Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Fun Kid Craft ~ Sock Puppets! 

I’ve been meaning to write a post about sock puppets for months! But, you know… life. I was reminded of these hilarious characters when I read through the stupendous thank you notes I received from the kids in my son’s class for all the activities we did over the year. A large number of them said making sock puppets was one of their favorite activities. So, of course I should share what we did! 

#1: Gather socks you are willing to separate from. Got any loose ones kicking around, lonesome without their mate? 

#2: Collect random bits of stuff you have in the arts & crafts category. Pom-poms, beads, googly eyes, moss, old costume jewelry, felt, buttons, yarn…

#3: Get glue ready. I found my glue gun to be the most effective but standard glue works, too. Clear glue is better because you don’t see it once it dries. 

#4: Arrange sock on hand. I find that the heel of the sock fits nicely over the knuckles. When you open you hand, keeping your fingers together and away from your thumb, you can tuck the extra sock fabric that would otherwise be around your toes, into that space, creating the mouth. Close your hand, holding the mouth in place, and glue on the eyes where you want them. Then, gently remove the sock and lay it on the table. 

#5: Notice the personality that is already evident! Amazing, what eyes do. 👀 Start adding whatever you want to your puppet, being careful not to overglue. You don’t want the sock to stick to itself. On mine I knew mossy hair was necessary, and feathers. 

And more hair… and a nose…

#6: after the adornments dried for a few minutes, I started on the mouth. I propped open the space designated for the mouth and eye-balled the size. 

And cut out a felt oval…

I tucked it into the sock mouth to ensure a good fit, then took it out, put glue around the edges of the felt, and tucked it back in there. 

Then I added a felt tongue which was simply a smaller oval with one side cut off. 

#7: And Voila! You can introduce yourself to your new friend! 

Here’s another one I made with a tube sock. 

Ugh, do I need to use bleach?

Nah…

Shiny red yarn for a lovely lip expression. This took a little patience as the yarn needed ample time to dry in order to withstand this character’s rather loud voice. 

I can’t share pics of other people’s kids, but I can tell you, we had so much fun that day! These characters come out of nowhere and invite story telling, play acting, comfort enjoying and frivolity! Here’s some other perks:

👉 They are inexpensive to make. 

👉 They require only as much detail as you feel like giving them. A sock with a mouth on its own is fun. Each thing you add gives it more flavor. 

👉 Patience is needed, and flexibility in expectations ~ both good things for projects to support us in practicing. Sometimes we gotta weight for glue to dry. Sometimes we don’t know how to make top hats. 

👉 Puppet shows never get old. 
Have fun! 


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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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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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Thoughts on Weaving, School and Staying Creative

I finished a piece yesterday that I have been working on in a sporadic kind of way for a long time. For Mother’s Day, my husband made me a loom that was detailed in Kids Weaving, by Sarah Swett. I’ve mentioned her before and love her book. And her blog is absolutely gorgeous and inspiring. I wanted to delve into weaving from the ground up, and figured before I start daydreaming about owning my own loom, I’d better start by understanding them. Why not start on one that is simple in many ways, but still uses things like heddle bars and heddles, shed sticks and shuttles?

I like how this turned out. It is purposefully chunky and wild and not at all a project from Kids Weaving, although I do plan to go back and do a project from start to finish while following directions. I got carried away by my desire to throw all kind of handspun yarn into my piece, and as it came to life, I imagined it hanging on a wall, rather than as I had originally planned; it was going to be a wild scarf with a crocheted edge and weird fringe. I love using loose roving in things, and I love unravelling yarn so one can see the many stages in a yarn’s life in one spot. Once the weaving was done and the loose ends cleaned up, I was not entirely satisfied, so I looked at it a lot, touched it a lot and went into my “Closet Of All Things” and found two bits of soft cotton still attached to their seed pods. Perfect. My piece needed a little more balance given the wonky stick placement on top. I love the two soft puffs from nature that sit and hold the piece secure.

