Since moving out of London to ‘live the dream’ in High Wycombe, I have taken every opportunity I could to jump on a train and head straight back into ‘town’. Especially when it’s been to meet up with my old creative writing muckers for a bit of friendly workshopping. But at a recent get-together a new thing happened; rather than kicking off the night with a good old moan about how the re-draft of my novel was dragging worse than a toddler’s nappy, I sold two homemade lavender bags shaped like cats, and talked with great passion and insight about the Liberty haberdashery department. (I would just like to say at this point that I don’t think there is a word in the English language more redolent with delights than the jewel-in-the-mouth that is ‘haberdashery’).
My co-workshoppers looked on with pity - while passing around my sewn goods to inhale and admire, I might add – as the latest in their number to succumb to serious, possibly chronic writer’s procrastination, wittered on about buttons, rick-rack and the wool content in felt. Even as the buzz from exchanging cloth cats for cash fizzed in my blood, I realised the awful truth – for every one of those little airing cupboard buddies with the hand-embroidered faces, a short story or a new chapter remained unwritten. For every clumsy, beginner’s stitch a glorious word remained unexpressed, a character stayed silent. You see I haven’t just been bitten by the crafting bug; I’ve been infested. Our house is now an obstacle course of tangled embroidery threads, fabric dumps and runaway cotton reels, and the kitchen table has become a holding station for projects in progress and sharp implements that really ought to be further out of Dexter’s reach. Yesterday, when I should have been editing a short story for the next Mechanics Institute Review, I was actually catching up with episodes of The Great British Sewing Bee, rewinding bits to see how a particularly tricky seam had been accomplished and wondering if this weekend I might just pack Dexter and his Dad off to the woods while I tackle my very first ever zipped cushion cover.
In some ways the sewing rush isn’t a million miles away from the writing one because you’re making something, and that feels good. Of course the paraphernalia that goes along with sewing is a lot more complex than the writer’s simple tools of laptop and brain, but that’s part of the draw - all the stuff you can buy! Pretty fabrics, braids and ribbons, buttons and embellishments - oh the colours, the textures, the shiny, tiny things! My greatest joy currently is to sort out my supplies cupboard - running my hands between neatly folded bundles of material, letting the buttons drip through my fingers like fools gold…I bet Cath Kidston - the JK Rowling of the sewing world - started out like this – falling hard for the old-fashioned, unreconstructed desire to do nice things with pretty stuff. And then there’s the sewing machine itself. In my case, it’s an old Singer handed down to me by my Mum. I can remember as a teenager going with her to buy it from a corner shop in Worthing run by a little man (sewing machine shops are always run by a 'little man') where she handed over a trust fund of money for something so heavy it took both of us to carry it back to the car. I think she made one set of curtains (unlined) and then retired it the attic – where it stayed until I rediscovered it and took it to a little man in High Wycombe who got it singing again.
Meanwhile, there is scant writing going on. The pile of cats and scatter cushions grows daily and there are vague ideas of taking them along to a craft show, or getting myself organized enough to open an Etsy shop. Where once I used to trawl the internet looking for writing competitions, now I am huddled over tutorials on how to make a box pleat. Will getting noticed in the flooded market of ladies-who-craft be any easier than getting noticed by publishers and agents? I doubt it, but at least I have a cupboard full of lavender cats to remind myself that I’ve actually been doing something productive recently. The fact that I’ve started naming the cats after characters from my favourite books – Mrs Dalloway, Gatsby, Galadriel – is probably a sign that deep down I am not completely comfortable about this redirection of my creative energies. But it is nice to get paid for something for a change, and to know that my cats are living new lives in other peoples’ knicker drawers and laundry cupboards. Dexter likes them too – he gets to keep all the prototypes and to play with my bead and button collection. Plus I can chat to him while I’m working – even if he does risk unintentional acupuncture if he gets too close to my work station.
I will get back to the writing, I really will. There have after all been other distractions in my writing life – falling in love, having a baby, learning to drive, moving house…. so if I sit tight, I’m sure this madness will run its course, but in the meantime I’ve got another batch of Liberty print moggies that need whiskers, so I’d best wrap this column up now and get threading. Procrastination, get thee behind me.