Sunday, February 24, 2008

Living On Noah's Ark, or, Life As An Animal Rescuer...

"If we were to talk about something like Noah's ark today,
where the best qualities are preserved, it would not be
one ship, but a multitude of small boats."

~ Alexander Kluge ~

Since Blossom joined our crew here, there are more animals than cottage, and one person to twelve animals. Yesterday I told my friend Jeff that I was going to put a sign on the front door that said, "Noah's Ark: Bring Large Animals Around Back." I'm expecting the giraffes, the zebras, and the Indian elephants to arrive just any minute...

As I sit here now having my "morning latte" at 1 p.m. (It is a bit of a feat to get all of the animals cared for and settled and get a shower upstairs while hearing a cockatoo screaming downstairs because you have momentarily stepped out of sight, while a worried looking pug sits an inch from the shower absolutely certain that you are being killed in there.) The shower worries the pugs no end. They can all come in the bathroom with me to watch me go potty, but when I step into the shower and close the dastardly shower curtain, there's just NO TELLING what horrors might be happening when I am out of sight. I find myself talking non-stop to the pugs, hoping not to get shampoo in my eyes, and singing LOUDLY so that Blossom can hear me and calm down so as not to wake the dead in the nearby cemetery. Life is never dull at Dragonfly Cottage. Taking a shower is not the restful pursuit it once was. Sigh...

This is but a "Bird's eye view," into the life of one who has committed her life to loving and helping the little ones. Just now Blossom is swaying back and forth and swinging her head around reminding me very much of Stevie Wonder, whom I adore, playing the piano and singing. She keeps saying "Hi Bird," and you'd better answer right back or she is liable to start screaming. Writing a single sentence here that has a chance of ending up sounding half-way intelligent is a task I'm not sure I'll be able to manage!

Of course there were the days of Cloudcuckooland (The name comes from Aristophanes play, The Birds, in 404 B.C.), the non-profit shelter I started and ran, taking in disabled and unwanted parrots and other domestic birds, but I had help then. Now I live with 12 animals who are my family, and like any family, we have our quirks and idiosyncracies. Reflecting on why I do this I always come back to what an odd person I really am, and with all of the work and any and all of the problems we may encounter, these animals show me more unconditional love than I would otherwise ever know in my life. And for those who doubt that this might be true, let me give you an example.

Friday night I was in a very bad way. I sat in my big, oversized chair and curled up crying. As always Sampson, one of my three rescue pugs, was up on the arm of the chair, leaning in against me. Moe, my 13 year old lab-doby mix (from the Humane Society when he was but a wee puppy...) was on the ottoman with his head in my lap. Henry, the grey parrot, flew over to me and sat on the other arm of the chair. Just sat. For once didn't want to play, didn't try to get into any trouble, just sat near me, watchful, and didn't move. The other two pugs were on the floor very near my chair. They all knew that I was hurting and lonely and afraid and worn out and such an outpouring of love I have never felt. Fur and feathers all around me. Soft noses to kiss, fur to snuggle, and beaky kisses by a very serious grey parrot looking at me deeply concerned made me realize once again just why I do this.

In the quote at the top of this entry, Kluge was absolutely correct. We can no longer save the animals two by two with an ark, it takes people around the globe to do what needs to be done to save the animals, whether the domestic "pets" (... a word I never use. I call them my animal companions or even my family of animals, which they surely are...) that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or raised in the dreadful puppy mills like some commodity to be sold for a few bucks (Don't get me started! And I am not talking about reputable, caring breeders.), or Greenpeace who helps safeguard our ocean animals, or PETA who works so hard to stop animal testing and other unimaginable cruelty, as well as all of the other wonderful animal rescue organizations around the world. We can no longer, in good conscience, figure that "someone else" will take care of it. No, an ark won't cut it anymore, we do indeed need a multitude of small boats and we can't stop fighting for them and doing what needs to be done. It is this that I have committed my life to, even when I waver because I am so exhausted and Blossom won't stop screaming, or poor little Sampson, my beloved "Velcro Pug," who came to me so afraid of being left he literally attached himself to me and never let go, need me when I myself am exhausted. We cannot stop. We do not have that luxury as long as there is an animal in need, even when it's not convenient. I have always done this but the recent lessons with Blossom have tipped the scales. I don't just rescue an animal or three here or there, this is now my life, the heart of my life, and so it shall remain.

