Archive for the ‘Native Awareness’ Tag

June craft work

Here are some of the crafts I’ve been working on since the last meeting of the Earth Living twelve month programme. Pictured here is a crocheted bag, primitive pottery, a leather flask, a new basketmaker-style atlatl and a new bow drill.

The crocheted bag is my first real attempt at using pattern, and I feel that it came out well, although the patterned section draws in narrower, so I need to work on my tension when changing yarns. It was originally intended to be a quiver, but came out too wide. I’m going to try again though and hopefully create a quiver using the same principle, but perhaps a different pattern.

Next up is a new bow drill bow made of hazel. This bow is flexible to help the string grip the spindle and counter the effect of string stretch. It is intended to be used with natural cordage, either plant or animal. I will get around to making a proper rawhide string at some point but this one is corded jute. As natural string is more liable to wear than nylon it helps to hold the bow at an angle to prevent it rubbing against itself on the spindle. As a result the bow needs to be shorter to prevent hitting the ground. This one’s about 16 inches.

The back of the bow has the bark left on for decorative effect, though I would like to get hold of a rawhide snake skin at some point and use it to back a bow drill bow. The handhold is a black stone I found near the river, but I need to spend some time pecking out the hole.

Also pictured above is a rawhide bottle I made to store coal extender. It’s sewed with linen thread and sealed with hide glue. The stopper is a section of buddleia stalk.

This is another bottle I made, this time as a flask for liquids. It’s make out of vegetable tanned leather sewn with linen thread, and with a hazel stopper. It still needs waterproofing with beeswax. This flask was really just a prototype of a bigger flask I hope to be able to carry a serious amount of water in. This is currently in production, as pictured. Once I’ve made the bigger flask I shall waterproof them both together. I may end up using the smaller one as a medicine flask.

Next up is my second atlatl, this time a basketmaker style at about 23 or 24 inches. It’s made of hazel stained with walnut husk stain. The spur is bone and the finger grip is jute soaked in hide glue. The atlatl is slightly flexible to help even out the distribution of force and give the dart an extra zing. I’m pretty pleased with it, apart from the fact the pith of the wood is visible on the surface of the atlatl which detracts from it slightly. The stain came out a lot darker than I intended but I quite like it in contrast to the white spur.

Finally these are my unfired primitive coil pots, some of which I produced on the last part of the Earth Living course and some since. We’ll be firing these next week at the next meeting. Fingers crossed that they’ll survive! I’ll post a picture of any that do when I come back.


First meeting of the Native Awareness twelve month programme

Last weekend was the first long weekend of the Earth Living twelve month programme. I’ll try not to give too much away for those who might be thinking of signing up to the programme next year, but refer to the topics as listed on the Native Awareness website.

The main thing I took from the weekend was the camaraderie between the students, instructors and volunteers. Spending time with like-minded people was (as always) a pleasure, and we bonded well as a team, which bodes well for the survival immersion week next April, which we are all working towards. This is when we venture into the wilderness for a week with only the clothes we are standing in and the authentic primitive tools we have made throughout the year.

This first weekend was focused on advanced skills and crafts. I really enjoyed the pottery making and intend to find and process some of my local clay to make more of the utensils we’ll need in the immersion quest, hopefully in time for us to fire them communally at the next meeting in June. I managed to make a small pinch pot, larger coil pot and small oil lamp at the weekend, but have lots of ideas and inspiration for other pots I’d like to make.

Advanced bow drill was a revelation, and I’ve taken away lots of tips that will help me better understand, and become more proficient in, this type of firemaking. You never stop learning with the bow drill, and I’m already thinking about building my next set, in accordance with the time-tested theory that the more love and attention you put into your kit, the better the attitude with which you approach the process of firemaking, and the more successful you will hopefully be.

The other thing I took away from the weekend was the experience of finding and purifying water and foraging for wild edibles. These experiences brought me closer to the environs of the camp in all sorts of ways. Learning the skills of survival is not just about dealing with extreme situations; its about re-discovering our relationship with the natural world by removing the fear and distrust that separates modern humans from nature. Only when we can enter the wilderness with nothing, and without fear, can we re-establish the communication our ancestors enjoyed with the world… and our spirits so crave today.

