Off Grid

“We work with people who aren’t scared to look at things differently, that want to make a difference and who are willing to go (a little) off grid.”

Find out more about Kim and Sally’s nomadic approach to design within their digital agency by watching the beautifully made video below…


Check out the website here or find Off Grid on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Rewind/Rewild Exhibition
All images by Thomas Broadhead

All images by Thomas Broadhead

Last month Anna Souter wrote a piece for the blog about the act of rewilding in anticipation of an exhibition she co-curated this month. Happily, she has decided to share some images from this exhibition with us so that although the exhibition only lasted a week, we can still enjoy exploring it here.


Anna Souter is a writer and a curator. Together with artist Beatrice Searle, she co-curated the Rewind/Rewild exhibition and Rewilding Forum at OmVed Gardens, Highgate, North London.

Earth-Based Living
Image:  Annie Spratt

Sometimes it’s hard to define what you feel most passionate about, especially when it goes against the grain, and there’s no specific word or phrase to describe it. I’ve titled this piece ‘Earth-Based Living’, because that’s about as close as I can get to describing the lifestyle I have come to adopt over the past five or so years, but it still doesn’t quite encapsulate everything it entails.

I’ve never been a devout follower of… well, anything really. When the ‘religion’ box appeared on forms and questionnaires, sometimes I’d tick ‘Christian’, other times ‘Agnostic’, but neither sat well. Around 2014-2015 I started to read more non-fiction, in particular the new wave of nature writing that was emerging at the time (John Lewis-Stempel and Rob Cowen were favourites), and as my reading list expanded, so did my perception of faith, belief and what I valued in life.

I started to ground myself in the seasons, to really try and notice the small changes in nature as the year progressed. I bought The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year by Nick Groom, and fell down a rabbit hole: this book contained everything that I wanted to include in my life - nature, the seasons, tradition, literature, celebration, folklore, adventure - but I didn’t know where to start. So I spent the following few months devouring everything I could that sparked my curiosity. Poetry from John Clare, the concept of microadventures, the emerging idea of slow living (which at the time was virtually unheard of on the internet, and especially on Instagram).

One day my dad recommended I read Glennie Kindred’s The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration, and handed me his copy. The introduction alone was enlightening: ‘We can empower ourselves in new and exciting ways, break free of old outworn attitudes, damaging dogma and concepts. We can transform and change in our own unique and individual way. Best of all we are free to embrace a holistic understanding of all things being interconnecting vital parts of a whole.’ It goes on to explore the Wheel of the Year, its festivals and celebrations, and how it can bring focus and structure to our lives (if you’re not sure what the Wheel of the Year is, click here). She writes: ‘The Wheel of the Year is not just a matter of changing from one season to the next. Beneath the manifestation of seasonal change, there is also change in the energy of the Earth. These energy patterns affect us all whether we are conscious of them or not. By understanding the flow and direction of that energy, we can move with it, in harmony with it, as true inhabitants of our planet earth: belonging, part of, changing on all levels of our being.’

I realised that subconsciously I had already started to sculpt a life defined by the ebb and flow of nature. I was already feeling the impact of the Earth’s energy at different times of year, changing up my routine, what I was eating, the activities I enjoyed doing. What I hadn’t realised was that this wasn’t a new concept: people have always been guided by the seasons, and the transformative power of nature; it is only in the more recent past that our connection has diminished.

I spent more time reading, researching, and thinking about how everything linked together, and to begin with, my thoughts and ideas were incredibly scattered, which I suppose is natural when you’re forming a belief system. I felt very much like the odd one out, and didn’t fit neatly into any one category: I wasn’t a Pagan (though I resonated with the Wheel of the Year and the importance of ritual), and I wasn’t a Buddhist (though I agreed with the importance of meditation and lasting values in an impermanent world). I wasn’t (nor did I aspire to be) a monk, but again, many of the beliefs rang true (a rejection of mainstream society and the importance of simplicity, for instance).

My beliefs, values, and approach to life and work evolved over the next few years, and though I’m still learning today, I feel better equipped to talk about the lifestyle I aspire to lead.


 

EARTH-BASED LIVING

MOVING THROUGH LIFE GUIDED BY THE EBB AND FLOW OF THE SEASONS, AND THE ENERGY OF THE EARTH.

 

My earth-based approach looks like this:

  • I believe that we are all members of one Earth community.

  • I believe in the power and wisdom of the Earth, and practice gratitude for all that it provides.

  • I adopt a ‘slow’ approach, managing and balancing the different priorities in my life in order to focus on what really matters to me.

