Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting

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Gun Violence is a Scourge on our Humanity

I wanted to share with you a letter I’ve written to send to those in power in government. I’m assuming it will go nowhere, but aren’t we supposed to be able to share our passionate views with our leaders? I’ve been thinking about how, in my field (I’m a masters level psychologist), I had to go to school for years, pay many thousands of dollars for training, supervision, consultation, continuing education, licensing fees, etc., just so I can HELP people. Every two years, I have to prove and promise that I have no major afflictions that affect my ability to serve my community. And every two years, I must demonstrate I’ve participated in at least 60 hours of continuing education so that my knowledge base is up to date and relevant, and always ethical to its core. I must adhere to the strictest of ethical guidelines when I practice, and I value and honor these guidelines because I believe in the do-no-harm mandate that we commit to. Also, as a rule, we psychologists hold each other accountable and if we are concerned that someone is not conducting themselves ethically, we have a clear pathway to follow in relation to addressing our concerns. This is all so we can help people. Yet, in some states the laws that are in place that have to do with gun purchase and ownership make it so that someone doesn’t have to even have a gun license or prove anything other than that they are 21 years of age. In some states, there’s no oversight, no means of keeping tabs on gun owners, no requirement of continuing education, or a renewal of gun licensure requirement. Okay. This makes sense.

You might wonder how in the world these two things are connected and maybe it’s a stretch, but in my view, it strikes me as ridiculous that someone can very easily buy a very powerful weapon without any oversight or training mandate in some places. If guns were only used for hunting and in rare instances, self-protection, I’d feel differently. But already in 2022 there have been over 17,000 deaths from gun violence, and according to Everytown Research and Policy, of American women alive today, over 4.5 million of them have been threatened by a gun (I’d venture it’s a lot more than that because not every woman was interviewed), and every month an average of 70 women are shot at and killed by an intimate partner. Data indicates that in 2020, there were over 24,000 instances of suicide by gun. The statistics go on and on. More stringent gun laws wouldn’t wrestle guns from the hands of people who are using them responsibly. But they would at least chip away at the problem of guns falling into the hands of those who will use them for violence against others and harm to themselves.

Anyway, I have no fancy pictures to go along with this post. I’m so angry and so heartbroken that this is where we are as a country. I’m so angry that no shining star is emerging at the NRA convention that is taking place as I write this, who could call out the problems we face and ask their fellow gun-owners to participate in helping to solve this problem from the bottom up. I’m furious that the solutions that are offered include armed guards at points of entry of schools and training teachers to carry weapons to protect children. We’ve absolutely gone off the deep end. Our country itself is ill and I don’t know how we’re going to treat this particular illness.

Here’s my letter- it’s long but I figure if kids can wait for an hour for police officers to save them, even though there were armed officers there within minutes of the first 911 call, taking a few minutes to read this is doable:

“I’m writing to you the day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children were killed as well as two adult teachers who were protecting them. I am sitting in my living room right now, thousands of miles away from where this horrific event took place. My daughter, who is about to turn twelve, is sitting next to me, focused on a game she is playing on her iPad. My fourteen-year-old son is about to come join us so we can watch a show together. This is a luxury that twenty-one families impacted by that school shooting will not enjoy with their beloved children. Perhaps you already know that in the US, only five months into this year, there have already been over seventeen thousand fatalities by gunshot and at least six hundred-fifty of those fatalities were children.

When I go to queue up the program we’ll watch, I will hurriedly adjust the settings on the television, so my young daughter doesn’t see news about the shooting. In case it sounds like we are keeping our children in the dark on world events, I want you to know that’s not the case. We talked to our children last night, knowing there would be conversation at school about it today. Teachers and administration had to talk to all the students just last week due to the shooting that took place at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, where ten people were killed. They’ve gotten really good at having these talks with children.

We try to shield our kids from the onslaught of horrific gun violence news because it has already chipped away at their spirits and their feelings of trust and safety in the world, even in places where they should feel safe, like school. These horrors have, over time, done extensive damage to the nervous systems of so many in our country. Do you know that every time I hear screaming emergency vehicle sirens, I tilt my head to try to determine if they are heading to our local school? If I’m working close to the school when I hear the sirens, I walk outside and look, and I notice other parents doing same thing. We are always primed to run towards what most would consider the worst catastrophe to attack our community.

