Maker as Morris Dancer

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Joining the 400 Roses Morris Side has been a bit like running away with the circus. I’ve always loved Morris Dancing– to see Brits dancing, in the streets no less, ringing in the spring and seasonal festivals is one of the highlights of living in England. The 70s folk revival has brought Morris traditions new life and with it the forms have evolved.

roses_small_pbThe 400 Roses is a uniquely Yorkshire side– founded by Christ Ogden, it’s a fusion of tribal belly dance and Morris formations with its own band T’Thorns playing traditional Morris tunes. The dances are done outside in the streets, in the wilds of village fetes, folk, waterways, steam trains and sheep festivals.

When I told my husband Mike that I’d been invited to join the Roses he exclaimed, “That’s one of the greatest honors in Yorkshire!” And he wasn’t wrong.

It took me some time to assemble the costume which is a reference to trad Morris gear and mummers coats. Chris generously lent me her bustle belt until I could make one of my own. You can’t hear the bells in the picture, but they are there en masse, heralding spring.

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Telling the Bees

beesSpring is sidling up to us in the North of England, and the earth waits for it, eagerly. Bulbs in the garden, the same ones who took last year off, making me think the pots were just full of my gardening mishaps, have decided to make a go of it again, putting up their thick green fingers. I’ve taken this as a good sign.

I’m waiting for the bees to show so I can really celebrate. My most recent design was inspired by the old English folk custom called “Telling the Bees”. When there was a birth, death or wedding in the family, the bees in the resident hive would need to be invited to the funeral. Sometimes an offering of wedding cake or funeral biscuits would be made. The name of the dead would be sung to them, as in John Greenleaf Whittier’s sentimental yet moving poem, Telling the Bees. To neglect doing this might result in the bees swarming and the hive would be lost. This is now happening on Earth on a catastrophic scale. Bees are in terrible trouble due to pesticide use and habitat destruction, but that is a topic for another post. In other folklore bees are messengers between this reality and the next– the keepers of cosmic secrets. They flit between worlds, through doors we can’t cross, these harbingers of Spring.

The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore

The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore

This necklace design was also inspired by a dear customer of mine, Niina, who told me about her special bee-mother ritual. With her permission, I quote it here:

I love bumble bees so much but at the moment the winter here in Finland seems endless. There are days when the winter really gets my spirit down and then I think of the brave bumble bee Mothers, under ground and all that snow, hanging in there and waiting for the Spring. Me and my man have this celebration of our own: the Bumble Bee Feast! It happens the day when one of us (or both) sees the very first bumble bee of the Spring. If not possible (sometimes work and stuff gets in the way of important things in life), then the next possible day. The celebration is simple: we put honey and sugar outside in yellow bowls so the hungry, brave Mothers can come and eat and get stronger. After that we just eat and drink something good, toast for the Bumble Bee Mothers who made it and just like that broke the backbone of the mighty Winter! Winter can try and struggle and yes, there will be cold, bad days, but his time is over, the bumble bee brings on the Spring!! We get tipsy and so happy: we made it through another horrible winter and nothing can stop the Spring now!!

May we all see the bee mothers soon, soon!

The Adopted Country

Vintage Postcard from Etsy.com

Vintage Postcard from Etsy.com

Last week I became British. Would that this transformation had been of the alchemical kind, mythic– involving epic blessings from ladies in lakes, land spirits or the like– but it was bloodless, merely expensive and full of bureaucracy, which is perhaps appropriate– expense and bureaucracy has marked my life on this island since I arrived.

Twenty of us in a beautiful gilded room in the Georgian Mansion House, in the residence of the Lord Mayor (she’s a woman, actually). Both she and the Sheriff welcomed us in their flowing, archaic robes. They shook our hands, congratulated us and gave us all commemorative gold coins and more forms.  A patient civil servant oversaw the ceremony with an admirable degree of sincerity. We were here now, she said, to share our talents and cultures with our new home.

And at one point we were all drowned out by a brass band– for a moment I thought they really do it up right here in York. But it wasn’t for us– all the ill-timed fanfare was for the 62nd anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

And the Queen was there– by proxy– in the form of a gigantic, garish gold sceptre laid upon the table before us, looking like some bling’ed out cudgel. We said the oath together– the faithful first, swearing on their various holy books, and then the rest of us heathens, affirming the oath of loyalty to the Queen.  And once that humiliation was over, there was a mean portion of tea– inexcusably tepid and too-strong. Maybe they thought the foreigners wouldn’t notice.