  • I use the Wheel of the Year as a framework for planning, celebration and intention.

  • I look to the Wheel of the Year, and the lunar cycle, to utilise the best conditions for my actions, and to help to explain what I feel in my mind and body. I do not use these cycles to try to predict the future.

  • I look to the Earth for wisdom, whether that be through ritual, meditation, forest bathing, grounding or creative acts.

  • I try to eat seasonal food and practice seasonal yoga flows, inspired by Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine.

  • I use seasonal rituals to help align my everyday with nature (e.g. lighting a candle at breakfast in the winter).

  • Most of all, I try to get outside whenever I can, and feel the grounding power of the Earth.

I don’t get it right all of the time (who does?!), and I certainly find things more difficult when I’m going through a really busy period in my life or work, but it really helps to have a set of principles to turn back to every so often, to remind myself of what’s important to me. As Satish Kumar remarks: “We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. The Latin word humus means soil. The words human, humility and humus all come from the same root. When humans lose contact with soil, they are no longer humans.”

Let’s make time to reconnect, with the Earth, with soil, and with the cycles and rhythms of the natural world.


If you’re interested in finding out more about Earth-based living, my new course - Reconnect to the Earth - might be for you. Find out more here.


May Flowers
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Returning down the footpath, we follow the hawthorn and its all-consuming blossom – customarily the symbol that Beltane, or May Day, has begun. It reminds me that we have reached another spoke on the Wheel of the Year, another moment to mark.

‘The fair maid who, the first of May

Goes to the fields at break of day

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree

Will ever after handsome be.’

Symbolic of life and fertility, Beltane is a celebration of spring at its peak, and though hawthorn is traditionally considered unlucky throughout the year, it is brought into the home at Beltane in the form of flower crowns and May baskets. One of the four fire festivals, it is also a time of year to purify, cleanse and bring fertility through the power of the sun. Jumping over the fire – particularly as a couple – was seen as a way to pledge yourselves to each other, and even animals were included: to encourage fertility and protect from disease, cattle were often driven through the smoke from the fire.

This year we’re forgoing the fire and focusing instead of life and fertility in the form of flowers. Later in the day, I head out with a pair of secateurs to borrow a few branches of hawthorn. Though there is life in the veg patch, the garden is lacking in floral displays, but I still manage to pick a few stems: blowsy cream tulips; grape hyacinths; and fat handfuls of cow parsley. 

By four o’clock there’s a line of posies, each with a sprig of hawthorn, tied with garden string on the kitchen table. By six they’ve all been delivered, hanging on door knockers, propped up in plant pots and placed on wiry welcome mats all through the village. We might not have a Maypole or May Queen, but celebrating these ancient festivals isn’t about replication. It’s the drawing together, or even the creation of, a community, helping others pause to notice what’s on their doorstep and in their garden too. Remnants of posy-making remain on the kitchen table when I return, and I take the last few branches of hawthorn up into the orchard, scattering them freely, wishing the chickens a fruitful Beltane.

Extract from Reconnection, the forthcoming book from Eleanor Cheetham.

An Introduction to the Wheel of the Year
Image:  Olena Ivanova

My approach to living slowly and seasonally is to be guided by the Celtic Wheel of the Year, an ancient calendar guided by the transition of the sun throughout the seasons. Many religions celebrate the festivals within the Wheel of the Year (paganism, for example), but my approach is not inspired by any one religion, rather it is rooted in a love and reverence for the natural world.

Each twelve month period is split into eight segments.

The beginning of each season is marked by a Cross-Quarter (or fire) Festival: Imbolc (February 1st) for spring; Beltane (May 1st) for summer; Lammas (August 1st) for autumn; and Samhain (October 31st) for winter. Though these dates may seem early, they are suggestions that a different energy is emerging; the smallest of signs that change is on the horizon.

The height of each season is marked by a Quarter Point (or solar festival): the Spring Equinox (20th - 23rd March); the Summer Solstice (20th - 23rd June); the Autumn Equinox (20th - 23rd September); and the Winter Solstice (20th - 23rd December). These are thought to be non-Celtic in origin, but are celebrated as part of the cycle nevertheless. From each Quarter Point, the season begins to wane, until we reach the next Cross-Quarter Festival that signifies one season has ended, and another has begun.

Using these eight markers provides natural pauses in the year, a chance to consider our lives and choices in a way that makes sense in relation to the Earth. For instance, at Beltane (May 1st) nature is full of life: the dawn chorus is building, flowers are blooming, and everywhere is beginning to look very green. In alignment with the Earth’s increased energy, it is a time to move forward with plans and intentions, for turning the potential of winter and early spring into reality.

