Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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A Very Muppet Halloween!

I feel like I should just begin each post with: It’s been a while…

Rather than detail all of the reasons why keeping up with writing has been difficult lately, I’ll show you one thing I spent a considerable amount of time on in the last couple of weeks. It’s crafty. It’s funny. It’s… Animal.

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Animal from the Muppets~ this is the real puppet, not mine!

Remember Animal, from the Muppets? I loved him when I was a kid, and I love him now, after spending a bunch of time considering all of the subtleties of his face, his expression, his noisy look. Of course, my animal does not come close to Jim Hensen’s, but oh, I love him still.

My son and I got the idea of him dressing up as Animal for Halloween one evening when he was playing the piano, very dramatically. He was cracking me up, swaying his head back and forth, his longish hair flying everywhere. He reminded me of Animal’s crazy drum playing ways and then and there, we decided it needed to happen. My boy needed to be Animal.

There’s no easy way to just get an animal costume. Can you believe that?! There’s not. Once we figured that out, my fantasy was too far in. I couldn’t reverse course. So, noodling around online, I took a gander at other people’s animal costumes. Paper maché seemed to be something folks tried but that intimidated me. I don’t know why but I think it just seems unruly and like I would just make a big heap of mess instead of a mask. I also found a post about a woman using a baseball helmet as part of the head support. It was from that idea that my mask was born.

After ruminating on the costume for a few days, I went to Michael’s craft store and walked around, hoping to find things that looked like they’d work for costume construction. I ended up with: styrofoam balls, three large and two small red feather boas, fun fur, black, red and orange felt, a styrofoam bowl, a red baseball cap, and glue.

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First, I stitched the baseball cap to the styrofoam bowl. The idea here was that the head needs to be large, and there is a bit of a lip where Animal’s upper lip and nose protrude. The rim of the baseball cap provided the structure for that. The stitching here was tricky; if I pulled too hard on the needle, the thread would at times pull right through the styrofoam. Knowing it was going to be totally covered with feathers, I didn’t care about it looking great. It just needed to be functional. The cap, by the way, was fitted on my son’s head before I sewed it into the bowl.

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Then, I glued the bowl edge onto the rim of the hat. What in the world did people do before glue guns?

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Once that was dry, I began the fun process of wrapping and gluing the feather boas around the bowl. A little messy at times, it’s good to have wet paper towel on hand to get glue off fingers. Feathers seem especially attracted to glue.

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Once I got the bowl covered, I had to start tinkering with the mouth and how it would attach to both the head and to my kid. I apologize now for the lack of pictures of the rest of the process. I tried a bunch of different things. Finally, I settled on using thick paper plates for the structure of the mouth.

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I eye-balled the plate size against the bowl/rim of the baseball hat. The idea was that the mouth would attach to the rim of the hat, and my kid’s face would be behind the mouth. Originally, I thought I’d cut out eye-holes in the black felt I used for the dark part of the mouth, but I changed that later.

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I cut a plate in half and then cut out the flat part of the plate, leaving just the rounded edge of the plate. After a couple of experiments, I opted not to trim the rim of the plate itself (this is not pictured).

Then, I eye-balled the orange felt lips Animal has against the rim of the plate, and after that, the black inside of the mouth. Those pieces were glued to the plate rims. Now, below you see the full mouth where I used the black felt. I ended up using black meshy fabric instead. I included both pics here because some might prefer the darker felt for the mouth. I opted to switch to the see-through mesh because I wanted my son’s face to be fairly free and open, and for him to be able to see easily at night. I made the same kind of paper frame for the structure of the mouth, glued the black mesh onto the paper rim, then the orange felt lips on top. I placed black felt just on the bottom half of the mouth, on which the tongue could be glued.

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Below is what I ended up with.

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Now, the major tricky part was how to make the head full and round looking. Remember, the head up until this point was just the bowl, which only came halfway down the back of my son’s head. The top of the mouth was glued to the rim of the hat (so sorry there are not more detailed pictures). That allowed for the mouth to stay strong and in place. The bottom of the mouth naturally hangs down. After a lot of McGuyver style attempts to complete the mask, I almost gave up. I was really having a hard time figuring out how it would all go, until I talked it through with my step-mom. She suggested attaching it to a hooded sweatshirt and then wrapping the feathers around that way to complete the rounded head. Voila! That’s what I did, and it worked great. I sewed the hood to the baseball cap, and then the edges of the hood to the edge of the mask. Around the hood, back and forth, I was able to add more feathers and bring them around the bottom the the mouth.

Once that structure was complete, it was time for the fun stuff~ the eyes, the nose, the teeth. For the eyes and nose, I wrapped the styrofoam balls in wool, needle felted them to give them a nice fuzzy look and glued them onto the head. I used black felt for the pupils, fun fur for the eyebrows, and marshmallows for the teeth.

Once Animal’s face was on, I felt so relieved! If I were to do it again, I’d needle felt the orange lips using orange wool, instead of the cut-out felt.

Here it is, all finished!

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And here I am, having a loving moment with my Animal.

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I hope you had a great Halloween!

 

 

 

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What Happens When Fibery Handcrafting Takes Over My Life…

I finished my circular weaving project and what started out as one idea evolved into a moving symbol for me. Wild bird flying into golden fire 🔥. 

Tour de Fleece spinning mania!!!

Lots of spindle practicing… it’s slow going. 

Curly locks bring lots of smiles…

Yummy, yummy yarn…

More practice…

Fireworks magic for balance…

Lots of Shetland wool washing…

Lots of Shetland wool dyeing…

With some gorgeous alpaca…

And some Shetland carding while the dye pots do their thing…

Adding color to the fantasy basket…

And more spinning…

And dyeing…

And loom making for a weaving summer camp I’m hosting in a week… (yay!)

And, repeat…

Summer is my favorite time. ❤️


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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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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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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!