Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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Interview With an Owl Named Nanna

Hello, Dear Readers.

We have a new guest speaker to introduce. Please meet Nanna. She has come to us after many of life’s trials and tribulations. These include heartbreak, loss, grief and change of plans. But, Nanna is more than her pain and her burdens. She is wisdom and she has carried on through prayer, practice, ritual and faith. Nanna has also enjoyed the throes of romantic love, the blessings of motherhood and the anchor of deep friendship. She is a rare bird in these parts, these days, and she wanted to be able to share what she has learned during her long time on Earth. Realta and Sherman are overjoyed to be with her.

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HH: Nanna, it’s so nice to have you join us. What is on your mind today?

Nanna: It is wonderful to be here and to have someone want to hear what I think about. It’s been a while since anyone has asked. Today, I am thinking about ritual, and work. After meeting many folks, feathered and otherwise, I am sensing great longing and hearing some confusion about what it is to have faith and practice. Not all beings need to embrace religion, of course. I am of the old world. Church does not offend me or scare me. I see it as a place to commune with God, the Great Spirit, the Holy Mother and Holy Father. I see it as a place to meditate, to pray, to find peace. But that is not what I mean by faith. Using that word is a choice and is meant to reflect rather a sense of connection with everything. To believe that there is a connection to Every Thing. I have also been thinking about ritual. Quiet prayers. Kneeling, standing. Chanting. Ritual has been a part of lived experience for millennia, and to some extent, I see it’s absence in modern culture creating vacuums where anxiety and distraction lie. 

HH: What do you mean by ritual? To many, that word conjures images of formality and discipline within a dogmatic religious sphere.

Nanna: Well, I’ve learned over time that cultures and religions all have their own rituals. They are merely repeated acts, usually done in a certain order to support some kind of ceremony.  Of course it is true that ritual plays an enormous part in what we do in the religious context. But that is not the only place where ritual lives.

What I think about is, why ritual? Why have we been doing ritualized things for so long? There is some kind of ordering principal to ritual, perhaps that establishes a mood, prepares the psyche for a set of experiences, etc. It seems important when considering how we have evolved over time.

HH: As someone who does not attend church but has enjoyed the rites and rituals of several different faiths I’ve been exposed to, I understand what you mean. What would you say to someone who does not identify with a specific religion?

Nanna: I’d say that ritual is all around us and that likely if we tune in to what we are doing, we’d see the pull towards ritualized archetypal practice. Look at the weaving you just completed. My guess is that before you began your piece, you had an image in mind, an intention, a hope. Maybe you thought of a person, or a place when you sat down to begin your work. You went through the process of warping your loom, walking back and forth, wrapping yarn around the peg. Did you do that rhythmically? Was there a beat? A resonance? Likely there was, even if you weren’t conscious of it. It’s hard to do that kind of work without it.

Once warped, you set to the process of weaving, back and forth with the shuttle, up and down with the heddle. You may have been praying, thinking, spacing out or tuning in , but you were making. Here and there on your piece, you can see areas where you got stuck or maybe had too tight or too lose of a warp thread. Learning and life captured in fabric. The work of the hands with materials, in my mind, is a form of ritual. 

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HH: I never thought of it like that. It’s funny that you can see my warp errors. Definitely still learning. But even though this is new for me, to weave on a rigid heddle loom, I still found the rhythm and the flow eventually. It’s the thing I love about weaving. Once you hit that flow you can let go and create at the same time, and make something tangible and useful. Spinning, too.

Nanna: Yes. That is what I like about it, too. And you know, there are cultures around the world for whom weaving and the dyeing of wool was a very spiritual and symbolic process. Patterns, shapes, the weavers themselves were and still are all part of the act of creation. Look at the goddesses all over the world who are associated with weaving and spinning: Frigg, Arachne, Maya to name a few. These goddesses’ stories tell tales of life, death, the merging of spirit and the corporeal. 

I like this quote from John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes. I think it captures the aspect of weaving and other crafts that is of the hands. I am making an arch between the essence of using one’s hands to create and ritual, which creates a deeply personal relationship with our world and nature, our functionality and our usefulness. 

“The whole structure of the human body anticipates and expects the presence of others. Hands reach out to embrace the world. Human hands are powerful images. Hands painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the heavenly women on the wall of Sigeria, wrote the Paradiso, sculpted the David; in Auschwitz, hands rose to bless the tormentors. Hands reach out to touch and caress the lover. Hands build walls, sow gardens, and direct symphonies… The whole history of our presence on earth could be gleaned from the witness and actions of hands. One of the great thresholds in human civilization was the development of tools with which we changed and civilized the landscape. The use of simple tools still meant personal contact with Nature. In these times, we have crossed another threshold where the tool is replaced by the mechanical instrument. The instrument is a means of exercising a function. With the development of instrumentalization, so much of our work and engagement with the world is no longer hands-on. Rather, our hands press the key and the instrument expedites the action. Instrumentalization saves labour but at the cost of direct contact with the world.” (pgs. 60-61).

