21 February 2016

Communing with the inner Paleo

Once upon a time people couldn't go into Kmart and come out with various bits of technology essential to comfortable living. I'm not only talking about the latest labour-saving kitchen gadget, no. Just imagine life without needles, buttons, knives, hairpins, string, sewing thread, fish hooks, woven fabric, combs . . .

I've just spent a very enjoyable weekend with Iris and Rita, a pair of enthusiastic young students of traditional crafts who are currently in Tasmania teaching a series of  workshops in ancient skills. This weekend was Working with Bone. Vegans and those of delicate sensibilities might like to go off and read something else at this point.

Ten eager participants turned up at the studio clutching standard workshop safety gear – ear, eye and breathing protection – and an assortment of lethal-looking knives. Our tutors had tracked down an abattoir that processes venison, and a pile of dismembered deer legs was laid out on the table when we arrived.

Our first task was to skin them, separating out the main sinews, peg out the skins for drying and clean the bones. Having cut up and otherwise processed a variety of livestock over the years, I had no problems at all with this phase. Neither did any of the other workshop participants – all of whom were mature, no-nonsense women from various different craft backgrounds. 

Work in progress: a couple of pieces of skin, bone ready for trimming and cleaning, pieces of sinew to be used later as sewing thread, hooves that can be cleaned and used for a variety of decorative purposes, a few pieces of bone trimmed to length and the tools I used. Converting that entire table-full of deer-bits into craft materials took all the first day.

We returned next morning and set to with fretsaws, hacksaws, files, drills and sanders to create little masterpieces. These are some of the things our tutors had made as examples and inspiration. I made a whistle similar to these from a mutton bone many years ago; it didn't work very well, but I thought it was OK for a first try. Now I know how to do it, I'll tackle some more bits and pieces just for fun in between all my other busy-nesses.

Meanwhile, I made the little knife at the top of the page; it might not look much, but it took a lot of work scraping, filing and sanding to get a nice shape and a satisfyingly sharp edge to it. And I had modern tools. What if I'd had to start out by chipping a few good, sharp bits of flint to work with before I even started? Not to mention having to go out and hunt my beast . . . Hooray for Bunnings, say I.

By the way, if you think you'd like to do one of these workshops, you can contact Nanna at Studio Zona: nanna@nannabayer.com or phone 047 591 8259.