Tag Archives: Reflection

Shifting Sands

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Shifting Sands

Life has seemed turbulent lately. Many of you will know that 2016 was a phenomenally tough year for me, for so many reasons. 2017 started with moving house, so more upheaval. By February I was planning everything I needed to do to get back to my usual crafting and studying activities. And then the big one hit … my mum was very suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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My view, as I took in the news.

It was soon clear that this was not going to be a long illness. There was no prospect of treatment, other than palliative care. For one who likes to navigate by festivals, I find it extraordinary to think that mum was diagnosed on Shrove Tuesday, died on Passion Sunday, and the last time I spent with her on Earth was on Mothering Sunday (which, coincidentally, was also my birthday). We will gather to celebrate her life during Holy Week. By the time Maundy Thursday dawns, the end of life rituals will be done. The grieving will continue, and will mellow over time.

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Mothering Sunday flowers from our last day together. When I turned for a last look before leaving, I saw that my daughter had laid one of the daffodils on mum’s bed.

It’s hard to know what I could say about my mum that would do her justice. She was my my first and most important teacher. She’s the one who taught me to knit, who brought the enduring love of yarn and the simple pleasure of handwork into my life. She’s mentioned in the first paragraph I ever wrote on this site, and how could it have been otherwise? It couldn’t. So profound is her spirit within me that she is here in every word. She was the recipient of my first every story skeins: Sunset Forest and A Quarter of Sherbet. Clearly, her influence stretches far beyond me and my little niche of creativity, but I start there because it’s what I come here to write about.

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A rainbow over the hospice.

It was my mum who bought me the Hook to Heal book for my last birthday. I have made so much of the healing power of crafting over this short and difficult journey. I have stitched, and hooked, and sewn by her bed. I could be with her, in ways we had been together hundreds of times before. We didn’t need to talk if there was nothing to say or mum needed a rest. But we had easy companionship and the joy of watching a creation take shape. She asked my daughter to make her a bag to hold her prayer stones. We stitched it together on the journey to see mum. I finished my Elise shawl when mum was ill. I had worked on it beside her, and shown her the beautiful colours in the yarn, and the patterns I was creating. I’ll wear it to her funeral next week.

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Beautiful stained glass windows in the hospital.

Before mum’s diagnosis I had started Scheepjes’ Hygge crochet along. I treated myself to the kit as a post-moving house present to myself. I didn’t know it would take on a much greater significance. I stitched so much of that piece by her bedside. Although I worked on other projects too, Hygge was immediately special. It was calming and beautiful, and really engaged my mum who admired it and insisted on showing it off to staff and patients alike!

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Hygge to week 7. This project was and continues to be a blessing for me and my mum.

When her prognosis came through I knew she would not see it completed. And I knew it was by now far too special to be anything other than a tribute piece to her. When she died, as I was stitching week 7, I embroidered her initials and dates into the piece.

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JAB 1947 – 2017

Mum touched so many people’s lives in so many different ways. I could not possibly list them all here. But I think the common theme through her life is a true understanding of what it means to serve people, and a clarity about why our service to others is important; about why people – and how we treat them – are important. The way she lived taught me formative lessons about living the life you want in the way you want: enjoying and embracing the things that are important to you, under the guidance of a strong and generous moral centre.

My mum went to University in Hull and used to tell me about the librarian: Philip Larkin. When I came to study for my GCSEs, one of his poems was in our anthology. I’ve always liked the last line, and though I am taking it out of context, I’d still like to think about it here. Larkin talks of his Schoolmaster, who “Dissolved. (Like sugar in a cup of tea.)” Now, my mum was far too much of a strong woman to dissolve in life. She wasn’t one to stay in the background. But when I think of her influence I see that although she is no longer here, everything she’s done for the last nearly-70 years leaves the world a sweeter place. Although we have a journey of grief to navigate, eventually those rough granules will dissolve too, and what we’ll be left with are the sweet memories, and the knowledge that we have been the luckiest of families, to have such a person in our lives.

