Some months ago I noticed I was getting a fair few comments from Brenda, in Oregon, USA. She appeared to be reading my blog (all 750 or so posts) from start to finish, and commenting on several. I was flabbergasted. Most people treat a blog like a magazine or newspaper, reading the latest posts, but having very little time for the old news. I am like that myself. Even with the blogs I enjoy I rarely go back to the very beginning, although of course I do search or read back as my interest takes me. But I was so touched by her interest, and commitment, that I emailed her directly, and we started “talking”. Mainly about our printing, dyeing, surface decoration experiences. She, for example, has lots of knowledge about eco-printing with leaves and other plant matter, natural printing techniques, and quilting and sewing and knitting. And as we talkied a bit more about ourselves I found her an intriguing and kind person. I followed her on Instagram @bmarksor. So it was a bit of a shock when she wrote to tell me that she had breast cancer, and that she would be off line for a while. I wished her well and hoped for the best.
Well of course I carried her in my mind for a week or two as I knew she was waiting for detailed results, the prognosis and the treatment plan. Although I have never had cancer myself, like many people, I have been close to lots of people who have. Surgery, chemotherapy, tests, sickness, pain, worry – much of our experience with cancer is negative. So after a week or two I reached out to ask her how she was doing. Thankfully Brenda was happy to talk about what was happening and I appreciated her openness and willingness to share her horrible experiences in a way that made them bearable – for herself, her family and her friends. And she allowed me in, and we have continued to talk about losing her hair, and feeling exhausted, and preparing for surgery, which will take away her breasts.
During this time she has displayed a very strong character, a scientific interest in the treatment and its effects on her body, the social and personal issues associated with her condition. She has a very positive view of life and her future that I find encouraging and inspiring. And in the midst of this she has been focused outwards, and amongst other things has been following my SWAP plan! She wrote offering me some beautiful fabrics that she had bought to make smart work wear for her job as a lecturer. She is off work at the moment and is probably thinking that even if she goes back to this job she won’t want to dress so “corporate” in future. So she kindly sent me swatches of all her fancy fabrics (about 10 of them) and asked me to take them all, or to select which I would like to receive, as a gift. I was overwhelmed but I offered to pay for the postage as I had a feeling that it would be prohibitive.
In between her treatments Brenda went to the post office and weighed her parcel, and gradually we agreed to take out items that were too expensive to post. Instead I proposed that Brenda, when she has recovered, comes to stay with us in London, or by the lake, in England. I hope that she will do this – it was not an idle offer! In the meantime we agreed I would make her something and she suggested that I paint a piece silk, so that she can make up a special outfit for afterwards. Last week a parcel arrived that included a beautiful piece of blue wool to make trousers for Gus, some high quality natural silk, inspiration pictures and some stones. I will write about the stones, and the blue wool, on another occasion.
Brenda will be a different shape after the operation, and the chemo has diminished her appetite, but Brenda is able to think positively about being cured, and putting some creative energy into making a new wardrobe. In the same way that when she lost her hair she made some lovely hats she plans to make a special dress that will flatter her and make feel good about herself. And I get to help and play a part in that! What an honour. But also, what a responsibility!
My task is to use these pictures as inspiration. The Alabama Chanin stencil designs are, as she notes, “botanical, movement, medium scale, could be beautiful in brush strokes”. I find these images a bit scary – for my attempts at stencils see here. I generally paint flowers (and leaves, but they are a supporting act for me), but the AC seems to be more about stems and leaves. And the patinated copper jewellry (which I love) is also leaf shaped, and the peacock feather motif is elliptical. Again my natural shape when painting is somewhat rounded.
The colour inspiration is also a little bit worrying – I think we are going for green and purple scheme, with brown, blue and turquoise. But also there is something in that first swatch that is talking to me which is the warmer gingery brown/beige and the cherry red. I think these two colour provide a useful bit of contrast, alongside white. Brenda can certainly wear deeper cool colours but I also want to get some lightness into it as it is silk.
I am excited about this commission which will be challenging. I want to create something that Brenda loves and can use to make a gorgeous dress. At the moment she is suggesting I create the bodice and she will create the skirt, but what I am thinking perhaps is to paint say half the length of the fabric, then batik wax the painted areas, and dye the fabric say dark green, or brown or navy, so that there is a nice plain section and the patterned section with the same background colour. I think it would be easier if I knew the pattern or shape Brenda was planning for the dress but it may be too soon for her to decide.
I can’t wait to get started but I will let it brew in my mind for a little while.