Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Slow Stitch Stitch-Along Weeks 5 and 6

“Any regular, repetitive action primes the well. Writers have heard many woeful tales of the Bronte sisters and poor Jane Austen, forced to hide their stories under their needle-work. A little experiment with some mending can cast a whole new light on these activities. Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within. Whole plots can be stitched up while we sew. As artists, we can very literally reap what we sew.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

For Week 4, we worked on the fly stitch. I loved this stitch. It was fun, satisfying, took a little bit to get the hang of, and then lent itself generously to experimentation and shaping. I thought I’d have time to make two squares, but alas, one was all I could complete. I’m working on not urgently finishing something that is supposed to be a practice in steady and slow. Urgency and too-busy are not qualities in life I value any longer. I think they are over-rated tendencies that make people sick. They distract focus from what is right in front of us. There are only so many hours in a day and I’m coming to accept ever more that really, there is a finite amount of time in which I will exist. All of the many things I want to do, wish I had of done, hope to do in the future have to be reconciled with the reality of what is.

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I kind of meant to do a square of fly stitch in rows, but then I decided that actually, the stitches were reminding me of wheatgrass and of weeping willow branches without their leaves. I decided to allow myself to make what I saw in my mind’s eye. It was a lovely experience.

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So, we are moving along in our Slow-Stitch. I am going to add two stitches to our queue and give myself two weeks to play around with them. Halloween and my son’s birthday make this upcoming week more exciting and full than usual, so I plan on steadily and quietly moving through stitches as I can.

It’s not too late to join if you’d like!

Here are the two new stitches: sorbello and seed. Practice using small squares of fabric, maybe one on its own and one in layers. Use thread that calls to you and let yourself enjoy the process without the sense of rushing or pressure urging your hands.

If you’re wondering what this is all about, here’s the introduction to this Stitch Along, that was entirely inspired by the book Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith.


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Slow Stitch Stitch-Along, Week 4

I like having this Stitch-Along right now. It’s keeping me connected to what I really, really want to be doing but am having the hardest time devoting time to. It’s a constant struggle for me these days, to pick up what I love (other than my children). I plan on writing more about this in the coming week, but I feel rather sure that this election cycle here in the United States is one culprit in a cauldron of stressors.

I found time today, though. Time to sit and complete my bookmark. I turned the design into a house with a chimney and gave it a thatched roof. When my daughter saw it, she decided she wanted to write a story about sewing bookmarks. I hope she does! I mounted my other experimental piece on an antique handkerchief and I thought about time and the apparent coming of a new age of politics in this country.

I thought about ways I might be more gentle in my approach to life, and more disciplined so that I might do at least some of things I long to do, but hadn’t written in to some original plan of adulthood. I thought about adjusting, letting go of some things and turning towards those things that call to me, including service to this aching world.

The coming 4th week of the Slow Stitch Stitch-Along will include learning a new one (for me): the fly stitch.

One square or two. Fly stitch. Different patterns, directions, colors, fabrics. We’ll see. My hope is to do one square on plain linen, and one piece including a few fabrics using both running stitch and fly stitch. We’ll see how it goes.

Again, for those who might want to join, we are using the book Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith as our guide. I am a brand new stitcher and am finding my groove. Anyone is welcome to join us, with any skill level.

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Slow Stitch Stitch-Along, Week 3

My partner in stitching and I agreed to extend the running stitch squares for another week. The last several days have included busy spots that I could only describe as Tetris-like. When the days actually worked out, I marveled at my ability to pull it all off. But sadly, I didn’t get as much stitching in as I wanted and so suggested extending it by a bit. 

I was able to experiment, practice, and imagine though. 


I was able to get into a very sweet flow and pay attention to my thoughts. I’m slowly learning what I like the looks of and how to make things line up. This is a wonderful process for me. 


