Elaine Hook - Textile Artist
Interview with Elaine Hook
What is your creative background and where did you study?
I studied Graphic Design at Coventry University graduating with a 2:1 BA (Homs) degree. I am a qualified teacher and lecturer and have taught Graphic Design, Textiles and Media Studies at Milton Keynes College. I have been creative for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was a Court Dressmaker and beautiful hand embroiderer and I spent hours with her as a child learning all I know today about hand embroidery. I never wanted to be a Graphic Designer, I always wanted to be a Textile Artist but my father said “No, you will never make any money at it,” so I studied Graphics. Back then I was not to know how useful my Graphic Design skills would be within my Textile work.
What made you fall in love with Textiles ?
My grandmother was my influencer in Textiles and hand embroidery. She taught me all I know. The hours I spent with her were invaluable. She and I had a love of fabric, colour, texture and pattern. I love vintage embroidered linens and today use my grandmother’s embroidery work woven into my own work. I love painting with fabric and stitch using vintage, recycled and upcycled resources, this would be my USP. I love to give new life to past linens.
How has your craft helped you with your ME?
As you know I was diagnosed with ME in 2018. I had been feeling ill for a very long time. Suddenly I was housebound and bedridden for the best part of two years. My hand embroidery and textile work has been a life line. I am so grateful that I can stitch. It’s a past time that I can pick up when well enough to do so. It gives me so much pleasure and I really would be lost without it. It makes my heart and soul sing.
What do you find difficult on a day to day basis?
Chronic fatigue is my worst symptom, I think. But the foggy brain is also very challenging. The chronic fatigue is much more than being *tired*. It wipes me out, sometimes for days or weeks. The foggy brain is very challenging because there are many times when I can’t speak properly, do things in order, plan or think straight; writing with a pen or pencil is exhausting. Even sewing on a bad day is exhausting, there are days when I just have to rest and accept it.
How does creativity feed your life? What does it provide each day?
Creativity definitely feeds my life. I have told you how important sewing and textile work is in my life but I also do water colour painting, journaling, collage, pen and ink work, calligraphy and photography, to name but a few. I think in pictures and immediately I see “a piece of fabric” I know what I want to do with it. Creativity provides me with comfort and happiness every day; it soothes me and is excellent for my mental and physical health. It keeps me balanced and content.
What have you learnt about yourself in the last ten years?
In the last 10 years I have learnt a lot but the last 5 years have taught me the most. To be content with the smaller things in life. To listen and see what is right under my nose. Good friends who care through the tough times and don’t desert you. I love nature and my garden and I love to sit and sew outside. I am very happy and content with where I am right now and so pleased textiles has been by my side all the way.
What advice would you give others in similar situations?
This is the hardest question of all because we are all different and all react to challenges differently. One thing I would say is do something you love if you can. Having a hobby is free medicine right on your doorstep. Take a slower pace in life and really *pace*. Pacing is the best way for our mental health. I grew up being *pushed* to always do better and take on new and greater challenges at an alarming rate. In my game, particularly my Dad, it was very important to excel academically . I didn’t, but I did in all areas of the arts but in my family this was second class. So I got no validation for my creativity at home, so I looked for it in my career. Consequently, I became very ill in my older age. I would advise others to think very carefully about *pushing* themselves on and on and up and up. I have got to a place now where I accept my illness, am content where I’m at and live a slow and quiet life. I listen to my body not society.
How are you surviving lockdown?
Nothing has changed for me as I have been extremely ill, bedridden and housebound for over 2 years with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), so I had a trial run at lockdown, albeit through a chronic autoimmune illness. Staying home has been easy. I have learnt through chronic illness to accept the place I am in, be content, listen to my body and value much smaller things in life. My textile work and hand embroidery together with my garden has been a saviour for me.
How are you looking after your mental health?
I listen to my body and mind. I pace well now. Keep a very balanced life. I am excellent at saying *no*. I rest, count my breaths, listen to audio books, sit in my garden, listen to the birds, enjoy my daughter and good friends, and my cat, Rosie and of course sew when I am well enough. I also paint in water colours and do a lot of journaling which includes writing poetry and collage work. Being creative is in my blood and I’m always doing something creative. Creativity soothes my mind and soul and is extremely healing for me.