The Yurt is Back!

yurtI would not fit well into a tiny house.  For one thing, I own 15 different weaving looms—in all shapes and sizes.  Floor looms, upright tapestry looms, table looms, a triangular shawl loom, round looms, Navajo looms…they all serve to create different types of textiles and are part of my growing assembly of looms available for instructing students (once it is safe again to do to).

The looms are admittedly most everywhere on the farm—on the farmhouse porch, sometimes in our living room, in our walk-out basement, in the loft, even a smaller one at Farmstead currently.  Having so many looms was the impetus for constructing my studio yurt on our farm in 2007, when my large tapestry loom proved too heavy for house’s loft, causing it to begin sagging!  The wooden and metal beast had to go somewhere else, but where?

A heated yurt next to our house became the perfect, creative solution and is one of my absolute favorite places to be on the farm.  Strung with fairy lights and filled with looms and yarn, it’s a place I can safely leave projects, and they won’t be disturbed or in anyone’s way.  Every artist should have an inspiring space all their own, filled with the materials of their work and inviting to the creative process.

You may, however, remember that the yurt hit a rocky point earlier this year with the attack from the squirrels and mice, which left my yarn stash damaged (some of it decimated) after the tiny beasts chewed their way inside and wreaked havoc.  After scrambling to save and clean what could be salvaged, we made our best attempts to remove or relocate as many of the invasive critters as possible and keep any more from re-entering.  But the aging sidewalls of the yurt continued to be an easy target for the rodents, and keeping out the mice just was not sustaining.  For the time being, much of any creative work in my happy space was curtailed.

Right away, I was on the phone with Pacific Yurts in Oregon, working out a solution and ordering new side walls.  I was not the first client to call with squirrel problems, but ironically this was the first year their company had received such calls—it is, after all, still 2020.  With an upgrade to the window screens (which is where the rodents were chewing their way in), my order was placed, but it would take at least seven weeks to build and arrive.

I remember looking at the calendar and realizing that seven weeks would be November.  November!  We could have snow and sleet and wind and horrible weather then—how would those side walls ever be replaced before winter settled in for good?  Well, it seems winter made an early visit, then took a reprieve JUST long enough for us to butcher all our Thanksgiving turkeys (six straight days of butchering) AND make the yurt switch-a-roo today before returning to her chilly mood.

Thank goodness!  It would be heartbreaking to think of not being able to use the yurt in earnest all winter because of its mousiness!inside yurt

Today was the day, as the sun and southern breeze escorted small puff clouds across the sky.  Opening up the hearty package from the manufacturer, I poured over the instructions one more time before we embarked on disassembling part of the top cover and removing the old side cover (which, in good farming fashion, we already have a plan to repurpose for a different wind-blocking project where mouse-proof-ness isn’t requisite).  This afforded good opportunity to thoroughly clean out hard-to-reach spaces and check for hiding mouse nests one more time before stringing up and fastening the new cover.

Structural aging can happen so slowly that you hardly notice it over time.  A fading here, a thinning there.  But holding that new side cover next to the old one made the distinction quite apparent—the fresh smell of the treated canvas, the saturation of the color, the grip of the fresh Velcro around the vinyl windows, the company improvements to the window flaps.  It was like giving your house a fresh coat of paint and stepping back to realize just how much brighter and happier the place looks.

We were determined to finish the process in one day, not only to beat the oncoming wet weather, but to afford no more opportunities to any more mice as well!  When the yurt had originally arrived that summer day in 2007, a crew of five of us assembled the whole thing in one day—but that was a summer day, with remarkably more daylight than early November!  And there wasn’t anything to dismantle and clean in the process, so it’s not terribly surprising that the sidewall makeover took most of the day.

installing sidewalls

Installing the sidewalls the first time, in 2007

But as I was able to stand in my creative space tonight all freshened up, safe, and tidied, the sense of tremendous relief was more than worth all the effort.  The yurt was back!  And now, as our before-snow-flies list winds down (in part because snow will by flying again and the ground will freeze assuredly soon), I’ll be able to have the time to renew my art practice in my special space.

