In a fit of creativity, I have recently taken up (re-taken up?) embroidery. I remember watching my mother embroider–and beautifully, I might note–and I remember a delightful afternoon when I was 10 or so, when she brought me this little dove-holding-an-olive-branch project and taught me various stitches as we completed it together. I’m reasonably sure it’s still floating around in a box somewhere, probably in her attic.
And I remember a winter, maybe a decade ago, when I decided I would embroider again, and I bought these nifty little canvas messenger bags with plain front flaps and raided the craft store’s embroidery floss section, and made everyone personalized bags for Christmas. As I recall, that was also the year when it became abundantly clear to me that I’m not very good at drawing, so most of the designs were a little…abstract.
So then a few weeks ago, as I watched Seashell knit, I decided I wanted to take up a handicraft again, and embroidery seemed like the best option–I’d enjoyed it before, and it’s portable, easy enough, and lets you escape into that zen space where you can’t really worry about anything important because you’re busy making a million tiny decisions: do I have enough thread on the needle to finish this row? What color should this flower be? Why, for the love of all that is holy, does the bleepin’ bloopin’ floss keep bleepin’ bloopin’ knotting on me when all I am trying to do is pass it through this one bit of cloth which is exactly the same as the bit from the last stitch and so there is absolutely no reason why it should be fighting me? Have I done something wrong? Have I offended it in some way? Does the thread just not want to be a flower?
I’ve been working on my new embroidery project in fits and starts for a couple of days now, and while I can’t show you the entire project (I’m planning to make it a gift), I can show you a representative little piece, so you can see the magnificence and brilliance and frank artistry that is springing forth from my fingertips:
…So. Um. That happened.
In my mind, that was going to be beautiful flowing script. The way I drew it on the fabric with the washable pen, it was beautiful flowing script. The stitches were all going to align perfectly to create the illusion that someone had simply written on the fabric with thread, and they were going to lock and blend together like water in a stream.
Instead, …well, you can see the instead.
So last night I spent some time sitting and looking at my masterpiece, debating whether to continue (it’s a big project), debating whether anyone really wants to receive a gift that will look so very, very much like it was made by someone who had never done this before, debating whether it’s actually rude to hand someone something that’s so spectacularly imperfect and imply that they should look past its flaws to see the loving message that it is meant to carry.
And that’s when it hit me: that’s exactly what I should do.
It is said that the Japanese have a concept, wabi-sabi, in which the imperfect is prized as a reminder of the transience of all things. Nothing in nature is perfect; nothing in nature is meant to be perfect, because all things wither and decay, and it is only our attachment to the trappings of this world that cause us to feel sad or anxious about that. Some artists make sure to include flaws in their work as a way of embracing this ideal; others simply let the work happen as it happens, and accept graciously that imperfections will come either as part of the process of creation or as part of the object’s use.
Moon Man pointed out that a gift with obvious flaws means that it has to be unique–you can’t convince a machine to snag thread like that, or to pucker fabric. And I, being the sort of person I am, took it a step further: when we enter relationship with someone, we come in knowing that we are flawed, that they are flawed, and that those flaws are what make us beautiful. We talked recently about how violent processes can build for us the most amazing internal landscape, and I reckon this isn’t so very different–it is the failures that make the embroidery beautiful. It is the message that makes it beautiful. It is the gift, freely and lovingly created and given, that makes it beautiful.
So who cares if the “o” in “who” is a little boxy? Who cares if the “W” isn’t quite the right size? Who cares if the fabric has puckered a bit, or if the lady behind the needle is fat, or if I’m afraid of heights or still haven’t mastered crispy fried potatoes or have pontoon boat-sized nail beds so manicures never quite look right on me?
What matters is that I am creating a thing for a person I love. I am spending my time working on this thing, just to see that person smile. It is radically imperfect and utterly flawed, but that’s ok–so am I, and the gift’s intended recipient loves me anyway. I’ve already asked this person to look past my split ends and reluctance to go boating and fear of abandonment; I’m pretty sure it’s not going to collapse the whole thing if I add “…and the fact that I am not a master-level embroidery artist”.
Instead, I will embrace the wabi-sabi of my little bit of stitchery. And I will trust that the recipient will understand that the gift is made and given with love, in the same way that the recipient has already accepted me–beautifully flawed, utterly unique, and perfectly imperfect.