Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Two-Cents Tuesday: School and Yarn are a Perfect Pairing

My life is organized by school years. I’ve not really had much time in my life when that was not the case. I completed my own schooling when I was twenty-five. Then I worked in schools for six or seven years (I already can’t remember that detail), and then I worked for years with kids in my practice who were in school. Now my own children’s school schedules shape our family’s life. The calendar year means very little to me except for a quiet chance for me to reboot and rethink where I place my energies. The school year, on the other hand, shapes most aspects of our lives.

I spent a lot of time in my kids’ school this year. I volunteered in their classrooms teaching the kids all different kinds of things to do with wool, yarn and other fibery crafts. I also taught the same things in a more official capacity in two other classes. I loved it and I plan to share more here about some of the lessons that I taught. One thing I did in both my kids’ classes was leave a loom set up, the simple kind, for kids to work on as they pleased, with the idea that at the end of the year (or whenever it was finished), I’d turn it into something to decorate their teachers’ rooms with. Yesterday, I finished both of these woven pieces. My son’s 3rd grade classroom filled their loom. Almost every time I went in, someone was working on it.

Here’s their finished piece:

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My daughter’s 1st grade class didn’t do many rows on theirs, but I assured their teacher I could make wall-art with it, not to worry. That class also did epically cool stuff with wool they dyed with Kool Aid, wool they felted and wool they experimented with.

Here’s their wool decor:

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And, here’s their finished woven wall hanging:

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I used antique wooden needles and a sanded dowel to serve as the structure from which the weaving hung. I also had a needle felted little nest hanging around that I opted to attach to the piece. I made that in their class as a demonstration one day and wanted to include it to represent that part of the work they did.

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As I worked on turning the woven pieces into wall-art yesterday, I thought about all that has transpired since September, for my children, for me and my husband, for our family as a whole. It’s so much life squeezed into all of these academic months. I reflected on how much my kids learned with their fabulous teachers and with their peers this year, how much more they are doing on their own compared to September, and how much some of our growing pains have been, well, painful. I thought about how lucky I am to have been able to hang out in their classes so many times this year and be given the chance to learn how to teach better, listen better and be more flexible. And, I thought about how much I want to keep doing this. Handcrafting and fiber art are extremely effective mediums for teaching kids about art, history, creativity and themselves. I hope I do this for a long time.

Fueled by that hope, I cleaned off my work desk, and daydreamed about summer break.

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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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Two-Cents Tuesdays~ Don’t Kill Time

I think a lot, about all kinds of things. Like many folks, I think about thinking, what I’m thinking about, how what I’m thinking about affects me and those around me and how what I’m thinking about either serves to provide energy and steam to my day or instead drains energy, creativity and perspective. It’s a loop, friends. An infinity spiral, uroboric maelstrom at times, and I’ve realized something with all of this thinking. How we handle downtime, those ten, fifteen, twenty minutes here and there, really freakin’ matters. These small oases in the midst of busy lives could support moments of reflection, meditation, throwing a few rows or rounds onto a knitting project or chances to see something interesting.

More and more, I am choosing not to reach for my phone just to check email that I cannot respond to in the moment because I don’t have time (and then forget about responding to ┬álater because it’s not highlighted anymore), read the news that is consistently maddening and not much different from when I read it that same morning or afternoon, or from what it will be in the evening after my kids go to bed. I am choosing to try harder to tend to those things right in front of me and allow for a little space to remember to just be.

The other day, I had about twenty minutes in between engagements and I opted to step in to an antique store I’ve passed many times to take a gander and just have fun. Look what I saw!

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yarn winder

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old, old spinning wheel

 

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another sweet wheel

 

And, I did get myself a treat…

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old sewing bag

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with thread and doilies made from it!

 

I still read the news that day. I stayed up-to-speed with my responsibilities and tasks. Got all the things done… but in the midst of it all, I found a little bit of time to look at beautiful things and breathe and relax. It felt like a tiny vacation, stolen in the midst of a work day. A reprieve and a joy. Even if it is simply looking up at the sky while waiting for a meeting instead of looking at the phone, consider it a moment lived, not killed. A moment that gave, rather than one to recover from. A moment spent with yourself, ultimately your most precious person.

