In response to last month’s blog on the impossibility of auto-ethnography Michael Gratzke wrote persuasively about how he has tackled the challenges of inspecting the self through writing auto-fiction. His journey from auto-ethnography through autobiography to auto-fiction has got me thinking about other routes that this travelling might take. I’m not comfortable enough with writing to write auto-fiction and I have no affinity with creative writing. But there might be other material, embodied and creative ways of critically engaging with the self without exposing the self to the vulnerabilities of auto-ethnography.
My journey through ‘auto-fiction’ would have to be transposed into ‘auto-craft’. The projects that I engage in, and particularly over the last six months when I have had to deal with serious health diagnoses for members of my family, are never neutral and the stories about how and why I carry out craft projects can be used to write a diverted form of auto-ethnography.
The day after my sister was diagnosed with cancer I found it difficult to work. Instead I drove to a local yarn shop (Black sheep wools) and brought a large quantity of soft pink and purple yarn to crochet a blanket for her. I needed a project that was portable, as I was due to visit the US in the coming weeks. So I was looking for a colourful project without yarn changes (i.e. scissor free!) that could be carried out on transatlantic flights, UK train journeys and in hotel rooms. The blanket I choose consisted of 24 squares, each one made from a skein of yarn and is designed by Felted Button using Scheepjes yarn. I spent just over 6 weeks making the blanket and it went everywhere with me. In the evenings I put aside work or falling asleep in front of the TV to work on the project. Through crochet I could resist feelings of sadness or anxiety about what was about to happen. I gave the blanket to my sister on Easter Sunday – the NHS had beaten me to it and she had already started her treatment. Through making the blanket I acknowledged the significance of what was unfolding around us, without having to express this in words. Here is the finished the blanket (the fuchsia pink yarn is called ‘Lord of the Dance’ which especially reminds me of my sister):
After completing my sister’s blanket, I returned to making a bedspread for my daughter. She had requested a bright cover for her bed which I had started making before my sister’s blanket and had put this on hold. For this I’m using another pattern designed for Scheepjes yarn by Maria McPherson. (aka 50 shades of 4ply) I realised I needed to return to this. With everything going on with my family it is easy to forget about those who are not unwell (and my daughter’s stepmother is also very unwell at the moment and undergoing a long treatment regime). I remember being 18 when my sister received her first cancer diagnosis. I felt excluded and forgotten about. It’s how I became a vegetarian, I wanted to make a stand to do something that would make my family notice me. I gave up eating meat. So my daughter’s bedspread is just as significant as my sister’s blanket. Through spending time with this project I am acknowledging that her life is of equal importance and I am not putting my daughter on hold. This is also proving to be a well-travelled project, though I am making this in hospitals and other people’s houses rather than air-planes and hotels. Crocheting in hospital is a good activity, it gives people something to talk about other than why we are in the ward (what are you making? I like those colours…) and I can talk and crochet at the same time. I have not yet finished this bedspread, but here is a collection of the squares that I will eventually join together once I have made 144 of them:
I also need to acknowledge myself through this journey. Over the last month I have finally finished making a cape for which I’ve had the pattern and fabric for a while. The fabric is from Linton Tweeds, one of my favourite shops that makes luscious, colourful, extravagant tweed fabric. The pattern is a vintage one that I picked up a few years ago. Making a cape is relatively easy, so I was not setting myself a particularly challenging project. But capes are an indulgence. They are impractical, it’s very difficult to drive a car when wearing one, or carry anything more than a small handbag (if you like capes KiKi Layne shows how to wear one beautifully in If Beale Street Could Talk). So I acknowledge myself through creating a colourful garment that has no real purpose other than show. I am reminding myself that I matter, it is not just what I do that is important.