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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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 ¬†later 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, 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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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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Random Inspiration

I was out the other day with my kids and another family for a great lunch in an old-timey malt shop. This was on the table right in front of me:

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It says: “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” ~ Herman Melville

I find myself thinking about this quote a lot right now, turning it around, wondering what Melville had in mind when he wrote it. I’m inspired by it, and I do find that my relationship with fiber is changing as I think about my connections with known and unknown people, how I interact with the world and what I expect from her, and how I long to participate in life. I’m feeling my focus changing and becoming more intentional. I feel like priorities are becoming more clear, although at times they pull in opposite directions, causing a strain for me, and a need for discernment. I’m becoming less upset about the reality that there just is not enough time to do all the things I want to. That is painful. So, the things I let go of… I have to be okay with them going… grieve them a bit… and allow the regained energy to fuel what is right in front of me.

All this from time well-spent at a malt shop, eating my most favorite ice cream flavor ever: peppermint stick.