I imagine Noah, in that wonderful story, watching the animals go two by two, and am grateful that those in his time never imagined what the plight of animals would be in the future. But we know now, and there is no rest or stopping as long as there is a single animal in need. Each one, reach one. (Or twelve, however many you can!) Or donate money or time or any kind of help you can to the rescues of your choice.

Right now Blossom is happy. She is ripping apart and destroying the big pine blocks and toys there for just that purpose. Sampson is between my feet asleep, and the other pugs are snoring here and there. The rest of the parrots have settled into their quiet time and I, at long last, sit here sipping my latte and sharing a few moments with you.

I laughed the first time someone called me "Mama Maitri," but it seems a rather fitting name just now. They all look at me with such love in their eyes. Such trust. It is humbling. And so I will continue on, all the days of my life, working in my fiber art and writing around the wee ones, for the live beings come first, and here there are twelve lively beings to keep me pretty busy!

I have created a poll for fun for those involved in animal rescue that you will see in the sidebar. We need to help keep each others spirits up. This work is not always easy, but I know none of us would have it any other way.

Yes, each one, reach one. Do whatever you can. They are depending on us, and we can't let them down.

Deep Blessings to all who have opened their hearts to rescuing and loving these precious animals. There is much work to be done.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Consoling, Understanding, and Loving... Blossom Comes Home For Good...

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

~ From The Prayer of St. Francis ~

Mama Maitri & Blossom, together at last...

And so this is my third of four entries for The St. Francis Project, and this week's portion of the prayer could not be more pertinent and on target for what has been happening with Blossom the last 2 weeks.

It will be 2 weeks tomorrow that she arrived here from Jeff's and it was only late tonight that I realized what had truly happened. I know in my heart I am right. But let me take you back to the beginning...

Blossom, the Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, pictured with me above, arrived after Jeff's valiant efforts to give her the best of everything but she had become so frightened she was plucking her own feathers and being attacked by another of his cockatoos. The whole story is told in the previous two entries. I kept Blossom for ten days, and finally, with both of us in despair, she went home with Jeff on Saturday. I had been bitten rather badly three times (I will likely lose a fingernail, a toenail, and I just about got a new earring hole!) and it had come to the point of me being so afraid of her that the last day I didn't take her out of her cage.

Now, the thing was, she was not being a "bad bird." We were not only not fully in tune with one another yet, I had not learned her signals, and this is of utmost importance with parrots, especially of this size. She is among the largest of the white cockatoos, and a cockatoo bite can be a really nasty one. I became more and more afraid -- and this is after having run a parrot shelter and handled every kind of bird imaginable -- and as I did she began to scream more and more. The situation seemed untenable, and it broke my heart, and Jeff's, but Saturday he came and picked her up. We could not imagine what would happen in the following three days.

Blossom and I have always had a deep attachment. From the time Jeff rescued her whenever I went to his house she was with me a good bit of the time and obviously loved me and I her. I used to tell him that it was hard for me not to take her home every time I was there, and once she almost bit him when he was trying to lift her off of me. What happened, in the last three days, was that she had bonded so strongly to me that she was broken-hearted to be taken away, as were we all, but she would not eat. Not anything. Jeff bought and made every kind of food under the sun for her and she would not eat. She was losing weight and getting weaker. She was showing such signs of distress in three days time she might have died before long. We decided today she had to come back.

I babysit my grandbaby on Tuesday afternoons so Jeff met me here when I got home and before I was out of the car she was in the car with me! It was a joyful reunion, and it was clear how much she loved me, and how very deeply bonded she to with me and I to her. We came inside and she sat with me, climbing all over me, being rubbed and loved, and she preened me and loved on me and it was the grandest homecoming. She immediately started eating and ate all kinds of things, a fair amount of food, and she stayed with me or played on her playstand next to me until it was time to go to bed. As I covered her she was saying, "Night night Blossom..." sounding so happy, and peaceful and content, and I just glowed with a kind of warm love and peace I cannot put into words.

As I sat here tonight, dogs and birds asleep all around me, something occurred to me. She had been with Jeff a very long time and it was very hard for him to part with her. I wanted her but the responsibility of taking on a cockatoo of this size, especially when you have a house full of rescues and animal companions can be daunting at best. Some part of Jeff hadn't let go, and some part of me hadn't fully committed. But then came the dire circumstances that could have cost her her life and we moved swiftly. It wasn't about Jeff, it wasn't about me, it was about Blossom.

