needle vs. pin

Considering the use of a needle and a pin.

First the needle.

For me, a needle became a symbol of transformation and connection while I created pieces for my Quixotic Giving Project. Sometimes reminding me of the difficulties of forcing change and forging attachment—for example, each time I stabbed myself accidentally and drew blood. Or the times when the needle did not want to penetrate smoothly through the hole I had created for its passage.

I used a needle along with various types of thread, to bring together disparate pieces of cut paper—transforming individual elements into a unified whole. In this sense, the needle represented potential. I was able to turn the raw materials of paper and paint into something new and beautiful.

©2023, Suzanne Gibbs. Stitch art 138, thread, embroidery floss, watercolor on paper, 5 x 5 inches. (not available)

Each pull of thread through paper had it's own challenges. Sometimes the thread that was eased into use, via the needle, went smoothly through each hole in the paper making a satisfying sound and other times knotting up upon itself and requiring extra care. I'd need to stop, to untangle, or worse—to have the need to begin again from the beginning.

When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.  —Louise Bourgeois

And now for the pin (or in my case the awl standing in for a pin).

Normally, a pin is a tool that we use to hold things in place. Or, as in my case the pin (the end of the awl) was the tool I used to punch pin holes in paper. Each hole representing the possibility of creating order and structure for future stitches. Differing from the Louise Bourgeois quote above, my needle was aggressively painful—forcing change, where none was asked for, and so was my awl making thousands of precise holes in my paper in aggressive succession.

When I was using the awl, the need for precision and attention to detail was paramount. If I did not work in tandem with my intent, the work I had done up until the point of puncture (painting, cutting pieces for the collage, creating the composition) would all be for nothing. Lost. Each hole had a proper place in the overall design. The steadiness and accuracy of each penetration became a mindful act in honor of the whole. 

Why care about the combination of a needle and pin hole?

Because—When I consider the symbolic meanings in the work I was creating (and may continue to create), I see that the difference between the needle I used and the pin/awl was not only about the practicality of the tools. For me, the needle and thread came to represent the power creativity has to transform and connect disparate elements into a single whole and each awl pin prick created a path or a pattern that I knew I would follow. Thus cementing the importance of clarity and purpose that the act of creation holds for me.

And yet, I had doubts.

And a healthy dose of curiosity.

I wondered, am I simply complicating the work of a pre-school child? Where punch cards and shoe laces are used to teach fine motor skills? Might there be broader philosophical reasons why I picked up brushes, watercolor, paper, and scissors—putting pieces together with a threaded needle through a pin hole? What was I needing to transform? Can transformation heal or make whole? Have I actually repaired anything at all or only created mighty little pieces of art? Many more questions will continue to arise for me.

I suppose...

The difference between a needle and a pin can be seen as a microcosm of the larger philosophical questions surrounding the act of creation itself. What is the role of creativity in our/my lives/life? How do we/I balance the need for transformation and connection with the need for order and structure? Is actual change possible in the current confinement of conditions?

©2023, Suzanne Gibbs. Stitch art 72, thread, embroidery floss, handmade paper, watercolor on paper, 5 x 5 inches. (not available)

By exploring these questions and others through the lens of the tools I used to create art, I can gain deeper insight into the nature of creativity and my human experience and existence within a larger context. Each 5 x 5 inch painting simultaneously widening and restricting the context and ideas of my endeavor. Whether the viewer sees or feels all or some of what I think and feel as I make work is unknown. Yet make it I must, making myself whole as I connect the dots with thread attaching pieces of paper. Both the needle and the pin hole a necessity in the process.

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