Seriously, Yes, You Are, and Yes, You Can.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but I think it bears repeating, and I encountered a catalyst for this post again just today.   At Tuesday hooking group we had the loveliest trio of sisters stop in for the first time.   One of them was looking for applique wool, and another was already a hooker.  As I showed them the kitchen area where we cut wool, have classes, eat, drink, and generally be merry, one of these wonderful women said something along the lines of, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw a thing.”

Stop.Right.There.

The answer is always, always, “Yes, you are and yes, you can.”  The ladies pictured at left (a different trio) were students in my design class of just that name:  “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  It’s a fun, information and skill packed, affirming class in hooked rug design where you start with a sketch of your own creation and leave with a fully finished pattern ready to hook.  I was inspired to create this class because I had, and have, heard, possibly a hundred times or more by now, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw.”

It’s never true.  As in…never.  

So, what’s the deal?  Why do people – primarily women – make this self assessment?  Certainly they are not being intentionally misleading.  If only they were.  No, they truly, really, sincerely believe that their creativity is inferior or non-existent.  This breaks my heart, perhaps because I’ve been right there and still struggle with the inner critic who I’m learning better and better these days to shut the  *&#% up.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to critique your own ideas and work.  We have to do that to make sure that whatever it is we are producing is something that we feel good about and that we applied ourselves for.  I’ve sold patterns discounted as “seconds” that my customers couldn’t find the flaws in, but I knew.  Likewise, I joke that my eraser is my best friend, because I use it more than I use my sketch pencil some days.  So, I’m not saying not to take pride in your work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, but I think you know where the line is.  You know when the inner critic is not the voice of your commitment to a job well done, but rather the voice of a bully.  You can sense it, and what I’m telling you is:  shut the bully down.

I don’t want to overstate the role of gender in this problem, but as an example, I also had a wonderful male customer stop in to the shop today looking for a particular blue (which, dang, I didn’t have at that moment).  He had a fantastic rug of his own design with him and I asked him to come in to the kitchen and show it off to the ladies who were lunching.  This man is someone who does amazing work and has a healthy commitment to quality.  I have heard him self-critique his work, but the tone is different from that of most of my female students and customers, and when he showed off his rug today he was able to take the many oohs, aaahs, and compliments in a way that showed a humble yet confident attitude toward his work.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough men rug hooking these days, but I do believe I notice that they bring to the art a confidence that many women, even the most accomplished, either don’t have or don’t show.

Going too far in to how girls and boys are raised in our culture relative to how they are encouraged to show self effacement vs. confidence is way beyond the scope of this post, but just make a mental note of the existence of these differences, and think about how those differences may affect you when:

  • someone pays you a sincere compliment
  • you are invited to try a new art or craft
  • you are evaluating  your own creative ideas or works
  • you are asked to share your work or teach what you know

Maybe you had parents or other important adults in your life who didn’t affirm your talent in some way.  Maybe you had that art teacher who condemned your efforts because she wanted an outcome from you that fit her limited vision instead of being open to and appreciative of yours.  Maybe you’re just an introvert (hello…raises hand…) who isn’t totally comfortable with the attention your talent might or does attract and it’s more comfortable to be dismissive of yourself.   I’m a major introvert who is learning to be comfortable with putting myself out in to the world for the sake of promoting work that I love.   Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is that gets in the way of your embracing your own creative potential, it’s important to look at it, move it aside, and give yourself a chance at something you’ve up til now believed you “couldn’t do.”

I am thoroughly convinced that every woman, and the occasional man, who walks through the door at the Parris House has an innate and deep well of creativity within themselves.  I respect and honor that immediately and at face value, which is why I wholly reject any assertion that that person is bereft of talent.   This is not just wishful thinking on my part, or my stubborn clinging to a dearly held belief.  It is evidence based.  I don’t know how many students I have taught at this point, but it’s many, and not one – not a single ONE – failed to reveal to me his or her creative nature.  Further, my students always teach me something in return; everyone has something to offer in a creative context.

We are, by nature, creative beings.  How enthralling is that?  We are made for this creativity thing, and all we have to do is find a medium of expression that suits our individual nature.

To summarize, yes, you are and yes, you can.

To sign up for a creative experience at the Parris House, click HERE and bookmark this page because I am adding classes all the time.  I will be adding another date for Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can and am in the process of arranging for some guest teachers to come in for possible classes in art journaling, the intersection of water color painting and hooking, natural dye techniques, and more.

Happy (and confident) creating!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Stella Wants My Wifi

Image credit: Wunderground

The weekly blog post is pretty late this week, partially due to my overall work load and partially because I just haven’t been able to quite settle on a topic.  As I sit here tonight working on this post, Winter Storm Stella is popping our power on and off, and my wireless router keeps resetting.    The wind is howling, we can’t keep the wood stoves lit because of the down drafts, and the snow continues to pile up.  I can’t really tell you how much snow there is, because in some places it’s drifted to about three feet and in other places the wind has swept the ground clean.  Corgi Tru couldn’t go out tonight before bedtime until my husband shoveled a way for her.   A window pane blew out of one of our attic windows and we had to take a shutter down that was in danger of being ripped off the house.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty harsh here at the moment.

Our part of the northeast was largely shut down today, but this is Maine; storms roll in, they are extremely unpredictable in terms of actual outcome, and we do whatever we have to do to navigate through them.  We do this more or less from October through April.  We put up with this for the love of Maine…or something.

Always being one to see life analogies in natural situations, I am finding Stella informative.

