On the small and the beautiful

In this, as in all other matters, lapse of time will be needed before things seem to straighten, and the courage and patience that does not despise small things lying ready to be done; and care and watchfulness, lest we begin to build the wall ere the footings are well in; and always through all things much humility that is not easily cast down by failure, that seeks to be taught, and is ready to learn. (William Morris)

So. The writing well ran dry for a spell. My attention has been fully engaged on other things, “small things lying ready to be done.” For instance, I have taken up needlepoint. How did that happen?!

When I was growing up, I regarded stitching with disdain. It was a grandmother’s pastime, tedious and fussy. And now here I am – if not yet a grandmother – grey hair beginning to show, settled into the rocking chair with a tapestry on my lap. It’s relaxing, pulling a thread of wool back and forth along the canvas, and satisfying to see an image take shape.

I’ve mastered the basics now, so that challenge of learning more stitches and developing technique beckons my intellect. The haberdashery at John Lewis fascinates me, it’s a veritable sweetshop of wools and accessories. I browse the internet, hunting for designs which are not farm animals, or scenes of twee cottages, or goofy patterns of hearts and teddy bears. I muse on various ideas of my own design to be stitched on a blank canvas, but for now I am happy to play with kits such as this one:

Strawberry Thief, adapted by B. Russell from a William Morris textile design

What appeals to me most about the stitching of needlepoint is the focus of my attention onto something small, immediate – something that exists only for its own sake and not in thrall to some higher purpose or ambition. Wrestling with the greater narrative of our culture, trying to drive it in one direction or another, is a futile pursuit; real revolution takes place within, and as Raoul Vaneigem suggests, in the actions of everyday life. Small is beautiful.

In conversation with a friend not too long ago, we were discussing the various cultural and ecological crises that are irrevocably altering the landscape of our own and our children’s futures. The problem, she observed, is that it’s all just too big. I agree. The damage being done by our industrialised, global-extending civilisation is the work of a beast that – ironically – cannot be tamed.

So I focus instead upon the small and the beautiful. “I can but think of myself as living in some new way.” (William Morris)

One thought on “On the small and the beautiful

  1. Yes- living in some new way is what life requires of us all the way through, and being able to part with what we are carried away from, good as it was, is one of the BIG learning curves. I love your Strawberry Thief. I share your enjoyment of the tactile pleasure of needlework, the wools, the colors, the patterns, the becomingness of the piece. So happy to share that with you.

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