This week take some time to renew or create your special space, no matter how small.  Winter is coming, the pandemic continues to rage catastrophically, and each of us will need a place of peace and renewal to tend to our vital, creative hearts.

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Introducing Erindale Palates

“You have such a sense of color,” I’ve hard again and again.  “When I see your work, or the dyes you choose for your yarns, I know it’s yours by the colors you choose.”

Or, most recently when helping an online shopper with shipping her roving order, she offered, “I loved the color choices–more natural and soft, not too harsh and bright, and they go together well.”

Yes, yes, that’s the point!  I’m one of those yarn shoppers when I see a color and weight that I know augments my stash within my palate, I buy it.  Even if I don’t know what I’ll use it for yet, I know that I’ll use it because it fits in my greater scheme.  Lately, I’ve been encouraged to begin making curated arrangements if our wool to highlight those color choices that play especially well together, so that creatives of all kinds can enjoy using the Erindale Palate.

To kick off the idea, I designed a series of collections of wool roving from our sheep (both natural and hand dyed), which I just added to our farm’s e-store.  They each feature 6 balls of 1/2 oz. roving–great for needle felting!  Click the title to find where to purchase each collection.

Winter

winter roving

Spring

spring roving

Summer

summer roving

Autumn

autumn roving

Magic

magic roving

If you are inspired by these Erindale Palates, I’d love to see what you create!  Here is one of my latest pieces, also available as a painting with wool needle felting kit.

flower fantasy

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Always Experimenting

rug in progressArtists don’t sit still well.  Repeating what’s been created before soon becomes painfully boring, and I find myself yearning to push the boundaries and try something new.  Because of the squirrel attack on my studio yurt (and the fact that I’m still dealing with mice in there), all of my copious yarn stash had to come into the house and so far has stayed there.  This effectively forced me to organize the horde (including make sense of what had been damaged or destroyed by the rodent attack) and notice which yarns had been in the stash for quite some time without ever finding a home in the right project.

Many years ago, we had a sheep that was given to us that was supposed to be a Navajo churro.  Yay, I’d thought, he’d make great yarn for my tapestry work!  But he turned out to both be snarky and not a churro sheep, and we rehomed him.  In the meantime, I had accrued several sheerings of his fleece, which I had processed into lopi yarn.  But the yarn was coarse and rough, and not suitable for weaving.  What to do with it?  I wasn’t sure, so the cones just sat, waiting for their moment.

Now they were in the house, saved from the squirrel attack, sitting once more.  It was time to find something creative to do with this yarn!  I’d been curious about the process of felted knits (a wet felting technique) but as felted crochet, and was interested in adapting a pattern for a felted rug.  This coarse yarn was certainly rug grade, but would it felt well?  I grabbed an oversized hook and tried making a test swatch.  To my delight, it did!

The yarn on the cones, however, is all a natural gray, which looks cold and bland by itself.  It needed some visual warming, so I returned to the stash and began pulling out other colors to work into the rug—the glorious colors of autumn.  Deep red, pumpkin oranges, greens, browns.  During the felting process, these meld together as if looking at the stately maple trees across the barnyard on a foggy morning.  The gray reminded me of the weathered tones of the bark on maple trees, while the fiery hues popped out like the rustling leaves.