I worked pretty much nonstop through this past weekend.  My current to-do list includes a super-exciting-project-I-can’t-talk-about-yet, two more design/writing projects I can’t talk about, two classes I can’t announce yet, two to three designs that are still under wraps, a floor sized custom order, an upcoming trip to Rochester, NY to teach college students, an outstanding Beekman 1802 order, continuing to set up my new Handmade at Amazon shop, tweaking Shopify to help our Hookers Circle members have the option of paying in installments, and the every day operations of the existing online shops and the physical studio, which are a full time job by themselves.   Oh, and I’ve also just begun training for a four mile run in May.  😉   There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, not for me, not for any other small business owner out there. We all do it.  We all work this hard or harder.   We’re not heroes.  We just have dreams and love what we do and get a little OCD about it sometimes.

I think we all try to make it look to each customer like she is the only customer we have and that her order is the only thing we have to attend to that day.  My Tuesday hooking group knows better, because they are here in a big group together and sometimes need to wait a turn, or sometimes have to hear me say, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t get to that this week” (which I invariably feel terrible about), or see the projects I’m working on that have to ship the next day.   They see when I mess up, and they see when I pull something off just the way they’d hoped.

One of the issues with online shops is that the context of a business is much harder for a customer to see from the distance and filter of the internet, and the illusion we so carefully try to maintain of any one customer’s order being all we have to do that day is virtually complete (pun intended).  Miraculously, 99.9% of the time, things still go smoothly and to expectation.  (That other .1% tho…) This is where social media comes in, of course.  Business owners use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social media sites to try to recreate, in the virtual world, the first hand knowledge that our Tuesday group experiences in the physical world. Unfortunately, I can’t fit a couple thousand of you into the Parris House.  Fortunately, however, you fit just fine in our online community, which I cherish.

So where am I going with this?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  (Thanks, Robert Burns.)

Stella rolled in here this morning and disrupted everyone’s plans.  She even disrupted the plans of those who had planned specifically for her when she didn’t perform as forecast.  Nature is that way.   Small business is that way too.  I have a planner.  Who am I kidding?  I have several planners for different purposes.   I am vigilant about using these tools to plan out every single day of my business life, and yet…sometimes something akin to Stella bursts through and disrupts everything, whether it’s an actual event that demands the rearrangement of my schedule, or just something that breaks my concentration or flow and throws off the rest of the day.

The lesson here is this:  I can work through Stella, even as she makes a play for my wifi, and I can work through almost anything the serendipity of running a small creative business throws my way too.

What Stellas have you faced down recently that have taught you just how resilient you are?  Because I know you all have Stellas, I’m offering a coupon code in the Etsy shop this week only (ends Friday night at midnight):  MYPERSONALSTELLA.   This will get you 10% off any order of $25 or more.

Happy persisting and happy hooking.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Why We Hook the Animals We Love

This is my Welsh Corgi, Tru.  (If you really want to get to know her, she has her own Facebook page here.)  As you can see, she was sunbathing this morning while I was putting the finishing touches on the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers’ Circle subscription service, shipping this week.   As I posted on our Facebook page this morning, I am painfully aware that Tru is now about twelve years old, and that most of my time with her is behind us.   I never thought I could love a dog this fiercely until she came in to our lives, but here I am, pondering a post-Tru world even though as of right now, she is still happy, active, and healthy.

For this reason, I have been thinking lately that I need to gather up all the photos I have of her (there are many!), and also sit quietly with her, make a sketch of her sweet face, and hook it.    Now, I have never hooked an animal in a detailed way, the way I want to hook Tru’s image.   I want to capture the glint in her eye that still exists even though I see the encroaching cloudiness of cataracts.  I want to hook the pretty combination of “red” and white and maybe now a little gray that defines her face.  I want to add the teeny tiny white eyelashes and delicate fur in her ears.  I think this project is going to have to be refined and textural and multimedia, but since I can see it, I know I can make it a reality.

Prior to this I have not hooked many animals.  One of the most popular patterns in the shop is “Tesla’s First Snow,” which, rather than a late-in-life portrait, is a depiction of our big orange tabby, Tesla, as a four month old kitten seeing his first snowfall out the window.  After being initially perplexed, he wanted to “catch” the snowflakes as they cascaded down.   I snapped a picture of the scene and the result was this:

As you can see, this is a very primitive rendering of Tesla.  His back is turned to us so that, frankly, I didn’t need to deal with the detail of his face, although that is still true to the photograph.  This was done in 2012.  I learned to hook in 2011.  I was simply not ready to take on the complexities of Tesla’s face!   (In case anyone is wondering, he is named for Nikola Tesla, the scientist/inventor.  This happens when you have four sons who dig science.)

I also hook animals for Beekman 1802, and it is absolutely true that I love these animals I’m depicting.   I actually met Polka Spot back in 2014 on the day Jen and I first presented our work to Josh and Brent.  They kindly sent us on a farm tour with Megan, who was then their artisan coordinator, and we were thrilled to see the baby goats, Bubby the cat, Onder the dog, and, as they say, “every living thing at Beekman farm.”   Bubby passed away since then, and Polka has also “gone to Paris,” but both of them had distinct personalities.  Polka was one of the most regal animals I’ve ever encountered, and it was clear that she took her watch over the goats seriously.  Bubby was just one giant furball of love, demanding our attention while Onder ran in and out of the barn playfully.  Here is the menagerie I hook for Beekman 1802.

Last year I had a major commission for a customer’s beloved Pharaoh Hound.  The story on that is here, and the result is below.