In addition to working alongside (rather than against) the energy of the Earth, we can also use these markers to create ceremony, whether alone, with friends and family, or with community. We can use the markers as a reminder to look to the seasons and what’s going on in nature, and perhaps to adjust our own rhythm and rituals accordingly. So for Beltane, that might include waking a little earlier one day to watch the sunrise, eating more meals outdoors, keeping a posy of wildflowers by your bedside; small reminders of the season, but powerful when included in your everyday (or every week).

You can read more about Beltane, the next festival on the Wheel of the Year - in this post from Sarah, in which she explores Cornish traditions.

If you’d like to find out more and discover ways to celebrate the seasons guided by the Wheel of the Year, membership might be for you. In your monthly printed mini book, you’ll find a whole section on celebration, and you’ll also receive additional resources like guided meditations and journal prompts to help you mark the festivals in other ways too.

Creative Rewilding
Images by  Annie Spratt

Images by Annie Spratt

‘Rewilding’ is a word that’s become increasingly popular among those interested in discovering a more seasonal, wilder way of living. But what does it really mean?

Rewilding is a radical mode of conservation, which requires human beings to rescind control, step back and allow an ecosystem to restore its own balance. It means stopping practices such as burning heathland (known as ‘swaling’ in the west country), damming rivers, or allowing unnatural numbers of sheep, deer or ponies to graze. All these practices, while sometimes traditional, are intended not to help ecosystems thrive, but to give farmers more opportunities to feed their animals or till the soil.

Unfortunately, in Britain, many of our well-known landscapes have been over-grazed and ‘managed’ to within an inch of their lives, resulting in upland zones that lack any significant diversity of wildlife and are dominated by monocultures of bracken, heather and poor-quality grass. In most European nations with similar topography to Britain, however, these uplands are only lightly farmed and therefore mostly forested, which is the best environment for biodiversity.

Rewilding is, in essence, about bringing this diversity back to our landscapes. Life, we find, is not simply a linear chain of events, but networked, complex and – undeniably – beautiful. When nature is given a vote of confidence and allowed to pursue its own ends, the results can be spectacular. Rewilded places have the potential to captivate us. Fascinating lichens, fungi, butterflies, birds, rodents, reptiles and amphibians all have a chance to find a home again. Rewilded places offer something new with every visit, every change in season. In the biggest projects, we might have the chance to encounter a wild boar or a beaver, maybe even one day to spot a wolf on a distant ridge.

Not only would all this be thrilling, it would help us to live more wildly. Nowhere shows the changing seasons better than a wood. Seeing those tiny interactions between tree creeper and insect, frog and leaf-shade, weasel and burrow, would make us more mindful of our own connections to the living, breathing world around us. It would be ours for the looking, as well as its own to do as it liked.

I think rewilding would benefit both people and the planet – and I think we both need defending. A more reciprocal, sensitive form of conservation is only going to come out of conversation. We need to kick-start the debate. There are already a number of fantastic projects happening on a big scale – Summit to Sea in West Wales, for example, and the Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland. Some of the big conservation charities have also got on board, albeit often quite cautiously. But there is still a long way to go – especially as rewilding can and should only happen with the full, informed consent of local communities.

There are misconceptions to overcome too. The idea of reintroducing wolves, for example, delights some people and terrifies others. But while species introduction is an element of rewilding, wolves would not be appropriate for most landscapes and would only ever be introduced to very sparsely populated environments. Mostly we’re talking about pine-martens and missing birds.

Moreover, many people who live in towns, or even in agricultural parts of the countryside, think rewilding isn’t relevant to them because it could only happen somewhere far off. But I hope that the distinction between urban and rural can be collapsed here, and that we can reintroduce wilder ways of living for all. Urban biodiversity is fascinating in its own right, and even the smallest plots in ‘rural’ areas can be seeded with wildflowers, or incorporate wildlife corridors.

As a curator and writer, I hope to bring people together to debate these issues and to work across the boundaries of disciplines and locations to find new solutions to the rewilding question.

There is a way of living more wildly, co-existing peacefully both with the natural world and with other people. But we need to collaborate to find it.


Anna Souter is a writer and a curator. Together with artist Beatrice Searle, she is co-curating Rewind/Rewild, an upcoming exhibition and Rewilding Forum at OmVed Gardens, Highgate, North London.

Exhibition 1-7 May 2019. Rewilding Forum 4 May 2019.

Creative Spotlight : Edge and Company

Jessica : I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, how Edge and Company started, and what it is you do?

