The miracle of textile therapy
Hope arrived yesterday. It was steeped in black walnuts, tea and Mexican sweet grass. Hope that lightly released a small bell, and the hiding of great symbols between kantha stitches–symbols that can be seen with the heart and that know the depth of invisible options. Hope arrived with an appliqued raven and the turned body of a lizard that welcomed a child to hold her journey steady as she goes deeper into exploring the adventures of her own life. Sewn images–held in stillness–that allow for duality when facing dissension that one does not chose, but is required for a new life.
Another group of children wait their turn for an opportunity to select a cloth. A textile that someone has made, sewn with hands that have obeyed the heart, betrayed the negativity, and found holiness in its completion in its final simplicity of beauty. Beauty expressed by their own relationship to life, and to what stirs them at that moment of threading. In every stitch there is evidence of a maker who has chosen a life of surrendering to a process that is ancient and driven from necessity, a different kind of boro cloth echoed in all manner of textiles. A rumbling of hard work in the field, imagination, a hand to cloth sounding that has a beat and tempo belonging to the oldest of music. There are musicians who are asked to play concertos from the soles of their feet, from the image of the first snow or from the feeling of a cat purring on their lap. Those who offer cloth are no different from the music maker who releases perfection and asks of her instrument the possibility of something more whole and grounded, mysterious yet trusted.
Textile makers follow their line of thinking as well as their creative impulses. And all the thinking and creative sparks, all the feeling of the day, the mood and tempo of their own life helps to open the door to a kind of new quality that has been aiding children to heal. There are two visions seen by the child and the cloth’s maker–something met mid-air or mid-path that connects the two.
Children from around the world work with textiles as part of their healing. The therapy process includes talking, movement, art, sand tray and textiles. Textile therapy touches each child deeply, down to his or her core, and what is written here has become a harmonious partnership between artist and child. Children arrive with a variety of difficulties. Most of them, after weeks or months or years, regain a momentum of new life from working with textiles. Usually there are fabrics that support the process of grief or the muddiest journeys of releasing shame, and cloths hold a particular kind of vision for the future. Some children arrive here very ill and have found new life in the fabrics they choose. Much of the work found here is hand-stitched and dyed from plants and natural extracts. These textiles come from artists from the seven continents of the world, placed around the studio, and open for each child’s healing story to unfold.
When children work through issues of shame, accompanied by the automatic attitude that they create in trying to be perfect, they suffer greatly from having little patience for the given moment. They can’t trust the quality of patience that gives rise to inner thought or the birthing of new ideas or the choice to be still or move from intention. They can’t bear the weight of natural cycles and are disconnected from nature, their own and with the earth. This kind of suffering lends itself to feeling unworthy and shatters the possibility of relating without harm; it carries with it the false leverage of acting superior or the desire to be invisible as the role of victim. Shame kills any inkling of a child’s own relationship to meaningful thoughts, humor, or love. It kills any connection to authentic feelings. How shame sets up housekeeping in a child’s psyche is part of therapy, and how the child frees herself from shame is the healing elixir. The medicine is the cloth. It is not given, it is chosen. It is an exchange between maker and child, a ground for the real journey of dissolving the shame, and having faith in the present moment. The cloth does call, quietly, but it does call.
The sound is a quiet sense that there may be something emanating from a cloth that matches the child’s repressed feelings. There are the edges of fabrics sewn, or draped, or tasseled, fringed, or braided. Each of these qualities of fringe or edged pieces of the fabric contains a question and an answer. A question often forms inside a child as she examines an edge of a cloth. The maker, who released the fabric with the edges, leaves her messages of love and hope in the loose threads for the children to receive. Most children describe it as a shoreline of sorts–where one element meets another, conscious somehow as well as unconscious. The edges of the cloth often are the beginning of a child’s journey inward. Sometimes edges are combined here. Large clips are available so the cloths can be connected, edge to edge. Children from around the globe have agreed that when two different textiles are combined, their thinking changes, and their beliefs shift in a new direction. A focus of looking and touching creates a more relaxed body and the musculature of shame begins to soften.
