1 The beginning

I Dr. Kathryn Geldard, the writer, will tell you a true story about  Katya. She is a Clothdreamer.

In my past career as a psychotherapist and academic I have spent many hours helping hidden secrets emerge from worried minds by using creative media and Gestalt [1]and Jungian [2] psychotherapeutic skills. By anchoring the worries of those who sought my help in visual metaphors and imagery, and by helping them to explore these from a distance, those courageous minds have found mastery and relief. Katya anchors her “dreams” in cloth…. to liberate herself from dark pain and experience respite and peace.

As I descend into Katya’s underworld….. I will construct a biography for you, the reader, in the cloth and visual art that she has constructed. My task is not easy if I am to remain faithful to her story.

[1] Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual’s experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz PerlsLaura Perls and Paul Goodman in the 1940s and 1950s.

[2] Jungian psychology is a school of psychology that originated from the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. It  emphasizes the primary importance of the individual psyche and the personal quest for wholeness.  It recognizes the importance of the symbolic in human life.

She tells her stories on and through cloth using fabric and thread…. Sometimes stitches are unpicked…. (things better left unsaid) ……strong colours are used (a distraction or to amplify perhaps)…… transparent cloth is used as an invitation to look beneath and between…. and patchwork is used to help re-story particular fascinations.

She uses recycled cloth sometimes to emphasise the notion of multiple stories embedded in each other over time as depicted in the image below of the work ‘A frog he would a-wooing-go’.


A frog he would a-wooing- go – Unfinished, resist dyed. Travelling frog on recycled denim jeans leg fabric. To capture multiple stories of walking and travelling.

She also often uses cloth which she has dyed, resist-dyed or rusted carelessly to make marks on an otherwise conventional and contrived fabric.

She uses precious threads, lovingly hand dyed by others who use natural plants and indigo vats. Gifts of thread from those with whom she shares her work and weaves her thoughts are also intentionally chosen for the job and used carefully. Variegated threads are her favourites.

I could be tempted to describe Katya’s cloth stories as simply visually displayed snapshot memories from her past using fabric and thread, rather like an ancestral family album. However the process is more complex for her than merely remembering and generating a picture.

Like you and me, with time, Katya’s memories shifted and often changed. They were constructed and then reconstructed as a result of her present self interacting with experiences during her life as a child, girl, young woman, and older person. Her memories were also influenced by gender, and cultural, and social messages of the time. Sometimes she would become a victim, and sometimes a devotee of these messages which often invited her to reinvent and rewrite her life story. Katya would try to capture in the cloth her narrative as it was seen through the prism of a change process which she calls “Dreaming”. Through her cloth pictures she could make way for the dream-meaning to emerge….in an attempt to discover, illuminate and communicate her inner world. This process enabled her stories to develop.

But which stories has she told? And how?

Katya hasn’t always told her stories through cloth making. In fact quite recently she has returned to a speedier method to unearth and explain her inner world through the media of painting with acrylic paint on canvas and sketching with pencil and pastels. Yet unlike painting and drawing, when using cloth, the textiles, fibres, threads and fabrics provide an opportunity for her to slow down the process of Dreaming and at the same time allow her to become a part of the creation itself.

However, perhaps she senses that time is running out and she has so much more to learn about herself. For after all this is a journey in telling, reflecting and self-discovery and all of us have limited time. Plus she has so much courage and curiosity now. She is like an artist fascinated by her inner demons and devoted to her own state of consciousness but inevitably influenced by her unconscious.

I’ve seen her working …The cloth and canvas wait; pretending to be blank, innocent, and totally arid, without life. But she ventures into this place….. Why? To see how much she can endure, I think.

How we met

You might be curious about how I came to meet Katya. I’ve actually known her all her life, a close companion. A child of immigrant parents. Her father was Russian… Her mother English….her Russian grandmother lived with the family as she grew up. I knew them all. Her mother, her grandmother and her three brothers. I didn’t know her father. And neither did she…. even though she had met him. We both became acquainted with him later in our lives. She dreamt him up though, through the stories her mother and grandmother told about him. Apparently he was a storyteller too.

“…He was very clever” said her mother which brings just a shrug of shoulders from her grandmother. Katya thinks he lost his way between the pages.

Katya’s grandmother darned clothes, mended tablecloths and aprons ….and prayed to her religious icons….  while her mother made dresses, dance costumes…..and worked. Katya was surrounded by cloth and fabric. She was a witness, willing student, and participant, in a world where cloth fabric and thread were joined together. Sometimes neatly, purposely and carefully and at other times with the freedom that only the art of adding embellishment offers she began the journey of making cloth.. As soon as she could she made dolls clothes then later shorts and cowboy outfits for her sons …and much later upholstered the lounge chairs with matching curtain fabric. But wait! I go too fast, in her early years she dreamed. A lot!