I chose that piece to share because it is relevant to what I see happening today, a call back to the traditional skills that requires that individuals touch tools, land and nature. There is a reason handcrafting is such a powerfully moving medium these days. I do not believe it is a fad. I believe it is a call to re-engage with our hands, with our connection to Earth, to Nature, to our own resourcefulness and perhaps to having a good appreciation for what something is worth. Weaving, in many ways, can be seen as ritual made physical; ritual made practical. If one allows for it, weaving, knitting, crochet, spinning fibers… they all can serve as grounding and meditative experiences. That is beautiful because that is day-to-day life. Religion or no religion, engagement with materials can be meditative, instructive of our own nature and can bring us into alignment with our surroundings. 

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HH: So, you don’t think attending a specific church is necessary to gain this wisdom?

Nanna: Of course not! People all over the world have their own ways of attending to their relationship with their own spirituality, if they so wish. Organized, not organized… this is an entirely personal choice. What I am saying is that the call to ritual is apparently very important to the core of being, as it has been with us since documentation of any kind began. And, we can access that call through handwork, through handy-work, through engagement with our land and through an abiding respect for nature. Isn’t that wonderful?

HH: You are making me want to warp my loom again!

Nanna: Good.

You can expect more from Nanna here on Healing Handcrafting in the future.

 

 


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Spring Tranformations

We are in between seasons right now, here in Vermont. When I first moved here from Florida, I heard the term “mud season” and didn’t understand what people were talking about. Living in Burlington at that time, and not venturing much out of the city, I had little occasion to experience Mud Season head on. Now, after almost twenty years here, I get it.

The ground thaws (not too hard this year, after such a mild winter), the red wing blackbirds, robins, cardinals and cedar waxwings make an appearance in our yard. Large flocks of geese sail overhead, their calls to one another feeling like a call to my spirit, encouraging and light and commemorative of a winter gone by. The air smells clean and wet. Sugaring begins. The mud, it adds inches to my height, and a wobble to my walk when I muck around in the yard, this year imagining my cleaned up garden beds, a hoped for herb spiral, and a dyer’s patch. The need to vacuum much more frequently to prevent the brought-in-the-house mud, dirt, pebbles and sludge from making its way to the carpets is a fact. Why is taking one’s boots off in the garage so difficult?!

On a walk the other day down by Lake Champlain, the weather was the epitome of the “in like a lion” description of March. It was windy, rainy, snowy, icy… it was epic, really, and since I was dressed appropriately for such riotous weather, it was absolutely exhilarating. I laughed out loud in reaction to some especially strong bursts of wind, feeling not one ounce of embarrassment because I was alone. Down on the water, I could see Winter releasing her grip from the stoney shore.

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I found large pieces of driftwood that I harvested~ a project will happen with them, I am sure. Walking all the way back to my car with these water-logged, slippery gifts, against the wind, at a speedy clip (I was due to volunteer in my son’s class in just a little bit of time) proved to be the workout I needed. Sore and tired, wind-kissed and grateful, I was able to finish a project later that day that had been waiting patiently, in all of its scattered parts, for some attention.

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I love working with my Majacraft cirucular weaving loom. I’ve been making completely random things with little bits of all kinds of materials~  sari silk, banana silk threads, handspun, conventional, thick, thin, chunky, wild yarns, twine and wire. I am fully appreciative of the process of beginning a circular weaving project, releasing into the hard job of finding clarity in the first few messy rounds. I can hardly tell the order of warp threads at first. Now I can predict how much time it takes for me to begin to worry that I’ll never get it straight, and then, voila, the foundation is set for my piece and I can relax with the ups and downs of weaving. Then, adding a new element creates its own new chaos, anticipated but surprising, nonetheless. Sometimes it takes another few rounds to straighten things out again, to hit that rhythm where predictability and order are available if desired.

These projects conjure similar feelings of excitement, tension and hope as Spring does, in all of her wild glory. They promise beauty out of chaos, like spring’s pungent dirt promises baby birds, more light, new growth, froggy smells and strong storms. Order from chaos, gifts from turbulence, beauty reborn. Laughing out loud at all this natural noise is such a relief.