Why are we willing to put so much time and effort in to these portraits of our favorite pets or animals?  Or, if we aren’t artisans ourselves, willing to commission someone else to create them?   I think it’s about the innocence, unconditional love, and nobility of character we so often find in our pets.  I don’t say that to anthropomorphize animals.  As my biologist/ecologist son, James, likes to remind me, “They don’t think the way we do.”   And, of course, he’s right.  They don’t think the way we do.   In fact, it’s impossible for us, really, to get inside their heads.  They are coming from an entirely different reality, biology, instinct than we are.  And yet…it is so easy to make important connections with them, and they with us.  We want to immortalize them in art because we know – we are so painfully aware – that their lifespans are much shorter than we’d like and that our own lives are so much better with them by our sides.

Sometimes they’re exasperating.  Tesla wants to kill my knitting if I don’t put it up and out of the way.  Tru wants to be directly under my feet if I’m preparing chicken for dinner.   Tesla is incapable of having a hairball in any location except on a carpet.  Tru occasionally gets so excited over visitors she pees at their feet.  Yeah.   And the fur.  It’s everywhere.  No vacuum on this planet is its equal.

Yesterday, my oldest son, Robert, shared this picture of his and his girlfriend’s, Tracy’s, cats peering out their apartment window in much the same way Tesla peered out at his first snow about five or six years ago.   They are Valentine and Playdough, respectively, and both are well under a year old.   Just the beginning of another generation’s connection with animals.

I hope you will share pictures of your animals and also pictures of artwork you’ve done inspired by them.  Feel free to tell their stories and what they mean to you.  I look forward to learning all about them.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Tesla one-upping Tru and snagging the sunny spot.

 

“Shut Up and Sing” – A Guide to Why Those in the Humanities Will Not Be Silent

This pattern was the catalyst for several “unlikes” on social media recently.

This post is not overtly political.  I am not asking anyone to believe what I believe, vote the way I vote, or agree with everything I think.  Rather, this post is about the free expression of deeply held beliefs and values and why creative people, especially, are generally not able to remain silent even when others fervently wish they would.

Over the past several weeks I have noticed “unlikes” on my Facebook page, and was even taken to task by a follower on my Instagram page after posting quotes, images, or other content that even subtly reflected how I am feeling these days about what is happening in our country and our world.   With each of these posts I have netted more followers than I have lost, but that is actually irrelevant.  If something I post offends anyone, I am actually very comfortable with that person leaving my online community, because no artisan, no business, no community is the right fit for everyone.  It is not my intent to offend, and in my view, none of my posts are offensive.  People who interact with me in person, especially, know that I go out of my way to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in my home and at the Parris House Wool Works studio, both of which happen to be under the same roof.

I have a friend who is a musician.  He is not shy about his values and convictions, and sometimes expresses these in public or on his social media sites.  As a result, some people find it appropriate to tell him to “shut up and sing.”   I have other friends with creative businesses that are often in the public eye.  On the rare occasion they post something “controversial,” invariably there are comments pleading with them to “stick to business” or “don’t get political, just tell us about what you’re selling.”  I recently had an artisan instructor tell us at the beginning of her workshop, “I apologize, but I wear my politics on my sleeve.”  I immediately responded with, “Don’t apologize.  We need people like you.”

Outside of my own circle, I still see this every day.   People don’t want actors and celebrities to use their platform to speak of anything that matters – so deeply and at such a core level – to them.   People feel uncomfortable in the art museum when confronted with images that challenge their world view, and judge the artist harshly.  College professors are starting to feel pressure to censor themselves just in case some of their course content is “offensive.”  Religious leaders are asked to moderate their messages in churches, synagogues, mosques, et al, even though the founders of the world’s great religions were by far not people who wanted everyone to be comfortable in their views; indeed, they wanted people to question their views and discern truth.  It is all around us:  people desiring to speak out and others wishing those same people would just shut up already.

For many people, especially artisans, creatives, artists, and people in the humanities, silence is simply not possible, nor should it be desirable for the rest of us.  It is also not possible for many scientists, engineers, and others in STEM fields to remain silent, but for the purpose of this post, I’m speaking of people in the humanities.

Most people do not go in to the arts or humanities to become rich or famous.  Some people do achieve wealth and fame in these fields, but it is a minority.  I love seeing people become rich and famous in these endeavors; it’s well deserved, but I think it’s rarely the goal.  I believe that most people who go in to the arts/humanities do so because they have something to say, something that comes from a place very central to who they are and from which they can not be separated.  This applies to many entrepreneurs as well, who have sought to create something independently because through their venture they too have something to say, something they want to offer to the world, something that matters intensely to them.   Again, here is the critical point to understand about creatives:  what they do can not be separated from who they are.   Asking them to deny that fundamental fact of their humanity by asking them to remain silent is not only unfair and cruel to them, it robs us of their perspective and insight.

Worse, it objectifies them.  When we tell a musician to “shut up and sing,” what we are really saying to that person is this:  “You are an instrument for my entertainment.  The fire inside of you that creates the art I find beautiful enough to pay for and follow is only acceptable when it is channeled in a way that I agree with.”   When we tell entrepreneurs and artisans to only talk about their products, we are saying, “I’m not interested in who you are or what you think, even though you’ve created these beautiful things for me and for the world from that very place within you that wants – needs – to express itself.”  We are asking that artist or business person to cut themselves up and only hand us the pieces that we find useful, that don’t offend us, that don’t challenge us to view something from another perspective.