Earth Living twelve month programme

In May I intend to start Earth Living, the new twelve month programme offered by the Native Awareness school. The course will expand on some of the subjects already covered in Native Skills 1 and 2, as well as teaching many new and advanced skills.

The programme consists of nine structured sessions throughout the year, supplemented by an element of supported self study.

The climax of the class will be the survival immersion, where we will go out onto the landscape as a small tribe. We will carry with us very little equipment apart from the tools, crafts and provisions that they have made during the year.  The survival immersion will also be a celebration of our journey during the year.

I will keep an account of my experiences of the Earth Living course here, which I am anticipating is going to be one of the most demanding, and hopefully rewarding, things I have ever done.

Warriors of the Plains

On Friday I went to see the Warriors of the Plains exhibition at the British Museum. The exhibition focuses on the material culture of Native North American Indians of the Plains between 1800 and the present, and the importance of the objects in a social and ceremonial context.

Highlights for me were the buffalo skin robe at the entrance to the exhibition, decorated with scenes of warfare and the exploits of the owner/maker, such as horse stealing. The stylistic rendering of the human figures and horses was beautifully simple and evocative and I made a few sketches to influence my own creations.

I’m planning to make a ‘coup stick’, a couple of which were on display in the exhibition. These are short clubs that were used to touch enemies without harming them. To do this without getting caught was a deed of great skill and honour. It reminded me of some of the games we played on Native Skills 1 and 2.

I also viewed the permanent displays of Native American artefacts and was impressed by the delicacy of some of the coil baskets and clay pots and the simplicity and effectiveness of their designs. I was drawn to the creations of some of the Northern-most peoples, including walrus ivory wrist guards, bow drill bows, harpoons and composite bows.

Lots of inspiration and ideas for my next creations! I would recommend the Warriors of the Plains exhibition to anyone who happens to be in London. It runs from 7 January to 5 April 2010 in the exhibition space on level 4.

Bow drill set

I’ve just finished a new (bow drill) bow to go with the set I used on Native Skills 2. You can use any old stick as a bow, providing it’s roughly the right length and thickness – but it can also be a good idea to create a nice one yourself, imbuing it with your own intentions and personality. Creating fire from wood is a ceremony, and the more respect and gratitude with which you approach it the better you will be rewarded. And successfully creating a coal isn’t the only type of reward – failure can teach you just as much, if not more, about the materials and your own attitude and mood.

I’m going to try to get into the habit of using the set every day, especially if I do the Native Awareness year course in 2010.

Rabbit skin pouch

I hope the above image and accompanying post isn’t offensive to any vegetarian or vegan readers. This is the rabbit skin pouch I have recently finished from the rabbits we skinned on Native Skills 2.

We were shown how to process the rabbits by a top-class chef (and lovely man) called Quentin, who explained to us how they had been killed and the importance of demonstrating gratitude to our rabbit brothers and sisters who had forfeit their lives so that we could eat. We took a rabbit each or in pairs and set about the task of skinning and butchering them.

The meat was ground into mince by Ben and Nicki to make rabbit burgers for that evening’s meal. The burgers were delicious, and Quentin also showed us how to make saltimbocca by wrapping the tenderest cuts of rabbit in prosciutto with a sage leaf, before flash frying them. Food always seems to taste more ‘real’ and authentic when cooked and eaten outdoors, but the fact that we had butchered the meat ourselves added an extra dimension to the meal.

The skins were salted and put into bags ready for us to collect at the end of the week. I’m not sure if the one I went home with was the one I skinned or someone else’s, but it was a good job with very little flesh left on it. When I got home I washed out the salt and pulled off the remaining flesh with my fingers. This was easy to do, though the skin was quite delicate at this stage and was prone to tearing. I then tacked the skin out on a board and left it to dry.

After a day it was supple and skin-like, and after a week it was beginning to go dry and papery to the touch. I unpinned it and used hand cream to soften it, stretching the skin as I went. Once the cream had been worked in and dried, I was ready to start making the pouch.

