our able & expressive hands – a report from the dance process

eucalyptus leaf dye on wool

eucalyptus leaf dye on wool

As we have been working in the gardens this summer, we have been investigating the properties of our hands to both do work and express. And now that we are nearing the end of the season, a series of gestures have collected into a dance for our hands, one that tells the story of our process so far. Yesterday, September 1, With the help of Wilson Liang (dancer) and Mr. Fireman (music) I shared this short hand dance at our celebration event at Means of Production Garden.

Some of the gestures come from working with tools – both general gardening implements and tools specific to fibre production.  I have become particularly interested in the aid tools give us to build, deconstruct, manipulate and ground our intentions and goals – and I’ve begun to think about how tools are a way to connect, transfer, and distribute the energy of our bodies with the environment.  As extensions of our hands, tools accomplish goals and do work in a kind of energetic transfer with the land.

Wilson makes a skein

Wilson makes a skein

As we construct a gestural dance, one that focuses on the relationship between our hands, arms, and head and eyes, it becomes really interesting to see what happens when the tools are taken away.  How do our gestures transform when the focus is on our bodies and our connection to environment, memory, and intention?

At many of our sessions so far, I have introduced a warm-up gestural dance by Irene Dowd, which was taught to me by a colleague, Hailey McCloskey.  I have been thinking a lot about why it fascinates me so much. It is both functional and imagistic. It provides the hands, arms, and shoulders with a really good stretch.  And, it focuses on the connection between our two hands as we press our fingers or palms together and spiral our fingers in and out of connection with each other.  It is this play between our two hands that I realize is an interesting starting point for Terroir because it is the connection that grounds the two halves of our bodies with each other, circulating energy to find balance.  Without tools, our hands are brought in relationship to each other.  We internalize the opportunity to ground and connect with our environment, expressing balance, connection and exchange.

The dance we have been working on contains hand movements from clearing undergrowth, using a drop spindle, drafting fibre, winding skeins … and rather than organize them in a chronology, they are linked together by a play between our hands. Sometimes this connection is very close as we press our palms together; sometimes it is taken to its edge along specific lines in space.  In this way the dance plays with balancing energies between both halves of our bodies, distributing intention to the furthest edges, to interact with our environment and community, and bringing it back to our centres, when we join our hands at our midline in various ways, to bring our left and right halves together.


Wilson, Mirae, Mr. Fireman – Means of Production Garden, Sept 1 2014


foraging and gardening update

Last week when Katrina and I were at MOP we cut back some of the Oregon grape as a part of the site work we were doing. I was struck by the colour of the inner bark- knowing the roots were a dye, but I had no idea the bark was as well. I brought home the branches, and scraped of the bark for a dye test.

the branches are worthy of saving, the scraped pattern of colour is so stunning!

the branches are worthy of saving, the scraped pattern of colour is so stunning!

I poured boiling water over the bark, let it sit overnight, then simmered about an hour before pouring the bark and water back into the jar and leaving it to sit for another few days to pull any remaining colour from the bark. The water now feels quiet thick and viscous, and a short dip of a linen strik shows  great promise for a strong clear yellow.

linen test strik with dye in the background- not a urine sample in case you were wondering....

linen test strik with dye in the background- not a urine sample in case you were wondering….

the grey fibre is 2 ply linen roving I spun that I am going to do a dip dye with- hoping to get a multicoloured skein to try a backstrap weaving experiment.

Meanwhile things grow in the gardens- or in most of them. I actually had to reseed at hastings urban farm, I think the seed was all eaten by the birds. This time we have netting in place, as well as a sign so the local gardeners know to help us with watering- in case the seeds just dry out too much in the current heat.IMG_1685

but the milkweed at hastings farm is easily 3 times the size as at the other two sites…

milkweed fibre in progress

milkweed fibre in progress

at Trillium North it is curious to see how the Marylin seed variety has come up so much faster then the elecra seed- you can see the green corner where the Marylin grows.

And last night at trillium we processed fireweed from the stalks for future use as well as harvesting some green nettle fibre.

nettle fibre, green  freshly harvested and green fibre hackled a few weeks back

nettle fibre, green freshly harvested and green fibre hackled a few weeks back

and the night ended on the high note of Tracy and David collaborating on making an ancient glue stick of sorts…. Tracy brought pine pitch, heated it up and David provided some wood ash to mix in, and it was stirred and rolled onto a stick. This would traditionally be used to waterproof a basket or waterproof the seam in a canoe.

pine pitch+charcoal= glue stick, who knew?

pine pitch+charcoal= glue stick, who knew?

