Fabricating Stories with the Writing Mums

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Friday, 31st January saw me return to Dunbar as I was asked to facilitate a session with the newly formed Writing Mums group. Created for the first Dunbar Wee Words Festival in June 2013, this writing workshop for mums with a crèche provided for the young ones, is a vital and stimulating space for women to explore the experiences of motherhood in a small supportive group. A sit down break with a cake and a hot drink is more than enough for some busy mums. The chance to sit back and relax without any little people making demands is a desirable prospect. But this group of writing mums want more as they strive to share their thoughts, feelings, memories, desires, plans and stories through their writing.

The workshop started with the quote, ‘Our memories resonate with fabric. The cloth we wear close to our skin, or touch in daily life , leaves a trace of ourselves behind.’ Professor Lesley Millar, MBE.

The whole workshop hung upon this idea of fabric, the fabrics that have come in and out of our lives and the women who might have made clothing or other ideas with them. This quote was used as a free-write first to get our brains into gear. Something that I’m an enthusiastic advocate for is something Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls Morning Pages. Three pages of long hand writing produced each morning as soon as you wake  are used as a means of getting all the dross out of our heads, to make way for the creative ideas and gems to flow. This is a practice I offered up to the group. This writing is not something to share with anyone,and I don’t actually suggest sharing it with yourself until months down the line. You just write it, get it out of you and move on.

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Keeping in the same vein of fabric and sewing, I then read the group a poem by Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson, ‘I Sit and Sew’, which explores how women stay in the home, sitting and sewing ‘this useless seam, the idle patch’, while the men of the world go to war, fight, kill and be killed. The sentiment being that women could do all these things, be of more use to society if only they were given a chance.

I used this example to get the writers to think about what happens in the forefront of a piece of literature and what is also happening behind, in the background. It’s about seeing the scene through two lenses, and bringing them into focus one at a time and seeing the whole picture thereafter.

I’m all for planting seeds, so with this in mind I then pulled out my collection of clothes patterns and scarps of fabrics for the group to feel and share their experiences of sewing, knitting and memories of the women in their families who possessed these now neglected skills. In small groups, the talking was animated and funny as memories were shared. Hands were used in the descriptions and measurements while colours were stressed. What I felt, as an onlooker, was the connections that were being forged between the women, the support and encouragement was so evident in the sing-song, strength of their voices. We had some time to share stories to the wider group and reminisce some more. Eager to capture these stories before they were forgotten. I got the writers to note down one or two of these memories or episodes to come back to later.

All this was food for the pot. The last ingredient to add was a short story from Ray Bradbury,‘Embroidery’. We meet three women sewing, moving their hands and thinking about how many jobs their hands have done over the years. All the time these women are waiting for the men to destroy the world. This is a very powerful and beautifully written short story that again produces a foreground action as well as a background action. With this in mind I sent the women off on their writing task, building upon their own stories involving fabric and sewing to create a more fuller piece they would be willing to share with the group.

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I love workshops. There is something magical that happens within their spaces. I’m not sure at which point it happens, but there is a tipping point into the land of creativity where we spend time playing with words and our imaginations. Within the limited time of this workshop, everyone produced a piece of writing that they did not know was in them or even in the horizon an hour and a half beforehand. That is the magic of the workshop as pen meets paper imaginations leap and stories are born. I love my job, because I get to witness these transformations.

The words that these writing mums shared this day were amazing, heart-felt and raw.  Raw not in the sense of quality but raw in the sense that these are new voices, that might be just exploring and enjoying their first opportunity to be heard. They have so much more to explore and give.

I do look forward to sharing more workshops with these writers. Thank you.