People with something to say are gifts to us, whether we agree with them or not.   Throughout history, our artists and creatives have often acted as our collective moral compass, willing to point out that our emperors are naked. They have also been the metaphorical canaries in the coal mine, often ahead of most of us in sensing threats to liberty and instances of injustice.   They rattle our comfort zones, and even if we disagree with them vehemently, they exercise and test our ability (or inability) to defend our own positions.

Whether it’s my page or anyone else’s, feel free to engage in constructive debate and discussion, or even feel free to “unlike” or “unfollow,” but please, don’t say “shut up and sing” or its situational equivalent.   The people who make our art, music, poetry, literature, and who start the creative businesses that inspire us are complex, driven, deeply thinking and feeling human beings.  When we seek to silence them or reduce them to whatever we see as their “primary function,” we diminish ourselves.

Get out there and express yourself, as only you can.

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Weaving Lesson: A Beekman 1802 Artisan Experience with Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers

Last weekend I had the good fortune to take a beginner weaving class with Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers.  Some of you may know that Rabbit is an extremely well known and highly respected weaver, with an extensive knowledge of her art and so many related topics and disciplines.  For a more complete portrait of who she is and what she has done, click here.  Rabbit is a fellow Beekman 1802 artisan, and it was through Beekman 1802 that this particular class was offered.   The extremely imperfect scarf shown at left was the result of my first go at weaving, showing many errors on my part, but I fully intend to wear it anyway as a reminder of this fantastic experience and some of the larger life lessons it brought to mind.

Rabbit is a generous, patient, and effective teacher.  It is nothing short of miraculous that she is able to take a room full of absolute beginners and, at the end of two days, send them off with wearable, lovely silk & worsted scarves of their own making.  Mine was by far not the best example in the class; one in particular looked flawless to me.  While as a student I was mainly focused on process, not result, I know that when I am teaching I take a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing my students produce something truly beautiful.  I think Rabbit does too, and she certainly achieved successful results.

I think there are often life lessons embedded within any creative pursuit, and weaving is no exception.   Here are just a few that came to mind as I learned the rudiments of weaving.

Small actions can have lasting consequences.   We spent the entire first day of class learning how to wrap the warp and set up the loom.  I had previously known nothing of the painstaking work required to prepare a loom for weaving, and these were relatively simple four-harness looms suitable for beginners.  Once the warp was placed on the loom, we needed to carefully thread each heddle in the correct order, one strand at a time, to achieve the correct pattern in the final result.  Following that, each thread had to come through the reed in the correct groupings.  Needless to say, for a beginner it is very easy to make a mistake at some point in this process, and I did.  A couple of my errors were visible right away to Rabbit, who corrected them, but another was only apparent once the weaving began.   Rabbit was able to fix the latter to some extent, but there is still an imperfection all along the warp in that section of the scarf, a reminder that just one small mistake can have lasting consequences.  But I don’t want this to only be read in the negative.  It is also true that one positive act can have far reaching and lasting consequences for good.  There is a ripple effect in many things that we do, and being focused and present even in the smallest of things can matter a great deal.

Bringing your best to whatever you do is a wise investment and multiplies your efforts.   Rabbit provided us with beautiful silk and worsted thread with which to weave our scarves.  She knows what I also know as a teacher:  if you do not provide your students with the best materials for their very first project, they will not get a result that will encourage them to continue in the art.  Additionally, they may actually have a harder time learning, because cheap, low quality materials do not perform well in an artisan’s hands and can be uncomfortable and frustrating to work with.   Whether you’re a beginner or a master, bring your best to every endeavor and share that best with others if you want your message, your passion, your art – whatever it is – to become a contagious force for good.

Sometimes, we seemingly create something from nothing, and when we do, it is deeply rewarding.  One of the many wonderful conversations that took place over the weekend was about the almost inexpressible satisfaction that comes from having a real, three dimensional, thing of beauty come in to being under your own hands.  Ideas are powerful.  In the course of our weaving weekend, ideas became scarves.  In my own work, a fleeting glimpse of a landscape or the issue behind a protest may take root in my mind as an image or an idea.  From there it will make its way on to paper as a sketch, then on to linen as a pattern, then through wool and handwork it ends up a work of fiber art, tangible, tactile, real.  All it was at its inception was an idea, and it becomes a physical thing, but it doesn’t end there.  It becomes a thing that generates more ideas and feelings, and may even become part of someone else’s story, which may in turn generate more inspiration that becomes some other new thing.   Archaeologists have unearthed woven fabric that is thousands of years old, fabric that started out as someone’s idea.  This manifestation of creative thought presents itself thousands of years after the death of the thinker.  In some ways, creative making is the closest we get to immortality while also being reminded of our own personal impermanence.

Don’t judge anything too early in its story.  The hookers in the audience know that it’s impossible to truly judge a rug prior to the steaming process.  In fact, when I teach hooking, I confidently promise my students that upon steaming, their rug will subtly, and yet dramatically (yes, I mean that contradiction), change for the better.  Imagine my delight to find out that finishing is equally – possibly more – important in a woven piece.  Rabbit taught us a variety of finishing techniques for our scarves.  In the case of mine, she sprayed it gently with water and ran it through a vintage rotary iron.   After the steam pressing, she handed me my scarf and it was amazingly, tangibly, thrillingly transformed.  It was softer, my weaving errors were less apparent, it had developed more of a sheen, and it was just significantly different.  This is a great reminder that often it is best to withhold judgment, especially during moments we are most compelled to judge.  Judging too early can lead to giving up too soon.  It can lead to unfairly dismissing a project, an idea, or at worst, a person, long before we have enough information or legitimate reason to.

