Thursday, February 9, 2012

festival of broken needles

Hand sewing slows the heart it seems. Or it does mine. Perhaps like writing longhand it cannot be done at speed. Begs not to be. One stitch, one breath. The rhythmic dip and dive of the long nose, round eyed needle lets the thoughts lift loose. And the heart feels unburdened. Sometimes hand sewing is more a joy than a job.

A needle is a fine tool. Simple, portable, industrious. But what to do if it breaks? If it is bent and no longer able to sew true? Thank it. Lament it. Offer comfort. Japanese women do. For hundreds of years Japanese women have honoured their needles and pins on Hari-Kuyo. On February 8 women take their tired needles and worn out pins to Shinto or Buddhist shrines and lay them to rest in the Festival of Broken Needles. Bent pins and broken needles are made to lie down on a soft bed specially sewn or plunged into cakes of bean curd. Softness comforts the needles and pins who before have known only sharpness. Sutras are said to thank the needles for their hard work, for a year of straight stitches, for repairs, for their sorrows inherited direct from the seamstresses hand.

Last night I saw a fox step out of the darkness. Kitsune - the Shinto messenger - a good omen, I thought, for burying needles. I made my bent pins and one broken needle a bed stitched with sashiko, plumped with fleece - a button and spare thread for company. I thanked them and then I laid aside sewing for the day.

If the fox came for them he would be able to carry the soft parcel in his mouth with ease - no booby trapped tofu to choke on.

"Oh my needle, how sad! You were a special gift, beyond the ordinary, prominent among all ironware. Deft and swift like some knight errant, straight and true like a loyal subject, your sharp point seemed to talk, your round eye seemed to see."
from Lament for a Needle.  Anon Choson dynasty, Korea.