I have started to lead a creative project for women living with dementia and for women who are carers. I notice that there is a consistent premise to my approach that runs across the board with every group I work with. I simply believe in the seams of creative potential which lay within us, which are often unrecognised, unused or untapped. I know that we know a lot of things, so much life experience, so many occasions when we have had to be creative in finding solutions, finding ways of managing our lives and relationships. I believe that in holding a space and ‘speaking to’ those untapped areas with conviction, that creative and emotional potential can be realised. I feel that everything we need to know we already know, we have an innate intelligence that seems to get slack like a poorly used muscle, but if stimulated, we can jump to, or cautiously peep at, the challenges presented.
I don’t underestimate the severity and voracity of dementia and have observed how it can strip away the individuality of a person, but I am also noticing, how in its physiological randomness, that there are vestibules of experience and parts of our character and body that live on, and when given the opportunity, bubble to the surface. It might only be a moment of reflection, some deeply buried truth about oneself, but it feels in the room such a relief to everyone that it’s been heard and witnessed. It’s a moment to rejoice. I notice how carefully the participants listen to each other’s reflections with sincere reverence. Perhaps it’s not until we begin to lose our capacity to recall that we realise how precious our hard-won lives, with their rich tapestries of memories good and bad, are to us.
The exercises I am inviting the women to participate in are experiments. I sent an embroidery hoop with calico and thread and the beginnings of a dotted line around the circle, believing that there would be a somatic memory of sewing. Everyone participated and it came back to me looking like a doodle made blindfolded or an incomprehensible map. It reminded me of the white noise of being unable to think, a blankness, random marks that should have a narrative but say nothing. Because I am curious and excited by what emerges from ‘not knowing’ I decided to present this same ring each week alongside the participants’ personal book project. Second week in and there is already a shift in the sewing on this cloth. There seems to me to be a tension between nothing and everything. I can feel a sense of, ‘don’t underestimate me’. I find this very encouraging. I like sewing because it’s using a small sharp instrument to penetrate the skin of a piece. I feel there is a primitive want to poke and scratch the surface and leave one’s mark and embellishment. It’s a little aggressive assertion saying, ‘I exist’. It’s a meditation activity, repetitive and it’s a way of pulling disparate parts together to one place and literally ‘pinning them down’. I know this because I have used sewing to support my own well-being.
Each week I am asking the participants to choose a fragment of fabric with something figurative on it and pin it to an on-going frieze. The figuration is rich in symbolism, colourful and attractive. Everyone has taken part, selected and assembled their piece. A visual assertion of identity. One woman tells us she was a chef on six ships, she chooses a ship and asserts, ‘I need an anchor, can you bring me an anchor next week.’ Each week they are carefully sewn on. Perhaps they don’t make much sense yet, but I am confident that the purpose will emerge. I believe in offering the best quality materials to work with, it’s like offering a nutritious meal to the soul. It says, ‘I value you, I care what you make here, you are worth it and I believe you will make the best of this.’
It’s all a bit shambolic and uncertain at the outset, a new adventure, I liken it to holding an ocean in our arms. We have ten weeks together.
Workshops are held at ‘Copperfields’ in Ramsgate, funded by POW! And ROSA charity.