Monday, March 31, 2008
(Some of you may recall the three cool but complicated crafts I presented at my daughter's Egyptian-themed 4th-birthday party--an amulet, a hieroglyphic name plate, and a clay scarab beetle. Yikes; I was a nut!)
But sometimes I forget that the simpler the materials, the greater potential there is for creative freedom--and fun.
I started out this morning wanting to create a snow globe with my toddler. However, he preferred this project:
Step 1: Pour beads through funnel into jar.
Step 2: Pour beads out of jar.
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 until bored.
Step 4: Discover a shoelace with handmade beads strung on it.
Step 5: Strip off beads.
Step 6: Put beads back on shoelace.
Step 7: Repeat steps 5 and 6 until bored.
This past weekend we went to a maple festival in Vermont, and we checked out the Kids' Corner in the elementary-school art room. The kids and I sat for about an hour making small carvings out of Ivory soap. I remember carving Snoopy out of a bar of soap when I was in 4th grade, and I think that this is one of those vintage '70s crafts that needs to be revived. It's relaxing and easy, and the cleanup is simple! Plus, you end up smelling like you've just bathed, a plus when you're slogging through rural Vermont during mud season.
My son came home from school today and said, "You know how to make a Knitting Nancy, don't you?" I was touched that he considered me an expert in knitting after my three months of knitting on the same scarf.
But since I didn't even know what a Knitting Nancy was, he explained that one of his classmates had shared with the class that she was going to make one out of a toilet paper tube and popsicle sticks. "It's like a knitting mushroom," he explained further. His sister has a knitting mushroom, a wooden spool with metal loops at the top that you use to produce a knitted cord, aka I-cord, without knitting needles.
Intrigued, I did a quick search online and found a charming site by an engineer who has become an expert in Knitting Nancies of all kinds. He seems to have tested all of the mechanical knitting machines in existence. His site includes a picture of the popsicle-stick Knitting Nancy, which is easy to make. We're calling ours the Knitting Ned, just in case my son's masculinity is challenged by the Nancy label.
Here's what you need to make a Knitting Nancy or Knitting Ned:
Step 1 Decorate Knitting Ned/Nancy
(This step is optional, but we felt that it would set Ned apart from Nancy.)
Step 2 Attach the Popsicle Sticks
You will be placing the popsicle sticks an equal distance vertically around the outside of the toilet paper roll. The popsicle sticks should stick up above the edge of the tube by about one inch. You can eyeball this or make a mark on each popsicle stick one inch from the top.
Update: Bellaluna, a very helpful reader who tried out this activity, requested that I explain how to tie off the cords. Thanks, Bellaluna!
When the cord is as long as you like it, cut off the end of the yarn so that it's about six inches long.
Thread the yarn through a tapestry needle or other big-eyed needle. (Plastic needles for mesh canvas work really well.)
Pull the needle and yarn through each loop in turn, which will remove each loop from the popsicle stick.
After the needle goes through the last loop, the cord will drop down through the tube. Tighten the end of the yarn, and you're done!
Friday, March 28, 2008
Early March, the sun is shining through the lightly frosted trees.
I take a walk and hear
A symphony of incipient spring sounds.
The trees send down tiny shards of melting ice,
A tinkling of ice-edged rain.
The cardinals are busy in the evergreens,
Calling out to each other a hopeful morning song.
Melting snow rushes through the slate-lined creeks
And hurls itself into small waterfalls;
The rushing away of winter, I hope.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Apply glue to the outside edges of the "wrong" side of the book cover paper.
Step 3 (Optional)
Apply glue liberally to the smaller piece of paper and glue down onto inside of the cardboard cover and over the ribbon.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Maya is the winner of my first official contest, to pick the fabric for the pinafore bottom. She did have an edge over you others--she stays up as late as I do web surfing and sewing, and she's seen my stash of recycled fabrics! Thanks, Maya, for the constant inspiration!
Don't despair, there will be more contests to come!
I purchased the fabric from the Sew Green studio, which now has recycled fabrics and notions for sewing inspiration.
It took me a while to work up the courage to start the pinafore because it involved a new pattern method for me. I had to trace the pattern for the pinafore from a poster tucked in the middle of the magazine. I was very intimidated when I looked at the confusing mass of intersecting lines and colors for the patterns, but in the end it was a simple matter of tracing out three simple shapes, adding seam allowances all around, and cutting out the fabric.