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Slow Stitch-Stitch Along~ Week 2

So begins the stitching. Running stitch using different threads and different angles, this is one hundred percent experimentation and new for me. Claire Wellesley-Smith offers ideas and exercises on pages 51-53 of Slow Stitch that I’m focusing on this week. I’m not going to rush and I’m going to pay attention to my thoughts as I look at each row, section, square. I can already tell that the internal judge is gearing up for a starring role on stage. Straight lines are not my jam. Will that be okay?


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Everything But the Kitchen Sink and End of Summer Turbulence

I’ll admit to being one very distractible and lack-of-focus afflicted person at present. It is hard to figure out why. Here are some possible reasons: the intense heat has made working with wool mildly unpleasant; the coming to an end of summer vacation fills me with a nagging dread and combating impulses – do as much as I can with my kids and make the remaining days epic-style awesome vs. relax and take each day as it comes and just make sure to swim; anticipation of having time to organize my projects, my work and my goals and a drive to get started, get to finishing, and get organized. I teach at a local college, have a small clinical private practice, I hope to bring fiber art and craft to more kids this year, and I have some writing projects I long to pursue. All of these responsibilities and goals, plus being a mommy to two young ones has me, well, a little all-over-place, and I think that is reflected in my project heap and book pile. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve recently finished, what I’m working on and what I’m reading with those of you who read this here blog of mine. Maybe you, too, find the end of summer to be a little, well, turbulent?

Azel Pullover

~ I finished the Azel Pullover for my daughter. I love it. I truly do. It is not completed just as the pattern was written. It’s a bit shorter, and I modified the cowl neck because the numbering of stitches was off and it was making it wonky, so I ended up just knitting in the round which made a great looking band around the neck. By the way, the creator of this pattern is wonderful, and responded to a question I had about it in a very short amount of time.

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~ As part of completing the above pattern, I acquired a whole bunch of new skills in the knitting department: the cable knit cast-on, picking up stitches, making button holes (not elegantly executed this first go-round, but I can get the buttons through them), and fixing big mistakes (I practiced understanding what stitches look like when you have to take out a few rows and get them back on the needles).

~ I also got to use the knitting needles my grandmother gave me. You can read about them here. I am so happy about that.

Circular Weaving

I just completed the circular weaving piece that I started a while back. You can read about that here. It was supposed to, in my imagination, lie flat, but alas, it does not and is currently awaiting a super modification that I am actually very excited about. The hoped-for meditation mat will turn into a bowl to hold organic materials I plan to use to spin into yarn or work into weaving pieces.

Sewing With My Kids

Both of my littles have begun sewing their own little dolls, which is truly wonderful. You know, it is one thing to practice slowing down and exercising patience when it’s just me I’m reckoning with. When I’m working on projects with my children, I’ve realized that it’s best if I have some project in my hands, but one I’m not absorbed with. Nothing kills creativity and learning like impatience from the guide. I’ve been guilty of that and have made a dedicated effort not to let my own inclination towards impatience that I so readily apply to myself destroy these quiet moments with my children. I think I’ve made headway in this department.

I recently read a book to my children called Cloth Lullaby, by Amy Novesky. It is about the artist Louise Bourgeois and especially, her relationship with her mother, who was a weaver and tapestry artist. Louise apprenticed under her mother and later in her life became a renowned artist in her own right. Her giant sculptures of spiders, who were inspired by her mother, are one of her hallmark themes. Spiders create thread and repair and build and, in one part of the book, the author describes how when webs are damaged, spiders do not get angry; they simply repair them. In this beautiful book, I was reminded of an important ideal~ steadfast and calm repairing and steadfast and calm teaching. I was grateful to have read it with my littles.

Organized My Fibers and Garage Space

I spent a good amount of time going through all of my materials and getting them organized in a way that will make project planning and gathering much easier in the months to come. I do plan on doing a fair amount of dyeing wool and experimenting in the fall.

Wool I Dyed and Carded

I’m not done with carding all of the wool yet! But here are the results of the washed, dyed and carded Shetland I wrote about recently. It’s so beautiful. Coreopsis is quite the dye plant and is shown on the right. On the left is Shetland dyed with marigold.

