Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Staying Grounded, Staying Connected

Busy beyond breath. Slow beyond words. This juxtaposition has been a hallmark of the last two weeks. Running around, trying to meet all obligations with grace on one side, cancelling everything and only nurturing, tending and resting with my sick little girl on the other. Times like these leave me feeling out of sorts for sure, but I’m happy to say I’ve got myself in a sweet rhythm that includes working with wool and other fibers every day, even if just for five minutes or so.

A heart a day keeps my feet on the ground…

I’ve got this wonderful heart-shaped rock. I love it and it sits on my kitchen sink window sill. Recently, I decided to make a felted heart around it, and once done, fill it with lavender. I loved it, and after a rather bleak news cycle, decided to attempt to make one heart every day. So far, I’ve done it minus a day or two. This has led to me making some little wet-felted bowls/vessels, because I’m already there, right?

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Standing at the kitchen sink, felting, thinking, hoping, wondering… it’s helping to get me though these jumbly days. Making things that smell good, feel good, and that I can imagine tucking little notes into, or wishes for people to have on their own jerky, jumpy days, that require so much patience and so much discipline… this has helped and funnily got me back to my drum carder, and to my spinning wheel.

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Today, too, I’ve found out about a goddess associated with the spinning wheel who I now must pursue and know more about… Habetrot. She comes from northern England and Lowland Scotland, and I think will have some things to teach me.  For a few years, I’ve been wondering about this long buried/hidden passion for fiber art that I’ve thankfully discovered. Where had it been resting in my psyche all of those years prior? I can think of many times in my adult life when having things to do with my hands and mind would have been intensely useful, and I cannot help but lament the years I remained so disconnected from what now feels like an utter and true love. When I think of it, I also can’t help but wonder about my ancestors from England, Ireland, Germany, and maybe Scotland (my grandfather often referred to the Isle of Lewis as being a seat of some ancestry).

Why does it matter?

I suppose because at times in life, it feels utterly true that energies that move us come from our ancestral histories, from journeys started long before that brought us to bear in this life here.

In reading a book about Navajo Weaving, I came across this:

The beginning of the world, I am thinking about it                                                                      

The beginning of the world, I am talking about it 

This is a Navajo ceremonial chant. I love reading about about Navajo myth and the beginning of the world in their story. “According to Navajo myth, the Dine, or the People (which is how Navajos refer to themselves), were led to their home in the Southwest from another world beneath the earth by supernatural spirits called Holy People. Spider Man, one of the Navajo Holy People, taught the Navajos how to make a loom from sunshine, lightning and rain. Spider Woman taught them how to weave.” from: The Navajo Weaving Tradition: 1650 to the Present, by Alice Kaufman and Christopher Selser, p. 4. 

Reading this is what led me to that fantastical Google, and that let me to Habetrot. What did we do before Google? I remember, actually. I’d spend hours at the library after school, sometimes allowing myself the luxury of reading whatever I wanted in the corner rather than doing my homework; other times, following one bit of information to another and another still, getting hung up on a weird books about phenomenon like spontaneous combustion, only to get back to the initial investigation on whatever topic. That is what it’s like, researching one’s own ancestral history and its accompanying mythologies. To follow one lead, if you are lucky and patient, can afford you the chance to learn about others along the way. The ultimate in grounding when you are not in a rush.

 

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Farm to Frame~ Final Project

It’s about time I report on how the last Farm to Frame morning went, in my daughter’s kindergarten class. Recall, this wonderful group of little ones started this project weeks before, learning how to wash wool, dye it, and then card it. They worked hard, and were so busy. With each passing class, students wanted to keep their wool, and were amazed by how it transformed in their own hands.

Finally, the day of the project arrived. I wish I could share pictures of the whole thing in the class, but privacy issues are real and I did not ask for permission to post pictures of other peoples’ children. Included here are picture from a slideshow I made to show to the class to detail what they would be doing that morning.

Each student got their own gallon ziplock bag. In it were a bunch of different colors and textures of wool. They all got colors from the batches that they dyed and carded, plus some extra that I already had on hand. Also, they had a piece of pre-felt, the “paper” for their felted painting.

Next, I showed the kids how they could layer the scene. I chose to make a sea creature scene to go along with their recent unit on sea life.

More examples… my daughter got to demo her skills.

