A Twist of the Fist : Making the Grade on Your Braid

‘Old Braided Rug’ – Poem by Linda Winchell
I found an old hand-made braided rug
At a thrift store the other day.
It was quite a dirty sight to see
With some of its edges frayed.

I bought it up and rushed it home
To give it a much-needed bath.
And when it was cleaned, there t'was seen
Braided memories of someone's past.

One braided rope weaved into another:
A child's pajamas, or perhaps a robe? 
Then an old flour bag, 'Velvet Flour', 
Was the logo in this rug twas sewed.

Then what looked to be a small center piece 
Remnants of someone's wedding gown?
I think they placed it there on purpose
Sort of like this rug's jeweled crown.

Memories of someone's life
Braided into this useful little rug.
To place in front of a sink or bed
Giving where ever placed, a hug.

Does anyone still make them?
These puzzles of someone else's past...
This braided rug's now mine to treasure
To be enjoyed as long as it will last.

Well, yes, Linda – someone DOES still make them.  I’ve made a few smallish ones myself, years ago, and the easy way – from strips of old woolen rugs, and just one-sided.  But my mother, not only a spinner and weaver of rugs, etc. has now turned her hand(s) to braiding rugs.

Joy is a terrific braider.  When she was young, her own hair was in ‘pigtails’, which we still have in a box from when she finally got them cut off, pre-teens.  And until I was old enough to become “Chip”  ( early teens – see post from two weeks ago: “Hill-billy Hootenanny”) with my hair boyishly cut by the one and only Shirley Robinson (no one else dared do it EXACTLY as I asked – which was essentially like all the boys my age in the early 1970s) I, too, had a pair of two long braids, expertly twisted up each morning by my mother. She would French braid the part near my scalp, then quickly do regular braiding until near the ends.  These went along with my grandfather’s nick-name for me, “Annie Oakley”, esp. when I mounted my steed ‘Sugar’.  (Gail Davis, as Annie, DID wear pigtails, although the real Annie Oakley seemed to prefer to wear her long, thick tresses DOWN.)

tomboy on sugar

Once I gave up both rocking horses and hobby horses, (age about 14 – yes, seriously) and gave up riding Western (had my first pony from age 10-13, but Western horses are rarely braided) I then had to become an expert braider, as show and “3-day event” horses (the dressage portion at least and sometimes the stadium jumping portion) are always braided neatly, and often the braids are SEWN or rug-hooked in with yarn, and sometimes, if they are dark manes, wrapped with white medical tape to make them ‘pop’ out and show the line of the horse’s neck better. Here I am with some of my darker-maned geldings, with the white tape wrapped around the braided knot.  For the forelock, like my mother Joy had to do on my own ‘plaits’, you must first FRENCH braid before braiding regularly to keep it tightly pulled:

My sister Jennifer’s husband, Boyd, is from the west side of Newfoundland, and he inherited an old family farm there, (in whose orchard he proposed over a decade ago).  They, like us, are turning the farm into a renovated cozy home – for them, their summer home only- and Jennifer asked Mom to please BRAID her a rug with her bright ‘newfie’ colours.  Jen and I are lucky enough to both have a number of Mom’s beautifully-designed and custom-requested-coloured loom-woven rugs scattered about our homes, but Jennifer wanted a good braided one.    I had one of my great-grandmother’s making for years, until after all my travels with it, it essentially dilapidated beyond repair.  But Jennifer had never had a hand-made one.  If you have been faithfully reading this blog since before Christmas, you’ll have seen Mom/Joy at work on this particular rug, which she finished a few weeks ago:


She and Jennifer chose most of those fabrics from 2nd hand stores in St. John’s when Mom was last out there in the fall, so none of them are sentimental or familial, as described in the poem above.  But they DO match the colour scheme Jennifer requested, and they are of various textures and material, so it was quite a challenge for Mom.  Jennifer ALSO requested that it be neither circular NOR oval – ??? so THAT was another challenge with which Mom had to try and contend, cutting out the middle part several times in order to shape it to those specifications.  Here is the lovely, cozy result, and I’m sure Jennifer and Boyd will enjoy it, as well as son Sydney, for many decades to come, as it is equally the same on one side as the other (the real trick in making a braided rug from rags!).  I ‘made’ Joy get in her jammies and ‘sleep’ on the rug, as a special photo for Sydney to show him that we want to think of him enjoying it the same way in his cozy farmhouse.  We did NOT specifically plan for the model to ‘match’ the colours of the rug, but she does indeed!

