No, not more shisha flowers, promise! And actually I’m not sure I’m altogether accurate in calling it “Indian”, but it alliterates so nicely with “inspiration”. A few weeks ago a kind lady from our church lent me a book about Bengali Kantha embroidery, which I’m enjoying very much. Although I am unlikely ever to stitch a Kantha quilt, I was intrigued by one of the motifs that kept recurring, the Tree of Life. I say “one of the motifs”, but from the pictures there doesn’t seem to be one standard tree of life – the only thing most of them have in common is that they consist of a stem, often quite straight, with a leaf at the top, and then more or less symmetrically placed leaves-on-stalks down both sides; some were pointy, some round, some had three or five leaves to every stalk, and some were more like flowers. In all the pictures I saw, the leaves were disproportionately large, and there were usually less than a dozen in total.
The various shapes appealed to me, especially since the large leaves would lend themselves so beautifully to being outlined and filled with all manner of different stitches. You could have a Tree of Life sampler, a bit like the differently worked petals on the Bloomin’ Marvellous flower I stitched recently. And then there was its name. I understand that the concept is well-known in all sorts of religions, mythologies and belief systems, but as a Christian I was immediately reminded of the description of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. “On each side of the river [of life] stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” What with all the terrible news we’ve been hearing these past few months, that last phrase was the one that really struck a chord – “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.
Such a wonderful vision that it seems almost frivolous to make an embroidery design and call it Tree of Life. I am under no illusion that needlework can repair all that has gone wrong in the world, or that stitched leaves will ever heal the nations (although needlework can be a great comfort to people in difficult circumstances, provided they can get some materials and a reasonably quiet spot to stitch in). But I would very much like to create something that, whenever I look at it, reminds me that one day the healing of the nations will be a reality.