Years ago, a friend took me through a mental exercise that began with things I’d take to a desert island, then words associated with those things. Through a process of elimination, one arrives at a single word, which is revealing about oneself.
My word was “comfort,” which initially bothered me, because it sounded like I was bent on living a pampered life. At the time, I’d been in India for several years, often camping in the foothills of the Himalayas, carrying everything in a backpack, and otherwise living in conditions most people back home would consider rustic to primitive. So the apparent prominence of “comfort” in my psyche came as a surprise.
(wedding quilt for K & D - scanned photo from 2000)
But the things I’d chosen to have with me reflected my predilection for fiber arts. At the time I was quilting, not yet knitting or spinning, and the materials of quiltmaking were the first items I listed. What is more associated with comfort than a quilt? I began to think that rather than seeking comfort, my emphasis was on creating it.
(Manic Mandala quilt for AK, scanned from 1998)
Finally, I looked up the etymology, and the root of comfort is fort, strength, fortitude. The verb to comfort is to “strengthen much.” To be comfortable is to be likely to give strength, as in moral support. All the implications of cushiness and well-padded protection from unpleasantness seem to have crept in later.
This makes me much happier to accept the word, and it’s quite obvious, looking around my home, that everything I do is aimed toward “giving strength” – to my husband, to myself, to other people in my life. Living far from friends, I have learned how to manifest remote comfort in the form of handmade gifts. The fiber skills I learn and the time devoted to them are methods of comforting myself, giving both strength and solace.
This occurred to me while I was knitting a tea cosy. For some reason, or probably for several reasons, I’ve derived a distinct sense of comfort from this little project, which sounds absurd in the face of the world’s problems: a tea cosy? But there it is. Comfort. And in order to help give strength to anyone else, I have to strengthen myself.