We are outlived by our things

Imagine a world where the ephemera of a life is stored on a phone. Where tickets are bought and sold, receipts issued, and notes made. Where your phone becomes the hold-all of your casual jottings, shopping memos, greetings, photos, to-do lists, memos to self, billet-doux and doodles. There are the to-ings and fro-ings which made up your day.

Where is your history then? Where are the records of a life? When the phone is discarded, or the rules of access change? Where data is withheld or destroyed when a payment is missed?

Where do you go to find the shadows of a life? The ephemera that told a story? And how do those who come after us tie objects to a place and time without the written record that explains them?

We each need to hold on to ephemera: to collect ourselves, to let others know, through these things we collate and amass; to leave behind, touchable, real snatches of ourselves, to say, we were here.

Then we each need a place for privacy. In quiet moments we should formulate, think, dwell, and muse; judge and weigh our thoughts. Moments of sorrow, healing, loss, grief, love, spiritual journeying can be made public later, but not now, not for an audience hungry for spectacle and performance played to a pre-set narrative.

Our thoughts should be ours. We each need to own ourselves; to preserve what makes our lives. To live away from the digital world and know ourselves outside a digital crowd: we need an antidote to an intangible world conjured by Facebook, Twitter, and the digitised swirl of social media.

We are humans. We need to collect. Impulsively we want objects with real things touching our fingertips. We need a place for collecting the tiniest things. To make a frame which confers on our unique collations a new context and strange beauty. A place which speaks to others, when we are gone: here was purpose, value, and a beautiful flowering of wonder.

Here is an antidote to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the digital world.

Copy as sent to Woman's Hour BBC Radio 4, plus book, based about the theme of fond remembrance, possibly sent in response to an interviewer/ee saying something along the lines of 'is there an app for that?'

We women are tradition bearers, life breathers, culture handlers, mother speakers. We are beyond apps.


Seeking Imperfection

Ever seen, languishing in the 99p bin at the charity shop, one of those Indian note books, hand-bound with three stitches, covered in sari fabric, and containing recycled paper, maybe with flower inclusion, or gold effect glitter?

Why is it in the bin?

My guess is, even though this notebook is worthy and tells you all the right trade-and-aid stories - recycled materials, organised labour (and a wage) probably for women and children in a faraway land - somehow, as a note book, it doesn't work.

This book fails where it succeeds. The note book is cut square, neat, on the corners; the edges are sheared, perfectly, by machine; the fabric is gummed down, hard; the pages stare back at you, endlessly the same. Blank.

If I find one of these little books, then of course I rescue it from the bin. I usually inspect the papers, examine the cover for pieces that I can re-stitch, and the whole I study to jumble and reassemble.

I might tear the pages to free them from their sliced edges: perhaps they were originally made of rags or wood pulp, straw, or waste paper, and the fragility of a torn edge now releases some of that story to you.

The cover I'll tear to fray the fabric: the warp and the weft of that fabric tells you about the materials and the process, perhaps the fingers, that made it.

The board someone used to stiffen the cover, now hidden under the fabric and end-papers, I'll reveal to separate, stain, cut and re-stitch to allow your fingers to travel over the coarse pulp that I'll prick new by needle and thread.

The book simply needed loosening up, shaking down, opening out, to allow its own history to breathe.

What I'm seeking, with my restitching, is imperfection.

I want to do away - as much as I can - with sliced edges and neat tucks. I want tears, rags, threads and two lines that meet slightingly, not perfectly, on a corner. I want to ask your fingers to lean in, touch, to make sure, to calibrate and balance what you see and what you feel.

Imperfection like this, stitched into your book, is like wild gardening. The hidden hours it takes to maintain that loose tumble of tresses! The delicate flowers so casually falling to the path and so perilously close to your feet, for this summer's afternoon, only, sprinkling their petals into your way. Artful and artless: it makes its own boundary, it is its own uniqueness.

Time spent on such a variable outcome - possibly failing, bordering on disaster, never to be repeated - is what I do.

I bring imperfection deliberately to the book. Imperfection admits vulnerability. When you handle a Knicker Drawer Note Book, it's become so much more than a book; it's a collection of damaged parts, vulnerabilities, imperfections, dropped threads, missing stitches, maybe wrong-headedness, sometimes deliberate obtuseness, vagaries, and impulses. Sounds like a human?

When we're faced with vulnerabilities, what do we do? Exploit them to feel a power advantage? Or treat them kindly, patiently observing their broken states, reflecting on broken things. And when stuff is broken, and all exposed, then we can see which layers were too fragile to endure, and which layers remain strong.

We need imperfection in our lives. We need it so that we can be kind towards it; forgiving and accepting; finding gentler, stronger, more thoughtful ways of being.

Imperfect is our who-we-are.



First: dark charcoal grey leather cover with thick leather maroon wrap. It's the dark, edgy place with strong lighting and heavy scents. Looks great in a late-night bar with the burlesque about to start.

Second: pale dove-grey leather cover with maroon leather wrap, stud and fluff. Paper inside mix of sturdy notepaper with grey-edged recycled paper. A lively mix of bold and classic.


'Not like a stall, more like a community'

You inspire me everyday, you shell collectors, star gazers, singers, stitchery witches, collectors, dirty diarists, dresser-uppers, and you wise, wise women with stories to tell and decisions to make. I stitch the books for you. Your stories connect us all: these narrative stitches bind us.

