Why you should definitely fail at craft with your kids

During these storm-laden school holidays, we managed a crafternoon or two. My favourite was one that resulted in two really messy tangles of alleged weaving.


I don’t even know my weft from my warp. I think my weaver ancestors would shun my over-tensioned noob things andattempts to lead my children into the weavers world.

Only my 8 year old daughter persevered on her frame, my five year old son escaping to sewing cards. 


Even our cat tried to intervene and steer the situation on course.


But in these abominations of weaving, curled and mishapen, there was still a hugely relevant learning moment.

Questions about weaving led to me showing the kids a video of Harris Tweed being hand-woven on the Isle of Lewis and then looking again at my Harris Tweed hat under a microscope to see incredible rainbow spectrum of all of the coloured threads that create this amazing fabric.


This led to discussions about why hand-woven items cost more to buy, the genius of turning natural fibre into textile,  the skill and time in hand-crafting textiles, the value of learning and perfecting a skill and the preservation of traditional hand skills even though machines can help. We’ll definitely follow this up by looking for weavers and woven articles at the local artisan market. 

To me this is why, even if you are not good at a particular craft, there is value in the trial.  Often too, there is a temptation to revert to ‘teach’ with making, to become instructional and to pass on technique after a self-trial. Yet, it’s actually a more holistic example of maker philosophy and design thinking to visibly struggle together, get it wrong together and celebrate the imperfection of untangling and undoing. 

Unweaving.

How many times must Harris Tweed have turned into a slushy mess of sopping damp tangled fleece in the amazing process of perfecting this wonderful textile? 

Failing is how we learn the value and art of making.

How trees interact with rain

I caught a glimpse of something small and magical in the trickle of first rain and how a small fig tree catches and redirects the rain to efficiently distribute such a precious resource. It’s incredible to imagine the full interaction of water on earth, taken up into clouds, and cycled down into the soil, roots and fungi, into rivers and lakes, out to sea and back up into the clouds again. How the pattern of bark and shape of leaf plays its part.

This small tiny observation on a tiny water trickle, led me into lots of reading about how this connects to the bigger patterns of weather stemfall, interception, throughfall in ecological and permaculture thinking.

This is why observing the tiniest of interactions is all about learning.

Blink or pass too quickly by the tree and you miss a world of understanding.

It’s not a perfect video, but I captured it on my phone:

(there’s no audio)

(and if you want to read about it, see 6.6 How a tree interacts with rain in Permaculture A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison)

Ritual as yield

It’s easy to fall into a yearning for more space when you have your head in permaculture thinking, yet with just a backyard sized space to play out your zones. When I see field-sized rows of vegetable beds I have to admit, sometimes my thoughts stray to wishing  I had vast fields to lay down beds for sprawling pumpkins,  or wander through my own orchard! If only I had a small forest to harvest fallen wood…or room for ducks and goats again…

These aren’t useful threads of thoughts though. So, here’s just one example of how I tackle my mind out of the feeling of wanting more growing space. It’s by concentrating on ritual as the yield.

In the past, I was lucky enough to experience having 20 acres and being able to collect fallen branches and twigs after a storm to store as firewood.Now, in a backyard farm, I have young fruit and nut trees, one large lilly pilly shade tree and a long wait for lots of fruit and nut trees to mature.

A few years ago I researched trees and small shrubs that could be used as a harvest for wood on a small scale, for basketry or kindling. This brought me to the Vitex agnus castus, or Chaste Tree. It ticked all the boxes with buddleia like bee-attracting flowers, deciduous in winter and with pliable limbs that could be cut to ground level. This is the white variety and the flowers tower over one of the raised vegetable beds, calling all the bees in the area over to my tomatoes.

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The chaste tree dies off in autumn, you can cut the branches to ground level, and quite late into Spring (many people often think the tree is dead) it will suddenly burst into new green life anew and grow even thicker woody branches than the previous year. The branches also have a lovely earthy scent.

Here is the small bunch of wood from last year, dried over summer and ready for use either as kindling or maybe some beginners basketry?

 

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It’s not much is it? It won’t go far this winter. But does that matter? Is the size of yield the achievement?

For me, no.

This is about being in touch with harvesting wood as a ritual, about repeating a seasonal pattern and about that sense of being human in a permaculture system in a managed backyard garden.  The ritual is the yield here. This is like a small echo of an ancient wood harvesting management called coppicing, where young forest trees were cut down to the ground to resprout.  I’m not encroaching on a forest or the wilderness, so it’s a good rhythm for this space to harvest the long bare branches each winter. It’s a way to be in touch with a rhythm of taking from nature in a way that allows the tree to regrow even more vigorously, with even more blooms offered up to pollen craving bees through Summer.

There is a huge sense of worth in that little bundle of sticks and knowing that the next season will yield a slightly thicker little bundle of sticks.

If you have any other suggestions for plants and small trees that allow a small yield of wood like this, would love to hear about them.

 

Ramblings about sustainability, nature and other lore

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