Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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The Drone and The Chant

I am dyeing wool right now, after a bit of a break. Flowers that I placed in jars with water about a month ago to collect sunlight have been waiting to be turned into dye paths. As I sit outside next to my pots, I can appreciate the fact that they waited too long. They are generously sharing their riotous scent. Maybe odor is the better word. Wow. My cats seem to love it, but I think I might be smelling this in my memory for years to come. It will be an experiment. I dyed with marigolds earlier in the summer after a 24-hour sun soak. Will this dye bath produce different colors?

This is a heavy time. While sitting and tending to my smelly pots, I tune into the drone, drone, endless drone of the crickets and grasshoppers. I’ve really appreciated them this year, but today for some reason, I’m moved by a different feeling. Sadness and maybe a touch of apprehension. How long will this song go on, or as I think about it, I realize that I’m imagining the wrong song to be the constant.

I love bagpipes. When I hear them, I start to cry almost instantaneously. One of my favorite memories is of a time I was taking a walk with my son on the beach. It was a beautiful dusk, he was a baby, in my arms, warm and cozy. I heard bagpipes and turned and there was a man, facing the ocean, playing this ancient instrument. I made my way closer and sat down, holding my boy, rocking him to the sound of the waves and the magic music. I cried because I felt grateful and like somehow, in this moment, I was holding on to a rope, connecting us to our ancestors.

Most bagpipes have at least one drone and one chanter. The drone is what makes that one, long constant sound around which the chanter is played to make the melody.  It occurred to me today that really, what I’ve been considering the drone of grasshoppers and crickets is really the chant around the drone. That specific, hypnotic sound is part of the melody of summer and early fall. It changes in volume and pattern throughout the season, as does the chant of frogs, birds, water flow, energy and even life and death. These things I get so attached to and imagine as constant are really just the chant around the drone of something so much more constant. I suppose that’s where religion, philosophy or other things come in to play. I remember reading in college about an astronomer, Tycho Brahe I think, who believed that the planets all made their own unique sound as they rotated around their axes. That may very well be the one iota I recall from that class, but I loved it then, and it resonates now.

Anyway, who ever said that dyeing wool and working with flowers and raising children and thinking about life was straightforward?

Here’s some recent pics:

What is this funny bug nest on a willow leaf?

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Tiny willow branches in a warp/weft attempt.

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Then what happened…

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Collection of willow leaves and branches for my next dye pot.

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I’m starting to gather lichen from bits found on walks (not on live trees!) and from wood delivered for this coming winter.

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It takes a while to collect lichen. As it should.

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I had come to call this “our deer”. An orphan, we watched this deer grow up all summer, losing its white spots, enjoying the wild flowers in our field. I think I just saw it dead on the side of the road coming home from dropping my kids off at school, having been hit by a car. We always told each other when we saw it, keeping an eye out for it, wondering where it would go this winter. Just the other day, we talked about rehabbing our wearing out play fort to make a comfy spot for deer to sleep if it got really cold. I wish people would slow down when they drive, put their phones down, remember that there are animals around. I guess it was seeing our deer, dead and alone on the road that made me think of what chants are swirling around the constant drone. I know this is just part of it, but damn…

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Some Days Nature Insists Upon Being Noticed


On a walk to a neighbor’s garage sale, I remembered to look around. 

Okay, not nature per se, but beautiful, delicate bounty from my early morning jaunt. 

Hello, Bee. Help the pumpkins to grow! 

Morning in slow motion. 

Cicada grown out of its home, preparing to fly somewhere. Where do these things go?

I turned when I felt something looking at me… Oh, hello! 

A hiding watermelon! 

A hiding pumpkin! Was I supposed to weed my pumpkin patch?

Lookout, little bug. 

Sunflowers have some things to teach me. 

Tall grasses dancing like ladies with long tresses and feathery fans. 

This was a good day. 


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Thoughts on Weaving, School and Staying Creative

I finished a piece yesterday that I have been working on in a sporadic kind of way for a long time. For Mother’s Day, my husband made me a loom that was detailed in Kids Weaving, by Sarah Swett. I’ve mentioned her before and love her book. And her blog is absolutely gorgeous and inspiring. I wanted to delve into weaving from the ground up, and figured before I start daydreaming about owning my own loom, I’d better start by understanding them. Why not start on one that is simple in many ways, but still uses things like heddle bars and heddles, shed sticks and shuttles?

