tell you, having a community of supportive folk behind you can make or break, especially in the early days.

“The response from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive,” Jonathan explained. “Feedback from customers has been great and support from other local businesses has also been encouraging. Farmers however seem to be very traditional and it has been a difficult task to convince them of the benefits of growing hemp for the environment and for their wallet! I really wanted the farming community around Hexham to embrace the idea,” he continued, “but it seems that it’s a very conservative industry and we’ll have to show some regional success before any real advancement in this area. We have had interest from farms in the Morpeth area of Northumberland and are pursuing this. Hopefully once we have some successful harvests under our belt the farmers of Hexham will begin to take notice.”

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Once you start to read about hemp, and discover it’s history, it becomes an undeniable truth that it is one of the most environmentally sustainable crops known to humankind. I first came across hemp cloth when I was researching for a No Serial Number Magazine article about Allan Brown, who processes nettles for textiles. As I began to learn more about the plants that can be grown for fibre, I interviewed Zoe Burt, the driving force behind the Seeds of fashion project, where flax was grown in smallholdings and school plots across London to create a garment grown from seed within an urban environment. Unfortunately, getting a licence to grow hemp for a similar project could be costly and difficult.  Whilst it is legal to cultivate hemp in the UK, the conditions and fees set by the UK government make it near impossible for small scale projects to take off.

Bringing a new understanding of hemp and all its possibilities, and challenging the misinformation that overshadows it, is a huge first step to changing the midset of those who could turn this ancient plant into a planet saving industry. For Jonathan, the main priority of his business is to push hemp as a solution to many of the ecological issues we face as a human race on a finite planet, and to bring a new awareness of the plant and its capabilities. “We have been made very aware of the ecological problems and challenges we face,” he tells me, “now is the time to look for real solutions and the humble hemp plant can be utilized in lots of ways to provide these solutions.”

“Hemp can be used as a plastic substitute which is 100% degradable.
Hemp can be used as an alternative to current high polluting building techniques, hempcrete which is a mixture of hemp, lime and water, is the only potentially carbon negative building material available. Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs has witnessed thousands of builds and he is quoted saying in regards to hempcrete “I struggle to find a better building material”
The fashion industry alone is responsible for something like 40% of all pesticide use. Switching to using hemp in favor of cotton can drastically reduce this as hemp cultivation requires no pesticides or herbicides. Hemp also requires much less water than cotton.
Hemp can provide an alternative to petroleum and diesel in the form of bio ethanol. Not many people are aware of this but in the 1930s Henry Ford produces a car which had a body built from hemp and actually ran on hemp based fuel. So we aren’t necessarily talking about new technologies!
As a food source hemp is truly worthy of superfood status, it is one of the only foods which contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need to be healthy.

Hemps rapid growth makes it one of the fastest CO2 to carbon converters, one hectare of industrial hemp can absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 in comparison 1 hectare of traditional agriculture emits 3 tons of CO2.” Jonathan Spencer, February 2020.

It feels like a no-brainer really, doesn’t it? As a crop that has been used in our history extensively for all the things we need to live comfortably, it is only in the last 100 years we have seen it outlawed. Pushed aside for all the industries that have brought our planet to its knees. Jonathan feels the same, telling me, “Hemp is one of the oldest known agricultural crops, first sown 8000 years ago and has been used extensively by humans up until the 1930s when the “war on drugs” outlawed its cultivation. So to put it in perspective it’s only the last 100 years which this miraculous plant hasn’t been used, although the negative stigma of cannabis is fading it still surprises me how many people are unaware of the historical usage and it’s immense benefits, still believing the propaganda from the earlier part of the century. In the 100 years hemp has been outlawed big industry has literally destroyed our climate, I believe that if hemp and other less impactful materials had been utilized in this time we could have mitigated the current ecological crisis. Hopefully people will embrace this plant and it’s multitude of uses once again and by doing this at least slow down if not reverse the damaging effects of climate change.”

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If the truth is that hemp can provide alternatives to all the major polluting industries like fashion, transport, agriculture – why are we not challenging the governments who withhold the keys to it’s use? Giving up plastic on a mass scale only becomes a realistic, viable solution when there is something else to take it’s place.There is no doubt in my mind that hemp really does bring hope. I’m really excited by the potential that hemp can offer to all the industries that we rely on, but which are devastating our planet, and I’m proud to see Northumbrian Hemp take a bold stand in bringing a new climate conversation to the North East.

