Look after yourself

This year has not been been a great start – At the turn of the year my husband and I were both tested positive with Covid 19 and were very poorly, this is a frightening virus and when I reflect on how lucky we both were to recover it sends shivers down my spine. I am left with symptoms of long covid including exhaustion and dizziness, it has triggered off my balance problems and knocked me back a couple of years but I know I will learn to manage this again. We are both well on the road to recovery. Onwards and upwards

Over the past few weeks I have reflected on my mental health and well-beign and also the mental health of my loved ones. This lockdown is proving to be a lot more difficult as it is cold and wet outside, exercise is more difficult to access and it becomes dark early in the evening so when you finish work it is difficult to get out..

Our well-being and mental health are often pushed aside, not considered important, it is not often discussed but it is something I would like to bring to the surface and encourage you to think about.

Four years ago I was in a dark place. My health was not good, I was suffering with balance and dizziness constantly, it was so bad that I could hardly move some days. My ill health had affected my career and focus in life. My mental health was not great however I felt that I could not talk to anyone about this.

I used my art to express my feelings, this was the beginning of my acceptance that I had issues and this gave me the strength to start talking and helping myself. I created a series of works entitled ‘Pieces of My Life’ which I have talked about on my blog before but never shared the collection online I have been thinking about this work over the past few weeks. in a time where we really need to look after our mental health and well-being, I feel that now I should share this collection of work with you and tell you about the feelings and emotions around each piece. I created this collection, around my mental health, whilst dealing with living with a chronic illness but I know that this can be related to bereavement and feelings that we have associated with lockdown and Covid 19. I hope that by sharing this I may reach out to those who have some of these feelings – remember you are not alone and I encourage you to share these with others.

Pieces of my Life – Living with a Chronic Illness

This collection is an interpretation of challenges one faces when diagnosed with a chronic illness, it is a journey of this life, fighting through to survival. 

The entire collection is created from small pieces of fabric and mixed media, these are layered and stitched together in different ways; these represent how one must rebuild their life once diagnosed with a chronic illness.  There is a strong sepia tone throughout this collection, this muted palette epitomises the anxiety and emotions that are associated with diagnosis, colour is used within this collection to symbolise survival.  The collection is hung from drift wood, often with a chronic illness you can feel as though you are being carried along by the tide and have no control.  Words have been used throughout in different media to show emotions, struggles and hope.  

  1. Hanging on by a Thread.  

This piece of work symbolises the initial thoughts of chronic illness.  

Just like the leaves in autumn, when first diagnoses with a chronic illness, one feels as though they are falling from the tree; not sure of where they will land.  This piece of work is transparent with the use of the organza, skeleton leaves and manipulated scrim to symbolise invisibleness as many of these illnesses cannot be seen by others. The threads of the scrim hold this piece of work together, it is fragile and delicate, a person may feel that they are no longer whole, there is a void and you are hanging onto your life by a thread.  These are further emphasised with the long strands of threads hanging loosely

Dimensions: W55cm x L105cm Textile piece W21cm x L99cm

2. Are you alright? 

Are you ok?  How are you feeling?  Are you alright?  How many times do people ask this and how many times do we answer fine or ok?  

The centre panel is created from many small pieces of fabric, paper and lace with words embedded, these are some of the possible responses to this question.  The small fragments suggest the shattered pieces that we try to hold together in a random confused manner.  There is a winding path of French knots showing how the journey through chronic illness is not easy and there is no direct path to follow; life is a rollercoaster with many twists and turns.  

The side panels are also made up of pieces stitched together, striped to indicate a ladder that has no beginning or end as it can be a struggle to keep climbing and hold things together 

There are many free machined circles as emotions are flying around and it can feel as though you are going around and around in circles. 

Dimensions: W32cm x L48cm. Textile piece W16cm x L48cm

3. Thoughts 

Anger, confusion, stress, sadness, and fear can be overwhelming and you need time to recognise and reflect upon these emotions and thoughts.  There are times when chronic illness dominates thoughts and we are unable to express how we feel, often when we do reveal our thoughts they are not always understood or listened to. This piece of work reflects these thoughts and feelings.  

