Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Love, Longing and Learning

[when] “…the creative force now turns to the place of the soul, you will see how your soul becomes green and how its field bears wonderful fruit.” ~ from Carl Jung’s The Red Book, quoted in The Orphan: A Journey to Wholeness, by Audrey Punnett

I was thirty-eight years old when I picked up yarn again, to make a knitted ball for my children. Sitting in that peaceful place with a peaceful teacher/guide during those early years of growing into parenthood, I found anew a place in me that was creative, that wanted to make, share and give. Seven years have passed since I sat in that rocking chair next to other mothers, most of us knitting, all of us watching our children play. All that has happened in seven years, it’s so much, really.

It is a frequent lamentation of mine that I did not realize how much I love texture and wool, sculpture and cloth when I walked through the Fine Arts Department halls at the university I attended, just shy of thirty years ago. Delivering mail, returning books others borrowed, running errands for the college’s deans, I passed beautiful and audacious fiber art hanging from walls and ceilings. Twine, mesh, weaving and wire sculptures were everywhere. How did this thing that drives me now, this deepest longing to learn all I can in this fibery art and craft world not have been awakened when I traversed those halls? What was I doing!

But here now, just when I worry there won’t be time to learn all I want to learn, I check myself and remember that all there is is this present moment. And it requires full attention. Parenting, relationship, work, creativity, love. And a devotion to tending to and doing what wakes the soul up, what grabs the spirit’s attention.

It’s that devotion that had me untangling a mess of yarn in humid heat today. It’s that tending to that had me sitting next to my loom, solving what continues to be a personal riddle~ getting the warp onto the loom without too much disarray! When will I stop sweating with anxiety when I go to take the warp off the warping board?

It’s the soul that wants to make beautiful things for people I love, and that has grown to weather all of this learning and longing.

Have a wonderful weekend. I hope you get to do things you love.

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The Great Thaw

I think the last time I posted here was in November. It’s not been for lack of things to say, ongoing projects or a deep interest in what all of my blogger handcrafting comrades are doing, that’s for sure.

In the time that has passed, I’ve completed a few knitting projects, learned how to knit cables…

 

bought a used floor loom from a friend and completed the Weaving A Life certification…

I’ve moved my office & studio space to downtown Burlington and am learning how to tapestry weave…

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I think, truly, I just had to collect myself and take stock in what I am doing and get clear on a few things.

You know what is a deep relief? Yarn and all things fibery and textural remain a passion, a preoccupation and an inspiration for deeper living, more grounded contact with the people in my life and with myself. The more our world is automated, made visible and social, the more I find it to be an absolute requirement to turn off, sit down and touch materials that are, by their very nature, organic, raw and useful. Also a deep relief? The ever-encouraging community of handcrafters, who seem forever gifted at making learning a deeply ingrained part of life, in tangible terms.

Over this last year, handcrafting and learning new skills in knitting, weaving and spinning has happened in tandem with learning how to grieve, face-life in the aftermath of loss, and carry on. I’m not sure how it would’ve been for me without having all of those projects to keep me grounded. Making cloth~ it’s like making life. You know?

So, after a long winter that I guess technically we are still in up here in Vermont, I can see the green peeking through under the brown grass. The smell of mud is gathering it’s pungent power. The frogs will start singing again soon.


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Soothing My Heart & Leap of Faith

It’s been a while, yet again, since I’ve written. I often feel like a hit a groove, a flow, get a taste of my ideal self for a few seconds, and then the proverbial other shoe drops. In this case, I’d started writing and crafting again following the heartbreak of my mom dying, But the end of the school year busy-ness, my own schedule and living with the weight of grief and stress caught up with me and I got wicked, wicked sick. I tend to be a “put my head down and get through it” kind of gal, with a finish line envisioned, fantasized about, planned with flourish. But in recent years, by the time I hit that finish line, I’m completely exhausted and often times very sick. So, this time, I realized that jam isn’t working for me anymore. It’s time to change.