The woman who wanted a book into which she could stitch small pieces of fabric of her husband's clothing with his words and small objects from his life. The book made to slip close under her pillow for wakeful nights to touch and feel a memory to stay, after death.

The woman who needed a book as a private place: her home, life, had become no longer private. Her child, drug-abusing and desperate for money, had stolen every private place and had taken every item of value, including grandmother's rings and mother's bracelets. A book here is an item of no value, but a place to write a message, knowing it would be seen.

The man who had a stroke. His fingers, no longer sensitive or feeling. With a tactile book he could learn to tell the difference again, slowly, between rough and smooth, heavy and light, cold and warm.

The live action role play enthusiast whose joy at discovering a book with a miniature skull stitched to the cover, whose role was skull-maker and bone-dealer, your infectious laughter and stories of skull battallions cured us all.

The woman whose mother lived with dementia: the book was to be a common bond. A place to connect as the last fragments were scraped together in a narrative of a life: a photograph stored, a lock of hair, a wedding ring stitched into felt, a sentence spoken, a ribbon made from the threads of a favourite dress.

The woman who stayed at the stall for two hours, talking to everyone who came close, telling us how the books took a place in a life of travel, even though she could no longer stray far: the books had become a place for journeying from the life lived round a kitchen table, with tea, and biscuits, and memories.

The man who was thinking deep and wide about his religious faith: what it meant to him and what new place it was becoming in his life. To mark this transition, a simple book with a wrapping bind, quiet and unobtrusive, a silent testimony to a soul's journey.

The couple getting married: you bickered over which book you should keep together and send around the guests on your wedding day to write in messages of hope, the future. You made up with a kiss, and someone cried.

The woman who had lost a child aged seven, who saved in her book the photographs of the family before and after this life-changing moment. Into the pockets, the fragile messages of faith that held the threads together.

There are so many, many more of you: you bring joy and sorrow in equal measure, and I love to meet you. You are wonderful, inspiring people who touch grief, loss, trauma, joy, wonder, memory, passion and desire in your lives, everyday. You tell us what it is to be human. Come and talk and handle books. You can find me at Stall 13 on the Vintage and Handmade weekends in CMK, four times a year.


Borges has a lot to answer for

When I fall into conversation about the origin of the Knicker Drawer Note Books, at some point I'm going to mention Borges, the blind Argentinian library-lover.

I have ruthlessly exploited the ideas of Borges in the design and the construction of the Knicker Drawer books. At one time, heavily under the influence of The Book of Sand, I constructed elaborate and intricate page-foldings, inserts, tucks and turns that went this way or that way to conceal and reveal: you could be surprised by your own knowledge, tucked away into the pages.

A batch of these strange page-turners were hungrily bought by oral story-tellers: one told me that the books, in their ridiculous impracticality, were ridiculously practical. When creating a story that needed a jolt of inspiration, they could go to a filled notebook, flip apart the pages, and out would pop a note, a character sketch, a moment of dialogue that set them thinking in a different direction. Maybe the donkey could get out of the valley after all, by climbing the rope? It all made sense!

Most of the time, I no longer make books with too complex folds, tucks, and layers. I used one such book myself and, like The Book of Sand, I could never find the damn page again. The one with the telephone number I'd scribbled too hastily and needed, now.

But you may have a book that bears a memory of that time. If you have pages that tuck, fold, wrap and turn, then enjoy the inconvenience to squirrel something away.

And if you cannot find it again, blame Borges.


What do you put in Yours?

CMK Handmade and Vintage September 9-10 2017. Every one of us has a book that belongs. You just got to find it. Stall 13. xx


Objects, stories, notes

What is it? The object in your book might be pinned to the felt, stitched into a page, tucked into a quiet space, hidden in the spine or folded into the cover.

Did you find it? Many of the Knicker Drawer Note Books contain objects. Perhaps they reflect the character I've held in my mind's eye as part of the process of making your book. Or maybe your object reflects my particular obsessions. Time, enclosures, layers of knowledge, imaginative life, histories, ordinary/extraordinary, physicality... (plenty to choose from).

But I want all the pieces you find to be a moment for you too, for the creative process you make, telling a story while handling an object. Because when we handle an object, we cannot help but wonder. Who does it belong to? Where would it be used? Is it precious? What journey did it take to get here? Is it something that I should value? Or discard?

We're human. When we handle objects and ask ourselves these questions, we're building stories unique and personal: we're making meaning for ourselves, telling ourselves an interpretation of the world through a physical experience.

As we turn the key, the small phial, the scrap of lace, the pin, the strange bead, we're not only negotiating a meaning with ourselves and the world. Curiously - because I must be here too - you're negotiating a meaning with the person who pinned your object there, perhaps in my own identity or while adopting the voice of another. Isn't that a wonderful form of communicative, collaborative art?

But what will you do next? Will you collect more objects in the same style? Or magpie-mix an eclectic collection? Or discard the objects you find, to start with a clean book?

Collections are not only expressions of our interests. They tell of histories, social moments, contexts, relationships, powers, values, beliefs. As you build your book, object, biography and story merge. Perhaps your objects tell of conflicting stories; resolutions or problems outstanding.

But each time your book is opened, and whenever you handle your collection of objects, you reconstruct, retell and remake your narratives. We remake our who-we-are. Perhaps your book then becomes a precious place to hold traditions, cultures, life-spans.

Or maybe that object already worked itself loose and fell away, a long time ago. Now there's just the book. And you can say, the object that came to mean so much? It must have existed, because here, in this book, you made notes.