I was nervous when I first walked in, wondering if they would be able to sense my lack of faith in their God. I was walking into a craft group at the St Luke’s church. After talking with them I am not sure of what they can and cant sense, but I am sure that this moment is not about me, or God.
It’s about a group of people who gather every week to make a craft, drink tea, and chat. They are humble when talking about the amazing space they have created for themselves and others in the community. Some are sitting and creating beautiful items that will be sold or gifted for charity, some are colouring in, and some make the tea. All tasks are done with smiles and laughter.
Below are the pieces I wrote after my visit. It’s four mini-essays that are being used for an exhibition by ZOË BROOKS called LIVE BY FAITH NOT FEELINGS. It’s on at Seventh Gallery in Fitzroy Melbourne, if you are in the area you should probably go and see it.
The thing that gets me is the serendipitous things that happen when we let them. While Zoe and I were talking about my part in this project my mum brought over a bag of things she no longer wants, as mothers sometimes do. Amongst the old pillows, bedside lamps, and velour leggings was my grandmum’s cross.
I had not yet told mum about this project so was a little taken aback that this gift would be in with all the other things. Long after the lampshades and pillows, and yes the velour leggings have gone to the op shop my grandmum’s cross sits in my kitchen. It reminds me of what my grandmother believed in and I no longer do.
The chapel is freezing, it feels hollow and empty. I can’t remember why the feeling is familiar to me, it could have been a cold empty church that I was in as a child or it could have been a cellar under the winery I worked in. We are here to look at a quilt that Yvonne has made, it’s hanging in front of us on the murky coloured bricks, it’s an abstract image symbolising a story from the bible, which I am sure I knew at one point of my catholic upbringing but have long since forgotten. It has fire in the middle which I notice is a little off centre. From the fire drips pale blue sequins representing water falling into the ocean. Surrounding this scene are the handprints of the parishioner’s, Yvonne points out the tiny hand of her grandson, ‘they are all different, each hand represents humanity and they belong to people that come to church’ she tells us.
It’s not hard to imagine the pews filled with colour and the excited voices of friends filling the room on a Sunday morning. Today, however, it’s empty, hollow and cold. Yvonne says her son died 17 years ago, that is when she started quilting. I looked at her momentarily as she speaks, unsure if either Yvonne or Zoë can hear my heart skipping faster at the shock of her talking about something so private. Yvonne doesn’t falter she continues, her voice steady as she tells us the story of the quilt.
The latest quilt she worked on is for herself, she tells us it’s big, ‘it goes from floor to floor over my bed, it’s got the nautical star in the centre’. By way of explaining her love of quilting she tells us she is good at maths. She also tells us about Michael, he too is good at maths. Michael is another son, I suppose, his name is spoken as if we should already know. I don’t ask, instead, we talk about the galah at the top of the quilt, it is purposefully not a dove, ‘we are in Australia after all’, Yvonne says looking at us anticipating our response.
Yvonne also makes lace and she likes to work on big projects, ‘that’s where the math helps…’ her latest project will be a shawl or a table runner, she is not sure yet. She started making lace, she tells us, ‘when my daughter died’. My response to this statement was harder to hide, a bolt of empathy, grief, and concern went through my heart. Zoë and I both had audible responses, that deep inhale of breath which accompanies a shock. Yvonne kept talking, telling us about the lacework group she is in.
While she spoke I wondered how long it takes to be able to talk, calmly about the death of your children. I feel like there is an order to things and Yvonne’s experience with the death of her children messes with it. We walk from the chapel into the main craft room and the activity, light and warmth help me understand how she can speak with equanimity about her life.
The room is warm despite the linoleum floor and the plastic chairs. It’s not such a big space, in the centre are 4 trestle tables nudged together to create a large workspace. Some of the women are knitting, some colouring in, one lady is falling asleep under the guise of knitting. The pale pink wool she has chosen is the same colour as her skin, I think I can see through to her bones. She has white tightly curled hair, her eyes are closed, her chin is resting on her chest, her hands and knitting resting on the table.