I guess she felt badly for us, or just enjoyed making this one so much, that she has then offered to do one for Richard’s and my own ‘meeting room’, as we call our livingroom-cum-diningroom-cum- musicroom-cum-communitymeeting room! (It’s held 18 people around the fireplace at one meeting!)  This one has fabrics she and I picked out to go with the earthenware dishes (my ‘good’ set) I so love -the Nut-tree Franciscan.


She’s already got a good start on this, although I hope it doesn’t keep her indoors too much as the warmer weather begins to settle upon us!  Here are the beginnings, and I did ask for an oval shape, so hopefully it won’t be such a challenge for her:


Here are just a fraction of the various fabrics we’ve chosen, from which she may then apply her artistic skills in co-ordinating each long braid:


All but one of these were purchased by the bagful, or at least armful, at 2nd hand stores and charity shops.  The one piece that WASN’T, Mom picked out herself and I thought it had too much white in it, so she promptly went and tea-dyed it and now it’s much less ‘flashy’.  Good old primitive technique I use all the time for my prim-dollies and stuffed animals, (and even my mother’s bridal veil when I also wore it in 1988)  but I didn’t expect Mom to just run to the sink and do this on the only brand-NEW piece of material! Yay, Joy!

When I braided my small rugs with the wool blankets, I used the good old homesteader’s bible that’s been in our home since the  1970s when it was first published – the Reader’s Digest’s BACK TO BASICS “A Practical Guide to Old-fashioned Self-Sufficiency”.

However, Mom was guided more by several online sites, and then just trial and error experimentation.  Here are a few links if you’re interested in doing this fairly simple technique for having a rug that could incorporate either your chosen room/accent colours OR some sentimental pieces of clothing from loved ones – OR both…




Life is always spiraling around us.  Why not boldly say so with something you see each day, and have it add comfort and cheer to your room as well?

sprial poem

And P.S. – watch for an upcoming link to all of Joy’s fibre artwork, with photos of her in situ,  in the spring/summer edition of Created Here, a New Brunswick online magazine!


Artist in the Attic # 4: Jane Wright and…

preface:  I know this week’s blog was supposed to be about the seed tables and the planting in our basement.  Richard has the tables ready to go, but due to the massive cold snap (minus 20 all this week again!) we haven’t been able to get the earth out of some of the bigger planters that we were planning to mix in with the potting soil downstairs, and also the seeds haven’t arrived yet. So- hopefully next week?  Besides, I haven’t done an Artist in the Attic feature in a long while!



artist in attic painting

for artist in attic

The farmhouse  at Blue Belldon Farm is full of artwork because we all love it.  My collection of pottery, Mom’s and her aunt’s weavings, and mostly, paintings, etchings and sketches with deep sentimental meaning to at least one of us. Richard himself was immersed in art in his younger years, and so quite a bit of his own early work graces our walls (as well of that of his fathers’).


Richard’s sketch of his German grandfather hangs in a montage on our bedroom wall, and two oil paintings he did of his time in rural Saskatchewan hang downstairs in his office:

His artistic talents were passed on to his youngest son, Nigel, who has honed them into a lucrative profession as a rather well-known tattoo and portrait artist in Toronto.  Richard is proud to announce that Nigel is booked a year in advance, and has even had commissions from folk as far away as England and Japan.  I especially love the romance (not often evoked by Nigel, believe me!) of the first one, and the amazing reality of the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton one.


