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"Our destiny is written in the hand."
Renate Hiller, co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York

Practicing mindfulness. Paying attention. Listening generously.

For Renate Hiller, the fiber artist whom you see in the film above, these majestic phrases apply in all their richness. Her German lilt of the tongue reaffirms this exquisite eloquence as she connects the importance of using our hands with the way in which we understand and find value in ourselves and in others. There’s something so honest and pure about her thought — that we gain a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our own humanity and our greater world by using our hands.

Using our hands grounds us — in work and in relationship. As we create something, hopefully beautiful, with our hands, we are transforming our moral and social senses. We evolve; we change. We notice things that we passed over the day before: the curve in a sidewalk to make way for a tree in the boulevard, the purl of a scarf, the transition of a capital that greets the ceiling. We observe the mundane and see it anew. The process of creating through the hands becomes a spiritual practice.

Ms. Heller strings together so many “threads” that help me think about raising children; about living a fuller, more physically experiential work life (yes, even about writing marginalia in a script rather than using the track changes option in Word); about hearing differently the many stories from folks who write in to the program, especially the passionate accounts of people and their gardens.

She also reminds me of something Joanna Macy told Krista in a recent interview (show to be released on September 16th):

"I'm looking at my hand right now as we talk. It's got a lot of wrinkles ‘cause I'm 81 years old. But it's linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand was shaped by when it was a fin in the mother seas, where life was born. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the first — what Thomas Berry calls ‘the primal flaring forth,’ the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."

And, for those who are unable to watch the video, here’s a transcript:

Renate HillerRenate Hiller
"On Handwork"

I’m spinning wool with a stone spindle. This tool has been used probably for more than 30,000 years. And when we twist fibers into yarn we are actually creating a spiral. And the spiral is a cosmic gesture of creation.

When we look at our galaxy from outer space it is a spiral. And we find spirals in many, many places — in the plant world — on the back of our head we have a spiral. So, this is an activity that brings us closer to the cosmos, you could say. But at the same time we create something that is useful and beautiful because with the yarn that we have spun we can create sweaters, hats and mittens and scarves and so on.   To have the skill of knitting, to have the skill of crocheting, of felting, makes it possible for us not only to make something but it makes us skilled in general. The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and from also what other human beings are doing. The whole social element comes into play as well because if I make something then I think ‘Hmmm, how was that yarn made?’

In the past there were all the professions of the shoemaker and the tailor and so on, and that’s also being lost. If you do practical work somewhere on the school grounds, there is practical work going on. The children will all go to that. They’re really drawn to that. They want to experience it and however the reality is that there’s less and less of that. In the home, you know you can use already bought vegetables, all chopped up and ready to eat. There is very little activity like kneading the bread, and you know children grasp first an item and then they grasp with their mind. So if they have very little to grasp other than plastic readymade toys then what their mind grasps is very little. The toy automatically moves and you know children can only be kind of astonished by that.

So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today. Because we’re so egocentric and this makes us think of what is needed by something else. So we are in a way practicing empathy — empathy with the material, empathy with the design. I think this practicing of empathy that we do in the fiber crafts is paramount for being healing to our world. And it’s a service for the divine that we are surrounded by.

(A special thanks to Dorit of the Gerðandisgleðir blog for making connections.)

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49 Comments

This is beautiful.

I always knew that there was a wonderful explanation for my love of using my hands to make things.It is lovely to have it explained so beautifully .

Very eloquently stated. So many philosopical and social implications to her observations. The Waldorf tradition of childhood education integrates handwork into its curriculum wonderfully, echoing many of the themes stated by Hiller.

I have a friend who taught at a Waldorf school for some years before having children. Being a kid who was raised in the middle of the Plains, this formal methodology is foreign to me; but, the ideas behind it are not since I am a product of farming families and a love of the land — and all that goes with it. Cheers!

