It’s been a while, yet again, since I’ve written. I often feel like a hit a groove, a flow, get a taste of my ideal self for a few seconds, and then the proverbial other shoe drops. In this case, I’d started writing and crafting again following the heartbreak of my mom dying, But the end of the school year busy-ness, my own schedule and living with the weight of grief and stress caught up with me and I got wicked, wicked sick. I tend to be a “put my head down and get through it” kind of gal, with a finish line envisioned, fantasized about, planned with flourish. But in recent years, by the time I hit that finish line, I’m completely exhausted and often times very sick. So, this time, I realized that jam isn’t working for me anymore. It’s time to change.
As I started to feel better, I imagined self-care for what it really is. Deeply taking care of oneself and loving oneself as though one’s body and mind are precious and sacred. I forgot that. I think the term “self-care” has lost all meaning, has become stale and over-used. Like the word “inappropriate” in schools. Do kids even care if something is inappropriate? Is that word meant to land in some moral or self-conscious receptor site and then voila, said kid no longer wants to do x,y,z? No. It’s a catch-all word meant to say, “knock it off” or, “stop hitting Johnny with your fruit leather.” Whatever. Why can’t we just say what we mean?
That’s how I feel about the term self-care. I’ve had an attitude adjustment that I hope I can keep connected with as I start to regain strength and a can-do attitude. I want to get specific about what I mean when I think of self-care. Right now, for me, I need time for quiet reflection. I need family time, healthy food, calming teas and time to make art. I need to think before I say yes to things, and I need to be present enough in life so I can see birds I’ve never seen before (the American Redstart and the Eastern Towhee are recent new sightings for me!), and watch bugs and bees do their busy-work.
And I want to devote my energies to practices and work that bring me peace. This leads to the Leap of Faith mentioned above. I’ve put together two summer camps for children to be held in July and August, a week a piece. One will focus on weaving, the other on making a book from scratch. The book will include paper we make ourselves and a wet-felted woolen cover. One camp is already full and the other is close! My children will be my assistants, and I truly feel so blessed to be able to do this!
I realized that in order to do the things I want to do, I have to take the first step, and then the next steps, to get there. It takes courage and hope, and for me at this time, it requires being really grounded and calm, states of being that for me are only attainable when I’m tending to myself as though I am one to cherish. Isn’t that what self-care is all about? Not ignoring the needs of the self?
Those are my ramblings today. I look forward to sharing my crafting adventures with you this summer.
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.
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!
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.
I wanted kids to understand that they can weave with all kinds of things.
My weave in progress…
Cardboard looms and another example piece using less wild materials.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I’ve gotten a bit behind in sharing what I’m working on. My last post was a share of a fellow blogger who was kind enough to detail her Kool-Aid yarn dyeing know-how. Well, I tried it yesterday with clean, uncarded wool. I needed to practice with the stuff before I brought it into my daughter’s kindergarten class to dye wool that they will be using in an art project in a few weeks.
Last week, the children washed raw wool. I wish I could share pictures of it, but you know… privacy and other people’s children is very important to honor! Let me just tell you it was funny, wonderful and I was so proud of all of them. It is true that there was a lot of “ewwwww!!!!” and “gross!” and “it smells like poop!”, but I can assure you that there was no poop in the wool and once they realized it was kind of like petting sheep, they got over it, and all of the kids wanted to put the wool into the warm, soapy water.
I had to do a few rinses of the wool once I got home because there just wasn’t time to get it all done at school.
This week I’ll bring some of that washed wool back to school to have them dye it. I was stumped when I was trying to figure out how to expose them to wool dyeing- I have gotten really into plant dyes and have done some dyeing with synthetic products, but those are stinky, kind of complicated and very time consuming. Somewhere along the way, I came across a mention of Kool-Aid dyeing, but when I first started researching it, I found a lot of links to directions involving heat, stoves and time. That’s why I was so excited to find this link.
I tried it myself yesterday and loved the results. This is what I did:
I separated my wool into weighted amounts: 4 2 oz piles and 1 1 oz pile. I then soaked the wool in warm water for 30 minutes. While the wool was soaking, I got my dyes set up.
I had three half-gallon mason jars and one one-quart mason jar.
In each of the three large mason jars, I put four packets of Kool-Aid, 1/2 cup of white vinegar and filled them about half-way up with warm water. I then stirred the mixture well.
In the one-quart mason jar, I put two packets of Kool-Aid, a 1/4 cup of white vinegar, and half filled it with warm water.
I had an extra glass bowl hanging around and put three packets of raspberry Kool-Aid in that, along with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and some warm water.
Once the 30-minutes of soaking was up, I put the wool in their respective jars and bowl, added warm water until the wool was submerged, covered the jars and bowl and then put them all in a sunny spot for about 4 hours.
When I was happy with the color absorption, I pulled out the wool and rinsed. I was delighted with the results and know this will be wonderful for a classroom experiment/project. The color was not totally spent in the dye bath; I’m not sure if that’s because I used too much Kool-Aid for the fiber that was in the bath, or if I didn’t leave it in long enough.