With the first rug completed, it was time for felting.  This was not a tiny rug!  I began in the utility sink, bringing on the hot water and soap to discover that the mock-churro yarn was still infused with dark lanoline.  Several washes later and plenty of hand agitation, I squeezed out the excess water and brought the rug to a towel-lined work table.  When teaching at North House Folk School last February (before COVID shut down such activities), and had enjoyed visiting another class in progress on Nuno felting.  While they were working with wool roving to create delicate fabrics, it felt like elements of this technique could translate into my crocheted felt experiment.  I laid out bubble wrap, grabbed a pool noodle, and began rolling.  Later, I laid towels out on the floor and repeatedly threw the rug down with a slap, which is supposed to help shock the fibers.felted rug

And then I took the piece and the towels do our clothes dryer.  I know that my knitted felting book (which wanted me to use a washing machine but said only use top loaders, which is not what we have) said to stay away from the dryer, I knew from experience wet felting braided roving for coiled rugs that this was where the real tightening happened.  I stayed close by to check often and remove the plethora of guard hairs that accumulated in the lint basket, and gave it a whirl.  It felted up beautifully!  Thick yet luxurious, all the colors melding together.  Now I’m hooked!  Onto the next rug and using up that old wool in a fun new way.

Keep experimenting.  It’s good for your brain and your soul.

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The Yurt is Attacked!

From my weekly column “Down on the Farm”

inside yurtLiving with nature can be a beautiful, peaceful experience, but not always.  Some weeks, it can feel like the farm is under attack, and this was one of them.

It started on Friday, when I left Farmstead right after closing time and all the delicious to-go dinners had been picked up.  Dusk was arriving, and it was time for evening chores.  It seems like that time draws earlier and earlier each day noticeably as autumn approaches.  I had herded all the ducks in their houses, locked the doors on the pullets and young turkeys, and was just closing in the adult turkeys when I heard squawking from the laying hens out in their mobile housing in the pasture.

Every two weeks, we pick up all their electric mesh fence and pull them with the truck onto fresh ground, so they have new grass and bugs to peck and their manure fertilizes the soil, growing even better pasture grasses for the sheep next year.  With each move, we’d pulled the hens further and further out into the field, until at this point they were waaaay out there.  At the sound of panicked squawking, I leapt into the utility golf cart “The Blueberry” that is my chore-time vehicle and booked it out to the pasture—I mean really booked it.  The whole back end was rattling, the headlights jumping, the engine whining.  I didn’t care how jostled I was—I was saving my chickens.

Anyone who has ever had chickens knows that there is a litany of creatures that want to eat them.  We take many precautions and over the years have learned what does or does not work to deter predators, but every now and then one still slips in.  I arrived at the scene of the crime to find terrified birds huddled at the edges of their mesh fence, others holed up in their hay wagon coop, eyes about ready to pop out of their heads.  Whatever had been attacking (likely a fisher) had fled upon my noisy arrival, with one hen dead in the yard and a pile of feathers but otherwise unscathed second bird.  I had arrived just in time to prevent a total massacre.

The chickens felt completely under attack, spooky and screaming.  Meticulously, I walked all over the large pen, finding those tangled in the fence and helping them back into the coops, which I locked securely.  Next morning, we hitched up to the wagons and pulled them into the yard, out of the field.  If there’s anything we’ve learned from predator control, it’s that once you’ve had a strike, you must move the birds out of the area or the foe will be back.

Then, there was Sunday.  Sunday afternoons after closing time is my time to be in my tapestry studio.  I look forward to it all week.  This artful, round structure sits near our house and holds several of my looms, a tremendous stash of yarn, patterns and designs I’ve created over the years, weaving books, and more.  It’s a place where I can leave projects out and they’re not in anyone’s way, and it’s where I’ve been making the beautiful cranes tapestry.

This Sunday, I closed up shop after scooping our signature sheep’s milk gelato and finishing a needle felted puppy commission and headed off to the yurt, a song in my heart.  But when I opened the door, I found that disaster had struck.  Yarn had been pulled from baskets and drug across the floor, fairy lights knocked off the walls, crane feathers askew on the floor, and there was a terrible smell.

