Ancient crafting methods improved life for makers and tribes

As promised, here is the post on how Native Americans in the Mesa Verde region of Colorado used plant life to craft useful items. This post was first published on Writing Places – The Blog, Monday, July 14, 2014


This past weekend, our family went to Mesa Verde National Park, located in the south western area of Colorado. Cortez, Mancos and Durango are some of the nearby towns. If you ever have a chance to visit this place, do it. The views were outstanding and the cliff dwellings were amazing. The National Park Service has even provided a nice lodge in which to stay.

I plan to show you more pictures this week, but first I want to talk about our visit to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. The museum fascinated me because it focused largely on the arts and crafts used for survival by these tribes. The artifacts it contained were left by the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the area for approximately 700 years. For unknown reasons, they left the area in the 1200’s and their descendants now live in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. However, while they lived in Mesa Verde, they thrived and used the land around them to fashion items that improved their lives.

Known as basket weavers, the Ancesteral Puebloans perfected this art and then moved on to pottery. They made their tools out of bone, sticks, flint and rock and were able to grow crops rather than depending solely on hunting and gathering. Among the artifacts are also jewelry, scraps of food, and craft supplies.

Yes, craft supplies. There were small bundles of human hair tied with a string on display that archaeologists thought they might be saving for future projects. I was tickled that ancient women were just like us – gathering a stash for later use. Of course, their supplies were much different and fewer in quantity. They could not run down to the nearest craft store for a big sale and stock up. Their supply stores consisted of the natural elements around them – shells, bone, human hair, turkey feathers, fur and plants.

Here are some pictures we took of one particular exhibit. Please note that we did not use a flash because flash photography deteriorates artifacts.

In this picture, Indian artisans used a "knotless netting technique" to make a fabric. If you look closely, the hair is neatly coiled into loops over a straight strand comprised of several hairs called cordage. Here is another example, in the Arizona State Museum. And here is a video on how to loop. - Photo: Mike Steeves
In this picture, Indian artisans used a “knotless netting technique” to make a fabric. If you look closely, the hair is neatly coiled into loops over a straight strand comprised of several hairs called cordage. Here is another example, in the Arizona State Museum. And here is a video on how to loop. – Photo: Mike Steeves
This is ancient yarn! The caption underneath the sample says:  "Downy turkey feathers were split, twisted into two-ply yucca cord and woven into a soft, warm cloth. This technique is actually a form of basket weaving using soft material. The quill is often the only part of the feather that remains today." Photo: Mike Steeves
This is ancient yarn! The caption underneath the sample says:
“Downy turkey feathers were split, twisted into two-ply yucca cord and woven into a soft, warm cloth. This technique is actually a form of basket weaving using soft material. The quill is often the only part of the feather that remains today.” Photo: Mike Steeves
ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (3)
Photo: Mike Steeves
Here is another type of yarn that they used.  "Fur Strip Yarn Fur yarn was made in the same way as turkey feather yarn by twisting narrow strips of small animal hide into yucca cordage." (Above) "Rabbit (top) and woodrat (bottom) hide ready to be made into yarn."  Photo: Mike Steeves
Here is another type of yarn that they used.
“Fur Strip Yarn
Fur yarn was made in the same way as turkey feather yarn by twisting narrow strips of small animal hide into yucca cordage.” (Above) “Rabbit (top) and woodrat (bottom) hide ready to be made into yarn.” Photo: Mike Steeves

Of course, the yucca cordage – fashioned from the yucca plant – had to be made as well.

Here is a boot made from turkey feather yarn using a “finger looping technique”.

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

Here are some “winter sandals stuffed with grass for warmth.”

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

The little sign below the sandal reads:
“Sewing. Although clothing was often a wrap that needed a belt or tie, sewing was not uncommon. Needles were made of animal bone and the fiber of yucca leaves. Cotton, yucca and human hair thread cordage were often used as thread.”

Here is a “twilled sandal with side looped tie. Many different methods were used to tie sandals”.

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (7)

Here are some twill plaited sandals made for a child. According to the sign that reads“Sandals, Yucca sandals were the primary footwear. Basket maker examples show complex patterns made of yucca fiber so fine that it resembles woven cotton. Pueblo 1 through Pueblo III sandals became less intricate and were mostly made of simple or twill plaited yucca leaves. Of the thousands of sandals found, no two pairs are alike.” Kind of an ancient OOAK, wouldn’t you say?

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (8)
Photo: Mike Steeves

Later on, the Puebloans began growing cotton, which became the preferred cloth for clothing. Here is a sample of cotton cloth used for clothing.

