Empty cop, My Handspun Yarn, Frances Earnshaw, 2013
Empty cop, My Handspun Yarn, Frances Earnshaw, 2013

In the first weeks, I hope I am not so emptied out that I will be alone and yet tied for the rest of my life. It is the unequivocal experience, the experience I hungered for, knowing it would grow me up. She is so terrifyingly precious.  So unknowable. I dare not take my eyes off her. Early on, I spent the day dancing with some people, a dance workshop held in an old house. I moved all day, holding her tiny light body. My arms so heavy with exhaustion. I put her down in a crib at the edge of the room for perhaps ten minutes. As my exhausted body swayed away in the dance, I was unable to tear my eyes away from her. Turning exhaustedly away, but my eyes unable to, I experimented with moving so that others came between me and her and I felt how unsustainable this was.

I dreamed I was pregnant before I knew I was. Finding a bottle of things which needed water to live and realising I had not been looking after them as I should.

Later, we did a drawing thing, drawing around our bodies on large sheets of paper on the floor. She was drawn around, as a part of my body.

She needed to be held, she needed the breast in her mouth for hours.

She was a tiny, beautiful little being.

Photo and knitting by Jessie Driscoll
Photo and knitting by Jessie Driscoll

I cannot stay with these memories for too long. In writing the above, all the strained crowding of needs, painfulness, longing, the love, the adoring of her, the painfulness of my fears around being her mother, keeping her safe knowing how inadequate I felt about keeping myself safe. I look over a lip of some kind of demarcation and I don’t want to look for too long. It was so very hard to get from there to here.

Everything that empties us fills us.

I am going to move on to here: An artist and her work participate in a symbiotic relationship. It feels so good when that happens. I wrote in a notebook, “Have the experience of working long hours this summer. Sit with a piece of work. Sit with Cradle. It is a little sculpture. I have meant to do this for a good many months, to spend some hours simply sitting with this piece of work and perhaps knitting and thinking.

The work comes alive in my hands. The work comes into being. Birthing a work.

I have just been reading a blog where Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana and Tristana are discussed. Both films are about young women. The apparent same shawl is worn in both films, by the actresses… Viridiana, played by Sylvia Pinal, throws her knitting in the fire in despair. http://slipslipknit.com/?p=2037

Knitting interests me at the moment. I love having the live yarn moving through my fingers, becoming something which will be worn. The top picture shows my handspun yarn. It was spun on a Turkish drop spindle, which makes a centre pull cop of yarn which can be taken off the spindle in one, whole satisfyingly complete ball, ready for plying or knitting. The cop has been emptied out to the last, outer layer, which is now poised and delicate, maintaining its form, fibres still connected, even though all the layers inside have been wound out for use. I will make a lot of these in the weeks to come. A piece of work is forming, between me and it.

Confinement, Frances Earnshaw
Confinement, Frances Earnshaw





About Frances Earnshaw

Frances Earnshaw graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1985 with a Master of Arts degree.

She had a solo show at Gallery 286, Earls Court, London in November 2012. She has shown work at The Freud Museum, London, The V&A Museum of Childhood, London and at the Museum of Folk and Fai…Read more

One Response to “Empty cop”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    Dear Frances,

    I wished that I had known you when I was in London. How you describe those early weeks and months, of being with and becoming a mother, the fragility of the self, the preciousness of a new baby and the vulnerability. I remember holding my baby tight, watching closely, checking, monitoring, is he still breathing, am I doing this right ?

    Our pram wheels probably came near to passing. I lived on the Bemerton Housing estate, Kings cross. It was a dirty place, half derelict, at night it felt dangerous, motorbikes, burnt out cars, boarded up homes, drug dealing, the trains rumbling in and out of the station…….I had a friend Petronella, who was part of the same housing co-op as me, whose baby was 6 months older than mine, she kept me company, and a woman called Rosa from Brazil. When Syd was born Rosa bought me red roses and a kind smile.

    I mainly walked around the York road to Kings cross, up and down the Caledonian road, to the supermarket at the Angel Islington, and on a good day along the Regents Canal to Camley Street Natural park or over Blackfriars Bridge to Tate Modern.

    It was a simple time, libraries, playgroups, breastfeeding, cooking, housework, salvation army charity shop………….but it was lonely, I felt consumed by the city and by my new baby.

    The city was loud, so was he, through the day and night he cried, he slept next to me, I held him tight, I clung to him, I needed him as much as he needed me, we clung to each other. He was so small, yet demanded so much of me, around the clock I fed him from my breast, changed his nappies, held him close, comforted his cries. He didn’t like to be away from my body, so I strapped him to me during the day, and learnt to pick things up with my feet.

    The sleep deprivation was maddening. I remember sitting on a bench in an empty park, staring into space, clinging to him, surprised at how I had arrived in this mother place. My first son “grew me up” so much that it shocked me. I missed as I still do now the other person, the child I was, the girl inside. I meet her sometimes up the apple tree in the orchard or on the tyre swing on my allotment.

    You say “everything that empties us fills us”, this is so beautiful, and wise. With all the emptying out it is good to have a m-other conscience and think of the fill. Yesterday I felt so alone, I wasn’t being interrupted, both children back at school, a quiet calm descended and unnerved me, for all my wishing of some space and time to work, these words, this art, fell short of their company, their presence with me.

    I had been looking, underneath a pile of washing, between the gaps in the floorboards, glimpsed in a mirror, but the “I” was not the lone girl playing up the tree, it has always been the together, the knitting and attachment of me to my children and in turn to others.


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