Crafting Lessons Learnt at The Village Continuum

  IP - TVC Basket Weaving

{Basket woven by my ten year old daughter, Airlie, at The Village Continuum festival.  Photo styling: Airlie}

We're wired to create. It's in our DNA.  I just know it.  It's why there are cities and spoons, buildings and blankets, stained glass window and shoes.  We just can't help ourselves, we make. The Village Continuum festival was maker's paradise for me with so many amazing traditional craft workshops on offer.  If you didn't make it this year and you love craft, you should seriously think about going next year.

IP - TVC - Rope Making

{Stringy bark rope made in Josh's workshop and dyed in Heather's natural dye pot.  L: eucalyptus  R:onion skin with iron mordant}

IP - NAtural Dyeing{Dye pots simmering over the open fire.  Onion, eucalyptus and cherry ballart.}

Cross Crafting

One of the really exciting things about the Village Continuum festival was the cross crafting that occurred.  There was a steady stream of people going from the rope making workshop across to the fire and the natural dye pots to make their stringy bark rope colourful.  Shoes and leg warmers from the felting workshop went into the dye pots too.  We even had one facilitator who was chucking whatever she could find into the dye pots- old thermals, socks and bags that needed livening up.

There was also butter made in one of the workshops served the next morning at breakfast time.  

IP - Leather Craft 5 - Max Wallet

{Top: Max's wallet. Bottom: the workshop template}


When you put a bunch of people together, show them some skills and give them the tools and materials they need, amazing things can happen.  In my leather craft workshop at the Village Continuum, nine year old Max took the card and note wallet prototype and flipped it on its head.  He took the middle piece of leather, attached it to the top and turned the whole thing into a little pouch.  I love it!  Especially the button detail with the loop (the button has been sewn on backwards as well!).

This little pouch tells you everything you need to know about creativity.  Age doesn't matter - young kids and old people can do it.  Step outside the box (or in this case the pattern).  Turn things over.  Go backwards.  Do it your way.  Make it what you want.  Be different.  You are unique.  You can do it.  

IP - TVC Basket Weaving 2

{Basket weavers weaving their baskets}

Collaborative Crafting

I think there's nothing better than crafting with a bunch of other people.  It's why I love doing craft workshops and attending awesome festivals.  You get to chat, learn and be inspired.  You get to swap stories, talk about your loves and for just a little while feel connected to each other as you share your stories, hopes and dreams.  It's amazing how people open up when their hands are busy doing something else.  

Sitting together in a workshop chatting as we carve, sew, cook, learn and teach fills my soul right up.  I learn as much from the other students as the teachers when I do a workshop and the Village Continuum was no exception.  When I was doing the Coal Burn Spoon making workshop, one of the other students, Art, taught me so much about branch wood and choosing a good piece.  

IP - TVC Razor Sharpening Demo

{Speedy running an impromptu razor sharpening demo}

Spontaneous Crafting

You just couldn't stop the passionate folks at the Village Continuum from sharing their skills and knowledge with each other.  This is Speedy teaching an impromptu razor sharpening workshop during the festival.  Speedy is a goldmine of traditional craft knowledge and can turn his hand to just abut anything.  From blacksmithing to cheese making, he's done it.

Festivals like The Village Continuum are so important for slowing down and bringing together creative people who are happy to share their skills and knowledge.  It was an honour and a privilege to be part of creating something so beautiful.  If I had my way, I'd be gong to a festival like this every weekend!