As I look at my children, I feel such tremendous guilt about the lack of power I have to make their world safer. I feel ashamed, and so angry. Each day they get on the bus or I drop them off at school, I feel a bit like I’m playing Russian Roulette with their lives. I quietly pray each time that it won’t be the day that someone forces their way into their school and unleashes their unbridled fury on innocent lives through showers of bullets. Have you imagined what children look like and how they sound when they are scared? I do. Do you know that children naturally feel responsible for so many things that happen in their lives, and that some wonder what they did wrong to deserve such punishment when they are faced with a terrifying event? It’s true. It’s called magical thinking. Can you envision children longing for their parents’ embrace as they listen to the gruesome demolishment of skin and life around them, or feel their own life ending? Can anyone? I can, and when I do, I weep.

And yet, I continue to send my children to school. Why? Why do we keep doing this? I suppose it’s a mixture of reasons. I trust it won’t happen in my town. We both know that’s absurd; that’s head-in-the-sand thinking, and sometimes it’s the only way I can make myself let them go. I also don’t want to pull my children out of active living because of my fear. I know that they love school and their teachers and friends, and they want to feel safe. School safety drills terrify them, but with time they’ve gotten used to imagining someone busting into their classroom and shooting them. The cognitive dissonance of this reality strikes me as emotional violence. Out of one mouth they hear, “you are safe, be safe, act safe, trust us”. Out of another, they hear, “lock the door, turn off the lights, be quiet, and hide”.

Here’s what else I know: teachers and school staff are made of the same stuff as children. Skin, bones, organs. They die when they are struck by bullets just like children and yet, we expect them to be superheroes and fight off an attacker. Why do we expect this? Why do we live in a country where we teach teachers how to recognize what could be used as a weapon in their classroom in the event of an attack? Am I the only one who thinks this is utter madness? Of course I’m not. Why are you and your colleagues not doing more, being more courageous, being the superheroes we need to stand up for us? You’re all like the officers that stand outside buildings when people are being shot inside; they have guns and are supposed to protect our country’s citizens! Why don’t they all immediately run in and save lives? You know why? Because guns are terrifying, and most people don’t want to die.

I’m a mother, and I’m also a psychologist. Every time I hear people say gun violence is not due to guns, but rather is due to mental illness and broken families, video games, movies, etc., I want to scream. Talk about kicking the can down the road. Do you know that every country has millions of people who suffer from some form of mental illness? All over the world people play video games and watch violent movies. Not one country is immune from domestic violence, sexual assault, murder, hate crimes and racist attacks. And every country must reckon with how it helps to support its aching citizens. It’s the most obvious statement in the world, that mental health is part of the problem. It’s not binary. It’s not guns vs. mental health. It’s everything, all together.  But making gun ownership so ridiculously easy and allowing most anyone to own high powered guns that destroy flesh and bone more severely than handguns do is just nonsensical. What is also true is that high powered automatic weapons kill a lot more people at a time than a pistol, a knife, or hands. Countries that have strict gun laws have fewer mass shootings and less death by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. It’s just a fact. Of gun related deaths in the United States, two-thirds are self-inflicted. Certainly, mental health weighs into this statistic as well, but again, guns allow people to succumb to rash and permanent bodily damage. Firearms accounted for more than half of suicide deaths in the United States in 2020. This bears mentioning because of how frequently guns are used for reasons other than hunting or self-protection.

Some people say, “well, there are other countries that have far more gun violence related deaths than the US does.” My answer to that is, So what? Is the tipping point for us as a country going to be when we eventually make it to the top of the list? Do we need to win that competition? Is it prudent to compare the US to countries that are ridden with gang violence, drug and human trafficking and deep political unrest for us to feel better about our statistics?