You can visit Jonathan in his Hexham shop to chat, join the conversation on social media, or find him online.

Northumbrian Hemp
5a Meal Market
Hexham
Northumberland
NE46 1NF
My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

Make it Better Soup

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It’s been a quiet start in our little house to this new decade. Much of December and all of January so far has been a blur of illness as one child or other, or me, has succumbed to the coughs, colds and winter infections that fly about so freely as this time of year. We’ve rested, and read and watched too much Netflix (have you seen Virgin River yet? I binge watched it in a couple of nights when tonsillitis had me floored and leaving my bed for anything other than food for the kids was not happening. It’s very good!) and eaten our body weight and more in fruit/fruit smoothies. Today we took our first walk in what feels like weeks – just to the shops and back –  but the fresh air and colourful evening sky was blissful. We’re home now, with tired limbs and rosy cheeks, all snuggled up in an exhausted heap, planning films and supper in bed.

Tomorrow I will gather up the energy to make what my dad always called “Milk Tattie Soup”, but which, since my culinary tinkering has upped it’s immune boosting qualities, we now call “Make it Better Soup”.

It’s an old recipe, born out of a time of deep poverty. Dad used to tell us the story of how when he was small, Granny Stuart was a housekeeper and cook at one of the estates the family had worked in. This particular family liked their potatoes (aka tatties) served up for dinner at the Big House peeled and shaped into perfect tiny spheres. Like potato marbles. Neat and tidy and perfectly round. The process of such a task created a lot of waste, and so my Granny would clean the potatoes before she started, and take the peelings home to make into soup. Potatoe scraps, onions, maybe a carrot thrown in, and simmered up slowly with chicken stock, then a good slug of fresh milk and a bit of salt stirred in to finish it off. When I was very small, and Dad was feeling unwell, he’d cook up a pot of soup, and talk about Granny. She died before I was born, but he painted a good picture of a woman who was kind and gentle and immeasurably strong, always making the best of what was available in what I now know were never the best of circumstances.

Granny’s Make it Better Soup Ingredients

2 large onions, roughly chopped.

8 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely.

3 potatoes, cubed.

1 carrot, diced (or you can grate it if you don’t do lumpy carrot bits in your soup…)

1 tablespoon ground turmeric (or a teaspoon of fresh if you have it, grated finely)

1 teaspoon paprika

2-3 pints of bone broth (or a tablespoon of veggie stock powder)

1 tablespoon coconut oil (or similar)

Single cream – as much or as little as you care to add. I put a whole pot in usually!

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

The soup itself is simple. I use bone broth or home made vegetable stock if I have any lurking in the freezer, or Marigold Swiss vegetable stock powder if not. I gently fry up onions, garlic, chopped potato, carrot and seasoning in the oil until the onion goes soft and sort of see through – then add the stock and simmer for an hour or until the veg is soft and the liquid has reduced to half. The turmeric and black pepper help reduce inflammation and the garlic will help your immune system fight whatever it is that ails you. Add the cream, stir and serve. I’ve included some general quantities that I usually work to, but often I just chuck what I have in a pan and it always seems to work. Sometimes I blend it, sometimes not.

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We’ll eat our soup with crusty sourdough bread and homemade butter, loads of freshly ground black pepper and maybe with a handful of grated cheese thrown in for good measure. And then we’ll rest a bit more.

One of the things I love most about Home Education, is that the children have this amazing opportunity to listen to their bodies, and rest, eat, sleep, run, sing, play, create when they need to rest, eat, sleep, run, sing, play, create. To figure out what they need and listen to those needs and have them met – what a gift! As a 40-something woman, who was almost 40-something before she started truly listening to her body and what it needed, I feel deeply happy that my girls will move into adult life already possessing these hugely vital life skills. And maybe they’ll make their own versions of Granny’s Tattie Soup too, and carry the stories into their future.

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

Thirteen. Waving All The Red Flags High. Unpicking the Stitches of Silence.

I’ve always loved it when the thirteenth day of the month falls on a Friday.

Friday 13th, despite the negative patriarchal influence, has always been a positive day for me. Maybe somewhere in my DNA, there is the remembrance of the feminine importance of 13. The number of the divine feminine, representative of the thirteen monthly cycles our bodies turn through, with ovulation around the 13th day, in turn connecting in with the 13 lunar cycles and revealing the goddess that we each are in our energies and our innate wisdom. My maternal ancestors knew, and whenever I see the number 13, I try to remember too. Pulled by the moon, I am trying to honor my divine self. Some days it’s harder than others.

