Rushes for Brigid

Finished crosses on the display quilt (after several days of drying time.)

One of our current family traditions is making Brigid crosses out of rushes. It is a fun, simple activity my daughter and I do together, and talk about who Brigid is and the festival of Imbolc itself. The crosses are the end of the process however, the first part is to gather enough rushes to make a cross each.

This year the responsibility of rush gathering fell to me, since I was the only person free last Friday. Previously we have collected them together, so I have had someone to pull me out of the ditch and laugh at my wet foot…

The weather was cold, snow was forecast but missed us almost entirely, meaning it should be easy to gather a few stalks. But where? Rushes are one of those really common plants that you can never find when you need it. I had been keeping a lookout over the previous couple of weeks or so, but places I have seen rushes in the past were bare of them. Land dries out. Houses get built. Sheep and cows eat them. The drainage ditch, used previously, was not an option this year. Luckily a walk in January along a footpath new to me showed me a currently ungrazed field where there were some rushes growing, although having driven there to save short legs the boring bits and spend more time doing good or new bits, it was further from our house than I would have liked.

I decided I could manage the walk, a 5-6 mile circle, if I took a snack and had a rest somewhere and put my trust in Brigid. I treated it as a walking meditation on Brigid and Imbolc.

Single Rush plant, Juncus effusus, by stream

It seems very fitting that the plant I was looking for grows in damp ground, and the first single plant I found was by the start of a little stream. Brigid is of course known for her healing wells and springs – as well as fires, hearth and home, where the crosses are traditionally placed once made deepening the connection with her. (Ours are on our mantelpiece.)

However, I did not want to pick all from one plant, and this one was so perfect, being protected from horses by the tree, it didn’t seem right to take any. A second plant grew by the fence so I gathered a few stalks, but not enough for a cross.

Rushes eaten almost to ground level.

I continued up to the next field, where there were a lot of rush plants in the boggy ground from which the stream flows, but all had been cropped close to the ground.

Gentle but very curious cows on the footpath.

And then, a herd of cows across the footpath. Why should I expect otherwise on Brigid’s day? She kept me safe, and they gently moved out of the way before closing in again behind me. There were a few bullocks, curious and coming towards me for a closer look, but they seemed quite a calm lot, as (thankfully) were the longhorns I found later – complete with bull next to the footpath. I was very glad the mud by the squeeze stile was frozen solid, however.

Circle oak tree.

The furthest point from home was not the rush field, but a small patch of woodland where wild daffodils and bluebells grow. It is noisy, thanks to the nearby dual carriageway, but that means if I can tune it out, a meditation is rarely disturbed. I waited to see which tree called me for a sit down – and discovered this wonderful oak.

Close up of the circle oak.

The hole was too difficult for me to risk climbing through without help, (I wasn’t sure if I would fit all the way, especially with the branch across the middle!) but after my rest and grounding on the frozen earth, I put my head through and felt the tree’s energies circling me. I stayed there for some minutes, exchanging energies.

Soggy, frozen field where rushes grow.

Finally I left the woodland and descending, found my field, again luckily frozen (there is a good reason why I haven’t walked this path before!) with many small rush plants growing now the cows have been moved. I picked a few stalks from several until I had enough, they would make small crosses this year but size wasn’t important. In fact, I found later they behaved very well without splitting as thicker stalks can. Frozen myself, I put all in my rucksack, gloves back on my hands, crossed the stream and began the long walk back up the hill to home. I had a celebration to prepare for.

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Three Hares Quilt

Here is a project I had in mind for a few years before actually making. I explored various hare ideas, and then last summer sketched out a plan, yet it still took me until April to actually start making it – and until now to get it hung on the wall. Clearly it has its own perfect timing!

Three Hares Quilt
(Click to enlarge)


There is a lot of symbolism in this quilt; some personal, and some more general. The Three Hares is an ancient symbol seen in China, Ukraine, Iran, France, Germany, and several places in Britain, particularly Devon. They were mostly made from 6th century to 15th century and follow the old Silk Road trading route, although the majority are in Germany and England, particularly Devon. Most appear in Christian churches, often near to a Green Man, but also in synagogues, Buddhist caves, Mosques and on ceramics. Interpretations of the meaning vary widely.

I have chosen to make this symbol into a wall-hanging for our home partly because the hare is the only one of my spirit animals that is also loved by the rest of my family, but also because there are three of us in our family, all dependent upon each other. I wanted to celebrate and strengthen that bond.

Making the quilt posed a number of challenges, and used some techniques that were new to me.

The gold disc (is it the sun or the moon?) was inspired by a Klimt painting using random rectangles of gold patterns, but I didn’t want to create something that was so random it was impossible to cut or to sew. So each quarter has rotational symmetry, and there is a Brigid Cross in the centre.

The outside border was going to be more random in terms of widths, but this more equal layout seemed the simplest method for sewing. I still had a problem that the inner disc quadrants came out slightly small, something I possibly should have anticipated, while the outer sections came out wider, requiring some adjustment when joining the quarters.

