drying nettles

The moment to forage for stinging nettles is early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves and great respect for the plants are required. A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to help me as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength. The old-timers would take bitters at this time of year, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens.

sun-dried-nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good sunny day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp.

Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring. You can make fresh nettle soup and nettle tinctures too. Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions and medicinal tisanes is a very old practice. I’m ever so fond of it.

dried-nettles

hopscotch

Peevers, peeverels, pabats, piko, bebeleche, kith-kith, laylay, potsy, pon, delech, avioncito, scotch hobbies, hop-score! Peregrina, rayuela, bebeleche, amarelinha, rrasavi, thikrya, marelle ronde, himmel und hölle, hopscotch! When a game dates back to the 17th century, and possibly to the Romans, it usually passed through cultures and played around the world, with variations in name and technique accordingly. Here’s an illustrated guide to hopscotch, one of those good old fashioned games that hasn’t wavered in popularity these four hundred years. Unlike jacks and marbles, there’s no need for revival, no generation missed – long live scotch hobbies!

hopscotch-1

First, toss the pebble into a square, not touching any scotches or scores.

hopscotch-2

Then hop, not touching a line, nor falling out, or forfeit.

hopscotch-3

Land on a pair with one foot neatly inside each square.

hopscotch-4

Leap over the square with the stone.

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Hop. If one has no chalk and paving, a stick in the dirt will do. I admire a game with great simplicity of materials.

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Turn at the end. Some variants have a safe square there, or a semicircle, for turning.

hopscotch-7

Pick up the marker, don’t lose your balance! And hop through. We shall have to try the variant which requires you to kick the marker along with you.

hopscotch-8

Sometimes we draw the spiral variation as in the French marelle ronde or escargot.

hopscotch-9

Grace, balance, aim.

hopscotch-10
We write numerals in, in contemporary fashion, but a square is all that’s needed.

hopscotch-11

There’s a good simple game. Did you grow up playing this one?

tug-o-war

Over at the autumn Highland Heritage Fair, not so far from our little cottage, they held a tug-o-war.

tug-o-war

Such an entertaining bit of fun, suspenseful, silly, everyone pulling together. The tug of war dates back at least to ancient Egypt and China, and was made popular in Britain in the 1600’s by an enthusiastic Lord Simpson. It is at once Olympic and yet requires little skill to thoroughly enjoy.

tug-o-war

My girls prefer to sit in a tree and watch this sort of thing, but somehow it wrapped up a day at the fair (of fiddling, a hay-toss, pottery, the opening of a new local museum, and of course, fabulous tables from the likes of a local stonecarver, an old-time photographer, jam preservers and bakers, a fuller & beader, and yours, appleturnover) just perfectly.

kite flying

To celebrate our younger child’s birthday, we took her into the city to choose a strong and pretty kite, then wandered along a lane together to the best kite-flying park. The rest of the world can be quite still, yet this trusty spot will bluster enough to launch your kite, if anything is bound to.

kite-flying

Simple, joyful stuff. Physics, magic, as you like it.

flying kites

I’d have liked to have constructed a kite with my little girl, perhaps out of bamboo and silk as the first ones were in China, over 2800 years ago! But traditional games are such a pleasure, even if you don’t make the piece yourself.

kite flying

In fact, I once made a kite in art school, and flew it in this very spot. I built a large, transparent kite, and printed it with a life-sized image of me on it, as if I were flying. After three failed kite flying attempts and much consultation with our local, famous, 80-year old stunt-kitesman, who would talk to me about my kite/performance piece whilst flying three kites at once, I finally flew my kite/myself, high in the air. Pure joy! Where have those images gone? Hmm. The piece later informed my street banners, which lined Vancouver’s streets for the millennium.

Kiting has a long and varied history across the world:

The kite was said to be the invention of the famous 5th century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations. The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures; some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.

After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite known as the patang in India where thousands are flown every year on festivals such as Makar Sankranti.
Kites were known throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand, with the assumption being that the knowledge diffused from China along with the people. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods. Polynesian kite traditions are used by anthropologists get an idea of early “primitive” Asian traditions that are believed to have at one time existed in Asia.

Kites were late to arrive in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. Stories of kites were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. It is not known whether Franklin ever performed his experiment, but on May 10, 1752, Thomas-Francois Dalibard of France conducted a similar experiment (using a 40-foot (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.

Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building the first airplane in the late 1800s. Over the next 70 years, many new kite designs were developed, and often patented. These included Eddy’s tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop the modern hang-gliders. In fact, the period from 1860 to about 1910 became the “golden age of kiting”. Kites started to be used for scientific purposes, especially in meteorology, aeronautics, wireless communications and photography; many different designs of man-lifting kite were developed as well as power kites.

In other words, pure joy.

fingerpuppets

For a crowd of children crafting at a birthday, I wanted to create a project that was pretty quick, left room for invention, and drew on some good, useful, simple skills. With smaller groups we’ve held handpuppet-making birthdays and bookbinding birthdays. For this very busy birthday, my small child had the bright idea of making fingerpuppets. Perfect! Would you like to see a little of what they made?

fingerpuppet-making

I made a basic card template for the children to trace. They cut the pieces out of felt and pinned them, threaded needles, knotted them to the fabric and carefully sewed round the edge. Some added long rabbit ears or short monkey ears, before they stitched the seam. We had brand new tailors and old pros doing this. Then, exciting! We put out fulling needles and showed the children how to needle-felt, with a block of foam to work on top of, and the puppet pinned to it so that little fingers stayed out of the way of the needle. Felting needles have burrs that rip the wool fibres and reattach it, in effect knotting it to itself and through the fabric. Large, sculptural pieces and precise details alike are possible with this technique. Eyes, mouths, beards, even wonderful long hair were constructed and attached using the wool roving and yarn.

fingerpuppets

Embroidery, sewing on scraps of fabric and buttons for clothing, and the children developed wonderful characters! Very pleasing. It is the sort of project that is perfect for children to make with adults, or for adults to make for children. Just a bit of extra help and care with the needles, and everyone from age four through *cough* made amazing things. I’ll be putting together fingerpuppet and handpuppet kits for the appleturnovershop soon, for those who’d like to learn some simple fabric-arts skills with a short, sweet project. I’ll be teaching this lesson in fibre arts in the old school classes at my studio this week, too.

Look out for images from, fingers crossed, a shoot that my sweetheart and I are planning this weekend…more old school movie tutorials to support projects to learn traditional creative skills, in the shop. Sound good?