As I started to feel better, I imagined self-care for what it really is. Deeply taking care of oneself and loving oneself as though one’s body and mind are precious and sacred. I forgot that. I think the term “self-care” has lost all meaning, has become stale and over-used. Like the word “inappropriate” in schools. Do kids even care if something is inappropriate? Is that word meant to land in some moral or self-conscious receptor site and then voila, said kid no longer wants to do x,y,z? No. It’s a catch-all word meant to say, “knock it off” or, “stop hitting Johnny with your fruit leather.” Whatever. Why can’t we just say what we mean?

That’s how I feel about the term self-care. I’ve had an attitude adjustment that I hope I can keep connected with as I start to regain strength and a can-do attitude. I want to get specific about what I mean when I think of self-care. Right now, for me, I need time for quiet reflection. I need family time, healthy food, calming teas and time to make art. I need to think before I say yes to things, and I need to be present enough in life so I can see birds I’ve never seen before (the American Redstart and the Eastern Towhee are recent new sightings for me!), and watch bugs and bees do their busy-work.

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And I want to devote my energies to practices and work that bring me peace. This leads to the Leap of Faith mentioned above. I’ve put together two summer camps for children to be held in July and August, a week a piece. One will focus on weaving, the other on making a book from scratch. The book will include paper we make ourselves and a wet-felted woolen cover. One camp is already full and the other is close! My children will be my assistants, and I truly feel so blessed to be able to do this!

I realized that in order to do the things I want to do, I have to take the first step, and then the next steps, to get there. It takes courage and hope, and for me at this time, it requires being really grounded and calm, states of being that for me are only attainable when I’m tending to myself as though I am one to cherish. Isn’t that what self-care is all about? Not ignoring the needs of the self?

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Those are my ramblings today. I look forward to sharing my crafting adventures with you this summer.

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Interview With an Owl Named Nanna

Hello, Dear Readers.

We have a new guest speaker to introduce. Please meet Nanna. She has come to us after many of life’s trials and tribulations. These include heartbreak, loss, grief and change of plans. But, Nanna is more than her pain and her burdens. She is wisdom and she has carried on through prayer, practice, ritual and faith. Nanna has also enjoyed the throes of romantic love, the blessings of motherhood and the anchor of deep friendship. She is a rare bird in these parts, these days, and she wanted to be able to share what she has learned during her long time on Earth. Realta and Sherman are overjoyed to be with her.

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HH: Nanna, it’s so nice to have you join us. What is on your mind today?

Nanna: It is wonderful to be here and to have someone want to hear what I think about. It’s been a while since anyone has asked. Today, I am thinking about ritual, and work. After meeting many folks, feathered and otherwise, I am sensing great longing and hearing some confusion about what it is to have faith and practice. Not all beings need to embrace religion, of course. I am of the old world. Church does not offend me or scare me. I see it as a place to commune with God, the Great Spirit, the Holy Mother and Holy Father. I see it as a place to meditate, to pray, to find peace. But that is not what I mean by faith. Using that word is a choice and is meant to reflect rather a sense of connection with everything. To believe that there is a connection to Every Thing. I have also been thinking about ritual. Quiet prayers. Kneeling, standing. Chanting. Ritual has been a part of lived experience for millennia, and to some extent, I see it’s absence in modern culture creating vacuums where anxiety and distraction lie. 

HH: What do you mean by ritual? To many, that word conjures images of formality and discipline within a dogmatic religious sphere.

Nanna: Well, I’ve learned over time that cultures and religions all have their own rituals. They are merely repeated acts, usually done in a certain order to support some kind of ceremony.  Of course it is true that ritual plays an enormous part in what we do in the religious context. But that is not the only place where ritual lives.

What I think about is, why ritual? Why have we been doing ritualized things for so long? There is some kind of ordering principal to ritual, perhaps that establishes a mood, prepares the psyche for a set of experiences, etc. It seems important when considering how we have evolved over time.

