Category: Life

Knee power

Corrie ten Boom asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

It’s a fair question. Psalm 145:18 says, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” With a promise like that, we can be encouraged to pray more than just over our meals. Just a couple of verses before Philippians 4:8, the driving verse for Inspiring Handmade, is verse 6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Maybe that’s where we sometimes get confused. Prayer is not the work toward some desired outcome; it is the desired outcome.

We’ve created a couple of pieces based on Patti’s Wire People sculptures to help keep prayer top of mind.

The Prayer Up! print from Patti’s Wire People sculpture is available here.
The Prayer Up! Journal is available here.

The old black walnut tree

photo of Patti Jones on her family's farm with the black walnut tree

I recently traveled back home to visit my mom for a few days on the family farm in Wythe County, Virginia. I love that farm, which has been in my family for so many generations. The living monument that has stood guard over the farm all these years is a huge black walnut tree. In its younger days, it served as a property marker. In recent years, the graceful old tree has offered a place to hold countless family picnics.

And to every generation, the tree has offered its treasures for each to do with as they pleased.

My grandfather, Homer Umberger, gathered the tree’s walnuts and created unique carvings, like the one you see below. He created a menagerie of carved animals and figures from the walnuts, which will be the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!

Photo of Honest Abe walnut sculpture
Honest Abe, by Patti’s grandfather, Homer Umberger.
Photo of bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti's grandfather Homer.
Bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti’s grandfather Homer.

My dad gathered the walnuts and cracked them to give away to friends and family who loved to bake with them.

Today I’m gathering my own black walnuts to make dye for my pine needle creations and homespun yarn (more on that in an upcoming post!). It makes me smile to think of all the family history that has played out on this grand green. I hope the old tree will be standing guard, and offering its treasures for many years to come.

Not everyone has an old walnut tree, but we all have something. What do you make with what you have? Share it with us in the comment box below. We’d love to read about it and, with your permission, share it with the Inspiring Handmade family.

What are you fishing for?

"Fishing with My Dad" wire and paper sculpture

As the summer winds down, school has started, or will soon start for students and families everywhere. There’s a rhythm to a new school year, isn’t there? The relatively relaxed pace of summer seems to reluctantly give way to the regimen of academic and athletic schedules. New books to read, new project deadlines, practices and games, and of course, the ever-quickening march toward Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and Christmas all take the place of slow, long days of sleeping in and staying up late. All of which can cause us to rush to squeeze in that last experience of summer freedom around this time of year.

Patti’s sculpture, Fishing with my Dad, part of her Wire People series, reminds me of this. Fishing just goes with lazy summer days like peanut butter goes with jelly. I’ve fished a little and I know there are those who take the sport quite seriously, but to my mind, there’s not a more low-key, relaxed activity that lets you still claim to actually be accomplishing something, or at least trying to. That probably doesn’t apply when you’re reeling one in, as the characters in this sculpture are doing.

And this time of year, a time of transition, finds many of us anticipating something. In a way, we’re all fishing. We’re standing at the water’s edge. You know the water’s edge? Where the land ends and the water and all that’s unknown under its surface, begins. That’s where we are in this season. We’re standing at autumn’s edge, where the summer ends and the autumn begins—autumn, and all that’s unknown, and yet to come in the course of its days. And we’re fishing. We’re looking, hoping for something.

Maybe it’s that last celebration of summer. Maybe we feel that summer slipped by too fast and we want to get the family away just one more time. We want to catch one more big one for the scrapbook, or Facebook, or Instagram feed, if you prefer.

Perhaps we’re looking ahead, casting out in front of us. Students might be fishing for a better school year. Teachers may be dropping in their lines hoping to pull up an engaged, motivated class. Parents may be angling for some balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and family time. Newly minted sixteen-year-olds may be casting about for a job, or their first car. But we’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

We’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something.

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and for good reason. It’s full of encouragement for those fishing for hope. It’s been cross-stitched on pillows and engraved on plaques and signs. And without a single survey to back up this statement, I’d speculate that it’s nearly as well known to a Christian audience as John 3:16.

But the backdrop of the verse is one of pain and suffering. It’s actually part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Jews who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and who were now living as exiles in Babylon. God was using their defeat and captivity at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to punish them for their rebellion and their many years of worshipping false gods. And yet, even in the midst of disciplining His own people, God gave them a promise and a reason for hope. They were told to live their lives in their new city, to grow their families, and to pray for and help their city to prosper. Then in verse 10, Jeremiah wrote these words of The Lord, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place.” His next sentence was the encouraging verse 11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares The Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Fishing for, and finding, hope in the midst of trials and despair was (and still is) possible because it’s The Lord Himself who promises good things for our future.

No matter what we’ve experienced in the past year, we stand at the edge of autumn and all the unknown that lies before us. And we’re fishing—and hoping, and trusting, or at least trying to.