I then explained that I’d be securing their pictures using a needle felting tool. It’s sharp! So I emphasized that I’d be the only one using that tool. I wanted to do this before the wet felting part so that it didn’t come apart in the bag.

Once the picture was completed, students could tell me or their teacher, and we’d help them slide it into their bags. Enter some warm, soapy water, and let the felting begin! I encouraged gentle, open handed pressing at first. Once felting began, they could lift their bags and really press/rub on both sides. I let them know that their picture would look different once it was felted! This was important. What goes into the bag comes out looking quite different and I encouraged them to be artistic experimenters, learning about what wool does during felting, and watching their beautiful colors take different forms. This proved to be an important reminder to some.

Above are the examples of finished products that my daughter and I made at home.

All in all the class went beautifully. What I learned was, children love working with wool. They love doing the work of preparing it and learning about about other people around the world who make things with it. They responded to the idea that people have been using wool for functional things since the Middle Stone Age. Time, of course, does not make sense to them in that way yet, but feeling connected to our ancient history is important, and it resonated.

Children allowed themselves to experiment and to create images, some abstract, and some impressionistic. Some wanted to use every last bit of wool in their bags; some only used a tiny amount and brought the rest home. All, I believe, viewed themselves as artists on that day, and allowed for imperfection and mystery.

If I were to do it again, I would work with smaller groups of not more than five children at a time. With sixteen children in class that day, I did not have the time or ability to make it to each child quickly when they had questions or needed help. For me, it felt rushed and a bit stressful. I think I would work it out with the classroom teacher for me to either work in small groups one after the other, or take a couple of mornings to do it. That way, I could calmly help and respond to questions or worries if they came up.

Other than that, I think it was a great success. I loved being with my daughter and her classmates and learning about teaching, connecting kids to natural and renewable resources in their own community, as well as to their shared history with our ancient ancestors.

Stay tuned as I prepare a new project to bring to my son’s second grade class! This time, it will be a weaving project!


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Women, Circles and Crochet for Asylum Seekers~ A Must-Read Article I Wanted to Share With You

I wanted to share this incredible article about the healing power of joining, in a circle, with other women and crocheting, for asylum seekers who have been traumatized on their road to safety. I will truly never, ever understand the horrible unfairness in the world. I gaze upon my children, my husband and myself and marvel at the difference between a bad day for us versus a bad day for people who are literally fleeing their homes to save their families and themselves. It borders on absurd and is, inherently, excruciatingly upsetting.

Nothing can capture the title of my blog better than this article can.

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/03/09/469535216/they-were-silent-about-their-suffering-then-they-began-making-baskets

 


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Spring Tranformations

We are in between seasons right now, here in Vermont. When I first moved here from Florida, I heard the term “mud season” and didn’t understand what people were talking about. Living in Burlington at that time, and not venturing much out of the city, I had little occasion to experience Mud Season head on. Now, after almost twenty years here, I get it.

The ground thaws (not too hard this year, after such a mild winter), the red wing blackbirds, robins, cardinals and cedar waxwings make an appearance in our yard. Large flocks of geese sail overhead, their calls to one another feeling like a call to my spirit, encouraging and light and commemorative of a winter gone by. The air smells clean and wet. Sugaring begins. The mud, it adds inches to my height, and a wobble to my walk when I muck around in the yard, this year imagining my cleaned up garden beds, a hoped for herb spiral, and a dyer’s patch. The need to vacuum much more frequently to prevent the brought-in-the-house mud, dirt, pebbles and sludge from making its way to the carpets is a fact. Why is taking one’s boots off in the garage so difficult?!

On a walk the other day down by Lake Champlain, the weather was the epitome of the “in like a lion” description of March. It was windy, rainy, snowy, icy… it was epic, really, and since I was dressed appropriately for such riotous weather, it was absolutely exhilarating. I laughed out loud in reaction to some especially strong bursts of wind, feeling not one ounce of embarrassment because I was alone. Down on the water, I could see Winter releasing her grip from the stoney shore.

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I found large pieces of driftwood that I harvested~ a project will happen with them, I am sure. Walking all the way back to my car with these water-logged, slippery gifts, against the wind, at a speedy clip (I was due to volunteer in my son’s class in just a little bit of time) proved to be the workout I needed. Sore and tired, wind-kissed and grateful, I was able to finish a project later that day that had been waiting patiently, in all of its scattered parts, for some attention.