We need people to think! We need people to do research and understand brain development in people and know why selling a firearm to an eighteen-year-old man/boy is an astronomically stupid thing to do if he has not had to do anything to prove his maturity, responsibility, and intention for use, let alone a semiautomatic rifle. We need politicians and policy makers to understand that the frontal lobe of the brain isn’t fully developed until a person is approximately twenty-five years old, and that younger people are more prone to rash, impulsive and reactive acting out. We need to have policies in place that are tailored to withstand the pressures of reactive rage of any person, at any age. We need to frustrate the impulse to cause harm so that someone might have more time to think and move past a momentary bout of emotional pain. A person wild with distress might still enter a school, church, grocery store or club, but with their bare hands or even a less powerful gun, are likely to kill less people.  

At the end of the day, we must take responsibility for ourselves, for our loved ones and our country. All guns need not be taken away from all people, but we absolutely must demand that all guns don’t make into the hands of all people, and certainly, why can’t we even imagine following the lead of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and many countries in the EU? We are not the only humans on Earth that are attached to their individualism and independence! But we do appear to be the most stubborn, selfish, self-important, fearful, and ignorant when it comes to making reasonable systemic change around an issue that kills indiscriminately.

What can we do? I’ll hope you have some ideas and the fortitude to push hard for gun reform. In the meantime, I’ll pray that my children come home from school tomorrow.”



Weaving Air

Having several different projects going at a time is a habit I’ve gotten accustomed to over the years. I don’t have a schedule that allows me go to weave at my loom for entire days. Instead, I have bits of time here and there that I try to make good use of when I can. I used to judge this part of my nature, the part that flits from this to that. I wondered if I had a discipline problem, or some issue with commitment. Always the therapist, I’m often unpacking who I am and how I operate, and examining how my traits and tendencies impact my day-to-day life.

Well, in this case, I’ve learned that I really enjoy making things, at home, at work, on my loom, with kids, with adults, and by myself. I feel frustrated when the only thing I’m working on is not with me, leaving my hands idle and my mind clanking a bit. When I allow myself to indulge in the many-projects-at-once rhythm, I get to eventually enjoy what I refer to now as my creative crescendo; so often many things are finished around the same time and I have this wonderful experience of seeing multiple ideas and efforts come to fruition at once.

Right now, I’ve got this vibe going in full-force. There’s a curtain (hopefully) on my counterbalance loom, towels on my rigid heddle, a tapestry on my copper pipe loom, another tapestry on a small frame loom, and oh… that second mitten I’ve been wanting to finish knitting for months.

What I’m noticing about a few of my projects is that they are going after a feeling or sense experience that I can best describe as airy. I want my curtain to be as flowing and loose as I can manage weaving it, with bits of structure and form throughout. This is an experiment as I try my hand at weaving with 20/2 cotton as the warp and using inlay throughout. I’m not using a pattern or following any directions. I’ve already learned something. I have my 20/2 warp sett at 12 epi, and I originally hoped to use the same yarn for the plain weave weft; the inlay was going to be a thicker cotton slub yarn that has a yummy texture. Well, what I learned was that the fabric was just too loose. I was beating it lightly to maintain an openness and transparency. I basically wanted a curtain that blended in with air. But what I found was that if I even looked at the fabric funny, the weave drooped and flopped, making it look injured and offended. When I started considering finding a spray adhesive and shellacking the whole thing once it was done, I realized I’d maybe made a mistake, chalked it up to my steep learning curve, and switched gears. I am going to try to use the experiment to cover some beautiful handmade paper I have, so all is not lost.

Now, I’m weaving the curtain with the same warp, but with the thicker cotton slub yarn as weft, beat loosely (still finding the right beat and trying to keep it consistently). I can’t do the same inlay design I was doing because I’m using that yarn for the plain weave. I decided instead on this twine, jute-like string/rope/yarn I have and opted to just lay it in, leaving both ends exposed. This is a departure from the inlay techniques I was planning on practicing with this curtain, but that’s okay. I’ll get to them. I love the twine because you can unravel it and it becomes this wild grass-like stuff. It smells good, too. I’m hoping my curtain will still feel airy, but I suspect it will hang with a little more purpose and won’t be so vulnerable to the passing breeze or occasional handling as my original design would have been.