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

This picture shows what a male Puebloan may have looked like. According to a sign near the display, the Spaniards who explored the area thought that the local people were well-dressed.

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (9)

This picture shows what a male Puebloan may have looked like. According to a sign near the display, the Spaniards who explored the area thought that the local people were well-dressed.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of an ancient people. It is amazing to see the development of humans as they learned to make items that would improve their lives. How does crafting improve your life? Have you ever made yarn or cloth from unusual items rather than the regular yarn and fabric you find in modern stores? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Scraping and Sewing 1842 Style

On Saturday, Bent’s Old Fort, a national historic site out our way, was in the middle of the Fur Trade Symposium. Mike and I visited with several living history actors in their campground about a quarter a mile away from the fort. They all looked like they were having a good time eating bacon, peacock and drinking freshly ground coffee and “telling lies” as one of the men put it.

Even Rex Rideout, who appeared in the movie “Cowboys and Aliens”, was there entertaining the fur traders on his fiddle.


The historical actors were quite willing to speak with us. In fact, two men who were tanning a buffalo hide actually lit up when they saw me because back in 1842 women – the Native American  women – were the ones who tanned the hides in camp. They figured that since I was a woman that I would be more than happy to do the same. Well, it took a couple of minutes, but after I put my 2015 feminist feelings about “women’s work” aside for a few minutes, I was more than willing to experience what this type of crafting was like and it was hard work. If I did this regularly, I would never have to worry about flabby arms.


The tool I am using is a piece of metal attached to an antler. The metal needed frequent sharpening to make the work “easier.” The trappers said that it usually took them about four days to scrape a hide.


Back in the 1840’s buffalo hide could be traded at the fort for other goods or used, among other things, as a blanket or warm coat.

In another part of the camp an older gentleman was sewing a pair of soft moccasins for himself. To make them he used a nicely tanned leather and dried sinew from a deer for thread.



He separated the sinew by gently hitting it with a rock. The awl in his right hand was used to poke holes in the leather so that the needle could glide through.


These soft moccasins were good for walking around the camp but they were not “much good” for walking on rocks, he said. For rocks you had to have the hard soled moccasins.

Historical crafting fascinates me because instead of being able to depend on a nearby craft store or premade synthetic supplies, the crafters of history had to use a little ingenuity to obtain supplies. When hunting, no part of the animal was wasted, sinew was used as thread, the skin and fur were used for clothing and other things. Even the brains were used in the tanning process, the trappers told me as we scraped the buffalo hide. In fact, every animal has enough brains in its head to tan its own hide, one of them told me. I realize that this was a little tongue and cheek but it is interesting how the Creator provides for our needs so well if we just use the intelligence that God also provided.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a blog post that I wrote previously about how Native Americans used plant life to craft items for themselves.

Finding God in God’s Garden – Nature

Recently, my family took a trip up to the mountains to hike and just get away from it all for a little while. We do this as time permits during the summer and it really has a calming, restorative effect.

This time, our destination was Mueller State Park, which is located near Divide, Colorado. Divide is approximately 9,000 feet in elevation so the state park has trails that are at 9,000 feet and higher. Elevation is everything in Colorado. Besides the name of a city on state signs, elevation is the only other fact worth noting. In California, where I was raised, signs also included population, but out here that doesn’t seem to matter. Population comes and goes. Elevation is forever.

Now, back to our topic.

When Mike, Stephen (the youngest) and I visited Mueller State Park, the pine trees were a lush, deep, dark green because of all of the rain we have had this year. The aspens, which are interspersed among the pines, were just showing signs of fading to their golden splendor. When they are at their peak in the fall the mountains look as if they were aflame. It is stunning. Here we are at Grouse Mountain Overlook. The view was magnificent.


There are many people today who write about the benefits of nature on the psyche. There are proven calming affects on the soul as you quiet yourself next to a mountain stream and listen to sound of the babbling water. My favorite is hearing the sound of the wind whisper to the tree tops overhead. No matter what was clouding my mind, once I hear that sound I am pacified and all is well.

What is this calming effect?

Other writers will say that getting back to our primal beginnings in nature is what 11053302_10204754485558439_3155684633156822401_ncalms us.  Nature helps us clear away all of the loud voices that distract us so that we can get to that inner voice – the voice of our soul – which centers us and calls us back to who we really are.

