My beloved aunt died last week. I have said the most important things I want to say about her – thoughts I knew would be shared, understood, and similarly articulated by every single person who knew her – at her funeral. And these words were heard by everyone who knew her personally because her service was live-streamed around the world. So I won’t write about her beautiful soul specifically here, but instead reflect on how her sudden absence has upturned my thoughts now.

I went to bed late on the night of Monday 19th with my head organising my tasks for the next day. I felt a little stressed: the ‘floofy chick’ project I was working on had a looming deadline – Easter – and it felt like Easter was cantering towards me at a rapid pace. I had photographs to take, crocheting to finish, videos to record, and a pattern to write.

On Tuesday I woke very early in the morning to the news my aunt was suddenly, unexpectedly, very, very unwell. All thoughts of Easter and crochet projects disappeared and pivoted instead to travel plans and joining my cousins to be with her.

What followed after that was five days of intense emotion after she died: grief, loss, and lots of laughter and joy too with my cousins. Long days and late nights. I slept restlessly and woke early every morning with a sickening thud of loss and then tears. Then the day rolled out relentlessly ahead, carrying my cousins and I with it irrespective of our thoughts and emotions.

Then suddenly I was back in Scotland. It was all over, but life goes cruelly on. I walked into my lounge to find my Easter project exactly where I had left it, components waiting to be finished and assembled. But the urgency I felt on Monday 19th has completely evaporated, even though I’ve lost five days and Easter is even closer.

This isn’t due to grief. Crafting – knitting, embroidery, crochet – has always been my haven of peace and calm and it would be the first thing I would turn to to settle my mind and heart. In fact, I am grateful at this time for my temperature blanket. Specifically for the ritual and routine of one hexagon a day, and that’s what I’ve been doing through the last two days: crocheting hexagons and joining them into the blanket. I haven’t been working on my Easter project.

While chatting to my sister on Whatsapp yesterday I came across a message I wrote to her on Saturday 17th, three days before my aunt died: “I wish my floof project would end so I could start something else”.

The project I wanted to start was a neck pillow for my aunt. On a previous visit she had told me about an injury she had suffered as a teenager and how this bothered her and sometimes woke her at night. While she was telling me this she had a blanket I had made her last year draped over her legs, and I had a flash of inspiration that would require figuring out how to make her a supportive neck pillow to match it. I didn’t tell her this: it was going to be a surprise. So while my hands were working on an Easter project, my mind was working on a design for a neck pillow.

Rosy Gem Blanket, by Marion Mitchell
Rosy Gem Blanket, designed by @woolthreadpaint

I’ll be completely transparent about my thoughts because her absence changes everything. I had worked out the shape and structure of the pillow; worked out the stitches to use; I was deliberating over whether the cover should be removable or not, so how would I incorporate a zip, or velcro, or buttons to close it up? (I was leaning towards a zip). I had decided to make it in the same colours that Marion Mitchell chose for her Rosy Gem blanket, the blanket I’d made for my aunt, because I wanted them to match.

I had also imagined giving it to her. I knew exactly how she would react, right down to the words she would use, and that would be with pure unbridled delight. I knew she would tell me how talented I was and she would hug me and unselfconsciously tell me she loved me.

I knew I would see that pillow in her room on every visit afterwards because she would use it, whether it was useful or not, simply because I had made it. I also know that I could have created an ugly uncomfortable object out of a rough hessian sack and my aunt would respond in exactly the same way, because her response would have nothing to do with the item, and everything to do with whole-heartedly recognising and receiving the love with which it was made.

But that’s gone now, and I genuinely don’t know what to do next.

I don’t feel any compulsion to make this neck pillow as a ‘tribute’ to my aunt or in memory of my aunt, because I think that would be performative, and a greater tribute would be to try and live my life the way she lived hers, more explicitly, with love. So I now have two semi-constructed projects on my hands: one partially finished and the other halted at the planning stage, and momentum towards both brought to a standstill. It has really made me think.

The conundrum is this: I know that I am a process driven creator, motivated primarily by the act of crafting rather than the end result. This means I genuinely don’t mind the tasks that others find tedious: weaving in endless ends, Kitchener stitch, seaming pieces together, blocking. In fact, my attitude to frogging – the worst task of all – is I get to experience the pleasure of doing the same task twice, and that’s all good.

So why has my ‘vroom’ for these two projects stalled? It shouldn’t matter. It never has before. Crafting is crafting and a way for my hands to keep busy while my mind slows giving me a space to work through busy thoughts calmly. The object in my hands should be irrelevant.

What I am realising is that that is only partially true. The object IS irrelevant, but only if I have some kind of personal attachment to it. Truthfully, the Easter project started because I felt I needed to make something for Easter, purely for the purpose of furthering my design ambitions. It was a target deadline date to aim for: something I could make, write a pattern for, and then release for public appreciation or rejection. The initial spark is a little banal; honestly, my floofy chick design is a bit ridiculous, rooted in absurdity and humour, and it didn’t resonate on a deeper meaningful level to ME. It is a laugh, and a laugh is completely fine, but the laugh was quite quickly displaced when something meaningful came along.

In contrast, my temperature blanket still resonates because its meaning is its attachment to my sister making hers in Zimbabwe in parallel to mine. But also its connection to the weather, nature, my garden, and the knowledge I’ll refer back to it in future years. These are things I value and I still want to make this. In the absence of meaning, the impetus and enthusiasm for my neck pillow design evaporated instantly the moment my aunt died.

What I think I am slowly working out is that I can’t design or create robotically, even if I love the act of crafting itself. Perhaps nobody can? Perhaps this is the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘pleasure’?

If I pursue designing as ‘work’, will I lose the peace it gives me? Will it become deadline driven and stressful?

Or, as I am thinking now, do I need to instead be more conscious about understanding what matters for me when creating, for it all to come together. Do I need to focus more on finding a connection that resonates with me, and try to have the best of both worlds?

That’s what I am going to do.

For a host of reasons, I am going to park the neck pillow design and give myself time to process my thoughts and feelings around it. And I am going to go back to my floofy chick design – which, in spite of everything, still amuses me – but I am now going to try to identify what’s missing and fill that gap before I try to finish it. I need to find a way to design from the heart.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to focus on my temperature blanket while I find my feet again. I have two hexagons to make and join in. February is taking shape. And my sister has sent me images of all her work which I can work with instead. My hands will be busy and my mind will be free to work all these thoughts out.