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Finishing this yesterday was grounding for me. With my kids starting school and my professional work life picking up, I have felt a bit out of rhythm. The couple of weeks leading up to school beginning are weird ones for me. My mind goes into preparedness mode, which I have found completely derails my creativity and my will to just be. In my mind, the lists of things to do become omnipresent and the worries and fears and pressures come alive. Yesterday, while holding my woven piece and getting it right for me, I was afforded the chance to remember some big picture ideas I have, and to remember to recommit to them.

I’m reading a book right now called Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, by Allen H. Eaton. I learned about this book during my day at The Marshfield School of Weaving in July through a wonderful conversation with teacher, Bruce Engebretson. I thought I’d share a quote that moves me, and swirls into the thoughts and images and hopes that come alive  for me when I am working with fiber. Here it is:

“He who does creative work, whether he dwell in a palace or in a hut, has in his house a window through which he may look out upon some of life’s finest scenes. If his work be a handicraft he will be especially happy, for it will help him not only to perceive much of the beauty of the world about him but, what is man’s greatest privilege, to identify himself with it. If it enables him to earn his daily bread then he should rejoice, for blessed is the man who has found his work; but if, as will be the case of many in our day, his handicraft is not a way of making a living, but through self-expression a help toward a fuller life, he too will rejoice, for he has all the privileges of his fellow-craftsmen without the need of fitting his product to the market.

“Each handicraft has its own special reward, but there are a few compensations which all handicrafts bring to him who works at this open window. First, and perhaps greatest, as has been said, is the opportunity for self-expression which much of life’s work with its modern advantages does not give…”

from: Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands: A Book on Rural Arts, by Allen H. Eaton, pgs 25-26.

I think maybe these words reflect back to me some of the struggle I experience as my children and I approach a school year. Busy-ness, competing forces for attention, energy and discipline, these things can easily pull me and us from ourselves and from a center seat of simplicity and creativity. This early morning before school, maybe more peaceful because I spent time weaving yesterday, I sat with my daughter and we listened to geese fly overhead, their distinct calls marking the hint of autumn and their eventual pilgrimage to warmer climes. At the same time, the endless and calming drone of cicadas soothed the part of us that wants summer to hang on a little bit longer. The window we are welcomed to look through by engagement in the process of making is one I long to keep open and clean, and I hope by maintaining a daily practice I won’t forget. Much easier to see and hear the birds that way.


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Weaving With Children Is My New Favorite Way to Pass Time

It’s been a while since I’ve written. The thing that’s hard about a blog is, it’s not a diary (at least not for me), it’s not for writing about everything because really, I must honor the privacy of loved ones, and in this case, it’s somewhat specific in terms of topic. Let me just say this: if you like this blog and noticed I’ve not been keeping up, I’m sorry and it’s been a regrettable reality of my life these days. Things got a little heavy, a little stressful, a little complicated and a lot lifey, and I need to work on still writing through those times.

A recent event has reignited my fuel center, and reminded me of what the heck I’m trying to convey through this blog. I had the opportunity to bring a weaving project to my son’s second grade class, and wow, was it amazing. Let me just jump in and explain.

First know this: I am not an expert weaver. I took one weaving class years ago where I learned how to use a big loom, and by learn, I mean was guided every step of the way, multiple times. The apparatus that is attached to a wall that you wind yarn around to get it prepared to warp the loom (I think), almost made me lose my mind. All of it. In a burning inferno of frustration. No matter what I did, I could not keep my yarn from tangling and turning into a wild Medusa hair-like mess. Omg. I shudder to remember it. I did make this though, and I’ll always be proud of it.

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I know I’ll take another class on using a big loom now that I’m more mature and have practiced a bit of mindfulness.

Anyway, I love hand weaving on simple looms, circular looms or looms made out of random things like wire, branches, busted out doors. I love how intuitive it can be, how much freedom there is to throw any such thing into a piece because it feels good, and you don’t have to worry too much about a complicated machine. I love how accessible it is, and how it’s possible to make a downright beautiful piece of art simply by understanding some basic concepts, and appreciating how different materials respond to the process of moving around warp thread. I wanted to share this with children because again, it is accessible art, and going into summer, I wanted to encourage them to use their found treasures in art projects and just experiment. I also find this medium to be extremely satisfying, grounding and soothing. I often find when I’m talking to people about it, I place my hand on my stomach when describing how it makes me feel… it’s like it makes me feel comfortable in a part of my body that holds a lot of tension, and I think sometimes a lot of grief.

