Finding my limits

It is fair to say I am quite driven. I do live with a constant knowledge of how short life is, and I want to make the most of it. I love, so much, what I am doing, I am always hounded by the fear it will be somehow taken away; if there is a minute I can weave, I will weave. I don’t consider it an imposition, it is what I want to do. And if I haven’t had that drive and work ethic there is no way I would have done what I have over the last few years. My time is my own, there are no demands on it, I can do as I please, and I want to weave.

But last week, just after I finished the last tapestry and wrote the last blog, someone asked if I could take something on. I find it hard to say no, so felt I had to justify it by explaining my current commitments, weaving for two exhibitions this summer (needing to weave six good sized tapestries by August, and not including the Arts Trail at the end of the month), a grown up job, three voluntary posts, one of which in particular has demanded a lot of my time of late, and for another I am on call 24/7, and of course, I have my fellowship to organise and prepare for. In addition I am going through a very slight and minor health scare, which is fine, but I have had to undergo a barrage of tests over the last couple of weeks, eating into my time.

It made me stop a mo and think that perhaps it was a bit much. But I wouldn’t have my life any other way. I have purpose, I contribute, I can help people who need it. And best of all, I get to spent the bulk of my time weaving. I record all my hours for each project on an app, so when I initially posted about the recently finished tapestry to chums, I was able to boast that I had done it in 250 hours  over 18 days. Those are 14 hour days. Ha ha thought I! This is fabulous I’ll even be able to sneak in another tapestry before the Saltaire Arts Trail at the end of May. How clever am I? I would have a day of admin as a break, sorting websites, emails, paperwork, accounts, writing up projects etc and then load up the loom again.

But after that day of admin I woke up exhausted – emotionally, physically and intellectually – my brain couldn’t carry a thought through. But of course I battled on and made a start on the next cartoon, because that is what I do. I thought it didn’t matter that I was tired, because it would be ok, because I was having an ECG that morning, and I would be able to have some down time then. I wasn’t being funny, I wasn’t being sarcastic. I actually meant it. I timetabled into my day a break, it was incidental that I would have things stuck over my body to test if my heart was still working ok. My own ridiculousness was a sudden massive of slap in the face.

Something had to change. Much of my voluntary work centres around mental health and vulnerable folk, I of all people had to stop before I found myself on a slope I couldn’t get off of. I suggested to friends, also amazing craftswomen, that I had better drop one of the exhibitions, I was putting too much pressure on myself. This was greeted with a massive NOOOOOO! These were too good an opportunity to miss, what had to change was not my workload, but my attitude. A bit of an intervention followed which ended in the suggestion that I should get over wanting to produce only new work for one of the events. That I can do a mix of my new pieces, with my previous work, that they were just as valid pieces and part of my ‘journey’ as the new tapestries were, that I was being too hard on myself and over-critical of previous work. I know that will seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me, that is how fogged up my brain had got. With a sheet of A4 and a few seconds I was able to completely re think the layout and managed to get the number of tapestries I need to weave over the summer down to three. Now then, I know full well I will weave more than that, but what is different is the pressure I’ve put on myself has now loosened drastically. As long as I weave the three – which is entirely do-able – I will be ok, anything else is a bonus.

It also meant I could take an immediate and much needed break. Wednesday afternoon I caught up with friends, forcing myself out the house to resist temptation to work. I had been meaning to see them for months, but just never found the time and hated myself for it. I missed them massively and it was fabulous to reconnect. On Thursday the weather was glorious and I spent it sowing seeds and tidying up in the garden and painting furniture. Usually when I say I am having a day off I end up doing admin or research, but this was a proper day doing someting frivolous. On the Saturday was the Heritage Crafts Association’s annual conference Crafts Across Continents and I was helping out and needed to be there early so had planned to travel down the night before. Instead I went early on Friday to do the tourist thing. On the train down I started to feel a lightness fill my knees and chest, and I realised I was unknotting, de-stressing. This was how I used to be.

