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  • Writer's pictureJayne Lisbeth

Home-Spun Arts and Hearts

My first attempt at sewing was a complete failure. I was seven and was given four pieces of fabric by my first grade teacher, along with all the other girls in my class. It was 1957 at Great Neck Elementary. The four pieces of fabric were to be sewn together to create an apron, a Mother’s Day gift. I sobbed over my failure as my “other mother” Hildegard, took over the task.

“My Liebchen, here, I help” she said in her beautiful melodic, soft caressing voice. She handed me a tin of Nestle’s Cocoa Mix and a spoon as she examined my apron attempt. My tears were flavored in streaks of cocoa across my face as I watched Hildegard’s deft fingers remove my clumsy, errant stitches replacing them with her delicately crafted ones. Miraculously, her loving hands had stitched together the apron of my dreams, a beautiful pink voile masterpiece; or rather, mistress piece.

Over the years I learned more. As readers of Writing In Wet Cement, know, Vermont was my renaissance. It was my awakening from a child to a woman. I learned homespun crafts. I read Alicia Bay Laurel’s, Living On The Earth, which was my guidebook through the labyrinth of women’s ancient homegrown arts. I cut a blouse pattern from muslim fabric to create a Mexican peasant blouse. After stitching the pieces together my blouse became my canvas as I embroidered French knots, love knots, feather and chain stitches. I grew a garden of flowers, stars and moons on the coarse fabric. It was almost too pretty to wear, but I did. Proudly.

I built a loom and learned to weave, heddle up and heddle down, bobbin, weft and waft with an antique hand carved wooden weaving paddle. I searched for hand-dyed yarn spun from local sheep’s wool. I wove a sunrise scene over the Vermont hills on my loom, which I bound onto a birch branch. I realized when completed I had woven an eye over those Vermont hills, as well as a rising sun.

I mastered crocheting, a craft my grandmother had taught me. I supported myself between jobs by selling my hand-crocheted scarves, hats and mittens. Every one of my grandchildren has received a crocheted cap, scarf or blanket, depending on their age.

I learned to bake bread and fell in love with the vibrancy of dough under my fingertips as I kneaded the lump of flour, yeast and water into smooth shiny boules. Those loaves of bread not only nourished me, but supplanted my meager income as I sold my bread in local markets. My life was adorned with the scent of baking bread. Now, the memory-evoking perfume entices me to my past every time I pull a fresh loaf of bread from my oven. Hand cream with lanolin caresses my fingers before bedtime, reminding me of my weaving. Some nights I awake with these scents permeating my dreams.

I gardened and loved the growing shoots of new harvests awaiting on the horizon of my life. I gently picked fragile wild strawberries from their hiding places in Vermont meadow nests. I turned the berries into exquisite ruby jeweled jam.

I canned every vegetable I could grow or purchase. I lined my Vermont kitchen shelves in colorful shimmering beauty, green beans, beets, tomatoes, pickles all preserved in antique blue Ball canning jars. My shelves reflected the light of my efforts, sunlight caught in sunbeams creating rainbows from my harvest.

In the spring the sap seeped into buckets embracing our old Maples. I helped collect the clear liquid and turn it into syrup on a large kettle, poised over a wood fire in our backyard. It was better than turning water into wine.

Thirty years later I jammed Wild Oregon Blackberries into jars of purple bliss. The wild Himalayan blackberries held the scent of our Pacific forests and mists with each luscious bite. They became a sought-after jam, a delicious art form, which we sold at farmers markets in Tampa. My hands have created homespun art from Vermont, to California, Florida and Oregon.

A few days ago I complained to my Vermont "sister" that after my week of work, making Sourdough starter, throwing off the hooch, nurturing it, feeding it, I was rewarded with a 2 ½ pound doorstop of an inedible lump.

“Corey makes great Sourdough Bread. You should ask him for the recipe” Sherrie advised. So I did. Rachel, my “soul daughter" sent me her Sourdough recipe. “My recipe, not Coreys,” she said, with pride.

With the recipe and her words the vision of my Vermont sister’s beautiful, strong and sweet daughter came to mind. She and her talented and loving husband, Corey, live in a cozy home nestled in the Vermont hills and mountains. Rachel and Corey’s first garden in their new home was an enormous success in size and produce. Her homespun skills were on full display in the Vermont soil and in her home.

I emailed my little Vermont family, “I wish we could make bread together in your kitchen. As soon as we get vaccinated we’ll be able to travel.” Hope remains in my heart. As I emailed those words to Rachel a vision, like a dream, arose in my mind. There we three were. My Vermont sister, her Rachel and I making bread in Rachel’s beautiful kitchen. I imagined the dough we would knead under our fingertips, our hands shaping the virgin lumps into boules, kneading, rising, punching down, resting until finally ready for baking. I heard our mingled chatter and laughter as we shared stories and recipes, the fruits over the years of our handcrafted, homespun artistry.

A new thought illuminated me, lifted me up, the vision of we three happy women, busy at our tasks and love of one another. I realized: these are more than homespun arts. These are greater than the handcrafted tasks we artisans of our homes master. They are heartspun webs of beauty and joy, crafted by our hands, spun from our hearts.

I pour the hooch from my sourdough starter in preparation of feeding the starter for what will hopefully become a successful loaf of sourdough bread. I picked up Rachel’s recipe and studied it for the tenth time. My hands are older and arthritic. I have to periodically straighten out my recalcitrant trigger finger to make it work properly. I will knead the dough, wait through the risings and restings and bake my bread for my own liebchen, my sweetheart. Just like life. Waiting for the rising, the resting, the fresh life, pouring off the hooch.

Eventually, I will wing my way back to Vermont, returning to my renaissance, to the hearts and homes of my dear soul family. My fingers itch to shape the dough, to share the chatter, the warmth of our heart-spun joys. The scent of fresh baked bread, the taste of it will enrich our lives with sustenance and love from one generation to another, shared and preserved in memories, burnished by time.

Just as I preserve the harvests of summer to relish during the winter I preserve memories in my heart to savor through life.

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A really lovely set of memories of a time that nourished you. Wonderful!

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