... not to be consoled, but to console,
not to be understood as to understand,
and not to be loved, as to love...

This is the lesson that Blossom has taught us. The difference in the blink of an eye is night and day. She is happy and eating and cuddling and playing and right where she belongs. And Jeff has let go and I have committed, and a beautiful white bird taught us both to understand, to open our hearts, and to truly love. I am deeply sorry that she went through what she went through in those three days, but it was a lesson we will not soon forget. Animals are not meant to be passed around, they have feelings, very, very deep ones. They bond to their person if they don't have a mate, and to lose their "mate" can have devastating consequences. This time, one bird has been saved, and two people have learned more than they could have ever possibly imagined. St. Francis looked over us all, and all is well.

May you take in the words of Francis in your own life, and may you find peace in the ability to console, to understand, and to love. No gift is greater, no lesson more important.

Blessings and Love to One and All,


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The first " 'Maitri' Love Basket" in process...

“When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It's a bit like saying, “If I jog, I'll be a much better person.” “If I could only get a nicer house, I'd be a better person.” If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person.”… But loving-kindness–maitri–toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.”

~ Pema Chodron, on the Buddhist practice of maitri... ~

The first " 'Maitri' Love Basket," almost finished...

First, let me make it clear that these bags are not named "Maitri" bags after my own name, but Maitri is my real legal name and was taken from the Buddhist teaching of maitri, which is about loving-kindness and compassion, and that you must first find it for yourself before you have it to give to another (There is much more written about the taking of this name on the Dragonfly Cottage main website.). We cannot give from an empty well. I took the name, not because I felt I had achieved this state, but to remind me to never stop working toward it. It is like the Mindfulness Bell I wear, to help remind me to live in the moment. These are both fleeting states and we must continually work at attaining them. That's why they, like meditation, are called "practices."

Now of course there are many times we lose our connection of love within ourselves, and we sink into a low place, feeling unloved and having nothing to give to those around us, and it came to me that if I created a basket of sorts that one might put in a very special place -- an altar, a special corner, a special room, wherever -- and fill it over time with the things that we love -- photos that touch us deeply and remind us of wonderful times and places and make us smile; a couple of favorite books that bring us back to that tender place of love within ourselves; perhaps a journal and a pen; prayer beads -- whether rosary, mala, or whatever you hold sacred; things that represent spirit to you; perhaps crystals or stones, or special cards or fetishes; candles (to light outside of the basket); a favorite c.d. of soothing music; anything that helps you reconnect to the Spirit within you, the love that you know that is there, or to help you grow toward it, you would have a very special place to go when you were feeling down to retrieve that love connection, and feel better.

Inside of Basket... roughly 12"x 20", handles not finished...

The handles are 20 gauge gold wire wrapped very tightly (hard on the fingers!) with a very beautiful yarn I spun for Cecelia, my last piece of wearable art, a Rainbow Serpent of the Dreamtime, which is in my etsy shop, Dragonfly Cottage Design Studio, and where this basket is soon headed. It is comprised of 12 different fibers, four of which are man-made fibers that sparkle, and are quite tightly attached to the bag, but it is not meant to be carried by the handles, however, as when full it would likely not stand up to the weight. The bag itself is made of several of my handspun yarns, mostly wools, silk, colorful silk noils, as well, llama, and vintage fabrics. The fringe is vintage velvet in an array of colors.

Closeup of inside of basket. The sides currently are 6"
tall but the empty the bag "slouches!" It will be a
taller as it fills with your cherished items, and there
will be a couple more
crocheted edges...

Delicate little bows of vintage fabric inside to remind
one of all of the beauty they hold inside, if only they

have eyes to see...

Attached to one of the handles of the basket
is a beautiful faceted piece of rose quartz,
long known as the stone of unconditional
love, and love in it's many forms. Each
basket will be blessed with love in
abundance, no two ever alike...

I just wanted to share this work I am doing with you. It will be up in my shop tomorrow or the next day. Until then, find that warm, tender place of love inside of you, and pass it on...

Blessings to one and all,


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Would St. Francis Do? (WWFD?) ~ Patience and Healing The Beautiful Creatures In The Natural World...

