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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Getting Back on a Totally New Track

Yesterday I started going through a box of things of my mother’s that I had packed after she died. There are many boxes my siblings and I will tend to in the coming months, but this one I packed just for me, with clearance from them of course. These things… fabric, pictures, her sewing basket and sewing boxes; some of these are my grandmother’s, too. It’s amazing, the little tiny sounds of rustling around safety pins and spools of thread, like the lilting music of a lifetrack. All of those taken for granted quiet moments when my mom or grandmother sewed something up and passed it along, or wore it again, or hoped for something more perfect but sighed and put down the needle anyway. Nothing is perfect.


This picture is of my mom sewing my wedding veil. We found the headpiece on a ridiculously fun shopping trip and she made it even more lovely, adding the flowing fabric and little beads. 


This is a needlepoint my mom made years ago~ I remember it from when I was very young. 


These are little bits of many things that will end up somewhere, somehow. 


And some hearts I made for my mom and grandmother, and a bowl, and a picture of Swami Muktananda, with (I think) my grandmother’s sewing basket. 


I’m getting back to some making. The sounds of summertime are helping. I actually make more in the summer, when the windows are open and the air is warm, muggy, froggy and quiet. Summer vacation is around the corner and I am more than ready to fall into love with less pressure and clock watching. I can hear the tinkling of chimes outside, underneath the constant conversations between birds. In a little bit the frogs will start their nighttime melody and if I’m lucky, the coyotes will pass through in the darkest hours. 

Lifetrack: Song 44. 


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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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Everything But the Kitchen Sink and End of Summer Turbulence

I’ll admit to being one very distractible and lack-of-focus afflicted person at present. It is hard to figure out why. Here are some possible reasons: the intense heat has made working with wool mildly unpleasant; the coming to an end of summer vacation fills me with a nagging dread and combating impulses – do as much as I can with my kids and make the remaining days epic-style awesome vs. relax and take each day as it comes and just make sure to swim; anticipation of having time to organize my projects, my work and my goals and a drive to get started, get to finishing, and get organized. I teach at a local college, have a small clinical private practice, I hope to bring fiber art and craft to more kids this year, and I have some writing projects I long to pursue. All of these responsibilities and goals, plus being a mommy to two young ones has me, well, a little all-over-place, and I think that is reflected in my project heap and book pile. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve recently finished, what I’m working on and what I’m reading with those of you who read this here blog of mine. Maybe you, too, find the end of summer to be a little, well, turbulent?

Azel Pullover

~ I finished the Azel Pullover for my daughter. I love it. I truly do. It is not completed just as the pattern was written. It’s a bit shorter, and I modified the cowl neck because the numbering of stitches was off and it was making it wonky, so I ended up just knitting in the round which made a great looking band around the neck. By the way, the creator of this pattern is wonderful, and responded to a question I had about it in a very short amount of time.

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~ As part of completing the above pattern, I acquired a whole bunch of new skills in the knitting department: the cable knit cast-on, picking up stitches, making button holes (not elegantly executed this first go-round, but I can get the buttons through them), and fixing big mistakes (I practiced understanding what stitches look like when you have to take out a few rows and get them back on the needles).

~ I also got to use the knitting needles my grandmother gave me. You can read about them here. I am so happy about that.

Circular Weaving

I just completed the circular weaving piece that I started a while back. You can read about that here. It was supposed to, in my imagination, lie flat, but alas, it does not and is currently awaiting a super modification that I am actually very excited about. The hoped-for meditation mat will turn into a bowl to hold organic materials I plan to use to spin into yarn or work into weaving pieces.

Sewing With My Kids

Both of my littles have begun sewing their own little dolls, which is truly wonderful. You know, it is one thing to practice slowing down and exercising patience when it’s just me I’m reckoning with. When I’m working on projects with my children, I’ve realized that it’s best if I have some project in my hands, but one I’m not absorbed with. Nothing kills creativity and learning like impatience from the guide. I’ve been guilty of that and have made a dedicated effort not to let my own inclination towards impatience that I so readily apply to myself destroy these quiet moments with my children. I think I’ve made headway in this department.

I recently read a book to my children called Cloth Lullaby, by Amy Novesky. It is about the artist Louise Bourgeois and especially, her relationship with her mother, who was a weaver and tapestry artist. Louise apprenticed under her mother and later in her life became a renowned artist in her own right. Her giant sculptures of spiders, who were inspired by her mother, are one of her hallmark themes. Spiders create thread and repair and build and, in one part of the book, the author describes how when webs are damaged, spiders do not get angry; they simply repair them. In this beautiful book, I was reminded of an important ideal~ steadfast and calm repairing and steadfast and calm teaching. I was grateful to have read it with my littles.

Organized My Fibers and Garage Space

I spent a good amount of time going through all of my materials and getting them organized in a way that will make project planning and gathering much easier in the months to come. I do plan on doing a fair amount of dyeing wool and experimenting in the fall.

Wool I Dyed and Carded

I’m not done with carding all of the wool yet! But here are the results of the washed, dyed and carded Shetland I wrote about recently. It’s so beautiful. Coreopsis is quite the dye plant and is shown on the right. On the left is Shetland dyed with marigold.

Books I Am Reading

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott~ I love the way she writes about every single thing. I need some writing advice and she’s my go-to for that.

