Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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A Very Muppet Halloween!

I feel like I should just begin each post with: It’s been a while…

Rather than detail all of the reasons why keeping up with writing has been difficult lately, I’ll show you one thing I spent a considerable amount of time on in the last couple of weeks. It’s crafty. It’s funny. It’s… Animal.

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Animal from the Muppets~ this is the real puppet, not mine!

Remember Animal, from the Muppets? I loved him when I was a kid, and I love him now, after spending a bunch of time considering all of the subtleties of his face, his expression, his noisy look. Of course, my animal does not come close to Jim Hensen’s, but oh, I love him still.

My son and I got the idea of him dressing up as Animal for Halloween one evening when he was playing the piano, very dramatically. He was cracking me up, swaying his head back and forth, his longish hair flying everywhere. He reminded me of Animal’s crazy drum playing ways and then and there, we decided it needed to happen. My boy needed to be Animal.

There’s no easy way to just get an animal costume. Can you believe that?! There’s not. Once we figured that out, my fantasy was too far in. I couldn’t reverse course. So, noodling around online, I took a gander at other people’s animal costumes. Paper maché seemed to be something folks tried but that intimidated me. I don’t know why but I think it just seems unruly and like I would just make a big heap of mess instead of a mask. I also found a post about a woman using a baseball helmet as part of the head support. It was from that idea that my mask was born.

After ruminating on the costume for a few days, I went to Michael’s craft store and walked around, hoping to find things that looked like they’d work for costume construction. I ended up with: styrofoam balls, three large and two small red feather boas, fun fur, black, red and orange felt, a styrofoam bowl, a red baseball cap, and glue.

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First, I stitched the baseball cap to the styrofoam bowl. The idea here was that the head needs to be large, and there is a bit of a lip where Animal’s upper lip and nose protrude. The rim of the baseball cap provided the structure for that. The stitching here was tricky; if I pulled too hard on the needle, the thread would at times pull right through the styrofoam. Knowing it was going to be totally covered with feathers, I didn’t care about it looking great. It just needed to be functional. The cap, by the way, was fitted on my son’s head before I sewed it into the bowl.

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Then, I glued the bowl edge onto the rim of the hat. What in the world did people do before glue guns?

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Once that was dry, I began the fun process of wrapping and gluing the feather boas around the bowl. A little messy at times, it’s good to have wet paper towel on hand to get glue off fingers. Feathers seem especially attracted to glue.

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Once I got the bowl covered, I had to start tinkering with the mouth and how it would attach to both the head and to my kid. I apologize now for the lack of pictures of the rest of the process. I tried a bunch of different things. Finally, I settled on using thick paper plates for the structure of the mouth.

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I eye-balled the plate size against the bowl/rim of the baseball hat. The idea was that the mouth would attach to the rim of the hat, and my kid’s face would be behind the mouth. Originally, I thought I’d cut out eye-holes in the black felt I used for the dark part of the mouth, but I changed that later.

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I cut a plate in half and then cut out the flat part of the plate, leaving just the rounded edge of the plate. After a couple of experiments, I opted not to trim the rim of the plate itself (this is not pictured).

Then, I eye-balled the orange felt lips Animal has against the rim of the plate, and after that, the black inside of the mouth. Those pieces were glued to the plate rims. Now, below you see the full mouth where I used the black felt. I ended up using black meshy fabric instead. I included both pics here because some might prefer the darker felt for the mouth. I opted to switch to the see-through mesh because I wanted my son’s face to be fairly free and open, and for him to be able to see easily at night. I made the same kind of paper frame for the structure of the mouth, glued the black mesh onto the paper rim, then the orange felt lips on top. I placed black felt just on the bottom half of the mouth, on which the tongue could be glued.

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Below is what I ended up with.

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Now, the major tricky part was how to make the head full and round looking. Remember, the head up until this point was just the bowl, which only came halfway down the back of my son’s head. The top of the mouth was glued to the rim of the hat (so sorry there are not more detailed pictures). That allowed for the mouth to stay strong and in place. The bottom of the mouth naturally hangs down. After a lot of McGuyver style attempts to complete the mask, I almost gave up. I was really having a hard time figuring out how it would all go, until I talked it through with my step-mom. She suggested attaching it to a hooded sweatshirt and then wrapping the feathers around that way to complete the rounded head. Voila! That’s what I did, and it worked great. I sewed the hood to the baseball cap, and then the edges of the hood to the edge of the mask. Around the hood, back and forth, I was able to add more feathers and bring them around the bottom the the mouth.