I wanted to sit down and weep, but my realist side kicked in instead.  It was time to assess and evacuate as much as could be salvaged from this mess.  Every basket, every drawer, every tote had to be emptied out onto the floor and sorted.  Any loom with a project on it that could was carried out and into the house.  Tiny turds everywhere, pee on papers, whole skeins of (of course some of the most expensive yarns) shredded to bits.  My mind felt in total shell shock as my body kept working, making endless trips to the house with armloads of materials and product that might be saved.

yarnUpon greater inspection, I found that the assailant(s) had chewed a hole in the window screening, which meant squeezing through wrinkles in thick Velcro that holds on the vinyl window covers.  With the scale of the damage, our estimate is that the intruders were red squirrels.  It would seem unlikely that mice would have drug yarn all over the room and between cabinet drawers.

By nightfall, the space was stripped down to nothing but wood and metal, with the only fiber item I could not remove being my beautiful cranes tapestry in progress.  Even when the family came home from cutting wood that evening, we could not discern a way to remove the massive Varpapuu loom from the studio.  It had come in as pieces, and there was no way for it to fit out the door whole.  Dismantling it would have threatened the ability to re-stretch the piece again later.

So, we set live traps, stuffed Bounce sheets into any cracks around the vinyl windows, tied more around the feet and top of the loom, and wrapped the tapestry in sheets. I’m still a bit in shock over the violation of my artmaking space, but I know we’ll move forward to make it secured once again.

Hopefully, that will be the end of the attacks for this week!  The chickens are much happier in the yard, slowly calming down from their terrifying night, and I’ll be working to replace that screen in the chewed window.  See you down on the farm sometime.

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Students Share Their Projects

packing kits

packing needle felting kits

In the face of COVID-19, my teaching schedule tanked.  Facing March and April classes that had already been scheduled and booked, I turned the loss into an opportunity, transforming the materials into kits and the instruction time into recorded tutorials.  This allowed me to launch seven new needle felting kits with accompanying video instruction, which were duly mailed to students.  And while creating kits is a time-consuming process, it’s work that can be mined again and again to facilitate projects and learning.

With the creation of our farm’s e-store mid-March, the new felting kits now have a way to be seen and ordered, and they’ve proved an indispensable part of launching offering Zoom classes in partnership with North House Folk School.  I mail kits ahead of time to enrolled students, so they have all the materials they need.  The video instruction provides an excellent backup plan in case Zoom isn’t working well for a student or as a post-class refresher.  Most of the kits have materials enough for two projects, one to make in class and one for repetition and perfecting the process.

zoom classroom

The Fiber Loft transformed into my Zoom classroom

While it is not the same as having all the students sitting around the big table in Farmstead’s Fiber Loft, it’s been great to see faces, share stories, and learn together after 3 1/2 months of hiatus.  I’ll never tire of the enthusiasm shared when a student celebrates the completion of their project.  “I did it!” is the cry of joy, “and it actually turned out!”  It makes slogging through the inevitable “this is never going to work” phase of creativity so worth the effort.

In this post, I wanted to share some of that student joy with you, including pictures they’ve shared with me of their pieces.

 

fox

Yuri’s adorable fox

 

hummingbirds

Barb and Sue’s flying hummingbirds

 

loon

Rachelle’s loon–her first felted piece

“We just have so much fun with this,” Sue shared after our Zoom session with her sister Barb.  Barb and Sue have been exceptional guinea pigs for me through this process, trying out projects and methods before they “go live” in bigger class settings.  “We really miss classes, but this is great, and we still get to make stuff with you!”

Rachelle wrote today, “I attached the photo–it was a lot of fun and with your video it was easy to follow along and get good results!  Considering this was the first time I have tried this I think he turned out great.  Can’t wait to try more.  I am excited for the gnomes, pumpkins, santas to come in the future too!”

And there IS more planned in the works.  Currently, my proposal is submitted to North House Folk School for Zoom classes held in September and October, with beginning needle felting projects as well as a couple intermediate level pieces.  Watch for the release of these for enrollment soon!  Don’t wait to long–word is getting around and they have been filling up.  Keep an eye on my classes via my instructor page on their site.