Little steps…


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Farm to Frame Felting Fun with First Grade Friends

I am so very lucky to have standing dates on Fridays when I teach kids how to do things with wool and with yarn. These Fridays are now known as “Fiber Fridays”, and have become a part of my life I am extremely grateful for and proud of. I think about it a lot, why I want to do this stuff with kids. First of all, I have two kids of my own and I relish any chance I get to participate in things in their classrooms. I get to meet their friends, know their teachers and just be part of their school world for a small time, which is amazing. I never leave without internally bowing to teachers, para-professionals, one-on-one specialists, reading specialists, special educators. They make the world go round, in my book. Their love and dedication to the field, and the skills they have, just blows me away.

Okay, so yes, I love being in my kids’ classes. I also love going into other classes and meeting even more kids and answering questions and getting excited about new stuff. It’s just fun and a beautiful complement to my work as a psychologist. I’m not being a psychologist in any formal sense of the word when I am in with children on Fiber Fridays. However, I am sharing something that I truly believe is deeply healing to the human spirit, and is a restorative practice. Handwork/fiber craft tie humans together in a most fundamentally ancient and organic way, and exposing kids to as many ways as I know how to work with fiber has become a prized part of my career.

In one of my first grade classes (the one my daughter is in), we’ve been exploring wool. We started with real free flowing exploration. I brought in big wool batts, smaller mounds of wool in a variety of colors, some fabric, some yarn, and a needle felting tool for just me to use, just in case some quick stick-togetherness was needed. I showed the class first different ways we can play with wool. I pulled it apart, I twisted it, I formed it into shapes and wrapped them in fabric and tied yarn around it. I encouraged them to just play and sculpt and imagine, and I let them know that there were no specific things they had to make at the end. Each table got its own basket of a big assortment of wool and then, it was off to the races! I was actually amazed, and I learned so much that day of free wool play. Children made babies, cradles, nests, birds, balls, clouds, old ladies, and animals. They played and laughed and shared. For some reason I was really worried that they’d be confused or adrift without a specific goal in mind, but I was wrong! They were happy to just go for it! I was lucky to have plenty of help from the teachers and a parent volunteer with cutting fabric, wrapping, needle felting and tying. It was peaceful and joyful. I do believe working with wool is magical.

Two weeks later in the same class, I referred back to our previous experience, and said, “this time, we are going to experiment with wool mixed with soap and water!”. Our project was to make felted balls. Before we began, I first showed them balls I made at home. I also showed them my “oops” items… a disc that was supposed to be a ball… a nest that was supposed to be a ball… a weird creasy ball that was supposed to be smooth. You know, it’s kind of hard, at least for me, to get a wad of wool to felt into a perfectly smooth felted ball with just warm, soapy water and your hands. I don’t know how Martha Stewart does it!

I then quickly showed them this book:

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And we talked about having one idea in your head when you go to make something and how sometimes it doesn’t turn out like that. I told the kids that we are learning, experimenting, having fun and seeing what comes out of our efforts.

On the floor I had set up a drop cloth with towels covering it. On that were six plastic mixing bowls, two with soapy water and four with clear water that had to keep being replaced as kids dipped their creations into them to rinse the soap.

Water + Wool + Soap + Being Okay with Oops = Felting

Balls were made. Some were smooth. Some were crinkly and seamy. We got a mushroom, some discs and some wild looking blobby alien life form planets, or maybe coral? I saw a bunch of children totally okay with experimenting and just seeing what happened and I think that right there is a major piece of wisdom gleaned from mindful handwork.

Freedom to experiment and see what happens, within one’s own heart and spirit, is such a beautiful thing, and it’s something that I think we all should tend to as often as we can. I am often guilty of hanging on so tightly to what my plan is that I forget to see what’s actually happening right in front of me. I forget to loosen my belly and breathe and just let things be as they are. It’s so easy to forget that.

