Tickets available on Eventbrite
It makes me very happy to be invited back to the Fraser Common Farm in Aldergrove to host a weaving workshop, Saturday April 2. Thanks to Dayna Fidler and David Catzel for making it happen!
Tickets available on Eventbrite
Many of you will join me in my excitement over this announcement -- I'm finally teaching a workshop on how to make the woven slippers! thanks due, as always, to Vladimir Yarish and his book, Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark.
Saturday February 6, 9:30am to 6:00pm including breaks
MacLean Park Fieldhouse, Strathcona
$125 including materials
Register on the Workshops page at EartHand.com.
For those of you who haven't seen these slippers before, here's a bit of background and some of my thoughts, based on a few years of making them in a variety of different materials:
I've been in love with Lapti, the Russian/Scandinavian woven slippers, since the moment I first saw one, on display at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. I swoon over their fascinating structure, and being able to make each shoe in one piece out of any flat, weave-able material, without needing a mould.
(I know you're rolling your eyes and thinking "Geek!", right?)
But these slippers catch the eyes and imaginations of everybody; when my kids went to school with their felt slippers, I had parents coming up to me to say they'd seen them and asking how they could get a pair for themselves or their kids, too. When I wore a pair of yucca slippers running an errand in the DTES, the street folks were equally keen to know about what I was wearing. Why is this? I wondered.
Well first of all, they're cute, but not gooey; not amorphous like most felt footwear, slippers, and non-leather footwear, they look both comfy and sophisticated at the same time. And if you're into the Luxe Handmade a la Etsy aesthetic, these slippers made in felt are an instant classic.
Second, they're conspicuously hand-made. All baskets are hand-made (even the plastic $2 easter baskets at the dollar store...), but these look so obviously un-machined that they're like headline ads for human ingenuity. Even non-weavers are instantly curious about how they're made.
Third, going a bit deeper (and maybe being a geek about this), these slippers make the idea of making a pair of shoes more accessible to all of us. Making, and knowing how to make, imparts a powerful sense of agency and self-sufficiency. You don't have to be a dedicated urban homesteader to feel the pull of a more direct experience of things, the satisfaction of making something real with your hands instead of touching buttons on a screen.
So if the idea of making your own woven slippers appeals to you, please go to the Workshops page on EartHand.com -- scroll down til you see the buttons to register for the Slippers Workshop -- and grab yourself a spot in the group on February 6.
There are no photos to accompany this post.
On my ride home from a meeting on Sunday night, I found a small raccoon that had been hit by a car. It was lying against the curb in the gutter, hands and feet curling in delicately, little eyes half-closed and dim, its muzzle rimmed with blood.
This was my third dead animal this fall; the first was a Cooper's hawk that Georgia and I found while riding down an alley one night, its body still warm and perfect except for the angle of its neck and slight flatness of the side of its skull, and the trickle of blood from its beak. We took it home, wrapped it in a shroud, and put it in the freezer; after Georgia's class had had the chance to see it, we gave it to my friend Tracy Williams, Sesemiya, a weaver from the Squamish Nation. She'll use the feathers or the skin in regalia.
The second dead animal was a sheep. The farmer donated some fleece to EartHand earlier in the fall, and in the course of chatting about this and that, we got onto the topic of tanning, and he asked if I had any use for a hide. He would be butchering one of his ram lambs in a few weeks, he said, and would I have use for the hide? So he called me when the weather was right for butchering, and I drove out the next day to pick up the hide.
When I arrived, the gentleman's crew had started the butchering and were in the process of peeling off the hide. It was only my second butchering, so I was keen to learn. In some cultures there are several different verbs for 'to butcher', depending on the method; but our language is or has become very blunt and imprecise for this elemental activity that almost none of us experiences.
But the farmer himself came out within moments of my arrival (he's an elder; his son and buddy were doing the butchering), and firmly invited me into the house for tea. He knows little of me, only that I am roughly the age of his children, teach people the age of his grandchildren, and live in the big city -- I think he was doubtful that I could handle it, or thought that I might have judgements about it. Flesh is so potent, and so taboo.
