Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

Embroidery and Upcycling

Carrying on with the craft theme, here are some images from the embroidery I’ve been working on. As you can see in the image below, I’m using the kind of hoop that is traditional in British embroidery. I can’t manage the denim without it, and the layers of fabric would make a sashiko needle impossible to manage, I think. So, nothing authentic about any of this, but, I’ve been really inspired by what I’ve learned about sashiko and boro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Form follows need as the embroidery reinforces seams and helps me deal with the otherwise rough and vulnerable edges of the denim. Working with such a heavy fabric, folding the edges of each piece to make a hem isn’t feasible, but means the patchwork pieces are otherwise likely to unravel. I’ve learned by experiment how best to secure seams and edges of cloth.


Listening to the cloth

I’m an animist. I will talk to anything. Perhaps more crucially, I will listen to anything/anyone. I get really excited about anything that turns out to be a conversation.

So, for some time now I’ve been working on a jacket for Tom.  I think it will be the first of many. I’m using dead material reclaimed from jeans that are too worn out for other use.  The available pieces of fabric for the project were determined by the state of the jeans and whose jeans they were – which had size implications. I started by removing and squaring off the biggest pieces of fabric I could get, and these went into the shoulder region. Smaller pieces were deployed further out.

Making the jacket was a sort of conversation between the available material and the desired shape, and that was interesting. I found that techniques I’d previously used when making blankets were really useful here. Patchworking with pieces of varying sizes can take a bit of figuring out.

It was when I started the embroidery that things got interesting. The embroidery has a massive practical function in that it strengthens and reinforces the fabric.  So, the most intense embroidery clearly had to centre on the weakest areas of patchwork. From then on, the decorative aspect of the process became a conversation with the cloth. An aesthetic emerges from all of this that is entirely practical, and has a logic built not on design, but on need. It’s been fascinating to do.

Jacket embroidery is a conversation between the needle and the denim, the patches and the wool. It is a conversation between what the fabric fragments used to be and what I want them to become. They need to be strong for future use, so the imagined future of the garment has to be part of the conversation. Which has led me to thinking about where this garment will go and what will be asked of it, and who else I might be making jackets for.

What I am making is a craft piece. Looking at it, in progress, I’m really aware of how the shapes I’m using for embroidery relate to recent thinking I’ve done about rock art and stone carving. I’m aware of how what I’m making relates to the Japanese traditions I’ve been looking at. There’s also an influence of the kinds of abstract art I enjoy, because there are aesthetic decisions to make alongside the practical ones, and everything that is in my relationship with visual arts informs what I’m doing in this process. But, as a practical piece made to be worn, it will be understood as craft.

I’ll just haul my oft-used soap box out for a moment and mention that the distinction between art and craft is political, and loaded with issues around class, race, poverty, utility and who has the power to dictate what people’s creations are and mean.


Why I’m not doing Sashiko

Following on from my previous post about boro –  https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/26/craft-culture-and-boro/

Sashiko is a Japanese embroidery tradition, and it is gorgeous and well worth looking up. As far as I can make out, the whole thing is based on a fairly simple running stitch so it’s quite accessible and easy to learn the basics. It does however use specific kit, a needle and  a totally different kind of thimble from the ones I am used to.  These are easy to find, but I have concerns about how my easily-hurt hands would respond, so that’s one reason I’ve not dug in. The other is that I’m doing non-traditional sewing inspired by boro and using fabric far heavier than you’re supposed to use for sashiko, so, it’s not going to work for me.

When I first became interested in these traditions, I found a lot of western people writing about them. I had to dig a bit to find Japanese sources.  Appropriation is something I’ve thought a lot about from a Pagan perspective and it is just as relevant for craft as for Craft. I’m greatly in favour of learning from other cultures, practices and traditions, but how you do that clearly matters.

One of the things I learned from my adventures with sashiko is this – if you learn the surface of a thing you may get a bunch of rules that teach you how to make something that looks like something. If you dig in to learn about the history, use, purpose and context of a thing you can end up with a totally different approach.

So, while I’m not following the available rules about exactly how to do this kind of sewing, I’m trying to understand how the embroidery relates to the cloth, what it is for, what it does, and where that knowledge leads.  As a consequence I’ve learned a lot of things that I can take back to my own crafting. I also think this stands really well as a metaphor for what we might do with other people’s spiritual traditions. It’s worth thinking about how much time a person invests and where they learn from before they feel entitled to present as an expert  on a culture they are not part of.