A generation or two before Jeremiah, the prophet Isaiah looked around and saw that no one was as powerful and as caring as The Lord. So he wrote these words, which will be my mantra as I stand at this autumn’s edge. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too. “But those who trust in The Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NLT).

Tight lines and a great catch to you!

A precious gift

Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.

Recently I was given a very precious gift. My dear friend, Mrs. Emmaline Davis, gifted me with a handmade pine needle basket given to her many, many years ago. Knowing that I make pine needle baskets, she knew I would appreciate the workmanship and love that went into making that little treasure. It is so delicately constructed with just single needles and thread! I was so touched. I love Mrs. Emmaline and cherish her friendship, and I know this is a special basket that she has given to me. My “thank you” seems so insufficient.

Photo of Patti Jones and our good friend, Emmaline.
Patti and our good friend, Emmaline, during a recent visit. Emmaline shares a deep appreciation of the creative arts and a good story.
Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.
The delightful hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti. Shown with the top in place.

Maybe creativity and the arts are put to the noblest use when they serve to encourage others and deepen the relationships that bless our lives. In our world of plastic and prefabricated assembly line creations, a gift of creativity, time, and vision is increasingly rare and that much more to be appreciated.

For our readers in a sharing mood this week, drop us a note about a gift that has meant something special to you. It can be something you made and gave, or something someone else gave to you. Just use the box below. And let us know if we can share it with the rest of the Inspiring Handmade family!

When it’s okay to be a basket case

Green hand-woven pine straw basket

If you could name some of the threads woven through your life, what would they be? Do you see the thread of gratitude? How about praise? Do you see the threads that you want to be there? Are there any that you feel are too sparse or missing that you’d like to see more of?

In Deuteronomy 26, God instructs His people to bring their offerings to Him in baskets and present them to the priest. Later, in all four gospels, Jesus multiplies a meager offering of fish and loaves to feed thousands, and from that supply 12 baskets of leftovers were collected. There was nothing special about any of those baskets, but they represent something about the relationship God wants with us—one where we worship Him with offerings and praise, and He pours out blessings on those who respond to His love.

Far from the misguided prosperity gospels preached today, this is a picture of an intimate, personal relationship with the threads of praise and worship and blessing woven together throughout the story of a created people and a Creator God. Patti’s beautiful woven pine straw baskets are a decorative reminder of that intimate, interwoven relationship we can have today with our Creator. It’s difficult to tell where one pine needle ends and another one begins. Likewise, when we’re truly walking in a close relationship with God, it’s hard to separate the praises and worship from the blessings, as they often run together and over and around each other. Baskets of praise return as baskets of blessing in an eternal weave of love, grace, and gratitude.

Arc of the Summer Moon

The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood. Acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood.

In ancient times, the Israelite king, David, wrote, “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 reveal knowledge.” Created from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood and hardwood cut from the woods near the artist’s studio, The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture capturing the peaceful twilight of a summer evening. The moon’s low, lazy arc across the sky is a reminder of the arc of our lives. As it appears to rise up out of the earth, so we were created from the soil of earth, formed by the hand of God Himself, made in His own image, and filled with life from His own breath. And as the moon sets, it looks to us as if it returns to the earth, just as we will—dust to dust.
But in between its rising and setting, it does one thing superbly well—it reflects the light of the sun, and in doing that, it brightens our evenings and nights, spilling its light into the darker places, inspiring, and freely sharing its beauty with any who will glance its way. And isn’t that a picture of what God has designed each of us to do?

This piece by Stephen Rountree is created with acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood and hand stamped with the opening words of David’s Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Wherever it’s displayed, it is a uniquely beautiful reminder of this timeless truth: We get one arc across the sky—one life. And it’s not how, or when, we rise or set, but how well we’ve reflected the light of Son along our way.

Dandelions for Mom

Image of Dandelions for Mom, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Our moms have sacrificed for us, believed in us, and loved us unconditionally. When we were little, we tried to return that love as best we could with small hands offering small gifts from big hearts full from a mother’s love. That’s the inspiration for Patti’s sculpture, “Dandelions for Mom.”

Patti says, “I wish I had a dollar for every dandelion I gave my mom. I would be a very rich lady! What is it about a dandelion that a child cannot walk by it without picking it? I remember picking dandelions for my mom every spring. The best and biggest ones were in the back yard. Not sure why, but they were such beauties. Naturally, mom always acted like I had just given her a dozen roses when I would offer my pitiful little crumpled bouquet. She would then put them in a small jelly glass of water and set them in the window or in the center of the kitchen table. There they would stay until they totally withered away only to be replaced with another—a never-ending cycle of dandelion love.”

A single day is not nearly enough, but it’s your special day nonetheless. And so, to all mothers everywhere—and especially our moms, Inspiring Handmade wishes you a very happy Mother’s Day. We love you more than a fistful of dandelions! And that’s a lot.

