It was a lovely week at IslandWood this May, with every kind of weather. Warm and sunny, then cool winds with dramatic clouds and thunder, torrential spurts of showers, and back again to warm slightly humid air, scented with the fragrance of everything living.
I brought a simple project for both the graduate students professional development workshop, and for the four groups of 9-12 year olds I would be priveleged to spend time with.
A Cedar Bark Mat Wall-Hanging isn’t as hard to weave as a cedar basket, yet it gives the opportunity for learning how to gather, prepare, and weave with Western Red Cedar inner bark. The students can do a bit of woodworking, pealing and shaping the ends of a small cedar limb to use as a simple twig loom. NW sweetgrass, found in estuaries, highly valued for weaving by Salish First Peoples, is used to stabilize the edge of the mat. And freshwater-loving cattail, or the invasive Yellow iris, is used to make cordage for the Wall-Hanging cord.
I usually always bring in Scouring Rush, because of its ability to be utilized as sand-paper, and also its decorative qualities. Years ago when I was teaching at IslandWood, a student taught me that Scouring rush sections, if cut just so, could make cool little containers for holding feathers, moss, cones, or other forest treasures.
Each student decorates their mat to make it personal, and then finishes by writing something they’ve learned about Cedar on their name labels.
The inside studio space is set up for a circle discussion, and a family-style table set-up for working.
Tools and materials are set up just outside the Art Studio.
Do to a silly shoulder injury, I wasn’t in shape to transport a freshly cut cedar tree to IslandWood like I did last year. Instead, I was able to bring in freshly cut cedar limbs which were 3-4″ in diameter, cut into 2 foot lengths.
There was enough so that every student could experience what is it like to pull a piece of bark from the tree, and then divide the layer of inner bark from the outer bark.
The whole process gave students an immediate and practical understanding that the growth rings of wood in a tree were once inner bark, and that new inner bark only develops each spring as the sap rises. To get to know the qualities of Cedar bark better, I also brought in lots of seasoned inner bark for students to divide to make their warps and weavers.
Students from Eagle Rock Multi-Age School are Awesome!
The Evergreen School students Rock!
Students from The Valley School are Amazing!
After weaving their projects, the Woodinville Montessori students completed the circle by giving back. They took time to plant a young Cedar tree in the forest behind the Art Studio. They learned about where young cedar trees like to grow, and how they love shade and moist places. They carefully collected all the dirt that was removed for the hole, let the roots hang free in the hole, then made sure they filled back all around the roots so there would be no air pockets. They watered the young tree well.
I wouldn’t be able to share my passion for weaving with plant fibers if it weren’t for the generosity of all my teachers. During each class, I made sure to share the short film of one of my primary teachers, Suquamish elder, Ed Carriere, titled “Holding to Form”. This wonderful film was made by Katie Jennings of Media Alley.
I am grateful to IslandWood for inviting me, to all the students I was lucky to meet this week, and to their teachers and the graduate student group leaders, for their help supporting and encouraging the students as I introduced them to the cultural and material uses of our wonderful Pacific Northwest native plants!