Someone recently asked me, “so, do you follow some kinde of plan, like, sort of a paint-by-number, when you lay out the pieces and then sew?” It’s a good question. Do you follow some kind of plan? My answer, whether satisfactory or not, was, "I’m not at all certain," pause, then, "but, no. not really." Piecing and sewing the prayer flags is an intensely intuitive process, i went on to explain. I pointed to the flag I was showing her at the time. “this part here, this piece of fabric was part of my patron’s father’s shirt. I’d found a place for his bluejeans but hadn’t seen anywhere the plaid could fit in until the entire flag was finished being pieced. Then it occurred to me the shirt fabric would make a nice pattern in the shallow water. So everything in the lower 1/3 of the flag had to be lifted so the piece could be included.” I added that my dry hands always pose a challenge, as does my benign tremor. I have a few different size tweezers in my studio to help.
Inevitably, with every flag, at some point, things aren’t feeling quite right and a major or if I'm lucky, minor, unduing and rebuilding of layers takes place. Sometimes it’s near the beginning of the process, sometimes when I think I'm just about finished with piecing it. Sometimes when stitches have already been laid in.
So I do a lot of undoing and re-doing. It takes a lot of patience. A tailor, when looking at my flags, once said she’d rather make a three-piece suite than make one of my flags. Without missing a beat, I responded, “and I could never make a three-piece suit.” We all have our own particular type of patience and making these flags has taught me much about mine. Making them has given me practice through which I have learned great patience in allowing something to unfold. Most significantly though, I have learned that if I listen well enough, I can catch subtle indications that something doesn’t quite fit and from there, if I take the time to undo and redo or make right what didn’t quite fit, the result always, always, always will be far better than the original “plan.”