Reimagining Trash into Treasure

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Upcycling clothing with patching is satisfying and fun

Fashion Frolic

A few days ago, I hosted a delightful event where several dozen participants brought in garments for a reimagining session. Folks brought in all sorts of things, from a 60-plus-year-old wedding dress and 1960’s prom gowns to shirts and jackets that were worn to shreds but still well loved. One of my favorite items was a saucy black lace Merry Widow made by Portland’s Jantzen Company in the 1950’s. Today, boned corsets like this one are trendy and often worn over rather than under a dress, but this one is in such good shape, our consulting panel of makers suggested it be donated to MOHI. Apparently Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry is very interested in adding vintage clothing and especially underclothing to its collection, as such items are increasingly rare. Next time you clean out that attic or storage bin, consider donating oldies to a local history museum!

Brighten Up Your Closet

There were also a number of once-glamorous outfits crusted with beadwork and sparkles, some of which were reimagined in various ways. The heavy ornamentation on an all-white mother-of-the-bride costume could be dyed or hand colored to turns its lavish braiding and beading into a vivid, joyful restatement with personality and panache. A double vested jacket in navy blue satin with sparkly buttons would look totally different with fresh buttons, no shoulder pads, and a few appliques. The shoulder pads could be recycled into bird-shaped pin cushions or soft toys, with a little embroidery or applique for wings and bright beady eyes added.

Quite a few folks brought in clothing that was so much loved it was falling apart. Layering on patches using visible mending techniques can breathe new life into these dearly beloved garments, and just like the wrinkles in our faces, the patches will tell the story of a long and useful life. Some garments were patched with appliques made from needlepoint or embroidery projects, whether gleaned from thrift stores, found in family trunks, or left over from earlier craft projects that never found a proper use. Some of the larger appliques were also turned into pockets for jackets and pants, as several people commented that women’s clothing rarely has enough usable pockets. Some people had removed jacket sleeves to make vests and used the sleeve cuffs for the top edge of deep pockets made from the upper sleeve.

Show The Work, Tell The Story

Rips and tears can also be disguised or played up, whether with visible mending patches or less obviously by adding a more ornamental patch (or several, to make the problem less obvious and the outcome more decorative). Stains can be similarly covered or even drawn over using fabric marker pens; I asked my granddaughter to draw a little something over a small spot on a white shirt and she got inspired to draw the Milky Way, with planets and comets and space exploring critters galore. When she showed me, I was amazed and impressed by her spirited artwork and joyful galactic vision, but also pointed out that the little stain was still there. That earned me a little eyeroll and a giggle, but she covered it up by adding a flying fish with a space helmet full of water (perfect for a swimmer, right?).

Quite a few attendees said they were not experienced with sewing or embroidery, but the visible mending techniques are all about showing your work and letting insouciant imperfection reign. Several people were emboldened to try some of these ideas out on much loved night wear, where mistakes wouldn’t matter as much (if at all). One woman added the sleeves from a long sleeved tee shirt to a favorite nightgown, then sewed the bottom of the shirt to a too-short tunic, making a handsome color-block effect. As we mature, I’m hearing many people say they feel a lot less driven by the opinions of others and find themselves trying new things just for fun. With a world drowning in trash, it seems like the perfect time to begin experimenting with things we haven’t embraced, whether it means reclaiming the domestic arts or developing creativity in new ways to give fresh life to old things. Onward, right?

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When Fairy Tales Come To Life

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Magic mushrooms have a long history in human lore

Mushrooms Of Magic and Mystery

This has been a banner year for mushrooms around here, as the unusually warm fall and abundant autumn rains made for perfect growing conditions. Ever since I first moved to the maritime Northwest, I’ve enjoyed mushroom hunting with knowledgeable friends who taught me to find golden chanterelles, delicious morels with their sponge-like caps, and spicy, pine scented matsutake. We found all these in wooded ares, especially near partner plants like swordfern, huckleberry and rhododendron. My favorite mushroom hunter, Barb, always included a few leaves of such plants in her gathering basket as reminders that they often keep company with specific kinds of mushrooms. Barb learned that, and other mushroomer skills, from an older Japanese American woman who was well known as a matsutake hunter. Buyers would fly in from Japan with special suitcases to carry the matsutke home. Since tight matsutake buds are prized above open ones and brought in top dollar, Mrs. H. taught Barb to lie down on the forest floor at dawn, when the matsutake caps would begin to emerge. The rising buds cast a distinctive shadow and the prompt hunter could carefully remove them intact.

