Pause and experiment

This week I’ve been back to work on an art quilt l began making in May 2021.

My studio

Pelofv is a Mvskoke word that means ‘woods with a creek running through them’. I’ve been using this design in different art media for the past several years since my first visit to my homelands in what is now the Southeastern United States. I’m really pleased with the trees that I cut out and pinned up yesterday using some of the batik fabric l bought at Quilts Unlimited in Wytheville Virginia last summer.

When l began this quilt l cut a pair of Horned Water Serpents from warm batik fabric. The thing is the color isn’t quite right.

So I’ve chosen some blue green silk that’s much better. Only now I need to paint or appliqué or stitch into it. Or all three! So I’ve avoided working on it for the past 24 hours.

The thing is that I get super uncomfortable when l don’t know how to do something I’ve never done before. Totally unrealistic l know, but full disclosure here. So I’ve decided to give myself permission to pause and experiment. This is a big deal for this perfectionist!


I’ve been playing around this morning with some Pebeo textile markers and Setacolor textile paint l bought in Bristol a couple of weeks ago at Cass Art Store. I still feel anxious and like l have to rush and get on with it and get those Horned Serpents up there. But I’m trusting this slow process.

Slowing down and breathing and letting the artwork lead the way.

Giving myself permission to explore and make mistakes, to do the wrong thing and, shock horror, waste materials. A scrap of fabric and a few millilitres of paint. Big wow!

Word(s) for the Year

This is the time that I normally find my word to guide me through the coming year.

A few weeks ago I was certain that it is going to be intent.

I often find myself beginning things or committing myself to projects without gifting myself the time and space to pause and consider, to find out the ramifications and to make sure that I am aligned with everything I need to know before committing to whatever it is. This can take me to places outside of my comfort zone, and not in a good way. I often have a lot of different things going on simultaneously. I do manage to do them all well, but it’s exhausting sometimes!

I felt that the word intent or intention would give me a platform to rest on and to gather all of the information before saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. Then I can proceed with purpose and determination, as well as an awareness of all of my other commitments and ongoing projects.

But intent doesn’t feel quite right.

As I ease my way into this new year of 2023 I find myself wanting to dial back and begin from the place before I even consider setting any intentions and goals. Talking about comfort zones, it is super uncomfortable for me to let myself simply be and to sit where I am. I have an overwhelming urge to prove myself and to get busy doing so.

This year, I am looking for that middle ground between doing nothing and doing too much. What shape will my life take and what is that word?

The slow stitch collage piece that I began in my monthly Slow Stitch and Cake workshop last Saturday gave me a place to begin to put this idea into practice.

This stitching practice is a process of stitch meditation where my desire to plan and compose is satisfied through an intuitive process of choosing colors and shapes of fabric and arranging them on a small square of base fabric. Then I choose a thread color and begin stitching concentric circles from the center outwards. I can change thread colors when it feels right. Of course, I can do any stitch in any direction, but I love circles and the soothingness of radiating outwards from the center.

When I can relax into this process, these are the words that come.



Once again my creativity gently leads me in the direction that I need to be going. Not necessarily where I think I need to be going. I can simply be with this practice and it places me in that sweet spot between ‘not doing’ and ‘doing too much’.

I am holding a workshop this Saturday 28th January, 2023 on Dartmoor, UK called Find your Word for 2023. We will begin with a short reflective exercise to find our word for the year. It may be a focussed goal or a sweet intention or simply an affirming word to carry us through the year.

There are still a couple of spaces left, so do come and join us if you are able!

In the meantime, warmest wishes for the still new year. Stay creative and above all trust the process!

Many homes

You may have thought that I disappeared off to America for good, but no. I have been and gone and now returned to my home on Dartmoor in the UK. We got back at the end of August. I am still processing what it means to me to have put my feet on the ground in the Homelands of my Mvskoke ancestors (now Alabama) and to have visited the current home of the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

First American Museum, Oklahoma City, OK

Little Red Stick and I visited the amazing First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK where we found our place on a huge map of Indian Territory/Oklahoma where citizens from all 39 Native American Tribes and Nations now based there can find our spot.

We had visited the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma a couple of weeks previously. I am itching to go back and spend more time where my Nation is now based at different times of the year and involve myself in Mvskoke cultural activities.

But by far the most moving and grounding experience of this trip was standing on the land where my Mvskoke ancestors lived before Removal to Indian Territory. in the mid-1830s.

I’ve worked with this place on maps for so many years. It was so grounding to stand there on my own two feet.

Six Towns Held by River Spirit, 2018
Red Stick Leads Us Home, 2018

So I am processing this momentous journey. I’ve been feeling sort of torn up about wondering where Home is for me. But I have talked to one of my mentors about this and she reminded me that we can have more than one Home. I do know that wherever I am is Home and I am thinking and feeling my way into the possibility of a life in which I can have a Home base and satellite Homes that I can travel to and stay for a while.