Believe you can.  To be honest, when I first signed up for Rabbit’s class I was not at all sure that I would be able to come home with a scarf even as good as the one I have, even with the mistakes its sporting.  Weaving is a precise, intricate, mathy, technical, and yet endlessly creative art form.  It seems to me to require a Renaissance mind, one that is equally comfortable with traditionally left and right brain thinking.  I am infamously weak with mathy pursuits.  I somehow passed calculus in college, but I remember none of it, with the exception, perhaps, of the trauma the class inflicted on me.  I knit…a little…but, oh please, do not ask me to design a knitting pattern or fix an error three rows back.  My chosen art, the one I’m so passionate about, is way more abstract, like painting with wool.  I can handle that with relative ease.  Why on earth would I think I could do something with such strong spatial and technical components?  Well, on one hand, I correctly believed that Rabbit was simply a fantastic teacher and that she’d seen the likes of me before.   On the other hand I simply chose to believe that I could do this.  This is a discipline in itself, and one I learned later in life.  As humans, we really do have limitations, innate characteristics that might really prevent individuals from doing some things.  However, I believe that we have to sort out the real limitations ( I will never be an Olympic athlete) from the lies we tell ourselves (I’m not left brained enough to weave).   The best things that have happened to me in the past several years have come about because I’ve learned to silence the inner voice that fabricates limitations, and listen to the one that objectively recognizes realistic opportunities and possibilities.

Creating things creates community.  This needs very little explanation.  On Saturday morning, we four students and Rabbit had never met before and, except for Rabbit, had never woven before.  By the end of the weekend we had chatted about our lives, our families, things we love to do, and watched and supported one another with the challenges of learning a new art.   We shared our experiences to our wider communities on social media and spread the word about this incredible workshop.  Today I showed my new scarf to our Tuesday hooking group, and the circle became wider.  Humans are innately driven to create and share in the creative process, and I have to think that this is not only because that drive is somewhat evolutionary – a means to physical survival – but also because it binds us together in communities that meet our needs for connection and belonging.

There are so many more lessons within the lesson, but these were foremost in my mind as I drove the six hours back to Maine from upstate New York.  I am very grateful to Rabbit for sharing so much of her time and resources with us, and to Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 for arranging this experience.  I am also grateful to my three weaving classmates who were inspirational in their own right, creating beautiful things out of “nothing” as well.  If this is something that would interest you also, follow Thistle Hill Weavers on Facebook where Rabbit posts her upcoming classes.   Also follow Beekman 1802 on Facebook for notifications of other upcoming Artisan Experiences as they are offered.

I’ll share some other pictures from the weekend, from Rabbit’s gorgeous studio, and from the Beekman 1802 Mercantile below (click the side arrows to scroll through).  I hope you’ll consider doing something totally new to you this year, and pondering the lessons within the lesson too.  – Beth

 

How to Make Scented Pillow Inserts

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “how to” post even though they always end up being some of the most viewed on the site.  This week I needed to make quite a few scented pillow inserts for our scented hooked pillows and thought I would just document this very simple process and share it with you.

As you can see in the photo above, you will need:  cotton muslin, fabric shears, a ruler, or better, quilting squares, straight pins, a sewing machine, and whatever scented deliciousness you’re stuffing your inserts with.   Please see the end of this post for suggestions on where to buy some of the ingredients.

Before we go further, one of the stuffing materials I use often is buckwheat seeds.  Buckwheat seeds are nice because they hold heat and cold better than buckwheat hulls, and are therefore great for microwaving or freezing once inside your finished pillow.  A heated or cooled buckwheat seed pillow can be used for aches, pains, headaches, or just soothing, especially when scented.  I scent mine using essential oils, or as you can see in the mix in the photo, I also use actual plant flowers or leaves, in this case lavender flowers.    Please DO let your buckwheat seeds sit at least overnight to completely absorb the essential oils.  This way you will never end up with oil spots on your inserts.

A lot of people like to save money by using rice, but I do not think it does quite as well thermally, and I also think rice is sometimes vulnerable to having a latent infestation with critters/moths.  Buckwheat seeds also, vs just the hulls, have a heft to them that I think is soothing when the pillow is in use.   The 6″ x 8″ buckwheat seed inserts shown here today are one pound each.

A second note:  Yes, the table in my work studio is an old air hockey table (although it still works for air hockey) because think about it.  It’s white (perfect for tracing patterns), it has little holes all over it that look like and serve as a grid, and it’s huge.  I hope to look at this blog post five or ten years from now after I have built a beautiful separate building for all of my business and homesteading needs, replete with a custom made table, and have a bit of nostalgia.  For now, though, this is what it is!

Okay.  Clearly you’ll want to measure out your pillows on the muslin.  I find that a quilting square and an art pencil are perfect for this.  The square keeps my lines nice and neat and, well, square to one another and the art pencil makes a very faint line which is less likely to show on the finished insert.  Yes, we turn them inside out after sewing, and yes, the insert is hidden inside our hooked pillows, but I just like to keep even the hidden parts of my work as clean as possible.

I measure the pillows so that the fold is along the longest side, if they are rectangular.  I also leave an extra inch for the seam.  So, in the case of my inserts for a 6″ x 8″ pillow, I measure the muslin 13″ x 9″ (12″ x 8″ with the extra inch for stitching).  If I have more than one insert to make, I draw them side by side.  A note about making these in advance:  I don’t.  I want the scented materials in my pillows to be as fresh and fragrant as possible, so the inserts are made very shortly before the finished hooked pillow is shipped.   Here is what they look like prior to cutting out.