Milly : Edge and Company was founded by myself (Amelia Edge) and my partner Steve Coley. Our main aim was to create a forward thinking wellbeing and lifestyle brand, which gives back to people in need through every purchase.

Our products are handmade in the UK and worldwide by people living with disabilities, mental health conditions, homelessness and addiction, who find it very challenging to access and maintain employment.

Every product sold will help to support organisations that are striving to break perceptions and social stigma, by building acceptance and employment opportunities for people living with life challenges. This is what we call ‘Radical Giving’.

Jessica : Can you tell me about where you found your inspiration to start your company?

Milly : I spontaneously came across The Soap Co (a social enterprise that provides employment opportunities for people who are visually impaired, living with disabilities or are otherwise disadvantaged.)

I purchased one of their innovative exfoliating soap pebbles and It felt amazing that I had somehow helped to contribute and support this inspirational company.

I found this idea really exciting - a great product and the money I’d spent going to a great cause.

Soon after, we visited the homewares trade show ‘Top Drawer’ but really struggled to find any suppliers that shared the same ethos as The Soap Co. After hours of searching we managed to find two more suppliers which lead us to the idea of creating a new shopping platform experience where every purchase would give back in some way and so began our hunt for similar charities and social enterprises.

Jessica : What do you love most about what you do?

Milly : Some of our suppliers are local to us and we have been given the opportunity to visit their workshops and meet the people who are involved in the making of our products.

This has been an invaluable and extremely rewarding experience and one that was lacking in our previous work.

To be able to see the production process of our products from start to finish and personally thank everyone involved has been very heart warming.

We look forward to meeting and working with lots of new suppliers in the future.

Jessica : Can you tell us about your work-space, and what a typical day at Edge and Company is like?

Milly : We are lucky enough to have an office space at home where we can get inspired by our surroundings. We like to personally test our products and make sure that we are selling amazing, innovative items that we love.

Right now we are working hard to find new suppliers and build on our product range.

If it’s a Sunday, you’ll find us at Spitalfields market, selling all of our beautiful products in person.

Jessica : What impact would you like to create with your work?

Milly : Ultimately we want to spread awareness and help build acceptance and employment opportunities for people living with life challenges, whilst continuing to show people that there is an alternative to mass produced products found on the high street.

Jessica : And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Milly : For anyone that has a good idea, I would recommend persisting with it.

I’ve found that if you stick with an idea for long enough it will naturally become refined and come to fruition when it the time is right.


Find out more here or follow Milly + Steve on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

CreativeContributor
A Beachcomber's Diary: February
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Sarah takes a reflective look back on her beach adventures last month…

Usually in Cornwall, February is the month of storms. Just when the steely, harshness of January begins to soften, the snowdrops emerge and the days begin to lengthen again. It’s then, that one begins to fool oneself into thinking that spring is close within reach and that’s precisely when the storms strike. Last February we had a bout of snow storms which was most unusual for Cornwall, in particular the western peninsula where I live and where we enjoy a microclimate which keeps the temperatures mild.

The storms blow in all sorts of detritus off the seas, dredge up all manner of things from the seabeds and the beaches become a veritable treat for the beach combers of the south coast. The usual finds; sea glass, pottery and various shells are easily found on many of the Cornish beaches all year round but the storms churn up the sand and reveal fresh and exciting finds that may have been overlooked before. Once, I even happened across a stray buoy from a boat which I took home, you’ll find many tiny fishing cottages in rural west Cornwall that have decorated their gardens with buoys washed up in coves.

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Sea glass (also colloquially known as drift glass) takes on average 20-40 years to become enough withered by the waves that it gains its smooth, frosted characteristics. It can even take as long as 100 years so it’s exciting to think that when you find a smooth, aquamarine blue piece, you’re holding something between your fingers that perhaps once belonged to a victorian gin bottle or may have even washed up on the shore, a broken relic from a ship wrecked  hundreds of years ago.

In west Cornwall, you’ll have to get up early, beat the dog walkers and mind the tides to have your best chance at finding some beautiful pieces of sea glass however if you travel out to our nearby archipelago, the Scilly isles, there’s practically no sport in finding it as you’ll be tripping over the biggest, chunkiest turquoise pieces you ever did see.