I did tear up a little. Maud knows why; maybe I’m a sucker for pomp after all. I’m an American swearing to the Queen– that waste of space in her miserable suits.  How many British folk would do the same? I’ll add this to the list of indignities we endure as immigrants. I rationalized it– didn’t my Viking ancestors willingly endure baptism with their fingers crossed behind their backs? It was good for trade, for their Master Plan.

To get through it, I closed my eyes and thought of England. I hummed Kate Bush’s Lionheart and envisioned this vintage postcard of the Queen laughing– so unlike her she might be someone else.  I might like her better if we could share a joke about all this. Other queens flashed before me:

elizabethThe ginger, eyebrow-less glamour of Queen Elizabeth the I, especially when played by Quentin Crisp in Orlando. Or how about Stephen Fry? I could swear to the entire cast of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Corn Dollies. Turf Mazes. Megaliths. Moorland heather. The Brontes and the NHS. Yes, I’ll swear to all of them.

I was never an Anglophile. I fell in love with this place through familiarity, like an arranged marriage. I find, ten years later, it has become a part of me.

Particularly since moving to Yorkshire, I’ve found the people here full of gentle kindness. It is indeed a green and pleasant land. I’m a healthcare refugee from the richest nation on Earth. I fled the Bush Administration thinking it was a temporary thing. I told myself, in Virginia Woolf’s words, “As I woman, I have no country.” Didn’t I just? Now I have two. It was England that taught me how to love America and being American– the disonance of being a stranger to myself, to the land where I was born which became increasingly alien as the years passed there without me.

England has given me a home.  A place to nest, to make a business that earns me a good living, free health care for my chronic and not-so-chronic ills. A place of beauty and adventure where my soul can put down roots.

Now I have an answer for the most common question I’m asked– hot after “Where are you from?” is always “Why on Earth are you here?” With all the disorientation that implies, I can return, quite happily with “I’m British.”

Julian’s Bower, Imbolc, 2014

Julien's Bower, Lincolnshire

Julien’s Bower, Lincolnshire

This weekend I celebrated Imbolc (Some say this word has derived from Old Irish, meaning “in the belly”) referring to gestating pregnancies of ewes, but I like to think of it as a special holiday for belly dancers.  Having just begun to teach an American Tribal Style Belly Dance class in York, this “In the Belly” felt most auspicious.

Imbolc corresponds with the Christian candlemas– I left a candle lit all day during this festival of light which has always brought aspects of my creative life together.

Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, available in my online shop.

Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, available in my online shop.

For those of us who may be following a Heathen path, this is also the “Charming of the Plough” where the tools of our livlihoods are put on our altar to be blessed so that we may be creative and fruitful in the new year.  All my tools were laid out– the mandrels, cutters, pliers and bail makers, the files and hammers.

Brigid has been my patron goddess for many years– I went from earning my (extremely small) crust as a poet to working in metals. Brigid is the goddess of the poet and the blacksmith– the two workings are alike in many ways. Poetry is made from words formed in the heat of the will, and the cold forged designs I make have their own rhythms, rhymes and meters.

This Charming of the Plough is a Dísablót, a celebrating of the dísir, or female ancestors. I cooked a meal for my female ancestors and poured them some good beer, and the day was done.

julians_bower3The next day, M and I drove to Lincolnshire to visit Julian’s Bower, a turf labyrinth that is most likely medieval, though the first written record of it dating from the 17th century claims it’s Roman. Someone had left three fresh pink roses in the centre– three pale norns– covered there by the muddy edges of the turf so that they were only visible once you had walked the full circuit. On a clear day you can see the York Minster from this place. These Northern turf mazes share much in common in naming and structure to Scandinavian turf mazes, and one would like to think these may date from the Viking Age, or perhaps they are a remnant of ancestral memory from that time.

