The Dream We Dream Together: Bringing Pennsic Home

I was told, early on, that I would either love Pennsic or I’d hate it.  Not true.  I love this event – the biggest yearly festival put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism – to distraction, but I have a laundry list of things that trouble me, turn me off, or just plain tick me off.  And yet…

They say that once you start going to this event, you’ll spend the rest of the year looking around (at camping equipment, pottery, projects, fabric) and thinking, “That would be great at Pennsic!”  I find that it’s the other way around:  Pennsic is an inspiration for the rest of the year.

IMG_1153My first Pennsic was my first time camping.  I’d spent plenty of time outdoors, but never spent several days without being indoors.  My little orange tent, the swaying trees, the walls of the pavilions, the sheetwalls, and the ubiquitous tapestries and draperies all made quite an impression.  That fall, I hung my walls with scarves and other hangings, which, in my attic-level apartment, swayed from the angled walls and rippled in the breeze from an open window.

One day this year, a campmate walked into camp spinning on a drop spindle.  It reminded me of contact juggling.  I used to walk from class to class on my college campus doing simple contact juggling moves until they became second nature.  Here was someone practicing a form of object manipulation that not only was mesmerizing, but made a practical and enjoyable product.  She was kind enough to answer my somewhat manically excited questions and give me a demo, showing me how you could spin and ply yarn by hand, even without a spindle.  Of course, I had known that people managed to spin and weave and sew before factories were around, and I’d done a bit of the latter two myself, but the moment when I saw her ply the yarn, the moment when it went from wool to yarn in my eyes, I admit was a realization.  “Who needs the industrial revolution?” I asked.  Granted, technology makes things easier, and makes greater production possible, but it’s powerful to realize that you can take fiber all the way from sheep to shirt, just as it’s powerful to realize that food grows on trees and medicine can be dug out of the earth.

IMG_1695I visited the vendor Minerva’s Spindle, and brought home a lovely, modestly priced spindle with a rectangular whorl, as well as a couple ounces each of several different fibers to experiment with.  I’m a baby beginner, but I love practicing spinning, and find it as meditative as contact juggling.  My big realization so far was to discover that I could really thin out the wool and, not only would the spun yarn not break, but my spindle actually hit its stride.

I was as grateful as ever for my time at Pennsic this year, but—since it fell on the heels of a death in the family and some other challenging news—I found that the things that trouble me about the event stood out in even greater relief:  Pennsic, like Game of Thrones or World of Warcraft, can cross the line from good-natured recreation into consuming escapism.  Pennsic seems to become more and more commercial, with more and more factory-made kitsch alongside the classic SCA handcrafters.  It often suffers from the “Christmas must be perfect” syndrome, which happens when a holiday has been anticipated as being so wonderful that any disappointment feels mammoth.  The event cultivates (melo)drama as scads of no-matter-how-awesome people get dehydrated and depleted in this indulgent, outdoor environment.  With more and more smartphones in use, it’s is not the escape from glowing screens that it used to be.

S5003367And yet…

At Pennsic, 10,000 people, mostly adults, gather to wear strange garb, practice skills that are regarded as having been made redundant, and spend most of their time talking face to face with each other.  While crunchy bohos like myself are represented, this is not, predominantly, an “airy fairy” group.  There are lots of attendees with military backgrounds, people who work at box stores, doctors and lawyers, desk jockeys, truck drivers, academics, restaurant owners, and more.  And they all gather, once a year, to pretend the world is different than it is.

That fact is remarkable:  Here, 10,000 people gather each year and pretend the world is different – and they succeed.  They make that different world appear for two weeks.  There is suspension of disbelief involved, but mostly the world is created by showing up, digging ditches, building walls and villas, crafting garb, and sharing meals.  This strikes me as deeply hopeful.  We all want the world to be better.  As Yoko Ono said, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”  Pennsic is an example of just how concrete, how tangible, how real that dream can be, if we can only commit to actively pretend, actively imagine, build, and craft that dream into being.  We don’t have to limit that to just two weeks a year.  What shall we dream together?


The Green Man and the Lady of the Seasons

I think it was about a year ago that I was lucky enough to win the Green Man pictured below during a giveaway over at Confessions of a Country Witch.  Nydia of Carioca Witch and Bringing Up Salamanders makes these beautiful hand-embroidered felt god and goddess figures.  She put her etsy shop on hold a while back, which is why I put this post on hold, but I’ve noticed some new designs over at the Carioca Witch Facebook page, so I thought it was about time to post this thank-you.

I really can’t say enough how much I love Nydia’s creations:  They’re beautiful, made with obvious care and skill, and stunningly creative.  Persephone (also pictured, and the aforementioned Lady of the Seasons) was the first that I ordered for myself, and I absolutely the balance of light and dark elements on Persephone, and how subtly the face appears out of the leaves on the Green Man.  Until recently, the Green Man has been living with my jars of herbs, but since our house has been in a bit of a to-do lately, I’ve had them together.  I think they like each other’s company :)


First Attempt at Japanese Four-Hole Binding, and a Book Review

Today I made my very first attempt at a Japanese four-hole stab binding, and it worked!  Okay, so it’s not rocket science – but it’s nice when something works on the first try!

This was still a very rough draft.  I want to clean up and tighten the lines of the stitches, and get a bigger awl (for punching those holes):  The one I have was quite a bit too small.  I improvised with a nail, which worked but resulted in the cover getting a little beat up.

Once I’m satisfied with the results, I’ll offer this binding over at Looseleaf Handcrafted Stories, using handmade paper for the covers.  I’m planning on adding some fancier stab bindings as I get more comfortable with them.  Meanwhile, I’m playing around with the text layout:  I’m thinking of using a portrait layout, with the bound edge at the top.

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The page you see beneath my “rough draft” in the photo above is from Erin Zamrzla’s At Home with Handmade Books: 28 Extraordinary Bookbinding Projects Made from Ordinary and Repurposed Materials.  Like pretty much everything Shambhala Publications puts out, this book is a joy just to hold and page through.  The photographs are beautiful:  They’re artistic but also let you clearly see the project pictured.  The text is clear and friendly, and the instructions for Japanese stab bindings are stellar.  Illustrations help break down the steps for these bindings, making them clear and accessible.

I love how imaginative Zamrzla’s projects are, and what a wide range of materials she includes.  My only complaint when it comes to my own personal use is that some of the projects are a little…Martha Stewart-esque.  I’m just never going to make a “my favorite cleaning recipes” book with a sponge for a cover. an unfolding flower note, or a sewing notions pincushion book.  Still, while many of her specific projects aren’t for me, they do inspire me to consider what crazy, creative types of books could be made out of repurposed materials.

The verdict?  I’m psyched to have this book.  I’m actively enjoying it, and it has a long-term home on my shelf.