Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


A Stitch-Along In The Making…

I am very excited to share that Melinda, of the beautiful blog called Knit Potion, is collaborating with me on a stitch along. We are using the book called Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith as our guide.

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If you have not already, you ought to check out this gorgeous and inspiring book. The writing, the photographs and the suggested exercises make it seem possible for even a brand new hand-stitcher like myself to dive in and explore and play.  It’s funny…I feel like I afford myself a fair amount of space to mess around with yarn and wool and all of that. I definitely don’t need things to be perfect or measured just so. I aim to address that so that I can make a sweater I’ve had my eye on. But really, precision makes me nervous. Always has. Sewing and hand-stitching have been, in my imagination, things only really precise people do. Making clothing and hemming and all of that has felt so far away from where my skills lie. The stitch along, for me, will serve as a way to bridge skill and technique with experimentation and play. I’m looking forward to that challenge.

I’m also a crafter without a project at the moment. I have loads of yarn, loads of wool, way too many ideas and scattered thoughts. I need to reign it in. The loose and unorganized energy, it’s become uncomfortable. I need a place to put it, and I need to have that place be one that invites new learning, growth and freedom, but also discipline.

So, this is the first week of our Slow Stitch stitch-along. The task is to start collecting materials. Fabrics, threads, needles, loose bits, maybe some dyes… It is the time to turn the gaze towards the project and set the intention, or intentions, that revolve around the practice of hand-stitching. I’ve gathered many items over time and am looking forward to using them is whatever way makes sense on a given day.

Linen fabric scraps, antique handkerchiefs, a lace collar…

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A favorite cotton shirt that may have just lived its last summer as a worn item, an antique bobbin filled with woolen thread, antique cotton thread, the beginning of a hand-stitching attempt using the running stitch, and a fluff of raw cotton…

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Doilies and burlap…

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If you would like to participate in the stitch-along, feel free to contact me! I will be posting the week’s exercise/intention/focus each Sunday (I hope!) and will update my own progress as we move along. I will also link to Knit Potion’s blog posts about her work. We will spend the first several weeks just learning new stitches and playing with them using a variety of threads and fabrics of our own choosing. The idea is to have this stitch-along maintain a peaceful and non-urgent flow. Non-pressured discipline. There are only so many hours in these short days, and we likely have other projects wanting attention (not to mention families and jobs and self-care and sleeping), so do not fret if you feel like there just won’t be enough time to keep up. Imagine the Gulf of Mexico on the Florida coast in August. The water then is very warm and very still most of the time. It is quiet and if you allow it, the small, lapping waves and the hazy sun-packed air can lull you into an awake daydream. That is the feeling I am going for with this project.

Are you a hand-stitcher? What projects are you working on? What are your favorite materials to work with?

 

 

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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.