January 4-The first day back at school we gathered at the park right after the morning bell. It was a cold overcast day that threatened rain- but the ground showed evidence of a very light snow- which was soon to melt.
We walked the perimeter of the park, went into a few bedding areas looking to see what had changed in the three weeks since we were there last. New growth was peeping up from the ground and we looked specifically at the base of where dry old seed stalks stood to find the the new fresh green shoots.
After three weeks since last talking about the plantings, I asked questions to see how strong retention of names, plant uses and growth patterns was. I was so amazed at the fact a majority had several of the names, uses and patterns still in their head! Some confusion of yarrow and tansy gave us reason to search out fresh blooms of each so we could clarify- and look closely at how different the stalks and leaves are.
Tea time of course allowed for more talk about the plants and then back to the school to get warm and prep for our next project.
In the class we painted large sheets of paper with a onionskin dye and nettle/iron dye- just as a method of softening the harsh whiteness of the pages we would use next for introducing weaving. Blowing liquid across the pages allowed us to watch the branching patterns form that are found in so many places in nature.
Our paper now dry and ready to go, I talked about how to rip paper, and understanding that even though paper is highly processed, it still comes from wood, and has a grain- a line of fibres that it is easiest to tear with instead of against.
A broken branch found on the lawn of the school made the grain fibre easy to explain.
Rebecca Graham taught basic plain weave with the paper strips, then twining the edge with string to keep the shape when suddenly shifting to weaving sides up on a diagonal.
Other strips of paper were rolled between the palms and used for making rope and beginning to understand twist.
Today we continued with weaving the diagonal plait baskets and brought out the drop spindles to work on our spinning.
Half of the students know drop spindling from last year, and the skill comes back swiftly, others struggle a bit- it is a challenge to get both hands working on different tasks and patience is always needed. Understanding the fibre length, how to draft properly to have as even a fibre amount as possible and always going in the same direction with twist,building twist that doesn’t escape into the neutral roving- all of these subtle details happen at once and can be confusing,but many students seem to do well.
Letting the twist travel up the fibre while controlling how much fibre the twist is released into, is the most exciting part of learning how to spin.
With a few solid sessions on weaving basics and spinning, we are ready for our next guest- Tracy Williams who will teach us about patterns in weaving.
Today was a much anticipated day, the day Tracy Williams joined us to show us weaving patterns. Tracy is a Squamish Weaver, and she brought a stunning work in progress made of cedar and wool to show us along with other collected treasure from the land including: rocks for paint, lichen for dye, goat hair for weaving. Tracy explained how the materials and the method woven was specific to what a basket would be used for- cedar roots woven very tightly could be water tight for carrying water, versus an open weave cedar branch basket which would be strong and good for holding fish, shells and other food gathered from the sea while letting water out so excess weight did not have to be carried.
Tracy spoke about the link she has to the land and the materials she uses in her weaving, stressing the connection to the land through those materials and the importance of not being greedy, and only taking what you need, and using every part of what we gather. She spoke about the gifts that we receive from the what we harvest and how often the knowledge of how to process a material comes from the source- the mountain goat, the plant or the fish- when you are working and trying to relearn lost knowledge you have to listen and pay attention. Tracy talked about how some knowledge has been sleeping for over 100 years- there may not be a living person to learn certain things from, so having patience and listening is extra important.
Patience came up a few times, as it often does when learning new hand skills- learning to be patient with ourselves as we gather coordination, and also, patience for the time it takes, in the task of making while our skills gain, and as Tracy said- “you can’t start off weaving a waterproof bowl, that only comes after your have made many, many bowls”.
We had warped our looms before Tracy’s arrival and practiced our twining, and then we launched into pattern- which was math to the surprise of many…
Reversing a twine was a challenging leap for some- like an extra step in a dance move that made things complicated- they chose to do straight twined laps of various colours, others got the reverse no problem, and some still wanting more challenge jumped into triangles, figuring out with Tracy how to do a 7, 5, 3, 1 pattern that would be filled with a reverse triangle in a 2, 4,6, 8 .The chalk board looked like perhaps a complex math problem had been written out- and in some ways, that is exactly what it was.
The afternoon ended with Tracy showing an early technology drill she has, it is simple- using rope, a spinning disc as a weight and a dowel- and the same physics the kids have been exploring in drop spindling and rope making comes into play.
Seeing how the energy of the rope would swing up the dowel one way gathering energy, and then release and roll up the other way as Tracy pumped the bar was a great example of how a drill could be made. What a great day, Ms. Persoon commented that the next day students had time to work on projects as they wished- most were weaving, some drop spindled- the room was dead quiet with concentration and focus.
In some ways, today was the day that we started to bring the various threads of exploration together. I brought in a large bundle of Lupine stalks that were harvested at Trillium last August. Students could remember what the lupine new growth looked like, as well as that it grew in an explosion pattern- radiating out from the centre. by May/June when our project ends the lupine will be in full bloom again! We started off by talking about plants needing to be dried, so they have already shrunk and the finished woven work doesn’t loosen or unravel when dry, and learning to gauge a plant’s surface on a scale of waxy to paper-like for determining what will take longer to soak and make flexible again.
We observed that the lupine stalk is hollow, and I showed how to flatten and split it open to reveal the pearl-like interior. The next step was learning how to roll the stalk over your fingers so the inner white surface could come off, leaving behind a strong thin and flexible fibre that could be made into rope, or even maybe carded and spun. I explained that most plants have an outer bark- sometimes strong, an inner surface- sometimes spongy, solid or thin and woody- and that the middle layer is often a strong fibre that is useful… Figuring out how to split open a plant stalk and examine its interior structure is the first step to learning what you can do with ‘new’ plants.
After this, students jumped in to whatever excited them to continue on with- some made rope, some wove baskets or continued their patterned weaving they began with Tracy.
The important part is that they each now have a tool kit of techniques that they are familiar with to varying levels, and understand the basics of raw material inquiry, and so our journey begins of looking at plants and assessing what we think they might be useful for and continuing our journey of reconnecting to the land and to traditions in making and skill development.
Class Bonus Today: Rebecca brought in a Stellar Jay that she found on a sidewalk just after it was hit by a car and had died. Rebecca had kept it in her freezer, and a few students took advantage of the opportunity to do a sustained drawing in their sketchbooks. As class was winding down, Agnes decided to brush Yolli so she could try spinning her fur- and what results! A fibre source right at our feet.