Just cut along the lines you have carefully measured, and then you’ll be ready to fold, pin, and sew.

After sewing, pop the pillow right-side out, like so!

Now it’s time to stuff!  I use a measuring cup and a funnel to stuff the insert when I am working with buckwheat seeds.   Also, when working with buckwheat seeds, I pin TWICE.  I pin once down at the fill line to keep the seeds from wandering up and out while I’m sewing the insert shut, and I pin again closer to the top to keep the ends aligned while sewing.  You can see my finger imprints on the finished pillow where I pressed down on it.  This demonstrates how nice and moldable to your body buckwheat seed pillows are when you are using them heated or chilled.

On the other hand, this IS Maine after all, and sometimes I’m using Maine balsam fir as a fragrant stuffing for our pillow inserts.  The process is essentially the same, except with balsam I tend to stuff the pillows more firmly, as they are not meant for heating or chilling or conforming in any way.  I fill them much closer to the top of the pillow, pin ONCE this time, and sew them shut.

That’s it!  As you can see, this is not hard to do.  However, if you would like inserts pre-made for you, you can buy the balsam inserts on our Etsy shop, and I will be adding buckwheat varieties as well.

Here’s a resource guide for the variety of materials used:

I hope you have found this helpful and will give a try to adding scented inserts to your own hooked pillows!

Happy hooking! – Beth

 

 

Today I Received a Gratitude Journal

I just got back from the gym.  I’ve started working out at the gym again this year because, you know, your body adapts to whatever activity it’s used to and you need to shake it up some.  In my case, my body was adapting nicely to sitting down hooking rugs and working at my desk.  This is an unacceptable state of affairs for a person who was a certified personal trainer and avid runner in another life, and who, for the past four years or so has poured almost every spare moment in to building a business.  For 2017 I have decided I need to crawl out of that metaphorical cave and take care of other aspects of my life, one of which is my fitness level.  To say that I’m grateful to have a nice, clean, pretty quiet gym in town is an understatement.

Last week I saw that the Squam Art Workshops, for whom I had the privilege of teaching in 2015 and 2016, was having a sale on their gratitude journals and the cherry on top of the offer was that all profits were going to a non-profit organization that I am a member of, will be volunteering for, and strongly support.   This seemed like just the right offer at just the right time, because I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit pessimistic lately.

This morning on the way home I stopped by the post office to drop off today’s shipping and, lo and behold, the journal arrived and it is lovely.  The cover, as you can see, has a dew laden spider web on it, which is a familiar and beloved sight to me when I actually get up and outside early enough to see these in the grass, on my apple trees, or in the nooks and crannies on the outside of my barn.

Contrary to what you might expect, for me gratitude arises less often when things are at their very best, but more when things are not perfect.   Maybe it’s the contrast of what seems very dark with what is light.  Just as in rug hooking we are unable to clearly see an element we have hooked if we put too close a value next to it in the background, in life I think we see the bright spots especially when we are faced with darker challenges.

I plan to put this journal in my 1840 Farm tote that goes almost everywhere with me, alongside my rug journal, and use it spontaneously to record those flashes of light and gratitude that can arise at any moment if we’re really paying attention.   I can see cases where the gratitude journal might feed ideas for the rug journal, and vice versa.  When it comes right down to it, I’m a writer at heart – someone who scribbles down everything from random thoughts, to to-do lists, to sketches of what I just saw in my head, to sometimes rambling blog posts like this one.  However, you don’t have to have that continual urge to document to just take a notebook or a scrap of paper and write down what you’re grateful for each day.

I am grateful for many things in my life, from my ability to go to the gym and run or lift weights to everything I have learned in the world of fiber art over the past five to six years.  I am grateful to you, the people who read my blog posts and support my business.  I am most grateful for my family, my husband, my four sons, and my sons’ girlfriends.   I am grateful for the Parris House and Sunset Haven, these quintessentially Maine spaces I call home.  I’m also grateful to live in a country where my voice can be heard and my actions can make a difference, whether through my donations to the lives of young women, my volunteer work for civil liberties, or my faith community’s commitment to our local refugee population.

One of the tag lines I use for Parris House Wool Works is, “Hook what you love.”  Maybe this year our challenge could also be, “Hook what you’re grateful for.”  I know I will be thinking along those lines as I design this week’s new pattern.  What are you grateful for today?

Happy hooking! – Beth

 

We’re Gonna Let Love Rule…and Other News

 

Since I’m going to be blogging at least once a week, you’re going to learn random facts about me.   Here’s one now:  I’m a major Lenny Kravitz fan.  I fell hard for Lenny Kravitz’s music in 1999 not long after “Fly Away” came out.  At that time in my life my husband and I were figuring out how to make a major life change by leaving urban/suburban NJ to start a new life for ourselves and our four young sons in rural Maine.   “Fly Away” was on the radio all the time back then.  I’d hear it at home, at the gym, in the supermarket, and it kind of became my anthem for leaving a life that wasn’t right for me or for my young family.  It’s still near the top of my list of favorite songs in that genre.

After “Fly Away,” I think the song that comes back to me most from Kravitz’s catalog is “Let Love Rule.”  It seems particularly appropriate as we go in to the Valentine’s Day holiday in a few weeks to take apart that title:  “Let Love Rule.”  What does that mean?  Is that some kind of hippy dippy nonsense completely impossible in the modern world, and in a nation that’s more stressed than I ever recall in my lifetime?  (I’m 51, for the record.)

