Susan Cuss – Healing Through Embroidery
Last year I read about a new challenge from the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design. Entitled Healing and Reflection, the challenge was to produce a stitching exploring the concepts of healing and one’s experience with embroidery. I was enticed to participate, as I have found much benefit in my own health journey, once I returned to creating with needle and thread.
Many years ago, when my children were small, I tried a few embroidery kits. As my son and daughter grew, and participated in a variety of sports, dance, karate, and chess, my time for creative outlets dwindled, and embroidery fell by the wayside.
Over the years my busy lifestyle of working, volunteering with several groups, and chauffeurring two busy teens to their activities began to take a toll. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and thankfully, it was not severe. In 2005, on the same day, I was diagnosed with GERD, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Gallbladder Disease, and Primary Biliary Cholangitis. Due to the extreme fatigue caused by the Hashimoto’s and PBC, I had to reduce my work hours to part-time. Still, dealing with the diseases and their symptoms caused stress and worry, and, later that year, my illnesses forced me to quit work.
After a move, building our own home, and handling my father’s 5-year long estate, my health began to suffer again, and I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Obviously, my body was trying to tell me something! I felt as though I was falling apart, piece by piece.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I re-discovered embroidery and crazy quilting. My love affair with needle and thread began. I found that the repetitive motions of stitching calmed me. The world and all my problems would disappear while I focused on creating a bullion knot, a cast-on stitch flower, or a cascade of french knots. Just the soft whisper of silk thread being pulled through fabric sent me to a place of flow. I would concentrate on the embroidery, imbuing it with positive emotions as I stitched contentedly, drowning out the cacophony of the world outside my window. Creating a special embroidery for a family member became an act of love, filled with positive thoughts.
Of course, embroidery has not cured my illnesses. I have found though, that its regular practice provides me with many happy hours of calm and quiet, and I feel more positive and less anxious about my health. Since all my autoimmune diseases are exacerbated by stress and anxiety, the peace and pleasure from hours of creating can only be helping my physical health. The act of embroidering, the tactile nature of the different threads, and the process of creating something beautiful from needle and thread does heal my inner turmoil and the stress of daily life. It’s peaceful nature grounds me. It touches my soul.
Thus, as I began to design my challenge piece, I thought of my own body and reflected on the damages that had been wreaked upon it. I chose a piece of cotton that I’d recently coloured with fabric paints, and cut it into 1 large, and several smaller pieces. The smaller pieces represent medicine bandages for the parts of my body that were affected by my diseases, and were stitched onto the larger piece. I also added pieces of lace, under which I placed foil to add shine and reflect the light. I then decorated the bandages with bullion knots, buttonhole lace, french knots, cross-stitches, and tatted frills to enchant as well as add strength to the repaired fabric. Coloured and plain sequins of various sizes add a bit of bling and reflect the beauty of the embroidery and the light.
A double row of cast-on stitch chains join neighboring elements together, representing that all our organs are, and therefore our health is, interconnected. The meandering path of chain stitches depicts my health journey, fraught with many obstacles along its route, but also finding beauty hidden here and there. The lace flower reminds of the cyclical nature of life, that illness may come and go, and that good health can be fragile, but that if one only looks, there are still flowers to smell and enjoy.