Once that structure was complete, it was time for the fun stuff~ the eyes, the nose, the teeth. For the eyes and nose, I wrapped the styrofoam balls in wool, needle felted them to give them a nice fuzzy look and glued them onto the head. I used black felt for the pupils, fun fur for the eyebrows, and marshmallows for the teeth.

Once Animal’s face was on, I felt so relieved! If I were to do it again, I’d needle felt the orange lips using orange wool, instead of the cut-out felt.

Here it is, all finished!

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And here I am, having a loving moment with my Animal.

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I hope you had a great Halloween!

 

 

 

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Monday Musings~ Writing is Like Exercise

Sheesh, it’s been a while. A raucous cold, a busy schedule, a lost cat, and maybe a few too many projects really got me off my writing groove. But, I went for a run yesterday to try to get my blood moving again, and today I’m back to writing here and on another project. Feels good. 

I’ve taken to rising early again, well before anyone else in the house is stirring. It’s so much easier to do when it stays dark longer into the morning. I love those quiet moments. And truly, coffee tastes the very best at a little past 5am. 

There are simply not enough hours in the day to do it all. So, making decisions and abiding by priorities is where it’s at. 

One beautiful priority for me at this time is working with Susan Merrill of Weaving A Life.


I’m going through the process of making eight projects Susan developed, with her support, guidance and wisdom along the way. Two and a half projects in and I’m already profoundly moved. I’ll write about the whole process when I’m done. For now, all that I am learning and gathering for myself is precious and intimate. When I’m through, I’ll be able to work with others in this way, which is a dream come true. 

I’m spinning wool almost every night after my kids go to bed in order to have a sweet selection to sell at a craft fair in November. 



I’m tending to a sad and worried heart, of my own and my children, due to our missing cat. He’s been gone for almost a week but was sighted this morning. With the weather changing, it’s hard not to feel frantic. 


I’m working on another weaving project and struggling with warp tension due to shoddy wrapping on the beam. Frustrating! 


And tending to family, home, career, body, mind, spirit in these crazy heartbreaking times…

Not enough hours…


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Ahhh, Satisfaction! 

Yesterday evening I took a piece off my rigid heddle loom I’d started weeks ago. September 1st, I think. 


I used a yummy mohair yarn and what I’m fairly certain is a kind of thick cotton thread. I love autumn-esque colors. I was going for a shawl that both looks warm and delicate, airy and solid. I also wanted to practice a weaving technique called Leno as described in the book, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom, by Syne Mitchell. 

The cotton thread behaved so much differently than the wool yarn. It is much less forgiving and had almost no elasticity. Sometimes the selveges were a catastrophe. I thought about bailing on the project about halfway through because I was worried it was just a hot mess and I should start over. Then I got stubborn and opted to carry on ~ best case scenario, I reasoned, was that I’d love the shawl and want to show it to the world, imperfections and all. Worst case? That once off the loom I’d lament wasting hours of my life weaving cloth not fit for mouse bedding. 

I tried out some things in an effort to minimize loose ends. Oh loose ends! They are part of things, aren’t they? 

When I had to switch colors (according to my own pattern; I’d arrange the color changes much differently if I were to make this again) I tried securing the loose threads in the loop of the weft as it was going back through the warp. That worked out pretty well. Wish I’d have figured that out sooner! 




Taking the shawl off the loom was nerve wracking! Not sure why. It feels both sturdy and fragile at the same time, and all of the loose ends made me wonder how the hell I’d get them all sewn in without ruining the fabric. 


There it is all laid out. 


I stayed up until the wee hours last night sewing all the strands in, those that couldn’t be trimmed as they were. It was so worth it. 

The shawl isn’t blocked yet but here it is. I’m so happy I kept at it. I learned so much about how different threads behave, selveges, the utter importance of a proper tension in all warp threads (obvious I know, but I thought I’d done that and still there were problems throughout. I think I need to make smaller groups of weft threads in the beginning stages). 


Here’s an up-close view of the general pattern. 


Here’s some unfortunate selvege proof. 


And there’s me, still proud as hell of this piece! 



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Monday Musings~ Worry Sucks

I definitely spent a lot of time worrying about people I love and places I hold in my heart these last few days as Irma coverage got scarier. I avoid the Weather Channel because damn is it dramatic, and the turbo intense music is insulting. But even reading about the hurricane in my own quiet head made for stress and ineffectual worry. My worry literally did nothing to help people. 

But, I cleaned the hell out of my house and found a painting I did years ago of the house grew up in on Sanibel. I’m not a skilled painter, but I love it. 


I picked up a sweater I’ve been working on for five months. I even knit a few stitches while watching a terribly stupid movie. I’ve never done that before. A success? 