I’m not going to expound too much here.  Were this my personal blog, I might, but at the same time, I don’t think I need to.  I did write on this topic a little more extensively almost a year ago and you can read that here.  We all know what it means, though.  “Let Love Rule” means that every decision we make, every word we say, every action we take, every position we support, has to be run through that filter, that criteria.  Is what I’m about to decide, say, do, letting love rule?  Or is something else at work here?  I fail at this on a regular basis, but maybe just this month, as a celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ll give it an especially conscious try.  That’s my intention for the month, anyway.  Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment thread.

All right.  On to the other news…

Have you hooked anything for Valentine’s Day?  It’s not too late, and our shop is filled with hearts of one kind of another.   Some are patterns, all can be kitted, some are pillows, some are sachets.  Some are even finished – no hooking necessary – just have me ship it to you in time for Valentine’s Day.   Take a peek at the shop, navigating using the section clicks on the left sidebar, HERE.

Not specifically related to Valentine’s Day, but new to the shop this past week is a new digital download section for patterns.  I’ve been asked to provide this for a long time and you can see the first seven of them HERE.  They are designed for you to download, print in sections, put together, and transfer on to your own foundation.  They come with a full instruction sheet on how to properly draw a pattern on the grain with helpful hints for making the process as easy as possible.  An example is below.  In this case, “Tesla’s First Snow” will download in four sheets so that the pattern is actual size upon assembly.

 

Finally, this week I’m going to be introducing all of the particulars and sign up instructions for our new pattern/kit subscription service.  Last year I did an online survey and those of you who responded told me that a quarterly service would most interest you, with a mix of genres (seasonal, primitive, contemporary, etc).  You were pretty evenly split on patterns vs. kits, so I’m going to offer an option for each.   These will ship in March, June, September, and December of this year.  We’ll evaluate the program at the end of the year for popularity, participation, and any tweaking it needs in response to your feedback.   Patterns available through the subscription service will *only* be available to subscribers – not to any other customers – in the year they are shipped.

For those of you who have read the blog all the way to this point, here’s a special coupon code good through Valentine’s Day in the Etsy shop:  LETLOVERULE2017.   Use this coupon code for 10% off on any purchase of $25 or more in the Etsy shop.  I’ve just noticed that I’ve listed my 200th item in the shop, so hopefully you’ll find something  just right for you.

Happy hooking and let love rule.

 

 

Time to Get Out Your Calendars and Write Down These Dates

I am a planner junkie.   In fact, I have a planner, two workbooks, a wall poster calendar, and several calendars around the Parris House to keep me as organized as possible.  That’s not to say it’s always 100% effective, but I’m a writing-it-down kind of woman.   The particular organizing and planning system I’m using right now is created by an amazing Australian woman named Leonie Dawson.  She’s no nonsense and ethereal simultaneously.  Not sure how else to describe her but her work and life planner are highly effective, as is she.  To take a peek, click HERE. 

Regardless of what kind of time keeper/planners you use, however, I’ve got some dates for you to write down, so grab your planner, rip your calendar off your wall, whatever it takes, and write these down:

January 23rd:  Last day to register for the Intro to Hooking class I’m teaching at SAD44 Adult Ed.   It’s going to be fun!  We’re making cute 8″ x 8″ Valentine themed mats that can then be finished as pillows or table toppers or wall hangings – your choice.  Classes will be Monday, January 30th and Monday, February 13th.  FMI, click HERE.

January 28th:  Beginner Dye Class at the Parris House.  This is one of the most fun classes I have here.  You learn three different methods of wool dyeing and leave with a full yard of your own hand dyed wool, ready to cut and hook with, or use with any other craft you please.  FMI, click HERE. 

February 4th:  Intro to Cold Process Soap Making at the Parris House. You will learn the art of cold process soap making *and* leave with 2 pounds of freshly made soap, a recipe to use at home, a soap mold, and safety equipment. FMI, click HERE. 

March 11th:  Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can, beginner rug pattern design class at the Parris House.  Another great class that’s super fun!  You will learn genres, design tips and tricks, getting your pattern on the grain, and so much more.  You will leave with a completely finished linen pattern of your own design, all ready to hook.  FMI, click HERE. 

April 1st:  Soap making again!  See earlier description, but for tickets for this date click HERE. 

April 22nd:  207 Creatives Belfast Hook In, First Church of Belfast, UCC, Belfast, Maine.   Many of you already know about this event and are even signed up for it, but for ALL the information, click HERE. 

We are finalizing some summer dates for my classes at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village this year, so follow their page at THIS LINK for updates on my and many other great classes.

September 9th & 10th, Sharon Springs Harvest Festival, Sharon Springs, NY.  You know you want to go to one of the premier fall festivals on the east coast and meet the Fabulous Beekman Boys, so why not make this the year?  I will be there vending again this year and am hoping to persuade some other New England artisans to join me.  FMI, click HERE. 

November 4th, Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In, Paris Hill, Maine.  You read it here first!  Pencil (or better, do it in ink) this in on your calendar and I will have all of the information and registration forms coming by April.  In fact, I will have registration forms with me at the 207 Creatives Belfast Hook In, so ask for one there.

On the planning table for possible classes to be held at the Parris House are art journaling, ecoprinting/dyeing, a permaculture class, and natural dye techniques, so do stay tuned.

As I add more dates, you can always see what’s happening on our Classes & Workshops tab on the website and on our Events section of the Facebook page.