What’s more exciting though, far more exciting than withered and worn Victorian glass, is when the storms blow in some curious creatures from the high seas. Hydrozoa such as ‘By the Wind Sailors’ are a frequent visitor of the Cornish coasts in February and March. With their space-like dreamy blue colour and little shiny clear sails they’re almost alien looking and quite magical. They live and drift on the surface of the ocean, feeding on the plankton but the strong wintery onshore winds blow them up onto the beaches. Although they’re a very pretty decoration and exciting find on the Cornish beaches,  it’s a great shame as many dry out and don’t survive if they get blown up too far for the tide to rescue them. Last year, with the storms, we also witnessed a glut of Portuguese man-o-war on our beaches. Although beautiful, they are an incredibly dangerous jellyfish and have been affectionately nicknamed ‘neon death pasties’ by some of the locals here.

If you’re beachcombing at a spot where the river mouth meets the ocean, you may also find some beautiful Oyster shells washed up. Oyster shells are one of my favourite shells to pick up and on one of our recent visits to Looe last weekend, we did manage to pick up a few of them.

One of the most interesting recent beachcombing finds that I’ve heard of recently was that of my friend Mariette. Down on the Lizard peninsula she happened across an unassuming lump of smelly, greasy ‘something’ which she brought home and turned out to be Ambergris. You’ve got no idea what Ambergris is? Good, because I didn’t either. Ambergris is formed in the digestive system of sperm whales and is extremely valuable and coveted by perfumers. It’s sort of ‘whale vomit’ in crude terms and if you’re a beachcomber that comes across Ambergris, you’ve struck gold. Mariette is already planning her holiday with her unexpected windfall. The takeaway from all of this is that you should forget rare pieces of shipwrecked lego or lost pirate coins, the real beach treasure to be searched for is whale barf.

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When you can bear to take your gaze away from the swirling swell and churning sea foam, look down: The winter beaches suddenly become an exciting bazaar of fascinating detritus and glistening, quirky, natural treasures to take home and decorate the windowsill (where many of my finds end up.) Some of my favourite finds are shells with particularly giant barnacles, fossils, hag-stones or very occasionally dried coral - I found the Isle of Wight was an excellent spot for picking up coral (another bittersweet beach find.)  Lyme Regis and the Jurassic coast are excellent for fossils if you have patience, a keen eye and a dash of luck.

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In the wintertime, Cornwall shuts down and becomes bleak, empty and quiet. I get asked often how I survive over the wintertime here or what we do for fun. Personally, I feel that the county comes alive out of ‘tourist season’ and particularly during the stormy periods. Misty beaches, churning aquamarine waves and endless sea caves to explore, beaches aren’t just for sunbathing and building sandcastles. For me, a winter beach is an endlessly exciting, peaceful and restorative space bringing us these tiny treasures with stories to tell; stories of shipwrecks, lost fishing nets, tiny creatures from the high seas and lost cargo from thousands of miles away.


WinterSarah Porteus
Creative in the Countryside: The Cozy Club

Jessica : I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, how The Cozy Club started, and what it is you do?

Chris : The Cozy Club started really by a lightbulb moment. I had been hosting Christmas and summer fairs in my home for about five years where entrance proceeds went to a charity called William's Fund. The stallholders were situated throughout my house so people came in and noticed various decorative things that I had done. I was asked on several occasions how I made the items and had the thought that perhaps this might be fun to teach. Being a teacher by profession, I felt I had the tools already to proceed with conducting workshops. The name came simply because for as long as I can remember I needed to feel comfort :like being snuggled deep into a worn quilt, my hands wrapped around a mug of hot tea reading a wonderful book or enjoying the company of good friends...to me that is cozy and I try to always try to incorporate that into my life. I think I feel I have a mission to try to make as many people as cozy as I can! To me, being cozy and creative are two very important aspects of life.I sat down one afternoon, looked at my fabrics and started imagining projects and that was ten years ago. Now, with the help from my husband, some of the projects are also  done  working with wood. The Mouse House has been a big hit to name one! 


Jessica : What do you love most about what you do?

Chris : I love my Cozy Club days from designing the project to welcoming old and new friends to watching the process of their creations take shape. I would have to say that what I love most about what I do is to watch those who think they are not very creative see their projects  emerge from their own two hands and see the pride in their eyes as they come to the realisation that they are indeed creative. I liken my club to an old -fashioned quilting bee where like-minded women gather to find interesting conversation, friendship , share a meal and a love of creating. 


Jessica : Can you tell us about your work-space, and what a typical day at The Cozy Club is like?

Chris : A day at The Cozy Club begins with everyone enjoying refreshments and meeting each other. Once settled in the workroom on old farm tables  covered with antique linen cloths, the project is explained and all materials are provided. Help is given, but all are encouraged to make their project unique. There is a break for lunch where all join together in my kitchen to sit down for something seasonal. As many come from far, I always cook something filling and from scratch. Candles are glowing and the table is set to celebrate the time of year. . At each place, a small present sits waiting to be opened by each participant ,again, something that goes together with what we are making. Once lunch is finished, everyone heads to The General Store where a collection of farmhouse finds, fresh flowers, ribbons, fabric bundles, candles, antique quits etc. wait for them to explore. The work on the project continues until about 4 pm when tea and cake will be served. A day at The Cozy Club is a relaxing but very creative event. 