I’m happy to talk about what I’ve learned, and what my journey has been, but I don’t think it would be even slightly appropriate at this point for me to claim I am making boro, doing sashiko or able to tell anyone else how to do those things.

But if you’re curious, here is a man whose family work with these traditions, and who has a great deal of insight to share… https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCraGC2n7qN31FlQSvXYI0JA

 


Craft, culture and boro

Back in the winter, Pinterest lured me in with images of boro. At the time I had no real idea of what I was seeing only that I found it very attractive. If you get in there with a search engine, the internet will give you a lot of images of mostly denim patchwork, visible mending techniques and embroidery. As an enthusiastic needlecrafter and upcycler, this all had instant appeal. I dug in.

I like to have some idea of where things come from and what their significance is. Partly because I delight in such knowledge and partly because accidental cultural appropriation is not my idea of fun.  Here’s a brief synopsis of what I found out when I dug in. Boro means rags, and it is a tradition from Northern Japan, inspired by poverty and necessity, that takes what little fabric is available and keeps it in sound, wearable, protective condition. It fell out of favour after the second world war because of the poverty associations, but is having something of a renaissance. Of course traditionally it wasn’t done with denim but currently that seems to be the fabric of preference. There is also an embroidery tradition that goes with it, called sashiko.

We really need these kinds of traditions right now – we need the inspiration and to reclaim cultures of re-use. To take our throwaway culture towards something more sustainable we need to start valuing re-use, repairing, upcycling, and keeping whatever is usable in use. This of course is what poor people have always done, of necessity, and that’s part of the problem. While we see these techniques as being about poverty and insufficiency, many people will be actively put off them. Who wants to look poor? Who wants to do what poor people do? Affluence means discarding things whenever you like.  It means never looking shabby, or ragged, or even mended. We equate smartness with newness and wealth.

It will take a bit of a shift to see the value in what is old and repaired. But, there is a great deal of beauty and innovation in these traditions. Off the peg clothing is bland stuff that seldom lasts long. It means looking like everyone else and having limited scope for self expression. The upcycler on the other hand gets to play and make over, and has adventures in clothing unavailable to other people. There are plenty of things to find attractive here.

Over the coming few days I’m going to be writing a bit about my adventures with boro, so, watch this space. To be clear, I am not making boro – I’m using the wrong materials and the wrong tools. It’s not my cultural heritage, and my grasp of it at this point is fairly superficial. However, there’s a lot I’m excited about and inspired by, and there’s a world of difference between being inspired by something, and misrepresenting it by claiming to be doing it.


Rites of passage

What is a rite of passage? The conventional definitions have a lot to do with our sex lives – birth, coming of age, marriage, with death the inevitable finale. Of course this means that some people would only have the chance to celebrate birth and death. I think there’s a lot to be said for taking a far more individual approach to rites of passage.

What do we need to honour, process or celebrate? What life events do we need witnessing and recognising by our families and communities? Looked at on these terms, the standard rites of passage are about relationships with the community changing. New arrivals, new adults, official relationships and death.  We need our wider networks to support us around these things, certainly.

There are many things that can radically change a person – things we seek and things we do not. Qualifications, injuries, work changes, recovery, friendship breakups, moving house, divorce. There are challenges and victories we encounter every day where we may need the witnessing and support  of those closest to us, at the very least.

Faced with a large and life changing event we don’t all default to wanting to gather our people together for a ritual to mark it. If you are doing regular community rituals though, it is a good thing to hold a space where people can say what’s going on for them and have that heard and acknowledged.

Some of our most life changing experiences may be too personal to want to share in this way. We may not always be comfortable with the changes happening to us. We may not be confident of support from our community or immediate family. It’s worth thinking about how our life changes impact on our relationships, and what we might do to support each other at such times.

It’s also worth thinking about what kind of community space we have to support dramatic life changes that don’t fit with whatever narratives we’ve had to that point. Life changing events can also be community changing events, and when we make space for these personal changes we also give our communities chance to grow, mature and become more interesting.


Parting Songs

Folk music is resplendent with leaving songs, or parting songs. Some traditional, many written more recently by people who wanted their own way to finish a set or an evening. There’s something rather wonderful about songs whose nature it is to round up a night and create closure.

For me, these finishing songs are important rituals. I’ve also used them at funerals, where I feel they work well indeed. I’d quite like to be sung out with this one…

 

I’ve sung this one since childhood. This is an especially nice version…

 

I sang this one at my grandmother’s funeral, which was about this time of year, I realise. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’m very glad I did it. She had a deep love of shanties and tall ships, it was the only thing to sing her out with. And she used to sing it herself.