The circles represent thought bubbles and the enormity of our illness and how it can monopolise our thoughts and feelings, the size of each circle reflects the magnitude of each thought.  

The largest circle holds our chronic illness; this is predominately way this affects our bodies, the symptoms that are associated with the illness, this dominates our thoughts.  

Emotions are filled with sadness, anger, fear and confusion and these thoughts follow on and permeate through our thoughts. 

It is often difficult to express these thoughts and emotions into the spoken word as the emotional thought bubble dominates these with new emotions; fear of being misunderstood, preposterous or even weak.    

With our thoughts and emotions filled we endeavour to have these heard, listened to and understood.  Not all spoken words are heard.  

This piece is built up with layers of distressed scrim and linen to represent our distressed bodies and minds. There are many layers of embroidered circles within this work around the main thought bubbles to show the many other day to day thoughts that clog up our minds.  Within the thought bubbles there are fabrics that have been dyed with rust, we must re-oil our minds and try to remove these negative thoughts that overwhelm our minds.  Within these circles there is slow stitch to represent the patterns of the brain.   The words are free machine embroidered and then hand stitched into the circles; the French knots show the clusters of negative thoughts.  

Dimensions: W87cm x L66 Textile piece W56cm x L60cm

4. My life is spiralling out of control 

There becomes a time where you feel as though you are out of control.   This piece reflects these feelings and recognises the point of realisation –  ‘My life is spiralling out of control.  Time to slow down and take one day at a time…’ 

The spiral is built up of many small pieces of fabric and scrim to produce a distressed effect to mirror how you can feel at this point.  Again, a circular stitch is used to join the fabric together and attach the lettering, this signifies the feelings of going around and around in circles.  The structure is supported and moulded with wire that has been spiralled and attached onto the back of the work.  

The installation is suspended from one piece of drift wood as we often must be anchored to slow down however this is a vulnerable structure and often hard to stabilise.  The work sits on a slice of wood; a slice of time; time to slow down and take one day at a time … 

Dimensions: W80cm x H110cm This piece is an installation  Textile piece W3cm x L325cm

5. Piecing my life together 

When we feel like our lives are falling apart at the seams there comes a time when we must start to begin to patch things together.   This piece of work reflects how the pieces of our life will not fit back together in the same way that they were before they fell apart.  Some of the bits may be singed at the edges, some may be frayed, some may be misshapen but to move on these must be tied together.  Small pieces are machined together to create solid foundation pieces however putting larger pieces back into place is more difficult.  These pieces are loosely joined with herringbone stitch, this crossed path of stitches represents the obstructions one can often encounter whilst piecing their lives back together.  

Feeling weak and sick can be hard and obviously, this will make you unhappy.  You will encounter rough times but some people don’t always want to hear the truth.  Once you accept your awful chronic illness and you realise that you are not alone you must start to piece your life together, believe that you are capable of anything and that you are ready to face survival.  

Each piece has a button to help hold things together.  The loose pieces at the bottom are attached but not yet ordered to illustrate how things will not always fall into place but they are still there in your life, hanging on until there becomes a time when they are required. 

Dimensions: W48cm x L76cm. Textile piece W16cm x L73cm

6. Time

Let’s go back in time…… I am a little girl sitting in a field; in my hand I hold a dandelion clock. I blow, one o’clock; I blow again, two o’clock, I blow again, three o’clock and before you know it six o’clock arrives. Life with a chronic illness can often feel like it is passing by and there is no time to stop and reflect. 

The dandelion epitomises time.  Time flies by. It is time for reflection.  It is time for change.  It is time for new beginnings. The focal point of this piece is a dandelion clock that has been free machine embroidered and further embellished with hand embroidered bullion knots.

We are going around in circles and life spins round and round.  This is strongly represented with the free machined circles that are worked onto a background that is created from many different fabric pieces. The edge of this piece has been burned to represent the damage that our bodies are suffering. 

We often have to make life changes to accommodate our illness and this is reflected in the script around the edge of this piece which is applied using free machined embroidery ‘I am going around in circles… Time is flying by… It is time for reflection… time for new beginnings… Time for change,, no time like the present.’ 

