Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting

1 Comment

In the Presence of Masters

I have not written in a good long while because my work with fiber stalled out a bit. I am one of those people who struggles with some of the more rare side-effects of antibiotics and of late, this has been quite an issue. BUT, I am here to say that yesterday was a gift beyond gifts, and has helped me to find my bearings again.

The Marshfield School of Weaving is hosting a five-day spinning class this week. I was only able to attend one day of the series and was not sure what to expect, but I went ready to absorb anything and everything I could in this limited time. I went to this school last year to take a plant dye class with Joann Darling. You can read about that here. Attending class yesterday, I knew I would have the opportunity to meet Norman Kennedy, the man who started the school in 1974. He has taught spinning and weaving, he speaks Gaelic and sings old and beautiful waulking songs and other traditional songs that can be sung to help keep time during the melodic and repetitive processes of carding, spinning and weaving. He joined Bruce Engebretson who was a visiting teacher from Minnesota. I had never taken a class from individuals who were so steeped in their craft and wondered what it would be like. I was definitely nervous. Primarily self-taught, I prepared myself for having to re-learn ways I do things. I was right to get my mind in order for that type of expansion.

I traveled down with my spinning wheel, some roving, my spindle, a batt I carded from Border Leicester that I processed myself and dyed with willow bark, and a whole lot of eagerness.

Let me say this, I took a lot of pictures but don’t want to post them without permission from those who are in them, so please pardon the lack of visual detail.

Driving up to this school in Marshfield offers the chance to resettle the mind in its own right. I was so struck last year by the functional, humble beauty of the barn, the rooms, the tools and the “stuff” kicking around. It is entirely calming and completely not intimidating. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Bruce, Norman and the four other women in attendance. They were in their groove already because they had been together all week, but at no time did I feel like an odd man out. What shocked me was that I, according to Bruce, was not carding wool at all correctly, so I learned his way. The old way. And it took a long time. So long I worried I might have dyslexia in my hands. For real. But he was kind and patient and kept at it with me. I had introduced myself already to Norman and tried not to be too intense; I have wanted to meet him for a long time after I saw this YouTube video.

While I was fumbling through carding wool, I showed Bruce the batt I brought. I think I just wanted him to know that I know how to do at least something and he was into it, and he asked me to show Norman when he came back in the room. I’ll not go into all of the mini moments that were incredible, but showing Norman the willow-dyed batt led to him showing me how to spin off of a distaff. I had never even seen a distaff in person before, and here was this beautiful man, in his 80’s, with a long white and golden pony tail and kind face, spinning my wool onto a spindle with the merest flick of his hand, his other hand totally free. He commented on the luster of the wool, the strength of the yarn it can make, and he told stories and historical bits about the use of these ancient tools. I was in awe and in love, and then he let me learn.


It took some doing, but soon enough I was spinning right from the distaff onto my wheel. He said I was doing pretty good for a beginner. I’ll take it.

Later, we watched Norman prepare flax and place it onto a distaff to spin. As he spun he sang a tune in time with his treadling. We watched Bruce load and use very old combs to prepare gorgeous wool for spinning. I watched in awe a woman use a walking wheel… truly incredible, and I learned about the spindle that was on the wheel that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. Norman told stories of how it was long ago, when children worked alongside their parents all day, when fiber craft was not a luxury or a hobby, but when it was a necessary and integral part of life. Bruce talked about how children would prepare wool all day and how women would spin all night. I think about this all the time, about how so many fairy tales are about old women saving young women from the fate of spinning all day long, so that they could go about with their husbands and be in their world. Habetrot is one such goddess. More to come on this topic in the future, but I suspect that fairy tales and ancient myth show us the trajectory of the feminine archetype in relation to fiber art and craft. Habetrot and her magic family are underground, hidden away from view, a foreshadowing of changes to come, both positive and negative, to the ways in which people relate to one another, the relationship between people and Earth and the ways we understand and experience time, work and patience.

Some other highlights for me include being called a lass, having my spinning wool technique ridiculed in the most kind of Scottish ways, and simply enjoying the company of people who were all there to learn and be in the company of masters. It was truly a wonderful day.

And, I will be fashioning my own distaff and spindle soon. Tales to come…





Valentines and Textiles

If you told my 18-year old self that one day I would be more than delighted to treat myself and family to a brand new dish towel for Valentine’s Day, I would have probably swam to a different land in an attempt to start over, reboot, reset my course to avoid such a fate. 

I’m so relieved no one meddled with my future in such a reckless way, because now I am the proud owner of hopefully the first of several hand woven towels made at the Marshfield School of Weaving. It is gorgeous, sturdy, soft and functional. It took time, great skill and a dedication to an “old” way of making. It felt like a decadent, yet moral and tame purchase. We will have this towel for decades, I’m sure. And every time I dry my hands, wipe up water or dry a pot with it, I will think about where it was made. I love this more than champagne and chocolate. 