I am so excited to do this with the kids next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Well, Felted Rocks, Part. 2 happened before Christmas. In fact, it happened about a week before Christmas. I am just now catching my breath and thinking about what is ending with this year and what is starting with the almost new. I wanted to take a moment to document the wonderful experience of felting rocks with two 2nd grade classes (one of them being my son’s class).
Sometimes, I get bogged down by insecurity. I worry that I get ahead of myself and that really, all of my enthusiasm and energy is momentary, and maybe even a bit much for the people who I want to share it with. But let me tell you this: kids like to felt. And how ’bout this nugget of truth: kids think sheep are really cute and like to look at pictures of them and like to learn about them. For the 2nd graders, I opted to up the game a little by showing them a short slide show capturing the history of humans’ relationship with sheep. I learned so much in the creating of this! Like, humans have been working with sheep since the Middle Stone Age. That is when we humans first started developing language and learning how to manage and control fire. Our history goes way back, and sheep’s wool has been incredibly important to our survival, our society and our culture. Sharing some of this with the kids was great because they really got to see that our history with fiber and with sheep is part of who we are; it’s in our archetypal DNA, and it connects us to people around the world. I showed them pictures of where sheep originated (Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan). I showed them how some sheep made it over the land bridge from Russia to Alaska during the last Ice Age. And, I showed them pictures of children and adults all over the world spinning wool and knitting. I so hope that in that brief moment, they became aware of how unifying working with wool and other fibers can be; that we are all part of the same cloth. I cannot think of anything that is more important than that in these times of great pain and suffering around the world.
In a matter on an hour and a half, I worked with about 35 children. Not one child was uninterested in the fact that they were about to turn a bunch of fluffy wool into a felted piece of art. We got water everywhere. The wonderful teachers commented on having their tables cleaned really well, which was very generous. Next Time: Bring Towels.
It was a little cumbersome, getting the wrapped rocks into their nylon wrap, so I helped each child with that after they got their wool design how they wanted it.
I didn’t get to sit with all of the kids as they rubbed their felting rocks, but I saw some from a distance from where I getting other kids set up and I think many tuned into how peaceful the practice can be. Some children talked about who they were going to give their rocks to; others wanted to keep their big, fluffy stuffed animal looking rocks for themselves. I thought it was all wonderful. I think my favorite moment was when I walked back into the first class I worked with to say goodbye and check out their finished projects. All of the kids gathered around and showed me their work with so much pride and excitement. I felt like it worked~ my hope of bringing this wonderful practice to kids worked and they saw that they could make something beautiful with their own hands with a totally natural substance from animals they see all of the time here in Vermont. I was so happy for them, and for me.
It being right before Christmas break, I did not have time to just rest into the pleasure of it all, but now I do, and I am. I can’t wait to do it again, and to come up with other projects to do in the coming year. Stay tuned.
I’m excited. In a nervous in my belly, hopeful, anticipatory and grateful kind of way. Tomorrow, I’m going into my daughter’s kindergarten class to do a felting project with the children. Felted Rocks, to be exact. And later in the week I’ll do the same project with two 2nd grade classes (my son is in one of them). I have come to seriously appreciate the benefits of working with, touching, experimenting and playing with fiber, and I feel utterly compelled to teach things to do with fiber-craft to kids.
The felting rocks project begins what will be a five- to six- week journey that picks up after the holiday break, and I will keep track of how it all goes here. I am calling my unit From Farm to Frame. In January, we will start with a dirty, smelly, lanolin rich fleece (or part of one), wash it, dye it, card it and in the end make a felted “painting”.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been gathering materials for this project, thinking about why this is so important to me. One memory came to mind; the first time I skirted a fleece on my own. It was the big, smelly, creamy fleece of a Border-Leicester sheep that my friend Susi secured from a local farmer. I remember thinking, “dang, that smells”. But it didn’t offend me, and really, I got used to it very fast. I remember, after picking debris out of it and removing a lot of the gunky stuff, noticing how soft my hands had become. I was delighted to realize that it was lanolin! Lanolin had made my hands soft and shiny and smooth. I stood there in the warm May sun and it occurred to me that in the process of doing hard work and getting my hands dirty, that I had been softened, conditioned and made-over. I’d say that was a turning point for me, about two and half years ago. Since then, I’ve wanted to know more about why and how working with fiber can be so grounding and therapeutic in all of it’s stinky and at times tedious moments.
I want kids to have this. I want them to see a whole process through that involves fiber from a local farm. I want them to experience the rawness of the material and experiment with what they can turn it into. I want them to have an antidote to stress, pressure and worry. I want them to have a chance to touch nature and maybe appreciate the animals they pass on many a Vermont road.
I’m so grateful that teachers are letting me into their classrooms with these projects. Let’s just hope that the kids enjoy it. Tomorrow’s project will be a good introduction for all of us, I think.
pictured above: rocks gathered from Lake Champlain, felted rock experiments, many bags of wool and a whole lot of roving to be organized for the classes, more roving because I thought it was pretty, and some of the colors that the kids will have to choose from.