Artistic talent may be often inherited or at least somewhat naturally instinctive,  but art APPRECIATION should be cultivated by those who truly adore it.  My love of art really began with my Grade 5 art teacher, who was then Miss McBeath. She was a neat ‘hippi’ type of self-confident young woman with long hair to her waist and wearing long peasant skirts (which I still prefer wearing myself to this day) with a slightly sarcastic and quick wit (which I’d seemed to have been born with but which was, shall we say, NOT encouraged around my house!) and with a talent for passing on her passion of all things artistic, creative, and most important to me – INDIVIDUAL.   It didn’t matter HOW good you were, she said, as long as you tried and you loved what you were trying…  I also found out about her that she, like me, had been a tomboy who struggled with her weight, and we also bonded over the fact that I did NOT find it amusing that my class had to give up art to go and take a semester of Home Ec., as it was then called.  (Ironic, then that so much of this blog is dedicated to recipes and kitchen how-tos!)

The following year Jane married my Grade 6 social studies teacher, Peter Wright, and we found more in common – they drove the exact same V.W. van as my parents, Peter and my Dad were obsessive tennis players/followers, and both Wrights accepted me as a strong-willed tomboy with a sarcastic sense of humour and respectfully called me by my requested nick-name, “Chip” (which few others were wont to do). Our families have since been life-long friends.


Originally, Jane was more a textile artist and found joy in the creation of pottery, batik, knitting, quilting, rug hooking and woodworking. She definitely was one of the last, true “hippis”, in my opinion, and could very well have settled into a live of self-sufficiency as we are trying to do here, with her many talents.  In fact, she and Peter DID take their 3 children and live in the French mountains for a year of self-exploration!


However, this amazing woman has, in recent years, found her medium/niche in watercolour, and, as  former president of the bi-lingual “Artistes Hudson Artists”, a group of more than 80 talented artists in the artist colony of Hudson, Quebec, she has also publicly defended,  in various media, ART and the right to individualism.  From one of her articles:

“Why should you buy original art? A good question, when you can buy pleasing, inexpensive, mass-produced things for your walls. The answer is that all art is a form of self-expression and communicates the artist’s message. How you interpret that message is intensely personal and therefore unique. If a piece of art “speaks to you” in some way, it will give you a jolt of delight every time you look at it or touch it. Original art should always start a conversation whether it is with yourself or someone else; conversations teach you things and enrich your life. Artists are compelled to produce art; buying original art produced in your community supports local artists and by extension the local economy.”

We have several favourites of Jane’s at Blue Belldon Farm, all originals, because that’s all Jane does – including even her beautiful cards!

I LOVE the way the sun streams through the trees in that first one, which is framed on our living room bookshelves (you may have to click on each to blow them up to see all detail).  And the last one looks very much like our huge vegetable garden, with its mix of flowers in it to attract pollen-spreaders!


Blue Bell mtn 3

But the one which I think looks the most like a scene from Blue Belldon Farm (which is on Jane’s website:  http://www.janewright.ca/ ) is this one:


I can just imagine standing at the side of the barn looking out to the back fields.  Love it!

One of my favourite quotes from Jane reminds me very much of this farm, too:

 “The use of colour and texture to express my awe and wonder at the beauty around me  fills me with great joy. Spending time on the shores of Lake Huron and following my grandfather around as a child as he cared lovingly for his animals, orchard and gardens instilled in me a profound respect for the order, beauty, cruelty and power of the natural world and those that inhabit it. “

Here are some more of Jane’s landscapes that illustrate the above:


Jane even painted an original coaster for each person who attended their eldest son’s (my god-son) wedding a few years ago.  Although I couldn’t make the wedding in Hawaii, Jane was good enough to give me this souvenir, which also sits on our bookshelves. A really original idea, if any of you have some artistic talent and a family wedding coming up~!




I find it amusing that the ‘yellow room’, upstairs in Mom’s suite, (where we think poor Ida had all 5 of her children who were the first ones born here) holds one of my worst-ever paintings (circa Grade 9, playing  abstract with acrylics)  on the wall, but right across from it is a gorgeous watercolour still life of Jane’s!