There is an indigo cloth doll that is frequently met with curiosity. Children approach this doll with care and tenderness. There have been many children who talk about the doll emitting a sense of fiery truth, a baba yaga of sorts, and at the same time a related vulnerability–a vulnerability that creates strength from the suffering of a child who has no alternatives anymore except the gold coins of her soul’s honesty. The doll has a silk organza cape with a bold indigo design. Children are given faith that no matter how weak they may feel, the boldness of their stories can impress and shift that weakness. The deep earnest blue of indigo has been indicated by most children here to dissolve shame. Each child has a different view of the color indigo. Sometimes with dark colors there is a deeper break inside the child towards being free of shame. There seems to be a quality of sadness that allows grief to come again and again, holding forgiveness and clearing of depression. They learn the word indigo quickly. They learn the power of color. The power of nature and how light and shadow changes what they see in the cloth. That shifting of color often is a way for the child to experience how things change all the time. How the present moment can be as full as the one waited for. The doll is held, turned, and mostly studied. Playing with the doll comes first. Then there is recognition of something else within the cloth doll’s essence and the studying begins. They notice layers and threads, variation of color and size. Questions about the makers are always asked. The questioning seems to solidify the connection between the three: maker, child and cloth. When those three are connected, the essence of healing opens and a whole new vitality emerges.
There is an artist who made a small cloth animal that frequently finds itself in a sand tray. The sand tray is open to children to create a waking dream of sorts with a variety of miniature, life-like objects placed there. This cloth creature looks like a good cow and has two faces. It’s a two faced creature–one where you would expect to see a face, and a face stitched on to the little creature’s belly. This little creature has become a symbol for children who are learning to create a new relationship with their instincts. The face on the belly of this cloth creature often gets “voiced” by children who have known shame longer than their own inner wisdom. Practice does not make perfect here. It creates a kind of meditation, a slow and quiet energy that dissolves blocks to a child’s inner voice. By adding a face to the cloth creature, this maker has in fact encouraged a kind of primitive rumbling in the hands of the children who hold and place it within their sand tray story. It is primitive as in ancient mythology. An unthinking response once buried in a child becomes visible, safe, and held with an imprint of that creature’s sewn promise. There is proof here that when a child handles this cloth animal true empowerment becomes embodied.
Two makers in Australia have donated cloth and both artists evoke remarkable changes in the children who choose them. One very brightly dyed eucalyptus cloth, gauzy and transparent, has allowed some children to work through the pain of becoming vulnerable again, following deep betrayals of the soul. This maker’s care, in what is chosen for dyeing and careful attention of creating comes through in her cloth. Many children guess she is a teacher and imagine she walks around the world. And that is actually true. Her cloth builds a particular kind of trust with the children.
Children learn consciousness changes things. They learn to trust again with those solid lessons of eucalyptus dyed cloth. There are children who work with another maker’s cloth, from a different part of Australia that resonates with any child’s quiet tones of depression. Most of us have touched the delicate and powerful experience of depression. It is common. What is not so common is the act of children slowing down the panic and self-loathing that is associated with depression. This maker’s fabrics activate the longing for the child’s life force to return. These textiles hold the children’s fears, as something inside them dies away for that new life to be felt and take up space within. The benevolence of the textiles have children speaking about the reflection they feel and see inside the stitches that look like rain to them, or a story deeply pictured inside the dyed sections. The gentleness of her cloths often encourages children to lie on the floor. Holding her cloths on their heart, pattering their fingers on top of the cloth a song comes. A singing that seems to be the movement forward before the conscious new life is felt. The cloth’s own voice is heard by the children, and helps them voice the new life being received. As one child said, “This lady’s hands have sung me into a new life, the stitches a path for me to follow.”