Books I Am Reading

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott~ I love the way she writes about every single thing. I need some writing advice and she’s my go-to for that.

Stitch By Stitch, by Carolyn Meyer~ I really want to know how to do rudimentary needlework. I’m struggling with this because it is a bit of a departure for me, and I’m not sure it’s wise to start yet another journey into another handcraft when I have so many I already love and could get much more proficient at, but have you seen this book –> Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This book inspires me in a way that is almost painful. The colors, the textures and the soothing promise of slowing down is really speaking to me and I want to figure out a way to work this in to what I do both in my own handwork practice and with others.

Would anyone like to do a slow and consistent, chapter by chapter Stitch-Along with me, using Slow Stitch as the guide? Seriously. Write me if you do.

This summer has included many beautiful times with family and with friends, many bike rides and lake swims and creemees, lots of convalescing after some antibiotic side effect havoc, lots of chip eating and garden tending.

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Days have been long and night sounds have been welcome and wild. Temperatures have been hot and rain has been scarce. News has been painful and overwhelming. The Olympics have been awe-inspiring. And the days are going on and each one offers a new chance to get connected with the present moment, to breath and to not resist the passing of time. I think in the coming weeks before school starts, that is what I’ll be trying to keep in the forefront of my mind. To look and to truly see, to hear and to truly listen, to touch and to truly feel.

Yes. That.

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In the Presence of Masters

I have not written in a good long while because my work with fiber stalled out a bit. I am one of those people who struggles with some of the more rare side-effects of antibiotics and of late, this has been quite an issue. BUT, I am here to say that yesterday was a gift beyond gifts, and has helped me to find my bearings again.

The Marshfield School of Weaving is hosting a five-day spinning class this week. I was only able to attend one day of the series and was not sure what to expect, but I went ready to absorb anything and everything I could in this limited time. I went to this school last year to take a plant dye class with Joann Darling. You can read about that here. Attending class yesterday, I knew I would have the opportunity to meet Norman Kennedy, the man who started the school in 1974. He has taught spinning and weaving, he speaks Gaelic and sings old and beautiful waulking songs and other traditional songs that can be sung to help keep time during the melodic and repetitive processes of carding, spinning and weaving. He joined Bruce Engebretson who was a visiting teacher from Minnesota. I had never taken a class from individuals who were so steeped in their craft and wondered what it would be like. I was definitely nervous. Primarily self-taught, I prepared myself for having to re-learn ways I do things. I was right to get my mind in order for that type of expansion.

I traveled down with my spinning wheel, some roving, my spindle, a batt I carded from Border Leicester that I processed myself and dyed with willow bark, and a whole lot of eagerness.

Let me say this, I took a lot of pictures but don’t want to post them without permission from those who are in them, so please pardon the lack of visual detail.

Driving up to this school in Marshfield offers the chance to resettle the mind in its own right. I was so struck last year by the functional, humble beauty of the barn, the rooms, the tools and the “stuff” kicking around. It is entirely calming and completely not intimidating. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Bruce, Norman and the four other women in attendance. They were in their groove already because they had been together all week, but at no time did I feel like an odd man out. What shocked me was that I, according to Bruce, was not carding wool at all correctly, so I learned his way. The old way. And it took a long time. So long I worried I might have dyslexia in my hands. For real. But he was kind and patient and kept at it with me. I had introduced myself already to Norman and tried not to be too intense; I have wanted to meet him for a long time after I saw this YouTube video.

While I was fumbling through carding wool, I showed Bruce the batt I brought. I think I just wanted him to know that I know how to do at least something and he was into it, and he asked me to show Norman when he came back in the room. I’ll not go into all of the mini moments that were incredible, but showing Norman the willow-dyed batt led to him showing me how to spin off of a distaff. I had never even seen a distaff in person before, and here was this beautiful man, in his 80’s, with a long white and golden pony tail and kind face, spinning my wool onto a spindle with the merest flick of his hand, his other hand totally free. He commented on the luster of the wool, the strength of the yarn it can make, and he told stories and historical bits about the use of these ancient tools. I was in awe and in love, and then he let me learn.

