Our Paradox

I recently completed the shawl Frances Herself by Karie Westermann. When Karie posted about her inspiration for the shawl, the art of Frances Macdonald McNair, my mind immediately focused on the painting A Paradox.

When viewing this painting, the first words in my mind were “This is so 7 of cups!” If you are not a devotee of the tarot, this sentence might not mean much to you. Let me explain.


The 7 of cups is a card of dreams, choices, potential, illusion, delusion, creativity, fantasy. So many choices, and they all look shiny at first glance. You can choose the wrong one, or even the right one for the wrong reasons. You can become paralyzed by choice and do nothing at all. Those fantasy scenarios have their charm! Why do anything? Head in the clouds, day dreamer — did your parents call you those names?

. . .

When I look at A Paradox, I see a sea of  maybes. What if I pick him, or that, or those. Whilst the female figure in the bridal dress, male figure in checkered tunic, and child with arms outstretched are emphasized with light, the woman does not connect to either figure – she stares off into the distance. Maybe something else enticing is out there? The other woman, self? is facing another way, as are the additional children. Another man/choice stands between. There is beauty in this painting, but it’s so full of smoke and mist and illusion you can’t quite grasp anything. When you really look at it, it’s quite unsettling.

. . .

I think when you are a creative person, the 7 of cups world is your natural home. You’re always dreaming about choices — what if I use this word? What if I use that one instead? What about this color? No, the red. What if I start that poem, or maybe I should work on that piece I had an idea about … I think the problem comes when after all this wondering, you don’t do anything. You stay in that dream state, do more research, or wander down an internet hole, and your work doesn’t make it to the page, or canvas, or dress, or … this shawl. What if I figured out all of the colors, and yarns, and what I was going to change or emphasize, read about the artist, and … never knit it.

It is vital to dream, but also vital to not live completely in your head. It is vital to make your work. It is vital to not be dazzled by what-ifs and maybes and musings at the expense of doing the work. But you need these what-ifs and maybes and musings to do the work.

That’s the paradox. As artists, our dreamy imaginings and imaginations can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.

. . .


The purple is for creativity. The flecks and specks of other colors, like a painter’s messy clothing after a painting session, honor the artist: Frances, me, you.


The very light grey and very dark grey echo the murky black and white in the man’s tunic. Choices are not clear or simple, but they need to be made. The deep, blood red is for life and love, surrounded by light. It has to take up the widest space or you’ll be lost — look how her roses become indistinct and trail off. I don’t want that to happen to me — to my creativity. It’s so easy to be distracted, and lulled into not making your work. One final row of purple. Creativity, making, is the last word.


I wrap these lessons around me as I wear this shawl. Dream well, and dream often, but make your work, make your work, make your work. 

Thank you Frances and Karie for teaching me about the 7 of cups, deeply.

No coupons for this shawl, as I’ve had the yarn since, ahem, 2006. I found the receipt as I was looking in a book for a project I meant to make in 2010. Cough.

image of A Paradox from wikimedia commons. Photo of 7 of cup cards from the decks I use: the Rider-Waite tarot, the Poet Tarot, the Wild Unknown Tarot, the Paulina Tarot.


  1. I know nothing about tarot reading but this was fascinating! I can relate a lot to the paralysis of choice-making and have spent my life forcing myself to make decisions and move on. In fact, I remember when I was trying to decide to go the my Ph.D., I dithered for a long time and then just decided it was time to decide. So, I did and then refused to question the decision. Your shawl is gorgeous!

    1. Kerry, I’m glad you commented because I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m getting a loom tomorrow! A friend of a friend is selling his Kromski harp 24 inch Rigid heddle loom with some extra heddles and some other accessories and the time seemed right 🙂

      He works at a local university and we are meeting at lunch tomorrow to do the loom deal 😉 which is a funny picture to imagine.

      I’ll let you know how I get on!

      1. That’s so exciting! I will be very interested to hear what you think. The rigid heddle loom is a gateway drug, you know . . . .

  2. Thanks! 🙂

    I recently received a tarot reading from someone, and you know what card came up in the “present” position, !!!

    For the record, I think the tarot is a great tool to help you suss out how you are feeling and think about issues you are having. I don’t think it “predicts the future” per se, and predicting the future is terrifying anyway. I don’t want to know! But I do want to know how to have a thoughtful present, and even understand the past a little better.

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