While I’ve rarely seen edible mushrooms in urban areas, I’ve been surprised to see colonies of fly agaric popping up all over my neighborhood in recent years. Amanita muscaria was the first “magic mushroom” I ever met, instantly recognizable from fairy tale illustrations; the bright red caps, sprinkled with white polka dots, were usually pictured with a cute little elf or smiling gnome sitting on top. I first saw them in real life in a Swiss meadow, where my mountain guide said they’ve been prized for millennia by the shamans of northern European and Asia for visionary rituals. She also said they remained popular with hippies, who liked to eat the little white dots for a hallucinogenic experience.

Death or Dreams

Turns out these that these psychoactive mushrooms are what researchers call “cosmopolitan” as they’re native to both coniferous and deciduous woodlands around the entire Northern Hemisphere. In some places, they range south; into the Mediterranean, in higher elevation areas in India and Asia, and even in parts of Central America. All over the world, people have valued these beautiful mushrooms for their mysterious ability to create a sense of new realities, to bring vivid waking dreams, sometimes visionary, sometimes terrifying. Like other magic mushrooms, Amanitas are classified as hallucinogens, intoxicants, and even as entheogens, allowing those who use them to have powerful spiritual experiences. Of course, they’re also deadly poison, so tasters must be very cautious; nature doesn’t deliver carefully measured doses and the amounts of psychoactive elements can vary widely. A little too much and oops, that visit to heaven turns out to be a one way trip.

I suspect that all mushrooms are magical, really; weavers of webs as fine as gossamer, connecting trees with trees and also with shrubs and perennials, and above all, with their own kin. Certain vast fungal networks are the largest known lifeforms on earth; Oregon’s Blue Mountains are home to a honey fungus entity that covers almost 2,500 acres and is estimated to be as much as 8,000 years old. I love the mystery of lichens, which represent a mutually beneficial symbiotic interaction between fungi and algae; algae provide nutrients from chlorophyll pigments that fungi lack, while fungi help algae absorb water. The more we learn about fungi, the more it becomes clear that most fungi are beneficial or harmless to other life forms. I hope that we gardener can help teach others to respect and admire the magic of fungi, starting with our families and friends. If we get a chance, we can try to intervene when folks who don’t know better try to kill off mushrooms in their yards, gardens, and lawns with toxic treatments. Sadly, the treatment is often far worse than the perceived problem, which is most likely a blessing in disguise. Onward, right?

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A New Word For A New Year

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Feed the Solstice fire bowl with hopes and dreams
Image by Patrick Gulke

Learning To Under-do

Happy Solstice! New Year! My wish? May this year be a time for assimilation of new ideas and greater understanding for us all. My own cycle of renewal starts with the Winter Solstice, not so much January 1. That moment in time when the balance of dark and light begins to shift back towards the light has always felt full of possibility to me, like a change point when we might tip ourselves away or towards whatever we choose. This Solstice was especially lovely since, after several frustrated attempts in recent years, we finally managed to celebrate the Solstice together as a family.

My grandkids were very excited about setting up the fire bowl and writing out our Solstice petitions. We like to write down things we want to let go of and things we want to get better at, as well as some world-wishes for peace and healing. We wrote on origami paper, which the kids folded into fire birds to give to the flames. They wrote with great concentration and mostly in silence (we don’t share our messages unless we choose to). The elder one did ask me how to spell patience, and the younger one asked how to spell provocative (she hears that from me fairly often: “Now THAT is provocative behavior, trying to get someone else in trouble…”). I was touched by both requests, and didn’t ask them about anything else they wrote, feeling sure that their words were both honest and heartfelt however spelled. My words were also heartfelt, especially the one I chose as my guide for the year to come: Under-Do!

Burning Away The Dross

We had planned to start the fire at exactly 4:32, Solstice sunset time around here. The youngest lit the kindling, which caught quickly, but some over enthusiastic poking caused the fire to fall apart and go out. We started again, with a little more restraint, and soon the bowl was full of flame, glowing against the darkening sky. The pale moon rose above the rooftops, just a few days off the full, with Jupiter shining beside her, brighter than any star. One by one we fed the fire with our petitions and pledges, the little birds flying into the flames, sending our words up to the stars in showers of sparks. It took a while. After such a dark and difficult year for our family, for the country, for the planet, there was a lot of let go of and a lot to hope for.

