“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams
We are so fortunate here at camp to have the extra time to slow down and be creative. As head of Curosty, the weaving activity here at Rockbrook, I see firsthand everyday the results of this extra time. From circle weavings to baskets to woven headbands, the girls have made many a woven ware that they may not have had the chance to at home. Along with this opportunity to nourish their creative selves, the girls are also afforded the freedom to make what I like to call “creative mistakes.”
A creative mistake isn’t your conventional mistake. It isn’t a roadblock. It’s not a signal to rip up your project, throw it in the trash, and start all over again. It is a mistake that can lead to a new way of doing something and, as a result, lead to a more interesting finished project. It may feel disruptive in the moment, but when embraced, it is a thing of creative beauty.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear campers nervously proclaiming, “I made a mistake!” as they drop their project onto the table in defeat. I very quickly tell them there is no such thing as a mistake in Curosty, and encourage them to keep going with their project. Bumps of yarn sticking up from a woven bookmark makes for a cool texture. Running out of time to weave a rug turns into a little mat for your cat. Just recently, I had a camper who was working on a circle weaving make the decision to veer from weaving in the circle shape because she wanted to cover up the blue yarn she no longer liked. Her finished weaving had dashes of yarn across the center making for a really neat design with unexpected pops of color.
At school or at work we are not always given the space to make mistakes, but here at camp it is welcomed as a tool for learning and discovery. There is value in making mistakes in a creative endeavor because it can turn into something uniquely you.
As a camper once told her Curosty classmates: “The quirks are how you know it’s not from a store.”
When girls select the craft activity we call “Hodge Podge,” they learn what could be described as a camp tradition: how to make a tie-dye t-shirt. Made popular in the 1960s, but before that practiced in West Africa for centuries, tie-dying found its way to summer camps. And judging by all the stripes, swirls and ribbons of color seen on t-shirts around camp, that tradition of using dye to decorate clothing is clearly still strong at Rockbrook. The process starts by soaking your cloth (usually a t-shirt, but anything cotton will do… Socks, bandannas, or pillow cases, for example) in a solution of urea which helps keep the cloth damp when the dye is applied. Next the cloth is twisted, folded or tied with rubber bands into repeating patterns like spirals, v-shapes, or bullseyes. Then, using plastic squirt bottles, you carefully drip different water-based colored dyes onto the cloth. After a day of letting the dye “set,” is very exciting to untie the cloth and discover how the dyes have blended and been absorbed differently where the rubber bands were tight. As you can see from this photo, the result are eye-popping!
This morning Andy and Emily led a group of campers on a canoe trip down a short section of the French Broad River. This river has its headwaters near the town of Rosman (still in Transylvania County, where Brevard is the county seat) not far from camp, and as it slowly grows in size, it passes by the Rockbrook Camp property adjoining several of our horseback riding pastures. This is very convenient because it allows us to begin a canoe trip upstream, and, as was the case today, paddle to a point on camp property to take out. There are several public places to put on the river so we can run a shorter or longer trip depending on the skills of the paddlers and the amount of time we have available. Today the girls had excellent sunny weather and spent a good hour and a half out on the water. The French Broad ultimately forms the Tennessee River, and from there leads to the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi River. So I suppose if we had enough time (i.e., probably a few months), Rockbrook girls could start at camp and paddle all the way to New Orleans!
Another event at Rockbrook that has become a tradition is a visit to the local ice cream stand known as “Dolly’s Dairy Bar” or just “Dolly’s” for short. I would guess every child in the area, certainly all the children at Rockbrook, believes Dolly’s has “the best ice cream in the world,” as one camper assured me. So it’s a big deal to stop and sample one of the unique flavors offered, flavors named after the 20 or so nearby summer camps. For example, there is “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Falling Creek Fantasy,” “Green River Plunge,” and so forth. Each of these camp flavors is a different combination of ice cream and toppings already mixed in, and they are wonderful. Today after lunch we took two cabins of Junior campers to Dolly’s and had a grand time sitting outside licking our cones and posing for photos (often with freshly signed— by Dolly herself —stickers). Ultimately, the idea of making an “ice cream mustache” caught on and got a little messy, but that’s the kind of fun that’s easily cleaned up with a few napkins in the end.
Our evening program tonight was something we call “Jug Band,” an all-camp campfire that included live music and costumes in the spirit of traditional, though in a “Hee-Haw” inspired way, Appalachian culture. The counselors and campers dressed in their best overalls, straw hats, and flannel, braided their hair in pigtails, and painted freckles on their cheeks to complete the look. With three guitars, a banjo, ukelele and plenty of makeshift instruments like shakers and other “jugs” to play, we enjoyed a program of sing-a-long songs punctuated by jokes and short skits. “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountian,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Wagon Wheel” were the clear favorites, even inspiring some dancing as well as singing. With the crickets chirping along and the occasional bullfrog from the lake contributing a note now and then, the whole camp sounded great. Great camp fun, and an excellent way to end the day.
It just wouldn’t be camp without making a lanyard. That flat colorful cord, twisted and tied, seems to be a part of every girl’s summer arts and crafts. Even camp alumni speak fondly of learning to make decorative lanyards.
There are lots of patterns to tie also. Have you seen these four? That first pattern to the left is called the “Diamond Braid” or “Round Braid.” Like most of these braids, getting started is the hardest part. This one is unique too because it’s more braiding that tying knots, and will require a knot at the end to keep it from unraveling.
The second one is usually called the “Cobra Braid” because it makes a flat lanyard reminiscent of a cobra’s head. Some people also call it the “Ladder Knot.” If you know how to tie a square knot, or even how to tie your shoes, you’ll be able to make this lanyard.
The third pattern is probably the best known camp lanyard pattern. Known as the “Box Braid” or the “Square Braid,” it makes a regular 4-sided strand. The important things for this arts and crafts project is keeping your strands straight and your knots tight.
The last pattern shown here is a variation on the box braid, and is usually called the “Round Braid.” To make it, use the same 4-strand weaving knot, but each new knot makes a slight turn crossing over (rather than parallel to) the previous knot. Like all these patterns, you repeat the knot and braiding over and over until your lanyard is long enough or you run out of cord.
Don’t forget that these are just starting points. You can combine them, switch from one the other, add a twist to a strand, or maybe even add a bead to create your own summer arts and crafts project. Go ahead and experiment, and you’ll have something really cool.