…my life would be totally different.
That’s my Deep Thought for February.
Because if I drank beer ( a beverage I still can’t stand the taste of) when I went to Ireland, I would have spent more time in pubs getting drunk and flirting with black-haired blue-eyed Irishmen and less time doing this:
(Note: clever use of tea cup instead of Triscuit.)
For those of you reading along, we are in the Febraury chapter, page 31, of When Wanderers Cease to Roam but don’t worry if you’ve burned your copy of my book in protest of Vivian’s Big Head /Who The Hell Does She Think She Is [art journalers can be so mean!]. If you have my book, this is Back Story Stuff but if you don’t have my book, well, then, this is Story Stuff.
I wasn’t always an immensely talented watercolor artist. Once upon a time I worked my magic with needle and thread: I was a dedicated embroiderer. So, when I was in a panic about turning 30 [in 1986] and I bought a one-way ticket to the most outlandish place I could think of — Ireland — (I was a big U2 fan) of course I packed about 100 skeins of beautiful French embroidery floss.
Starting in Galway I moseyed up and down the countryside, hitch hiking about thirty miles or thirty minutes a day. I was in no hurry and, as I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, had no preference for one part of the country over the other. I’d stick out my thumb (it took about a week to stop feeling mortified every time I did that) and where ever the driver of the first car that stopped was going, that’s where I was going. I was never, and have never been again, so . . . [I want to use the word "spontaneous" but that sounds like I was having too much fun: half the time it was a daring adventure, half the time I was too depressed to care...is there a word for that?].
In Galway I bought some muslin: I had not brought any muslin — my embroidery canvas — with me from America because I thought it would be so much more authentic to buy some great Irish fabric in Ireland. Turns out that in Ireland the pickings are slim: there’s either linen (a fabric I don’t like, especially for hand sewing — please don’t send me nasty emails about how I am such a creep for disliking linen, how dare I, etc…) or a choice of inferior muslin. I ended up with a light-weight muslin that gave me problems, but which I stubbornly refused to stop sewing on.
And that’s what I did on my down time in Ireland: I sewed. I sewed on park benches, I sewed (one memorable rainy Bank Holiday in Roscommon) in the waiting room of a bus shelter for eight hours, I sewed in the evenings in the common rooms of youth hostels. The above Celtic sampler is what I sewed. It took me six weeks. I made it up as I went along — that’s why it’s such a jumble. Also, I did say that I was a mite depressed during this time; maybe that also shows in the wayward looks of it.
That bird in the lower right corner is the bird that is was the Irish pence coin at the time; the harp of course is a national symbol; the creatures hovering above the letters “e ” and “f” are, I believe, from the Book of Kells, and the various knots are various knots.
That piece of embroidery shows up in my book on page 31:
You will never believe how I got that stitch work onto the page:
I took my embroidery to Staples and I laid it down on a color copier. Then I cut up the color copy and taped bits of it along the edge of my journal page. That ratty taped-up color copy is what I turned in to Bloomsbury when I gave them my manuscript; Bloomsbury is such a high-quality printer that what they give you in the book is their scan of my color copy of my embroidery and you can still see the stitches! (It’s all chain stitch, by the way.)
Also, if you look carefully, you can also see the way the light weight muslin puckers around the stitching. That’s why the entire piece had to be sewn onto a heavier, cotton backing when I was finished with it. (Which I did six months later when I got to the Middle East — buying that one way ticket to Ireland was the start of a 12-month road trip. Long story. Not here.) And that’s why my husband has never seen this piece until I got it out to show you all today – I think it is an inferior work of embroidery because of the crappy muslin I used for it and I’ve kept in folded up in my closet. Inferior compared to the stuff I’ve won awards for. [ Awards: possible future post.]
But let me tell you, if you are a solitary traveler and you spend any amount of time sitting in public places with a piece of embroidery that relates to the foreign country you are in (did I say that right?) you will attract attention. Most of it — oh hell, all of it — GOOD. I can’t tell you the number of conversations and invitations and supplications I got as a result of people passing by who stopped to ask what I was working on, and who I was, and would I join them and their families for dinner, and would I show them how to sew their name in chain stitch if they took me to a Wolfe Tones concert, etc.
Well, I could tell you…but this post is already too long and that might have to wait for Wednesday, when I tell you about my encounter with U2 and that night at Regine’s [Remember her? She had a disco on Park Avenue in Manhattan in the 1980s?] that made me realize I had to get a new life by buying a one way ticket to a place I’d never been before. That on-the-verge-of-30 desperation makes me smile, now that I know what 40 and 50 are like. You all know what I mean. Right?