The Wrights helped us very much all three years of the running the Carlisle Country Craft and Old-fashioned Market Mercantile, not just because they are supportive of friends, but because they both love to promote the local arts as much as possible.  Here’s a candid shot I love by Yvonne Parsons Photography (Artist in the Attic #1) of Mom, in pioneer costume courtesy of Joan Eagle,  and Jane wearing one of Mom’s woven shawls:

jane and joy2

As an extension of Jane’s connection with the CCC&OMM show, I also asked her to offer her cards in our Rural Creators’ Collective shop in Carlisle.  Here are a few of the displays I made with these ALL ECO-FRIENDLY, RURAL-CELEBRATORY artisans.



Jane’s card is directly above in the bottom left, with other cards by photographer Yvonne Parsons, and lino-cut artist L’immaginaria’ Lisa Martini-Dunk as well as native works by Roni Walker of Metis Caravan, a rag plate mat by Ragged Revivals, an artisan original doll by Teena Mucicko Surma’s The Fanciful Doll and a few of my own, Rustic Revivals’ pieces as well.

Here is a close-up of a different display I loved in the shop:


In the above, Jane’s stunning sunset card is in the crate, and is surrounded by a quilt and business-card holders by Miriam Bauman’s MiniMade, intaglio and lino-cut prints by the above-named L’immaginaria, a framed crocheted doilie by Roni Walker’s Rumpel’s Wheel, a chickadee watercolour by Marla, a recycled map by Dillies Dahlias, and a few items in the forefront, as well as a rag doll on top of the crate by my own Rustic Revivals.  I loved having Jane’s cards in our shop, and they are unique as, as I mentioned previously, each one is a unique original.  You can still purchase one of Jane’s originals by contacting her through her website: http://www.janewright.ca/contact.html

In the same yellow room in Mom’s upstairs suite is also a small framed card by another watercolour artist and friend of the family, Marg Patterson, from Tillsonburg, whom I’ll be featuring in another Artist in the Attic posting down the road.   She also does LOVELY work, and donates her proceeds to the Alzheimers Society! Mom has this one normally on the window ledge in that room, actually facing out to our own Birch Grove.

And thus you have it – the Blue Belldon crowd LOVE their art-work. Other than these artists we consider family, our walls our also ‘littered’ with art-work from our travels around the world, with representations of some of the places we’ve loved best. Mom has carvings from Africa and Slovenia, I have paintings of my log cabin and stone cottage from Montana and Scotland, there are many water colours of the Bronte’s West Yorkshire, where Richard and I both have many happy memories, and I have several antique ‘horse’ prints as well as two large ones of James Lumbers’- one from his ghostly series, “City Limits” (a rural piece with the skyscrapers, so sadly but truly,  invading in the far distance)


and another of his – a native girl studying from a text book, which will always remind me of my time teaching on the rez.  He’s a Canadian, as is of course the nature-realist Robert Bateman, with whom my grandmother taught for a time in Burlington, Ontario. We have a few of his smaller prints on the wall downstairs, and Mom has a large one of his kingfisher (bought for Grandma, originally) above her couch upstairs.


As well as the above kingfisher of Bateman’s, Mom has quite a few of her own mother’s china-painting hanging on her walls.  Grandma was another family artist that had great talent in all subject matter, but especially enjoyed doing florals.  One of my favourites, however, is the platter, hanging above Mom’s ‘stove’, that depicts the Hawkins family farm, where her mother went as a young bride.


Yup, we ruralites sure appreciate our artists, and the memories their works evoke in us!  I hope you have the same throughout your own home, and that you’re not, as Jane suggests above, buying ‘pleasing, inexpensive, mass-produced’  Ikea or Wal-mart ka-ka (you’ll note Jane’s quote stopped before this last bit).

If you fill your home with art that ‘speaks to you’, it will, as Jane says:

         give you a jolt of delight every time you look at it or touch it

And Amen to THAT!