These writers are correct, in a limited sense. Based on my experience I find that there is a deeper reason than just nature calming my soul. I would say that nature speaks to the deep recesses of my soul about God and it is God’s voice – not the voice of my soul – that brings peace in a mystical sort of way. God is the one who opens up my true self to me because God is the one who created me. As I walk in the woods, or on a prairie road, I hear God’s gentle voice calling me and reminding me that he loves me. God’s voice centers me and brings me to an understanding of where I need to be or gives assurance that I am exactly where I need to be. There is nothing more satisfying than recognizing this voice within your heart telling you that you are loved, cherished and worth all of the pain and suffering that God’s son Jesus went through to bring you to where you are right here, right now.  11140127_10204754481718343_1879620219089547039_nOne of my favorite devotional authors, Henri Nouwen, wrote this in Bread for the Journey:

When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, the uncreated and the created, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human became united.  This unity meant that all that is mortal now points to the immortal, all that is finite now points to the infinite.  In and through Jesus all creation has become like a splendid veil, through which the face of God is revealed to us.

This is called the sacramental quality of the created order.  All that is is sacred because all that is speaks of God’s redeeming love.  Seas and winds, mountains and trees, sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals and people have become sacred windows offering us  glimpses of God.

And then Psalm 19 says:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies [proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” – Psalm 19: 1-3 (NIV)

Do you enjoy nature? How does nature speak to you about God? Is the voice calming or are there some areas in your life that need attention? 

11260903_10204754484198405_7857527947344868435_n Share those areas with God today. Thank God for the work that God has done in you.11951895_10204754480878322_730525252634953867_n

Salida Fiber Festival Elevates Fiber Arts to Fourteener Levels

On Friday and Saturday, September 12 and 13, Mike and I traveled to Salida, use2 Colorado for the Fourth Annual Fiber Festival in Riverside Park. The festival lasted Saturday through Sunday but we could only stay a day. It takes a few hours to drive to Salida from where we live so we went up Friday afternoon and walked around the downtown a bit before eating some fabulous pizza at Amica’s.

useSalida is a small tourist town nestled in the Arkansas Valley at about 7000 feet. It is surrounded by higher peaks, including what we Coloradans call 14ers – those magnificent peaks that reach more than 14,000 feet into the clear blue sky and from where you can see forever. The Arkansas River winds its way through Salida attracting all manner of water sports enthusiasts. Salida’s art galleries and variety of downtown shops cater to a variety of interests. If you get to go be sure to visit Fringe, the town’s only fabric and yarn store, for great products at reasonable prices.

Having never been to a Fiber Festival, neither Mike nor I knew what to expect. I had signed up for the class on Drop Spindle Spinning taught by Cheri Paxson  and what fun that was! I’ve been wanting to try drop spindling for a couple of years and finally had the opportunity to do so.  I was not disappointed. Paxson was a great teacher and it seemed like everyone was comfortable with the technique by the time the two-hour class was over. In fact, I was able to spin in the car on the way home and I remembered how to spin pretty well. Now I just have to practice in order to get my plys nice and even. That will take a while.

Here are some pictures that Mike took of my efforts in the class:


There were 10 ladies in the class and Ms. Paxson had time to help each one of us individually. Before we left class, Ms. Paxson told us to go out to the festival and buy some roving that we really liked so that we could practice. I don’t know about the others but I took my “assignment” very seriously.

It was easy, in fact. After the class, Mike and I went out to Riverside Park where more than 80 merchants tried to take advantage of my penchant for beautiful fiber. To complete my roving assignment, I found a luscious kid mohair at Naumann Angoras, owned by Dale and Bonnie Naumann from Texas. The mohair is a natural off white color, and even though there was a multitude of colored roving all over the festival, I chose this because it was so soft.

Here are the Naumanns explaining their products to me. They sell raw and fringe mohair along with dyed locks.


There was so much going on at the festival. People were weaving:


Doing embroidery:


And spinning:


They used all sorts of fibers. One lady was spinning wolf hair with wool yarn. It makes an incredible insulator, she said. Here she is  blending the wolf hair with Churro wool:


All of the vendors were helpful and nice.  Jonathan Berner of MJ Yarns took time to explain different types of spinning wheels and gave me his opinion on what was good. He spun a very thin, even ply the entire time we spoke:


What a fun festival. Bravo to the people who set it up and ran it. In three weeks we will be on the way to New Mexico for the Taos Wool Festival. I can’t wait to go!

Hello world!

In 2006 my life changed forever. Eighteen months beforehand, the earth under my feet moved, jostled and quaked. What was the reason? My first husband found out that he had pancreatic cancer.