You know what else blows kids’ minds about wool and felting? With some simple ingredients and some agitation, soft and fluffy wool is transformed into felt and it is impossible to return it to its original form. I can’t explain why something so obvious is so mystical and amazing to kids, but it is, and I need to meditate on the symbol.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more projects and ideas and insights from this cool gig I have.


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Recovering, Crafting & Learning Post-Election

Hello to you. It’s been a while. Given that my blog is about the healing benefits of handcrafting with a little bit of elbow room to talk about other things, I made a choice not to write every day about how I’m metabolizing the election outcome in this here United States of America. But to be frank, it’s all I’ve been thinking about. My Slow-Stitch journey has taken a pause and will resume soon (I apologize to any who might be following that and stitching along). I really found it hard for a bit to do anything that was remotely and technically enjoyable because I could not emerge from my own dismay. Things that have helped: attending a peace rally, going to a lecture addressing white privilege and US history, talking with people about their ideas and reactions, many similar, many not, and making a clear decision to be vigilant, to listen and do my best to be an active participant in my community. Joining fellow knitters and crocheters in our local group that contributes items to Knitting4Peace has also proven yet again to be a refuge and a joy~ making things with people for people all over the world is soul medicine. And, walking around outside.

I received an invitation a few days ago to participate in a local Holiday Pop-Up for area vendors and decided to do it. This is also taking some attention away from my Slow Stitch work, but it’s a good and important process for me, to get back involved with making things that I love with wool and yarn. It’s allowing me some room to let myself have fun and just enjoy being random, with a goal in mind, which I need sometimes. I’ve been spinning yarn, weaving and crocheting here and there as I can. My kitchen table is covered with my ongoing projects, my kids are excited to felt rocks and make things too, and it’s just plain feeling good.

Supermoon, bird’s nest and what I think to be coyote scat.

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Can I hide in there, too?

Some ongoing projects and yarny explorations.

Have a sweet week. I hope it includes doing what brings you calm and peace.


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Slow Stitch Stitch Along~ Weeks 7 and 8

Well folks, I’m still working through my sorbello stitch square! Taking me some time this go-around because of an absolutely jam-packed last couple of weeks that included work, my son’s birthday celebration, two major house leaks and Halloween, not to mention everything else that is involved in living a full life! Sorbello stitch also gave me some pause. I think I’ve got the hang of it, but wow, I can’t seem to keep a straight line or keep the stitches looking the same each time! Sometimes I get it and then other times what should look like a substantial, compact knot looks like a weird thick thread line. My wobbly, inconsistent rows started to remind me of old buildings with poor construction in heavy winds, so that is now what I’m making, moving ever more slowly towards more consistency and hopefully more vertical-ness! Ha. Truly, this square will capture an image of me trudging through a learning curve.

Start out wobbly.

Build on wobbly.

Start afresh and hope for stability.

Over and Over.

Here you see how far I’ve gotten so far in my sorbello stitch square. I’ll for sure post updates as I move through completion. I expect to have a little city block by the end with maybe (hopefully) at least a few straight buildings by the end!

For those who are following this Slow Stitch Stitch-Along and are moving along with us, I will share my idea for Weeks 7 and 8, and really moving right through the end of the month. I think it would be lovely to go back to stitches that called to us or inspired other ideas using different fabrics and threads. I can see combining stitches and making designs and pictures, or rhythmic patterns. I can see playing and assembling our squares in either fabric books or in some kind of display that invites touch, reflection and curiosity. I can also see further exploration into stitches we might not have tried. If I decide to do that, I’ll post the ones I’m attempting. I don’t want to rush through stitching and playing to get on to the next thing. It seems like there are so many ways we can integrate stitching into the handcrafts we already do. I can imagine playing around with that in mind as we approach the process of moving on.

December and January will be a smallish (or biggish, depending on time) Kantha project that is discussed in Part Three of Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith. More to come on that!

Until then, happy stitching and happy autumn. Don’t forget to look for the supermoon on November 14!


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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.