The stroke that felled Kate Davies in 2010 provides the central narrative to her memoir, Handywoman (Makadu Press, 2018). ‘I set out to write a book about my experience of brain injury’ she writes in the Introduction. And, she has.
Handywoman takes the reader through her happy childhood, her mental health issues and stresses of being an academic, the day of her stroke and the stages of her post-stroke life – how and why it happened, the initial misdiagnosis by the specialist, her long months of rehabilitation and the reality of living as a disabled person.
Yet, while the physical, mental and emotional cost of her stroke is there on every page, this memoir offers the reader so much more.
I have struggled writing a review of this book. Words for once failed me as I attempted to answer the question that dogged me while reading it: What is it she is trying to convey? In the end, I decided to let Kate do the talking – she conveys her story and what it means so much more elegantly that I ever could.
‘Handywoman is about what it means to knit a sweater. About the idea of walking when one finds oneself in a body that no longer walks. About learning how to dance when half of your body barely moves at all. About just how difficult it is to accept the self after major physical change. About a dog. About finding oneself, as a maker among an incredible group of makers. About hands, About the brain. About hair and identity. About extraordinary tools and objects. About life not turning out quite as you expected. About working towards a better life precisely because of its unexpected nature. About understanding limitation as a creative resource rather than as an impediment. Handywoman is about hearing a poem that chimes so strongly with your own experiences that it seems to speak to you directly. It’s about finding a sense of place and purpose among some remarkable women and their remarkable islands. It’s about living life creatively, and being supported by an extraordinary creative community. And it’s about thinking about how good design might contribute to the development of a more inclusive, a more human, public sphere.’ (p9)
In short, the concept of handywoman as Kate Davies views it is to explore another way of living, of choice, connection, love, stability self-love, love of job, of living, of environment/place and of community.
Today, Kate Davies is a highly respected independent knitwear designer and writer whose name has, in the last decade, become synonymous with well-thought out knitting designs, as an author, researcher and a very successful businesswoman.
Handywoman, the book can be seen as an end point in her journey – it can also be seen as just the beginning.
Disclaimer: I do not know Kate Davies personally and have no ties with her company Kate Davies Designs.