Mending

I appear to be having some kind of small arthritis flare up. The joints I know for sure have been actively flaring up in the past are very slightly aching but more than that, I’m absolutely shattered. One of the side effects of long-term illness and conditions is that they place an ongoing and difficult to define strain on your system, overall, which means your energy levels are always challenged. I have been finding that the six hour nights of sleep – which Mark appears to be fine with – constitute less rest than I actually need on a nightly basis. I hate sleeping at the best of times given that it eats into knitting/making/tooling around on the Internet time, but I really need to reconcile myself with this activity and add more of it into my routine. I especially need to do this if I am planning to spend my entire life in the letterpress room, hunched over tiny bits of lead without access to sunlight, for the rest of the year* during the daytime.

I took today out as a mending and resting kind of a day, (a stitch in time and all that…) and am feeling a lot better in myself for it. An early night for tonight and tomorrow to be spent FINISHING the letter-pressing. By the end of the process I ought to have 40 posters featuring all of the sounds saved at Magic Hour, (all 24 of them!) plus 365 record cards for my Sound Bank project. Here is the last batch of record cards drying in the rack.

The Magic Hour poster involves hundreds and hundreds of tiny pieces of lead; I don’t have any images of the current stage it’s at, but I have nearly filled one of the largest casings with type and have basically used up all of the type in 3 sizes of text and now need to remove a lot of letters and randomly insert italicised and bold characters throughout the page to create a (paradoxically) uniformly ad-hoc look. Without this detail, I will basically have an A3 page of text which seems pretty uniform until the last 10 lines, which go just crazy. I haven’t come this far with the assemblage to make something ridiculous at the end.

And the time spent manually putting all the different letters together has both taught me where everything lives (or is SUPPOSED to live) in the type drawers and has given me time to pause and consider each of the comments made at the feedback shed created for Magic Hour. I have wondered several times if I am mad to do this in such a slow and time-consuming way, and certainly Mark thinks I am. But there has been something very amazing about the speed – or non-speed – of this process. And there is something incredible about a printing process that involves no electricity. I always feel slightly strange when I get the process of letter-press going and there is no ON button to hit; just my hands and the weight of the roller, the ink which I roll out and apply myself and the paper. I really wanted this very physical, material quality in the record cards especially, since I am going to be writing on them every day and using them as a tool for imaginatively engaging with sound. The paper I’m using for the record cards is about 30 years old… I always find it hilarious that we think of paper as a fragile way to keep records. But scraps of paper can last a surprisingly long time, especially when compared to some of the electronic storage systems which have come and gone in the last 30 years. The floppy disc, for instance, is almost completely obsolete now… and was never as durable, in some ways, as paper.

So the letterpress process has put me in mind of materials, of speed, of longevity and of process. I feel like working with the letterpress has made me consider the value of things in a deeper way. Somehow akin to the difference between clothes I buy and clothes I make, word-processed documents vs. hand-lettered documents have not only different physical qualities, but different imaginative aspects too. Typesetting something by hand creates a different engagement with the value of the end thing and the means of its creation becomes part of its imaginative life. I have never been inspired or excited by the layout of Word in quite the same way as I am inspired and excited by the letterpress room. When I get home, my fingers smell of metal and ink and I can feel in my body the various positions of leaning and shuffling and touching and arranging that have taken place during the laying out of the type. It is more immersive than the mild back ache and eye-strain that accompany too many hours looking at a Word document. And the gratification when typesetting by hand, is so much less instant than with desktop publishing. The results are slowly and painstakingly acquired.

For the Magic Hour saved sounds project, the purpose of this use of time and materials is for me about valuing the comments people left. About somehow recreating each word with great care and in a physical way… about giving myself time to really absorb and consider the way that people write and think about sound. No surprise that my record cards and Sound Bank project are being created at the same time; the same seed of an idea – something about taking time to think and write and make – inhabits both projects. The Magic Hour poster is akin to a celebration of saved sounds; the record cards are a kit for future saved sounds. All the time spent with paper and ink and letters has been a time of considering words and why we write words, and what words can be and how words can be physical.