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A friend of mine, some years ago now, confided in me that her ex was abusive. I am ashamed to admit that my very first thought, before even I thought to offer compassion and hold space, was one of resistance. A dark and instant denial. How could this man, who I thought I knew, who was charming and kind and seemed so attentive to his children, how could he be abusive? Despite coming from a place of personal experience, despite KNOWING that the abusive man* is generally only so when there is no audience, I still had that moment of disbelief. I held onto it longer than I should have.

And THAT, right there, is one of the many reasons why women stay in abusive relationships.

It is also one of the reasons why women, all over the world,  close their mouths and keep silence on their experiences when they finally escape from the abuse. “I will not be believed” are the lyrics to all the songs that keep their stories trapped in the dark.

When everyone that you might confide in, everyone that might support you, has the potential to think those thoughts, or worse still, to voice them, to offer support to the abuser and not to you, to deny your experience, to doubt your truth – you stay. And if you do leave, brave, courageous woman that you are, you keep your silence. Because speaking out will just make it worse. You keep the peace. You don’t rock the boat. You tiptoe around the subject, hiding behind the lying smile of “I’m okay!” You conform to all the unspoken rules in our society that say you Must. Not. Speak. Out. That if you share your truth, you must be some  bitter, twisted witch and out for revenge.

So we do not speak. We keep our silence even though by speaking out we could challenge all the unspoken perceptions our society has about domestic abuse. The unspoken ideas we have about which men might be abusive, and which men couldn’t possibly be. The unspoken ideas we have about the reasons women stay. The unspoken fear that anyone you confide in might carry your trauma right back to the very person who shaped it. The unspoken fear that your words will create a dangerous chain reaction in the person whose abusive behaviors you’ve escaped from, but to whom you are still, even now, invisibly shackled to.

But this silence serves only those who wish to continue in their abusive patterns. It certainly doesn’t serve the women who come after, still trapped in the same cycles. And why? Because there are not enough conversations, there is not enough education, there are not enough voices sharing stories. Not enough of us are listening. Not enough of us are hearing. Why? Because there is not enough safe space for women’s truth. And how we perceive women’s truth is clouded by the patriarchal notion that men’s feelings are of more value than women’s feelings. That we must do all we can to keep men comfortable, even if that means keeping our truth to ourselves. It’s too dangerous to speak out. It is not safe. We risk our homes, our property, our bodies, even our children. And so we shut our mouths, in exactly the way so many of us have been repeatedly told to do.

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I was lucky. I had people, mostly women, around me who witnessed it. Who knew what it was I was living through even when I didn’t. Who stood beside me while I worked through the huge emotional upheaval of getting into a place of acceptance that my life with this man was a deeply damaging toxic soup that I needed to free myself from. Who believed, even when I didn’t, that I was worthy of a life of more than one of walking on eggshells. Who heard my words and carried them for me, while I worked out what they meant. Who held my hand and told me it would be okay. Who washed my dishes, brought me chocolate, cared for my children and supplied me with enough self help books to stock a library. All this and so much more. I am filled with gratitude for the support that carried me through those early days, support that surrounds me still. Life as a single mother is hard, but it becomes a lot easier when you are held by women ready to support you at a moment’s notice, ready to listen, and ready to truly hear you.

I could speak about my experiences, and begin to process them, because I had this support.

I think a lot about the women without support. I think a lot about the silence around domestic abuse in our culture. I think a lot about the reasons for that silence. I think a lot about the plain fact that all the self help books, all the (amazing) support groups online/in real life and all the domestic abuse charities that exist, only really become accessible, or ping up on your radar once you are in a position to need them. I have learnt more about domestic abuse, red flags, and maybe even myself in this last year than I ever did before. And that single fact really has made me think. What if…

What would happen if women started speaking about their experiences, in safety, in anonymity where needed, to empower and educate, so that in the future, one day far away in the distant dark, domestic abuse is simply no longer tolerated. By anyone. What if all the red flags were common knowledge? What if the definitions of abuse – financial, emotional, coercive, sexual, physical – and how they manifest, are discussed openly and therefore become easier to recognize and resist? What then? What if we could all tap back into our gut feelings, our divine feminine and learn to find the confidence to hear and see and feel. To believe our worth and stand up against abuse. What if we refuse to be manipulated, controlled, coerced?