HH: As someone who does not attend church but has enjoyed the rites and rituals of several different faiths I’ve been exposed to, I understand what you mean. What would you say to someone who does not identify with a specific religion?

Nanna: I’d say that ritual is all around us and that likely if we tune in to what we are doing, we’d see the pull towards ritualized archetypal practice. Look at the weaving you just completed. My guess is that before you began your piece, you had an image in mind, an intention, a hope. Maybe you thought of a person, or a place when you sat down to begin your work. You went through the process of warping your loom, walking back and forth, wrapping yarn around the peg. Did you do that rhythmically? Was there a beat? A resonance? Likely there was, even if you weren’t conscious of it. It’s hard to do that kind of work without it.

Once warped, you set to the process of weaving, back and forth with the shuttle, up and down with the heddle. You may have been praying, thinking, spacing out or tuning in , but you were making. Here and there on your piece, you can see areas where you got stuck or maybe had too tight or too lose of a warp thread. Learning and life captured in fabric. The work of the hands with materials, in my mind, is a form of ritual. 

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HH: I never thought of it like that. It’s funny that you can see my warp errors. Definitely still learning. But even though this is new for me, to weave on a rigid heddle loom, I still found the rhythm and the flow eventually. It’s the thing I love about weaving. Once you hit that flow you can let go and create at the same time, and make something tangible and useful. Spinning, too.

Nanna: Yes. That is what I like about it, too. And you know, there are cultures around the world for whom weaving and the dyeing of wool was a very spiritual and symbolic process. Patterns, shapes, the weavers themselves were and still are all part of the act of creation. Look at the goddesses all over the world who are associated with weaving and spinning: Frigg, Arachne, Maya to name a few. These goddesses’ stories tell tales of life, death, the merging of spirit and the corporeal. 

I like this quote from John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes. I think it captures the aspect of weaving and other crafts that is of the hands. I am making an arch between the essence of using one’s hands to create and ritual, which creates a deeply personal relationship with our world and nature, our functionality and our usefulness. 

“The whole structure of the human body anticipates and expects the presence of others. Hands reach out to embrace the world. Human hands are powerful images. Hands painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the heavenly women on the wall of Sigeria, wrote the Paradiso, sculpted the David; in Auschwitz, hands rose to bless the tormentors. Hands reach out to touch and caress the lover. Hands build walls, sow gardens, and direct symphonies… The whole history of our presence on earth could be gleaned from the witness and actions of hands. One of the great thresholds in human civilization was the development of tools with which we changed and civilized the landscape. The use of simple tools still meant personal contact with Nature. In these times, we have crossed another threshold where the tool is replaced by the mechanical instrument. The instrument is a means of exercising a function. With the development of instrumentalization, so much of our work and engagement with the world is no longer hands-on. Rather, our hands press the key and the instrument expedites the action. Instrumentalization saves labour but at the cost of direct contact with the world.” (pgs. 60-61).

I chose that piece to share because it is relevant to what I see happening today, a call back to the traditional skills that requires that individuals touch tools, land and nature. There is a reason handcrafting is such a powerfully moving medium these days. I do not believe it is a fad. I believe it is a call to re-engage with our hands, with our connection to Earth, to Nature, to our own resourcefulness and perhaps to having a good appreciation for what something is worth. Weaving, in many ways, can be seen as ritual made physical; ritual made practical. If one allows for it, weaving, knitting, crochet, spinning fibers… they all can serve as grounding and meditative experiences. That is beautiful because that is day-to-day life. Religion or no religion, engagement with materials can be meditative, instructive of our own nature and can bring us into alignment with our surroundings. 

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HH: So, you don’t think attending a specific church is necessary to gain this wisdom?

Nanna: Of course not! People all over the world have their own ways of attending to their relationship with their own spirituality, if they so wish. Organized, not organized… this is an entirely personal choice. What I am saying is that the call to ritual is apparently very important to the core of being, as it has been with us since documentation of any kind began. And, we can access that call through handwork, through handy-work, through engagement with our land and through an abiding respect for nature. Isn’t that wonderful?