Here are some pictures to showcase what’s coming up, including a few favorite repeats as well as a host of projects that will mean creating new kits!  These will be made live on our farm’s e-store as soon as they’re ready, so you can watch for them there or check out what’s currently available.  In times like these, it’s critical to have a way to channel our frustrations and distress, and I can hardly think of a better outlet than repeatedly stabbing wool with a pointed tool to create adorable critters!

fall felted critters

Fall’s plan for felted critter classes

 

mushroom house

Intermediate level “mushroom house”

 

dala horse

Intermediate level “dala horse”

I’ve started my online teaching with needle felting because it’s low on infrastructure (all students really need is a table and good lighting) and great for all skill and experience levels.  In November, I’m planning to launch my first Celtic Cable Crochet class (details coming soon!) and expand from there.  Is there something you’d love to learn from me on Zoom?  Is there a project you really wish was a kit?  Please use the Contact Page to reach out and let me know, or send a message to the Erindale Facebook page.  Keep on creating everyone!

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Developing a New Model for Teaching Fiber Arts

Duluth folk schoolThis past winter, I was immersed in my fiber arts teaching schedule, with needle felting classes on Saturdays, Painting with Wool felting classes on Sundays, two-day weaving intensives, and many Fridays travel teaching to folk schools for felting and punch needle rug hooking. That, of course, has come to a halt due to COVID-19, and I am looking towards new and creative ways to encourage your creativity and learning while sharing my passion for fiber arts. Perhaps this is a good time to also reconsider the model of having students or instructors run here and there to attend or teach. Maybe learning within the comfort of our own homes is actually a better model to explore.

I miss my students, and I am eager to reconnect with you all! As I brainstorm ways of moving forward, I am interested in hearing from you about what learning methods and offerings would be of most interest to you. Lately, I’ve been transforming many of my needle felting classes into kits with video tutorials, which you can finish at your own pace. But I am looking to expand the offerings, including live stream options.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts as a student below, to help me understand what would interest you. Thank you, and I hope we can connect soon for unlocking creative potential!

–The form included here was removed because my inbox was being flooded with spam!  Please use the “contact form” to reach out about virtual class interest.  Thanks! ~Laura–

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Studio Tour: Step Inside My Yurt

As a creative person, do you ever struggle to create that “room of your own” for your work? Find yourself having to pick up mid-progress because someone needs the dining room table or have to safeguard your materials from curious pets? All these and the fact that tapestry looms are large and heavy had me searching for a studio space solution in 2007. The looms were too heavy for the loft in our house (it began sagging, yikes!), the projects too delicate to be near our squirrel-happy dogs, and the space required too large to fit anywhere else in our home. Make an addition? Build a separate building? The choices were becoming dauntingly expensive, until we settled on installing a yurt next to our home.

Now, 13 years later, the yurt is still my treasured tapestry studio space. This morning, I filmed a tour for you, so you can step inside and look around. Join me!

Airy, open, and integrated with nature, the yurt makes a wonderful sacred space for making art. The hydronic in-floor heat means I waste no floor space (or the mess!) for a wood stove, and we had electricity installed for extra light and heat when needed. Pacific Yurts makes many sizes (mine is a 16-food diameter) and a great variety of add-on features, and the work is high quality and has lasted well even in our harsh northern climate. It doesn’t stay warm enough when it’s 35-below and windy, but when it’s that cold I’m by the wood stove in the house! I am careful not to bring food or beverage other than water inside, as the last thing I’d want to find in my studio is a bear! Never hurts to be cautious.

Thank you for joining me in my studio.

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Tapestry Progress: Zen Cranes

Weaving, for me, is a practice. There is a zen state in my studio yurt–a peaceful sacredness that has a different resonance from our home of at Farmstead Creamery. In the yurt, there is quiet stillness, the sounds of the wind and the birds, and the gentle rustle and thump of the weaving process itself. I wanted to share some of that experience with you, as if you could sit with me in the studio.