On my rigid heddle, I’ve got an actual pattern that I’m following. It’s another slub cotton project, this time towels. I love weaving with this yarn! It’s soft, gentle, light. Clasped weft is the main weaving technique utilized in this pattern, and it’s very satisfying to watch it build up. Getting the beat right on this project takes some doing. You can see on the bottom right that I’m beating too hard in the clasped weft section that is newly begun, but I’m working that out. I’m definitely turning into a person that uses a tape measure as a necklace! Ha! I’ll share pics of these towels when they’re done.

I’ll get to the tapestry work in another post, but for now, I hope that whatever you’re doing, there’s some room for creativity and texture, even if it’s just here and there. All those moments add up and make something, eventually.


Weaving is Collective and Personal

I’m a member of the Vermont Weaver’s Guild and I participated in this year’s weaving challenge. It was to make a pillow using three of the four elements randomly assigned to each weaver who entered. I got overshot, cotton, stripes and black and white. I chose the first three elements because nowhere in my house is there a spot to receive a black and white anything, so that part was simple. One pillow is to be donated to the guild so it can be part of a sale that we have to raise money.

I’ve not been weaving for terribly long, and every time I learn a new thing, it feels like I have to relearn a bunch of old things, although I can say I’m noticing a growing ease with preparing a warp, getting it on the loom, setting the loom up and threading, so that is a good thing. I will share a story in another post about a fight I got into with my counterbalance loom with the absolute simplest warp/threading/tie up you can imagine just this week, but I’ll save that for later. For this pillow project, I opted to utilize the weaving class I was taking at Shelburne Craft School with Lausanne Allen to get help and support as I tackled the most complicated pattern and weaving structure I’ve done to date. The class was for weavers who have experience but are still actively learning and benefit from the guidance of a skilled and patient teacher.

I felt rather overwhelmed immediately with the overshot part of things, and how to add stripes to it, because I don’t know how to create my own patterns yet. I referenced Madelyn van der Hoogt and of course, Bertha Gray Hayes, and saw so many drafts I’d love to weave, but somehow, translating those into a pattern made me feel like I was swimming in too deep water- maybe it was resistance? Or confusion? Or just the simple fact that I need to dig in and study what size yarns go with what epi goes with what draft, etc., etc., and then color choice- oh man! It’s a lot to sort out! So… I kept getting stuck. Enter Lausanne, who showed me a wonderful pattern called Bertha’s Towels from Handwoven. I was like, boom… Cotton, check. Overshot, check-check. Stripes, bingo. I knew I could modify the pattern for the pillows I needed, and get a few towels out of the bargain as well, if I lengthened the warp. And from there I went.

What I loved about the process once I got out from under the stress of making a bunch of decisions about a weave structure I didn’t really understand yet was the toggling between community and self, community and self. During class and open studios, I shared close space with fellow students who I now consider friends. One was weaving a beautiful Krokbragd pattern on a rug warp; the other was approaching our school’s antique barn loom that was having new life breathed into it with all of the attention paid to her; that weaver has her own incredible story to tell about her experience, and she wove an absolutely gorgeous table runner using an overshot pattern. In the back weaving room, there were other wonderful weavers and friends working out their warps and weaving. The sounds of a working weaving studio are amazing- clanking, knocking, the occasional sigh, swear, muttering to self, the walking around and looking at others’ work when you’re so tweaked by threading, sleying and realizing a mistake. I’d have a moment where I’d meet myself and my own growth edge, exclaim some thing, get support and dive back in to my own mind and project.

It took a long time for me to weave three towels and two pillow covers (one side- I used a lovely muslin-esque type fabric for the back). The flow of overshot and the pattern itself requires complete attention, pretty much the whole time. I think I finally internalized the pattern by the middle of the second to last towel I wove and it started to make sense to me, how it all worked. And wow, as the fabric became reality, I couldn’t believe what I was making. It was so much fun to problem solve selvedges and beats, fixing mistakes and troubleshooting loom peculiarities with Lausanne and my weaving partners. And it was heartening to meet, yet again in this weaving passion I’ve found myself in, my own growth edges and how I deal with them- it’s not pretty all the time, that’s for sure, but I know that I can move forward now towards pattern design- not with ease, but maybe with less trepidation? I mean, I’m in no rush… we’ll see.