I like how this turned out. It is purposefully chunky and wild and not at all a project from Kids Weaving, although I do plan to go back and do a project from start to finish while following directions. I got carried away by my desire to throw all kind of handspun yarn into my piece, and as it came to life, I imagined it hanging on a wall, rather than as I had originally planned; it was going to be a wild scarf with a crocheted edge and weird fringe. I love using loose roving in things, and I love unravelling yarn so one can see the many stages in a yarn’s life in one spot. Once the weaving was done and the loose ends cleaned up, I was not entirely satisfied, so I looked at it a lot, touched it a lot and went into my “Closet Of All Things” and found two bits of soft cotton still attached to their seed pods. Perfect. My piece needed a little more balance given the wonky stick placement on top. I love the two soft puffs from nature that sit and hold the piece secure.

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Finishing this yesterday was grounding for me. With my kids starting school and my professional work life picking up, I have felt a bit out of rhythm. The couple of weeks leading up to school beginning are weird ones for me. My mind goes into preparedness mode, which I have found completely derails my creativity and my will to just be. In my mind, the lists of things to do become omnipresent and the worries and fears and pressures come alive. Yesterday, while holding my woven piece and getting it right for me, I was afforded the chance to remember some big picture ideas I have, and to remember to recommit to them.

I’m reading a book right now called Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, by Allen H. Eaton. I learned about this book during my day at The Marshfield School of Weaving in July through a wonderful conversation with teacher, Bruce Engebretson. I thought I’d share a quote that moves me, and swirls into the thoughts and images and hopes that come alive  for me when I am working with fiber. Here it is:

“He who does creative work, whether he dwell in a palace or in a hut, has in his house a window through which he may look out upon some of life’s finest scenes. If his work be a handicraft he will be especially happy, for it will help him not only to perceive much of the beauty of the world about him but, what is man’s greatest privilege, to identify himself with it. If it enables him to earn his daily bread then he should rejoice, for blessed is the man who has found his work; but if, as will be the case of many in our day, his handicraft is not a way of making a living, but through self-expression a help toward a fuller life, he too will rejoice, for he has all the privileges of his fellow-craftsmen without the need of fitting his product to the market.

“Each handicraft has its own special reward, but there are a few compensations which all handicrafts bring to him who works at this open window. First, and perhaps greatest, as has been said, is the opportunity for self-expression which much of life’s work with its modern advantages does not give…”

from: Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands: A Book on Rural Arts, by Allen H. Eaton, pgs 25-26.

I think maybe these words reflect back to me some of the struggle I experience as my children and I approach a school year. Busy-ness, competing forces for attention, energy and discipline, these things can easily pull me and us from ourselves and from a center seat of simplicity and creativity. This early morning before school, maybe more peaceful because I spent time weaving yesterday, I sat with my daughter and we listened to geese fly overhead, their distinct calls marking the hint of autumn and their eventual pilgrimage to warmer climes. At the same time, the endless and calming drone of cicadas soothed the part of us that wants summer to hang on a little bit longer. The window we are welcomed to look through by engagement in the process of making is one I long to keep open and clean, and I hope by maintaining a daily practice I won’t forget. Much easier to see and hear the birds that way.


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Using What I Have and Adjusting to Reality

When I began this weaving project, it was in my mind a mat, a space for me to sit, to think, to feel texture and to meditate…


For a while, I worked on it every night, sitting in a dimly lit room nearby my falling asleep children… 

Then it sat,

And sat,

Waiting for me to come back.

And I did, with the same destination in mind. 

But when it was finally coaxed off its wooden support, it was not flat. 

It insisted on curving, no matter the wetting and pulling and stretching I subjected it to. 


There was never a moment I thought about starting over. It was too late for that. I suspect the too tight pulling of the cotton weft in the midst of woolen rounds was the perturbation in the otherwise peaceful flow. Ironic, given that it was those very cotton strips that inspired the piece to begin with. 

Time to reconsider, time to adapt…

A chance to use more of what would otherwise be tossed away. 

My old worn sweater,

An antique bobbin of woolen thread,

My grandmother’s very old doily, worn, strained, yet saved. 

Wrapping the outside of the now bowl in my old worn sweater, allowing for waves here, ripples there, I feel the comfort I was longing for when I first began those initial rounds. Gentle stitching with the woolen yarn offers chances to start anew, start anew, as weak spots made for unplanned breaks. 

Stitching burlap around the soft bowl suggests sturdiness and the promise of support. 

And this tired, beautiful, intricate and broken gift offers up its last, sweet breath and is saved, its softness part of something new. 


Now my mind wanders to what it will hold, this comfort bowl of mine. Old things. New things. Found things for sure. Memories, too, no doubt, of specific moments and foggy plans that were once laid out on paper with pen, changed over time with cross outs and rewrites. Maybe appreciation, too, for adaptations so subtle they are almost imperceptible in loud life.

