Cushion designing is not for the fainthearted. It requires lightning fast responses, calmness under extreme stress, confidence in yourself to push on when all seems lost, and the knowledge of which end of a knife you stick into a person. In other words, it is the ideal hobby for a hardened SAS veteran, and the arena in which it is practiced may have all the appearance of a cute and cosy London crafts shop, but once tempted thereby therein, it proves to possess the austere atmosphere of an army drill school.
I had entered this deceptive den for a ‘Mystery Crafts Evening’. Signing up for a class the contents of which are undisclosed may appear to be a gamble for someone on a mission to do something specifically new. However, not having a crafty character, I was confident the evening would not disappoint my ambition – for unless the craft transpired to be “learn how to construct a papier-mâché flamingo lantern” the chances were high I would be dipping into new waters.
And indeed it was so. For the craft of the evening, our instructress officer announced, would be cushion cover printing. She then proceeded to rattle through the steps by which we would transform our plain covers into marvels of design at a galloping pace, while an instructress sergeant stood behind her shoulder, plucking off and regurgitating the ends of her sentences with a foreboding smile (“If you get the knife the wrong way round, it would be nasty” – “Yes, it would be nasty”).
We’d barely had a moment to digest the fact that cushion covers were our mission before we were being harried into plotting a design onto sticky-back plastic. Action was the watchword of the evening: the officer and her sergeant were determined that we should not take longer than the allotted hour to produce our masterpieces, and under this tight schedule, no time could be spared for careful consideration or the carefree roaming of one’s imagination. A design was demanded and it was demanded immediately. And loudly. “I feel so stressed!” exclaimed my neighbour, ducking beneath the sergeant’s earshot.
My initial vision of producing an exotic Moroccan mosaic was scrapped under this pressure, and after a few minutes of fretting, and more for the sake of being able to point out that I done something rather than to signal the beginning of an exciting new oeuvre in interior design, I drew a square in the centre of my sheet.
No sooner had I put pencil to plastic than the sergeant was prowling behind my row, exhorting us to get a move on and start cutting out our patterns as soon as possible. “Oh, you’re struggling aren’t you?” she said, stopping behind me. Admittedly I was – a single square hardly constituted a design, and I’d already distinguished myself as the fool who would have stabbed herself in the hand with a safety knife had not the instructress officer been so alert – but I nevertheless resented having my status as the class dunce vocalised. The sergeant’s patronising appraisal of my efforts did though at least galvanise me to try harder, and soon I had a sequence of triangles emanating from my square, soon these shapes were cut out (without blood loss), and soon I was pasting my cushion cover with a deep shade of blue.
The resultant design is not exactly the complex and marvellous spectacle that had ever so briefly flashed across my mind’s eye. But at least it looks semi-intentional. Perhaps therefore, if I can take anything away from this mystery crafts evening, it is that I have the spirit of an artist but none of the talent; that is, I can imagine a great end but haven’t the foggiest clue how to get there. In other words, I am the Middle East peace envoy of artists.