Goodbye mum. Love you always. xxx

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Wrapping Up 2016

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Wrapping Up 2016

Twelfth night has passed, Epiphany arrived and the morning brings St. Distaff’s Day. And yet, 2016 still plays on my mind and I feel it won’t let me rest until I’ve put it to bed. So here is my debrief, liberally scattered with my favourite images of the last twelve months as a reminder that there was plenty of good amongst the difficulties.

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January: I finished The Doodler, my first Westknits MKAL.

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January: Study and stitching played a big part in the year.

I started 2016 in good form and with clear plans for the year. It was to be a quiet year for Story Skeins whilst I concentrated on finishing my training course.

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February: Buttons and yarn, gifted from fellow crafters, came together beautifully.

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February: Handspun Valentine’s yarn.

The year started well. Life, work, creativity and health were all good. Things were progressing as I planned. I enjoyed my 38th birthday in March.

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March: Birthday gifts from my family.

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March: A birthday note from a fellow spinner!

But that was the point when the year began to turn. Things started to get more difficult. Imperceptibly so at first, but soon becoming a relentless pattern.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I sent.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I received.

There were many reasons. I don’t really want to dwell on them, but briefly: several of us live with difficult health conditions and these gave us trouble, not least in that the mental and physical effort required each day leaves us with few reserves to draw on when life throws up a sudden plot twist. We had external pressures on us too: difficulties at work, strained finances,  threats to the roof over our heads, and more.

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May: The Orange Is The New Black yarn from The Captain and Lovely made me very happy.

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May: My very own custom blend of handspun, handdyed sock yarn.

I know many people have found this year difficult due to world events. In the face of what we were dealing with personally, it was hard to draw strength from those around us when they also seemed so distressed.

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June: Stone that flows like waves at the On Form stone sculpture festival.

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June: More inspiration in stone at On Form.

But I don’t want to go down the route of cursing 2016. There was plenty of good in it. Although it was personally difficult for us, it also forced us to find ways to make the future better. We set plans in motion, we acted upon them, we followed them through and we are optimistic that they will mean a more positive future.

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July: A little mother-daughters treat.

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July: A day I look forward to every year – Fibre East with good friends.

The year for Story Skeins was quiet, as planned, and successful in that it achieved its own modest goals. Despite cutting down on commissioned spinning work I wished to continue with my monthly rolag boxes, and I am so happy with how that club went. I also hosted my first read along and gained so much inspiration and more tools for my mental toolbox from our chosen text. It’s an exercise I will be repeating in the future.

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August: It was all about the chicks.

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August: Games with friends.

I had many firsts this year, including my first solo dyeing adventures, my first handspun sock yarn (not just sockweight, but designed in the fibre blend and the spinning to function well for socks), my first start-to-finish processing of a whole fleece into yarn, my first experience of finishing a mystery KAL on time, my first piece of brioche knitting, and my first Fibreshare (which prompted me to learn a new language, so I also made my first instagram post that was written entirely in Swedish!)

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September: I dusted off my weaving skills.

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September: A perfect leaf, found on my first study weekend of the new academic year.

I was less successful in my study goals. Mental fatigue amongst other issues really put a break on things. I was pleased with the progress I did manage to make, but I didn’t complete all the work I that wanted to. No matter, it just means a new timescale before I can pursue those plans.

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October: The last in my series of Forgotten Festivals rolag boxes saw the end of a successful fibre club.

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October: My second Westknits MKAL, and my first brioche knitting!

Finding ways to work around obstacles has brought into focus my ideas about how I want Story Skeins to work, so 2017 may look quite different as I transition to a new working  pattern (more details to come in a future post). Given the things I have to juggle – even in a good year – in the rest of my life, I never expected an easy ride in this adventure. But part of the point is to use this creative process in a way that is beneficial to life. Stretching myself to breaking point in order to keep up business, or the appearance of it, would not only defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to do here, but it would not be an authentic way for me to work. The heart of Story Skeins is nothing to do with the final products that I make and you may buy. It is entirely rooted in the process: in the how and the why. It is about bringing meaning into the things I create, and embracing the creative process as a balm and a blessing.

