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The Cleaver

01 May 2023 8 minute read
Kate Cleaver

Kate Cleaver

A bit of writing about being neurodivergent, disabled, ethnic and a woman in Wales.

I must have been twelve when I first was given a chance to create art outside of school. I mean in a studio with art material and artists. I’m not sure now, but I’m guessing that it was some sort of out-reach programme.

I do remember being overwhelmed and scared. I remember my mum holding my hand so very tight until she wasn’t.

I was inside an actual art studio. The place smelt of oil paint and turps and was full of sunlight. I loved it. I can’t remember saying goodbye to my mum, but I was suddenly alone. I remember someone asking what I wanted to do.

What did I want to draw?

I looked at the options, there were objects on a table and one of them was a tomato. Tomatoes are interesting, they are a fruit and not a vegetable.

The seeds are indestructible, our own bodies can’t even digest them, and they will germinate after we have eaten them. They are also part of the nightshade family… I found the tomato very interesting. Still do really.

Back then though it was one of those things I had researched.

I was always researching. My parents had saved up and got a pack of Encyclopaedia Britannica, massive books that lived in the study. They smelt of dust and knowledge and were filled with the most beautiful drawings, all in pen and ink.

I loved spending as much time as I could with them. Those old books were my friends. I would open number 10, which was the index and work out what to look at.

Or I’d sit on the floor with an atlas that was so big I had to use two hands to open it. I didn’t go out to play, instead I would sit and read or look at the pictures.

At the time of that first visit I had no preconceived ideas. I knew I wanted to create art but not what. I looked at the tomato on the table with the flowers and the vase and I pointed at the red fruit.

That one.

Someone said they had the perfect canvas for me, and I was given a round one about one and a half foot in diameter. Then I wandered about with my tomato on my hand. I could paint or I could sculpt.

I walked through the different studios, not really finding anything that grabbed me. The final one was silent. No music and no hum of conversation.

My memory gives me most of this as a silent movie but just as I’m about to open the last studio it fills my head with noise and screams. I hear the others and the music, the shouts and everything is too much.

That hand on the door pushes and I go into a room that is suddenly quiet and all the sound is dampened. It was the textile room.

I remember the big tubs of fabric and the shelves of wool. There was trimming and thread and everyone there spoke in hushed voices. A woman asked me what I wanted to do, and I showed her my tomato and round canvas. She took me to an oversized table, sat me down, gave me a pencil and some paper and cut the tomato in half.

I looked at those indestructible seeds and started to draw. I created an asymmetrical cross section. She showed me how to upscale that drawing onto the canvas and then how to start the stitching. She pushed me to not look at colour but only texture. I picked hard wearing fabric that would survive a long time.

Why the denim?

I explained that jeans are not always washed, that traditionally they are worn but not put in the washing machine. I told her it was like the plant. That the tomato is a man-made creation. That there will always be tomatoes because they are indestructible. That bees cannot live from tomato plants because there is nothing for them to eat. The flowers promise food, but they lie.

I explained that there were people who were allergic to them, and, in the next breath, did they know that the potato was part of the same family?

She didn’t.

I quilted and stitched. I beaded and embroidered. I created fuzzy areas of magenta pink and seeds of pure white. The soft flesh I quilted and embellished. Until I had the round tomato of blue, pink and white.

It worked visually but if you closed your eyes and simply touched you could still see the tomato cross-section. I loved it. They took it and showed it around.

See what troubled children can do…

I remember it but I have no idea what happened to it. I went on to try other textiles, but they always had to be something. Make a shoe or make a scarf. There was never that free form of simply picking something you understand and find amazing in order to create a piece of work from it.

Image by Kate Cleaver

This month has been stressful. I am coming to the end of the PhD, and I did a very intense course on scriptwriting. I’m tired and yet I’m still trying to carry on. Small steps. This puts my autistic brain in a bit of a state.

Mostly I am on a knife edge between having a meltdown or a shutdown. Neither are great and both will leave me even more exhausted, so I have been trying to stop it.

I have been watching movies I already know, reading books I have already read and listening to music I can easily sing along to. In the evening I have been stitching.

The drawing board has been silent, but the crafting corner has been a whirlwind of activity. I have been sewing. Mostly kits, but I bought the last one.

You see that tomato has been playing on my mind. I am wondering if there is some way, I can combine the drawing and painting with the sewing.

The tomato.

Maybe if I drew and used some thread painting, which is a type of embroidery, I can control the autism and create art. If I create the textile art under my own freeform style though.

I don’t think that I will make a jumper or a shoe, but simply just art. I could quilt and sew and knit and crochet. All of it could go together to create something unique. After all, my brain and my neurodivergence is unique.

I have noticed that people want to be able to tick boxes, especially around neurodivergence. The problem is that everyone is different. You can have one issue or many. I have three in differing intensities.

So, when I tell a place that I am doing a course that I’m dyslexic they automatically assume that I can’t read or spell. I can read and in the most part I can spell. I can’t use phonics though and I have terrible trouble with tenses and similar sounding words.

They, their, there, they’re… And why does our not have a ‘w’ in there? But my form of dyslexia is not everyone’s form. We are all different. So, when a place you are working or learning at, asks what do you need, there can be silence.

What do I need? Time, that is the one that is most precious. It will take me longer to get there. I will though.

I will arrive at the end of a project, but then it must be one stitch at a time in order to layer the pattern and create something that is unique.

It is the same with writing or sewing. You just must remember to breathe in the middle of the stitches and enjoy the process as well as the outcome.

Maybe if I create something as freeform as that blue tomato, I can push back those overwhelmed autistic moments and I can stitch myself into more writing projects.

Because the calmer I am the more I can write.

You can find more of The Cleaver and the rest of Kate’s writing on Nation.Cymru here or by following her link on this map

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