The pinafore still needs a bottom to go with it. The first person to post a suggestion for a suitable matching fabric for a pair of shorts or pants will receive a handmade item in the mail. Special consideration goes to the person who suggests a vintage or reused fabric!
Monday, March 24, 2008
I guess our rabbit of Easter preferred being toasty and warm to braving the 20-degree a.m. temps outside.
This early Easter snuck up on me, so I didn't have anything crafty and Easter-related finished. The best I could do was a bouquet of tissue flowers for the dining table.
Luckily, the kids received an Easter package from their grandmother, so their handmade Easter needs were fulfilled by beautifully crafted pajamas. The boys wore theirs most of the day.
Friday, March 21, 2008
So, what, you may ask, does mass production have to do with creativity? Doesn't it kill the creative impulse by taking creativity out of the act of creating?
On a practical level, though, artists and crafters mass produce some items to sell in order to support themselves (or at the very least to make some extra cash to buy more supplies to continue creating). And these craftspeople have sites like Etsy, where artists can market their designs to people all over the world. Etsy and the revival of the handcrafted tradition seems to have sprung up in part as a reaction against the big box stores and from the renewed interest in sustainable living. According to buyhandmade.org, which asked people to pledge to buy only handmade gifts during the holidays:
Buying Handmade makes for better gift-giving.
The giver of a handmade gift has avoided the parking lots and long lines of the big chain stores in favor of something more meaningful. If the giver has purchased the gift, s/he feels the satisfaction of supporting an artist or crafter directly. The recipient of the handmade gift receives something that is one-of-a-kind, and made with care and attention that can be seen and touched. It is the result of skill and craftsmanship that is absent in the world of large-scale manufacturing.
Buying handmade is better for people.
The ascendancy of chain store culture and global manufacturing has left us dressing, furnishing, and decorating alike. We are encouraged to be consumers, not producers, of our own culture. Our ties to the local and human sources of our goods have been lost. Buying handmade helps us reconnect.
Buying handmade is better for the environment.
The accumulating environmental effects of mass production are a major cause of global warming and the poisoning of our air, water and soil. Every item you make or purchase from a small-scale independent artist or crafter strikes a small blow to the forces of mass production.And certainly there are designers who produce their own creations in assembly-line fashion without losing their creative impulses. I'll mention only a few. Lori Marie, a textile artist who's been featured on Martha Stewart Living, has a beautiful post about her mass-production sewing sessions. She mass produces these beautifully designed and meticulously sewn treasures. And her tiny studio looks like a joy to work in. Beata, a mother and crafter, has a neat display of her assembly line (shown at right) for her babushka ornaments. Even though both artists are producing more than one of their creations, each reflects meticulous craftsmanship and a unique vision.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
My introduction to refashioning came a few years ago when my daughter and I saw notices for a SewGreen contest to create a new design out of old articles of clothing. We were all heavily into Project Runway at the time, so the little instigator urged me to enter the contest. (She thinks I'm the Sewing Queen because I've made Halloween costumes for her off and on since she was 2.) This year we actually entered the contest. The challenge was to use old cotton t-shirts and/or denim to create a new item. My daughter and I conceived of and sewed (mostly I sewed) a hoodie, a shirt to layer under the hoodie, and a last-minute jean skirt. Inconceivably, the two shirts won first and second place in the teen category.
It was pretty much a fluke how the hoodie came together. While browsing the men's t-shirt section at the Salvation Army, my young ecofashionista and I found a strange orange t-shirt with "Ask A Bug" in bold black letters on the front and a huge stink bug screen printed on the back. We both thought it was funny, so into the cart it went.
It took me a while to work up the courage to actually attack it with scissors, but I finally did so. Two things were a given: my daughter wanted a hoodie, and we knew we wanted the bug to be on the front rather than the back. With no other plan in mind, we cut the sides open, took a big chunk off the bottom, cut off the neck ribbing, and then trimmed the sides for a closer fit. My model patiently stood there while I draped the very sorry remnants of the once robust t-shirt around her. We played around with some color combinations of the t-shirts we had, but nothing seemed to work well. We were a little discouraged by our initial experiment.