There is a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling where cloths are clipped to the hoop and children can select which one they would like. There is also the chance to sit at a desk where two makers, one from New York and one from England, offer an abundance of nature and imagination that children have entered the studio with a life lost and leave with a feeling of finding themselves. These makers offer paper. One from the fields of her farm pressed and woven, no page escapes a child’s process. Small sticks from the garden mark the pages as each child holds a place in her paper and shifu woven book. The other maker brings forth images so imaginative, so full of folklore, mythology and echoes of Russian gypsy stories that every child who holds these postcard sized images becomes released into the value of imagination and its healing qualities. So very often the children will combine the shifu books and folklore images with cloths. It’s “like making a cake” one child six years of age said, “a bit of this and a bit of that and the taste of it is my braveness.”
Two windows receive light in the larger of the therapy rooms. One room is for talking, the other for textiles and other such things that require more space. The two windows have a small ledge that look out to a garden and city street. One day a very young child sat on one of the window sills and shared her vision of wind. Wind that she loved so dearly, wind that whispered to her. She felt the wind carried with it all things she could not see or experience during the time of her illness. She called the wind her daily present. She so wanted to feel the wind in her hair again as she had very little from the chemotherapy that has saved her life. During this time, another maker, living in New Mexico, had created a very long and spacious cloth that she placed near her window. The sunlight came through the material, the bits of silk and other cloths were placed and sewn and called “wind” by the maker. And soon two of those window hangers found their way to the studio in Toronto. They rarely stay up on the windows. Children work with both of these large textiles as they learn how to work through various symptoms they experience. These large cloths, rimmed with rows of kantha stitching, have opened children to the wisdom in their bodies. Working with the window cloths have brought children through physical pain into a new kind of listening, a new inner guide to what might be brought to consciousness. The children here, through this maker’s textiles, have explored every detail and continue to share their experiences of how the story of these textiles reveal themselves. The fabrics the maker has created come from deep trust of everything unknown to her in the moment. Her intuitive heart follows the movement of hand and thread.
A blind child works in a similar way here in the studio. This child has followed this maker’s kantha stitching as if reading sacred texts in braille, the body moves back and forth, head bowed and fingers alive with the longing to touch a bit of the mystery that continues to be revealed in her healing process. Touching the threads and silks have brought delight to children and have allowed them to listen to their body’s call for attention. Their bodies call for equal time as part of their transformation.
The body and soul of the textile mirrors the child. Often when children are working with textiles they are moving with them, bellies on the floor, running with them, dancing with them. There is a cloth treasured here by the children. It is a most unusual rabbit as called by its maker—beautifully sewn from an original watercolor. There are all kinds of materials that have been brought together: vintage silk, velvet, linen, silk fringe, and even a pom pom tail tipped in indigo–all hand stitched. The cloth has many frayed edges that are free and often are the vulnerable first touches by a child as she gets ready to move. There is one piece of music that often is requested with this unusual rabbit cloth. The music is Bach’s cello suite #1. Between cello and cloth the movement of the children is spectacular to witness. It can bring a child into her own awareness of something authentic and creative. This pairing of music and cloth unlocks treasures held for ransom by old negative beliefs. Try holding your own favorite textile, put on cello concertos and see what the cloth may ask of you.
There are many pieces of cloth and music that fill the studio, which holds the deepest despair and the most beautiful authentic joys of being alive. There are many stories of the children’s experiences with the textiles. These stories are healing, moving, and filled with incredible moments of transformation. Those stories need to find a safe and permanent place to settle—a place that all those who are humbled, as I am about healing and textiles can come and be inspired. Something held in the hands, and filled with the stories created by the real lives of makers and children. The children from around the world come here to meet the textiles, the sacred in the ordinary and the mystery of their own healing. I have been offered a gift of guidance through such a project. I will say yes. Yes to a book that is asking to be written. It will be an honor and my humble gesture of gratitude to so many textile artists that have added precious gems to the practice of peace and the rigors of soul making.
A child will arrive soon. She likes to have her sessions at night. She says the textiles tell better stories when it’s dark. She insists that some of her sessions occur before and during the full moon. She is eight years old and from a distant land. This little one walks toward the window and carries a cloth. The magic begins again by the light of the moon.