HH: You are making me want to warp my loom again!

Nanna: Good.

You can expect more from Nanna here on Healing Handcrafting in the future.

 

 


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A Little Quiet Time Goes A Long Way

I had quiet time today. I wasn’t alone. A totally vacant house is rare in my world. I’ve tricked myself into thinking I couldn’t get a moment’s peace if I wasn’t totally alone. Therefore, my soul has been starving for a long time. But today, I just let the busy busy busy hangover from a full week die. Real quick-like. I just decided not to bow to it like it’s some kind of moral guru. 

On a walk with an old friend going through similar things as me, I saw an inchworm in a sun beam. 


Later, I saw sheep nestled in the tall grasses, easy to miss if I hadn’t been looking around. 


Later still, I enjoyed the company of my beautiful sister, my fabulous daughter and my dog-niece. I even closed my eyes for a while. 


And then I wove, and wove some more on my new rigid heddle loom (slowly getting the hang of it- my warp is wonky) and listened to my family and let my thoughts come and go, flurry and rest. 


I hope you are having a sweet weekend, whether it’s a long one, a working one, a family-filled one or one spent in solitude. 


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Getting Back on a Totally New Track

Yesterday I started going through a box of things of my mother’s that I had packed after she died. There are many boxes my siblings and I will tend to in the coming months, but this one I packed just for me, with clearance from them of course. These things… fabric, pictures, her sewing basket and sewing boxes; some of these are my grandmother’s, too. It’s amazing, the little tiny sounds of rustling around safety pins and spools of thread, like the lilting music of a lifetrack. All of those taken for granted quiet moments when my mom or grandmother sewed something up and passed it along, or wore it again, or hoped for something more perfect but sighed and put down the needle anyway. Nothing is perfect.


This picture is of my mom sewing my wedding veil. We found the headpiece on a ridiculously fun shopping trip and she made it even more lovely, adding the flowing fabric and little beads. 


This is a needlepoint my mom made years ago~ I remember it from when I was very young. 


These are little bits of many things that will end up somewhere, somehow. 


And some hearts I made for my mom and grandmother, and a bowl, and a picture of Swami Muktananda, with (I think) my grandmother’s sewing basket. 


I’m getting back to some making. The sounds of summertime are helping. I actually make more in the summer, when the windows are open and the air is warm, muggy, froggy and quiet. Summer vacation is around the corner and I am more than ready to fall into love with less pressure and clock watching. I can hear the tinkling of chimes outside, underneath the constant conversations between birds. In a little bit the frogs will start their nighttime melody and if I’m lucky, the coyotes will pass through in the darkest hours. 

Lifetrack: Song 44. 


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My Very Green Sweater Is Finished and I Am Proud

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you! It is the perfect to day share with you the results of my first attempt at knitting a sweater. I’ve written about it a bit here, and here. Knitting this sweater was a journey for me. When I cast-on that first round of a 100+ stitches, I had the energy and hope that one has before going on a long run, starting a garden, beginning a new course of study… It’s powerful energy. Anything is possible. There’s pride there in those early rounds. “Look at what I’m doing. I’m knitting a sweater, dude. That’s right. Whatch’you got?” I can be very immature at times.

That early burst of energy got me into the first big chunk of knitting the body from the bottom up. Then I had to moderate my rhythm and engage for a long haul. Miles 6, 7 and 8 on a 12-something mile run (I did run a half marathon back in the day. It completely kicked my ass.). I just found my rhythm and re-committed myself to the process. Repetitive, long, measuring tape nearby… was I making any gains? Getting any farther?