Week Two...

... where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Blossom resting on top of her cage...

Where there is doubt, faith... When you take an animal in that has been abused, neglected or hurt, and has trust issues, it takes awhile to get through these, and sometimes it can take all the faith you've got. Fortunately, I was not rescuing Blossom out of a bad situation, she was coming from a long recovery period with my wonderful friend Jeff who has several other birds, but she was not only afraid of the other birds, one of whom was attacking her, she seemed to prefer women. She had a thing for blond women which seemed to suggest her first owner may have been a blond woman. Whenever I went over there she spent a good part of the time with me, in my lap or on me, and we had a very special bond. Being animal rescue people from the get-go, and feeling very deeply that an animal should not be moved around and around, passed off like a pair of old shoes, Jeff wanted to try everything he possibly could including contacting cockatoo experts from all over the country. In the end, she came to me, as I said in the last entry, because she was so frustrated and lonely and frightened by the other big birds that she was plucking. It came down to an emergency situation and she was moved here. Jeff and I both agreed she would go nowhere but with one of us.

One of the things that I know, from running a non-profit shelter for disabled parrots and other unwanted domestic birds for several years, and having hand-raised and rehabilitated everything from finches and small doves to the largest parrots and everything in between, and especially the ones that came terrified, was that it would take time, but deep down inside there is a bird that wants to be loved, and I had the advantage of already having established a relationship with Blossom. But did that make it easy? No.

Where there is despair, hope... First let me repeat that this is the sweetest, most tender, loving bird I have ever met. Anyone who has had a cockatoo knows what I mean. But they can have many issues that are very difficult and we experienced some of those in the first couple of days here.

At one point, trying to put her back in her cage after hours out playing, she grabbed my thumb and bit it so hard it was bleeding everywhere, cut deeply and jaggedly on the underside of my thumb, the skin macerated on top at the bottom left corner of my nail which has turned purple. I might lose the nail. I put her in her cage, shut the door and went in the other room and cried, dripping blood everywhere. I cleaned the wounds, put antibiotic ointment on it and bandaged it and it was bleeding through the bandages which I had to change several times. Was I angry? Was I ready to pack her up and ship her off? No, and no. If you are going to work with parrots, it is the nature of the beast, so to speak. Parrots bite. It is their only line of defense. I realized at that time that it was a matter of learning her body language, paying more attention, and being patient.

The next day she got my ear. It happened so fast I barely knew what happened but I got too close to her cage when she was out. Now if I put my hand out gently to pick her up she will sweetly reach her foot out to be picked up. She loves to be with me, but I have quickly learned that like most parrots she is cage territorial but she is backwards from my parrots. I wouldn't dare put my hand in Henry, my African Grey's cage, but once he's out, I can put my hand out, say, "Step up," and he will come right to me. You'll get nailed but good if you put your hand IN his cage when he is in there. But imagine this -- you don't like intruders in your house do you? It is an issue of personal space, safety, and protection. It is their safe haven, and they protect it with all they've got, and that is as it should be.

Blossom, however, will nab you if you walk too close to her cage kind of absentmindedly, paying no attention to her and having no intention of picking her up at that moment. That was what happened when she got my ear, and Lord Have Mercy I just about got a new earring hole. It was bleeding from both sides, all down my neck and badly. Again, I told her "No biting Blossom," put her in her cage, and went to do damage control on the ear, but by now I was getting a little upset, and close to despair. You see I have a number of animals here but we have a very quiet, calm, peaceful homeplace, full of solitude and silence. That is not part of a cockatoo's package. But in the midst of it all, I loved her, she was very attached to me, and truly, after despair came hope.

Dear Jeff has been here nearly daily since she came. He brings food, helps clean up (She was tearing up and throwing things everywhere!) and we have worked together talking countless hours and trying many things. Through the days, keeping a calm and loving atmosphere, she has calmed down considerably, almost doesn't scream at all, and has been forming a bond with my precious grey, Henry. He talks to her. It is amazing to see these two birds communicate. No one attacks her here, there are no big birds screaming, she is safe. I remain gentle with her no matter with happens while establishing boundaries, and the last couple of days she has been so calm as not to be believed. There was a moment when I was so full of despair I thought I just couldn't have her here. I was bitten badly twice, she was upsetting the peaceful balance that I depend on for my well-being. This is my sanctuary, I rarely leave my house, I work from home, I cannot have an out of control bird screaming and biting me, but in less than a week she has become part of the family and I wouldn't part with her for anything in the world. We have come out of the darkness and into the light which does not mean that there is not a lot of work ahead of us, and with the best natured and easy-going cockatoos, they are like having a 2 year old forever. But, having been born with an overabundance of mothering hormones, this suits me just fine.

