Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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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:

oops

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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We Can’t Get Away from Learnin’

If you read my last post, you already know that I have started knitting a sweater for my daughter. I mentioned that I made a mistake but chose not to fix it because it wasn’t that bad, and maybe it would cause a negligible change in look, and that really, tearing out a bunch of knitted stitches causes me a lot of anxiety. Well…

This morning, I was up before everyone else and got to my project, sipping my coffee and feeling a little worn down. I’ve been ruminating, for sure. But I’ll get to that. As I started knitting, I realized about 20 stitches in that something was wrong. And it was wrong not just in the row I was working on, but also throughout the previous three rows. I kept looking at it, counting rows, looking at the pattern, and truly disbelieving the fact that I had been really rather careless in a simple instruction. Knit one row, Purl the other (other than a few stitches on either side). What had I done? I don’t quite know because unlike crochet, I can’t entirely read the story of the the knitted fabric. Experts can look at a piece and see where and what went wrong. Not this gal. Either I messed up the Knit/Purl rows, or knit too many rows. I don’t know. I considered letting it go and pretending that I meant to add a fancy different looking section, but then remembered my last post. And I thought about other times in my life I opted to skate through a problem without facing it head-on, and I considered my belief that stuff keeps coming back for us to deal with and learn from until we’ve dealt with and learned from the…stuff.

So, I tore it out. Three and a half rows, I tore out. While I tore them out, I wondered if I was going to have to start over from scratch. My yarn also got snagged and it broke. My heart pounded and I felt a whole bunch of things, mostly in the category of self-attack and frustration. How could I have been so mindless to make such an unnecessary mistake?

 

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All of that self-talk, all of that rumbling in the mind that likely is going on most of the time but sometimes becomes impossible to ignore, it really shows up at times like this for me. Mistakes. Just mistakes. Nothing life-threatening. Nothing dangerous or ultimately undoing for myself or for others. Just mistakes that seem “unnecessary” or as a result of “carelessness”, “thoughtlessness”, etc., etc.

I successfully got all of the loops back on to my needles, and I started again. I paid attention to what was happening in my mind. I didn’t do anything magical or come to any awe-inspiring conclusion. I just saw how beautifully knitting can be one of many ways to learn about oneself. Myself. I tuned in to how much ruminating I do when I’m stressed or sad or anxious. And I became very aware of what I do to myself when I make a mistake. No wonder I get so worked up when I have to tear out knitting! Good lord! Lighten up, girl!

I couldn’t get much more done before my day with my kids started, but I did manage to go outside and capture the smells of summer, the sounds of songbirds and the beautiful sun lightening more of the sky.

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A Few Thoughts on Women, Community and Culture~ Non-Exhaustive

sark

I came across this picture and quote on Facebook the other night, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. First of all, I love it. I love the intention, the ideal and the archetype that supports what Sark wrote. I believe that they are all real and grounded in our shared histories. In my life, relationships with my women-folk, both in my family and in my friendship groups, have been very important and very strong. By strong, I mean powerful in how they have affected me and impacted the roads I’ve chosen to walk down. I believe my first true love was my best friend when I was very young. My heart broke when I moved away from her at the age of 10; she was a friend that I could ride bikes with, climb trees with, ring doorbells and run with (sometimes… Barbara was definitely smarter and calmer than me when it came to deviant behavior), and we could also play with our dolls together, listen to her older sister’s records and imagine ourselves as grownups while laying on the grass in one of our yards. That early childhood friend, who I still cherish, paved the way for me to have other strong friendships that I believe will be lifelong. I relish the fantasies that involve my friends and me, wicked old and weird, doing whatever the hell we want.

Sometimes I also find myself lamenting the distance between my family women-folk and me. I have not lived near any of my family for over twenty years. Mother, step-mother, mother-in-law, grandmothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, a cousin and an aunt…With none of these important women have I shared a daily flow of life other than during a brief time my mother lived here in Vermont. I share this not as a complaint, but more as an important detail of modern life that many of us experience. I haven’t done the specific research to know exactly when the shift really started, or how one would even pick the when of things such as this, but there is, in many ways, a cultural mandate towards separating from one’s family of origin in accordance with a push towards individuation and independence. We are a culture of I’s. Not every culture puts so much emphasis on the I-self, but rather on the We, on the shared, on the communal.

These are merely germinating thoughts right now, and not new. I read a lot about this whole cultural and psychological phenomenon when I became a mother. For the first time, I truly felt that what I was doing was not meant to be done in isolation, in a women-folk void, I-centric world. There is no I in Mother, and learning how to think and live in a way that did not at times service the I-development was very challenging for me. Having a community of friends I could trust and rely on in times of extreme fatigue, overwhelm, confusion and fear… I bow to the importance of having that gift in a life.

I am currently enjoying another community of women-folk. I am a member of a Peace Pod that makes things to donate to Knitting4Peace, a wonderful organization that supplies needed items to people all over the world. The Peace Pod gatherings are fabulous, as they are a motley crew of us ladies (and one man so far!). All different ages and life paths, we are getting to know one another, we laugh, we share, and we make. I feel like I have found a lived experience that the above picture describes. Isn’t that funny? It is to me. My imagination has stuck in it one particular image of women communing together, and it is old, a fantasy, a daydream. In modern life, it’s not all built-in to our daily life structure, unless we tend to this most important archetype that ties us to one another, and reminds us that we are not going this whole life-thing alone. Sharing and participating in giving to others reminds me that we can also, and ought to, tend to those loves who are far away. Our families, our friends who live all over, we can tend to these parts of our hearts that are all over the world, hopefully all of us living in accordance with our I-self, while tending the fire of love that binds us together in the We.

 


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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