Post Festival Blues

IP - TVC Crew
{One of my most treasured possessions - my Village Continuum Crew patch}
Creating a festival with a team of other people has been a huge highlight for this year for me.
Now, a few weeks after the festival, I’m definitely suffering post festival blues.  Working on and for the Village Continuum festival was a huge part of my life for the last 6 months.  And now that it has been and gone, I'm feeling bereft and blue.  
I'm missing the sense of community that came with being part of a team.  Sure we all worked separately in our own homes but there were a billion e-mails floating back and forth in the ether as we discussed all matter of matters from what to put in the goodie bags to gate open times, catering options, site decoration and how to structure the timetable.
There’s plenty of projects waiting for my attention but I just can’t focus on them at the moment.  I think I’ve entered a period of mourning,  I’ve got that post creative project flat feeling.  I suspect that is partly because for so long, I put everything I had into the festival.  And now that it has gone, there's a huge hole.  
I had a ball at the festival itself and while at the time I tried to consciously enjoy it as much as possible, I’m wishing I was still there.  I loved the amazing community of people who came to the event and created a village with us.  They were all so talented and willing to share their knowledge, skills and experience as well as enjoy the workshops at the festival.
I wish every day life was like the festival - a group of amazing people hanging out together, making things, discovering new skills and each other and most of all being open to sharing their lives with complete strangers with faith and trust.
And you know what?  When I think about it, it can be.  Every day can be filled with hanging out with amazing people, making things, learning new skills and living with faith and trust.  It's all about how we perceive the world and how we choose to love our loves.  I'm choosing great people and craft!  What about you?

I'm Still Here!

IP - TVC Leather Craft 1
Hello?  …  Hello!
Oh good.  You’re still there.  And I’m still here!  Although it may have looked like I was doing a disappearing act, I’m still here at the other end of this keyboard.  Being part of the crew organising the Village Continuum festival was huge and it kind of took over my whole life.  Actually, it did take over my whole life!  All my keyboard time was spent working on the festival.
While there was still some crafting going on (there’s always some crafting going on!), I didn’t have any spare time to share it here.  I know, terrible isn’t it?  No time to write and share.  But the festival is over and I’m back!  Although for how long, who knows?  The warmer weather always gets me about and about more...
I did manage to keep posting on Instagram so if you want to check out what I’ve been making for the last few months you can - @indraniperera.
IP - TVC leather Craft 4
As well as being part of the organising crew, I also ran a leather craft workshop at the festival.  I was so pleased and humbled at the number of people who turned up to do my workshop. Before the workshop I had cut out 20 pouches and I was thinking that I would be going home with some. Boy was I wrong. There were over thirty kids and adults crammed into the tiny tent, all eager to learn about leather craft and make their very own vegetable tanned kangaroo skin pouch!
I'm grateful to the lovely Kate Horne for coming to help and cut out more pouches for all the people patiently waiting for their leather.  The time went by so quickly as they all sat and crafted.  Marking stitches, making holes and sewing leather.  Watching them teach other what they already knew or had just learnt was wonderful.  The synergy and energy of workshops and people creating together is always inspiring.  A community of crafters - that’s the world I want to live in.
IP - TVC Leather Craft 3
These are some of the pouches that were made. The others went off with their very excited owners before I could get a snap!
I love giving people a template and the basic skills needed to complete a project and then sitting back and watching them unleash their creativity.   Options - it’s all about having different options and allowing people to have some choice.  It’s so empowering to be able to customise something and make it truly your own.  Looking at the pouches, you can see the owner’s personalities and style peeping though.  
There were two choices of pouch - the round coin purse and the note & card wallet.  A few simple choices such as coloured cotton thread for embroidery, black or white waxed linen for sewing and some coconut shell buttons made 27 very unique pouches.
It's so rewarding to be teaching people so hungry for traditional crafts and mindful making. I've still got a big grin from ear to ear and a bounce in my walk! 

On My Bookshelf

IP - perfume books

I'm so excited about this wonderful pile of books I just borrowed from my local library.  With the cold weather and long nights now here, I'm really looking forward to learning more about perfume making and the world of scent.

At the moment I'm dipping into a book here and there.  Reading a fascinating passage about author Celia Lyttelton's travels to unearth the origins, history and culture of the ingredients in her bespoke perfume.  Learning about aldehydes, ketones and esters in the Encyclopaedia of Essential Oil by Julia Lawless.