It will all be in there. 


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Everything But the Kitchen Sink and End of Summer Turbulence

I’ll admit to being one very distractible and lack-of-focus afflicted person at present. It is hard to figure out why. Here are some possible reasons: the intense heat has made working with wool mildly unpleasant; the coming to an end of summer vacation fills me with a nagging dread and combating impulses – do as much as I can with my kids and make the remaining days epic-style awesome vs. relax and take each day as it comes and just make sure to swim; anticipation of having time to organize my projects, my work and my goals and a drive to get started, get to finishing, and get organized. I teach at a local college, have a small clinical private practice, I hope to bring fiber art and craft to more kids this year, and I have some writing projects I long to pursue. All of these responsibilities and goals, plus being a mommy to two young ones has me, well, a little all-over-place, and I think that is reflected in my project heap and book pile. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve recently finished, what I’m working on and what I’m reading with those of you who read this here blog of mine. Maybe you, too, find the end of summer to be a little, well, turbulent?

Azel Pullover

~ I finished the Azel Pullover for my daughter. I love it. I truly do. It is not completed just as the pattern was written. It’s a bit shorter, and I modified the cowl neck because the numbering of stitches was off and it was making it wonky, so I ended up just knitting in the round which made a great looking band around the neck. By the way, the creator of this pattern is wonderful, and responded to a question I had about it in a very short amount of time.

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~ As part of completing the above pattern, I acquired a whole bunch of new skills in the knitting department: the cable knit cast-on, picking up stitches, making button holes (not elegantly executed this first go-round, but I can get the buttons through them), and fixing big mistakes (I practiced understanding what stitches look like when you have to take out a few rows and get them back on the needles).

~ I also got to use the knitting needles my grandmother gave me. You can read about them here. I am so happy about that.

Circular Weaving

I just completed the circular weaving piece that I started a while back. You can read about that here. It was supposed to, in my imagination, lie flat, but alas, it does not and is currently awaiting a super modification that I am actually very excited about. The hoped-for meditation mat will turn into a bowl to hold organic materials I plan to use to spin into yarn or work into weaving pieces.

Sewing With My Kids

Both of my littles have begun sewing their own little dolls, which is truly wonderful. You know, it is one thing to practice slowing down and exercising patience when it’s just me I’m reckoning with. When I’m working on projects with my children, I’ve realized that it’s best if I have some project in my hands, but one I’m not absorbed with. Nothing kills creativity and learning like impatience from the guide. I’ve been guilty of that and have made a dedicated effort not to let my own inclination towards impatience that I so readily apply to myself destroy these quiet moments with my children. I think I’ve made headway in this department.

I recently read a book to my children called Cloth Lullaby, by Amy Novesky. It is about the artist Louise Bourgeois and especially, her relationship with her mother, who was a weaver and tapestry artist. Louise apprenticed under her mother and later in her life became a renowned artist in her own right. Her giant sculptures of spiders, who were inspired by her mother, are one of her hallmark themes. Spiders create thread and repair and build and, in one part of the book, the author describes how when webs are damaged, spiders do not get angry; they simply repair them. In this beautiful book, I was reminded of an important ideal~ steadfast and calm repairing and steadfast and calm teaching. I was grateful to have read it with my littles.

Organized My Fibers and Garage Space

I spent a good amount of time going through all of my materials and getting them organized in a way that will make project planning and gathering much easier in the months to come. I do plan on doing a fair amount of dyeing wool and experimenting in the fall.

Wool I Dyed and Carded

I’m not done with carding all of the wool yet! But here are the results of the washed, dyed and carded Shetland I wrote about recently. It’s so beautiful. Coreopsis is quite the dye plant and is shown on the right. On the left is Shetland dyed with marigold.

Books I Am Reading

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott~ I love the way she writes about every single thing. I need some writing advice and she’s my go-to for that.

Stitch By Stitch, by Carolyn Meyer~ I really want to know how to do rudimentary needlework. I’m struggling with this because it is a bit of a departure for me, and I’m not sure it’s wise to start yet another journey into another handcraft when I have so many I already love and could get much more proficient at, but have you seen this book –> Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This book inspires me in a way that is almost painful. The colors, the textures and the soothing promise of slowing down is really speaking to me and I want to figure out a way to work this in to what I do both in my own handwork practice and with others.

Would anyone like to do a slow and consistent, chapter by chapter Stitch-Along with me, using Slow Stitch as the guide? Seriously. Write me if you do.

This summer has included many beautiful times with family and with friends, many bike rides and lake swims and creemees, lots of convalescing after some antibiotic side effect havoc, lots of chip eating and garden tending.