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November: Back in the spinning saddle with a bit of art yarn.

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November: Some fun with the rainbow trilobal blend.

The last two months of the year were acutely, painfully difficult. It was one of those times when a fact of life that we all know to be true, but manage to put out of our minds suddenly reveals itself as a clear, undeniable and awful reality. The knowledge that our future is fundamentally uncertain suddenly became paralysingly real. (I do not mean to concern you. Rest assured that I and my family are fundamentally OK.) I have been fortunate in life to have the luxury of ignoring this fact, unlike many people in the world today, and most throughout history. Our comfortable lives protect us from harsh truths. But I don’t think it’s unchallenging comfort that leads to wisdom. The struggle with hard times and hard truths can bear fruit, in that I have a new understanding of simple ideas. Two main ideas have come into focus at a deeper level and helped me over the finish line: Counting my blessings, and Living in the moment. It is as easy, and as hard, as that.

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December: Making rolags for Christmas.

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December: A welcome reminder in my Christmas stocking.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

He who can call today his own:

He who, secure within, can say,

Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

                                                     –  Horace

Book Review: Hook to Heal!

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Book Review: Hook to Heal!

Hook to Heal! 100 crochet exercises for health, growth, connection, inspiration and honoring your inner artist.

By Kathryn Vercillo

Hook to Heal caught my attention from the first time I heard about it. It went straight onto my wish list and when my birthday came around this year, lo! the book arrived (thanks, mum!)

Hook to Heal held a lot of appeal to me, as it draws together a lot of seemingly disparate themes that for me, reflect very accurately the threads of my life. I say “seemingly disparate” because I’m not sure that many people make the connection between fibrecraft and topics such as health, wellbeing, challenge and personal growth, despite these being obvious to many of us deeply involved in this fascinating realm of creativity.

Hook to Heal uses the medium of crochet to provide the arena for thinking through and working on all sorts of areas of life. These include, but are not limited to: Self-care, Self-esteem, Facing fears, Relationships, Balance, Giving something back, and Artistic development. With such a comprehensive scope, you can see that this is no small task that Vercillo set herself when planning and writing the book.

I decided to work through her book this year, and as an act of sharing and community-building, I decided to open the process up as a read-along for anyone who wished to join. I studied the structure of the book and devised a 12-week program. I knew 12 weeks was a short time for such a book, but fortunately I’ve battled my perfectionist demons already, and won, so my aim was to cover roughly half of the exercises in each section. There were weeks of huge success with the process, weeks of what felt like terrible failure to engage with it at all, and everything in between. I documented this journey here.

Firstly, I have to say, this is a brilliant book. It challenged me from the outset because it wasn’t what I expected from a crochet book. There are no pictures! As I worked through the book I came to realise that this was a genius decision. Vercillo challenges us in every chapter with crochet exercises that get to the heart of a topic. What would pictures do? They would give us something to aim for, something born of someone else’s imagination and thought process. In this almost entirely text-only book, we are set free from attempting to mimic a result. We are able to use the exercises to question ourselves, to explore creation in all manner of ways, and to just see the outcome of whatever comes from that process without the burdon of expectation or comparison.

In my 12-week whistlestop tour I have acquired a host of new tools to help me with various issues. Some of the mindfulness and self-care exercises in particular have become well-used favourites already and I hope they will support my efforts at self-improvement long into the future.

Coming to the end of the read along, my overriding feeling is that this is only my first pass of Hook to Heal. There is so much more in there to explore, so much more depth I have not yet reached. Ideally I would use the same 12-part scedule, but instead of spending a week on each section, it would be a month. Then I could spend a whole year really exploring the questions Vercillo poses, truly making time for and looking after me. 

I haven’t yet read Vercillo’s previous book (Crochet Saved My Life), but have heard at least some of her story through Hook to Heal and through her writing online. I think her work is so important as a contribution to the understanding of mental health and the positive role of creativity in recovery and in everyday living. Vercillo seems like someone who has taken her experience of the most challenging of times, and turned it into a force for good. This book is her gift to all of us.

