How Hazel Hebert experiences God’s presence through her art.
There is a room in Hazel Hebert’s home that is stacked from floor to ceiling with yarns of varied texture and color, pattern books lining a wall of shelves, bags and baskets full of hand-crafted baby booties and newborn caps, fabric tools and thread. And surrounding all of that color and texture, the thing most present in that room is heart.
Hazel is an artist. Fabric Arts are her creative calling. Hazel knits and crochets, she does tatting and cross-stitch. She sews. She crafts finely detailed Hardanger pieces (Norwegian cut-work from Hardangerfjord). In addition, she creates and designs many of the patterns herself.
Hazel is self-taught. As a youth, she would see hand-made things and had enough spunk and energy to say,”I want to try that”. She’d get her hands on a book, a pattern, she would study and try, she would “practice, practice, practice” until she had it figured out. “I always told my kids, that if they could read, they could understand, and when you’ve got that, you can do anything.”
If resources were limited, Hazel would craft her pieces using what materials she had on hand, or altering the type of materials used to keep with what she could afford. This would sometimes require her to re-design a pattern, but she was willing to challenge herself to do that, because she believed that if she just tried, she could learn. At times, Hazel felt discouraged that some people considered this kind of handiwork as “just homemade”, preferring store-bought items instead. Hazel’s mother, during the Great Depression, offered her these words of encouragement: “when you make something for someone, you make it with work and thought and love.”
The fabric arts that Hazel creates require demanding detail. She has had to contend with “perfectionism” now and then, but has learned along the way that mistakes are welcome, and often, those ‘mistakes’ provide the materials she needs to make something else. Nothing is wasted or thrown away. Every strand of yarn or material that doesn’t look like she wants it to, can be used to create a different piece. “You just have to trust that if you keep at it you will get better. Sometimes you need to set it aside and come back to it later. There’s an old saying in knitting: Learn the Frog Stitch First: then rip-it, rip-it, rip-it!”
Hazel experiences the connection, the weaving together of her creativity and her spirituality. “When I am pursuing creativity, I am satisfied with who I am. I don’t have to be searching for others for satisfaction. I can be alone with my crafts.” And in this ‘aloneness’, Hazel finds the presence of God. “I can sit quietly and knit or crochet, and I can think of others. I can think of something I said that perhaps I should not have said, and I can ask myself why I might have said it. I can reflect on scripture. I can pray.”
In that back room, Hazel also has what she calls “God’s Box”. In this box, she places items that she has made that don’t yet belong to someone. When she becomes aware of a need or an opportunity to bless or surprise someone, she reaches into God’s Box, and makes a delivery. Whatever is left in the box at Christmas time is given away. Hazel provides Mt. Hood Medical Center with baby booties and her hand-knit newborn caps go to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Her love for meeting the needs of the tiniest ones comes in part from the years she spent as a registered nurse working in obstetrics and with newborns. While she doesn’t usually get to meet these babies who wear her handiwork, she does wonder if someday she’ll see a little one stick a foot out of a blanket and recognize, “hey, those are my booties!”
Hazel sees her fabric arts as part of how she gives herself to God. She offers this memory: “when I first retired I wondered how I would make it because my income would be reduced to nearly one-quarter of my earnings. God has been good to me and I continued to tithe both money and time. I have been blessed beyond my expectation and my income has been sufficient for my needs. Need is the key word. No, I have not traveled around the world, but I have never lacked to pay my rent or to put food on my table or have clothing to wear. One of my blessings was this: as some may know I made an altar cloth for St. Catherine’s in Manzanita for the dedication of their church. St. Catherine’s was a mission church of Calvary Church in Seaside where I was a member. Another friend and I purchased three yards of material, which went on sale the weekend we went to buy it. That was the first blessing. Instead of $180 we paid $108. I don’t consider this chance, or that we were lucky, but it was God’s blessing. The cloth was wide and it took just over one-half the width of three yards, so I made several pieces of small altar linens as well. I had one piece too narrow to make the linens left over. I didn’t want to waste it so I made Hardanger crosses on it. I managed to lay out 24 crosses on it by crowding them closely. I thought since it was the last of the altar cloth I should take them to St. Catherine’s for their bazaar. They never made it to the bazaar. They were all sold Sunday between the two services and brought in $725 for their building find. From $108 came an altar cloth, several small linens, 24 crosses and $725 for their building fund. God blessed our offering and work for him many fold. Look and see, the Lord is good. Malachi 3:10 – “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing”.
Hazel says a prayer of thanksgiving each night as she ends her day, and she believes that God looks at her handiwork, and is pleased.
She is always looking for the next creative idea.
To people who express concern that a busy life does not allow for creativity, Hazel says: “just take a small amount of time, take it one stitch at a time”. And to those who believe they are not creative at all, Hazel’s spunk and energy show up again with this admonition: “have you tried?!”
Hazel is living the life of an artist, an artist experiencing and then expressing God’s love through her hands, through her heart. A blanket, a sweater, a delicate cross, a pair of booties for a newborn. One stitch at a time.