... and when there is sadness, joy... Blossom came here a frightened bird who was plucking her feathers and completely unnerved, not eating well. Jeff gave her everything under the sun but she was picky. With a lot of research we have found a very good diet for her, a mixture of very good bird food and organic pellets, and she likes warm cooked foods like hard-boiled egg chopped up or a little pasta. Oatmeal. Soft warm comfort foods. She is starting to eat better and her feathers are growing out. She loves the blocks of seed and dried fruits I give her as a treat and she seems completely at home now. She is part of a flock of birds here who are all calm. I think of Cesar Millan taking a dog with problems to his facility where there is a huge pack of dogs of every kind who are balanced, and the effect that those dogs have on the new dog who has come to be rehabilitated. Blossom came into a peaceful home with someone who is here all the time, for the most part, and gives her a lot of love and affection. She now lives with one goofy artist, 4 dogs (whom she barks at if they bark, which is hysterical), and 5 other parrots who are very calm and "balanced." The change in her is phenomenal already.

And so we keep on keeping on. I wrote, on a post-it note, amidst one of my worst times, "What would St. Francis do?" a spin-off of the bumper stickers you see everywhere, "What would Jesus do? (WWJD?)" I looked at that note and I looked. I meditated quietly and I prayed. I looked at that big white beautiful bird and marveled how far she'd come in such a short time. I pray to Saint Francis to guide me. As I said last time I am a Franciscan at heart. And I walk my talk. And I will continue to walk it. She is worth everything, and I am so blessed to have her here. She is okay. We are all going to be okay. And I will never stop trying.

Open your hearts as wide as you can and love, always love, and never stop. Love moves mountains, it creates miracles. And Blossom is teaching me about love and trust too. What a blessing she is in my life.

The next entry will be a fiber entry, but there will be a couple of more entries about Blossom and The Saint Francis Project through February.

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to All,


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The St. Francis Project and a Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoo...

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon..."

From the Prayer Of St. Francis

Blossom, a Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoo...

Just this morning Blossom came here to stay. She is positively gorgeous, and was living with my friend Jeff who rescued her, and he has the most beautiful set-up for his birds and they get the greatest care, but he has a macaw and another cockatoo and Blossom was so nervous there, and finally was being attacked by Jeff's other cockatoo, that she started plucking her own feathers. This is a terrible thing with a cockatoo because they can pluck themselves naked even to mutilating their own bodies and it is nearly impossible to stop once it has started. She also really needs to be with someone. Jeff is the most loving person in the world but he works very long hours and he is gone a lot. We have talked and talked about bringing her here but he loved her so dearly and was trying everything under the sun to make it work, but he called this morning to say she was plucking worse and we both flew into action.

I tell people I have a "velcro pug." I now have a "velcro cockatoo." Today she even took a nap on my person, snuggled up to me with Sampson (The velco pug...) sleeping in the crook of my knees as per usual. I have a lot of work to do with her, and her screaming tonight nearly did me in, but she had finally calmed and is sleeping. She is in a new place in a new cage and you have to give an animal a chance. They are far more adaptable than we give them credit for, but they need the time to do so. Often people get rid of them before they have a chance. Blossom has had a hard life up until she went to Jeff's (You can see her in his aviary in a much earlier entry in this blog.), but the situation with the other birds was just too much. Before Jeff got her she was being kept in a small dog kennel and fed dog food! Bless her heart. Thankfully Jeff has had her on a supreme diet eating everything under the sun, a huge cage and then he built a beautiful aviary for his birds, but her little soul is so damaged, she just wasn't happy there. So yes, I have a lot of work ahead of me, but she is worth it, and this is one of my deepest journeys in life, to love the little ones.

I am a Franciscan at heart and in my life. I live with now 6 parrots, and 4 dogs, all rescues. They are my companions, my family, and I love them deeply. This is a soul connection that I have with my animals, and I am devoting my life to it.