I wove a little with my buddy, Mittens, who is achieving a starring role on this here blog. 


I had some sister time at the lake,


And got some crazy love from my puppy niece. 


I sent a lot of love into the air and realized I need to learn to build a fire from scratch. 

Last week’s goals are this week’s: seriously. Finish the shawl (or maybe table runner?). I’m screwing up enough to make me want to bail on the whole thing but I feel like the little bitty mess ups might not be reflective of the whole thing. Just like a bad day doesn’t mean the whole month is bad. But seriously, my selvages need work. <Palm slapping head>.

I played with my littles a lot after school and truly, sometimes playing just means sitting on the floor and letting them climb all over me so I can tickle them. This will remain a goal. Our days are infinitely better when we heart to heart connect after a long day apart. 

I never did start the hat I have stuck in my head as an idea. I was too worried. 


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Monday Musings~ Idle Hands Don’t Make Things

My kids started back at school after a summer filled with friends, family, swimming, creating, sunbathing… yes, I know, sun-bathing is so not good for the skin and I’m sure I’ll pay for it later in life, but this year, after the spring I had, I wanted to lay in the sun and not garden and just feel energy get put back in my body. It was lovely. 

Now I’m back, along with my littles, to routine and discipline and work. This year, work includes for me my private practice as well as writing, crafting and at some point teaching handcrafting type things to kids. I’m in the getting my ducks in a row phase now. 

In the crafting department, the waning days of August and the moody days of early-September have been productive. So far I’ve:

Spun some more yarn,

With my buddy. 

I’ve started a new weaving project in an attempt to learn more stuff…

And I got more comfortable setting up my loom. 

I crafted a hat out of a woven piece from the above loom and crocheted the top. It’s weird and unique and fits beautifully. 

And I made some fingerless gloves to match. 


I’ve captured a picture of two bucks who visit our yard from time to time. One is missing an antler. The Jungian in me can’t help but ruminate on this image. 


And I’ve internalized summer, the heat and energy that keeps things going and the mythic waves that crash and flow, regardless of one’s presence or reverence. 


Hopes for this week:

Play every day outside with my kids, finish my shawl, start a new hat, write a second chapter…


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Make A Book From Scratch Summer Camp, Recap…

This summer was a time of taking a few risks, including putting my fiber art teaching love out into the universe in a different way. I’ve shared already the camp I offered to do with weaving. You can read about that here. The second camp I offered was all about making a book from scratch. It’s important to me for kids to know and be frequently reminded that they can make stuff, really cool stuff, with found items, recycling and a little ingenuity. Art supplies are expensive, as are art classes, but if you know how to get your hands on materials that are free or inexpensive, you have at your fingertips myriad ways to make art, to be an artists, to add your own beauty to the world. So… I was messing around one day after daydreaming about making a book for collage. My first book was the one pictured below. It’s made with handmade paper, wool that I wet-felted for the cover, a piece of driftwood and cotton thread for stitching together. I’ll show you the camp process, mostly in pictures with a little text, because I think the images speak for themselves. This is the project that inspired the camp.

 

I spent a good deal of time before camp began prepping some materials. Carding Shetland wool…

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Making frames… a word on that: I found wooden frames at Michael’s craft store for $1 each. These saved the day. I had a number of frames on hand that I found at garage sales but I figured that kids are sometimes interested in making sure everything is even and balanced and fair, so, I decided to ensure that each child had the same size frame.

Also, I’ve been trying to find on line the tip I came across for outlining the frames with duct tape. I want to give credit to the blogger that shared that brilliant idea! Doing this makes for much easier removal of the paper once you flip it onto the drying surface. I will always do this now, and if I come across the blogger’s site, I will for sure share it here.

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Here’s me stapling the screen onto the frame. I used my mom’s staple gun, which made me think of her. I feel close to her when I’m crafting or creating. You can read about why this is relevant here.

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While things go better with kids when things are fair, they go even better than better when kids know which thing is theirs. It’s lucky I had this flashy duct tape on hand. No guess work needed!

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Here’s the thing about paper pulp (made in a cuisinart with recycled paper and water; the paper I put through the shredder first)~ not all kids love touching gooey, smushy, splootchy wet stuff. It’s handy knowing this ahead of time so you can have at your finger tips ideas of what steps kids might enjoy doing in the process, like soaking up the water from the underside of the frame/screen with a sponge, stirring the pulpy concoction, adding flower bits, etc., in the even that full-on hand immersion in paper pulp is out of the question.

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Here’s the kids looking for flowery colorful bits to throw in to our pulp.