The hares were made using a pattern drawn onto interfacing, cutting it out and ironing it onto the fabric, and then folding the fabric under this, as I did for the Pooh Bear Map quilt a couple of years ago. The eye holes didn’t want to fold under neatly, so I cut them out and then satin stitched the red fabric in place. The rest was stitched in place through all layers of the quilt.

Celtic knotwork is not something I have tried before in fabric, although I have drawn many over the past 20 years or so. But when I saw ready-made gold bias tape for sale, I realised that would be an ideal solution for this project. Usually knotwork is designed to fit the space available, rather than having a pre-set line width as I had, so trying to work out how many crossing points to allow made this more challenging for me. Also I needed to include the corners in the design rather than just the border, which is not something I have done before, so I had to do a lot of thinking and exploring to work this problem out. In the final corner design, based on a double triquetra, it proved unexpectedly easier to do in bias tape than to draw. I would ideally have liked a single continuous line through the whole border, but with an even number of crossing points this was not going to happen! Instead it is four interconnected lines, which fits with the symmetry of the rest of the design.

Actually making the knotwork proved trickier than I expected – not least because there are no simple instructions on the bias tape packet! After puzzling over it for several days, I found an internet tutorial which luckily explained the method to me in about two minutes – draw the complete design onto greaseproof paper, iron the tape in place, peeling off where it needs to be woven underneath. Once complete, pull the paper off, transfer to the fabric, iron in place, sew in place. Practice is of course harder than the theory, for three reasons I might improve on next time. First the design gets covered as you go so I went the wrong side in my ‘crossings’ a couple of times and had to correct them, which I don’t normally have a problem with when drawing. Second there may be better paper available than the one I used as the design stuck too firmly, making peeling off very tricky. And third, after ironing the bias tape onto fabric it didn’t stay stuck very well especially when folding the quilt into the machine for the sewing, so I had to partially pin it in place. Also there is an awful lot to sew around, with threads needing cutting at every crossing point, which I somewhat underestimated even knowing I needed nearly 10m of bias tape…

Finally, the edging. I repeatedly held different dark blue fabrics along the edge, and some gold or red fabrics, over several days. Nothing looked right. Eventually it came to me that it didn’t want a single colour, it needed several. Given I was rather short on most of the colours anyway, this worked in my favour. However, after all the days I had wasted in not doing the border when my sewing machine was needed for other things, I gave up on calculating what size to make the pieces or how many I needed and just pay attention to any intuitive messages that came. I used every piece I cut in a long strip, and had just over an inch to cut off at the end. I could never have calculated this as accurately.

The finished quilt size is just under 18” square. I was able to use several scrap fabrics for the quilt, but around half were purchased new, leaving more for my stash. Such seems to be the cyclical way of my quilting.

A Soggy Imbolc

I am feeling a bit of a theme to Sabbats at the moment – all of the recent ones seem determined to get me wet! However it was not from above that I got a soaking, but from below.

I like to make Brigid Crosses to honour the goddess at this time of year, and although I have used crocosmia stems from my garden successfully in the past, this year they were well past it and shredded for compost. So instead I went on a search for the traditional plant used, the common or field rush, Juncus effusus, being a good Brigid green all year.

Rushes are not a plant that grow in abundance where I live – which is on the top of a hill – even in this damp year we have been having. However a drainage ditch put in a few years ago alongside a minor road a short distance from me has been colonised by some very interesting flora, including rushes. So on Sunday afternoon, once the rain had stopped, we had a family walk returning by way of the ditch so that I could cut a few stems.

This year the timing of the verge cutting left no rushes growing out of the top of the ditch. The only plants with leaves long enough to cut where those growing low down near the water level, out of the sides of the gabions from which the ditch is constructed. It wasn’t deep, I had wellies on, so I jumped in next to the first likely looking plant – and yes was able to cut several stems that were suitable. But not enough for a cross, unless I left the poor plant with nothing left to grow from. (There is not an abundance of rushes here!) So I asked for a hand out of the ditch, and then stepped down again at the next place where there were three rush plants growing close together. All good, until I tried to climb out again.

Having moved downstream, the layer of mud in the bottom of the concrete-lined ditch was about twice as deep as my first place. Wellie was not released by said mud, and instead bent over at the top and filled with water. Result: one very wet foot. The rushes were exacting their payment. Brigid was anointing me with her water. And I was laughing too hard to do anything.

The strange thing is since that event, I have felt her presence very strongly back in my life, guiding me forward. I have been exploring other directions a little over the winter, and become very aware of Elen of the Ways, the only horned goddess, amongst others. I realise that each year I seem to experience a different goddess in Winter when Brigid is less present, Danu and Hecate both having been strong forces in recent years. Yet now Spring has returned it is Brigid again, with her crafting skills in particular. It is a familiar, comforting and relaxing feeling to return to what I know. However, she has been showing me how I can use my own crafting skills to bring more love into the world thus taking what I know to a new level, as well as how I can work with water, Earth’s “living love”, to honour the Earth and help bring healing. I will of course be writing as much as I am able here, fulfilling the third of Brigid’s three aspects…