The Handywoman is a book which, at its heart, is about the process of plotting a new map and navigating the unchartered terrain of experiencing and living with the consequences of a stroke at the age of 36. Most of all it is about how, through this experience, one woman came to a new understanding of herself. To quote from the introduction:
For, in writing about the difficult experience of the self – about the breaking and reforming of one’s body and identity – one rather explores (in the words of Adrienne Rich) “the road radiating from the / initial split, the filaments thrown out from the impasse”. From the initial impasse of my stroke Handywoman has taken me down many roads, both practical and thoughtful.
Kate Davies is a writer, knitwear designer and successful business woman. The level of personal reflection, insight and honesty found within these pages honours Kate’s intention of producing a book which is, ‘part memoir, part personal celebration of the power of making and…… redefines disability as, initself, a form of practical creativity’.
What makes this book, in my eyes, unique are the strands and threads that are stitched together throughout. This is in no way a story of triumph over tragedy it is so much more. It is an exploration of the personal meaning and significance of being a maker of things, of belonging to a community of makers and the bonds of making which link women across the generations.
The structure and flow of the book from childhood to the present day provides a coherence to the journey. It also illustrates how all the different aspects of our lives are intertwined. The first chapter explores how Kate’s upbringing laid the foundations of her creativity and resourcefulness which assumed such a central role in her approach to restructuring her life. On a personal level it reconnected me with memories of being taught to knit, sew, crochet and make by my mother and grandmother. My first pair of little bright pink knitting needles and the wonky rows of dropped stitches which were corrected by patient pairs of hands.
Subsequent chapters chart the experience of having a stroke. The journey through the early stages of seeking to make sense of a fundamentally altered body. The period of rehabilitation which followed. Whilst health professionals will be familiar with the dominant clinical narrative around this experience few clinical textbooks come close to the depth of what is described in these pages.
What it really feels like to relearn many familiar taken for granted actions such as braiding your hair. The significant and ongoing impact of neurological fatigue and the adverse effects of being in ‘busy audio-visual environments’. The painstaking task of relearning the numerous activities of daily living which had previously been taken for granted.
The chapter Raised is testament to the significance of great product design and the personal impact of using one well designed piece of assistive equipment, the Etac turner.
The turner enables me to extend my body in space – rising to stand, sinking to sit – and amplifies the capabilities of that body as an agent of sitting and standing. My body is not simply making use of this tool, but the tool is effectively remaking my body, redefining my physical subjectivity as active and participatory…… though I’m experiencing physical disability as a process of progressive disembodiment, the Etac turner allows me to regard myself as positively re-embodied.
The impact of this piece of equipment led, subsequently, to a journey to Sweden to meet the designers and manufacturers of the product and a reflection on the interface between humans and the tools we use.
Later chapters describe how, over time, Kate reconnected with the knitting community and embarked upon a new career as a knitwear designer and writer. Her travels to Shetland to increase her knowledge of Fairisle knitting and the women she met there.
I have followed Kate’s blog on a regular basis. For anyone with an interest in knitting I would encourage you to check out her blog which is testament also to her husband Tom’s amazing skills as a photographer.
However, most of all I want to end this review by saying that this book should be essential reading on every Occupational Therapy programme and should have a place in the library of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.
If, as an Occupational Therapist, you want to truly understand activity analysis, the importance of inclusive design and, most of all, what the embodiment of Doing, Being and Becoming REALLY looks like then this is the book to read and then read again.