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If those colors aren’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

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I spent a good amount of time experimenting before camp started…

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And dyeing wool…

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Here’s some kids using a drum carder to prepare wool for felting. This camp included chances to do as many jobs as possible in the time we had. I had the kids pick a lot of the grassy bits out of the wool, fluff it open to prepare for carding, and then card it. There were varying opinions on this. I could sit and pick at wool all day and be fine. I love looking at those tasks as a chance to just chill the heck out and be with my thoughts. Not all kids love that, of course, so some felting was a wee bit chunkier than others, and that’s okay!

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For the wet-felting part, I had the kids arrange the layers of wool they were using to make their book over on a plastic table on top of a sheet of freezer paper. Then, we covered the wool in warm, soapy water, and covered it all again with freezer paper. The paper stayed strong while the kids pressed and rubbed their hands over their wool. Once it was showing signs of felting, they could take off the top layer and use their hands to felt directly. Again, some kids love that textural messy feeling and others don’t. Leaving the freezer paper on for a while longer helped those who preferred keeping their hands free from that specific wet-wool feeling.

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Then, once dried, the kids arranged their books as they wanted them, and had a chance to needle felt a design on to their covers. The night before the last day of camp, I sewed the books together. Originally, I’d hoped the campers would do that part, but we ran out of time.

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I think these books are all so beautiful. Interspersed between their handmade paper, I included sheets of handmade paper from India that is more amenable to writing. I will keep working on my own paper making skills to see if I can get closer to that quality.

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And listen, it’s not right to ignore the behind-the-scenes stars of the show… the sheep! Something I love about being a part of the fiber handcrafting and fiber art community is that I get to meet so many wonderful people. This is the second year that I’ve gotten wool from a wonderful man named Peter Moore, who lovingly cares for his four Shetland sheep. I met Peter because he posted online that he had wool available, and I jumped at the chance. I can say that I would call Peter a friend, now, and I truly don’t know how we would have ever met if not for our mutual love of sheep! Let me introduce his lovely wooly friends:

Meet Dolly…

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And Violet,

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Phoebe,

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And Daisy!

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They are all half-sisters and are four years old. Their wool was the centerpiece of this camp (in my opinion), and the kids were champs, learning new skills every day and hopefully leaving with something they were proud of.

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I’m sitting at my desk now, listening to the wind blow around the house. The temperatures are cooling and the birds are busy at the feeder. I am looking forward to the cooling down, the bundling up, the quieting of winter. Summer can be a full-on explosion of activity, work and play. It’s the extroverted season. These camps were a beautiful expression of all of that. I wonder what new things I’ll imagine up as I sit in the dark introverted winter. I guess we’ll see next year!


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Explorations in Weaving Summer Camp, Recap…

It’s been a while. I’ve missed writing here over the last couple of months. There’s been so much doing that I’ve had a hard time calming down enough to write about it all. But, a highlight of my summer was definitely offering two new summer camps to my repertoire of teaching opportunities: Explorations in Weaving and Making A Book From Scratch. Hanging out with kids, teaching them what I know, and having the flexibility and time to play, learn about each other and experiment with materials is an absolutely wonderful way to spend time. And, I got to have my own kids with me during both camps, which was an added bonus.

Explorations in Weaving Camp was a four-day, weaving filled (as you might imagine) practically meditative ride. All the kids that came were invested in weaving and at times, it was pinch-myself peaceful. The children’s calm and interest reinforced for me, yet again, how soothing weaving can be, and how satisfying it is as the fabric takes form and grows.

For each of the first three days, a different form of weaving was introduced. Day One was spent on Melissa and Doug Weaving Looms and Stitch Studio by Nicole Looms (can be found at A.C. Moore stores) to simply get the weaving process down.

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I had prepared a sample project that we might make, which was a bag, but all the children preferred seeing their fabric open and free. We ended up securing them to driftwood, turning them into gorgeous wall-hangings with fringe. Below is one example…

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The second day I offered each child a circular loom made from those metal rounds you can get at the craft store. I pre-warped them to save time.

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The third day, I offered each child their pick of handmade looms crafted from driftwood and twine. These were my favorites. I’m sorry, but driftwood and yarn? A match made in paradise. I can’t get enough of it and hoped to make my enthusiasm for the combo contagious.

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The fourth day was spent finishing up loose ends, decorating for our Weaver’s Art Show and just celebrating the heck out of their creativity and wonderfulness.

Lest you think all the children did was weave, weave weave… they actually mostly did, but having a sprinkler backup, ice pops and a basket of yarn to finger knit with was important. We also took walks in our field looking for wild flowers and long grasses, fairies and grasshoppers…

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