Eighteen months later he was gone and I was left with three boys, a dog and a mortgage. My life was upset in many ways. Among those ways was redefining who I was besides being a mother and a former pastor’s wife. I was now a layman with an 8 to 5 job – what did God want from me?

Over the next few months a lot happened. The Lord brought Mike into my life, we fell madly in love and we married. As a result, our family increased by one stepdaughter, a son -in-law and four grandchildren. It was also at this time when my pastor convinced me to study for my master’s degree in religion. The course I took was Spiritual Formation. This emphasis covered how people grow spiritually and how outside influences such as theologies, life experience, church history and culture affect that growth. We also learned to study the Bible in far deeper ways than I had learned in Sunday school, and I met some new authors that gave much needed affirmation to and then challenged the way I was thinking. The program completely revitalized me spiritually and by the time it was completed I had a minister’s license. 

However, I did not feel like I was called into the ministry to be a pastor so I gave up the minister’s license. I thought that I was called to be a writer. At the time I was working at a newspaper and having a lot of fun. Then, because of differences in opinion with my boss, I left that job. This shook me to the core and I wandered mentally in an aimless state for about six months. During that time I was crocheting, reading, making things and trying to write but nothing seemed to come together until I saw an article about a crafter who had an Etsy store. 

What in the world is Etsy? I wondered. After checking it out online and seeing that it was a creative person’s paradise I became excited. Mike encouraged me to try it and my first crocheted blanket went up for sale in May 2011. 

Over the next few months, however, I still had questions. Why did I have a master’s degree in religion? Why did I enjoy crafting so obsessively? Where did writing fit in? The Lord kept saying that it all fit together; I just had to be patient… but patience is a difficult virtue. 

However, I have noticed throughout my life that times of waiting have always proved beneficial and this time was no different. During this time, I did some healing and explored many crochet blogs and other crafting blogs. I loved the idea of doing one myself and tried to once but I couldn’t keep it going. This time is different. isla_280x280.15914984_2b1lznck

Hi, and welcome to The Contemplative Crafter.

My name is Lisa. I own the Pen and Hook on Etsy.

I want this blog to be a reflection of the person I am and the person I am becoming. I’m writing it to be a reflection of what God has done and is doing in my life. I hope you enjoy it.

Why is it called The Contemplative Crafter?

Most of us know what a crafter is. There are blogs all over the Internet featuring crafters – people who are skilled in making things with their hands, such as potters, basket makers, woodworkers, fiber artists, seamstresses, quilters. I craft mainly with crochet. It’s what I love, but have I arrived at craftsman level? I don’t think so, but I am working to become better and better. There is so much to learn! Along with a huge stash of yarn, and the yarn that is stock for my store, I also have fabric, a sewing machine, buttons, shells, stamps, cardstock, scrapbook paper, a Dremel workstation, jewelry findings, and paint and yes, more yarn. I will probably never get to all of the projects I have in mind or have patterns for, but that’s okay for now.

Did I say that I have yarn? Did I say that I love yarn?

I guess that makes me a crafter.

A ‘contemplative’, according to Webster’s multiple definitions, is one who allows for deep thought or one who allows for religious thought and prayer. Another definition goes so far as to say that a contemplative person is a person devoted to prayer especially in a monastery. Well, there’s no monastery here, unless you define my workroom as a monastic cell.  As I have said, I am married, with three boys, a stepdaughter and four grandchildren. We are a pretty typical American family with two cars, a dog, a mortgage, jobs, school activities and a lot more to do.  We are anything but ‘monastic.’ I do, however, take time for religious thought and prayer. I wouldn’t say that I devote huge amounts of time to it but I do what I can.

I call this blog The Contemplative Crafter because I can contemplate the stuff of life as I work. Both of those definitions fit who I am – one who loves God and devotes time to religious thought and prayer and one who loves crafting. In fact, I told one of my sons that making things is what I love to do the most. There are other activities that I enjoy, but hand me a crochet hook or put me down in my workroom and I am in hog heaven.

What makes you happy? How has God worked out everything for good in the difficult times of your life?

Please feel free to share below. My policy for comments on this blog is that they are civil and contribute to the discussion at hand. Anything else will be deleted.

Here I am at one of my favorite places - Shackleford Banks, NC. My husband, Mike, and I love to find the wild horses and take pictures of them.
Here I am at one of my favorite places – Shackleford Banks, NC. My husband, Mike, and I love to find the wild horses and take pictures of them.