Tapestry Weaving Demonstration

The weaver in quarantine looks unchanged–the work carries on, one thread at a time.  The world turns, spring haltingly moves her way forward, and the process continues.  The artist who has created her sacred studio space at home can carry on the journey unabated.  I feel for my grad school friends who had to pack up their NY studios and cart what they could back to their apartments for the duration–yikes!  Be safe my friends out there.  I am fortunate that, like cottage industries dating back to the dawn of weaving, my tools of the trade are close at home and close at hand.

Finally, “Zen Cranes”  is growing to enough height that I can see how my interpretation of the photo by Kathy Bishop is working out.  Stepping back, hints of the depth and movement of the water, shadows, and reeds are appearing.

tapestry detail

While it still seems like the tapestry has a loooooong way to go, much of the time-consuming decision making about color, texture, interpretation, and visual phrasing is set in motion.  And the higher up I weave on the piece, the fewer reeds there are (sigh of relief), so speed will come exponentially with height.  I am certainly looking forward to the part where I can work in the crane feathers!  Not yet, not yet, but it’s coming.

full tapestry progress

My encouragement to you is that you use this time at home to be creative, whether or not you have a full studio available.  Claim even a corner, a chair, a table, the garage, whatever it takes.  Be expressive, immersive, lose yourself in the work.  The process is healing and grounding and a critical part of being human.  Stay safe and healthy my friends, and carry on!

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Adapting Creatively

Sudden onset lifestyle change:  Social distancing, lockdowns, self-quarantining, sheltering in place.  These have all been added to our vocabulary in a matter of a couple of weeks, and we’re all feeling the pinch.  While I work from home (our family farm, my studio, and our farm store and gallery), so being at home is no stranger to me, but still I’ve had to adapt as a creative person, especially as a teacher.  Every weekend and several Fridays were booked with needle felting classes, rosters filled with eager students, and the COVID-19 appeared on center stage.  I have beloved grandparents in their late 80’s and early 90’s, so I’m all on board with the new regimen to help front door signkeep people safe and slow the spread so the medical industry can keep up with their patient load.  We’re a medical family, so I’m not complaining in the least.  We all have to do our part to help everyone make it through this pandemic as best as possible.

But that doesn’t mean that the show is cancelled.  Creativity has a way of breaking through even the toughest moments in human history, and this should be no exception.  Instead of being defeated, we must adapt.  That is how species, and psyches, survive.  I choose to be a creative survivor, so here are some of the techniques I’m employing at this time.  Feel free to use them in your own practice:

 

Hygge During Self-Quarantine

Change is hard. And to help protect the elderly and immunocompromised members of our community, we’ve had to change and adapt fast. The need for social distancing means that we need to be at home, away from our usual social haunts or work environment. We’re being barraged by horrible news from all over the world, and this only adds to the stress. Can we still find our hygge (hoo-ga) amidst all this turmoil?

As a former homeschooler who has my own business right here on our farm, being at home all the time feels exceptionally normal. So, here are a few tips I can offer for making your “sheltering in place” experience more comforting, creative, and social (even at a distance). Take whichever pieces feel right to you and try them out this week.

Take a Walk

No ear buds, no phone calls. Just you, the dog, and the Northwoods. Listen to the sounds of the woods awaking in the warming days—birds singing, squirrels scurrying, deer munching. Breathe deeply and pay attention to the sensations in your feet as you walk. Mother Nature is going about her seasonal shift, uninhibited by the current social mess. Repeat this practice daily or as much as possible.

