This has got to be a stitch-up

A hand-stitched picture of a yellow budgie on a spring branch, displayed in an embroidery hoop.

Recently I realised that my understanding of cardiology, even of the heart’s basic physiology, is patchy, to say the least. Whenever I’m reading about hearts, whether in terms of literature or health, fact or fiction, I find myself glossing over biological terms that I’m unsure of. Could I be missing something important when I do this? Quite possibly. I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about the anatomy of hearts and the basics of cardiology, but where to begin? That’s where the budgie comes in!

During lockdown (which I’m spending with a reluctant eight-year-old) I’ve returned to my long-abandoned hobby of embroidery. It’s the perfect mindful activity, keeping my hands busy and my mind focussed while I deal with…everything else. It’s also one of very few productive activities that my daughter does not attempt to sabotage.

After sewing a few budgies, I realised I was getting to know a lot more about their physical make-up and wondered if I could use embroidery to learn (very gently and slowly) about hearts in a similar way. I looked for anatomical images online, sketched the basic outline on fabric and began the painstaking process of filling in the details with stitches.

Faint pencil outline on white fabric (partially embroidered) of an anatomical heart. The veins and arteries on the surface of the heart have been stitched in red and blue.  Around these are small rosettes of yellow thread intended to represent a layer of fat.

It’s been slow progress but I really am learning a lot as I work on it. I’ve got a better understanding of how the various parts fit together and am becoming more familiar with the heart’s sections and their names. The day after drawing the outline, I came across the word “auricles” in my reading and knew immediately what and where they were. I still have a long way to go in boosting my cardiological understanding but I think this harebrained scheme was the right place for me to start, at least in this strange lockdown era. I have to take progress wherever I can get it!

The complexity of meaningful cardiological communication is a topic I’m interested in exploring further throughout this project. As someone who lives with heart disease, I’d certainly like to understand hearts (especially my own heart) better, but it’s not an easy topic for the layperson to access – resources that hit that sweet middle-spot of simple but not simplified can be difficult to find. Have you ever found any? I’d love to hear about them in the comments if so.

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