Go to Frog Hollow in Burlington, VT to see a lovely exhibit from the Marshfield School of Weaving. It runs through the end of February and won’t disappoint. 


1 Comment

Marshfield School of Weaving- Plant Dyes for Wool

I had the great fortune to take a class at the Marshfield School of Weaving yesterday. This class was about dyeing wool with plants and other natural dyestuffs. Our teacher was Joann Darling, who is a weaver, dyer, soap-maker and plant expert (what is the word for that?). When asked what certain plants were, or what plant give which colors, Joann knew the scientific name; let’s just put it that way. Better put, our small group of five students was in very good hands. I think the best way to tell the story of yesterday would be to comment on each picture.

I left my home kind of early on Sunday morning to head down to the school, about an hour drive from my home. The front seat was full of food to bring for our potluck lunch, my sunhat, bags with snacks, drinks, notebooks and other essentials. It was a beautiful morning- dewey, quiet and kind of fuzzy around the edges. I felt a little nervous as I left, but more excited and curious about what was going to happen in the day. As I got closer to the school, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by, and grateful for, the beautiful views and the quiet. These are definitely a perks to living in Vermont. Oftentimes, where one must go to learn a traditional craft or skill is a beautiful place, set out of the way. Craggy land, full cows and swaying trees were balm to my eyes as I wove up these country roads I’d never been on before.

And here is the entrance to the school. I did laugh out loud with joy as I saw where I’d be spending my day.

When I approached the building, our teacher Joann was busy outside getting things ready. She showed me into the studio and I felt immediately welcomed into the beautiful school. As I looked around, I was so happy to see yarn everywhere! And one whole wall was yarn dyed with natural dyestuffs. It was so beautiful. The light was soft and round, and every which way I looked, I saw things I wanted to touch, understand and look at.

I wasn’t sure where we were meeting at first. I am so used to classroomy types of learning environments, so I made the assumption that there must be a place where we’d sit for a long time and take notes and get really official. I went upstairs assuming I’d find this. Instead, I found the studio. There were many looms of all different sizes. One gentleman was weaving at a very large loom (I don’t weave, so I don’t know what the different looms are called). And there were two women walking about, looking at things. We started talking and they were there to take the class, too. They are both weavers and were so generous with advice and knowledge about looms. I’m hoping to get a small one soon, and here already were two beautiful guides into that world. 

We learned soon that no, we’d not be sitting at tables taking notes. We’d be outside getting right into it with guidance from Joann. The other participants in our group were a sheep farmer and an herbalist. Within a short time, we found our rhythm and got to the work of collecting goldenrod, sorting mini-yarn skeins to be used in all the dye pots, chopping other plants, picking flowers, washing, tending to pots and listening.

I just love this barn board. The colors and patterns are so strong. 

Below is a picture of goldenrod going into the pot.

Here is a picture of Joann stirring the BIG pot~ I’m not sure what’s in there in this picture. There was a lot of boiling and a lot of rotating dye stuffs in and out. I love this picture. 

This is a student chopping up some flowers.

Once we got several dye pots going, we took a walk up quiet roads to the gardens of someone willing to share madder root and dyer’s greenwood. I haven’t gardened much this summer because of contracting the dreaded Lyme disease, so to get my hands in soil with a sweet purpose was just what the doctor ordered. The views and the quiet were also incredible treats.

Once back to the pots, we broke for lunch in the shade, and then got to making more dyestuffs and hanging our wool to dry. We also did lots of overdyeing experiments with indigo. 

I wish I had taken better pictures of the yarn on the line, but you can see many of the colors we achieved in our efforts, and especially our teacher’s efforts, over the course of the day. Every dye pot had samples of yarn, half mordanted in alum and half in iron, so we got two color results from the same plant, plus a third if it was overdyed with indigo. As we got our books ready, Joann was available for questions and stories, and as each color was added to my book, I felt more and more proud and impressed by the outcome of our work. 

It was hard to leave this beautiful place. You know, the people going there to weave, to dye, to spin… I can only assume are not in a rush. Maybe I am projecting, but I think it must be true. Towards the end of the day, when I knew it was time to hit the road to get home to my family, I felt the first twinges of urgency, but that was only to do with my own inner need to reunite with my littles. There, in this extremely beautiful and entirely functional setting, I felt as if the sun and my stomach had become my clock. When the big beautiful tree covered us in lovely shade as we ate, it marked the natural passing of time, the pots simmering away with their unique and seasonally affected color potions.

On the way home, I could only daydream about following up on things I want to learn about, and experiment with. I think a forever student I’ll be.