More by accident than design, I've reached the middle of the summer having been able to tick off quite a few items from my mental 'skills bucket list.'
I suspect I stand alone with this, but I love learning new things, especially those that involve a practical application - a 'making' skill. It's a gift when someone takes time and energy from their life to introduce something new and amazing to yours, and I love that the things you make yourself are wrapped in so many memories and experiences.
I started with ceramics, with my lovely friend Carol, who is an incredibly talented and inspirational artist (who, thankfully for me, also has unlimited patience!) Carol ran a short course from a new pottery and workshop she's developing and we made small pinch pots, ceramic birds and modelled a head. Clay is definitely not my forte (and I'm awaiting my fired pots to see if I can salvage any level of pride!) but the opportunity to have a go under her guidance, and meet others who felt the same need to give it a try, was lovely. I also got to spend unexpected time with my nearly-adult son, which was a joy.
I'd offered to volunteer with Kindlewoods at the Deershed Festival, which took place mid-July. Kindlewoods support people with mental wellbeing issues by running programmes of green woodworking skills together with restorative support for self help, an idea that's proved really successful and helped a lot of people. The plan was to run workhops at Deershed in some of these skills but targeted at children and their families. I met with several other volunteers one sunny day in Thirsk Community Woodland to learn and practise rustic stool making and wool spinning using a drop spindle (something I've tried before and lost momentum!) As well as spending time with a wonderful group of people in a beautiful and new-to-me setting, I then got to share these skills at the festival a few weeks later.
There's something I really love about working with wood, perhaps the element of surprise! It's almost impossible to predict how it will behave and when and if you'll uncover a knot or a change in the colour of the grain. I also love that when its time is done, it simply composts or decomposes to nothing, feeding more trees so that the process can be repeated.
This was a great introduction: the tools are now familiar and I know how to use them properly and safely. And its definitely something I want to do more of.
Whilst with Kindlewoods, we shared some tea made over the fire using a kettle hung from what I'd always known as a 'kotlich.'
I've always loved these, but never quite got it together enough to get myself one. I'm lucky to spend a couple of days each week working alongside a blacksmith, so I thought I'd ask if it was within his capabilities to make me one (after all, I'd rather be giving my pennies to someone I know who lives just around the corner!) Another talented artist, it would be a doddle of a job, but his response was, "No! But I'll show you how you can make one instead!" (Peat is one of life's beautiful, talented but very cheeky spirits, and I've really warmed to his eccentricity, wit, and very accurate representation of accents from across the country!)
And so rather unexpectedly, I found myself blacksmithing, hammering some offcuts of 10mm iron into what he knew as a 'chittyboke.'
And if all this weren't quite enough, away at the weekend at the wonderful WOMAD festival, my youngest girls took part in a spoon making workshop, run by Wayne of Wayne's Woods. He was brilliant, helping them get their small hands perfectly placed to make a spoon using adult tools, helping them understand the risks and how to work with the wood to chip and whittle it to the shape they wanted. I sat in to supervise and was desperate to have a go myself! Wayne was selling rough blanks and the crook knife used to form the bowl of the spoon, so I kitted myself out, ready to go as soon as I got home.
My spoon has been a real labour of love. It's not a quick process, but it's been blissful to sit on the back door step with a cup of tea late at night, chipping away. And I love love love the finished article. It's something I will use and treasure for a very long time.
So where to from here? There are definitely skills I've learnt that I want to practise and refine, and then I'd like to be able to pass them onto others. The more people who feel able and confident to make their own items, the less reliant we are on those produced anonymously in factories by people in appalling working conditions, shipped thousands of miles and discarded without thought to end up in tiny pieces in the ocean. And if they can find the process of making them as rewarding as I did, then maybe it'll help them feel a little better about the world too.
So off I go!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.