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I love working with my Majacraft cirucular weaving loom. I’ve been making completely random things with little bits of all kinds of materials~  sari silk, banana silk threads, handspun, conventional, thick, thin, chunky, wild yarns, twine and wire. I am fully appreciative of the process of beginning a circular weaving project, releasing into the hard job of finding clarity in the first few messy rounds. I can hardly tell the order of warp threads at first. Now I can predict how much time it takes for me to begin to worry that I’ll never get it straight, and then, voila, the foundation is set for my piece and I can relax with the ups and downs of weaving. Then, adding a new element creates its own new chaos, anticipated but surprising, nonetheless. Sometimes it takes another few rounds to straighten things out again, to hit that rhythm where predictability and order are available if desired.

These projects conjure similar feelings of excitement, tension and hope as Spring does, in all of her wild glory. They promise beauty out of chaos, like spring’s pungent dirt promises baby birds, more light, new growth, froggy smells and strong storms. Order from chaos, gifts from turbulence, beauty reborn. Laughing out loud at all this natural noise is such a relief.


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Book Review: Women’s Work. The First 20,000 Years

Happy International Women’s Day! I want to read this book! This is a great book review by Story Skeins. Check it out! 

Story Skeins

Women’s Work. The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times.

by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

As I write this, it is International Women’s Day. It seems fitting to study and celebrate women’s contribution to society from the earliest times.

Of course, the first and most obvious question is “How do we define women’s work?” and this is exactly where Barber’s book begins:

For millennia women have sat together spinning, weaving, and sewing. Why should textiles have become their craft par excelence, rather than the work of men? Was it always thus, and if so, why?

Barber refers to a hypothesis by Judith Brown entitled “Note on the Division of Labor by Sex.” During her research, Brown had concluded that the extent to which a community relies upon women to provide a type of labour depends upon the compatibility of that labour with the necessity of childcare. Brown’s observations…

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Thank you, Mema.

Last week, I received a box from my mom and grandmother. I call my grandmother Mema. Others in my family call her Meme, or is it Meemee? I don’t know. I have to call her Mema, because it’s what I have called her my whole life. Anyway, this box that they sent me contained some yarn that Mema is no longer needing, and some sweet treasures meant for my kids’ dollhouse. There was also a book, or binder, or container of some sort. I had no idea what it was when I first saw it, but when I opened it, I lost my breath.

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It was a vintage Boye Needlemaster Knitting Kit. I’d never seen anything like this before! The place holders, the circular needles that you could change out for different sizing. All kinds of cool stuff! I was truly overwhelmed when I saw it. Ironically, that very day I was struggling with knitting. I really want to up my skills and was having a hard time figuring out a pattern, or really, the stitches that were called for in the pattern. I had to put it down for a while and was lamenting my weak frustration tolerance. And then this came. Way to raise the bar, Mema!

Mema is a master knitter. She has some serious skills. It’s funny because I cannot recall a time actually seeing her knit when I was little, but I have seen the things she has made, and I remember hearing my grandfather speak with pride about how she worked on certain sweaters. Now that I’m older, I think I understand that he wanted to make sure we kids understood how much work and love went into the things she made, and that she was really talented.

When I was in high school, Mema gave me this sweater.

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I loved it then, but I definitely did not have a good appreciation for how complicated it was to make this. If you’ve read others of my posts, you may have read about my growing edge with reading patterns and understanding measurements and all of the technical stuff. This sweater is technical, and I can remember Mema telling me that she had to really concentrate when knitting it, counting and marking, and doing over… I love this sweater more now than I can even describe. To me, it means love, and commitment, and patience. It is soft and delicate, and very beautiful.  And, now I have the knitting needles that were part of her arsenal of tools used to make such beautiful things. I feel so lucky.

I love how Mema made her own tag and wrote, “Made By Mee Ma”.

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone I consider a mentor and a guide in my life. He said, “you can’t carry history with you.” We were talking about the kind of history that hurts, that isn’t yours to carry. Then I told him about the knitting needle kit Mema sent me. That is the kind of history I want to carry with me. Things that my grandmother touched and took such good care of, and used to make things with love, while sitting at night with my grandfather. Thank you so much, Mema.