Our hands tell our stories. They carry the marks of a lifetime: smooth, rough, gnarled, wrinkled, calloused. They are unique to each of us. 

I was fortunate to create a stitched art piece of my friend Bev's hands. She has beautiful lines and marks on her hands, the imprints and scores of a pianist, and it was these marks she noticed first on the finished artwork.

Each of those marks reflect her musical passion: her years of training, the challenges, the successes and the highlights, the daily practices, the challenges and goals she has set for herself.

The making of this art piece was not without its struggles. I visited her in her studio to photograph her hands while she played the piano, ending up with some 60 or 70 photos. After sorting through these I narrowed it down to just a few. I wanted something that showed the movement of her fingers on the keyboard, and did not want it to look posed. One picture stood out for this.

I then transferred the image from the photograph to fabric and began stitching, but wasn't happy with the results. I chose a different fabric and starting stitching again. But this too wasn't working. It wasn't in harmony with Bev's musical side. I knew that choosing another fabric was not the answer. I had to come at this picture from a different perspective, find something with a different tune. The trouble was, I didn't know yet what that new tune should be. And so I put aside this project to ponder some more, hoping a solution would arrive.

After a few weeks, a different composition came to mind: I printed out the original photograph (8x10), and gelled a sheet of gampi paper (a Japanese paper, translucent with a free-form ethereal pattern) on top, giving the photograph a more airy look. I then stitched through the photograph and gampi paper, using black and white thread to play up the piano keys, and a combination of flesh toned threads to outline Bev's hands and fingers, and to accentuate the details of the knuckles, veins and muscles. 

This look achieved what I was looking for: to reflect her spiritual side, her wisdom, her drive, her explorations in music. The final consideration was the emotional reaction I thought Bev would have to the piece, and judging by her reaction when I presented this art piece to her, the combination of papers and stitches achieved my goal. She has referred to it as a "contemplative and deeply personal rendering". 

There is something about hands...

Hands reflect who we are, our personality, they give clues about our lifestyle, our age, our interests. Some people notice the fingernails first, especially if they are polished with colour. Others notice muscular hands, bony, arthritic, calloused, smooth. We notice the shapes of our fingers, size of our hands. We notice if they are clenched or open, pointing or gesticulating. We notice lifelines, veins and age spots.

I did a study a few years ago on the hands of creative women over the age of 75, my mother's included, and wrote a page about each. And I gave the women a copy - they were delighted, delighted with the veins, wrinkles, and shapes I captured, and preserved, through stitch. 


"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try...