Threads of Meaning Lesson One 

“Words as Currency”


“The path (then) is all mystery, some madness.  We are called to it by magic words and though we may appear aimless, we are not.  This path may not even be a path, but a clearing, an open space.  The path may consist entirely of words, like breadcrumbs.”             Shawna Lemay, Transactions with Beauty



Words are fluid, elastic in their meanings.  Naming allows us to hold words.

There are those who think that engaging the left brain in creative activities will stymie inspiration, will block flow.  As humans, we generally favor one side of the brain or the other one get comfortable living there.  I would like you to approach this activity without judgment of which side is better for your creativity.  I am asking that you keep an open mind to this approach if it is new to you and allow both left and right to benefit your work.


The left side of the brain supports analytical & mathematical thinking.  Problem-solving, puzzle-making, etc. This doesn’t mean that if you aren’t good at math or puzzles that you cannot participate in this kind of activity. These exercises give you the steps to recognize and name patterns.  Finding these patterns will change the course of your creative activity by allowing your patterns to direct your practice.  Your intuitive right-brain will emerge with greater freedom. 


Don’t lose faith in the process.  Questions are valuable teachers.

Rainer Maria Rilke writes:  "And your doubt may become a good quality if you train it.  

It must become knowing, it must become critical.  Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perplexed and embarrassed perhaps, or perhaps rebellious. But don't give in, insist on arguments and act this way -watchful and consistent, every single time and the day will arrive when from a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers…"



Exercise 1: Tracking Words

Option One:  Read Cecilia Vicuna’s Word and Thread OR Peace

Reading:  Word & Thread by Cecilia Vicuna (download and print from your email) OR

Peace by Cecilia Vicuna

Read the poem slowly.  Read aloud the first time.

Read the poem slowly again, making notes; notice themes.

(Collect words (in your journal) that you respond to as you read through a second time.)

Refer to the poem if you like as you do the exercise.  Read often.**

Option Two: Making Word Connections






Exercise Instructions



Start with a fresh journal/sketchbook.


Separate the book into two sections or use two separate journals.

Date your entries


OR use two different color pens to notate the two types of word collections suggested here.

The two-pen option creates an integrated chronologically, a timeline between quotes and diagrams revealing patterns that can help you make connections and discoveries.




One word collection category is “Commonplace.”  This term is taken from the time-honored tradition of using a journal to collect quotes, poems, other written material captured in our reading and listening that “speak” to us in their clarity or relevance.  It can be something pretty ordinary that strikes you at the moment or a rather profound and well-stated philosophy.

Ann Hamilton’s Public Project - http://cloth-a-commonplace.tumblr.com/ 


Word Maps:

The other list (and ink color) will be devoted to individual words and thoughts to which you are intuitively drawn and for later consideration.  I like to have a Thesaurus and dictionary close by.  I particularly like old dictionaries because they reflect meanings from a particular time and historical culture. 


Allow yourself to get creative with the placement of the words in your ‘word map” section. Alter the size of the lettering, the direction, shape as you map your meanings. You will derive inspiration from both types of entries in your journal.


Thesaurus It


1. Look up the various meanings in the dictionary. 

2. Collect the meaning you like and give them each a page in your journal.  

3. Go to www.thesaurus.com (or your own thesaurus) 

4. Look these words up again and gather more meanings for the words you’ve chosen.

5. Use Google Translate (https://translate.google.com/)   to see how these words are used in other languages.   Quite often, one word serves to represent many more things than in English. *

Expand your meanings for the words you have chosen.

6. Note similarities, relationships, patterns that you perceive from the meanings. Use a third color pen to notate this.

7. Find words inside of words ( i.e. gather/earth)

As you spend time with these words, the meanings become more numerous, more layered, more metaphorical.


Note:  You can use the dictionary or any printed page as an exercise by randomly opening the book and scanning a page until you connect with a word.




Cut four 8” by 8”  (21 cm) squares of fabric.  Back them with a layer of muslin or flannel.

Use a contrasting thread/ 2 or 3 strands of DMC are a good weight for this.

Start stitching in straight lines (use a running stitch - see "Stitch-ionary " in the Artist Forum

if you are unfamiliar with the stitch.

Focus on the stitching and respond to intuitive thoughts about doing something other than straight lines if the spirit moves you.


If you are using a sewing machine, cut a piece of fabric and corresponding backing to

8” by 32”.  (21 by 82 cm) 

Machine sew in straight lines until a change of direction or shape occurs to you.


Record any other thoughts or words in your journal.



*extra notes:

The word “mortgage” comes from old French and means, literally, “dead pledge”: an arrangement that  “dies” if a promised payment fails. (Iris Cushing Unruly Poems…)


“Glace, the French word for ice, can also mean mirror.  Ice, mirror, glass…”  


“The ancient Greeks used the word "psyche" for breath, for life, for the essence of life, for the soul, and sometimes for butterflies that were the emblem of the soul..."


**additional reading:


Seed Speakings Linda Duke  

Excerpts from Ken Kewley’s  “Notes on Color & Composition” (link on the Portal Page)



Lesson content copyright Roxanne Lasky 2019.   Please do not reproduce.

© 2 0 2 0  R O X A N N E  L A S K Y

Threads of Meaning, Meditative Stitching, Art Practice, Art Process, Color Theory, Individual Online Instruction, Online Workshop, Textile Art,  Contemporary Embroidery