Make Fika a Daily Practice

Pick either late morning or early afternoon, whichever works best for you, for a hot cup of tea or coffee (this has been found to help fight COVID-19), a tasty snack like a homemade muffin, and time to check in with loved ones. Really give this hour your whole, un-scattered attention. Call your folks, Skype the grandkids, text a friend, whatever means feels right to you. Handwrite a letter even! Share stories and feelings with those sharing your home as you sit together for this moment of connection. Emotional isolation kills, so while we must be physically apart, we can still let each other know that we care.

making kits

Get Creative

If you’ve always wanted to learn to (fill in this space), well, now’s the time to do it! There really are no excuses left when you’re stuck at home with all those materials you bought but never took out of the case/closet/bin/box/shelf. Head on over to YouTube University, find someone who’s offering classes in your area online, dust off the books you bought, or find a friend who can video chat your way through getting started. I’ve had to cancel my needle felting classes, and instead made kits to send to all my students, complete with a link to video tutorials, so it feels like sitting in on a class. Give me a holler if you want some of these sent your way to get you started.

Dust It Off and Finish Itunicorn journal

Ok, you know what it is—the quilt, the chair, the album, the novel, the painting…that project you started but then got distracted and never got around to picking it up again. I’m as guilty as anyone else for having unfinished projects around. I tried counting them one day, but when I got to 30, I just stopped; it was too daunting. This week, I took a bite out of the pile and turned several “painting with wool” needle felted pieces into beautiful sketchbook covers. I felt so accomplished! It’s infectious, in a good way. Start finishing things and then post about them on social media. Recruit your friends to finish their projects. We’ll all have home and studio makeovers by the time this is over and feel great!

 

Read Aloud

This was always my favorite part of homeschooling, and we still continue this tradition (though at a less intensive rate) today. Usually, Mom is the reader, with her soothing voice, while everyone else works quietly on projects about the living room (hey, this brings several of these hygge elements together!). Choose an old favorite or try something new—a novel, a mystery, a history, a socially engaged book, whatever you’d like to read together. You can even take turns reading chapters. It’s a great way to slow down the pace and break away from the boob tube and the smart phone addictions.

Journal

Offloading your feelings onto the page is a time-honored way to make it through tough times. Draw, doodle, rant, cry, wonder. The page can take it all without complaint. This may be especially helpful if you are having to shelter in place alone. Tape in photos or notes from loved ones, dream about summertime, reminisce. Emotions are complicated, and often those first couple of pages are only scraping the surface. Keep writing through the resistance to get to the stickier stuff below. When you shed light on what scares you, often the monsters don’t look as big and fearsome as they did in the dark. Do the internal work necessary to come out of this in a stronger, more authentic place.

Choose Kindness

We’re all in a tough spot with the COVID-19 situation. This can make us feel edgy and unforgiving, but that only causes more pain. Instead, each day, choose kindness, whether it’s when you are interacting with others (at a safe distance), online, or on the phone. Choose kindness with your pets, your family, your neighbors. Be patient, anticipate need, show support. While at first it may feel like you don’t have the energy for it, kindness gently feeds your soul, helping you to cope with depth you didn’t know you had. Trust the process and choose kindness.

Wishing you all health and safety through these trying times. May we all cultivate our own version of hygge in place. The world outside is still beautiful—the birds will return, the days lengthen, the buds pop. Keep your spirits up, tend to your vital heart, and wash your hands. Know that we at North Star Homestead Farms are doing our part, leading through example as we adapt while continuing to serve. See you down on the farm sometime.

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Immersion in Fiber: Punch Needle Rug Hooking Classes Launched

owl punch needleI’m all about preparations. Not only is a well-prepared endeavor likely to be more successful but also less stressful! It means more availability to be fully in the moment during the adventure, knowing that you’re ready.

This commitment to preparedness meant that the stash of supplies for my “Punch Needle Rug Hooking: Birds of the Northwoods” class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN started accruing two weeks in advance. Class was going to be a long ways from home, so no running back for upholstery thread or other supplies. By the time we were ready to depart, the Prius was completely stuffed with all the accoutrements of a well-designed class.