Dimensions: W58cm x L33cm Textile piece W26cm x L28cm

7. Restoration 

Acceptance is a difficult and long journey which is reflected in this piece which depicts this in a long-zigzagged fashion.  

The background is constructed using different media, a crumpled brown paper shopping bag, cotton and jute scrim and delicate tissue paper, these have been free machine stitched together with many stitches.  There are often many pieces of your life that have fallen apart and need to be brought back together for a person with a chronic illness to move forwards, the joining of these pieces that are crumpled and torn represents this.  

The journey of acceptance leads to the restoration of living with adaptations and compromises.  The journey of restoration is suggested with the piece of unfinished handmade antique lace. This belonged to a dear friend, her mother had started to make this many years ago and was found after she had passed away, I feel that this is a significant way to represent our journeys therefore I have shown that with hope, support, belief, courage and acceptance that lives can be restored, these are often hard to find and therefore these words are embedded within the piece, hand embroidered onto organza in a neutral colour.   

Within this journey there may be some changes along the way but hopefully life will be restored and this is reflected with the addition of detail and colour along the piece.  The patterns in the lace are also reflected in the background using hand embroidery.   I have picked out the sprigs of leaves as we start to grow courage in our journey; these then emerge into buds and flowers as we learn to adapt and blossom; adding colour to our lives.  

Dimensions: W 150cm x L40cm Textile piece W130cm x L25cm

8. Branches

The tree of life symbolises many things, to me it represents strength, protection, harmony, and longevity.  I find comfort and peaceful solitude when walking through trees and this provides me with time to reflect, contemplate and accept.  The tree also represents the family tree, supportive family and close friends are appreciated in this piece of work.  

This piece of work resembles branches symbolising reaching out for support and more importantly branching out into different ways of living and adaptation.  

The branches are created from layers of mixed media that are joined with free machine embroidery, some of these layers include thick silk yarns, scrim, rust dyed fabrics, paper bags, melted organza and painted fabrics.  Strips of velvet have been used to accentuate the knots and hand embroidery is used to add the finer detail.  

Dimensions: W 45cm x L 50cm Textile piece W30cm x L45cm

I have shared these to help those of you facing difficulties during these hard times. Please share this post to others who you feel they may help. It is so important to be aware of mental health and to look after yourself and others.

Thank you so much for reading this. Take care and stay safe.

Kate x

6 thoughts on “Look after yourself”

  1. Kate – this work is exquisite and thoughtful and beautifully expresses all the emotions, challenges and ups and downs that life has dealt you, which so many people can relate to. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pieces and your words.

    Sending you and your husband my best wishes for a full recovery

    Penny x

  2. Thank you so much for this Kate.
    Wise and profound words along with beautiful art work. Chronic illness has a toll on mental as well as physical well-being but finding ways to cope are crucial. Clearly your art work is helpful to you and sharing it with others is a blessing.
    I do hope you and your husband recover from Covid. Best Wishes.

  3. Beautiful pieces of work and thoughtful words Kate. I’m so sorry to hear you have both been unwell but happy you are now recovering.
    I hope you continue to build your strength and recovery and look forward to your future creative endeavours. Take care ❤️

  4. Hello Kate I have read your blog with interest. It tookme back to when I was in a bad place and it resulted in me having a breakdown. The start of this was through work and resulted in my eventual giving up my job as the help was not forthcoming. The following years have had their trials and as you say it is difficult to speak to people because as I found the words would not come. Added to this I was also coping with a health problem that I have had to learn to live with. I am fortunate that I have a brilliant husband and with out his help I don’t know where I would be.

  5. What a beautiful post; lovely art work sometimes like nature, after a hard frost, we find blooms are brighter and more vibrant. I wonder about the creative process and its requirement for serotonin – I have noticed the connection when I have high levels of serotonin, I am more creative.

    Chronic illness though, is not like a hard winter, there is no spring, which is quite a battle to challenge. I admire your tenacity and your approach to transform such a negative into positive objects of beauty. Warmest wishes to you,

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