I am always thinking about this, since sound and even the memory of sound, is often a very physical experience. So at the moment I think I am trying to find ways of equating the physicality of sound with some kind of printed form… that’s why I’m doing all this letter press, I think.

Meeting Celia Pym in Prick Your Finger last weekend, I was struck by the physicality of her current project. Currently Celia is doing a lot of mending. She stages public mends where items can be bought along, for darning. The exchange between herself and the person with the damaged garment is the meat of the work and she talks eloquently about the ‘catalogue of holes’ she is developing via public darning events. She documents and records each mended item, but often the item – once mended – is returned to its owner.

At the moment, she is mending a historic garment from Annemor Sundbo’s Rag Pile.

Annemor Sundbo is based on Norway and wrote a book called ‘tales from the Rag Pile’ all about the history of many garments she has collected over the years. From her rag pile, the jumper Celia is currently darning is believed to be from the 1950s and probably belonged to a fisherman. Celia spent all of last week mending this jumper, and there is still a long way to go. I love the way the mending is made visible, the physicality of the mending and the way that the worked areas are slightly stiff – ‘a little bit like scar tissue’ was Celia’s analogy.

I love her mending and the care with which she is restoring this very broken item. There is something very redemptive about mending things and about taking the time to value and properly care for things in this way… and I love how the mending of the garments seems to relate somehow to the mending of the body: it is a very amazing imaginative analogy.

I was very glad to meet Celia and will be thinking about her darning for a very long time. In the meantime, in lieu of my need for more sleep and relaxation, I have been inspired by the whole experience to mend my beloved slippers. I think I will stain them with tea, inspired by Slippedstitch’s experiments in this department, and certain in the knowledge that tea mends most things.

Then I will restitch the soles with the leather I got from the scrapstore an absolute age ago, for this very purpose.

Then I will get an early night.

*thankfully, I most likely am not about to do this… and The Giant Letterpressing Task will hopefully be finished (fingers crossed!!!) by the end of tomorrow.

5 Responses to Mending

  1. colleen says:

    I wish I had made it to PYF. I’ve had to have a darnfest myself following serious moth destruction, so was delighted to see the lovely work I missed. Have a restorative night.

  2. hey!.. now i’m not totally sure who you are!.. maybe but yea! were you at the giant knitting? if not this will seem Random!. ahh.. Felix? is that you?

    Anyway if or if not no worries!. i just found this post really interesting and can relate.. being a Fellow Arthritis Sufferer.. the flair ups every now and again (grrr this current cold weather is not good) but yea just wondering does your arthritis effect your hands! as it does with me!.
    how do you find knitting! quite well it seems! but yea do you take major breaks or anything? or like me with carving you just seem to trudge on through the pain???

    i’ve had JRCA since about the age of 12!! how long have you had it?

    wow letter press! you own all your own type!! LUCKY!!!! AHHHHH and i am kind of in awe of how many different types of things AHHHHHHHH.. i need to work more!
    i have a cool top that i need darning.. i only know that word due to asking sara when i saw her in john Lewis!..
    anyway i’m not having a good hand night.. so not going to type much!. but yea! wow Great to find this page as its got a lot of interesting things on for sure!
    cheers
    from
    Mark

    ps i do have a flickr page that i keep a lot more works on!.
    http://www.flickr.com/markandrewwebber

    pssss.. anoying http://www.ravelry.com i tried joining the night i left nitting but its been ages!! and still no invite! does it take bloody ages !! AHH

  3. Pingback: Darned « Paperhouse

  4. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » SOUND BANK Advent Calendar

  5. jeannette says:

    oh this is fabulous. i’m still aspiring to kate’s magnificent patterned darning which is quite beyond me at the mo.

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