Stitch By Stitch, by Carolyn Meyer~ I really want to know how to do rudimentary needlework. I’m struggling with this because it is a bit of a departure for me, and I’m not sure it’s wise to start yet another journey into another handcraft when I have so many I already love and could get much more proficient at, but have you seen this book –> Slow Stitch: Mindful and contemplative textile art, by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This book inspires me in a way that is almost painful. The colors, the textures and the soothing promise of slowing down is really speaking to me and I want to figure out a way to work this in to what I do both in my own handwork practice and with others.

Would anyone like to do a slow and consistent, chapter by chapter Stitch-Along with me, using Slow Stitch as the guide? Seriously. Write me if you do.

This summer has included many beautiful times with family and with friends, many bike rides and lake swims and creemees, lots of convalescing after some antibiotic side effect havoc, lots of chip eating and garden tending.

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Days have been long and night sounds have been welcome and wild. Temperatures have been hot and rain has been scarce. News has been painful and overwhelming. The Olympics have been awe-inspiring. And the days are going on and each one offers a new chance to get connected with the present moment, to breath and to not resist the passing of time. I think in the coming weeks before school starts, that is what I’ll be trying to keep in the forefront of my mind. To look and to truly see, to hear and to truly listen, to touch and to truly feel.

Yes. That.

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Let the Dirty, Smelly,Wonderful, Softening Labor of Skirting, Washing and Carding Wool Begin!

This week, I grabbed the bull (or sheep) by the horns (in my imagination), and started processing a whole lot of wonderful wool. After my son, then my daughter and then I got through strep throat this summer, I needed to really get in gear and re-find my focus. Knowing that this week would be hot and sunny, I decided to use the sun’s marvelous power to do most of the work of scouring for me. But I’ll get to that. I started with some lovely Shetland I picked up about a month ago from a wonderful couple who absolutely adore their sheep.

Here is a picture of some of the beauties with their summer do.

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When I first began working with raw wool and learning how to spin, I’ll admit to just jumping in and not doing a whole lot of homework first. I remember with my first fleece, I felt guilty about not using every last bit of wool, but for the very dirty parts. I washed and rinsed and washed some more, picked, flicked, carded and re-carded. I could not bear to waste it. I’ve since learned that there are different parts of a fleece that are much better than others, that seasoned spinners do not use every last bit for yarn, but might use the not wonderful parts for stuffing for toys, compost, insulation, etc… Before starting on these fleeces, I found a bit of literature that is so incredibly helpful on the topic of skirting fleeces. People who take the time to share this sort of expertise in such a generous way are really so kind. I am grateful to them for describing so well what they know. Check it out if you are looking for some skirting fleece information.

You can see below the pile of wool from one fleece, already skirted, and another two waiting to go.

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Then it was time to scour. I like doing this before carding and spinning, but I know many do not. I do not overly scour, I don’t think, because I love keeping the lanolin feel as much as I can, but I do want it to be clean. I wish I had taken a picture of my hands post-skirting. They were shiny and soft from the lanolin. I never grow tired from the irony of having silky, soft hands after doing the hard and dirty work of skirting a raw fleece. It is a marvelous metaphor, I think. We must get our hands dirty in life. We must fully dig in. Work. Feel. Love. Grieve. Get into the thick of it. We will be made softer, humbler, and maybe even shiny every now and then, if we allow ourselves to be hewn by the at times roughness of life.

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While I love hard work, carrying pot after pot of hot water outside to fill my bins in order to scour wool is not what I had energy for. It occurred to me that the sun could do most of the heating work. So, I filled the bins with hose water, plus two big pots of hot water to get a jump start, and then some soap. After the water rose to a lukewarm temperature, I added the wool and let it soak for a long time. Later, I passed it to the rinse bin of warm water and let it soak some more. I did this with all three fleeces and have to say, I see no reason to go back to another way, at least not while it’s so hot! With the lids on the bins, the water’s temperature rose very significantly, but slowly, making the scouring a gentle and simple process.

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I love the look and smell of drying wool. I see bits that will get shaken or carded out once fully dry. Mostly I see fingerless mitts, a hat and hopefully a big fluffy cowl to keep warmth and raw beauty alive in the midst of our stark winters.

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Oh, last but not least, I’ve started some solar powered dye baths using in one jar, marigolds and in another, coreopsis. I think I’ll dye up some of this white Shetland tomorrow.

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Mom Camp

We needed a quiet day to find our way together. These are the days I am the very most grateful for.

a long bike ride with my littlest to mail some love

prepping for teepee and raft making for our new stories we are writing/drawing/imagining each night

teepee in progress

the building of a raft inspired some macrame fantasies

will a gnome and his beloved live here?

it floats! 


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Today is Just One Day

Today I picked up my knitting needles to begin a sweater for my daughter for when the temperatures change. I am looking ahead. I wanted to start a project now that will keep her warm and comforted in the future. I don’t know why. Maybe for many reasons. Maybe because she has strep throat and is in pain. Maybe because I love her more than I can explain. This is the sweater. I learned how to do a cable cast on so far and feel rather impressed with myself. I also know I made a mistake, but I don’t know how to fix mistakes in knitting. So different than crochet. Pulling out already knitted stitches fills me with dread and makes me anxious. So for now I’m going to keep knitting and hope my mistake isn’t too grave. Kind of like parenting. I make mistakes daily. I hope none will be too grave, too difficult to repair. 

this mystical dog statue was in our home growing up in florida. my mom gave him to me a few years ago and he guards our house through all weather.

our humble garden

every night a robin sits atop our open shed and sings its goodnight song