Little Red Stick

I’m on a five-week-long journey in the US to my Upper Creek homelands in Alabama and then onto the current seat of the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee OK.

When l was a girl l carried charms and toys in my pockets. One of my favorites was a little carved wood Native American girl doll. A doll can provide divine discovery, guidance through the psyche and link us to our intuition as explained by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run with the Wolves.

Through my artmaking a character called Little Red Stick has come to me. She is a young Mvskoke hoktuce :: little girl who ran away from the Removals and went to live with the wolves. She travels with fusw poyvfekcv :: spirit bird who sees far and deeply into things.

I’ve made a Little Red Stick doll from a clothes peg and paint to accompany me on this important journey.

She faces the directions of South (yellow) and East (red) which is where the Mvskoke people originated when we emerged from the earth.

This journey has been many years in the making. I’m meeting a deep part of myself and rediscovering the divine.

A-C-E and 123

This is such a very big deal.
I’m studying and learning Beginning Mvskoke Language which is the first class of the online Mvskoke Language Certificate offered through the College of the Muscogee Nation.

I began learning Mvskoke during the start of the pandemic in May 2020 via a Facebook group Mvskoke Hoktvke Kerretv Yvcvkvt -Mvskoke Women who want to learn. The online classes began at 7:00pm CST. I used to set my alarm clock for 12:45am GMT to attend from Devon, UK. As life returned to semi-normal I was no longer able to get up in the middle of the night. Since Fall 2021, I’ve been joining virtual classes offered through the Mvskoke Language Program of The Muscogee Nation at a friendlier time of 12:00pm CST (6:00pm GMT). These have been great, but I crave the structure of a taught course, so the Mvskoke Language Certificate fits the bill perfectly.

I received a scholarship, an HP Probook, and a hardback edition of the eponymous Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee. This dictionary is the standard reference work for the Creek language. This dictionary has all of the words that my Mvskoke grandmother wasn’t allowed to speak and that my dad was made to feel too ashamed to speak.

My great grandmother and namesake Melinda Phillips never learned to speak English. So I feel that I am constructing a bridge between different generations of my family. Mvskoke is not an easy language to learn and I realize that I’m breaking a two-generation taboo in learning to speak it. I am finding the tongue that was torn out of the mouth of my grandmother and saying the words that my dad never could.

In addition to learning a new language, I am remembering how to be a student on my first academic course in about 30 years. When I used to take spelling tests in school, I’d draw little pictures of the words. I’m finding that this helps me to learn Mvskoke by eliminating the ‘middle man’ of the English word. It also helps that I’m an artist and a very visual person to embed these words in my brain.

The Mvskoke alphabet and pronunciation are different from the English alphabet, so I am beginning right at the basic building blocks of the language.

Nakcokv es keretv enhvteceskv (Muskokee, or Creek first reader) was first published in 1856.
Contributor Names: Robertson, W. S. (William Schenck), 1820-1881. Winslett, David, -1862, joint author.

There were over 500 different languages spoken by the 500+ Indigenous Nations of North America prior to colonization. So many people and their languages are no longer. It is our Native language that makes each Nation unique.
When the Mvskoke were removed from our Homelands in the 1830s, our language was just about the only thing we were able to bring with us. The Mvskoke language has survived the residential schools and the pressure to Anglicize ourselves to fit in with the dominant society. It is a privilege and a responsibility to learn and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Este Mvskokvlke Owis :: I am Mvskoke

When I was a Boy

I did my first ever darn recently on a cashmere jumper that I inherited from Steve after I (oops!) accidentally shrunk it in the wash. It’s a little bit tatty, so I use it for ‘second best’, eg reading in bed or while sitting at my laptop. I obviously lean on my left elbow a lot and noticed a gaping hole several months ago, but had to work up the nerve to give darning a try.

I was originally going to use charcoal grey wool to blend in. However, we had a mishap in the car and cracked one of the wing mirrors. The person we were visiting taped it up with hot pink duct tape. While waiting for a replacement mirror housing to arrive, I became smitten with the hot pink/charcoal grey color combo and ordered some Laine St Pierre darning wool #538.

The darn was fun to do and turned out pretty good I think.

Darn good darn

I did my usual consulting of a couple of ‘ how to’ books and I was also inspired by Strange Material: Storytelling Through Textiles by Leanne Prain. This time of year I always think about my mother Nell who died in January 1980.

Nell Rose Martin, age 8 in 1932

As I mended the elbow, I remembered a story that she told me when I was a little girl.

‘When she was small she was told that if she could
kiss her elbow she would turn into a boy’

My mom said she tried and tried to kiss her elbow because she wanted to be a boy so bad. Perhaps today she would have been given ‘gender reassignment therapy’ or would have a choice of pronouns. But l think she was reacting against the very small box that girls and women were placed in in the 1920s and 30s when she was small. I am so grateful that I had free rein to be a tomboy when I was small and wasn’t in quite so small a box in the 1960s and 70s when I was a boy.

This is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singer songwriters. When I Was a Boy by Dar Williams.