Falling through the cracks
Hand dyed fabric, thread, hand stitched.
Colour is often used to express moods. How often have you heard someone say they are in the pink, green with envy or feeling blue? Often a person who expresses themselves as being emotionally well hides the fact that they are not.
Artists use colour to express emotions such as joy, anger, sadness and despair. Colours affect perceptions and behaviours and colour psychology is widely used in marketing and branding.
Research has established that the colour yellow is generally regarded as a happy colour or one of well-being. Blue comes out as a favourite colour but greys represent moods of anxiety and depression (Manchester Colour Wheel).
“Hyposubjects are squatters and bricoleuses. They inhabit the cracks and hollows. They turn things inside out and work with scraps and remains” (Morton & Boyer, 2021). “I wasn’t myself. I turned … It got blue sky and the sun shone again, the flowers, … the colours. The dark became beautiful.” (Manu Fieldel in a conversation with Anh Do 2021).
Colours are often associated with phrases used to express how one feels. How often have you heard someone say they are feeling a bit blue or are in the pink? Colour can assist clinicians understand the state of mental health of a person. Interestingly, even though we say we feel blue, the colour most chosen to reflect depression and anxiety is grey.
I have used new, found and recycled textiles scraps and lengths with stitch to explore my response to mental health issues. Up to 13% of Australians suffer from anxiety related conditions. About 1 in 10 persons are affected by depression. Mental ill-health is not visible. What and how they experience their illness can be frightening and wearing to themselves, their family and their friends. And for many, for reasons such as low or no income, poor education, the actual impact of their illness upon them or even their gender, the diagnosis, treatment and support options are not available to them. They fall through the cracks and become marginalised and overlooked.
I have attempted to make visible what cannot be seen so that we can start to understand how it can crush a person and their family and that recovery is possible. I have drawn on my personal experience and the stories of others and used textiles and fibres to give a physicality to their words. I hope I have caught the impact of anxiety, depression and recovery in my chosen medium of textiles.
The feel of fabric in my hand and meditative stitching takes me to my ‘happy place’. I can rest my mind and be in the present. Stitching with groups connects me with friends, keeps me sane and gives me a creative outlet. By making my mark with thread I capture a time, a moment, images and feelings of a place and my place in the world. I encourage all to engage in an activity that will similarly benefit them.
Vintage doily, hand dyed vintage fabric remanent and thread. Hand stitched.
About 11% of Australians suffer from a chronic form of social anxiety and everyday interactions can cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment (www.beyondblue.org).
I have used densely packed stitches. The stitch used is sorbello stitch – a looped and knotted stitch.
I was looking for colours and a simple stitch that would reflect anxiety and when we can feel anxious. For many it can be social occasions and large gatherings. This work endeavours to reflect such events.
Felt and stitch reveal an elemental landscape and, when the work is turned on its side, faces looking forward and back.
Global warming is anxiety-provoking. Anxiety caused by the threat of climate change can take two routes. Adaptive anxiety can motivate climate activism. Maladaptive anxiety can take the form of anxious passivity, where the person feels anxious but incapable of addressing the problem of climate change.
At the UN Climate Summit in 2019 Greta Thunberg criticised world leaders for failing to stem the tide of rising temperatures. When Australian youth protested about government inaction on climate change by demonstrating in school hours Scott Morrison’s response was to tell students to stay in class rather than protesting about things that “can be dealt with outside of school”. In not acknowledging their concerns our PM has dismissed and marginalised them. He has created a crevice community.
The youth and young people of the world have had much to say about an issue which will be ultimately left for them to bear but they continue to be largely disregarded.
This work is a response to a comment in a conversation between Manu Fieldel and Ahn Do in 2021 whilst Anh was painting Fieldel’s portrait.
“I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t there. … I turned. It got blue sky and the sun shone again, the flowers, … the colours. The dark became beautiful.”
I’m generally of a sunny disposition. My friends and acquaintances say I smile and laugh a lot.
But the last few years have been more than trying for many of us. Our world is in crisis. Climate change, natural disasters, wars and the suffering that these all cause have not been addressed. Many suffer. Now our world is in the grip of a pandemic which seems to be spiralling out of control.
I live in country NSW on the NSW/Victorian border but haven’t been immune to the impacts of Covid 19. I’ve had limited contact with friends or family in both states due to restrictions. I and family members caught the virus which laid us low and continues to affect us more than 18 months later.
At home I have almost stopped following the news. Domestic squabbles amongst our politicians, failure to act together, both nationally and globally, to address issues which face our nation and the world make me despair.
Like many of us, I have developed a low-lying anxiety and fear of what may happen next. These stresses led me to do less creative work. An irony when I have time on my hands as I know that engaging in playful stitch and creative pursuits is one of the best things I can do for my mental health. I have turned a corner and I’m stitching again. This work is done on a linen tea towel representative of the domestic. I’ve used bright saturated yellow reflecting sunny colours and happiness; some of those threads are inked with black and grey tones to reflect anxiety and concern. Running and darning stitches represent desire to repair myself and our world.
Donna Caffrey explores the world with paint, clay, collage, textiles and threads. The tactile experience of clay, the tearing, cutting and laying of papers, the feel of fabric in her hand and meditative stitching centres her. Donna captures a thought, a time, a moment, images and feelings of place.
Provenance: Peer reviewed submission