03 June 2009

The Hard Work of Treedom

After many hours of sulking in my stumpedness, after dozens of ideas touched down upon and just as quickly discarded, after much frustrating and philosophical pondering on the question "what is beauty?", I finally have my submission for Kalos. I don't know how well it answers the question. In the end, I decided to do something that I could do well and that meant something to me. But before we get to the the philosophical reasoning behind my creation, let's start with the process, shall we?

I chose to finish a wall-hanging of a sun, a tree, and a river that I started a few months ago. It's a collaboration of applique and embroidery...because my hand-sewing is so impeccable. Once I had the fabrics chosen and the pieces cut, I had to sew them together. Of course all the lovely curves meant I had to sew all of the fabric onto my muslin base by hand, turning under the edges as I went.
After many hours of tiny little stitches, it was time for...more tiny little stitches. I did the top of my tree with a stem stitch and finished off the rest of the tree with stitches I don't know the names for. At this point, I'd just like to brag a little. The mark of good embroidery is that the back looks just as good as the front. This is the back:
And the front:Pretty good, right? Yeah, I know. :o)
Here is the completed panel (on my pretty mosaic coffee table):
I felt like it needed a border, so I added brown fabric from a curtain I found in the "As-Is Bin" at Ikea. (Oh how I love Ikea!) Once the border was attached, I cut out a brown back panel and a layer of batting so the back wouldn't show through my white muslin front. I sewed the front, batting, and back together inside-out like a pillow because at that point I couldn't decide whether it would be a pillow or a wall-hanging. (That also saved me from adding a binding around the edges, which would have been...more tiny little stitching.) In the end, I decided on a wall-hanging, so I stitched a sleeve of fabric onto the back, fed a dowel through the sleeve, and hung it on my bedroom wall. So here, again, is [a not stellar picture of] the finished product:
And now for the deep metaphorical explanation:
I began this project with the intention of hanging it over the door of my apartment. It would symbolize the three words Jason and I have engraved in our wedding bands: grace, truth, warmth. We decided that those were the virtues we wanted our marriage to embody: to be gracious to each other always, quick to listen, quick to forgive; to be grounded in the Truth and to always be honest with each other; and to be warm, gentle, and comforting to each other as well as having a welcoming and hospitable home. So my little wall-hanging has a river for grace, a tree rooted by that river for truth, and a sun for warmth. In addition to being a scene of serenity and beauty, what it represents is a shared life of those three virtues, and I believe that that qualifies as beauty, too. But there are more layers to the imagery. In talking to Jason about my idea, he pointed out that the images I planned to make were also very Trinitarian: the Father is the sun, the Son is the tree, and the Spirit is the river.

The day I finally decided to go ahead with this idea, I was reading psalm 1, which talks about "a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither." That little phrase "in its season" stuck out to me. Normally, I instinctively discard the terminology of "seasons" when it is used in Christian circles. I throw it out with "this too shall pass" and "God is in control" and other such cliches. But when I read psalm 1 the other day, I was struck by this tree and its seasons. It is rooted by the stream. It's where it is supposed to be. And because of that, it stays alive. It goes through photosynthesis. It recycles the CO2 in the atmosphere into oxygen. It provides shade for a picnic or an afternoon of climbing to a child. But all that is not the glory of a tree. The Bible says, "You will know a tree by its fruit." A tree's glory and its identity, the full mark and celebration of what the tree is, is its fruit. But sometimes...the tree is just a tree. It isn't always yeilding fruit. More often than not, the tree is building up sugar, storing it until the time is right for the fruit to grow and ripen. And in the mean time, the tree does the more simple, mundane acts of treedom... stretching its branches towards the sun, digging its roots deeper into the soil, pulling at the current of the river for a drink. And in all this reaching and stretching and striving, the tree's reward is to gain a little growth for itself and see its shade enjoyed, it branches climbed, and its leaves thoughtlessly torn off or chewed up! But someday, in its season, sure enough, the tree will yield fruit. And on that day, there will be no doubt what kind of tree it is.

The tree in my wall-hanging is fruitless at the moment. It is doing the hard work of stretching and reaching and growing, with little visible results. But it's where it's meant to be. It's doing the work it was made to do. And someday, it will burst forth into color and produce a rich harvest that makes all the stretching and striving make sense. And maybe on that day, I'll make another wall-hanging that displays the tree in all its rich and fruitful glory. Both scenes, I think, have something to say about beauty, maybe even more so the simple than the ostentatious. Because the struggle, the mundane day-to-day, all the hours of work and anticipation, are what eventually yield the harvest.


  1. the amount of work that you put into this, and the payoff now, blows me away. i'm impressed, and i'm proud to be your husband. you make beautiful things, robin, and this is one of my favorites!

  2. I love it. Even more, now that I've heard the story.

    And, I especially love that it's something you guys enjoy everyday... for forever!

  3. Wow...I love it! Thanks for taking the time to explain the process and the meaning -- very cool. It will be fun to see it published in KALOS. : )

  4. I'm so glad you like it! It was fun to make. I learned a lot. I'm really excited to see it in Kalos, but I'm even more excited about seeing what everyone else has done. Kalos is such a cool idea!