I'm also on the search for a medieval herbal and Listening to Scent by Jennifer Peace Rind.  Alas, my library doesn't have access to either of these so I may just have to search further afield!

 What are you reading?

Walking Away From Spoon Carving (For a Little While)

Spoon & Knife

{spoon carving knife in leather sheath with coal burn spoon}

For the last month or so I've been obsessed with my new hobby of spoon carving.  It was so much fun to take a log and turn it into a spoon using an axe and a knife.  Since then I've been spoon carving every spare chance I get.  I've even bought myself a special knife and made a leather sheath for it.

One of the lovely things about spoon carving is that I've discovered a whole community of spoon carvers on Instagram who are all about making things using traditional tools and their hands.  Not only do they carve spoons using axes and knives, often the spoons themselves are finished by knife.  That means that no sandpaper touches the wood.  Pretty impressive when you look at some of the spoons! 

When I learnt about knife finishing I was determined to improve my knife skills.  It would be awesome to be so good at carving that I don't even need to use sandpaper.  But I'll settle for getting the spoons symmetrical.  I figured that if I did some carving every day, I would get better at it.  After all, practice makes perfect, right?  At least that what I tell the kids when they don't want to play the piano :o)

IP - Spoon Carving - Curly bits

{really excited to get curly bits on my spoon}

I've managed to do some carving every few days but I've now hit the point of frustration.  I don't know what I need to do to get better.  My spoons are still wonky and asymmetrical and I've run out of wood.  I'm wishing that those spoon carvers on social media were actually my neighbours so I can ask for help and tips.  

Maybe I need to find a branch (there was a big storm last night so may find something in the local park today) and just play around with different knife strokes.  Have some fun and experiment.

Or perhaps it's time to walk away from spoon carving for a while and come back to it when I am feeling refreshed and enthusiastic once more.  Instead of envious and not good enough!  

I think I've hit that point in the creative process when it's time to walk away and take a break.  We're so used to thinking of life as linear that it's hard to remember that creativity is cyclical.  It comes and goes in waves and is it's own master.  No matter how hard you try you just can't boss it around.  And trust me on this one, I've tried!

For some more great insights into the creative process, check out this fantastic article by James Clear.

Misadventures in Making

IP - toffee

I was trying to make chocolate crackles and I made toffee instead.  Chocolate crackles are a staple at kid's birthday parties here in Australia but I have never made them.  I don't think I've eaten them since I was a kid but I got this sudden craving.  You know what it's like.  And no, I'm not pregnant!  

The chocolate crackle recipe called for icing sugar and lots of it.  I'm more of a raw sugar kinda gal.  So I substituted rapadura sugar for the icing sugar.  But I was a bit worried about it being all grainy so I thought that I would melt it in a saucepan along with the coconut oil I was using.  

I often wonder how things get invented.  Like, who on earth came up with custard?  Tasty yes, but how did they figure out how to make it?  Now I know.  They made a mistake and discovered something new.  Just like me adding sugar to coconut oil and heating it.  As I stirred the coconut oil over a low heat, the sugar started to coalesce.  It got all smooth and shiny.  What it didn't do was melt.  As I stirred, I thought, "Hang on a second!  That looks like toffee just like Mother makes in the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley."   

At that stage it was perfect.  But in my excitement I turned up the heat and kept on stirring.  The sugar starred to go brown and lumpy.  I panicked and madly started spooning it out onto a tray lined with baking paper.  It was a little burnt but still yummy.  

So, no chocolate crackles this time - slightly burnt toffee instead. 

When I get the chocolate crackle recipe right, I'll share it with you here!

Spooning On A Winter's Afternoon

IP - Carving Burnt Spoon

The spooning has been continuing!  