After their parents went back inside, the kids and I stayed by the fire until it fell into ashes and embers. The wood was dry and the fire burned fast, though a fair amount of poking sped the process up; who can resist poking a fire with a stick? When all the brightness was gone, we held hands for a moment then went inside together, quietly and thoughtfully. With six people sleeping in our little house, the space felt very full, though as they left, separately or together, it felt like we may not all meet again that way, or not for a while. Since then, I’ve been holding on to my chosen word, thinking about how to live into it, what that might look like this year and going forward. Under-doing is new territory for me, but I’m looking forward to exploring it. Onward, right?

Let’s brighten the darkness however we may

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Looking For A Stone

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A beautiful bowlful of pocket rocks

Everybody Needs A Rock

After last week’s musings, I was reminded by a comment to revisit a book that I read with my kids many years ago and am now re-reading with my grandkids. It’s called Everybody Needs A Rock, written in 1974 by Byrd Baylor, with dreamy, evocative illustrations by Peter Parnall. In a world where books come and go but rarely stay, I was fascinated to find that our local library system has not one but five copies (very unusual since the system managers generally get rid of older books faster than they bring in new ones). Obviously this charming book still speaks to many people, since it’s gained Classic status.

The original American Library Association starred review said, “The free verse of this original book speaks perceptively to the spiritual-sensual affinity that can spring up between a living being and an inanimate object.” While I’ve never really thought about my relationship with rocks that way, I agree with the idea that physical connection with natural objects can be soothing and healing. I’ve always found my pocket rocks to be grounding as well, helping me to remember that we humans are part of the natural world even though we don’t always act like it.

Watching For Pocket Rocks

The book offers ten rules for finding a rock that suits you just right. My dad collected beautiful rocks whenever we were at the beach, bringing them home to the incorporate into the front walkway of our house. I remember watching him carefully place each stone before embedding each one in fresh concrete, alternating dark and light, striped and mottled, plain and sparkly. Growing up, I thought minerals were as beautiful and intriguing as plants. Though I never learned much geology, I’ve never lost my pleasure in handling and admiring lovely stones. While I always enjoyed reading the Everybody Needs A Rock book with kids, I’ve never had any trouble finding rocks that wanted to come home with me.

My grandkids also love stones and we rarely return home from walks without a pocketful of rocks, whether curious and interesting looking or simply stones that feel wonderful in the hand or to the touch. It can take some time to decide whether a given stone is right but the good news is, you can always put them back for someone else to find if they don’t work out. Some of my favorite stones have a slight depression that makes them especially strokable by a fidgeting thumb. When I first started doing a lot of public speaking, fiddling with my pocket rocks kept my hands from shaking with nerves. To this day, a good rock in each pocket can keep me calm and attentive during a loooooong meeting (or at least give me the appearance of being calm and attentive).

Gifting Stones

Yesterday my grandkids and I walked through our little town, looking at lights and decorations and admiring sparkly holiday displays. We ended up as we often do at a delightful little store called Hidden Gem, full of minerals and semi-precious stones in all shapes and sizes. After a great deal of looking and handling, they decided to buy some gifts for my daughter, who has had a long, painful and difficult year and is still not out of the woods. They finally settled on the idea of sewing two tiny silk bags and buying a very special stone to put in each one.

The older child chose Moonstone, partly because it’s one of the birthstones for June, but also because the description called it a stone for “new beginnings”, which would certainly be welcome(!). Moonstone is said to support inner growth and strength, soothe emotional and physical stress, and provide stable calmness. What’s not to love? The younger child chose a polished piece of Rose Quartz, partly because it’s so pretty and feels comforting, and partly because the description said that Rose Quartz opens the heart to self-love, friendship, deep inner healing and feelings of peace. Calming and reassuring, it also helps to comfort in times of grief. Not coincidentally, I happen to have several pieces of Rose Quartz in my own collection, as I find it very attractive to look at and to hold. As for those attributes, whether real or imaginary, I find the very idea of peaceful calmness comforting, and aspire to achieve that every day. Onward, right?


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