Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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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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Monday’s Musings~ A Small Piece on Death

I’ve been sitting here, writing, deleting, writing again and rewording for a while this morning. Composing a small piece, one that can be tidily managed and articulated compactly about the death of my grandmother is none-too-easy. What finally worked for me was imagining diving into the ocean, confidently and with the purpose of going under water for a bit, and not immediately scrambling to the surface as if in some sort of panic.

My maternal grandmother died last week. Her name is Lottie and she was 94. At that age, this was certainly not a surprise, and truly, she had been struggling for a long time, especially since breaking her hip almost one year ago. But… shit man… this still hurts and in a way I did not anticipate. For several days now, I’ve been aware of what feels like a ball of sorrow in the pit of my stomach. It’s tender and ever-present and for some reason, its presence is surprising me because I guess in my mind I thought that if I was expecting it, the death of someone I love wouldn’t feel as sad. Timely death is different than untimely death. But it’s still death. I guess it’s all about that. Death. I’m so pissed off about this thing all living things have to do. I’ve tried writing letters to management complaining about it, but they’ve all been returned with the stamp: Death is Part of Life. Okay. Still shitty.

I think the thing that hurts me, too, (and it has with all of those I have loved who have died), is that I can’t ask them how it went. Here is this big thing that we all have to do. Death is such a huge rite of passage, the final developmental stage we traverse (or maybe not?), it’s scary to many and there are so many rituals around it, but I can’t ask my Mema how it went. I can’t ask her if she was scared and what it was like and did she see anything? Were there any surprises? Is she all in one compact soul place or is she part of everything now and can she see me? Does she know I love her?

Here are some things about Mema~ she was beautiful and took great pride in her appearance; she was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States when she was three; Mema made the best creamed spinach in the world, and was well-known for baking wonderful treats for Christmas~ she loved her baked goods and I definitely inherited that from her; she loved to travel and be with friends and family and wasn’t inclined to sit around; she shot two holes-in-one playing golf a long time ago* and she and my grandfather played a bunch of golf throughout their lives; she tended orchids and loved her plants; she was a master knitter (see this post here where I talk a little about that); she wanted things to be nice, even when they weren’t; Mema played the organ and was part of the Red Hat Society for a while;  she had a wicked sense of humor and often surprised me with what she thought was funny, which was awesome; she was sentimental and she really missed her husband, my grandfather.

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To deal with the pit in my stomach, I have consciously gone to knitting. It’s actually the first time I’ve done that, gone to knitting for the purpose of soothing. Usually the benefits of knitting and other handwork have been a noticed side effect of the work for me, but to approach it with the hope of comfort has been amazing. I feel closer to Mema when I’m knitting, and I asked her for help as I re-attempted to learn how to use double-pointed needles. I tried to use these about four years ago and wanted to huck them into the lake I got so jumbled and pissed-off. Not this time. With the help of this video and a few shout-outs to Mema, I got it and I feel proud and like one day I may be able to make things as beautiful and intricate as she did.

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So, I guess this is it, my musings for the day. Musings on death and life and my Mema. I really love her and will knit memories of her into this sweater. Stitch by stitch.

* in my original post, I incorrectly wrote that Mema shot one hole-in-one! My sister reminded me of her feat of shooting two! 


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The Drone and The Chant

I am dyeing wool right now, after a bit of a break. Flowers that I placed in jars with water about a month ago to collect sunlight have been waiting to be turned into dye paths. As I sit outside next to my pots, I can appreciate the fact that they waited too long. They are generously sharing their riotous scent. Maybe odor is the better word. Wow. My cats seem to love it, but I think I might be smelling this in my memory for years to come. It will be an experiment. I dyed with marigolds earlier in the summer after a 24-hour sun soak. Will this dye bath produce different colors?

This is a heavy time. While sitting and tending to my smelly pots, I tune into the drone, drone, endless drone of the crickets and grasshoppers. I’ve really appreciated them this year, but today for some reason, I’m moved by a different feeling. Sadness and maybe a touch of apprehension. How long will this song go on, or as I think about it, I realize that I’m imagining the wrong song to be the constant.

I love bagpipes. When I hear them, I start to cry almost instantaneously. One of my favorite memories is of a time I was taking a walk with my son on the beach. It was a beautiful dusk, he was a baby, in my arms, warm and cozy. I heard bagpipes and turned and there was a man, facing the ocean, playing this ancient instrument. I made my way closer and sat down, holding my boy, rocking him to the sound of the waves and the magic music. I cried because I felt grateful and like somehow, in this moment, I was holding on to a rope, connecting us to our ancestors.

Most bagpipes have at least one drone and one chanter. The drone is what makes that one, long constant sound around which the chanter is played to make the melody.  It occurred to me today that really, what I’ve been considering the drone of grasshoppers and crickets is really the chant around the drone. That specific, hypnotic sound is part of the melody of summer and early fall. It changes in volume and pattern throughout the season, as does the chant of frogs, birds, water flow, energy and even life and death. These things I get so attached to and imagine as constant are really just the chant around the drone of something so much more constant. I suppose that’s where religion, philosophy or other things come in to play. I remember reading in college about an astronomer, Tycho Brahe I think, who believed that the planets all made their own unique sound as they rotated around their axes. That may very well be the one iota I recall from that class, but I loved it then, and it resonates now.

Anyway, who ever said that dyeing wool and working with flowers and raising children and thinking about life was straightforward?

Here’s some recent pics:

What is this funny bug nest on a willow leaf?

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Tiny willow branches in a warp/weft attempt.

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Then what happened…

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Collection of willow leaves and branches for my next dye pot.

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I’m starting to gather lichen from bits found on walks (not on live trees!) and from wood delivered for this coming winter.

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It takes a while to collect lichen. As it should.

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I had come to call this “our deer”. An orphan, we watched this deer grow up all summer, losing its white spots, enjoying the wild flowers in our field. I think I just saw it dead on the side of the road coming home from dropping my kids off at school, having been hit by a car. We always told each other when we saw it, keeping an eye out for it, wondering where it would go this winter. Just the other day, we talked about rehabbing our wearing out play fort to make a comfy spot for deer to sleep if it got really cold. I wish people would slow down when they drive, put their phones down, remember that there are animals around. I guess it was seeing our deer, dead and alone on the road that made me think of what chants are swirling around the constant drone. I know this is just part of it, but damn…

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