Memory cloths and other unfinished business

I first came across memory cloths last year in Helen Klebesadel’s blogpost here about Leslee Nelson’s work itself inspired by a 2005 exhibition of South African women’s textile pieces ; and finally got round to starting work on machine embroidering some of my mother’s handkerchiefs this week , more than 2 years after her death . I chose 3 with recognisably Spanish touristic-type scenes hand embroidered on them and arranged them with 3 plain ones like this : –

6 handkerchiefs

6 handkerchiefs

She loved Spain and admired the superb counted thread work found on so many Spanish sewn pieces , even (then) souvenirs .

I planned to machine embroider because I am better at that – and maybe I wanted to avoid trying to write on them . Leslee Nelson refers to a Hawaiian family healing mantra – “I love you , I’m sorry , I forgive you , Thank you” – which she stitched on one of her pieces . I had it at the back of my mind this week (not so clearly) as well as Oscar Wilde’s “Children begin by loving their parents ; after a time they judge them ; rarely , if ever , do they forgive them .” The problem is it seems the most colossal cheek for me to be forgiving my mother . And so I can’t help feeling I won’t be forgiven myself . Well when words fail me I do some work with my hands and sometimes that clarifies things .

White and 2 reds

White and 2 reds

  White and 2 reds (detail)

White and 2 reds (detail)

This is as far as I have gone – I was planning 2 shades of gold thread further . The machine stitching has puckered the very fine fabric , maybe particularly because I was doing loops ? I’m not sure what I will do with it when it is finished . I couldn’t sell it – not least because I didn’t do the fine cross-stitch ! – and can’t imagine hanging it up . Anyway I will have to do the 2nd piece I have planned which involves 4 handkerchiefs of different sizes – 3 featuring blue and 2 with her initial . She hated her name Khadija , although like most of us Muslim women she admired the 1st one . I think it was because English speakers could never pronounce it . She also disliked the colour blue but late in her life told me it was because her mother had said it was only for white people with blue eyes and blonde hair .

As to the pottery I have nothing new to show ; it seems to take a long time for stuff to be fired and I am still carving the arabesques into the double spouted pot . One of the other students asked me if I had copied the idea from someone I had not heard of which underlined for me how very old and unsuccessful I am ! He must be after my time and yet well-known . In 28 years as an artist I’ve just become nameless history .


About rukshanaafia

Ceramic & textile artist
This entry was posted in ceramics, other artists, Textiles. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Memory cloths and other unfinished business

  1. kathy bergen says:

    I love this work…I love the reasons for it and the thoughts and poignant feelings behind it. I think it would be a lovely piece and keep well in a glass frame…and hung. I confess that I do not know how to do machine embroidery! And I inherited my mother’s sewing machine, which was new and does all kinds of embroidery and things. It has gathered dust…even tho I keep it covered. I have done some cross stitching by hand…and other embroidery that I have drawn in first. I am amazed that your mother’s handkerchiefs are so lovely and in good condition. My mother lacked that kind of refinement. Your mother did not like blue…I am not fond of it either…but for different reasons. My mother and 2 sisters love blue…it is their favorite color…all 3 of them and I had to make many things all in blues for each of them (which they never really appreciated). And I have found that most people who prefer blue are…boring. Was your mother part Spanish? She was beautiful. I will look up the name: Kadija. I never liked my name either. I love this work, Rukshana! Keep it up. And no one else can make you feel like nameless history….your work is unique and brilliant. It also smote my heart that you feared you may not be forgiven….thank god your son has you.

    • rukshanaafia says:

      Thank you Kathy . Khadija is a very common Muslim name for women – she was the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad and renowned for her beauty , wisdom and business acumen . She reassured him that he was not mad but receiving a message from God when he confided in her about the visitation of Gabriel and so advised him to ask a Christian monk for counsel .
      I think my mother was of a generation of non-white people who still half consciously believed that accommodating to white people’s preferences and expectations sufficiently would earn equal treatment . She was not Spanish but learnt the language easily when we lived there during my first 2 years , becoming quickly fluent . I think also that no one gave her hassle about her skin colour because in the Southern Mediterranean she looked like other people around . If in the more Northern cities her high cheekbones were noticed she would have been assumed to be South American .

  2. kathy bergen says:

    I did look up “Khadija” and got someone quite different…thank you for telling me. I had left the “h” out of the name! I would feel honored to have that name if I were Muslim! What a beautiful story.

    My mother also had high cheekbones…one of her beauty points…but she was obese and dull in spirit and mind (or seemed to be to my siblings and I).

    I was always the “dark skinned” one of my family…and proud of it. Don’t know where it came from. My 2 sisters got the Scandinavian blonde hair and blue eyes (I got blue eyes too). My 2 brothers and I got brown hair…and both of my parents had black hair! How do you figure? I figure that we were not “meant” to be a family…but were put together because something happened to our intended families.

    I like the title of this post: “Memory Cloths and Other Unfinished Business”. How true this is for many of us. I would never do this kind of art in memory of my mother…or my father, though I loved him more that I could love her. But you had a different kind of love and relationship with our mother and there was/is much beauty in it….and pain.

  3. kathy bergen says:

    Meant to say: “….with your mother…”

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