Jessica : What inspires your work?

Chris : I am inspired by two main things. The season and what I have collected to be repurposed. I try to use things that have had a previous life . Nothing gives me more pleasure than finding something someone else has rendered as useless and using my imagination to develop a project and give it a new life. 


Jessica : What impact would you like to create with your work?

Chris : I think I would be thrilled if I knew that everyone who comes here leaves with fresh inspiration and a renewed zest for a slower paced life.  Throughout the day I tell stories or present anecdotes of experiences that I hope will encourage all to take a fresh look at the ordinary and realise that it is actually extraordinary. 


Jessica : And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Chris : Advice for anything that one wants to do is simple. If you love what you do you will be good at it. Running courses that includes lunch, all materials etc. is a lot of work but the actual work element is small ( washing up etc.) because the day is a complete joy from start to finish. I especially love the time in the evening when everything has been cleared away and I go over the day. I remember the conversations, the laughter, the excitement of creating and I think to myself, it does not get better than this! 


Find out more about The Cozy Club here or follow Chris in her work on Instagram.

CreativeContributor
Creative Spotlight : Deb Brandon

Deb Brandon is the author of “But My Brain Had Other Ideas: A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury” and “Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe.” Here, she talks to us about her work and what inspires her.

Jessica : I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your story, who you are and what it is you do?

Deb : I was born in England and grew up in Israel. I came to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. I have been a professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University since 1991.

I learned to knit from my mother when I was seven. Knitting was followed by needlepoint, crocheting, felting, and spinning, all fun and interesting. Learning to weave when I was 35 was different. It felt as if I'd come home, as if I'd been a weaver in a previous life. At the loom, I felt connected to weavers everywhere, through space and time. (I still do!)

With weaving, my love for textile arts soared. I wanted to see (and feel) it all: scrumptious raw cashmere, hand-spun silk, gorgeous hand-wovens, an amazing range of ethnic textiles—silk scarves from Laos, felted slippers from Turkey.

I am a member of WARP (Weave A Real Peace), a networking organisation whose mission is to foster a global network of enthusiasts who value the importance of textiles to grassroots economies.

More than a decade ago, I suffered a severe brain injury. In its wake, feeling lost, I started to write about my recovery to help me through it. As I wrote, I realised that I wanted to reach a broader audience. I am now the proud author of two books: an award-winning memoir, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas,” and the recently released, “Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe,” about textile techniques from around the world.

Jessica : Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Deb : Writing about textiles is a natural extension of my lifelong interest in handmade textiles and, especially, ethnic textiles, enriched by the changes that resulted from my brain injury.

My brain injury damaged some of my filters. In particular, all outside data flows into my brain with equal value, causing traffic jams in my neural pathways. On the flip side, I now notice more details in the world around me, details that I was unaware of prior to the injury. For example, I can now enjoy the gradual changes in the colours of sunset and the many shades of blue in the water.

My newfound ability to note such details influenced my work as a textile artist. Shortly after I returned home from hospital, I wove a piece of yardage I entitled “The Reflection of Sunset on the Water.” I painted warp in varying shades of blue and orange. I also painted the weft to produce the effect of waves rolling down the yardage. The yarn I used was a shimmering silk to give the effect of reflections of light on the ripples. I chose to weave in a variety of twills to give the fabric drape. I also supplemented the warp with sewing thread to add a wavy texture. I could not have produced such a piece prior to the injury.

Other influences stem from traditional textiles. I’ve used patterns reminiscent of motifs from batik from Zimbabwe, I’ve woven in colours similar to those prevalent in Palestinian embroidery, and I’ve embellished textiles with a variation of Japanese fish printing.

Jessica : I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can now rely on every day? How do you balance your varied interests?

Deb : I have become much more creative since the brain injury. I attribute that partly to my increased awareness of and attention to detail, but I also believe that it has something to do with the rewiring of my brain as it healed.

Pre-injury, I was primarily a linear thinker, and my thought process usually took me directly from point A to point B. My brain injury damaged my ability to think sequentially, in this linear fashion. As my brain learned to work around the damage, I found myself thinking more visually and using more intuition, so I now have access to a broader range of thinking styles.