On Saturday I jumped in the car for yet another cross town trip. This time to CERES to do the coal burning spoon workshop with Claire Dunn, author of My Year Without Matches.  You'll have to forgive me for more spoon making posts - it's my latest thing :o)

Claire is incredible and inspiring - she has such a deep connection to the mysteries of nature and a willingness to share that connection with others. When she's talking to you, you feel as if you are being listened to by someone who genuinely cares. It's rare to meet someone who is totally present and not distracted by all the noise of daily life. 

Part of the day was introducing yourself and why you were there. Listening to some of the amazing responses got me to thinking again about making and why I do it. It's such a part of me that I can't imagine not making but I find it hard to put into words why it is I love to make. But I'm going to give it a go!

IP - Ember

{coaxing an ember from the fire into life | photo by Claire Dunn}

There's a spark of life inside all of us that longs to create something.  That little spark can be nurtured and coaxed to grow into a flame.  Fan that flame and you get a burning passion.  That's what making is for me.  A burning passion.  

When I am making the things that I need, I get lost in the moment.  I'm in what Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, calls a state of flow.  Time passes, the cat vomits and I don't notice because I am intent, absorbed, totally immersed in what I am doing.  The house could come crashing down around my ears and I wouldn't notice.

I find it deeply satisfying to use my hands to make something.  It is physical, mental, challenging, stimulating and frustrating.  I go through all the emotions and I feel alive.  

I love working with natural materials and using traditional, slow methods to create things that are not only useful but beautiful.  Making things my way is the ultimate expression and statement of who I am.  Of my unique nature because of course, every maker is different.  

At each stage of the making process there are a multitude of options and choices.  In choosing that particular option on that particular day I am making a statement about who and where I am at that moment in time.  The finished object reflects this statement beautifully.  I can revisit who and where I was when I made my spoon every time I use it to eat my dinner.

IP - Ember on Spoon

{the alchemical fire, burning the bowl of the spoon}

The whole process of making fascinates me but it's the alchemy of turning raw materials into finished objects that has me hooked.  In this alchemical process, it is not just the materials being altered, I am also transformed.   Every time I make something, I am in awe of the magic that comes from working with my hands and I am humbled by the lessons that I learn. Making slow and making by hand gives me time and space to reflect and to think.  To pay attention and to notice what is happening around me and within.

My making journey weaves a portrait of my life and my choices.  I look around my house and I am surrounded by the things I have made and loved.  They all have stories to tell and are woven into my life and my heart.  

IP - Coal Burned Spoons

{The collection of spoons made at the workshop}

There is so much beauty in handmade. All the imperfections are glorious and give a piece character and honesty.  Handmade objects are unique just like their makers.  All the spoons in the above picture started the day as blank pieces of pine.  And they have all turned into unique spoons, just like their carvers.  

We need to celebrate our own unique gifts as much as the unique things we make.  Especially when we live in an age of mass-produced sameness.  All our eating spoons are uniformly the same.  Give me a collection of motley, handmade spoons (and spooners :o)  any day!

Slow Making

  IP - Vest 1

I've known about the Slow Food movement for years.  It's the one where you take time to cook delicious food and eat leisurely meals.  The other night while crafting with friends I heard about the Slow Music movement.  It's where bands play a series of gigs in a town over a period of weeks, getting to know the place and it's people.  It got me to thinking about the way I make.  And guess what?  It's slow!  

The vest I'm wearing in that picture took me over a month to make.  It was a slow process as I returned to it when I had a moment or two to spare and when I had figured out the nest step in the process!

It took time to sort through my fabric stash and find the burgundy wool I had machine felted a couple of years ago for my winter coat.  There wasn't enough for that project so it's been sitting there, waiting patiently for its moment to shine!  It only took a day to create the pattern (tracing around a favourite top) and cut it out.  Fast making for me!

