February Guest Speaker: Margaret McKenna

Margaret loves colour and fibre. While still at school, she wove a long wall hanging that has linen/hemp, natural and dyed hand spun wool and slits. Since then she has moved to knitting the lovely colours, making shapes of glazed porcelain [Margaret donated one of her neck pieces for us to raffle] and, most recently, embroidery. She loves making things and needs to do things with her hands even though along the way she developed carpal tunnel syndrome that did not respond well to surgery. She finds that when she is doing hand work she must sit up straight with a pillow behind her back to protect her hands.

Because of the aftermath of her surgery she is very sympathetic to people in pain. Margaret realised that much of our brain is involved with the nerves in our hands and that if she stressed and worried about getting back at the surgeon, the healing process would be blocked. The corollary works: if you are using your hands, you cannot obsess about what worries you. Out of everything bad, something good comes.

Margaret chose embroidery to do something with her recovering hands. But she didn’t want to do the same kind of tapestries that her mum had worked on. She started to play with colour to give impressions of landscape. Then, after going to a hantha exhibition where running stitch is used to create geometric or organic shapes, she decided to make a series of memorial cushions for her six friends, family members and dog who all died in 2011. Next she was inspired by her sinus X-ray and interpreted it in embroidery. She then worked through other family X-rays and found that by doing embroideries of them she worked out all the niggles that had worried her all her life. Making an embroidery gave her control of the worry.

Margaret is fascinated by the process of research… to find the image and translate it to an embroidery. Her most recent research is into vertigo to make it work in 2-D. For her artist-in-residency with Arterie, she decided to do a full body embroidery (now on the wall of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse). She was set up in radiation oncology for 6 weeks. Patients were there daily for many weeks. Being a chatty person she found that talking to one patient brought other people into the conversation and the chat spread… to make it a party/bonding experience among the patients.

The volunteer team at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse makes kits so people can make something for themselves or to contribute. Older patients teach their family members embroidery, etc. One popular project has Matisse-like cut outs. Patients and family don’t have to pay any fees for these projects. Arterie, would love help. They have a project called rainbow rugs where they put together 10cm knitted or crochet squares [or weave-it squares] into lap rugs for terminal patients to take home with them. They don’t have any spare squares at the moment, but will contact us to crochet them together later in the year. And they would love us to make squares. They already have hundreds of beanies (mostly too small.) They have lots of opportunities for us to volunteer to teach patients to knit or whatever.

The Lifehouse is directly across the road from RPA main entrance on Missenden Road.

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