I was enlisted by her grandmother and mother to watch over her. It wasn’t a direct appeal. I guess I made myself available and when they noticed I was there they, at separate times and for separate reasons, began to enquire about my place in Katya’s life. I was a beginner too and much to my regret made mistakes. Nevertheless, with the occasional help from a friend who I shall call The Crone, the three of us together travelled a most wondrous journey. The Crone had many tricks up her sleeve which kept Katya out of trouble, if only temporarily.

Overtime Katya’s mother and grandmother subtly informed me of their will. Her Mother’s request came from a place of unease. Because she worked long hours to support the family, often through the night she was not available for Katya. Katya’s mother told me much later that she frequently agonised over her ‘abandonment’ of her daughter while leaving her in the care of her grandmother. ‘Abandonment’ and ‘betrayal’ became powerful issues for the older Katya, along with their polarities ‘protection’ and ‘loyalty’. Many of her later pieces reflected these ongoing themes.

I believe that Katya’s mother was not unlike Katya, as she identified with Katya’s cloth Dreaming tendencies and was aware of how vulnerable, sensitive and impressionable cloth Dreaming could be. Her own experience had involved an apprenticeship with a French seamstress when she was young and later working with cloth to create magnificent costumes, clothes and household furnishings on a treadle machine. These would certainly have given her some insights. Katya’s mother had a tendency to believe that one could create dreams  and make them come true and believed that anything is possible when embracing all the wonderful, magical and fanciful things that lay within the world of a clothdreamer. Her mother’s beliefs included recognising that one might also experience vulnerability to both pitfalls and disappointments. Her suggestions to me about how I might be of assistance to Katya included nurturing, assisting and protecting the vulnerable Katya and enabling her to manage in a sometimes dangerous, confusing, misleading and treacherous world. Her mother modelled this behaviour by being tireless in giving of herself to others, and in demonstrating her patience and carrying out acts of kindness and nurturing.

Grandmother on the other hand had a markedly different agenda in recruiting me. She saw an opportunity to discipline the unpredictable, boundary-less, impressionable and sensitive Katya. Her fear was that Katya might become like her son, Katya’s father, and “get lost between the pages”. Her goal was to rid Katya of her tendency to be carefree and worst of all a Clothdreamer so, through fear, corporal punishment, threats and prayer she was intent on creating an obedient, virtuous, and productive individual. In her eagerness and haste to sculpt this figure she would often demonstrate to me how, through humiliation, physical force, chastisement and penance this could be accomplished. Katya was sentenced for many hours to stand in the corner to reflect on her misdemeanours and endured painful harassment and many knocks on the head from a thimble covered finger. Little did grandmother know that these periods of reprimand were opportunities for escape, by Dreaming, and were gateways into later creative work. Despite her grandmother’s ferocity and punitive management of Katya she did convey to me, a model of resilience, courage, discipline, and confidence.

Katyas storytelling

Carl Jung once said that “…The symbol is not a sign that veils something everybody knows…..on the contrary….it is an attempt to elucidate something that still belongs entirely to the domain of the unknown or something that is yet to be”.

Katya’s stories, in cloth and on canvas are mostly made up of symbols and metaphors which are unsentimental, macabre, and often dark but sometimes with indifferent, whimsical content, featuring mystical, powerless, villainous and victorious characters.

The most difficult part for Katya was where to begin to tell each of her stories. Margaret Atwood (“Murder in the Dark”, Coach house Press, 1983) once described the writer’s blank page as a place with no dimensions or directions; without centres or edges, no up or down, no north or south east or west and because of this the writer can become lost forever. Similarly I have seen Katya inspecting the blank cloth, fearing that she may become for ever lost should she begin her storytelling. When I notice this I want to shout out Margaret’s cautions with regard to entering the empty cloth. Take something with you………..!!!!

“Take a knife and some matches and something that will float. Take something you can hold on to, and a prism to split the light, and a talisman that works which should be hung on a chain around your neck; that’s for getting back. It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes you wear, but your hands should be bare. You should never go into the cloth with gloves on. Such decisions, needless to say, should not be made lightly.”

Unlike Margaret’s casualties who “enter the cloth without deciding or meaning to, who fall into the cloth which closes over their heads without a sound, without a seam”, Katya returns but different from before; glowing, satisfied and restored. A cathartic experience! I should have known…. As a result she perceives things differently. It is said that the moment you change your perception is the moment you rewrite the chemistry in your body.