Chris and his buddy got the hide off and they rolled it up and put it in a cardboard box (it was bloodless); I brought out some plastic bags, and Lawrence picked up the head and we double-bagged it (it was very bloody - brains are used in natural tanning). When I got home, I had to clean out my freezer and re-roll the hide tighter to make everything fit.
Tracy has hides in her freezer, too, and we've talked about getting together to do make some buckskin. She has a bit more experience than I do, though we're both pretty green. Countless hides go to waste every year because, though everyone eats, not everyone has the skills or time to honour a hide through careful tanning. They go to the landfill instead, the ultimate insult to the cycle of life.
Then the raccoon. I passed it on my way out, and thought that if it were still there on my way home, I would collect it. It was, so I did. I picked it up and put it in a plastic bag that I found in one of my panniers, and then tied it onto my bike rack, and rode home. I put it into a cardboard box, and then into a plastic bin, and left it outside in the cold.
The next day, I crossed the taboo. With rubber gloves and my kit of blades, I laid out the raccoon on a sheet in my private backyard. I didn't want to have an audience amongst my city neighbours as I did something most of them would see as freakish and alarming (skinning roadkill), so I froze silent whenever I heard someone pass.
I lit some incense and sat quietly and admired the raccoon's details, its fingers and claws, its whiskers. I found myself asking for permission to take the hide to help me learn to be part of the cycle, to cross the threshold of flesh by my own hand. I was afraid: afraid of cutting into the creature's body, afraid that it would be mutilated. The first cut was the most difficult, piercing the skin that is never meant to be pierced in life. And yet, as I carefully made the cuts that would release his hide from his body, I felt more and more kinship with the little beast: here he is, a little omnivore like me, and underneath our skins, our flesh is the same; his flesh is just like my flesh. The only blood was from the broken bones that the car had left him with. He still has his hands and feet, his face and tail; he didn't look mutilated, only naked.
His body isn't going to be picked up by city workers and sent to the landfill or the incinerator; his hide will now become part of the thread of ancestral skills that connects human beings to the land; and I will wrap him in a shroud, and bury him underneath the big fir tree, with deepest gratitude for helping me cross this threshold.
Oliver is modelling our new laundry basket, which now sits in the upstairs hall and fills the space with the cooling, relaxing smell of willow. Every time I pass it, I bubble with joy -- the scent of it, thoughts of the friends who harvested the willow for me, its form, its pattern, its substantial weight all delight me. How could a laundry basket bestow so much happiness? I think because it's a humble object for a simple life, grounded on the land. Perhaps it's aspirational that way, wabi-sabi craftsmanship and all.
I think Alastair Heseltine would understand, and possibly have better words for this than I do. I've had the pleasure of working alongside him on a few occasions, and taking a workshop with him once. I hope I'll have the opportunity to be his student again, because as an instructor and a beacon in an art form, I've known few on par with him. I was very happy to learn that he was awarded a Carter Wosk British Columbia Achievement Award for Applied Art and Design last night.
Thanks to Alastair for starting me out with weaving sticks, and Josep and Magda Mercader for edging me slightly further along -- I hope someday to make you all very proud. Sharon and I are doing our part to keep the traditions alive and growing ;)
On Tuesday I installed my first solo show, Walking on the Land, at the City Atrium Gallery in North Vancouver.
When I first tossed out the idea for this show in the spring, I thought it may eventually come to pass -- maybe -- sometime in the vague future. When the Executive Director and Exhibitions Co-ordinator at North Vancouver Community Arts Council received the idea enthusiastically and proposed an opening date a little more than three months away, I nearly got cold feet. But I decided that it was important to me to explore these ideas sooner rather than later, and that the best way for me to guarantee that the work would get done would be to promise it publicly.
I'm glad that I did.
Below are some images from the exhibit, and the accompanying text.
Projects & Places
Urban Weaver Studio
Aberthau Flax Fibre Food
EartHand Gleaners Society
Means of Production
The Center for Ecoliteracy