In the closing days of 2021 and the opening day of 2022 I stitched along to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, a perfect audiobook listen for midwinter, as the story starts on Midwinter’s Eve and finishes on Twelfth Night. I started my quilting on Midwinter’s Day, and finished it on New Year’s Day.
The Dark is Rising (1973) is the second in a series of five books written for children, which I must have first read when I was nine or ten. At that age, I preferred the first book in Cooper’s series, Over Sea, Under Stone, which is a more straightforward adventure story. As an adult, I much prefer the subtleties of language and atmosphere of The Dark is Rising, which is the best known of the series today, and can be read as a stand-alone story. A winter re-read is now a regular part of my year, and this time round, I decided to use that re-read as an opportunity for some immersive stitching.
I didn’t plan the piece, or have any idea of what it should look like. It was an extension of my regular Random Stitch practice which I started in September 2020, and which I have found a very liberating way of working. But I haven’t used this sort of stitching for anything book-inspired before, and I didn’t know whether this method would work.
However, it turned out to be a very positive way of quilting. I used the unabridged audiobook (an excellent reading by Alex Jennings) and simply let the needle go where it wanted. My hands turned my listening into stitches that hinted at shards of ice and snow, the melting water of the thaw, a rose ring, green fabric from a velvet coat, primroses, flames, rooks, a joined circle, and the six signs at the centre of the story. I deliberately did not stitch anything figurative, as I wanted an abstract piece that could stand alone in its own right, as well as giving a fleeting impression of Cooper’s prose.
When I first thought of stitching along to The Dark is Rising, white or grey fabric seemed most appropriate, but to my surprise I found myself drawn to a piece of very crumpled dark blue, which had been lying around for a while, waiting to become something. I was well into the stitching process when I heard a reference to “the wrinkled sea” in the text, and I wondered whether my subconscious had prompted me to choose this particularly wrinkled piece of blue fabric to work on. Did a dimly remembered scene from a previous reading play a part – or was it simply a lazy decision made because the blue fabric was immediately to hand?
I finished stitching on New Year’s Day at the same time as I finished the audiobook. I I knew I didn’t need to add anything else – my stitching and listening had been perfectly entwined. The only thing that didn’t work out according to plan was the weather. The finished piece should really have been photographed in the snow, but it has been unseasonably warm this New Year.