Renate Hiller stated the spiritual elements within the creative process so eloquently. I have a BFA in fiber art, and I still feel the most centered when my fingers are experiencing anything with an interesting, natural texture. And the rhythms used to spin wool, to knit, to weave, very quickly lull me into a very meditative, peaceful state. Working with natural yarns is especially powerful. Can’t you picture the three Fates at work, as you watch Renate spin?

Renate's work and her wonderful perspective on work remind me of the wonderful PBS series "Craft in America."

"Blessed are they who have found their work"

What a beautiful sermon!

Ora et Labora.

so many things to like in this. the thoughts of service, of dexterity (physical and mental), of getting to the root of things and understanding our materials.
thank you for so eloquently stating what was once natural and obvious in a world that more and more views these things as remote and strange.

This is very moving for me -- in 2006 I was awarded a Lilly Grant (one for sabbaticals for working pastors) in order to explore much of what Renate Hiller speaks. I knit and have found the mystery of something happening in this work that is also healing and centering and a connector to the world and others for me. It's the hand thing. I have often meditated upon the psalmist's words in regard to these things: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the workd of our hands--O prosper, the work of our hands!" -- Psalm 90:17

What an oasis in the day to see this see this lovely video! There is a calmness and rootedness that comes from her words, these simple acts of creation made by hand. Yes, mostly we whiz by at the speed of light, missing texture, context, and roots that serve a purpose. Three cheers for slowing down, feeling the texture, and creating something simple.
Lovely! I feel better already and long to get my fingers busy again so my mind can be free.

Thank you Renate Hiller, you understand, and my friend who sent me this link understands. I also think knitting a project like socks, teaches us to take life one thing at a time, because that is how you knit. as Debbie Macomber says in "A Good Yarn, (paraphrasing) And it is meditative - because anything you do repetitively becomes meditative after about 20 mins., according to Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. Its news to me that there is a spiral on the back of my head.

Thanyou for this reminder of the reason behind what we wool workers do each day. It is necessary for humanity in the bigger sense than just our own satisfaction!

Thank you. Sometimes I forget the importance of teaching the young. I'm going to push harder to make sure I leave this legacy of fiber I was given by my grandparents.

Thank you for speaking so eloquently for us, the handwork teachers! Beautiful!

Thank you for your eloquent words . The spiral is certainly central to our affinity to the cosmos. It rules our life from DNA to the Milky Way....I say. Both in growth and destruction. Its only possible opposite ,if humans can think to challenge such a force ,is the cross. It is a futile defense but it acts to reassure many somehow.
I like the symbolic unison between the spiral of a clock spring and the cross of the clock face. Time!.

I also like the etymological chain for the origin of the word Craft, Kraft (as you know from German...power) and the ancient Greek kra...which is a component of Demo-cra-cy ,Bureau-cra-cy. I am sure it goes back further but i haven't found from where yet.

This is lovely ~ I agree that when I knit, it is very meditative. I have knit sooooo many hats, cats, socks and sweaters for others. It is one way to serve and love others.

What wisdom Renalte has imparted to us all. This is not only beautiful but necessary.

Wonderfully said. I haven't read anything this special on the internet in a very long time. Thank You!

This film on the handmade life is do dear to my heart & soul . Thank you for exsorssing it with such tender inspiration.

Would like for our granddaughter to see this for her to know about raising our great granddaughter. She needs to know this and she will love it. Very well done. Thanks.

My Niece sent me this, Thought I might enjoy the poetry in the words and world of fiber, and how right she was. I enjoyed this clip but most of all my heart is warmed by the thoughtfulness of my Niece and that she knows me. We have family members that we hardly know and when birthdays come along we have no Idea what to give them because we don't really who they are. How proud I feel that she know the very passion of my joy... I love You Vanessa you are truly Precious to my heart.. Thank You..