Hook to Heal: Wk 12 reading/Wk 11 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 12 reading/Wk 11 check-in

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It’s our final week of the read along, and we are reading:

Week 12: 18th-24th July

  • Conclusions and Reflection, pp. 227-254

For Kindle folk that is from the chapter heading “Conclusion: Back to the Beginning” to the final paragraph before the section “References and Resources.”

We are past the main chapters and the exercises this week, and reading the final Conclusion pages, where Vercillo details the circuitous journey leading to the creation of Hook to Heal. We have the opportunity to reflect on our own journey, what we have learnt and our experience with the crochet exercises.

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 11

  • Morning pages: 3/7
  • Artist’s date: Me and my garden
  • Exercises: 4/12

So in this final chapter before the book concludes we swing back to the theme that we started with: Artistic Development. “I am an artist.” Am I?

This is a real theme for Vercillo, and resonates with both mine and the author’s study of The Artists Way. So it is a question that I have sat with for several years now. I still don’t have an answer. And maybe that’s the best way. To come to a final answer would be to stop thinking through the question. If you visit my facebook page you will see that the category I chose for the page was “artist”. This isn’t a declaration to you. It is a challenge to me. And every time I load that page on my browser, the word still challenges me.

I have come a long way in the last few years. I now accept that much of what I do every day is creative (having previously thought of myself as completely uncreative: a mere technician, skilled only in following the instructions of others). That self-categorisation represented the boundaries of my comfort zone at the time. And my struggles with the A-word are a reflection of my comfort zone as it stands now.

I struggle with the idea of calling myself an artist. It seems far too big a claim. It seems like a claim that would expose me and my work to much greater scrutiny. And I think that is the heart of the struggle for me. The biggest leap I have taken in this whole journey is to open me and my work to the public, when in many ways I’d really rather stay unnoticed. I don’t see an end to that any time soon, and I was struggling to finish this blog post, having no satisfactory conclusion. Then something happened.

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My daughter, who hadn’t been privy to these ruminations handed me this note. It says:

Mum, you’re the artist.

Time to shine.

I asked her why she had given it to me. Why “artist”, I wanted to know. “Because that’s what you do,” she said, “with your spinning and your crochet and your drawing and writing.” It was so simple to her. She doesn’t carry the baggage that I cling on to. She doesn’t care about the weight of others’ expectations. Would I reach the same conclusion as her if I started from that place of simplicity? I shall think on …

Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Our week 6 reading assignment is:

Week 6: 6th-12th June

  • Facing Fears, pp. 116-138

For those on Kindle that’s from the chapter heading “Facing Fears” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musing on Fear.” This box has 6 bullet points and the last one begins “Make a list of all the things that make you unique,” and ends ” – celebrate that!”

Vercillo pulls no punches in the opening to this chapter: “The things that you are afraid of are holding you back.” I cannot overemphasise the truth of these words. It is a lesson I have learnt time and time again from working on these kinds of projects and on personal improvement. Every single time I have felt ‘stuck’ with creative work, or with wanting to go in a new direction or improve a situation in my life, I have traced the cause back to fear. Basically, I’m not making progress because I am scared to make progress. The specific fears may vary between individuals. Mine tend to be very consistent. I’m scared to fail. And at the same time I’m scared to succeed. But there are ways into dealing with and overcoming these fears, and chapter 6 of Hook to Heal is a great way to start. But let me ask you a question. Are you someone who’s been following this read along, hoping or trying to participate? Is something holding you back from really engaging with the process? Could that barrier be a fear?

Have a great week. Slay some dragons. 🐲

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 4

  • Morning pages: 5/7
  • Artist’s date: kinda. Great days out, but it’s hard to do that alone in half-term!
  • Exercises: Of 14, I completed 4, prepared the ground for another 3, am intending to do 3 more in the future, and decided the remaining 4 are not right for me just now.