A week or so later I had to drop off my mom at the airport in the city, and on the way home my toddler and I headed over to the Salvation Army to check out their supply of wool sweaters for a felting project.
Just as I was heading to the cash register because my son was ready to melt down--a combination of fatigue, hunger, general terrible-twoness, and his failure to appreciate the valuable life lesson I was teaching him by exposing him early on to sustainable fashion--we walked down the women's shirt aisle, and a black-and-white striped t-shirt caught my eye. I grabbed it and two other orange shirts nearby.
That incredibly fortuitous last-minute purchase became the hoodie's side stripe (a solution for having trimmed too much off the sides!), sleeves, hood, and bottom edge (a solution for having trimmed too much off the bottom!) So, it all came together from some happy accidents.
My daughter also wanted a fitted tank-style shirt to layer under the hoodie. We took a men's XL shirt and cut off the sleeves and neck and cut the side seams open. This time I was a little more strategic and cut a little less off the sides than I thought was necessary. I sewed up the side seams, and the shirt was initially too loose, but luckily that's an easier problem to fix than having it too tight. The sleeve openings were too big and gappy, so I took sleeves off an old t-shirt of mine and they became the sleeves for her new shirt. The whole process felt like two steps forward, three steps back and was very discouraging, but eventually it came together nicely.
The jean skirt that completed the ensemble was a very last-minute project. I started it the morning of the contest deadline. Having never made a skirt before, I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up cutting the legs off two pairs of jeans, opening them up at the seams, and then sewing them together into a tube. I made a waistband and, after studying a pair of old jeans, attached it the same way. The thick denim was really hard to sew, especially when four layers came together at the waistband. So my stitching was really rough looking, and my zipper was shoddily attached. But I made a skirt with no pattern, out of almost nothing, and in almost no time (OK, wait, that doesn't sound like something to be proud of).
While my daughter was keeping me company down in the basement when I was sewing away on the denim skirt, she told me that she would never have the courage to just jump in without a pattern and start cutting and sewing as I had done. She made it sound as if I was awfully brave. In fact, I think I was pretty foolhardy to attempt the project with almost no skills, and I was unsure of myself at each step and made many mistakes. But what I was proud of was that I kept at it and found solutions for the problems that I created from inexperience. It was very frustrating thinking of an idea, implementing it, and then having the three-dimensional structure not translate into what I intended. But figuring things out as I go along and making lots of mistakes seems to be my creative path right now, though I hope that will change as I get more experienced and adept at sewing techniques.
And surely all of this sewing will eventually rewire the parts of my brain dealing with spatial relationships so that the translation of flat fabric to wearable design comes more easily. Please?
There are lots of web sites related to ecofashion, and my co-designer and I consulted a few of them before we attempted to create the hoodie. The SewGreen site has a page with a few sites that are great introductions to creating t-shirt mashups. This site in particular provided lots of inspiration.
And thank you to my friend and fellow blogaholic Maya, who was the well-deserving SewGreen contest grand-prize winner for her denim baby kimono set with booties and stuffed elephant (see photo at right) (and whose kids' tea table and chairs set was a top 20 semifinalist in the Design Sponge DIY contest), for telling me about the following cool ecofashion links:
Monday, March 17, 2008
My mom is an expert seamstress and used to sew like crazy when I was younger. (She was a Home Ec major in college, so she really has the skills.) She made clothes for me until I was in middle school, when I became too designer-label conscious to wear anything handmade. I was so very picky about clothes, and in retrospect I realize that it must have been extrememly hard to sew for me. I couldn't stand anything itchy or tight, and I hated trying things on with pins in them. But I remember my all-time favorite outfit that she made for me. I must have worn it to school at least a few times a week. The pants were blue denim-weight cotton and had a very thin waistband so were very comfy. The shirt was a knit, white with orange flowers and had an elastic waistband. I think the shirt had a Peter Pan collar with a keyhole and button. I'm sure my friends must have thought I was strange, but I thought it was the coolest thing. My mom also went through an embroidery phase and made denim shirts with 60's/70's-era-cool icons--flowers, red and white mushroom, butterflies, strawberries. I wish we had kept those! (The shirt shown at right is an example from ebay, though it's nowhere near as elaborate and cool as the ones my mom made.)