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Days have been long and night sounds have been welcome and wild. Temperatures have been hot and rain has been scarce. News has been painful and overwhelming. The Olympics have been awe-inspiring. And the days are going on and each one offers a new chance to get connected with the present moment, to breath and to not resist the passing of time. I think in the coming weeks before school starts, that is what I’ll be trying to keep in the forefront of my mind. To look and to truly see, to hear and to truly listen, to touch and to truly feel.

Yes. That.

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In the Presence of Masters

I have not written in a good long while because my work with fiber stalled out a bit. I am one of those people who struggles with some of the more rare side-effects of antibiotics and of late, this has been quite an issue. BUT, I am here to say that yesterday was a gift beyond gifts, and has helped me to find my bearings again.

The Marshfield School of Weaving is hosting a five-day spinning class this week. I was only able to attend one day of the series and was not sure what to expect, but I went ready to absorb anything and everything I could in this limited time. I went to this school last year to take a plant dye class with Joann Darling. You can read about that here. Attending class yesterday, I knew I would have the opportunity to meet Norman Kennedy, the man who started the school in 1974. He has taught spinning and weaving, he speaks Gaelic and sings old and beautiful waulking songs and other traditional songs that can be sung to help keep time during the melodic and repetitive processes of carding, spinning and weaving. He joined Bruce Engebretson who was a visiting teacher from Minnesota. I had never taken a class from individuals who were so steeped in their craft and wondered what it would be like. I was definitely nervous. Primarily self-taught, I prepared myself for having to re-learn ways I do things. I was right to get my mind in order for that type of expansion.

I traveled down with my spinning wheel, some roving, my spindle, a batt I carded from Border Leicester that I processed myself and dyed with willow bark, and a whole lot of eagerness.

Let me say this, I took a lot of pictures but don’t want to post them without permission from those who are in them, so please pardon the lack of visual detail.

Driving up to this school in Marshfield offers the chance to resettle the mind in its own right. I was so struck last year by the functional, humble beauty of the barn, the rooms, the tools and the “stuff” kicking around. It is entirely calming and completely not intimidating. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Bruce, Norman and the four other women in attendance. They were in their groove already because they had been together all week, but at no time did I feel like an odd man out. What shocked me was that I, according to Bruce, was not carding wool at all correctly, so I learned his way. The old way. And it took a long time. So long I worried I might have dyslexia in my hands. For real. But he was kind and patient and kept at it with me. I had introduced myself already to Norman and tried not to be too intense; I have wanted to meet him for a long time after I saw this YouTube video.

While I was fumbling through carding wool, I showed Bruce the batt I brought. I think I just wanted him to know that I know how to do at least something and he was into it, and he asked me to show Norman when he came back in the room. I’ll not go into all of the mini moments that were incredible, but showing Norman the willow-dyed batt led to him showing me how to spin off of a distaff. I had never even seen a distaff in person before, and here was this beautiful man, in his 80’s, with a long white and golden pony tail and kind face, spinning my wool onto a spindle with the merest flick of his hand, his other hand totally free. He commented on the luster of the wool, the strength of the yarn it can make, and he told stories and historical bits about the use of these ancient tools. I was in awe and in love, and then he let me learn.

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It took some doing, but soon enough I was spinning right from the distaff onto my wheel. He said I was doing pretty good for a beginner. I’ll take it.

Later, we watched Norman prepare flax and place it onto a distaff to spin. As he spun he sang a tune in time with his treadling. We watched Bruce load and use very old combs to prepare gorgeous wool for spinning. I watched in awe a woman use a walking wheel… truly incredible, and I learned about the spindle that was on the wheel that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. Norman told stories of how it was long ago, when children worked alongside their parents all day, when fiber craft was not a luxury or a hobby, but when it was a necessary and integral part of life. Bruce talked about how children would prepare wool all day and how women would spin all night. I think about this all the time, about how so many fairy tales are about old women saving young women from the fate of spinning all day long, so that they could go about with their husbands and be in their world. Habetrot is one such goddess. More to come on this topic in the future, but I suspect that fairy tales and ancient myth show us the trajectory of the feminine archetype in relation to fiber art and craft. Habetrot and her magic family are underground, hidden away from view, a foreshadowing of changes to come, both positive and negative, to the ways in which people relate to one another, the relationship between people and Earth and the ways we understand and experience time, work and patience.

Some other highlights for me include being called a lass, having my spinning wool technique ridiculed in the most kind of Scottish ways, and simply enjoying the company of people who were all there to learn and be in the company of masters. It was truly a wonderful day.

And, I will be fashioning my own distaff and spindle soon. Tales to come…