When I start a mat, I'll just let it flow, and I'll tell the truth as I see it, knowing you might see it differently and that's okay. The truth is I don't know how to get you to put your spirit into your work. I can only speak for myself, and how I do it. I hope that you can get some glimmer of sense from what I am about to tell you.
I know that if you allow yourself to get lost in something, if you are able to get lost in your mat making, if you stop the constant evaluation of your work, then there is a better possibility that exciting things will happen with it. Whenever I start thinking that I must live up to something, that this rug I am working on must be better than the last I hinder myself.
Truth is, I need to forget about what I am doing to do it well. That is what allows me the freedom to express myself fully. If my ego gets in the way, and it sometimes does, like when I start thinking, "I must make art." Both me, my work, and everyone who knows me suffers. Stuffiness is a problem and a barrier. Simply put, I must keep saying and feeling, "I must make rugs."
Art should just happen. It will happen sometimes and not others. It shouldn't matter. The idea of art in hooked mats should not be a barrier to us. It should just be a side effect of us doing something as well and as beautifully as we can. We need to make rugs. We need to not have to say we're making art. If it is art it will be art.
I think the real thing in every part of life for me is to do what I do, and do it as well as I can. I have said that from the beginning of my career in rug hooking. Every time I say 'career in rug hooking', I think it is an oxymoron. I am still excited about what I do. I learned that I have to focus on doing what I do and cut out all the distractions that I can. Over the years I have had many calls from people in rug hooking worried about the way others are doing things and how it reflects on them. All I ever say is, "Do what you know, what you do, and do it as well as you can. Don't worry about what someone else is doing." Someone must have said it to me once and it became my own personal wisdom. I try to watch what everyone else is doing. I do that because I am interested in people, but I try not to care too much, and I try not to get involved because I know that my family, my work, and my community take all the energy I have.
I had a friend, Lynda Burke, who died two years ago. She was 48 years old. She died suddenly in her car after leaving a local drugstore. Lynda had many friends and she shared herself, and her ideas easily. She gave away common sense wisdom like old men used to give away peppermints out of the dirty pockets years ago. She was a gifted person. I still hear her tell me, "You do things your way because you think it is the right way, or you would do it some other way." I always laughed when she said that because it was the straight goods. We do things a certain way because we believe that it is the only really good way. All other ways, she used to say are not as good, because if you thought they were as good you would do them that way too." I'd throw my head back and laugh again. She said the truth. You have to believe that the way you do things is the right way and you have to commit to it. You don't have to hate the way other people do things, but you have to stay focused on and believe in your own way of doing things. You have to be supportive of your own ideas. Believe in yourself and your own life.
Last year a woman called me and said, "My sister said to tell you that when she wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep she goes down and reads your website." I said, "Tell your sister I said that when she wakes up in the middle of the night she should wake up her husband, never mind reading my website." We both had a great laugh, but my message was that her sister should nurture her own life, what was right in front of her, or beside her whatever the case may be. We need to believe in the value and importance of our own lives, and the way we do things, and what we have around us.
So that is the first thing I know about myself, I keep my focus, and I believe in the way I do things. It is not easy. It means I say no to all kinds of beautiful opportunities. It means I shut out some things that would benefit me. It means I don't always give others what they want or make them happy. It means I am sometimes selfish. That's what focused people do. On the one hand their focus delights you, on the other it might disappoint you. I grew up with a father who taught me this. A good lesson, it was hard learned in a much different way, and more valuable to me than I might have ever imagined. I need to have faith in myself. In the beginning the faith was built upon a wing and a prayer, and a bit of bravado. Now I sometimes build it on the fact that I have had success in the past. That is encouraging. Though when it comes right down to the nitty gritty, and I'm feeling kind of shaky about a new idea, or a complex rug, I just sit down wherever I am, hold my chin up with my hands, look down at my sneakers, and think, "You know I like my mats, they're kind of pretty." That is what gives me the real strength to go on and create new things. I love what I do and I believe in what I do. I don't take it too seriously. I don't believe that I, or my work is important in any fancy way that because all that "art box" mentality is really nonsense. When I question myself I know that I just need to make the mat, to hook the rug, get back at it and forget the foolishness. I always think well if you make a really great mat who knows what might happen, knowing that the real deal is when you can give yourself a shiver with your own work.
