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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A World Through the Hands, featuring Renate Hiller

All I can say is, please watch this gorgeous video with Renate Hiller, from The Fiber Craft Studio, as part of NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett. Ms. Hiller captures in gorgeous simplicity the importance and meaning of handwork, useful work, productive and grounding work. I’ve watched this several times and she is always inspiring. She speaks directly to the part of me that has been utterly awakened since I’ve become involved in the fiber arts and crafts. She also speaks to my longing to bring fiber art and fiber itself to children’s hands, so they can themselves feel the natural and beautiful renewable resource that is all around us in the hills and valleys of Vermont.

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/world-through-hands/3931


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Staying Grounded, Staying Connected

Busy beyond breath. Slow beyond words. This juxtaposition has been a hallmark of the last two weeks. Running around, trying to meet all obligations with grace on one side, cancelling everything and only nurturing, tending and resting with my sick little girl on the other. Times like these leave me feeling out of sorts for sure, but I’m happy to say I’ve got myself in a sweet rhythm that includes working with wool and other fibers every day, even if just for five minutes or so.

A heart a day keeps my feet on the ground…

I’ve got this wonderful heart-shaped rock. I love it and it sits on my kitchen sink window sill. Recently, I decided to make a felted heart around it, and once done, fill it with lavender. I loved it, and after a rather bleak news cycle, decided to attempt to make one heart every day. So far, I’ve done it minus a day or two. This has led to me making some little wet-felted bowls/vessels, because I’m already there, right?

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Standing at the kitchen sink, felting, thinking, hoping, wondering… it’s helping to get me though these jumbly days. Making things that smell good, feel good, and that I can imagine tucking little notes into, or wishes for people to have on their own jerky, jumpy days, that require so much patience and so much discipline… this has helped and funnily got me back to my drum carder, and to my spinning wheel.

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Today, too, I’ve found out about a goddess associated with the spinning wheel who I now must pursue and know more about… Habetrot. She comes from northern England and Lowland Scotland, and I think will have some things to teach me.  For a few years, I’ve been wondering about this long buried/hidden passion for fiber art that I’ve thankfully discovered. Where had it been resting in my psyche all of those years prior? I can think of many times in my adult life when having things to do with my hands and mind would have been intensely useful, and I cannot help but lament the years I remained so disconnected from what now feels like an utter and true love. When I think of it, I also can’t help but wonder about my ancestors from England, Ireland, Germany, and maybe Scotland (my grandfather often referred to the Isle of Lewis as being a seat of some ancestry).

Why does it matter?

I suppose because at times in life, it feels utterly true that energies that move us come from our ancestral histories, from journeys started long before that brought us to bear in this life here.

In reading a book about Navajo Weaving, I came across this:

The beginning of the world, I am thinking about it                                                                      

The beginning of the world, I am talking about it 

This is a Navajo ceremonial chant. I love reading about about Navajo myth and the beginning of the world in their story. “According to Navajo myth, the Dine, or the People (which is how Navajos refer to themselves), were led to their home in the Southwest from another world beneath the earth by supernatural spirits called Holy People. Spider Man, one of the Navajo Holy People, taught the Navajos how to make a loom from sunshine, lightning and rain. Spider Woman taught them how to weave.” from: The Navajo Weaving Tradition: 1650 to the Present, by Alice Kaufman and Christopher Selser, p. 4. 

Reading this is what led me to that fantastical Google, and that let me to Habetrot. What did we do before Google? I remember, actually. I’d spend hours at the library after school, sometimes allowing myself the luxury of reading whatever I wanted in the corner rather than doing my homework; other times, following one bit of information to another and another still, getting hung up on a weird books about phenomenon like spontaneous combustion, only to get back to the initial investigation on whatever topic. That is what it’s like, researching one’s own ancestral history and its accompanying mythologies. To follow one lead, if you are lucky and patient, can afford you the chance to learn about others along the way. The ultimate in grounding when you are not in a rush.

 


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Thank you, Mema.

Last week, I received a box from my mom and grandmother. I call my grandmother Mema. Others in my family call her Meme, or is it Meemee? I don’t know. I have to call her Mema, because it’s what I have called her my whole life. Anyway, this box that they sent me contained some yarn that Mema is no longer needing, and some sweet treasures meant for my kids’ dollhouse. There was also a book, or binder, or container of some sort. I had no idea what it was when I first saw it, but when I opened it, I lost my breath.

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It was a vintage Boye Needlemaster Knitting Kit. I’d never seen anything like this before! The place holders, the circular needles that you could change out for different sizing. All kinds of cool stuff! I was truly overwhelmed when I saw it. Ironically, that very day I was struggling with knitting. I really want to up my skills and was having a hard time figuring out a pattern, or really, the stitches that were called for in the pattern. I had to put it down for a while and was lamenting my weak frustration tolerance. And then this came. Way to raise the bar, Mema!

Mema is a master knitter. She has some serious skills. It’s funny because I cannot recall a time actually seeing her knit when I was little, but I have seen the things she has made, and I remember hearing my grandfather speak with pride about how she worked on certain sweaters. Now that I’m older, I think I understand that he wanted to make sure we kids understood how much work and love went into the things she made, and that she was really talented.