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It took some doing, but soon enough I was spinning right from the distaff onto my wheel. He said I was doing pretty good for a beginner. I’ll take it.

Later, we watched Norman prepare flax and place it onto a distaff to spin. As he spun he sang a tune in time with his treadling. We watched Bruce load and use very old combs to prepare gorgeous wool for spinning. I watched in awe a woman use a walking wheel… truly incredible, and I learned about the spindle that was on the wheel that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. Norman told stories of how it was long ago, when children worked alongside their parents all day, when fiber craft was not a luxury or a hobby, but when it was a necessary and integral part of life. Bruce talked about how children would prepare wool all day and how women would spin all night. I think about this all the time, about how so many fairy tales are about old women saving young women from the fate of spinning all day long, so that they could go about with their husbands and be in their world. Habetrot is one such goddess. More to come on this topic in the future, but I suspect that fairy tales and ancient myth show us the trajectory of the feminine archetype in relation to fiber art and craft. Habetrot and her magic family are underground, hidden away from view, a foreshadowing of changes to come, both positive and negative, to the ways in which people relate to one another, the relationship between people and Earth and the ways we understand and experience time, work and patience.

Some other highlights for me include being called a lass, having my spinning wool technique ridiculed in the most kind of Scottish ways, and simply enjoying the company of people who were all there to learn and be in the company of masters. It was truly a wonderful day.

And, I will be fashioning my own distaff and spindle soon. Tales to come…

 

 


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How to Fit Fiber Work Into a Full and Multifaceted Life, One Glimpse

Yesterday began early for me. It promised to be a full day with lots of seemingly unconnected tasks and engagements. I really wanted to dye wool though. I’d already steeped marigolds and coreopsis the day before and I had some clean whitish Shetland to play with. After looking through the wonderful natural dye book, Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes, by Rebecca Burgess, I decided to quickly get an alum mordant bath going to prepare the wool I had on hand. 

I’ve taken over half our garage with a dye pot section, a carding section, storage for weird, beautiful driftwood and other gifts from the world I collect on the way. I’ve got a scale out there and some paints set up for my kids. 

So, at around 7:30am, the alum/Shetland mordant bath was going, and my marigolds were on some heat. I weighed 7 ounces of wool to be dyed, and used 0.7 ounces of alum. Not much, but my dye bath operation is small, and I love little batches of specially dyed yarn for weaving or embellishments on crocheted and knitted items. 


Once that was all set, I got on with my morning. Took care of my littles. Made a work call. Took everything off the heat and ran some errands, came back and after rinsing the wool in warm water, put half in with the strained marigold bath and set that to heat, and put a quarter in one bell jar with the coreopsis flowers and bath, and a quarter in with half coreopsis and half marigold dye mix. The jars were set in the sun. 


After an hour on a simmer, I took the marigold bath off the heat and let it cool for the remainder of the day. 

By then it was almost midday and it was time to switch gears completely with my kids and fully engage in what we three were doing. 

Tending to life while tending to the practice of working with wool can be difficult sometimes. Some tasks require a chunk of uninterrupted time. Others can be worked into and throughout a life. I imagine that was how it was done over the ages, but I don’t know for sure. There are chores and responsibilities that lend themselves to certain seasonal tasks. Tending to dye baths can be done while gardening, cleaning up outside, doing laundry, caring for children, and even making that business call. Having a dye pot operation set up outside or in the garage helps as messes are far easier to clean up and create less smelly havoc than in a kitchen. 

I was able to rinse the wool after dinner. It is still drying. A late in the day rain storm put an end to the sharp, hot, drying sun. I’ll post pics of the final outcome soon. 


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Let the Dirty, Smelly,Wonderful, Softening Labor of Skirting, Washing and Carding Wool Begin!