That happens every once in a while, right rare it is let me tell you. I remember the first time it happened. It was the rug that I eventually sold to the AGNS for their permanent collection. I looked at it and I thought, "I don't think I really made that." It was the first time I understood that art is made by your own spirit as much as it is made by your hands. It was a revelation for me. Now every once in a while I get that feeling that I want to do a little dance because of the way the wools are working together, or the way the thing looks all together. The truth is that is a wonderful motivation. It is the drive for "the shiver." I don't get that feeling easily in my mats, but when I do it is one of the most pleasant feelings I have ever experienced. It is also the foundation of my confidence. I know I can get it again because I got it before. I am me, and that is all I am, and it is all I have to give the mats. No big fancy stuff, just make the mat.
So I say to you: focus on your work, and mine yourself and your environment for ideas. We all have the richness of our own unique story. Believe in yourself and your own ideas. Know that all of our stories are small because we are small but that small things matter. Small things are beautiful. Annie Dillard knew this as she wrote "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" when she was in her twenties. She wrote a book about her own relationship with a little creek near her house, and she examined every tiny aspect of the creek that she observed. She won the Pulitzer Prize. Little children know the importance of small, and we know the importance of small when we observe them. Small things can make huge differences.
I think of my own life as small really. I live in a plain house, on the edge of a small town, and I make mats but I believe that small things matter, and so I matter, and my stories matter, and my mats matter. Your self is your uniqueness. I often heard people minimize their own experiences as uninteresting. I think it is uninteresting because they have not explored it. They have not used their mind to think about. They have not used words to understand, and they have not used to colour to recreate and embellish it. None of our stories are that unique and interesting. Most story lines have been told and retold. It is your spirit that you add to it that makes it unique because your spirit is one and only for all of time. It is the only uniqueness in any story. It is what makes your story your own. Your spirit, your individuality is the gift that you bring to the world when you are born, it is the gift you offer your friends and family every day, the gift you offer to your rugs, and finally it is the gift that lingers after you have gone from the world, and remains in the hearts of those whose lives you have influenced. Believe that you are small, but that small matters.
I always think of the time I asked Ghita Levin about her childhood. I had imagined with a name like Ghita, and a long time career as a such a fantastic potter, who now lived in a homestead outside Port Elgin that she would tell me that she grew up as the wandering waif whose parents carried her aboard small sailing vessels on fantastic voyages. I expected a story. What she did say was, "I grew up in Ottawa and mostly hung out at the mall." I laughed. What that told me was that Ghita created her own life, her own story, in her work, and her beautiful work, is her real story. She has mined both herself and the natural for understanding. What she told me that her real story was within her. It was not about stories, experiences, or travels, but was about her relationship with the natural world. Her story was in her spirit.
I have since found that when people talk about great travels, and places they have been at dinner I am not all that interested. What I am interested in is journeys. I want to know what happened inside themselves, what was revealed to them as they travelled. I have found that some people can drive to Springhill and come back profoundly altered, while others can go to the Himalayas and come back with little more than a list of place names, and the name of a good guide. Sometimes people's journeys are small but they are fascinating. Others are long, maybe even arduous, but not very compelling. In a good life, and to make good rugs you have to find yourself interesting. Do things that are interesting. Spend time with interesting people. Get at your own spirit. Know it, understand. Romance it and charm it. There is the practical things you can do, read great books, cook wonderful food, learn new things, go out about town to galleries, but the real romance with your self happens when you sit with yourself at the mat and let your mind wander. This is the time when you both create, and if you are willing learn about yourself. I find that when I am alone with my wool and my rug on the frame, as I hook my mind relaxes and all kinds of things have come to the surface. I have learned more about myself as I make rugs than I ever cared to know. Hooking alone, letting your thoughts flow freely is a gift to yourself. It will uncover the richness of your interior self if you want it to.
Some people don't want to and that is fine also. One of the most wonderful stories I have heard over the years is about Brenda Heads' mother. Brenda was visiting the studio, and I was telling her what I just told you, that rug hooking gives me time to think. She told me that her mother once told her that she likes really complicated knitting patterns because she had to focus so much on the pattern that she her mind did not wander to all kinds of old worries. I like this idea as much as I like my own idea about why I hook. Rug hooking can be used to get to know yourself, but it can also be used to save yourself from yourself. As much as it is a chance to get to know who you are, it is also a chance to lose yourself in colour, pattern, texture, and design. No doubt everyone here has a story that is too difficult to tell, and we have let our hands lead us through it. We have a gift to make things but we also have a gift for, and of our spirits. We are the lucky ones in that way. We have this gift of handwork that can see us through. We can use it to charm others but also to charm ourselves. We can use it show love as we make a gift of it, and give others a rug. This craft, this art, is enduring. It is our ideas, and thoughts laid bare upon the floor in front of us. If we let it it can be our spirit, our very self revealed.