 

(I’m not going anywhere, but I sang a parting song for someone today, and their power is very much on my mind).


Poetry with Mr Death

For several years, the Piranha Poetry nights in Stroud were a key community space for me. I wrote a lot more poetry because there were people to read it to. It was a space that felt safe and welcoming, and that was reliably inclusive. I tend to show up in community spaces and fail to figure out how to be other than awkward and peripheral. But Piranha Poetry always felt like home. I’ve really missed it.

Organiser Gary Death had one of those large birthdays this year, so back before lockdown I wrote him a poem, because I thought it would be funny to jam on the ee cummings line about Mr Death. And then I lost the poem.  By happy accident, I found the hand written first draft at the weekend.

 

Happy birthday Mr Death (belatedly)

 

And what I want to know is, how do you like your blue eyed boy, Mr Death?

ee cummings man, his very how pants of the outside of his

Many bells trousers leaps to the microphone.

In the audience, three former students of English literature

Faint at the very sight of him.

No one who has ever tried to answer that question has survived

Unscathed.

But Mr Death is ready, like he’s been waiting his whole life

For ee cummings man, poetic anti-super-hero in a war against

Capital letters, to storm his stage and enquire about blue eyed boys.

Mr Death is ready.

Turns.

Lowers his trousers.

Moons.

This is his superpower and in the glowing radiance of his posterior,

Literature’s caped crusader has nothing more to say.

One elderly member of the audience has a nosebleed.

Seven will later require counselling.

Three will be haunted by erotic dreams.

Mr Death pulls up his trousers

And invites another floor spot poet

To take their chances.

He likes his blue eyed boys like he likes his piranhas

Allegedly.


The Arboridium – a review

The Arboridium is a beautiful new oracle set from Phil and Jacqui Lovesey, creators of the Matlock the Hare books. If you’re already a Matlock fan then you will fall happily into this world. If not, it will – as is usually the case with cards – depend a lot on how you feel about the art.

You can have a look at the set here – https://www.matlockthehare.com/arboridium

If you like charm and whimsy, if you want magic but would like something a bit less familiar, then this is an excellent set even if you haven’t read the books.

I use it less for divination, more for guidance. Like the previous White Hare Wisdom cards, these are stand-out as non judgemental. Each card represents an idea, an energy, a trajectory – and there isn’t a day when any of these cards wouldn’t be useful reminders to me of qualities I can work with or aspire to.  They are in many ways the perfect cards for people who aren’t into the woo-woo side of divination, but would like some enchantment and wisdom to add to their lives.

I have used many different oracle cards and divination methods at this point – not least because I had a few sets come my way as a reviewer a few years ago. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is challenging enough without also being challenged by oracle cards! What I benefit from most are the sets that uplift and encourage me, that inspire me and give me things I might use to overcome the daily challenges. I also like the way that in these cards there is a keen sense that it is perfectly fine to be messy, wrong, muddling along, a bit lost, a bit clottabussed (as the dale folk would say) – that this is all part of the rich tapestry of existence.

It’s nice having an oracle set that encourages you not to feel like you must magically know about every setback before it happens. It’s nice to explore divination gently, to feel ok about not knowing, and to have the future remain complicated and unpredictable.  It’s good to take a daily reminder of the tools I already have and the ones I would like to develop.

I heartily recommend this set.

You can buy the cards here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/782472915/the-arboridium-oracle-44-card-signed


Taking pain seriously

I grew up hearing that I made a fuss about pain. It’s understandable in that what was going on with my body wasn’t really recognised  then, but still, it would have made a lot of odds if there had been a bit more kindness in the mix. PE at school was the worst – painful and also humiliating and with no sympathy at all. But, it wasn’t just school, and it included my doctor. I internalised the idea that I make a fuss and I learned not to take my pain seriously. Of course doing that means you can’t ask for help, relief, slack cutting or anything like that.

A few years ago, I saw a friend talking about hypermobility on Facebook like this was a thing that merited care and concern.  This surprised me. All of my body bends in ways it shouldn’t, but I hadn’t connected that with experiences of pain. I decided to educate myself, and discovered that hypermobility is a soft tissue issue. People like me damage easily, we feel more pain, everything takes more effort, and as a soft tissue issue it can impact on the gut and other things as well. It’s helpful when things make sense. It’s useful having some idea what to do to avoid hurting myself in the first place.