Given the above when I saw the St. Francis Project I knew I was meant to be involved. Each week through February we are to write a blog entry and each week we take part of the prayer of St. Francis and incorporate it into an entry. Not only have I had The Prayer of St. Francis, along with many links to websites on him on the main Dragonfly Cottage site for some time, I think his prayer has meaning for everyone, and if we ever needed it, we need it now. And that I would find this wonderful work on the day that Blossom arrived seemed a little miracle.

What a beautiful girl...

When I read the first line of the prayer again it seemed perfect, for what this precious bird has been through, and to help guide me through the weeks ahead when she is settling in and needing, badly, someone to love her enough to go with her through the rocky times until she finds her peace her with us, in our little menagerie.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there has been hatred shown this beautiful bird, let me sow love,
where there has been so much injury, may those that hurt her be pardoned,
even while I give my heart to her, and make her part of my family.

This I pray. This love I promise. St. Francis is always seen surrounded by animals, but most often with birds. I pray he will guide me on this journey.

Blossom preening, showing that she is comfortable and at ease...

And so now we begin. And after 2 hours of screaming she has settled and is sleeping, but I cannot turn the t.v. on or talk on the phone. I called Jeff for a couple of tips and he helped me a lot but, having fallen asleep, when she heard me on the phone she started screaming again. This poor little soul.

And so I sit here writing in a room full of sleeping birds and dogs, and the room is quiet, and I don't need the t.v. or the phone, I just need peace and quiet and the relief that she has finally gone to sleep, probably exhausted and overwhelmed on her first day here, and I can read and write and do my fiber work. I can meditate and pray. And with soft pugs against my toes and under my chair and in bed and on couches, and all the other birds sleeping peacefully, I feel blessed, if tired, and I feel grateful to be given the opportunity to learn to open my heart in a whole new way.

Make me an instrument of your peace... let me sow love... Yes. Yes indeed. Yes I shall. And thank you for this gift St. Anthony. Be with me now...


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Circling The Wagons" ~ Fiberwomen Helping Fiberwomen ~ Here Is The Yarn I Donated, called "Candyland."

One of the things that I have been touched by for years and years is the kindness and generosity of the fiber community, and many times have I seen this unconditional loving kindness come into play, and it has touched my heart deeply. I felt it too, 3 years ago, when I fell down the stairs, shattered both feet and was laid up for a year. I was blessed by many women in my fiber community, Women's Artistic Soul, as well as other fiber friends and they sent spindles, fiber, books, treats, and more. It made my painful recovery such a deep experience of loving gentleness and support that I shall be forever grateful. It made a very hard year a lesson in giving and loving, and I shall always want to be a part of this type of endeavor. Everyone knows that a portion of all of my fiber work goes to pug rescue, but I am deeply committed to helping other fiberwomen in grave need.

The Making of Candyland....

(on the spindle)

Candyland yarn off the spindle
in a beehive...

The Yarn rolled into a ball and ready
to go for ease of use...

The "Candyland" yarn is up for sale at
Homestead Wool and Gift Farm
in the section

called "Circling the Wagons". It is 35 yards,
7 oz,
and on the page has a list of everything in
yarns, wools, silks, alpaca, llama and more...

If you would like to donate an item, or shop for an item to help Holly (You can read more about her situation on Sandy's site.) click on the link above or in the sidebar with my dear nephews, Dalai Llama, and Cully!

And may the fiber community continue to be all that it is and may we all help one another as we can.

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to All,


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Living As A Yarn Designer ~ Always Dreaming In Fiber, and Letting The Fiber Show Me What I Know...

"We are not here to do what has already been done.
I have little interest in teaching you what I know.
I wish to stimulate you to tell me what you

Robert Henri in The Art Spirit, 1923

This is the spindle of yarn, plied,
that was on 2 spindles at the top
of the last entry...

I love the Henri quote, and it speaks to me deeply when it comes to the process of designing a handspun art yarn. Other than one demonstration from a spinning friend who stopped by on a trip through town, I am a self-taught spinner, as well as being self-taught in all of the fiber arts that I do. I have a funny way of seeing the world, by most people's standards, and when it comes to designing a new yarn, perhaps even stranger. I do not impose my will on the fiber, I let it tell me where it needs to go, who it wants to be with, and I go around the cottage picking up a little bit of this and a little bit of that, spreading it out on my long worktable and starting to play.