Here is a little picture montage of my process:

I used this book by Sarah Swett (check out her blog/website. you won’t be sorry) to gather some ideas. The loom I made was a bit different, but based on one described here. It’s a wonderful book and one I will refer to often in future projects with kids. And, my husband made me a standing loom from this book that I hope to write about soon!

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Figuring out the appropriate loom size and number of warp threads took some doing.

I went with the 4×6 cardboard size, but chose to use only seven warp threads. I found that the loom stayed stronger and more in tact with less threads, which I was interested in because my plan for the kids was to have all sorts of materials available to them to weave with. They also were going to only be using their fingers to weave, not needles, so I needed the loom to be able to withstand the pulling that would inevitably happen.

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I wanted kids to understand that they can weave with all kinds of things.


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My weave in progress…

 

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Cardboard looms and another example piece using less wild materials.


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Example of a weaving done on the simple cardboard loom.

Not gonna lie: I love my piece.

So, on the day of class, we did a little show and tell bit first. I showed the kids a napkin made from cloth that my mother-in-law’s mother, Else Jacob Eberitsch wove herself. We have a set of these napkins, and a matching table cloth. I am forever blown away by the beauty of them. My son was so proud to show it to his classmates.

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I also showed them circular looms of different sorts, as well as one of those rectangular kid’s looms that can be found in most craft stores, reminding them that many might have some of these things kicking around their homes.

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And then, when the wiggles got going and after answering some wonderful questions, I unveiled their materials and worked out with their teacher how to go about the rhythm of the acquisition of supplies.

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feathers, roving, banana silk fibers, ribbon, popsicle sticks, leather rope


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driftwood gathered from Lake Champlain


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tons of yarn of all different colors, thicknesses, textures… hitting up garage sales and second hand shops is the way to go when gathering supplies for big projects like these.

And guess what happened? The kids were pumped. Truly. All of them, every single one, was into it. It was by far the most fluid and flowy project I’ve done with kids to date. Some got right into the weaving using worsted weight yarn and hit the flow. Others got into using minimal and the most wild materials~ I called theirs delicate porcelain-like pieces. I offered each child a strip of material that they could write a special message on, to be kept private or to show the world to commemorate the approaching end of their school year and some jumped on that. Some got real creative with making space between the individual woven stitches and needed some help understanding the concept behind the strength of the material they were making. Their teacher got into it, too! Her finished piece is gorgeous! Wish I had a picture of it.

Weaving is in us. It’s in our DNA somewhere. It must be. We’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve been covering ourselves, making baskets, mats, shelters (more to come on that topic, too).

If I had to do it over again, (which I will because I was invited back to do another round before school ends!!!), I would:

  • spend more time highlighting the importance of “beating in” or pushing the new row of woven material down against the previous row
  • for those whose pieces are very fragile, I would have encouraged them to keep their piece on their loom and decorate their loom to make the whole thing an art piece
  • I’d leave out the popsicle sticks~ those buggers are slippery
  • bring more ribbon
  • write their names on their looms BEFORE they start weaving

I actually can’t wait to go back and do it again. Seeing the children so engaged and so calm in their bodies while they worked kind of blew my mind, and I’ve spent a good deal of time in classrooms. Not to belabor the point, but I think weaving speaks to a part of our souls that is so organic, so without words and so true, that it simply must be something kids can do whenever they want. That’s why I love this. It’s inexpensive, it does not require special training, and anyone can do it. It just requires some stuff, some space, and some freedom to experiment.

 


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Farm to Frame~ Final Project

It’s about time I report on how the last Farm to Frame morning went, in my daughter’s kindergarten class. Recall, this wonderful group of little ones started this project weeks before, learning how to wash wool, dye it, and then card it. They worked hard, and were so busy. With each passing class, students wanted to keep their wool, and were amazed by how it transformed in their own hands.

Finally, the day of the project arrived. I wish I could share pictures of the whole thing in the class, but privacy issues are real and I did not ask for permission to post pictures of other peoples’ children. Included here are picture from a slideshow I made to show to the class to detail what they would be doing that morning.