Then I got nervous and left it pinned, ready for sewing.  Always that nagging doubt, "What if it doesn't work?"  Eventually I gathered my courage, dived right in and sewed.  And it didn't quite work.  So it sat there for a bit while I figured out what to do to fix it.  Not too hard in the end - just a nip and a tuck here and there.

And most of it wasn't too hard - I just needed time to mull things over and space to be okay with things not working out as expected.  That's the beauty and the curse of the handmade.  You can make what you want but it doesn't always turn out how you imagined.  Sometimes though, it's better.  Like my gorgeous new vest!

IP - Vest 2

Next, the big question.  How to adorn it?  I wanted something bold, colourful and natural.  Time spent dreaming and searching through my crafting stash came up with some wool roving for needle felting.  The tree was needle felted on the Winter Solstice while beeswax candles burned in the window and my gorgeous girls played happily around me.  That memory and experience are now part of my vest and I'll remember that moment every time I wear it.

Once the tree was done I had to figure out how to finish the front.  I knew I wanted to appliqué leaves to match the tree on the back but wasn't sure what to use.  Once I decided to use what I already had in my stash, it narrowed the choice.  I ended up sewing on a leaf made from vegetable tanned, kangaroo skin on the front.  The buttons are made from a fallen foraged branch of a Red Bloodwood tree comes from a local park.

I really love the mix of crafting skills that went into creating my unique new garment.  It's a great reflection of the the crafts I like to do - sewing, leather craft and woodwork.  It has been machine and needle felted as well as hand and machine sewn.  Traditional and modern techniques, hand and machine.  It's all in there somewhere!

It makes me happy that I used things I already had in my craft stash to make it.  The magic art of making do with what you already have.

And I adore this vest.  It fits me beautifully and is a reflection of the maker that I am.  One who works slowly, in a variety of crafts while using natural materials.  

So here's to the Slow Making movement.  One where we make the things we need, slowly.  Where we enjoy the process along the way.

My Winter Rhythm

IP - pecanz
I’m getting back into my winter rhythm.  At the start of each season, there’s a time when I’m not really sure what I am doing.  I have to check which fruit and veggies are now ripe and ready to eat.  Think about what recipes to cook.  Figure out how my days are going to go.  And then after a little disruption, I get back into the rhythm of the new season.  
My winter rhythm is filled with lots of snuggly, warm activities.  The girls and I start each morning with a big giggle and tickle o’clock somewhere in the middle of breakfast.  We play Scrabble in the afternoons.  Drink lots of cups of liquorice tea on the couch while we read books together, out loud and on our own.  This year the girls have discovered Fimo and are busy making things for their dolls.
For me, I know when it’s winter when I am dehydrating pecans in the oven.  Once a week I buy 500g of organic Byron Bay Pecans from the local market.  I then soak them overnight in water salted with pink Himalayan salt.  The next morning I drain the pecans which have swelled up nicely and lay them out on trays lined with baking paper.   I then dehydrate them in the oven at a low temp (200 F) for about four hours.
The rhythm of dehydrating my own organic pecans grounds me.  The repetitive activity is soothing.  The smell of baking pecans wafts through the house.  It connects me to the earth and to the season.  It brings me home.

Spoon Carving

IP - Spoon 1

I had the best time on Sunday, learning to carve a wooden spoon with Paul Ryle, The Green Woodsmith.  He's a man after my own heart.  Using sustainable natural materials and traditional hand tools to make useful things.  In this case, gorgeous spoons!  

I've wanted to have a crack at green woodworking ever since I saw the show Mastercrafts with Monty Don.  He had an episode on green woodworking and I was hooked!  At the time I thought I had to save my pennies and travel all the way to the UK to learn.  And then at this year's Lost Trades Fair I saw Paul and grabbed a flyer, heart thumping with excitement.

