Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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New Sweater On The Needles

It hasn’t stopped raining in my neck of the woods. Not in any meaningful way. On this wet and gloomy Saturday morning, I don’t mind that much. Yes, my gardening tasks are so far utterly neglected that I’m feeling a wee bit embarrassed, but I’m not unhappy about getting to sit and knit for while, guilt-free. It’s been a hard week. Grief and all that goes with it really got me the last few days and I’m left feeling tired and waterlogged. You know? 

The sweater on my needles is called Amiga, the pattern written by Mags Kandis. I just made it to the part where I get to coast for a long time in stockinette stitch. I’d share the yarn I’m using but I forgot to save the yarn tags! That kind of carelessness is what makes life harder for me. What if I run out of yarn? Or if I want to use it again for another project. Pro-knitters, in my imagination, never do that. I have a goal to be more careful about things like that. I can tell you the yarn is so very soft and kind of a grayish purple. It’s a new batch of colors this season. I bought it in a wonderful little yarn shop called Yarn, in Montpelier, Vermont when I was down there for a conference. 


Ten or so inches of body~ the steady marathon part of the sweater. The part of the project I can easily take with me anywhere because I won’t have to keep track of anything, count anything. Beta wave knitting. Ahhh…


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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 Mom Died

During the weeks leading up to when my mom died, I was having a hard time writing here. I was having a hard time being creative in general. I felt really uncomfortable. I was having a lot of dreams that I could not figure out, and I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed with how busy I was. I prayed I wouldn’t get sick because there just wasn’t the room in my schedule to be out of commission. That’s so laughable to me now. The last email I ever got from my mom read, “OMG, you really are busy. I love you.” It makes me weep to write those words. Those words were in an email I received on the Thursday before Easter. I planned on talking to my mom on Easter because we love that day.

I found out my mom died on Easter. There’s little I can share here about the specifics because especially now, in the immediate aftermath of losing her, there are so many things that are preciously private, to my mom, my siblings and my relatives. The details, they feel so personal. But grief? Losing someone you deeply love? That is the shared experience. Sometimes, when someone asks me how I am who does not know my mom died, I just let myself say it. I don’t sugar coat it either. I don’t say, “passed away”, “went to a better place”, “is with God now”. I say, “my mom died and I’m so fucking sad I don’t know what to do.” I’ve noticed that people, in every instance, can totally handle that, and most often have their own histories of losing a beloved person to them, and then they get to say it out loud, too. And, I always welcome swearing. I’ve noticed in these last few weeks that even when the death of a loved one happened years ago, when someone talks about it with me, it feels like we are swimming in the same water, completely understanding one another, even if just for that moment. Amazingly, that helps me to not feel alone.

My mother: you should know about her. Even just a little bit. She was beautiful. Am I right? Really, she was, and I’m not certain she ever deeply knew it.

The world is hard on people. She was an artist. And she loved artists. As a young woman, before I was born, my mom worked for Vogue and Mademoiselle in their art departments. She spoke of those days very often, and told stories of wild and creative people. She often lamented that our society had not come up with job-sharing back then; it would have allowed her to keep working in an industry she loved without being away from her kids so much. She also worked as a hematology technician at New York University and in the offices of the American Medical Association. She loved looking at teeny-tiny little things through microscopes and I think it was that skill set that supported her tolerance of sewing little things, sculpting miniature faces, making intricate art pieces…

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She studied meditation with Siddha Yoga beginning in the late 1970’s and remained a lifelong devotee. She traveled to India in 1978 with my brother (age 3) and me (age 5) and we lived at the Siddha Yoga ashram in Ganeshpuri for 5 weeks. That took some serious balls. I can barely take my kids to their Oma’s house who lives less than two hours away by myself.

My mom lived differently. Hearing from so many people since she died, I’m getting to enjoy their descriptions of my mother. The following words have been used one or more times: vivid, magical, intense, creative, beautiful, status-quo defying, deeply loving, spiritual, unique, funny-as-hell.  She also loved her animal friends something fierce. She loved animals in general. In Florida in our little bayou home, we’d see alligators swim by and she’d wave to them and say hi. She let our iguanas walk freely around our house~ you know they can be potty trained? Our cats and dog had special seats at the table during holiday gatherings. The birds were our friends. Feral cats were always fed. Also, there was always incense, in the house, the car, the yard… thinking back, I see how cool that all was. I didn’t know it then. It was just home, and Lottieann was my mom.