Once years ago, my friend Lynda Burke told me another story. She dropped into the house as I was about to go on a trip. I said to her, "You know since I had kids, I think I have become afraid of flying." She said, "You're not afraid of flying, you're afraid of dying. That's what we're all afraid of. No one is really afraid of flying, but we all afraid of dying." I have thought about what she said to me for years, and I think that I have discovered that the real wisdom in hers words is not the flying, and dying wisdom, which is pretty good in itself, but it is the fact that we all have fears, and sometimes we use one fear to cover up another. Sometimes the idea of really putting your spirit into your mat, and laying it bear, is scary. What if it does not work out? What if it is not good? What if no one likes it? Worse again, what if I don't like it myself? You cannot always be the best judge of your own work. I have made mats I do not like, but they tell the truth. They tell the story with out my approval. You can let it be, but you can always start over. You can always make another mat, better than the last one. You know on one level you have to think you are really important, important enough to bother putting your whole self in something. On the other hand you have to think that you are not all that important, if you waste time, or mess up, it really is not going to matter all that much.
I know that the more time you spend with the hook in your hand the more you will learn. I know that many people get great joy out of hooking with groups but I also know that you need to hook alone sometimes in order to become passionate about it, in order for the art of rug hooking to emerge. It is a meditative, and creative activity. It will give you one thing if you give it your full attention, and another, if you just play around with it. Both are rewarding.
You can use your mats to tell the truth about the way you see things. Use them as an expression of yourself, as a way of telling what you know to be true and important and they will not fail you. Use them as place for you to go to that offers solace and comfort, a place to escape to. For me, I have sat down at the frame angry and gotten up forgiving. I have learned the truth about myself both good and bad. I have learned that in a kind of way, my hook and frame are my home, I belong with them, and they belong with me.
Next: The Art of the Critique
©2008 Deanne Fitzpatrick. All rights reserved.
really listen to music · see something new everyday you look out the same widow · go to nature and rest · read poetry · write poetry · journal · go to art galleries · take a day to wander in the city · visit artists · correspond to artists · write a letter of praise to anyone · seek out new artists · spend day in the country · order something in a restaurant you never ate before · wear a different kind of clothes · go someplace foggy · spend time with someone who is deaf · try new subjects in your art · try new subjects in your reading · travel · spend a day in someone else's shoes — even in your imagination · do something that scares you · take the train · keep a dream journal for a week · try yoga · meditate · dance · calendar a new experience · finger-paint · work with clay · no plan day with a kid · stop and actually smell the rose, or the lilacs, or the lily of the valley · spend one day no talking · draw sounds or smells · put sketchbooks and pencils in odd places · get new colour tools — like a box of crayons · take a drawing course · sketch your friends · throw a party · bake a pie · swim · walk · make bread · build a fire · eat blueberries · pick blueberries · sign up for a course alone · go out to lunch alone · go to a concert alone · do an activity you don't really like · say no · say yes · no rules · break the rules · learn to love lavender · learn to like puce · paint your toe nails a different colour · massage a friend's shoulders · look someone up you enjoy · invite someone you don't know well to an impromptu lunch · go to church · walk a labyrinth · plant a pot or a garden · go to a farm · change the part in your hair · change your hair colour · get a tattoo even henna · try a new road · a new recipe · cook for a week · don't cook for a week · listen to new music · go without TV for a week · teach a group old or young · sit by the sea · visit a cemetery · architectural tour · talk to older family members · write down their stories · wear high heels · look at old photos · don't spend money one day · decorate your flip flops · wear scarves in your hair · put a flower in your hair · buy a big broach · hang your clothes on the line · kiss your lover · buy a present/give it just because · write a poem to someone you love · write a poem to someone you don't like · burn it · just be yourself — say what you really think · sort out what's you and what's influence · cut out pictures from magazines · put your fridge door on the art pages · move the pictures in your house around · paint a room · make a studio · play outside and sunbathe, get a book · bury your feet in the sand at the beach
Deanne Fitzpatrick is a member of the Editorial Board of Rug Hooking magazine and has been the subject of a television documentary and features on national radio shows. More
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