When I was in high school, Mema gave me this sweater.

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I loved it then, but I definitely did not have a good appreciation for how complicated it was to make this. If you’ve read others of my posts, you may have read about my growing edge with reading patterns and understanding measurements and all of the technical stuff. This sweater is technical, and I can remember Mema telling me that she had to really concentrate when knitting it, counting and marking, and doing over… I love this sweater more now than I can even describe. To me, it means love, and commitment, and patience. It is soft and delicate, and very beautiful.  And, now I have the knitting needles that were part of her arsenal of tools used to make such beautiful things. I feel so lucky.

I love how Mema made her own tag and wrote, “Made By Mee Ma”.

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone I consider a mentor and a guide in my life. He said, “you can’t carry history with you.” We were talking about the kind of history that hurts, that isn’t yours to carry. Then I told him about the knitting needle kit Mema sent me. That is the kind of history I want to carry with me. Things that my grandmother touched and took such good care of, and used to make things with love, while sitting at night with my grandfather. Thank you so much, Mema.


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Well, Felted Rocks, Part. 2 happened before Christmas. In fact, it happened about a week before Christmas. I am just now catching my breath and thinking about what is ending with this year and what is starting with the almost new. I wanted to take a moment to document the wonderful experience of felting rocks with two 2nd grade classes (one of them being my son’s class).

Sometimes, I get bogged down by insecurity. I worry that I get ahead of myself and that really, all of my enthusiasm and energy is momentary, and maybe even a bit much for the people who I want to share it with. But let me tell you this: kids like to felt. And how ’bout this nugget of truth: kids think sheep are really cute and like to look at pictures of them and like to learn about them. For the 2nd graders, I opted to up the game a little by showing them a short slide show capturing the history of humans’ relationship with sheep. I learned so much in the creating of this! Like, humans have been working with sheep since the Middle Stone Age. That is when we humans first started developing language and learning how to manage and control fire. Our history goes way back, and sheep’s wool has been incredibly important to our survival, our society and our culture. Sharing some of this with the kids was great because they really got to see that our history with fiber and with sheep is part of who we are; it’s in our archetypal DNA, and it connects us to people around the world. I showed them pictures of where sheep originated (Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan). I showed them how some sheep made it over the land bridge from Russia to Alaska during the last Ice Age. And, I showed them pictures of children and adults all over the world spinning wool and knitting. I so hope that in that brief moment, they became aware of how unifying working with wool and other fibers can be; that we are all part of the same cloth. I cannot think of anything that is more important than that in these times of great pain and suffering around the world.

In a matter on an hour and a half, I worked with about 35 children. Not one child was uninterested in the fact that they were about to turn a bunch of fluffy wool into a felted piece of art. We got water everywhere. The wonderful teachers commented on having their tables cleaned really well, which was very generous. Next Time: Bring Towels.

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It was a little cumbersome, getting the wrapped rocks into their nylon wrap, so I helped each child with that after they got their wool design how they wanted it.

I didn’t get to sit with all of the kids as they rubbed their felting rocks, but I saw some from a distance from where I getting other kids set up and I think many tuned into how peaceful the practice can be. Some children talked about who they were going to give their rocks to; others wanted to keep their big, fluffy stuffed animal looking rocks for themselves. I thought it was all wonderful. I think my favorite moment was when I walked back into the first class I worked with to say goodbye and check out their finished projects. All of the kids gathered around and showed me their work with so much pride and excitement. I felt like it worked~ my hope of bringing this wonderful practice to kids worked and they saw that they could make something beautiful with their own hands with a totally natural substance from animals they see all of the time here in Vermont. I was so happy for them, and for me.

It being right before Christmas break, I did not have time to just rest into the pleasure of it all, but now I do, and I am. I can’t wait to do it again, and to come up with other projects to do in the coming year. Stay tuned.

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Let Me Introduce Myself

Hello to you, and thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I have been hovering over the idea of writing about the healing effects of working with fibers for a long time, and often dissuaded myself from taking the leap into blog-land by telling myself things like:  there are so many blogs, why add another? or, can anything new be said about the soothing and healing nature of handwork?, and of course the ultimate killer of ideas and new projects, am I “expert” enough to write about fiber art, fiber craft handwork and psychology? Well, let me make my admissions and explanations here so I can get on with it!

I am a psychologist and have been working in the field in a variety of ways since 1999, although I took a few years off to be home with my children. I love the work, and I love thinking about being a person and all that goes with it, in the mind anyway. I have a particular interest in Jungian psychology, dreams, developmental stages and all of the archetypal power that is alive and working through us as we navigate the tumultuous waters of growth. Being a psychologist and therapist has become part of who I am. It is creative, dynamic and can lead a life and profession in myriad directions. I know that I will be studying for as long as I can.