Each student got their own gallon ziplock bag. In it were a bunch of different colors and textures of wool. They all got colors from the batches that they dyed and carded, plus some extra that I already had on hand. Also, they had a piece of pre-felt, the “paper” for their felted painting.

Next, I showed the kids how they could layer the scene. I chose to make a sea creature scene to go along with their recent unit on sea life.

More examples… my daughter got to demo her skills.

I then explained that I’d be securing their pictures using a needle felting tool. It’s sharp! So I emphasized that I’d be the only one using that tool. I wanted to do this before the wet felting part so that it didn’t come apart in the bag.

Once the picture was completed, students could tell me or their teacher, and we’d help them slide it into their bags. Enter some warm, soapy water, and let the felting begin! I encouraged gentle, open handed pressing at first. Once felting began, they could lift their bags and really press/rub on both sides. I let them know that their picture would look different once it was felted! This was important. What goes into the bag comes out looking quite different and I encouraged them to be artistic experimenters, learning about what wool does during felting, and watching their beautiful colors take different forms. This proved to be an important reminder to some.

Above are the examples of finished products that my daughter and I made at home.

All in all the class went beautifully. What I learned was, children love working with wool. They love doing the work of preparing it and learning about about other people around the world who make things with it. They responded to the idea that people have been using wool for functional things since the Middle Stone Age. Time, of course, does not make sense to them in that way yet, but feeling connected to our ancient history is important, and it resonated.

Children allowed themselves to experiment and to create images, some abstract, and some impressionistic. Some wanted to use every last bit of wool in their bags; some only used a tiny amount and brought the rest home. All, I believe, viewed themselves as artists on that day, and allowed for imperfection and mystery.

If I were to do it again, I would work with smaller groups of not more than five children at a time. With sixteen children in class that day, I did not have the time or ability to make it to each child quickly when they had questions or needed help. For me, it felt rushed and a bit stressful. I think I would work it out with the classroom teacher for me to either work in small groups one after the other, or take a couple of mornings to do it. That way, I could calmly help and respond to questions or worries if they came up.

Other than that, I think it was a great success. I loved being with my daughter and her classmates and learning about teaching, connecting kids to natural and renewable resources in their own community, as well as to their shared history with our ancient ancestors.

Stay tuned as I prepare a new project to bring to my son’s second grade class! This time, it will be a weaving project!


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Carding Wool is No Joke!

I’ve gotten a bit behind in documenting the wonderful work my daughter’s class did in their woolen adventures. A few weeks ago, the “job” for the day was to card their beautiful, dyed wool. I wanted to share a bit about how we did it and how these young five and six-year olds fared.

For the activity that day, I brought in my Fancy Kitty Drum Carder, which I love and adore. I was careful with it, and I had some rules: no touching it without me being right there, don’t crank it as fast as you can, no fingers on the carding cloth, and have fun! I also brought in some mini-hand carders (for this project I actually used small dog brushes (these are not the exact ones I used, but they are similar). I KNOW! CHEESY! But listen, they worked fine for this project, and they were affordable given the quantity I needed.) I brought in my regular sized Ashford Hand Carders as well.

The way we organized the class that day was to show a brief slide show talking about carding and what it actually means. Then, I met with about five children at a time. Around a table, they all had locks to start fluffing out. Once enough fiber was fluffed, I taught them how to load the hand-carders. While three students used the hand carders, one  fluffed more wool, and the other started the process of carding on the drum carder. They all rotated through all of the jobs. I provided coloring pages for the kids who were waiting for their turn to card.

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I have to say, the drum carder stole the show. Not one of the students was unimpressed with that tool, and all wanted to use it more. I wished I could have given them more time on it! The children were in agreement that adding different colors to the drum carder batt was the way to go, so by the time we got to the very last student, we had a gorgeous tutti-fruity looking batt that I wanted to spin so bad! Oh, the self-control!

I think that the kids really got to appreciate the time, patience and purpose behind carding wool. They all seemed to feel like they had put in a good day’s work, including my daughter, who’s seen this all a bunch. I was so proud of them.