A Craftivist’s Visible Mending

2 June 2021
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Content warning: death of a loved one

2021 began with the death of my twenty-seven-year old daughter, Emily.

Emily died on January 1st as a result of complications from her 2019 heart transplant. I can already see a transformation in my textile artwork directly related to grief, mourning, + navigating a new trajectory. Emily was a brilliant writer + she will continue to show up in my artwork, as will my son, Evan + my husband, Gary.

Family is the reason for my maker career. I needed work that would afford me the time to drop everything to be in hospital with Emily, or on a school field trip with Evan, + be portable + meaningful. Family will always be woven into my artwork.

Emily’s fearless writing influences my artwork with words embroidered on upcycled clothing + reclaimed books for button making.

Her Voice

I am dyslexic. Math is my preferred mode of communication. Reading + writing can be mentally painful at times. Half the time I can read + write on an “average” level; the other half of the time I can barely type a sentence. Or I reread the same paragraph three times + have three different comprehensions.

Emily, on the other hand, was a brilliant writer. Her first published article was for Erica Ehm’s “Yummy Mummy Club.” Emily wrote about the dangers of the “Twilight” novel series in an article titled, “Abusive Is The New Sexy.” Emily was seventeen years old + way ahead of her time.

image description: the words Critical Thinker, embroidered on a remnant of fabric

Being a December baby, Emily was usually the youngest in her class, including her first post-secondary experience at the University of Toronto when she was seventeen . She made it through eighteen months of university before she entered the hospital again, postponing her education as she often had to do.

In 2018, Emily was accepted into the inaugural Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing + Publishing program at Sheridan College. Within months, she had a short story published in Alchemy, an online Sheridan College publication.

Her voice, firsthand, would have been spectacular + inspiring + really loud. Good thing I won’t let her voice be silenced.

image description: a family of four adults; from left to right - a young man, an older woman, the author of this article, her daughter Emily, and the author's husband

The author and her family, with Emily front and centre. Photo credit Sandra Clarke.

Mathematics + Nature

There will always be a “before Emily died” + “after Emily died” divide in my artwork. I see that clearly.

Before Emily died, my artwork was influenced by mathematics + nature.

The brain is a powerful device. Being dyslexic meant my mind had to seek out ways to translate my thoughts other than in writing. Art + math provided positive reinforcement in “grade-school” Sandra, so those were my means of communication. Early on, I typed the plus sign instead of the word— “+” as a tribute to girls who love math. [Ed. note: We made an exception to our style to preserve the writer’s deliberate selection.]

Knitting a Fibonacci sequence, crocheting a hyperbolic plane, or designing a fractal weave filled my creative time + energy. When I was first introduced to the logical Fibonacci numbers, I saw art. Fractals in nature quite frankly blew my mind. The rationale of science + numbers made perfect sense in my artistic mind. When an Ohio State University math professor commissioned me to crochet a hyperbolic plane for her class, I knew that math + creativity = a unique business opportunity + something I could do from anywhere in the world—especially sitting by Emily’s hospital bed.

I learned very early that I earned more money writing knitting + crochet patterns than I did selling the finished product. This was another exciting way to incorporate math into my creative business.

Nature became a huge influence after we bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods near Algonquin Park in 2010. Off-the-grid means that we don’t use municipal water or electricity. Instead we have solar panels + bring in our own water. I once had a psychologist tell me that I love the cabin in the woods because it provided me with the primal survival skills that I understood so well throughout my life.

Craft + Activism = Craftivism

“After Emily died,” my artwork elevated the importance of craftivism in my work.

I had been a craftivist years before I first heard the term, I just didn’t know it. “After Emily died,” I found a primal connection to her, as a wordsmith, through craftivism. Emily would have been a loud + influential voice for #MeToo and #LGBT, because she lived it.

I will carry on Emily’s voice in my voice.

image description: a small embroidery, the word voice centered in a piece of fabric
image description: words embroidered on denim
As a craftivist, I use quiet, visual protest in creating art pieces with words that teach + evoke thought. Using reclaimed materials + traditional craft applications, I repair clothing with visible mending + thought-provoking quotes, words + references. Slow fashion, or the fast-fashion rebellion, is present in all my wearable or re-wearable pieces. Framed craftivism art using vintage + upcycled frames + embroidery hoops will be my focus in 2021 + beyond. While art + math will always be a part of me, I will plough through my fear of words for Emily + communicate for us both. Emily would have amplified her message. She’ll have to accept—wherever she is now—that together our messages might be softer in execution, yet still as strong as she was.

All images courtesty Sandra Clarke.

Copyright © Sandra Clarke except as indicated.

About Sandra Clarke

Sandra Clarke, has been untangling skeins of yarn + making useful shiny things for over 30 years. Born in the colourful, celtic, Montreal neighbourhood of Griffintown, + educated in Montreal, New York, Winnipeg, Vancouver + Toronto, helped Sandra develop her eclectic style. Her textile + fibre arts + courses include; embroidery, weaving, spinning, sewing, felting + knitting. On the shiny arts side, she creates + teaches; fused glass, beaded trees of life, jewelry + button making. Her art can be seen regularly in boutiques, galleries, + online. Sandra's ecology themed colouring books can be found on Amazon + in her courses. She teaches art + art business courses online, in galleries + schools. Fueled by the fast-fashion rebellion, visible mending + craftivism, Sandra's no-waste philosophy results in ethically made + thoughtfully re-fashioned textile art. Sandra lives with her husband + children, dividing her time between her home in Mississauga, Ontario, + her off-grid cabin-in-the-woods near Algonquin Park in Highlands East, Ontario. You can see more of her work at sandraclarke.ca, and on instagram at sandra.clarke.canada.

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