It’s the first day of March and one month of my residency remains. A lot has happened and this either becomes a very long blog or the first of a mini series, because it’s hard to work out what to write about first. My three main projects are well underway, and the repair one, Patching Up, has brought some real gems into my hands. These have included worn through socks, broken cups, moth eaten jumpers and treasured blankets. I have enjoyed passing on repair skills and techniques – such as Swiss darning - and the conversations that happen as we work away together.
One ‘Patch Up’ likely to become a regular companion in these last few weeks is Amy’s ‘threadbare’ Pooh Bear.
Whenever a project arrives for patching up I carry out a process that I realise has some parallels with taking a patient history, something with which every nursing student is familiar; listening to the narrative, assessing the problem, measuring, weighing and noting down particular concerns and hopes. Amy arrives with her sister and together they tell me the story of Pooh. As I turn him in my hands it is clear that he is a properly cherished and at real risk of being loved to death, this bear is going to need plenty of TLC. Stuffing that has lost all of its bounce, worn through patches across all areas of his body and split seams at every turn. There are clear traces of earlier repairs, fragments of clothing patched into the worn out surface, stitches made by much younger hands and threads of different colours. Later, when I look back at the photos on my camera, I realise I have taken more than twenty images when more usually three or four are plenty.
We talk about Amy’s hopes for this project; she wants Pooh to be more durable and to look less scary. She tells me that his face worries her most, his nose bitten off in an encounter with a dog. This will be a challenge, how to get the balance between a sensitive visible repair and retaining something of the old bear. I am especially concerned with what we might do about that nose and mouth, alongside those, all the other holes and split seams are child’s play! Amy is very anxious about working on the bear herself, telling me that she is useless at stitching, but is also unable to leave it with me for long periods so that I might do it for her. I need to enable her confidence.
I share the colour palette of threads with Amy. She chooses mostly muted shades punctuated by a post box red wool yarn, then she leaves him with me for ‘an hour or two’ and I can barely control my excitement. I notice, right from this moment, that I am a going to find this project difficult. Not because of the material challenge, which is very evident, but because I would like to do all of it, to make it my own and this is not what the project is about. And so I have to find a way to manage this, to control myself, which is hard, because I can sense that I risk taking over. I would like nothing more than to do all of this and nothing else.
I lay ‘Pooh’ onto white tissue paper, bring the desk light closer and take up tweezers and small scissors to begin the task of undoing. I find myself touched by the evidence of Amy’s earlier repairs, stitches of varying lengths that look like they were made by a young child’s hand. I’m unsure what to do about all these stitches, should I remove them or should I cover them, should I be removing all the traces of previous repairs? This brings to mind the difference between restoration and conservation. I can’t hope to restore Pooh to his original state - that time is long gone - so I guess this work is about conserving him, of making him more durable, which was Amy’s wish. So some of the stitches stay, and some are cut, unpicked and removed from the cloth. These tiny threads I place inside a small plastic bag. I settle to work on the abdomen, teasing apart the stitches that run vertically along the main seam, taking out the most matted of the stuffing, again into a bag. It all feels a little forensic, but I sense this is going to be a very satisfying journey.