Then my grandmother died and I felt like crap and really wicked sad. I was using her needles to make my sweater and had put it down just prior to her death because we’d all been sick with the winter crud. In order to knit the sleeves I had to learn how to use double-pointed needles. I found renewed focus and asked my Mema who had just died for help and guidance as I tried this new skill again after years of doing all I could to avoid those dastardly things. And it worked. My sleeves came out beautifully.

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Then, I had to attach them to the body, which I did. But I am quite sure it was during this phase of reading the pattern that I made several mistakes. Yarn-overs and short-rows and picking up yarn over stitches from previous rows confused the hell out of me. At one point, I pulled out an entire round, and then in the process of trying to get the stitches back on the circular needles, I dropped stitches, twisted stitches, made up new stitches and sweat a gallon of pure-stress sweat. When I saw the mangled mess, I cried. I thought about quitting the sweater. I questioned my whole purpose in knitting a sweater to begin with. I was using all of the green yarn I had, all different shades because I didn’t have all of one color. I questioned my judgement, my discipline and my ability, and I even thought about sweaters that I could buy for 20-bucks at Kohl’s. The deep-end met my attitude and it was not pretty.

And then I got a  grip and reached out to some wonderful ladies who are in my knitting group. Thank God for them. They responded to me with offers of help and kindness. I answered the first email that came through, and wonderful Genevieve understood that for me, it was an emergency. We were leaving in few days to go away for the weekend and she offered to help me the day before we left, because how could I leave it like that all weekend? I tried to play it cool but inside I was so relieved because I wasn’t sure I’d make it through gracefully if I couldn’t get the sweater back on track. I took my children to her house on a day of their winter break and they were amazing and wonderful as they waited for Genevieve to show me how to fix it. And really, she fixed that botched-up row like a knitting angel. Oh, my relief and amazement cannot be quantified.

By the end of the following week, I’d finished it. It was a sprint. I stayed up late, had the lovely PBS series Victoria on in the background and powered through the end, stopping a bit short because I wanted the neck to hang differently than the pattern called for. And I was so, so happy. I blocked it, and then shrunk it just a little bit, on purpose. That’s some nerve-wracking business, watching a brand new, hand-knitted sweater bop around in the dryer. I watched it like a hawk and now it fits better and hangs more solidly. I took it out just in time. That was freaking risky.

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So here it is. It’s a little weird. I know. Because it was my first sweater, I opted to not go out and buy a bunch of new yarn, or spin my own, because I have so much yarn! Originally it was going to be a slew of different colors, a sort of rebellion sweater. Rebellion against all that is such incredible crap in our government and country right now. I imagined a big colorful freak-out sweater as a sort of high-kick to the status quo. But, then I decided to stick with my greens. Green is my favorite color. Many shades fit into the favorite green category. Green is alive. It can be fresh, soggy, crisp and moist, dull and sharp and sometimes surprising. It is the color I miss the most in the dead of winter. It’s the color of the burst of life that comes with spring every year. I think it’s the color of the feminine. I decided I wanted to wrap myself in that. So I did.

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I think it’s crazy that my sweater looks almost like a bikini top! Totally unintentional. I just ran out of that shade of green! I think it’s funny that it started out with purple, when I was still going to do my rebellion sweater. It’s like one can see my thinking.

Knitting this sweater, I: learned how to use double pointed needles, actively sought out knitting to grieve the loss of my grandmother, went on an emotional safari, reached out for help when I needed it, and received so much more than that as a result.

Maybe at some point knitting a sweater will be just what I do. I’ll just knit a sweater and be like, “yeah, I’m knitting a sweater, no biggie.” But for now, I’m like, “LOOK AT THIS, BRO!” And, of course, it being done by St. Patrick’s Day was a special bonus! I’ve been researching my family’s ancestry like mad lately, and have finally made one discovery that places an ancestor in a specific spot in Ireland. Limerick, to be exact. It’s delightful to know such things.

I hope whatever you are doing today, it’s fun, at least tinged with color, and that you might be starting a journey of some sort that results in pride in your efforts, new learning and joy.

~ Bradie

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