Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Braiding, Memory, and the Smell of Palm Fronds

A distinctive aroma is the carrier of memories. It flies us faster than Pan Am to that exact moment in time when we smelled it before.

One whiff of the fresh sweet scent of palm fronds and I was back there in the Midwest sitting with the womenfolk on Palm Sunday afternoon. At Grandma's house, which was the place to go on Sundays afternoons, Mom, the aunts, numerous cousins, my sisters and I are all participating in the annual inter-generational craft of palm frond braiding.

Other years, after Grandma had passed on, my sisters and I would be at home with Mom in our living room in the early afternoon, after church and lunch, braiding the holy palms while they were still fresh and pliable.

Our little fingers started by splitting a long palm frond up the center into two pieces:

Then we would patiently fold the palm strips into interlocking loops. What we did not not know at the time is that we were making a centuries-old, two-loop braid.

You start by making a loop at the bottom end of each sliver of frond. One loop is slipped into the other. In the photo below, the loop of the left piece has been placed inside the loop of the right piece.

(You don't really need the paper clip, but if you're taking photographs, it helps to keep things in place while you take the photos.)

Then you make a loop with the right-side piece of palm and insert it through the loop of the left-side piece.

Here's a close-up of a loop being made in the left piece to go through the growing braid.

You keep doing this over and over.

Eventually you run out of frond and you tuck in the ends, tie them off, or create a little loop for hanging. This is the "back view" and the next photo shows the front.

Grandma believed in the old powers of the fronds blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday--powers now deemed as magical thinking or superstition by the church. The little braids we made were perched about her home (and ours) like little amulets hanging from crucifixes and holy pictures. Pieces of the palm would be burned to ensure safety in the event of a forthcoming disaster like a tornado.

I am no longer a "church-goer," but I made this braid for two reasons. Firstly because it's for my elderly mother as a reminder of those long-gone afternoons spent with busy hands in quiet contemplation of the Easter Sunday that was approaching. (Lest you think I was overly devote as a child, be assured that my thoughts were mostly of the new Easter Bonnet I was going to wear the following Sunday.) Mom has a bit of the old magical thinking in her makeup, and the little palm will bring her some peace of mind whenever troubles or natural disasters approach.

The second reason for the braid demonstration is that it's an introductory exercise to an upcoming tutorial in which you will learn how to easily make this braid, in a new way, out of other materials for a multitude of projects. You will be surprised by the cool effects you can achieve very simply.

Meanwhile, if you have a couple 2-yard lengths of narrow ribbon around, you might want to try this. Braiding is a relaxing little getaway, and who knows where your flights of fancy or memory will take you.


Angela said...

This is really cool! I love how smells and sounds (like a song) can take us back in time :)

T@PoppyPlacePdx said...

That is so pretty Sharon :)

And all the more important now with its connection to your family
history :)

I remember Easter as a joyous time and always a new dress or summer coat or jacket to wear to church :)

Have a lovely evening, cheers, T. :)

Kanelstrand said...

What a whimsical braid! I cannot wait for the second tutorial!

Additionsstyle said...

What a wonderful memory, and unique way to save your Palms. Looking forward to your new tutorial.
Everyday Inspired