The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

What does it look like when something is yet to happen? A quick glance around my house presents a plethora of potential subjects in this theme: still life corners where action has been suspended, such as towers of unfiled paperwork, or sewing projects half begun.

Fabrics and Measure, 2018, oil on linen

What better way to postpone a little longer than to spend the hours recording in paint these everyday encounters with the formless void?

Penelope (faithful wife to Odysseus) showed similar ingenuity when she kept her pesky suitors at bay for three years – promising to choose a new husband when she had finished weaving her father-in-law’s eventual funeral shroud. This she worked at all day, and at night secretly unravelled. Amazingly – perhaps mesmerised by the skill and beauty the shroud-in-progress displayed – the suitors fell for it.

Dora Wheeler, Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night, silk embroidered with silk thread, 1886

Textiles and interiors are beautiful in themselves but also rich with historical and symbolic meaning. In scripture, torn garments represent grief and death. The Jewish high priest wore a seamless garment; at the crucifixion of Christ, four soldiers ‘cast lots’ for such a robe. Samuel’s mother Hannah made a ‘little robe’ each year for the growing boy she had dedicated to God. She brought it to him on her annual visit to the Temple. There is a recurring ‘scarlet thread’ throughout the old testament — scarlet of course is the colour of blood.

Thread symbolised life to the Ancient Greeks too. The Fates spun, measured and snipped it. In the hands of an expert weaver it had dramatic consequences: Arachne was turned into a spider because she bested Athena in a weaving contest.

From Vermeer’s lace maker to the ever present distaff, the textile arts represented in art in more recent centuries are frequently symbols for duty, female virtue and harmonious homes. Except where the distaff is wielded as a weapon, in which case the homes are not so harmonious.

A not-so-harmonious home

It’s natural for me to take up this sort of theme in my work because I’m a home-studio dweller surrounded by imminent sewing projects. It’s probably fate. I don’t spin, unfortunately, and so don’t own a distaff. Does a Mahl stick count?

Paintings from my new collection of work will be on show at the new Lethbridge gallery at Bulimba in Brisbane from 2 March.