The abusive behaviors of entitled men won’t just stop because of such action, but surely women and girls would stand a better chance of being able to walk away faster, and with less damage to process in the aftermath? Because what I have learnt this past year, is that while the behavior of abusive men is NEVER the responsibility of women, men who are abusive don’t want to change. There is no reason for them to. Their abusive behaviors get them everything they need. But what if we can step into our power and recognize these men for what they are? What then?

I realize that I’m still in the early days of processing my experiences, and probably naive to think that such huge, deeply entrenched issues can be tackled head on in such a manner, but it’s a thought process I can’t step out of yet.

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So I’ve started a textiles project around this very emotive subject, partly as a way to process my own experiences, but also as a way to support, hear, witness, believe and hold other women in their experiences. I’d like it to be a collaborative project – though I’m not sure yet how that will work – as it feels important that the voices of other women can be woven through it. So if you have been affected by domestic abuse in the past, or feel called to be part of this project for any other reason, please get in touch, in confidence – my details are at the end of this post. The project is called #redflagsproject and my first piece, the first “flag”, is completed. You can see it here. It feels like the most important work I have been called to and yet still, I’m stepping into it unsure of how it will turn out, what impact it will have, whether it will make a difference. When I began writing this piece, I was so afraid of what the repercussions might be that I left it unfinished, so that it could remain unpublished, silent. It sat here, waiting, in the fearful quiet for so long. But I’m stepping into it now without fear, because fear lives in the silent spaces. I have finally found my voice, and have all the words, and all the courage that I need.

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For clarification:  Violence against women, means “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. United Nations (1994) A/RES/48/104 

For further clarification, if he has repeatedly destroyed or threatened to destroy property, if he has put holes in your walls and in your furniture, if he has called you names, if he regularly slams doors and throws things, if he has tried to isolate you from family and friends, if he tries to make you afraid of where you live, in order to move you further away from your support network, if he refuses to pay for household essentials, or discuss fairly sharing the economic load, if he regularly gives you the silent treatment, if he sabotages your attempts to work, if he refuses to care for the children or meet their needs so you can’t easily go out, if he threatens to hurt/kill himself, if he threatens to leave, if his mood swings dramatically shift from angry and aggressive to loving and kind from one moment to the next, if he does things to make you feel like you’re going crazy, if he denies or minimizes his behavior, or expects you to just forget about it and move on, if he blames everyone else (his parents, work, the children, you) but himself for his behavior, if he behaves in an entitled way, expecting you to put his needs ahead of everyone elses’, if he makes “jokes” that question the paternity of your children, if he threatens to loose his job on purpose, if he agrees to putting essential household purchases onto credit cards in your name but then refuses to bear responsibility for the debt, if he refuses to look after you or the children when you’re ill, if he nags you for sex even if you’re not feeling like it and refuses to take no for an answer, or gives you the silent treatment when you won’t give in, if he tries to make you watch films or online media that he knows will scare/upset you, and pressures you to watch even when you’ve said no, if he refuses to let you leave a room or contact help when an argument escalates, if he creates arguments and then shames you when you finally react, or digitally records your reaction as “proof” that you’re the abusive one, if he tries to re-establish relationships with past partners and makes sure you know about it, if he continually makes you late for important events or family gatherings or creates arguments prior to leaving to try and stop you going, if he regularly disrupts plans for birthdays or special days out, if he refuses to contribute to household chores and home maintenance, if he is overly jealous of male friends, if he shames or belittles you in public then says he’s only joking, if he goes through your phone to check who you’ve been talking to, if he hurts you, threatens to hurt you or tells you he hopes you/your children die, if he threatens to run away with the children – if he does any of these things, or anything listed here, then yes. It is abuse.

Recognizing and finding the strength to step up against red flags (and there are always red flags at the beginning of an abusive relationship, we’re just usually so caught up in the love-bombing that we stop trusting our instincts in order to see them), to hold my boundaries, and to walk away when my gut tells me it’s not right, are strategies that are going to help me in future relationships. I hope by creatively expressing both my own reflective experiences of red flags, and those of the other women who I hope will join me, we can raise our collective voices, share our stories and unpick the stitches of silence. Join me.

To contact Kate about the #redflagsproject email thephoenixgreenstore@gmail.com. All correspondence will be treated in absolute confidence.

*yes, men get abused too. However, the majority of abuse victims, particularly in relation to coercive control, are women, and the majority of perpetrators are men.