Amazing! I am cherishing my nights with Tracy, every time we meet I learn so much. Now I get to go spin and try drumming using the rhythm of my spinning wheel for Mirae’s dance workshop at Hastings Farm- good fun!

spring fibre foraging and planting

I thought it high time to do a bit of updating for what we have been up to in the planting and harvesting department so far. there have been some exciting things discovered!

But First: for the record

flax plantings took place as follows:

Means of Production Garden May 29 (Marylin seeds)

Maclean Park June 2 (Electra seeds)

Hastings Urban Farm June 3 ( Marylin seeds)

Trillium North June 7 ( Marylin and Electra seeds)

I was overzealous in the seeds I gave away before I had a chance to do my own planting, so  planted  mostly electra ( last years seed) at Trillium, and noticed right away that the small square of marylin came up faster, not sure if that is a  seed difference, or because the electra was  older seed. Penny did a bit of research, and it looks like there should only be about a 2% chance of cross-pollination, so not overly worried about that.

seeding MOP

seeding MOP

Other things worth noting about the sites that we can monitor as the season progresses:

The HUF site is in a heat sink- being surrounded by buildings and concrete, the milkweed there has grown twice as fast as at the other sites likely because it is warmer.- Also seems the nicest soil, least weeds and good “handfeel”

Trillium was really lousy soil, the park board dropped off rotted leaf mulch for me, so I just seeded on top of the leaf mulch, will see how  the fibre is from this experiment!

Maclean has very little flax and  neighbourhood folks are taking care of the site this year with me, growing carrots, sunflowers, amaranth and quinoa along with our milkweed. The soil did not get any soil amendments from last year, other then halfhearted attempt to plant  winter rye too late in the season.

MOP is very clay-heavy soil, things like weeds and remnants of older crops grow like stink, I just hope the flax can  keep up. We did  4 major weedings before planting starting from March, didn’t make a lick of difference!

flax and weeds as neighbours

flax and weeds as neighbours 3 weeks later

Soon I will post  exciting photos of growing flax I promise

On the foraging front:

Tansy folks! IMG_1633A contender for the new fiber 2014 award? We harvested some on June 10, and just ’cause- I tried stripping the skin off and it works! Am doing a few  retting experiments with it now – stay tuned!


We harvested on May 20, 27 and  June 2nd and the skin came off amazingly well after a good smack with David’s Mallet – feels already like the basketry  skin we usually harvest in late July. This season is crazy early. (I have heard of a local man having his  wheat harvest on July 1st this year!) I have done a series of retting tests, and so far have some fibre that was retted for 10 days, then mellowed for 3 (read- forgotten about in the bottom of a basket where it stay wet for 3 days- we call that mellowing) This will be hackled soon using our flax hackles


I nailed it! thanks again to Nancy Turner’s book on hand technologies of First Nations People in BC, I happened to  look up fireweed, and she said, June/July harvest for cordage- before flowers bloom, and it worked! More fibre, will save some for retting experiments and some to use green.

Stinging Nettle: IMG_1450

We have sourced a few locations within a few blocks of our  Trillium work site- and by my rules that is close enough to count!  I hope it is hidden enough from zealous gardeners that it is left untouched and we can harvest it later in the season. When I picked some to show folks, I also picked some  plantain ( left) and burdock ( right) so folks knew what to look for if they got a sting… IMG_1631Then Martin sent me this video link today, so am going to have to try it barehanded now!

Tracy also brought out some eagle down and Mountain goat hair she has been collecting and we spun up a sample.IMG_1423

and she showed us how her ancestors used diatomaceous earth to clean the wool fibres- it kills bugs- and  a little water added, and hand  rubbing also brings up the guard hairs for easy removal.

At the MOP site, we are just beginning to have some fun with discovering the native tree section, and Katrina and I are working away at  some pruning,IMG_1649 the results of which is giving us wood to use like Mock orange, traditionally used for tools including knitting needles and the branches of Oregon grape and the great yellow inner bark shall be a dye. The Arbutus tree that has died on site shall become a feature for our weaving in some way down the road….IMG_1655

Next Wednesday Mirae’s  dance workshop is back at the Hastings Farm, and I am going to bring my spinning wheel and get caught up on some spinning on site while the group dances, come join if you can!