Someone sent me this postcard years ago and I have kept it in my file, constantly intrigued by the fact that it is unfinished and curious as to what happened to the embroiderer who didn’t finish it. It is attributed to Mary, wife of James II of Scotland. Was it death, war, packing up to go to another castle, simply boredom or a feeling that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ to finish, or she had run out of yarn.
I like to think of handwork as part of a production process, one of a series. In my book on Handweaving I have written advice to students who are struggling with finishing pieces because they are not perfect. “There is no such thing as a masterpiece, each piece is a practice for the next and we learn as we go along”.
The important thing is that we never stop learning. Our society puts the emphasis on milestones like exams and degrees, yet these are really just markers on the way of lifelong learning and with trial and error, we can always come to the next step of proficiency and achievement, knowing that this is just a step on the way.
The positive side of unfinished business is that we can always finish it at a later date. The frustration that comes to us is a sign to move on and try new things and in that process we’ll find the skills to either go back and finish the piece we’ve left behind or find the courage to file it away for someone else to pick up who has the skills and interest to carry on.
I’ve spent frustrating hours at the loom not understanding why something wasn’t quite right. On one famous occasion I was trying to learn a Finnish technique using beautiful coloured linen from Helsinki. The technique just wouldn’t come right either with tension or colour blend and after several days I thought “What the heck” and started to weave a design on the warp which was not the one I planned, but one which looked stunning and sold as soon as it was finished. There are no rules and its all about exploration.
I’m not a fan of the Spanish explorers and Christopher Columbus is definitely not one of my heroes, but it is amazing how often we set off to achieve a goal, only to discover that we’ve arrived somewhere else much more to the point and more satisfying than what we set out to do originally.
We are quite arrogant about our lives when it comes to unfinished business and reluctant to acknowledge that we may leave projects unfinished or ideas undeveloped and that’s OK. There is no race and the process of learning is like everything else worthwhile, one day at a time
My book Handweaving: The Basics is on pre-publication sale through Amazon.
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