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UPDATE 01/08/2020: #redflagsproject is live, and welcoming submissions.

For more details, click here

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. If you would like to help support women and children who have been affected by domestic abuse, please consider donating to Women’s Aid and or Domestic Violence UK. Please share this safely with anyone who may benefit from reading it.

Mending Clothes as an Act of Rebellion

I have often wondered when it was that Western society collectively decided that visibly mended clothes were a mark of reduced status. Of a life worth less. Where a patch or a darn was certainly not acceptable in polite company. Many cultures across the globe value and respect the energy that is used to create clothing, so much so that not only do they repair their clothes, but a visibly mended garment is considered of higher value, in every sense, than one which is not.

Somewhere down the warp and weft of our relationship with the fibres that clothe us, we have disconnected from the sheer human power that flows into the yarn that makes the cloth. The £3 t-shirt that is cheaper in monetary terms to replace than to mend, but which has cost the earth and her people an immeasurable, inconceivable price is a perfect example of the mindset that the fast fashion industry has brainwashed us with. Things are changing, though at a snails pace. There is a return to slow fashion, and deeper connections to the clothes that warm and protect us, but it will be a long journey, and I fear that we are running out of time.

There was a time when a wooden darning mushroom would be an essential household item, used for darning holes in socks and patching trouser knees and shirt elbows. A time when every home would have a sewing box, full of thread and spare buttons, with a needle case holding every size of needle you might ever need, and a homemade pin cushion with a heart of wire wool, to keep the pins sharp. I have a wooden darning mushroom that belonged to my grandmother, and probably her mother before her. It is handmade, the wood soft with age. In it’s worn edges, it carries the presence of all the women whose hands held it before me to darn socks and patch up their clothes.

Clothes were patched and mended in times past because they had to be – make do and mend was, for most, a way of life rather than a lifestyle choice. As a society, we have since then, allowed the “new is best, old is rubbish, chuck it away” ethos to permeate our collective conscious to the point that now a ripped knee or threadbare elbow (or at least, one that isn’t there because it was manufactured so), can be death-knell for a garment which might otherwise have a much longer life to live. “Away” is still a mythical place where all the stuff we don’t want congregates without impacting the planet. Yet in the textiles stories of so many cultures, mending and patching is a technique that not only provides longevity to a garment, but increases it’s aesthetic worth, and removes from the equation the need for space to put the things we no longer want, because they become the things that are valued, mended and therefore kept for longer.

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That’s why I have started to offer a hand mending service, as a way to encourage and support those who want to continue wearing clothes that have developed worn patches or holes. Already, I’ve had a really great response, and have fixed up everything from beautiful handknit jumpers and kids leggings to gloves and handknit socks. I find myself naturally drawn to visible mending, as when the stitches show, they carry a story with them. My youngest is thrilled to still be able to wear the favorite leggings that were ripped when she fell at Edinburgh Zoo this autumn. There’s a heart stitched over the hole now, but a space to remember the hurt knee, the tears, the cuddles, her big sister gathering water and a cloth to tend to her bleeding knee, and our amazing bodies that can heal all our sore places.

We live in a time now where there is an overwhelming environmental necessity to produce less and to re-use what we already have. Mending clothes is absolutely an act of rebellion – and perhaps one which is most accessible to most people. Learning how to stitch and darn is far easier in these days of YouTube. mending materials are the stuff of yard sales, estate sales, and charity shop finds. So much of my own mending  equipment, if not handed down to me, has been gifted by friends or discovered, like shiny treasure, in charity shops or ebay listings.

So my hope is that more and more of us will learn the skills to mend clothes, to keep them in circulation and reduce the impact that our recent obsession with fashion continues to have on the planet. As a society, we must step away from the notion that patched clothes communicate lack of monetary wealth, and rather embrace the ideology that as a species, we must make less stuff in order to survive. And that actually, loving for, caring for and creating longevity in the clothing we already own by patching and darning, we give a strength to the stories of our clothes so that perhaps one day we can return to a time when we value not just the garments in our closets, but the people who made and mended them too.

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My favorite legwarmers, knitted for me by Rachel Darby, and darned by me. Shawl in the background handwoven by Eloise Sentito.

Need something mended? Contact Kate in the UK at thephoenixgreenstore@gmail.com for a quote.
Read more from Kate in No Serial Number Magazine, available to buy here.
My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate.