Lindsey Smith has built a life with her bare hands.
Ever since she was a child, she has used them to create art, from making clothes to playing the piano to crafting things out of wood. In 2012, Smith, a 30-year-old Baton Rouge native, created Makers Workshop, a business focused on quality handcrafted goods and the skills passed down from generation to generation.
Serving as a place where artists can come together, learn and share their craft, Makers Workshop became one of the many ways she shared her love for creativity.
Then about a year ago, Smith lost the use of her hands.
She had become afflicted with a mysterious illness two years ago, suffering from head pain and facial twitches, and no one could figure out what was ailing her. A year into her illness, Smith lost mobility in her fingers. On a Monday, her right hand shut down. She couldn’t make a fist or even curl her fingers. The Friday of that same week, her left hand followed suit.
“Everything stopped,” Smith said. “My hands were just stuck.”
At the time, Smith was working as a creative director for a wilderness perfume company in California. As her condition worsened, she was forced to quit. After that, she said, she became a hermit.
Smith suffered for six months, her doctors and physical therapists telling her she had to learn to live with her disability for the rest of her life. Her doctors had finally identified the disorder as dystonia, which is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The disorder can also cause loss of control of the hand, including fingers sticking, and most cases of the disorder don’t have a specific cause.
“I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t cook food, I couldn’t take care of my 6-year-old son,” Smith said. “My dad had to come over to my house and chop vegetables for me.”
Loss of hand use would be a devastating blow for anyone. For Smith, it was especially damaging––her hands were her work, her life, her soul.
Smith found herself unable to create. That was the most shattering effect of the disorder.
After her physical therapists released her and told her there was nothing more they could do, Smith sought out alternative healing.
She wasn’t ready to accept her disorder.
“Everyone kept saying ‘you’re Makers Workshop, that’s what you do,’ Smith said. “How could my hands be paralyzed? How am I losing my hands?”
Smith came across pranic healing, an energy healing system, which claims that energy can heal ailments and cause rejuvenation and healing of the mind, body and spirit.
She decided to give it a try, and to her surprise, it worked. She found that she had suddenly regained the use of her hands after a free pranic healing session following a lecture on the subject. She was overjoyed, but also determined to find meaning.
“The whole time that I had Makers Workshop, there was never really one thing that I wanted to do,” Smith said. “I loved everything, but there was never just that one thing.”
In January of this year, she started thinking about the one thing she wanted to do, the one thing that was her purpose. She had always made things, but now it was time to make something that truly meant something to her and to others. As she pondered this, she looked at the piano in her living room and the antique flag hanging above it.
The practically ancient red, white and blue flag was smudged, tattered and discolored. It cost $10. She absolutely loved it.
She thought about the affinity she always had for flags, how a piece of fabric could hold meaning for communities and even entire countries. Then, a light bulb went off in Smith’s head. She realized her calling had always been hanging over her piano.
Now, as part of her Makers Workshop, she creates custom flags for people and brands out of her home.
“I love the symbolism,” Smith said. “There’s not much I can find that I think is more beautiful than that piece of textile. It’s seen a lot and it’s stood for a lot and for a lot of people.”
Many of the companies that Smith creates flags for are outdoor brands. They reach out to her and request a flag, and often times encourage her creative juices to flow, letting her create them how she wants.
“It’s not just me stitching a logo, it’s me making this symbol, this artifact for people who are saying yes to going after what they believe in,” Smith said. “They are the incubators of these raw ideas.”
Smith sits at her desk in her workroom and sometimes takes up to 50 hours to create a single flag. She smudges each flag with burning white sage to get rid of any negative energy before sending them out.
After regaining the use of her hands, Smith is not looking back. She plans to continue making flags for the rest of her life, never taking her hands for granted.
“I’ve found my one thing,” Smith said.
Photos by Greta Jines.