Play is of the utmost importance in designing unusual yarns, the child in you comes out to romp, like a little kid with finger paints, making a mess everywhere in a joyful round of tossing things about, spinning some yarns with bits of this and that as swatches, and finally picking up the few ingredients that will be needed to make the yarn. It's like cooking. It might need more "salt." There might be too few noodles. I can count the times on one hand I have created a plied yarn, but the above yarn knew from the outset it had to be plied. It was a surprise even to me.

I think in terms of color and texture. I dream in fibers, and might awaken thinking, "Silk! It needs that tussah silk!" And once again a-digging I will go.

I spin on old-fashioned hand-spindles, large ones, and almost exclusively 4" whorls. The yarn I am spinning now started with 2 fibers that I fell in love with and then everything else fell into place. The fibers are a deep rose colored super soft and silky suri alpaca, and the most delectable fiber, like holding a fluffy cloud in your hands, E. Fresian Lamb in the palest pink and black, both from Homestead Wool and Gift Farm, which you can read about in the sidebar. (I have 2 adopted nephews there, Dalai Lama, and darling Cully, a Border Leceister. You can see their pictures to the right here.) I spun a little of these two together and they would make a beautiful yarn, but, but, I needed more. I pulled out a candy pink Coopworth wool blended with white silk and then had an aha! moment. Probably 2 years ago I purchased quite a lot of vintage ribbon, in silks, satins, velvet and lace. A HUGE spool of 5 inch coral-pink vintage lace was humming in the back of my mind. It is simply gorgeous, and, cut into thin strips it spins beautifully with everything else. I have just begun to spin this yarn and it will be in my next piece of wearable art. It will be just right.

I also realized a couple of things writing this piece. One is that I always wanted to paint but I couldn't draw my way out of the proverbial paper bag. Oh I can doodle and sketch a little and make funny drawings, but I mean really paint. I love those oil paintings where the paint is so thick you can run your hand gently across the surface and feel the spikes and swirls the brush made, leaving the paint to dry in peaks and valleys. I need color, I need texture, but I am not a painter.

And then it came to me. I paint with fiber. I mix colors in the dyepot; I blend many colors of fibers to create one yarn; I create my own texture with different kinds of fibers and any kind of other element that might possibly work in this medium. I am a painter. I paint with fiber. My small canvases are the yarns themselves. The large canvases are the pieces of wearable art. I spin all of the yarns, with the exception of very fine yarns for trim around beads and so on for these wearable pieces, and as I'm spinning the yarns I'm designing the piece, and as I'm designing the piece my mind is skipping 3 steps ahead to the next yarns I will need to spin to create the piece. My mind plays hopscotch in no particular order.

And when this came to me my mind made a great sweeping circle back to my childhood and forward through my life. I had a lot of trauma as a child and didn't like to play. I was a solitary child who spent her time hiding, reading, being with my animal companions, sitting under a huge forsythia bush writing furiously in my journals. I was a very serious child and adult and I didn't like to play. To this day I don't like to play games and don't feel safe in playful situations. I have been a writer since I was that 9 year old poet hiding in the bushes, a professional writing since I was barely twenty. My life has been defined by my writing, studying, researching, my nose in books, and on the side I dabbled with fiberwork. But I would be in my 40's when I started to do fiberwork seriously and I realize now that fiber has taught me how to play. Out of the darkness and into the light. With fiber all around me I am a little girl playing. At 53, I have learned to play.

I will always be a writer and I used to think that I was a writer who did fiber art on the side. It just came to me that somewhere in the last few years, very recent years, that something had flip-flopped. I am a writer and a fiber artist. I do both and I need both. I couldn't give up either. They are 2 sides of the coin. The yin and the yang.

And so the fiber has taught me how to play. It has taught me what I need to know. It has shown me the way I need to grow. It has given me joy, given me peace.

There's going to be a yarn with seashells soon, and one with beads. One with vintage velvet and one with cotton batik, every kind and color of wool imaginable, silks, lace and Cotswold curls. They are the swirls on my canvas, the ones I can touch and feel the texture. I finally learned how to paint. My brush is a spindle, and my fiber the paint. I love these paintings. I can even hang them on the wall.

Let your joy lead you. Learn how to play...