Mike and Me, Julian's Bower, Lincolnshire, Imbolc, 2014

Mike and Me, Julian’s Bower, Lincolnshire, Imbolc, 2014

Dispatches from a Medieval Guildhall

Me peddling my wares

Me peddling my wares at the Pop Up Mall in the Merchant Adventurers Hall

Merchant Adventurer's Hall, York

Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, York

This weekend I had a stall at the Proudly in York Pop Up Mall at the 14th century guildhall in York– the Merchant Adventurers Hall– a fitting place to celebrate York’s small businesses. The event was friendly, warm and well organized– really what you’d expect from the wonderful folks at One&Other Magazine who were the driving force behind the event.

My stall felt right at home in the gloriously light, high-ceilinged medieval hall. I was reminded again how this city and its ancient histories are constantly informing my designs and creative choices.

I was struck by the diversity of the stalls– many were representations of  independent High Street shops with a presentation of a smaller version of their shops, others were small makers and handmade businesses like myself taking advantage of this opportunity to gain more exposure in the community. I felt a special affinity with Sonia Curry, the dressmaker behind Rowan Tree Designs who was also knitting at her booth, displaying a selection of her crocheted jewellery. (I always knit at my stall– it keeps my hands busy during the inevitable lulls).  Frank and Olive Crochet were teaching folks how to hook and selling cute handmade baby clothes with a stall overflowing with granny squares.

I have to give a big shout out to to of my favourite stall neighbors, Bluebird Bakery who kept us fed with the most deliciously, freshly-baked and locally sourced carbs you could dream of.  I didn’t even know their was a Real Bread Campaign in Britain, but now I do. From their website:

Bluebird Bakery was born from a desire to re-establish the connection between what we eat and where our food comes from. By using local organic flour, wild and organic yeast and employing traditional long-fermentation methods, we create hand-crafted loaves which need no flour improvers, saturated fats or other additives. Most of our loaves are suitable for vegans.

Also thanks to Sal and Jason of Swirl Clothing. Who have helped me in myriad ways, not just with this stall but with others as well– they are great members of the small business community. Plus, she designs lovely dresses– I was wearing one of her lovely frocks on Saturday!

Mike, my faithful helper,  manning the Feral Strumpet Stall.

Mike, my faithful helper, manning the Feral Strumpet Stall.

Proudly… Celebrating Small Businesses in York

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Merchant Adventurer's Hall, YorkI’m very excited to have a stall at this event celebrating Small Businesses in York. You can read more about the event on the Proudly… website. The event will take place in the glorious Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, from 10:00-15:30 on December 7th. The the 14th century hall was originally a meeting place for Medieval merchants– the perfect venue to celebrate the vibrant independent businesses of York.  “Merchant Adventurers” were seafaring merchants who brought back goods from many places to sell in York– they were traders with “an adventurous spirit”.  What a wonderful company– not just the current traders but to be part of a tradition that spans centuries. I’m proud to be included.

Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, York

Very Pink Knitting Tutorial Feature

It’s Thanksgiving and this year I’m really thankful to the rush of new customers who have found me through Staci Perry’s lovely knitting tutorial which features my Anglo Saxon Pennanular Brooch. I’m also thankful to Staci herself– who has been professional and inspiring to work with. She’s using her talents and skills not only to make us all better knitters but also to support small makers and independent businesses like myself.

This cardigan pattern pairs well with the brooch, and it’s exactly the kind of design I had in mind when I forged these brooches.  I love to wear cardigans but don’t like the fuss of buttons or belts so I’m always wearing my hand-knitted cardigans with these pins.  Staci’s pattern is the perfect weight for the Yorkshire winter, too!

The Anglo-Saxon Pennanular Brooch

The Anglo-Saxon Pennanular Brooch

A simple, endless circle inspired by the moon, ouroboros and archeological finds. This penannular brooch is based on an Anglo Saxon design discovered in North Yorkshire. My version is cold-forged in copper. Cold-forging means no heat is used to form the metal– just hammering and sheer force of will! The bottom edge of the ring has been hammer-finished, the small facets giving the piece an ancient, earthy feel. The pin comes in two sizes– the larger one for bulkier knitted garments and the other for finer, lace-weight shawls and scarves. – See more at: http://feralstrumpet.indiemade.com/product/anglo-saxon-penannular-brooch#sthash.Y9xN339u.dpuf