Plan to join us for some or all of these events and in the meantime, happy hooking!

Giving Back – Our Choice for 2017

Back in the late fall, I announced that Parris House Wool Works was going to choose a worthy non-profit to support in 2017.  I knew that I could not give much – Parris House Wool Works is still finding its feet – but I wanted to give something, as much as I could.  I got a lot of absolutely great suggestions through the company page and my personal page, and I hope that by putting those threads out there all of those organizations got a little boost.  But ultimately, something really clicked for me just this month when my friend Betsy Brown posted an appeal for a girls’ camp here in Maine.  Betsy works at this camp, knows its strengths, its benefits, and most importantly, its girls.

Let me tell you a little bit about me, and it may become clearer why this cause hit me just right.

When I was a little girl growing up in southern NJ, I spent summers on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine with my grandparents.   Many of you have read one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written on that experience.  If you haven’t, it’s here.    At any rate, I was phenomenally fortunate to be able to leave a situation in NJ not without personal problems and pressures and spend my summers lakeside with people who showed me unconditional love, who believed in me without exception, and where I could have new and empowering experiences like swimming, hiking, learning about plants and animals, cooking and baking, or just having the time to reflect.   Later, while raising my own sons, I would bear witness to the summer camp experience at Camp Hinds on Panther Pond in Raymond, Maine.   “Hinds,” as so many of us call it, is a Boy Scout camp where Scouts from all over the country spend weeks or more in the summer.  These boys are coming from a variety of life situations, and the experiences at Hinds can be life changing for them in the best possible ways.  My third son, Peter, an Eagle Scout, spent the most time there, but all of my sons experienced it in some way.

Fast forward to just the past few years when I have taught at the Squam Art Workshops, which is basically a wildly creative summer camp for grownups, attended mostly by women.   If you want to know what that was like, you can check on my previous post here.   I titled that post, “And the Universe Said Yes” because that is what it was like for me…decades…as in four decades…after my experiences on Little Sebago with my grandparents, I still needed and benefited from the empowerment (there’s that word again, but it’s irreplaceable in this context), camaraderie, unconditional love, and art and skill building that are the hallmarks of Squam.

And where do I go when I need to be creative, centered, feel my best about myself, and maybe discover more about myself?  I go to our own cottage on Little Sebago, Sunset Haven, and allow myself to breathe.

The benefit of a good summer camp with a loving staff, especially for children and young people not normally exposed to nature, empowering skills and activities, or even broad and caring acceptance, is immeasurable.  I know, because even though my “summer camp” experience was in a private home, it saved me in a number of important ways.

Some of the kids who need this experience most come from families who can not afford to pay for it.  One two week session at the camp I am about to introduce you to costs $1,450, which, to me, seems like a bargain given everything that this camp offers.  Take a look for yourself as I introduce you to West End House Girls Camp on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.

Photo courtesy the WEHGC Facebook page.

This introduction to West End House Girls Camp is taken from their web page:

Welcome to West End House Girls Camp. We believe in the power of camp to change lives.

For many girls, summer camp isn’t in the cards. That’s where West End House Girls Camp (WEHGC) comes in.  Building on the 100-plus year history of Boston’s West End House, WEHGC offers need-blind summer camp opportunities for girls and young women from all walks of life, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have this experience.

WEHGC opened its doors in 2011 alongside the West End House Camp (for boys) on Long Pond in Parsonsfield, Maine.” We now support over 140 girls per summer and have plans to grow to accommodate over 300 girls per summer.

What do girls get out of our camp? On the surface, the things everyone gets from camp: Sunshine. Laughter. Campfires and new friends. But for these girls, camp is also a chance to feel safe, be themselves, and experience a judgment-free zone – things they may not experience elsewhere. They learn to make independent, responsible decisions when faced with challenges.

Ultimately, our goal is for campers to develop in a variety of ways. Whether it’s new skills, self-confidence, or a side of themselves they may not have known before, we want them to carry something special with them beyond their days at camp, into the real world – life-changing experiences.

I would encourage you to go their website and surf around.  Look most carefully at the “Values” page, where you will find a list of everything we need more of in this country and this world today, and perhaps some of the things these girls need most in their lives as well.   Their testimonials about what the camp has meant to them are here.

Girls and women need to know that they are valued, that they can achieve at a very high level, and that in spite of the challenges they face, they have within themselves the power to make a better life for themselves.  No matter what childhood situation we are coming from, we need to know that, and more importantly, be shown that.  I believe that West End House Girls Camp does exactly that, and I believe we are at time in America where this is as vitally important as ever.

I have made an initial pledge to West End House Girls Camp for $1000 this year, with a goal of another $450 if I can which would round out the cost of one entire two week scholarship.  I am humbled by the fact that I can not yet give more, but it’s a start, and if I can surpass the $1450 goal with the kind of growth I’m looking for this year, I absolutely will.  Chances are also good that I will not feel as though my support of WEHGC is over at the end of the year, and I will continue my support in to the future, hopefully in bigger and better ways.

If this is something that interests you as well, you can find the West End House Girls Camp donation page here.  I will be bringing you news and updates about the camp throughout 2017, especially on our social media.  You can follow them on Facebook by clicking here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you will be moved to either support WEHGC also, or some other worthy nonprofit of your choice.  Our country and our world need a heavy dose of all that is right, good, empowering, and compassionate, one person, one act, one donation, one hour at a time.  It’s up to us.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Logo courtesy the West End House Girls Camp Facebook page