Between the different thinking styles I now employ, my brain injury-induced short attention span, and my need to live at a slower pace, I often find myself straying off the path, leading me in interesting directions, guiding me towards new ideas.

Whenever I sit down to create, whether it is to write, knit, spin, or weave, I frequently find myself changing directions, changing the story line, manipulating colours, playing with patterns.

My full time job as a mathematician takes up a lot of my time. In the past it was one of my top priorities. After a day of teaching, I’d come home to work on other aspects of mathematics. Now, prone to fatigue, I spend less time at the office and play catch-up at home. However, I spend much of my time at home on creating. Writing is very much a priority, and textile arts are next on the list. I try to write every day, in the morning before I go to work and in the afternoon after I come home. When it comes to the textile arts, I go in phases, spending more time on them when I have met math- and writing-related deadlines.

Jessica : Where do you work? What’s important about your work space?

Deb : When my son left home, I transformed his room into an office, which is where I write. The first piece of furniture I lugged there (with my son’s help) was a wooden desk I bought more than two decades ago. Much cherished, it has accompanied me through four moves. Until it found a home in my office, I had to share it with my now ex-husband and my kids. Finally, it is all mine, everything on it arranged the way I like.

The entire space is arranged to be aesthetically pleasing and to serve my needs as a writer: my laptop perched on a pile of books so the screen is at eye level, a separate keyboard positioned such that I can type with elbows bent at a good angle, a bookcase filled with books that aid me in my writing (sources of information about ethnic textiles and about writing techniques), a printer to the right of my desk, and a bed for my dog to lie on beside me when I write. 

The floor loom I weave on most frequently sits in a living room corner, angled to give me the feeling of space around me. To the right of it I have a bookcase filled with books about practicing fiber arts, knitting, crochet, spinning yarn, felting, and surface design. To the left of the loom, I have a comfortable seat I can sink into when I knit or spin yarn. It faces the interior of room so I can be part of the activities around me, watching TV or chatting with family and friends—I can knit and spin by feel, so I can divide my attention.

Jessica : What impact would you like to create with your work?

Deb : I give most of the textile pieces I create as gifts, to family and friends. To me, the most important part of fibre arts is the process. I also enjoy the design side of the projects, but I love the rhythm and meditative nature of the making. The end result often plays a more peripheral role—I take pride in my work, but once the project is completed, I’m already thinking about the next.

In addition to getting a lot of satisfaction from giving textile pieces as gifts, I hope that by doing so, I am helping to educate the public about the value of handmade products, and to appreciate the effort, beauty, and stories so inherent to them. When I write about ethnic textiles, I hope to pass on that same appreciation. I believe that by doing so, I am sending an important message: Textiles help us create ties with each other. We are a part of a whole; there is no us and them, there is only us. Textiles prevent us from losing our humanity.

On the other hand, my original intention when I started writing my memoir was personal. I hoped it would help me understand my new world as a brain injury survivor, and to cope with the enormity of it all. I also wanted my loved ones to understand the effect of this invisible disability.

Shortly after I started writing about my recovery, I realised that other brain injury survivors might benefit from my experience. In time, as I began to reclaim my place in the world, I realised that I wanted to raise awareness among the general public about the struggles I and other brain injury survivors face every day. In order to reach such a broad audience, I knew I needed to improve my writing skills, so I hired a writing coach, who transformed me from a mediocre (at best) writer to an award winning author.

In the process, I became passionate about my writing—writing daily became the norm. Not only was I now writing to convey a universal message, but also for the love of writing itself.

 

Jessica : And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Deb : I would tell them to make time to follow their dream. Life is too short not to. At the very least it’ll bring them joy and a sense of fulfilment, something we all need to help us through the rough stuff in life.

They should try to ignore that inner voice that tells them to stay within their comfort zone. It’ll play on fears of change, coming up with excuses—“You don’t have time,” “The wash can’t wait,” “It’s not productive,” “I’m too tired,”  “I’m not good enough.” Everyone needs to take time for themselves, and that goes double for creative endeavours.

The end result shouldn't be the primary goal. Take the time to enjoy the process, even if that glass paperweight is wonky, you can’t afford a top-of-the-line bicycle, your embroidery stitches aren’t even, or your first (or fiftieth) draft doesn't work the way you want it to. Slow down and enjoy the scenery—the process of creating.

If possible, find kindred spirits who share your dream—it’ll open up your world in wonderful ways.


Find out more about Deb and her work here or follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

CreativeEleanor Holmes
A Flash of Spring
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Sun streams through net curtains casting shapes and shadows on the floor. Noise builds in the eves, the shrubs and the crevices where small winged lodgers winter and build nests. Hardy crocus bulbs burst through trampled ground to dust the village green in patches of purple and white.