I have to say, I’ve had a great Hook to Heal week, which is the first time I can really claim that. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this breakthrough came in week 4: Self-Care and Self-Esteem Building. After all, I started this whole process after I recognised a lack of self-care and decided to do something positive to address that.

This week there was a heavy focus on affirmations, another valuable technique I first came across in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I got so much out of this process. I will show you the fisrt and last steps of my working of exercises 1-3. Here we examined the negative things we say to ourselves about our craft. We dig down to the roots of these ideas – where do they come from? – and analyse their validity. Then we flip them into positive affirmations and use them to start an upward a spiral of self-esteem building.

First I identified the negative things I tell myself about my work. One of the suggestions was to ask a friend about the negative statements they’ve heard from you. This was the response I got to that experiment:

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It is true that I’m generally a positive person and very forgiving of mistakes in myself and others. However I did come up with six pieces of negative craft-related self-talk with which to work:

  1. I should be working/tidying/etc.
  2. I should work on my commissioned piece.
  3. I spend too much money on this.
  4. I have too many unfinished WIPS.
  5. I am not organised enough with my projects.
  6. I can’t charge more for my work.

After examining each of these self-criticisms, and identifying how much I really believe them, if at all, I followed Vercillo’s steps for turning them into positive affirmations.

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  1. I am working on my mental health, and that is important.
  2. The amount of time I spend on paid work is exactly right.
  3. The money I invest in myself, my health, and my happiness is money well-spent.
  4. My unfinished WIPs are not a problem and I can return to each project whenever I like.
  5. My organisation is good enough.
  6. I can ask extra-special prices for extra-special yarn.

These affirmations, and more, provide the basis of many of the exercises in this chapter. The exercises are too good to be confined to a mere week of my time and, like many of the exercises I have discovered from Hook to Heal, will become regular, maybe daily, features of my craft work.

First Blogaversary

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First Blogaversary

A year ago today I published my first post on Story Skeins. It seems like a good time to reflect on some favourite posts.

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One of the things I did before going public with this adventure was to put a few posts on my brand new blog explaining who I am, what I’m doing and why. But there was something I forgot to mention when I posted about the birth of story skeins. I forgot to mention how much I resisted doing any of this! I don’t feel like it’s something I tried to create. Story skeins was an idea that came into my mind fully formed and refused to go away. I did have dreams of making yarn for people. But I really didn’t want to be seen or known. Given how much of myself I put into each creation, as I mulled over in “The Story So Far …“, it felt like too much of a risk. But the more I tried to ignore it, the more insistent this idea became.

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One of the things I definitely wasn’t going to do was to run a monthly club. It seems ironic, then, that my monthly Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club has been one of the most successful aspects of Story Skeins’ first year, both creatively and financially. It was another of those ideas that arrived complete and refused to be ignored. It has been very satisfying to mark the passing of the year, to create my own memento of my first rolag club, and to work with so many talented creators.

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Many more opportunities to interact with amazing creators have come via skill swapping. It has just occurred to me that I could add their contributions to my yarn blogs, but for now here are my contributions to an amazing year of swaps.

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And, of course, I have loved making every skein. I have loved playing with new and unusual fibres, as in Kiss From A Rose, and the super-luxury blends used in  The Walk to Weyland’s and Arctic Equinox. My favourite textured skein was spun for a non-spinning friend who won a beautiful set of rolags: Oh! The Places You’ll Go. I’ve made flower yarn and beaded yarn and yarn kits. I’ve seen my children inspired to take up the blending board and create: Singularly Cheerful and One Sky, Many Stories. And I have enjoyed writing the mini stories. Despite this being the aspect about which I have the least confidence, I really cherish the part the word-images play in practising mindful creativity: Abstract ExpressionNebula.

However, if I had to identify one high point of the year, I couldn’t do better than those times people have been inspired to create something out-of-the-ordinary as a result of engaging with the kind of process that I promote through my own work. They’ve earned their own tag, called art inspires art. I hope to see lots more of this as we embark on the second year together.