First piece in a new series celebrates life

Image of Celebrate Life, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood by Patti Jones.

Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things

I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith.
I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love.
So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Wire People sculptures recall childhood, celebrate life’s singular moments

The first set of WirePeople is the Childhood Memories collection

Do you fight the tendency to overdo it? Many of us do! We over-eat, over-work, over-drink, over-stare-at-our-phones. Whatever it is, if one is good, two must be better! And we live in a consumer culture that has grown to glorify getting more and more stuff. So much so that now one of the most popular shows on television is all about getting rid of your things.

Sometimes, as the cliché goes, less really is more.

That has proven to be true for me as I’ve been exploring wire sculpture these past several months.

The “Wire People,” as I call these pieces, have become a major creative focus. I love how movement and emotion can be conveyed using only a few simple materials — scrap paper, wire, glue, and wood. The real power of the medium lies in the ability to “sketch” in 3D, so to speak. The wire is the line and the sculptures are essentially quick gesture drawings that capture a singular moment in time with an energy and joy that draws you in.

This first series has taken me back to my 1960s childhood on a farm in Southwest Virginia. Growing in the rich soil along with the corn and beans were faith, patriotism, sportsmanship, appreciation of nature and animals, and love. Those themes sprout and grow throughout these works just as they have grown in me.

So the Wire People in this series are autobiographical in many ways. The little girl on the tree swing is me. My grandfather built that swing for me in my back yard. It hung from a big old black cherry tree that faced the garden. I spent hours there every summer swinging and watching my grandfather work in the garden. Looking back, I’ll bet he chose that tree so he’d have a little company while he worked.

A tree, some rope, and a wooden seat. Simple, simple. Even most kids today could probably find thrills and contentment with those simple materials. We haven’t changed all that much, I suspect; it just takes more work now to keep it simple. It takes effort to stay focused on the important things in life and not allow ourselves to become distracted by one more thing. My Wire People remind me to keep it simple and focus on what’s true. What helps you keep your eyes on the things of real value?

Image of Girl on a Tree Swing, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.
In Girl on a Tree Swing, Patti Jones recalls the simpler days of childhood on her grandfather’s farm where he made a tree swing for her. Wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Welcome to Inspiring Handmade

In Christ sculpture in progress

We created Inspiring Handmade to celebrate original art and crafts—work on which we can feast our eyes and feed our souls.

We’re a group of artists and makers who believe that everyone is creative because we are all made in the image of The Creator of heaven and earth. We all have the spark of creation in us somewhere. And we all have a built-in, hard wired need to dwell on our Creator, to commune with Him.

Here, we explore the creative process of making original art—sculpture, painting, textile art and all sorts of craft work. And we celebrate unique and beautiful original creations which inspire us to be makers ourselves as we spend time with our Creator.

Inherent in the Inspiring Handmade vision is a secret from the book of Philippians. If you’re like us, you sometimes struggle to keep life from dragging you down. Seems there’s always too much to do, with no quiet time—no mental margin to just be still and rest.

Instead, explosions of images, text, and sound bombard our eyes and ears nearly every day, blasting their way into our minds. Emails, texts and instant messages merge with Facebook posts, 24/7 news blasts, and the latest cat video into a swelling spray of mental flak that shatters our peace.

Psychologists have coined various terms for this—information overload, infobesity, infoxication and others. Xerox even produced an amusing video on the subject a few years ago. You can see it here.

But jokes aside, mental flak can have negative consequences, deforming us into distracted, unproductive, ineffective, and inattentive people.

We don’t have to accept this as the norm, however. God offers peace and rest—a place of quiet shelter, like a cave hidden behind a deafening waterfall. He invites us inside, encouraging us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s patterns and behaviors. He offers a different way because our Maker, after all, has His own perfect pattern for our lives. We don’t have to remain pinned down under a hail of mental flak. God promises that we can be transformed. We can have our tired, frazzled minds renewed.

And that’s the big secret—one of the great treasures of Philippians found in chapter four verse eight. There we’re encouraged with these words: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul then follows up with the results of dwelling on these things, adding in verse nine, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Did you catch the promise there? “And the God of peace will be with you.”

In a world where we constantly receive information—often of the distressing variety—via an overwhelming number of channels, it’s more crucial than ever that we develop a habit of thinking on the true, the honorable, the pure, and anything that is praiseworthy.

When we surround ourselves with things that build up rather than tear down—art, writing, music, other people—we’re putting Philippians 4:8 into practice. We’re also putting ourselves in a place where God can recalibrate our sensitivities, and reinvigorate us. And that’s when we’ll experience genuine rest in the true peace that only comes from the ultimate Maker Himself.

Stop back in anytime to celebrate the creative and rest in the Creator!