But more than this, it is validating of how I’ve experienced my own body.  I’ve experienced this information as permission not to be ok, and having spent the first thirty or so years of my life being given to understand that I make a fuss and must have a low pain threshold, this is a very big deal.

The pain is real. The pain is real enough that I am allowed to take it seriously. Taking it seriously opens the door to trying to avoid it, trying to get help, trying to manage it better. It also gives me space for the emotional impact both of living with pain and having internalised the idea that the pain I live with doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It means considering that I’m not some kind of pathetic drama queen who over reacts. This is quite a shift in my self-perception.

Sometimes we do need permission. Especially if there’s been a big push in the other direction. Validation can be a powerful thing.  It’s another reminder that none of experience life in a vacuum. We’re all impacted on by each other’s words, deeds and ideas.  Wellness and healing are not isolated individual issues, they are community issues. The stories we tell each other about what our bodily experiences mean have massive impact, for well and woe.

I’m watching similar things happen around the growing recognition that trauma has real, measurable effects on the body. I think we’re moving away from old stories that hive emotions off as irrational and not situated in the body and that instead we’re moving towards recognition of people as complex beings where experience can impact on wellbeing.

We’re challenging the stories that are quick to write off some experiences as over-reacting – the medical profession does not have a good history of responding to female pain – and even worse if the women is poor, or Black, or all of those things. But this can change.  We can have new stories in which pain deserves care, and in which we don’t tell people off for making a fuss when they are suffering. We have to stop assuming that being a certain kind of person means something about whether we really feel pain or not  We can stop telling stories that block the way to getting some people’s pain taken seriously. We can do better and we can be better.


Conscious Mosaic Eclectic Arts

Today I’m delighted to share information about a new project from Ing Venning. I think this is a project with appeal for anyone following the bard path – as you can see from the list of content already available, there’s a strong mix of the creative and the political here. This is clearly a good space for examining the interplay between creativity, wider culture, politics, activism and the state of the world.
Conscious Mosaic: Eclectic Arts Exegesis is a YouTube channel that invites interpretation of the arts… literature, music, visual arts, film and other video, games, and anything else that falls into the category of arts.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLhyk5b7y3oPDvHur4s47eg/videos

I have, thus far, uploaded the following videos:
– Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as a Critique of Two-Party Political Systems
– Evolution of LGBT+ Characters in Contemporary Arts
– DuckTales and Disney’s Corrupt Worldview
– Quality of Work (and Fans) in a Time of Easy Publishing
– “No One Is Alone” [from Into the Woods] as a Commentary on Ethics
– Ani DiFranco’s “Marrow” as Mirror
– “Harlem” (“A Dream Deferred”), Black Lives Matter, and Systemic Racism in America
– Doomed Utilitarianism in the Candy Cadet Stories of Five Nights at Freddy’s 6

… and I can’t wait to share more, as well as collaborate with guest bloggers!  I’m planning future posts which cover videos such as Primer, Frailty, and Twin Peaks; music by Porcupine Tree and Lacuna Coil; artwork by Prinsep and Arcimboldo; literature by Starhawk, J.K. Rowling, and Joanna Russ ; and games from the Castlevania and Zork franchises… as well as a video on eclecticism’s importance as a modality for the arts in the present age. I am also looking forward to presenting interviews with the amazing Patrick Brown and Alex McVey! So far this is a small channel, with only a handful of videos, but I’m hoping to grow it with both my own analyses and those of guests.
As you may have guessed from the titles above, I am an outsider – and I love to share work drawn from the unique perspectives of other outsiders (for more of this, check out this short essay and video: https://ingvenning.com/who-i-write-for/). If you are an outsider who would like to share their views on the arts, please feel free to contact me at ing@ingvenning.com. I’d love to hear from you! I want Conscious Mosaic to become a hub for supporting and analyzing amazing content and the awesome creatives who make and experience it!
< Ing Venning is the pagan, polyamorous, socialist, vegetarian, feminist, anti-racist, gifted, mentally ill, night owl author of the Wheel of the Year series, Sources (a book of mostly retellings), Lexical Numerals (early poems), “Family History” (a short chamber opera with music by Patrick Brown), and several other works. In addition to founding and working on Conscious Mosaic, Ing is working on a trilogy of fantasy novels for socialists and other political malcontents, another book of poetry, another book of stories, two volumes of faux-memoirs, and a volume of essays and rituals for pagans. >