• Danielle Purdy

Sewing through Grief


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

W.S. Merwin

I’ve been spending a great deal of time considering the intersection of sewing and grief. I’ve only been sewing for a few years and only consistently since moving to New York in 2016. Something about the transition shook me into a space of needing to keep my hands busy. It took a couple years before I noticed, rather recently, I had inadvertently begun to use sewing as a moving meditation, something to pull me through my anxiety and melancholy.

In 2018, I came to terms with myself (still heavily a work-in-progress) and came out as queer. I did it with a naiveté that slightly shames me now. I thought I could simply say it to my long term cis-male partner and nothing would change. I thought I could just exhale and feel relieved we were acknowledging this long hidden part of me.

Barely 8 months later, and I wish I could reach back in time and shake my barely younger self. Not because I could stop the train that needed to start, but just to take a moment to look around and give thanks, to take a moment to breath in the calm before the storm for which I was so unprepared. Without delving into all the interpersonal details, my partner and I have separated, are separating. Though we weren’t married, it feels like a divorce. Things are happening in stages because our lives are so intertwined. This week, our Brooklyn apartment emptied of all of his things. This morning, I forced myself to look in all the newly vacant spaces and felt that matching cavity in my chest as I paced around a space built by two, newly for one.

I never could have anticipated the endless barrage of conflicting emotions since coming out, nor the numerous decisions both big and small that all demanded to be made before I was ready to make them. I find myself 32 and single, with a mother who is deeply disappointed and believes I am choosing to destroy my life, living in a city I never intended to be in alone, without the financial and emotional assistance I so heavily relied on.

And it’s here I found what sewing is capable of.

I do a great deal of regular self-care in various forms as an attempt to manage the wide ocean of feeling I am having difficulty controlling, but what I have discovered in sewing is a way to literally move forward in time. As Susanne Grabowski so beautifully stated in her essay on sewing and grief, “When you sew, you do this circuit of pinning, sewing, and pressing, over and over again. You never linger long enough on any step to start contemplating the futility of all human endeavors. And then it all culminates in making a thing, a real thing with a job to do in the world. Which is a little bit magic.”

Sewing takes me out of my brain and into my hands, but in a way that requires my full attention and focus. It is tactile and immediate. It demands my attention and care. I noticed my doubt, melancholy, fear, confusion, anxiety being transformed into creativity, love, care, gentleness and a beautiful piece of clothing I put on my skin. It is a deeply literal version of wearing my heart on my sleeve. Each piece that I have made in the last 8 months feels bursting with life. Each piece is a dear friend who has listened to me cry, filled me with joy, been squeezed in fists of frustration and holds all my grief in its stitches. When I am feeling fearful, I sometimes worry that to wear clothes made in such a state of darkness will fill me with melancholy. And as a person who is very susceptible to melancholy, they certainly have that element. However, they also stand as a representation of our ability to transform the darkness into light, into a piece of fabric that has seen me at my worst and still covers me.

When Meryl Streep quoted Carrie Fisher at the 2017 Golden Globes saying, “Take your broken heart, make it into art,” I cheered along with every other artist I know. I was, at the time, thinking strictly of the intersection of our political climate and my performance career. My job as an actor/singer is to transform my anger into something useful. I think on that quote now as something much more visceral, immediate and personal.

My sewing is a very small speck of dust in the world. I am pleased it has occasionally inspired others, but mostly it is moving me, very slowly and methodically and not without mistakes, through the dark woods, one very small stitch at a time.

Muslin version of Closet Case Patterns Kalle Shirt made from an old Ikea curtain.

Danielle is an actor/singer/stitcher/writer from Oregon currently living in Brooklyn, NY with her sweet cat, Sokka. She shares all of her sewing makes and occasional cat photos on Instagram @danielle.purdy.

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