IP - Spoon 3

We started the day with a demonstration from Paul on splitting our timber into two pieces with an axe and removing the pith, again with an axe.  There's a surprising amount of axe work in spoon carving and I really liked that in this workshop we started with a green tree branch and ended up with a finished spoon.  I like to know the whole process so I can go home and do it myself.  Because of course, I'm now all about carving spoons.  It's my latest craft craze :o)  

After Paul's demonstration we then chose our timber - I picked green Alder as I really wanted to work with green wood.  I learnt from Paul that if you have green sections of trees, you should seal the ends with paint or beeswax so they don't dry out and crack before you work on them.

IP - Spoon 9

First step, cutting a branch in two followed by removing the pith.  When I started with the axe I was really nervous and hesitant.  I've never wielded an axe before and those things have wickedly sharp blades.  The axes we were using were Scandi grind axes for carving.  That means they're super sharp.  After a while I began to get the hang of things and gained confidence. 

IP - Spoon 4

That's a picture of my wood with the pith removed.  Next step, drawing a sketch of my spoon on the wood.  We had all of Paul's fabulous spoons to use as inspiration.  Incredible to think that he gets them so smooth only using a knife - no sandpaper here, gulp!  I decided to make a ladle for soups and stews.  I've been looking for one with a metal ladle and wooden handle for years and haven't had any luck.  What to do?  Make my own!

IP - Spoon 5

On to more axe work.  This time hewing out the spoon blank with the axe.  At the end of this I had my spoon blank (yay!) and really sore hands from gripping the axe and carefully holding the wood, keeping my fingers well out of the way.  Luckily it was time for lunch in the straw bales house that Paul and Jenny' built.

After lunch it was time to do the knife work and refine the shape of our spoons.  Paul taught us three different strokes for shaping the spoon.  The power stroke (for getting off stock), the push stroke (for shaping the back of the spoon) and the pull stroke (for shaping the handle).  He also taught me another stroke (can't remember what it's called) for making a hook at the tip of my spoon handle.  There are a lot more strokes you can use but these basic ones were safe and simple enough for us beginners.  I really liked doing the knife work.  It was really satisfying and addictive - I could see how you'd spend hours getting it lovely and smooth.  I was tempted to spend all night in the shed, working away on my knife next to the wood stove :o)

  IP - Spoon 6

Last step was carving out the bowl of the spoon with a crook knife - it's the one on the right in the above picture.  The straight knife is a Mora 106 and is the one I used for the knife work.  I loved this step as well.  You get a really satisfying crunch sound as you carve away the wood with the crook knife.  It felt a bit like peeling an apple and we used a stroke that Paul calls the spud peeling stroke.  Although I did wish that I had gone for a smaller spoon as I was carving out the huge bowl of my ladle!

Doing the carving was amazing.  The knife work just felt right.   I've wanted to carve wood for years and it was wonderful to be finally doing it, in such a beautiful setting and with such a wonderful teacher!

IP - Spoons 2

I have serious envy of Paul's awesome workshop and tool collection neatly arranged on the wall.  Organised and functional - sigh!  One of the best things about this workshop was the range of tools from different makers that Paul had on hand to try out.  I've been looking at tools online for a little while now, bewildered by the choices.  Now I know that I like the Wetterlings Wilderness Hatchet for my axe work and the Mora 106 for knife work.  To carve the bowl of the spoon I like the Hans Karlsson and Robin Wood Crook knives.  The Karlsson for small bowls and the Robin Wood for larger bowls.  I know what's on my birthday list this year!

  IP - Spoon 7

This is my almost finished spoon (I have plans to order a straight knife and get rid of those pencil marks) next to it's other half.  The dark green piece is the remainder of the branch that I split in two at the start of the day.

IP - Spoon 8

I've got calluses on my thumbs and palms from the axe and knives.  As well as a feeling of deep satisfaction at making something with my hands and learning a new skill.  I've also got a burning desire to make more spoons.  And do more courses with Paul.  I'm planning on coming back in summer and working in his outdoor shelter which looked amazing.  I'll keep you posted.