Friday

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I might tear the pages to free them from their sliced edges: perhaps they were originally made of rags or wood pulp, straw, or waste paper, and the fragility of a torn edge now releases some of that story to you.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





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