But even though this small town tucked up along Minnesota’s north shore is far from pretty much everywhere, its folk school has become a pilgrimage site for fiber arts makers. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Fiber Week—an immersive experience with a wide variety of classes running throughout campus, along with lectures, showings, demoNorth House campusnstrations, and community events. This was my first experience of Fiber Week, and I was ready to commune with sheep and wool lovers of all types.

So often, our lives can be fraught with distractions. Just as we settle into an experience, the phone rings, bleeps, or pings, and we’re carried off in another direction and lose our focus. The beautiful part of coming to a retreat (especially when it means traveling away from the usual routines of home) is that you can purposefully shed those distractions to focus solely on something of interest to you.

That was precisely the experience I was looking forward to enjoying during the long weekend, as well as purposefully nurturing for my students in my punch needle rug hooking class. The two-day intensive had been two years in the making, and now it was finally happening. My own class, with my own classroom, here at the folk school—surrounded by yarn and art and fiber lovers. Talk about hygge (hoo-ga)!

prepared classroom

As I settled into campus, I was especially interested to learn the stories of the different individuals attending—their backgrounds and inspiration. Some had small flocks of fiber animals at home, while others lived in cities but loved fiber culture. I think reputation got around that I was the farm girl on campus—85 sheep being a bit larger than a backyard project.

The night before my class featured the annual “Show and Share,” where anyone could bring a recent project or two. We laid them all out on long tables, then went around the big circle for introductions and brief descriptions of the work(s) we’d brought. There was embroidery and weaving, stitching and dying, spinning and felting, knitting and knotwork, printmaking and collage, and more. Together, these works created a textured rainbow of love, time, attention, tradition, and innovation. Every story had an element of what the maker was exploring, learning, or expressing.owl student piece

I’d brought a few of my finished punch needle tapestries to share. Since I was the new instructor on campus, and this was their first Amy Oxford style punch needle rug hooking class, this was a great opportunity to show the ability of the medium to represent naturalistic forms, shading, and depth. I wanted to showcase that punch needle rug hooking could be far more than “coloring” with yarn—it was a process that could bring an image to life.

Because fiber arts often have a repetitive element to them (which is also what makes them so relaxing once you master the technique), working on our pieces together in the class offered stretches of time to discuss and explore these subtler aspects—bringing conceptuals from fine arts training (perspective, dimensionality, color theory) into a field often classified as “craft.” Sadly, craft often gets misconstrued in current Western culture, so let me untangle that yarn for a moment.

Every artist knows she must work on her craft—honing, learning, building new skills. Craft is the doing of the process. It’s technique. Craft is the building blocks of the projects. Even designers need to have a knowledge of craft in their field, so they don’t imagine something that simply cannot be made manifest through the desired medium. Folk schools are all about nurturing the culture of craft. Craft is essential—if we don’t keep it alive, no one will know how to make these unique objects anymore!hummer student piece

But here is the point, craft is not specific to a medium. Painters have to work on their craft. Actors have to work on their craft. Fiber artists too. The thing—a painting, a play, a textile—comes out of the process but is not itself a craft. Obviously, this word has been badly abused! Artistic expression can burgeon forth no matter what the medium, and I wanted to offer that option to my students. Yes, they could color in the lines if that was their happy place, but if they wanted to learn how to add depth, life, and a sense of movement to their piece, I was all over facilitating that learning moment.

And that facilitated learning is coming right here to Farmstead Creamery Feb 28-29! I’m repeating the punch needle rug hooking immersion class on our farm, and there are a few spots left. Please call for last-minute registration inquiries. 715-462-3453.  I’m already preparing for the exciting two-day adventure, unleashing creative expression through fiber arts immersion. And if, like me, you also love birds, it’s a perfect combination. This week, find your inspiration and empower yourself to immerse in it fully—whatever the medium. I’m sure that a glowing sense of hygge will follow.

owl in progress

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