I cut out the two shapes I needed and sewed them together using linen thread. The skin was surprisingly easy to sew and yet at the same time strong. After sewing I turned the pouch fur-side out and whip stitched two lengths of raffia cord around the mouth of the pouch for a reinforced (and decorative) edging. These lengths were then reverse wrapped together to form the strap of the pouch. I added a bead fastener to finish the pouch off.

All the while I was making the pouch I remembered the rabbit that lost its life. When it was complete I took it to a favourite spot by the river near where I live to make another offering of sage and tobacco to its memory.

I’ve had mixed responses to the fact that I use animal materials to make things, and the fact that I am prepared to kill animals for food, but the fact is… I eat meat. I would much rather that it was killed and processed with respect and awareness – and be involved the process – than unthinkingly eat intensively farmed meat that has been treated as nothing more than a resource. The separation in many people’s minds between animals and meat ‘products’ has become widespread in our society, both a symptom and cause of the continuing industrialised animal abuse that fuels our desire for cheap meat, poultry, eggs and milk.

Additional images by Emily Heath, with thanks.

Fishing spearheads

Here are three fishing spears I have just finished.

The one on the right was the one I started on Native Skills 2. It is made from a single piece of sycamore split into four and held apart with spacers. This is done when the wood is green, and as it seasons it holds the split and the initial spacers can be replaced with finished ones. Each prong is carved into a spike with a barb.

The other two spearheads are ones that I have made since NS2. The one on the right is made of hazel on the same principle as the first, but with only two prongs instead of four. The barbs are made of bone secured with pine pitch and sinew. The centre spearhead is the only one that is not one piece. The main spike and body was carved from sycamore and the three outer prongs are made from hazel, with bone barbs.

All three spearheads are made to be hafted to simple split spears and bound with cord. All are intended to have a degree of flex to them so that they stretch around the fish’s body and grip, increasing the chance of a catch.


This week I finished the arrow I started on Native Skills 2. Arrowmaking is a demanding subject requiring the same patience and care as bowmaking… if not more. The difficulty, and art of it, comes in persuading a naturally deviating piece of wood into a uniform straightness, a nearly impossible task that reminded me a lot about the importance of being guided by nature rather than expecting it to yield to our human ideals.

The shaft of the arrow was one I harvested from the riverbank near where I live. I was not familiar with the tree from which it came, and nor could the instructors at the Native Awareness school immediately identify it. After further discussion and research we think it could be a variety of privet, seeded from a nearby garden hedge. Whatever it is, it makes a wonderfully stiff arrow shaft, so much so that one of the mistakes I made in creating this arrow was that I could have got away with making it a lot thinner. As it is, I would say that the arrow is spined for a much stronger bow than mine, perhaps 60lbs.

I had already begun to straighten the shaft during the seasoning process, which I sped up by keeping it on the dashboard of my car. Around the campfire I stripped the bark and heated the shaft to bend out some of the final kinks, before sanding it and cutting the notches. The arrowhead was cut and filed from cow bone, bevelled to the centreline and notched in the side-barb style. Once home, it was hafted onto the shaft using the pine pitch I made last week, and secured in place with deer sinew. The fletchings are of turkey feather and secured to the shaft with sinew.


Larkhill Tipis

We’ve just come back from four beautiful days at Larkhill Tipis in West Wales. Larkhill is a wonderful site run by Fran and Tony and combines a picturesque location with all the facilities you’ll need. The site is ecologically friendly from the water which is supplied from a local spring to the compost toilets.

The tipi was extremely comfortable and we cooked some lovely meals over the open fire, using some of the plentiful supplies of site-grown firewood. I took the opportunity to make some pine pitch for various projects, using pine resin, charcoal and egg shells (from the free range hens wandering around the site) to make two pitch sticks (lower right image). I used some of the pitch to haft my arrowhead on the arrow I started on Native Skills 2. It’s nearly finished and I’ll post pictures here when it’s done.

Larkhill tipi holiday

We also visited Oakwood, Castell Henllys Iron Age Hill Fort and the National Wool Museum. We hope to return to Larkhill in the future.

Group shot from Native Skills 2

Photography by Ben Tanner –

Native Skills 2 group shot