I haven’t picked up the sweater I recently started since I’ve been home. I’m trying to find knitting again, they way I found it so comforting after my grandmother (my mom’s mother) died in February. It’s not clicking and I’m opting not to worry about it. It’s sitting there, waiting for me to pick it up, and I will. I have some wool soaking in soapy water. That’s about all I got right now. One of my biggest blog fans won’t be emailing me anymore after every post and goddamn that sucks so bad.

A promise I’m making to myself is to address a thing that I think made my mom really sad… how “busy” I always make myself. Too busy to make art, to meditate, to just be. Her last email was not a criticism, just a fact.

“OMG. You really are busy. I love you.”


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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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Monday’s Musings~ Let’s Not Forget How Human We Are

It’s been a bit, but not for lack of anything to say. Since this is just a post for musings I thought I’d share a couple of little bits of what’s been rumbling on in my brain lately.

First this:

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We’ve been reading Lord of the Rings to our daughter at night and very often I find passages to be absolutely relevant to life now. I wonder how it’s all going to go for us. Will we as a human race wake up and see nature, Nature, for what it is? An ever present guide, evidence of creation itself? Will we look consistently beyond our borders and see how much we are all connected by the desire to live, to love and to survive? Us humans would do well to read our old legends and to try to gather up the living wisdom in our stories. Courage, the Hero’s Journey, making choices on all of these crossroads we face… we need all of the guidance and wisdom we can hold.

Managing existential anxiety is supported by weaving. I’ve got three circular weaving projects going right now and have finally started the weaving a bag on a box project I’ve been wanting to try for months now! I love all that Sarah Swett puts out and think this is super clever and fun. I’ll show you how it turns out when it’s all done.

 

I’ve been reading a lot about the Druids and early Celtic Christianity lately as part of a rather epic ancestry research binge I’ve been on for a while. I’m early in my studying, but I’ll tell you what, the Celts seemed pretty cool. They, even in their transition into Christianity, didn’t push their religious ideas on other people expecting them to drop what they already believed in. What I’ve read so far anyway, is that they deeply abided by their love and devotion to nature and saw god in their every day activities. Their connection to their own spirituality was not separate from nature and from other people but was rather wholly connected to it. I love this quote, which is offered in the book The Celtic Way, by Ian Bradley,

“As Noel O’Donoghue has eloquently observed, the Celts were deeply conscious of rhythm:

the rhythms of human life and the body’s ages and changes, the rhythms of the seasons, of work such as weaving and milking, of reaping with hook or scythe, of threshing the corn, of men rowing together, of women walking together. All these rhythms, and many others, were vocalised in song and what was called port beul or voice music

“The Celts sang as they worked, as they played and as they prayed. In Gaelic there is no word for music that is not sung while in Welsh the word for poetry and music is the same…” (pgs. 90-91).

Why does this all come to mind right now? I guess because in working with wool and with fibers, I am consistently reminded that we are at all times connected to what is ancient, what is searching, seeking and surviving, and I long ever more to stay connected to that reality. I think it gives perspective and reminds us that we are a migrating and growing species and that we have survived because of a willingness to change and adapt, as well as remain connected to what is completely human about us.

Look at this cool video of women waulking wool and singing as they work.

Here’s a little bit of my own weaving from a recent class I took at a wonderful place called Mad River Woolery in Waitsfield, Vermont. I learned some cool weaving techniques on an Ashford rigid heddle loom. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new Schacht rigid heddle loom… oh my!

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Okay… so much more to say but I’ll spread it out! I finished my very green sweater which I’ll tell you all about on Friday (St. Patrick’s Day!), I’ve made friends with some sock puppets, and spring and summer plans are underway for gardens, wool fun and spinning yarn.

I hope you are all well,

Bradie