Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Month of Me: a weekend of tea and craft

I know it’s midweek now, but I’m still glowing from my weekend. It was a 48 hour period of Month of Me activities (my birthday month of self-indulgence), and I can’t stop talking about it. The highlights: High Tea with my mom, and a killer felting workshop with Annie Bananie.


In preparation for my birthday month, I purchased a social coupon (you know, off a site that does group coupons, if you will), for The Tea Party on York Street in the Byward Market. I’d been in there only once before, just to peek around while on a stroll with Brian, so I didn’t remember much about it except that it was located in an ancient house on the edge of the market. Anything Alice in Wonderland themed is guaranteed to catch my eye, so I bought the coupon--$20 for a High Tea for two—and invited my mom along.

We headed down to the market, parked, and walked down to the little house. As we stepped inside, the place was rockin’ busy. A dozen charmingly mismatched tables were crowded with cheerful diners enjoying all sorts of (unexpectedly) Indian lunch foods. I have made a note to come back and try the tandoori tofu because it looked delicious. We were led to our tiny reserved table in a corner by the front window, and while we waited for our server to come see us, we perused the shelves of tea cups, teapots, and china all available for sale. A two-tier Alice in Wonderland themed tea tray caught my eye and I may have to go back for it.

The server brought us our teas in big pots, chosen by us from the wall of labelled glass jars. The tea was lovely, and I was pleased to see the wide array of non-caffeinated options they had. Settling on a concoction called Jamaican Chai, I was delighted with the spicy aroma mixed with tropical undertones. Mom chose an anise-based tea called Angel Wings which she enjoyed very much, being a fan of strong flavours. A few sips into our tea, our tray of squares, scones, and sandwiches arrived. We were surprised to find none of the ‘usual’ tea sandwiches—no tuna, egg salad, or ham here—but a wide variety of unique flavours instead. My favourites included a roasted red pepper with hummus, and a tomato with some type of baba ghannouj.  The scones were superb, served with a pot of jam, and the squares were all made on-site…no pre-packaged date squares here.

We munched away happily, lingering long after our sandwiches were done, pouring more tea from our big pots and gossiping. When it was finally time to go, we went to the cash to buy a tea cup for Mom, and received the last part of our social coupon deal: two little bags of tea to take home. I grabbed a bag called Yoga Spice, and Mom grabbed a green tea. We headed out, satiated and promising to return for a full lunch.


Happy crafting Jordan.
Sunday found us at the workshop of Annie Bananie, local crafter extraordinaire. Annie Bananie is no stranger to us: she helped us out with the wedding project by offering a workshop for our wedding party to make felt rosettes, which we used as decorations in our centrepieces. Annie and I have kept in touch, as I adore her felt creations. This incredibly talented yoga teacher, Singing Tree daycare owner, and arts instructor is one of those wonderful people you feel blessed to have met. To my utter joy, she feels the same about us. So when Annie invited us to come to her felting workshop, wild horses couldn’t keep me away.

Another woman's work.
You can see the whole tutorial on Annie’s blog, including photos of Brian and I working our butts off; but in a nutshell, let me say this: the seven hours you spend in this workshop will simultaneously be the most exhausting and the most rewarding thing you do all week. The morning started off with a brief Kundalini yoga-based meditation. This is something outside my comfort zone, as Kundalini involves chanting and singing, and I’m not really a public singer. I rock out in my car, but to sit in a circle and chant ancient Sanskrit is something outside my box. I did it, though, and Brian was a trooper too, only once disturbing the group when he got carried away with his yogic spine rotations and hit his elbow off a shelf. I held it together and managed not to burst into giggles…sometimes Brian is just like a Great Dane puppy, all feet and tail.

We started out felting project, laying out the white felt that would become the back of our hanging. I had planned to make something about 2’ by 3’, but Brian kept quietly laying out more wool, and before I knew it we had a piece about 4’ by 5’. Annie encouraged everyone to work as large as they liked, and I shrugged, figuring it would be a centrepiece in our house somewhere. We argued back and forth over the image we’d create and finally amalgamated our two ideas: toadstools and owls.

The other workshoppers remarked on how brave we were to be doing a project like this as a team. I have to admit, there was a few times where I had to deep breathe and not snatch the wool away from Brian, rearranging things until they looked ‘right’. But as the image started to come together, I had that wonderful moment where I can see how much cooler the product is going to be because it was a collaborative effort. We finished laying out our image, ate a homemade lunch of pea soup and ArtIsIn bread (provided as part of the workshop), then began the process of felting the wool into one big mat.
Rolling the snake with our feet. UGH.

When Annie encouraged us to work on a big piece, the one thing she failed to tell us was that it would mean more work at the felting stage. Another woman who had created a smaller piece finished felting her mat and left around lunchtime, while we were still layering colours of wool. The process of felting the wool involves soaking the project with soapy water, stepping all over it, and then rolling it into a tube and rolling that tube back and forth along the floor. Because our piece was so big, the usual technique—laying your hands on it and rolling it like a big Play-doh snake—was proving ineffective. Every time we unrolled it to peek, fibres were still lose and easy to pluck. So after about an hour of using our hands and arms, we switched to using our feet.

One hour of rolling the mat with our hands, then two hours of rolling our mat with our feet, and finally we were done…or at least, I didn’t want to roll it anymore. We took our piece home, rinsed it in the shower to get rid of the soap, and tumbled it in the dryer for a bit to finish the felting process. It was still wet, so we layed it out on some garbage bags and left it to dry.
Other workers' creations.

Ready for water.
My legs ached for two days after this project. I got a better workout from rolling that damned wall hanging than I have ever gotten from roller derby. It was exhausting, but the final product is something pretty extraordinary. There is nothing pretty about our owl and mushroom scene, especially because the owl’s eyes sort of felted in different ways and he looks a bit drunk. But it is a collaborative expression of our nest: Brian as the owl, brightly coloured and a bit wobbly; then me as the hedgehog (a last minute addition to the piece), because as much as I call Brian a Great Dane, Brian calls me a hedgehog: cute, but rolls into a spiky ball when provoked. So there is Brian the owl, with Jordan the hedgehog, hanging out in a field of mushrooms. It probably sounds silly when you read it, but this hanging is truly a visual representation of our little world.

I fell in love with felting at Annie’s workshop. I find myself plotting new designs, examining our piece to see how colours blended so that I can plan my layers out better next time. I don’t think I’ll make such a large piece again because the rolling sucked so badly; but guaranteed, I’m going to be felting again soon. As an artist who typically works in paint and pen, the less precise, more expressive motions of felting was again outside my ‘box’, but as these things so often are, it was wonderfully rewarding. We can’t thank Annie enough for having us along, and we heartily recommend you all sign up for the next one. Annie is planning another wet felting workshop in the warmer weather, to potentially be held in Wakefield out on a beautiful piece of land…but if you can’t wait that long to get your hands on Annie’s workshops, other ones will be coming along soon and can be found on her blog.


Tea and shopping with mom…tiny triangle sandwiches…time with my sweetheart…and a new art medium. It doesn’t get much better than that. I would say this was a highly successful Month of Me weekend. Let the games continue!

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