This week, I grabbed the bull (or sheep) by the horns (in my imagination), and started processing a whole lot of wonderful wool. After my son, then my daughter and then I got through strep throat this summer, I needed to really get in gear and re-find my focus. Knowing that this week would be hot and sunny, I decided to use the sun’s marvelous power to do most of the work of scouring for me. But I’ll get to that. I started with some lovely Shetland I picked up about a month ago from a wonderful couple who absolutely adore their sheep.

Here is a picture of some of the beauties with their summer do.

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When I first began working with raw wool and learning how to spin, I’ll admit to just jumping in and not doing a whole lot of homework first. I remember with my first fleece, I felt guilty about not using every last bit of wool, but for the very dirty parts. I washed and rinsed and washed some more, picked, flicked, carded and re-carded. I could not bear to waste it. I’ve since learned that there are different parts of a fleece that are much better than others, that seasoned spinners do not use every last bit for yarn, but might use the not wonderful parts for stuffing for toys, compost, insulation, etc… Before starting on these fleeces, I found a bit of literature that is so incredibly helpful on the topic of skirting fleeces. People who take the time to share this sort of expertise in such a generous way are really so kind. I am grateful to them for describing so well what they know. Check it out if you are looking for some skirting fleece information.

You can see below the pile of wool from one fleece, already skirted, and another two waiting to go.

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Then it was time to scour. I like doing this before carding and spinning, but I know many do not. I do not overly scour, I don’t think, because I love keeping the lanolin feel as much as I can, but I do want it to be clean. I wish I had taken a picture of my hands post-skirting. They were shiny and soft from the lanolin. I never grow tired from the irony of having silky, soft hands after doing the hard and dirty work of skirting a raw fleece. It is a marvelous metaphor, I think. We must get our hands dirty in life. We must fully dig in. Work. Feel. Love. Grieve. Get into the thick of it. We will be made softer, humbler, and maybe even shiny every now and then, if we allow ourselves to be hewn by the at times roughness of life.

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While I love hard work, carrying pot after pot of hot water outside to fill my bins in order to scour wool is not what I had energy for. It occurred to me that the sun could do most of the heating work. So, I filled the bins with hose water, plus two big pots of hot water to get a jump start, and then some soap. After the water rose to a lukewarm temperature, I added the wool and let it soak for a long time. Later, I passed it to the rinse bin of warm water and let it soak some more. I did this with all three fleeces and have to say, I see no reason to go back to another way, at least not while it’s so hot! With the lids on the bins, the water’s temperature rose very significantly, but slowly, making the scouring a gentle and simple process.

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I love the look and smell of drying wool. I see bits that will get shaken or carded out once fully dry. Mostly I see fingerless mitts, a hat and hopefully a big fluffy cowl to keep warmth and raw beauty alive in the midst of our stark winters.

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Oh, last but not least, I’ve started some solar powered dye baths using in one jar, marigolds and in another, coreopsis. I think I’ll dye up some of this white Shetland tomorrow.

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Mom Camp

We needed a quiet day to find our way together. These are the days I am the very most grateful for.

a long bike ride with my littlest to mail some love

prepping for teepee and raft making for our new stories we are writing/drawing/imagining each night

teepee in progress

the building of a raft inspired some macrame fantasies

will a gnome and his beloved live here?

it floats! 


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Today is Just One Day

Today I picked up my knitting needles to begin a sweater for my daughter for when the temperatures change. I am looking ahead. I wanted to start a project now that will keep her warm and comforted in the future. I don’t know why. Maybe for many reasons. Maybe because she has strep throat and is in pain. Maybe because I love her more than I can explain. This is the sweater. I learned how to do a cable cast on so far and feel rather impressed with myself. I also know I made a mistake, but I don’t know how to fix mistakes in knitting. So different than crochet. Pulling out already knitted stitches fills me with dread and makes me anxious. So for now I’m going to keep knitting and hope my mistake isn’t too grave. Kind of like parenting. I make mistakes daily. I hope none will be too grave, too difficult to repair. 

this mystical dog statue was in our home growing up in florida. my mom gave him to me a few years ago and he guards our house through all weather.

our humble garden

every night a robin sits atop our open shed and sings its goodnight song