I am also passionate about, and grateful for, my love of working with wool and other fibers. I crochet, knit, spin wool and other fibers into yarn, dye wool using natural and synthetic dyes, and dabble in macrame, weaving and needle felting. I am not an expert in these crafts and I am learning new things all of the time. When my two children were 3 years old and 6-months, I began taking them to a lovely Waldorf  style playgroup. It was there that I began knitting again, after many years of forgetting about my knitting needles in the back of my closet. I was delighted to learn that I could knit balls for my children to play with, and then stuffed animals from patterns. As I learned more, I decided to pick up crochet, which opened up a whole new world for me. For some reason, I felt more confident with crochet and found that I could easily improvise and make up my own patterns. Friends liked them and started buying them! One friend in particular encouraged me to open an Etsy shop, which I did. It is called Jabo and Belles: Handmade. Well, that was really fun! 

After a short time, I serendipitously met who has become a dear friend, Susi, who is The Felted Gnome Knows. I owe a lot to her, as she introduced me to a group of wonderful women who run Mountain Fiber Folk, a fiber and yarn cooperative in Montgomery, Vermont. I did not know about handspun yarn before walking into MFF. Not really. I didn’t know how incredibly textured yarn could be: curly locks, thick and thin, chunky and smooth, vibrant, filled with personality, scent and the essence of the very animal from whence it came! I really did not know until that day how earthy and grounding yarn could be. Some of the women who make up the cooperative have their own animals from whom they collect their fibers. Sheep, alpaca, llama, rabbit, goat… it’s all there and it thrilled me to the core. The women there also affected me deeply. They are creative and fun and extremely generous with what they know. After my third time visiting, I asked about how I might learn to spin wool and received a lesson right then and there on how to use a drop spindle. I worked with that for a while but knew a spinning wheel was in my future. My friend Susi (thank you, Susi!) told me about another friend of hers, Leslie, who has a farm, sheep, and spins their wool into beautiful yarn. She suggested I contact her to see if she would be willing to give me some lessons. Leslie was kind enough to do so, and again, I had the great blessing of meeting a woman who shared her knowledge, was patient and deeply passionate about her sheep, her yarn and her fiber art. She is a freaky-good knitter! And quilter. Whoa. 

For my 40th birthday, my mother gave me my spinning wheel, an Ashford Traveller. When it arrived in the mail, I could hardly contain my excitement.  I did not take the time to look at all of the paperwork it came with because I was so impatient to start (that is relevant for reasons you will see later). When I tried spinning the first many times, I could not believe how much I could not do it! This reality was maddening and frightening because I wanted to spin wool so much and had worked up a whole bunch of expectations around “getting it”. Finally, after many deep breaths and a lot of swearing, I got it. It wasn’t beautiful, but I got it. And I got it some more, and then some more. And soon, I was spinning wool every night and at times during the day when my children were napping or otherwise happily occupied (spinning wool with an unhappily occupied young person around is really very impossible). I soon realized that spinning wool in the evening was one of the most relaxing and meditative practices I had done in years. I felt noticeably more calm and at peace with whatever was transpiring in my life. I started learning more about various animal fibers and different spinning techniques. I also started seriously thinking about how much my life had changed since I began knitting again, and how therapeutic I was finding all of these crafts. The psychologist hat came on, and I began to wonder, “if these practices are helpful for me, is it possible that there are some inherent qualities in them that lead to healing? Is it possible to use these crafts when working with other people in therapy?”

Sometime after those thoughts began percolating, I was cleaning up some papers and periodicals on my desk. I started to thumb through one that came with my spinning wheel. I suddenly read the words, “Weave Away the Blues”, by Dr. Ann Futterman Collier. WHAT?! The first sentence of her piece reads, “About 10 years ago, I noticed something interesting in my textile-making: as I made handcrafts, I was transformed into a better “mental” place.” You can find her article in “the Wheel: Ashford’s Fibrecraft Magazine”; Issue 23, 2011. Well, I was transfixed! I laughed out loud, and I may have cried a little as I read her article. There it was, right in front of me and I knew then that I could learn so much more about this whole phenomenon. My two worlds met in the middle and did a high-five. Since then, I’ve read and re-read Dr. Collier’s wonderful book entitled, Using Textile Arts and Handcrafts in Therapy with Women: Weaving Lives Back Together. I’ve also started to move more into understanding what this is all about, why handwork and fiber art is such a powerful medium for healing and transformation, and how it can be used in working with others.

I hope this serves as a good-enough introduction to me and to the purpose of writing on this blog. Healing Handcrafting is not only for psychologists or therapists, or for fiber artists and handcrafters. I believe there is a powerful message and meaning in the fact that fiber arts and handcrafts are so popular right in the United States and around the world. I believe that in this culture of infinite busy-ness, many multiple ways of being contacted and contacting others through short sentences, “likes”, texts, emails, landlines, cell phones, etc, we are actually completely overstimulated and remarkably unconnected. I think that many people are longing for ways to calm down their lives, reconnect with themselves again, or for the first time, and engage with other people in real-time, with eye-contact and in ways that tend to the spirit and the soul. Working with fibers in all the ways one can grounds us, opens doors to our distant ancestors as well as possibly to our mothers, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. There is something about fiberwork that is honest and eternal. It is from this vantage point that I hope to offer my thoughts. I’ll also share my own work and process and things I learn along the way.

 ~ Bradie