It couldn’t have been a better day. There sun was shining in Trafalgar Square, everyone was out and the atmosphere was wonderful. I went to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, places I had never visited before.

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It was strange seeing images in the flesh that were already so familiar. I definitely gravitated to the medieval side of things.

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I sauntered up Regents Street and popped into Libertys to look at the rug room, a great opportunity for me to see first hand, hand-woven oriental rugs. The colours were fabulous and the slit weaving on the rugs beautifully done.

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The hotel in Fitzrovia was rather grand and although I meant to make myself a picnic for dinner and go scoff it in Regent’s Park, I tripped across a Turkish café on my way with outdoor seating and had a lovely dinner there instead. I have a weakness for Turkish coffee and make it myself, but now rather feel I have to up my game.

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The next morning myself and fellow trustees and volunteers of the HCA met up to prepare for the conference. It was held at RIBA in Portland Place, a stunning building as one would imagine! The event was fantastic, the line up of speakers included Ritu Sethi from the Crafts Revival Trust who travelled from India, and Evind Falk from the Norwegian Institute of Crafts. It was fascinating how traditional crafts skills are all facing the same challenges despite the geographical and cultural differences. Keith Brymer Jones and Kate Malone from the Great Pottery Thrown Down talked about the show and were as lovely as they seem on the telly (yes, there were tears). Genevieve Sioka, the craft buyer from the National Trust (an organisation close to my heart) launched a new Open Call for folk wanting to sell work in their shops – details will soon be on the HCA website. Julia Weston, the CEO of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (an organisation even closer to my heart!) talked about the Fellowships and two Fellows, Hugh miller and Ruth Davey talked about their travels and the impact they have had on their work, whetting my appetite to get my own underway! In the afternoon the winners of the HCA’s suite of awards were announced – I am so proud to be part of an organisation that is so actively supporting new craftspeople and recognising excellence.

Ch2ak71XIAAue5MA huge highlight for me was meeting Caron Penney and Katharine Swailes, two master weavers associated with West Dean and their own studio, Weftfaced. Obviously I have long known of their work, but it was fabulous meeting them in person. Amazingly,  I also got to meet the very wonderful Kaffe Fassett, who has kindly become a patron of the HCA. It was wonderful to talk tapestry with him and his partner Brandon Malby. It was a real honour. I first heard Kaffe talk about 25 years ago at a museum where I worked. One of my most vivid memories of those years was walking out of the room and into the night after listening to him, and feeling like I saw the world in a completely different way. He was incredibly friendly and interesting and I came home high as a kite if truth be told.

It is Sunday morning and I am writing this post before going into the garden to update a notebook in the sunshine (not work hones,t cus I get to play with sticky tape and a glue gun), and then I’ll be snapping the spine of a book. I’ll be cutting the latest two tapestries off the loom tomorrow and start dealing with the finishing of them. I’ll then put up the next cartoon. If I finish it in time for SAT, fabulous, if not, well, that’s ok too.

I feel fresh, I feel reset, I feel untangled. When you love what you do so much, how do you slow down? I don’t have the answer, but at least I now know there is a question that needs one.

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3 thoughts on “Finding my limits

  1. I love this. A few years ago, I was beating myself up a bit in about not accomplishing more when my professor asked me to keep track of all the articles and books I read, papers I wrote, meals I made, projects I worked on and family & home commitments I did during the following week. It was eye opening lol

  2. As usual you put all this so well. Even though you still love what you do and remind yourself constantly how lucky you are to be doing it, you need a holiday from it now and again – but what we do feels like a holiday so how can that work? I think the fact that we feel so privileged to be able to do what we do, means that we feel guilty about getting a bit fed up or stressed out and try to deny those feelings – I know I do. It also makes my imposter syndrome even harder to battle as this existence of mine must be too good to be true. I can see from your experience how good it is to have time built in when you have to be elsewhere, and give yourself the time to take a breath – I’ve got a blood test coming up next week, maybe I could do some designing while I’m there 😉

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