top of page
  • Bex Grimwood

HOLDING TOGETHER: MENTAL HEALTH AND MACRAME


Bex Grimwood smiles whilst holding up a completed macrame project

In January 2024, I was asked to take part in a collaborative artwork titled Holding Together.


The idea behind the piece of work was seven women each creating their interpretation of Holding Together on a piece of fabric, all cut from the same cloth into abstract shapes. These pieces of fabric would then be woven together on a frame to represent the women holding each other together.


We were given a month to complete the artwork.


CONCEPT AND PLANNING


When I heard the brief, Holding Together, my mind immediately went to the idea of holding myself together, whilst suffering from mental health issues. In 2021 I was diagnosed with a Panic Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder and as a macrame artist, I wanted to represent how this feels through fibre art.


Here is the initial sketch of what I hoped to accomplish:


A sketch of macrame artwork on white paper with multi coloured sharpie pens

The concept behind my idea was the neat and orderly lines would represent my logical brain; the side of me with my thoughts in order, who can think things through clearly. The explosion of multi-coloured, textured fibres woven in the centre would represent my anxious brain; chaotic, scattered and hard to control.


The black macrame straps that run across the centre represent me, trying to hold myself together and keep my thoughts under control.


There was a moment before I pitched my idea where I thought "Is this too much? Should I just say I feel stressed sometimes?". Thinking this actually gave me a real push to stick with my idea and talk about it loudly. Art is vulnerable and vulnerability connects people.


TEST PIECE


I knew that I would need to create my macrame structure in an unusual shape to fit the piece of fabric I had been given. Ordinarily macrame hangs from something - a stick, a dowel, a ring - and all the knots are tied below this. I needed to create a piece which could increase and decrease in width as determined by the fabric and would not be hung from the top.


Using some spare macrame cord, I set about figuring out a way of doing this. The process involved experimenting with the best knots to use for structure and then figuring out how to add in additional cords as needed to create the diagonal sloping angles. I also needed to test the best way of adding in the macrame 'straps' in a way that looked natural and did not interfere with the orderly appearance of the knots.


Testing in this manner is important as it involves a lot of experimentation to create the best results, tying and untying knots which can affect the appearance of the fibres. I like the freedom that comes with knowing these pieces do not have to be kept tidy and neat and I can play until I achieve the results I want. This allows me to then get it right the first time with my final fibres.


Here I am figuring out the best way of creating the diagonal slope with my test piece:



I was in the process of moving into a new office, which had no wall hooks for hanging macrame. This was quite the test in finding inventive ways to hang the project whilst I worked on it - as you can see here I have it taped to the legs of my desk.


Here is the completed test piece once I was confident I could create the dynamic shape needed, neatly add in the straps and create a hollow centre for weaving on:



THE MATERIALS


I knew straight away I wanted to use black macrame cord for the neat, orderly section of my work. I debated between a 3-ply cord and a single twist cord - single twist creates a softer, more touchable appearance and so ultimately I decided the structured appearance of a 3-ply cord would work best in this instance.


The black macrame cord works great at providing a contrast for the colourful weaving in the centre of the piece.


For the mixed materials in the centre, I knew I wanted to include some recycled fibres, so I used a selection of scrap ribbons and some bamboo roving (made right here in Yorkshire) that I had left over from a previous project. I then also purchased a selection of art yarns, handmade by artists in the UK.


As I use 100% recycled cotton, OEKO-TEX 100 Standard Certified macrame cord in all my projects, it was important to me that I use as much recycled material in my piece as possible. I am really happy with how much leftover fibre I was able to make use of and that I was able to support small artisans with the fibres I purchased.


A selection of yarns, ribbons and other fibres sat on a black window ledge

CREATING THE MACRAME


I really, really loved creating this piece.


I started with the macrame 'frame' and although I tried to keep people up to date with my progress, I'm quite sure they were all struggling to understand where I was going with the mess of tangled cord I kept presenting.


Here I am working on the piece.



Can you see my vision coming to life here?



As I got closer to the bottom of the macrame, I realised I would have to join the two sides across the bottom - something I had not practiced. Thankfully I was able to work out the height I should start tying horizontal knots quite quickly. It was a little tricky trying to keep the fabric held against my macrame as I worked to ensure I got the shape and size correct, but with the support of a few safety pins and a lot of hanging it up, laying it on the floor and hanging it up again, I was able to get the shape bang on.


When I sewed in all the loose ends (over a couple of days whilst watching all three seasons of Staged for the fourth time), I think this was the moment people could really see the piece starting to come together.


In this picture there are a few ends left to sew in at the bottom, but it is almost complete. You can see it starting to take shape here:


A black macrame project lays on a beige carpet

ADDING THE WEAVING


This was fun.


I kept repeating that my intention was to create something which looked "chaotic but not crap" and I think I really achieved this.


I tried to keep the colour palette somewhat cohesive - whilst it may look like a rainbow exploded at first, there's a heavy focus on blues and greens that I think keeps the whole thing feeling grounded.


As well as being fun, this stage was quite messy and also quite tiring. There were a lot of laying-on-the-floor-amongst-the-fibre moments. Here's a little glimpse:



The biggest challenge when adding the weaving was realising I had to weave underneath the macrame straps I'd created. There were a couple of times when I regretted the design choice for practical reasons as I squeezed my hand under the edge of a strap where I couldn't quite see, but in the end it was worth it. I think they add so much impact and it came together great. I especially enjoy the fluffy section at the top where it really looks like it's trying to burst past the strap:


Multi coloured, fluffy yarn pushes against a strap of black macrame

FINISHING TOUCHES


The final steps of creating this artwork were sewing the macrame to the original fabric, creating a design on the back panel, and then attaching the front and back panels together.


I attached the macrame to the fabric using multiple small stitches at different points around the artwork - this left gaps underneath the macrame where eyelets could still be added to the fabric.


For the back of my artwork, I wrote a poem inspired by my mental health struggles and then hand wrote this on to the fabric. I then attached this to the front using iron on bonding web.


Here are a selection of photos from these steps. There were a few unfortunate needle stabbing incidents, but I made it through, mostly unscathed:




CONCLUSION


Overall I am so happy with how this piece turned out. When I held it next to my initial sketch, I was so happy with how closely they resembled each other.



It feels weirdly cathartic to have a physical piece of art in the world that represents my brain. I have had multiple people hear about this piece and tell me that I've captured what their mental health struggles feel like also, which is just so great. Struggling with mental health can feel very isolating and I think if this piece of art gets people talking and relating to each other as they discuss it, this is an incredible outcome.


Here I am with my completed piece:



Here is a photo of my artwork as part of the completed collaborative Holding Together artwork.


A black frame holds pieces of fabric featuring artwork in different styles, woven together
Photo Credit: Sand Rennie

I think you will agree that all the artists involved did a great job. I'm really proud of what we have achieved.

Comments


bottom of page