Watching this literally brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps. When I was young my grandmother taught me how to crochet, everything she knew how to do she taught me. I took everything she taught me and was hungry to learn more. I started learning how to do intricate stitches and patterns, and learned to knit. She taught me that if I take the time to slow down and pay attention to details I can do anything. I don't buy sweaters anymore, or scarves, or hats because I make them. Each time I finish a project I send her pictures and tell her that it was her dedication to teaching me, her knowledge that has made these things come to be. I would rather receive something handmade full of love than a storebought item anyday.

this is beautiful, I so agree with her. Everyday at least #a bit of work with my hands with materials from nture to create something beautiful with respect for mother earth".
So glad I only had handdriven tools when my children were young, there was never a danger for them joining in :)
Thank you for sharine! Its being conscious about what one does that changes the world .

Simply beautiful!

A lovely lady, an inspirational message..After an arduous year recovering from multiple surgeries I found my joy again by baking bread, baking cakes and desserts! And it gave me that inner fulfillment of which she speaks!

Oh, this is just beautiful, so eloquently put. I am an anthropology student, a bodyworker, and a fiber artist myself. I just recently learned to hand spin as well. The hands connect us to ourselves, to each other and to those who have come before us so very powerfully. Bravo and thank you for sharing this film.

very nice-brought back lots of memories.

Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! Thank you for sharing :)

Informative. Very worth watching. Thank you!

Fantastic
Very inspirational

How true!:

So pleased to find Renate Hiller posted here at On Being. She is truly an inspiration. I have had the honor of working with her in the past and try to carry on her wisdom and approach to handwork and life. On Being is a wonderful platform to showcase Renate and the Fiber Craft Studio in New York.

This lady has a gentility and purity which reaches out and speaks an age old truth. She is a teacher of wisdom and magic and has found the very essence of the power in what we touch. I was profoundly moved by everything she said. I hope she knows how special she is.

What a beautiful and gentle explanation of creativity and rhe joy of working wirh your hands.

Wonderful wisdom by Renate! Truly, it's creativity like this that will teach us the empathy to change our desperate world.

So happy to see two of my favorites coming together, Renate Hiller with handwork and Krista Tippet. Coupled with Sherwin Nuland and his story and deep wisdom and I am filled with joy and great hope for the world. The intersections are happening, biology and spirit, handwork and public radio, and special thanks to Krita Tippet for bringing so much goodness, truth and beauty together is such an inspiring and powerful way.

This is why James, my BIL, was very happy when he saw that I was back doing my arts and crafts! Thanks James! You are often a life-saver!

What a wonderful spirit and energy this woman possesses......
An inspiration and wisdom to be learned from her words......
Thanks for sharing.
I am an author and artist.

I like that in this video Renate Hiller tries to link the movement of spinning to something very primal , the spiral found embedded in the cosmos and our own DNA. And I like that she points out how far we have removed ourselves from the original forms of things surrounding us and thus have lost our own basic original selves and that we need to re-introduce the hands-on learning experiences to children.
So well done. Thank you!

This was a most beautiful way to move into Monday. I couldn't agree more. As a potter, to work with my hands and create pieces of both beauty and utility is deeply satisfying. The clay tells me stories about the earth and keeps me both enthralled and humble.

Beautiful, heart affirming, thoughtful. Thank you from the heart & soul of another fiber lover.

Beautiful expression of my feelings about handwork. It's very fulfilling in my heart and mind. A spiritual and practical expression.

As a handicraft weaver this makes very good sense, My destiny has always been to work with my hands and mind to create unique textiles. Thank you for this.

After viewing the video, I walked away from my computer with a sense of peacefulness and joy. I was so glued to the words and Renate's voice was so calming. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have bookmarked the video and sent the url to almost everyone I know. peace, jacqui

The film was wonderful, to see the real value of handwork

Thank you, it was very beautiful! That helped me a lot.

Thank you for sharing, and especially for thinking of those who can not hear or see. Bless you!

I just love this site. Thank you,