The EartHand Weaver

I want to be able to teach this workshop for the rest of my life. A room full of bright eyes and pensive lines, the sweetness of a first effort — it’s like wild roses in bloom, in the generous balsamic bed of the ivy, usually; and sometimes the voluptuous prickles of the blackberry. It’s a way for use to reconnect with our ancestors, and to soften to conversations about right relations with the First Nations, the people on whose ancestral lands we work and play.
If you know EartHand, you know we play the long game — we believe in the primacy of process and practice, so since this is often THE FIRST EVER!! basket for many participants, that’s what we celebrate. It’s about meeting and reverently kissing the fingertips of our ancestors, and the plants, our allies, that give of themselves.
We spend the first park of the class preparing the ivy. I like to start with piles of just-picked plants so that students know what to gather, and how to gather and prepare it. I’m lucky to live in an area with lots of ivy under big trees — the long, supple runners that grow in the shade are the best; and I never touch the stuff growing on the trees except to girdle it, and clear it away from the base of the trunks. The aerial growth is no good for weaving anyway — knuckley and brittle, it puts all its energy into stiffly holding up lots of leaves.
We often talk about where we can find materials, and I suggest getting in touch with the different organizations in charge of invasive species management – sometimes part of city and municipal governments, and sometimes there are local non-profits that steward particular areas. They’re always welcoming another set of helping hands, and don’t mind having what they would otherwise through out go to a good purpose. We also talk about “invasive species” and what that means, and I recommend a few books to make people think: The New Wild by Fred Pearce, Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion, The Sweetness of a Simple Life by Diana Beresford-Kroeger are just a few that I’ve read.
After the ivy is ready we choose our spokes — usually I use six for beginners these days, about as long as fingertip to armpit, and we talk about how the weaving goes faster with fewer spokes, but more spokes make it sturdier.
We practice splitting, to make our weavers — not for aesthetics or function, just because long ago I realized that beginners found it a lot easier to tell their spokes from their weavers if they were different shapes.
Then lashing the spokes together — two sets of three, perpendicular to each other, and one weaver that goes ‘over the over and under the under’ to lash them so they don’t move when we start to twine — I encourage tidiness but doesn’t really matter how people do this, as long as the spokes stay put.
Finally, twining — what it is, with the two weavers that take turns hopping over, or walking like footsteps, first one and then the other; the little half-twist that happens in the space between each spoke. Always more difficult going around in a spiral than on the flat, but there it is. Around the base, up the walls; and then the rim, the spokes lying down and interlocking in a smooth domino effect.
Some participants are interested in references, and one of my favourites for beginning is Handmade Baskets from Nature’s Colourful Materials, by Susie Vaughn.
Excellent photos and illustrations, and a very complete section of ideas for all kinds of ‘hedgerow’ materials that can be used for weaving.
Some other folks are interested in willow, and
I know that many participants never circle back to make another, to practice, as I say; but from now on, I know they’ll see the hands that made every basket so much more than just a container.
If you have a pair of secateurs (pruning shears) or garden scissors, and/or a little box cutter or exacto or pocket knife, do print it along.
There’s a little kitchenette and I’ll make tea; potluck snacks are welcome — though hand washing before eating is really important, since ivy (Hedera helix) contains a very bitter agent that made my tongue go numb on one occasion when I was being sloppy. Someone in a workshop told me that it has been used in herbal medicine as a cough suppressant.
As always, I want my work to heal, to inspire people to think about where they are and what has happened here, and is happening still; and to their own ancestry, the lives of their most recent land-based ancestors, their own stories of displacement and colonization.
Here are some of the places I link with this workshop:
– In Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh territories, now called the Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, once a narrow isthamus of land that separated the sea waters of now-called Burrard Inlet from a lush tidal estuary of reeds, cattail, salmon streams, clam beds and crab fishing. There was a good camp spot, a promontory that overlooked the area, just a bit south and west of MacLean Park Fieldhouse. MacLean Park Fieldhouse is where I first met Sharon Kallis and Todd DeVries, and became acquainted with ivy as a weaver.
– UBC Farm, up the hill and a little to the west of the great village of Musqueam, continuously occupied for over four thousand years. When I heard Elder Larry Grant say that, I realized that I have only a vague idea where my ancestors were four thousand years ago, or how they lived, and it made me feel very humble.
– in Langley and Aldergrove, on the broad rolling river lands of the Kwantlen people, where I spent part of my childhood.