Friday, February 11, 2011

Art Night

Let's ignore the fact that I am not comfortable teaching large groups of children.  Let's pretend I didn't volunteer at a school to which my children do not and never did attend.  And let's skip past the fact that I will be moving in less than two weeks and could have backed out of this gracefully.  Last night I found myself at a local elementary school for their second annual Art Night.  Lots of local artists and musicians of all kinds performing and creating ways for children to explore art and music.  I was the felter.

Simple, no?
Simple project:
Take two pieces of yarn, one of each color.
Make a twisty-twirly.
Roll it into a ball and tuck in the ends.
Put into a nylon stocking and dip in warm soapy water, squeezing and rolling and pressing until it starts to make a ball.
Remove from stocking and continue rolling.
String on a piece of yarn.
Voila: Felted earth necklace.

Seemed easy enough.  Then I realized I was going to be doing this by myself? And keep all these children moving?  And keep the dry table dry?  And keep the needles out of little hands?  At my daughter's Waldorf school, you can tell a child to make a twisty-twirly and they all know what that means.  Many of them have felted.  They all are comfortable with a needle if you thread it for them.  This was a public school event where felting is probably still pretty foreign.  Every step would need hands-on instruction.

And yet this blog is not about the challenge of the evening or even ultimately about felting.  It is about my youngest, my Sophie girl.  Both my children are artistic but it is Sophie who is passionate about it.  She keeps journals of drawings.  We have two boxes of her carefully wrapped sculptures ready for the move.  And she loves felting.  For the past few years, she has begged to help at art fairs with me.  She loves to set up the displays.  But the artist within her shares residency with the anxiety-ridden.  At almost 10, Sophie is extremely uncomfortable in large groups, even if those groups are of people she knows.  She has a terrible time speaking to grown ups.  She can't leave my side to explore at a big event, not even to find the bathroom. Lest you think she is being manipulative, after these sorts of events she will often go home and throw up. 

So when Sophie begged to be my helper last night, I was nervous, but she persisted.  Figuring she could at least help children with the twisty-twirlys, I consented with great misgivings.  Sophie and I unloaded my car of its bags of yarn, soap, pots, buckets and set up for the activity.  She moved desks with me, laid out a large plastic tablecloth, and couldn't wait to take over the task of mixing slurry (a soap mixture) with warm water in containers.  She separated all the yarn for stringing so they were easy to get.  She suffered through a reception for the presenters (where she snarfed a brownie and an M&M cookie). And then she helped me teach our two high school student volunteers how to felt an earth ball.  (The two unexpected helpers became essential to the evening and I was grateful to have them.)

And They're Off!  Sometimes in twos and threes, sometimes alone, sometimes in large groups, children arrived.  Sophie and I and Kelly and Julie twisted yarn, rolled up balls, demonstrated the wet process, threaded needles, salvaged earth "pacmen," tied necklaces.  We worked non-stop for two hours.  At one point nearly twenty children were working.  No break for a drink or bathroom visit possible.  I realized Sophie was wearing the nylons on her arms at all times so as to grab a ball of yarn, peel the nylon off her arm and hand the thing back to its owner to take to the wet table.  She emptied containers of cool water and remixed the slurry.  She twisted and twirled.  She checked children's progress.  All without saying much of anything.  Several more talkative children tried to ask her questions, but she would quietly smile and continue to help them with seldom a word.  I am sure she was a real puzzle to many, but she was efficient and pleasant and had a great time.  

When it was all over, Sophie helped clean up and carry everything back out to the car.  I was exhausted, somewhat stressed, and yet again realized I should not work with large groups of children.  But Sophie was joyous and telling me stories of this child or that.  So I asked her if she thought the children had a good time.  She said, "Yeah. Why?"  I realized that if my terribly anxious child could find a way to have fun in what was not her element (crowds of strangers) by focusing on what was her element (felting and teaching other children), then maybe I could let go of my stress about the evening and find enjoyment in being the mother of this surprisingly determined girl.

We were both starving when we got home. It was late and she needed to get to bed, but all her excitement had to come out finally and she talked non-stop as she got ready for bed.  I was proud of her for finding a way to be there and be true to herself, and I could tell she was proud as well.  After a quick sandwich and drink, it was bedtime.  At 11:30, the inevitable "I don't feel good," followed by vomiting in bed, with all extra sheets packed for the move, of course.  Instead of telling her no more helping, it's too hard on her, we talked about making sure any food after a big potentially stressful event is food that is easy on the stomach.  And she once again wished she didn't experience stress this way.  But she also was still happy to have gone. And I was happy she could be with me in a new way.  I love my girl, but that doesn't mean my extroverted self always meshes easily with my introverted daughter.  Last night, we both found out we could work together as partners.  And it was beautiful, throw-up and all.  Peace on earth.


  1. These necklaces are beautiful. Sounds like a great night spent together!
    I would love to read more about this felting process. I have some handmade items from some Waldorf moms, but don't know how to do this myself.

  2. I am soo jealous of your artsy-crafty talents! The kids were lucky to have you there to teach, guide , and encourage! Sounds like Sophie had a good time...good for her!