I feel light, the shadow of winter lifted. My mind fills with seed plans and long walks and toes dipped in rivers. I wonder where I stowed the tent, the flask and stove. Maps find their way into my fingers and are unfolded, carpeting the room with lines and contours and legends. My head fights the feeling. There was a frost just yesterday and the wood store is still stocked, enough fuel for another month at least.

A sound brings me back to the room, four sandstone walls filled with light and lined with books. There’s a bumble bee at my window. She tips and taps and wants to come in. I lean across and stare through the single pane of glass. She’s as big as a cherry & hooped in yellow and black. Needle fine hairs and translucent wings beating faster than my heart ever should. She doesn't know that she shouldn't be here yet. It isn't her fault.

I lean back in my chair and allow myself the sun and its warmth in this moment. One for which I’m equally grateful and sad. As life changes, we adapt and grow. I fish out a teaspoon from the kitchen drawer and make my first sugar syrup of the year. It’s on the windowsill now, a tonic for passing visitors in need of a helping hand.

This year, I’ll make a plan. One that is kind and gentle. I’ll be mindful of my footprint and the impact it may have. I’ll tread softly, only take what I need and give back as much as I possibly can. This flash of spring in winter is a wake-up call. One I needed more than I knew.


Raising a Generation Who Are Connected to Nature
Image by    Annie Spratt

Image by Annie Spratt

As adults it is our generation who have a huge – and unenviable - job on our hands. We need to be the ones who are making unprecedented changes to the way that we live and the way we consume. For a sustainable future we need to make it so that our children cannot remember a time when we had six plastic toiletry bottles around the side of the bath or discover that humans have destroyed the planet to the point that words like badger are taken out of the junior dictionary.

The importance of convenience has trumped everything else for so long that we are finding it hard to change our ways. I’m one of the ‘we’. I have times when I really want to buy a roll of cling film because I think it’s faster and easier than the alternative of putting leftovers in a long-term reusable container or wax wrap. I’m not sure either is true - though our generation has been brought up to believe that it is.

Never has there been more people creating and providing ways for us to make better choices. There are no-plastic websites, zero waste shops, plastic alternatives for almost everything we use, forest schools, outdoor education coming into schools and a trend to buy less stuff and be more mindful of what we are consuming as we move though life. I find it very inspiring.

I believe that connecting children to nature lies at the heart of helping them make better choices.  And I believe they will have a much deeper connection if it’s one that comes from lots of family time outside.

 

“No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced” David Attenborough

 

If our children love being outside, walking though bluebells woods, spotting wildlife, digging in mud, pond dipping, climbing trees, making wreaths with willow and spending time outside I believe it will be so much easier for them to make choices based on what is best not what’s fastest.

I understand fully that not all convenience is bad; I have some things in my life that I find very useful and believe they have more of a positive impact than negative. For example I get a meat box once a month so that I know where all the meat has come from – saving me the visit to a butcher - and I buy biodegradable wipes online.

And part of my business also offers convenience. After 18 months of running forest school stay-and-play sessions for pre-school children I wanted to find other ways to get parents outside with their children. I know it can be really hard to find, prep and then deliver new activities when you have little spare time. So I have created a season activity box for children aged 2-6 years old and for their parents or guardians that provide a range of activities which allow the children to develop their skills, interests and understanding though practical, hands on experiences in the natural world.

I hope that the activities encourage conversations, a sense of achievement, belonging and greater understanding of one another as well as giving the adult an insight into their child’s way of thinking.  

Training to be a forest school leader and spending an increasing amount of time outside (I have a dog and a family holiday home on Anglesey so I was already quite outdoorsy) has changed my life. I have a different perspective on things, I’m calmer, more mindful and notice the simple pleasure of life more easily now.  If I can pass that on though forest school sessions or seasonal boxes then happy days.

Some of my favourite things to do outside as a family:

·       a simple dog walk, no plan, no phone

·       jumping in puddles on wet days

·       chasing each other’s shadows on sunny days

·       filling small match boxes with treasures and then seeing who fitted in the most when were back home

·       a flask of hot chocolate and treat on a cold walk

·       searching for a seasonal flower

·       acting out a book such as The Three Little Pigs or Going on a Bear Hunt

·       looking for tracks and making up stories around them

 

What’s your favourite thing to do outside with your family?


Ellie Kelly runs Wonderwood Explorers in Farnham. Check out Ellie’s seasonal activity boxes here.

LifestyleContributor