Housebound

A couple of months ago Paul started getting severe back pain and sciatica from a bulging disc. Several visits to the doctor, pilates, physio, medication, a scan and a cortizone injection later he has improved, but in a ‘wait and see if this lasts’ way.

As the weeks passed, with Paul unable to sit let alone drive, it became pretty clear that some of our plans for the rest of the year had to be shelved. Then a few weekends ago I drove us to a family birthday celebration, with Paul lying on the passenger seat with the back fully down, and after two hours driving on roads that seemed to constantly require gear changes plantar fasciitis reared it’s ugly head again.

So suddenly neither of us could drive. At that point I either cancelled, or warned of likely cancellation, everything else on the calendar.

And that’s also when I decided to try online grocery shopping. Which has been… interesting. I didn’t want to shop with Coles since they deliver orders in plastic bags. Finding online stores that use minimal packaging took a bit of googling, but I soon located a bulk store a few suburbs away and a grocery store with a policy of avoiding as much plastic as possible.

Fortunately Paul can now drive for short trips, and I’m tentatively driving his car now and then, which is an automatic so at least my left foot gets a break. We’re both hoping life will get back to normal soon, but only very cautiously committing to outings.

You’d think I’d be getting lots of craft done, but I’ve done almost nothing. This is because I was doing the household tasks that Paul usually does and taking him to appointments. But it’s also because shopping at online stores and watching the War on Waste second season had me trying things like cooking up and freezing beans and lentils and making beeswax wraps. And it’s birthday season in my family. And there has been some house and garden work happening, too.

And I am chasing a work deadline as well as dealing with lots of little publicity tasks for the paperback release of my last book.

It’s amazing how tired you can be at the end of a day spent avoiding being on your feet.

Which I have to say, I’m not managing to do as much as I should be.

The Gentle Art of Maximalism

Some years ago, I started culling my wardrobe thanks to Trinny and Suzanna. Every Christmas another book would come out, which made for an easy present for Paul to get for me, and I’d be inspired to review my clothing and remove anything that didn’t fit, suit or thrill me.

To their credit, Trinny and Suzanna urge you to have clothing swaps or donate clothes rather than toss them away. In those days a lot more clothing was made of natural fibres that would rot away eventually, so the last resort wasn’t such a terrible thing.

Since then the level of ruthlessness with which we are being urged to employ in our decluttering has increased. For a time there The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was being quoted everywhere. I finally caved and read the book recently, and I couldn’t help thinking: “this woman is nuts!” even as I saw how her methods would work for a certain kind of person.

Decluttering is big business. You wouldn’t think so, since it’s about having less stuff. But the harder decluttering has been pushed, the more I’ve suspected that customers are being encouraged to chuck out and reorganise stuff because they will more than likely replace it. When the ‘capsule wardrobe’ idea became fashionable it didn’t surprise me that clothing brands were instantly behind it. Most people aren’t that minimalist, and brands only stand to gain if you toss all your clothing and buy a whole new co-ordinated set.

The words: “Decluttering is the conceit of the affluent” popped into my head a few years ago. Only people who can afford to buy too much stuff wind up compelled to declutter, and can afford to replace belongings if it turns out they actually need or miss them. Only affluent people can afford to buy snazzy storage to put their stuff in. What I found most disturbing about the Marie Kondo book was the idea that you put everything you cull into rubbish bags and toss it. The lack of consideration for where it ends up afterwards tainted the book with a selfishness that repelled me.

But then, how to get rid of possessions ethically is a huge and difficult subject. One of the saddest discoveries I made when looking into ethical fashion was that so much of donated clothing still ends up in landfill. The sad truth is, so many belongings are being culled these days that not even desperately poor people in third world countries want or need our castoffs.

And my assumption that good furniture put in the hard rubbish would find a new home dissolved when I saw antique chairs tossed into the back of a truck and crushed.

What to do. Well, I say… Be a Maximalist!

Keep your stuff!

– Repair your stuff
– Use your stuff until it falls apart.
– Alter your stuff. Refashion, dye, repaint, adapt.
– Play with your stuff. Look at your photo albums. Try on different combinations of your clothes. Use the good crockery set. Wear your jewellery. Use the time you’d have spent culling on finding new ways to use your stuff.
– If you’re the Instagram type, be creative with your stuff. Make arrangements and take photos. Draw your stuff. Write about it.
– Pass on your stuff to other people and adopt other people’s stuff. (Yes, that’s not keeping stuff, but it’s better than tossing stuff.)

If you love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, make one out of what you already have. Make several – one for work, one for home, one for travel, etc.. Then you have the benefit of having easy decisions on a work morning as well as something different and fresh and more suitable to wear when the weekend comes.

I am a maximalist, but I do cull. I’m not saying you should hold onto things you don’t want. But don’t let the fashion for minimalism blind you to the possibilities and benefits of keeping things. There is nothing wrong with being a maximalist if it does you and others no harm. It may actually be better for the environment, and in the long run that’s better for everyone, including you.

Rethinking

I’ve never been one for sampling in weaving, but then, in my mind you sampled in order to check whether you were going to get the sort of cloth you wanted. Most of the time I got pretty much what I expected, or else close enough, and if I didn’t I’d unweave and make adjustments or accept the cloth I got.

But there’s another use for sampling which Kay pointed out to me: a chance for experimentation and learning. That’s had me thinking about the drive to make versus the drive to learn. I’ve definitely been focussed on the former more than the latter since starting to weave. If I’m not making something I feel like I’m wasting time.

Yet if I wove to learn more often rather than to produce, not only would I learn faster but it would lessen the problem of having too many scarves, blankets, tea towels, etc. I need to see sampler as beautiful objects in their own right. In fact, what if instead of packing away workshop samples I aimed to fill a wall of my craft room with them, like we did at the workshop?

Inspired, I decided to ask Paul to install a hanging system. To prepare, I moved everything that was in the way. The clutter came off the drawing board, the knitting machines went into the guest room. The floor even got a much-needed vacuum. Of course, we then decided it’d be easier to hang samplers on the doors of the cupboards instead, so I didn’t need to move anything after all.

But I found I was enjoying having a bit more space. Without the knitting machines the craft room was so much more, well, roomier. So I got to thinking… do I really need the Passap? It never gets used nowadays. I primarily bought it to knit socks on, but I still have nearly 40 pairs of handknit socks so I’m not going to run out any time soon. Machine knitting is a sit, concentrate and spend a few hours kind of activity – much like weaving. If I had to choose between regularly spending a few hours of concentration on machine knitting or weaving, weaving would win.

I’ve used the Bond knitting machine more than the Passap. It’s easy to remember how to, and I prefer garments knitted from 8ply to 4ply. So I wouldn’t be eliminating machine knitting from my life completely, if I sold the Passap.

I even contemplated getting rid of the drawing board too. Then I could fit two floor looms in, if the second was smaller. Or I could remove the drawing board and keep the Passap…

Oh dear.

A Tidy Space Oddity

A few weeks ago I was feeling poorly, so for something to do I backed up this blog. Well, not in the usual way. Looking at the backups WordPress does, I couldn’t see how I would ever access the entries if I ever needed just the contents. So I cut and paste the contents of every month into a Word document – which is how I used to back up when this was a Blogger blog.

When I was done I skim read through the blog from the start. That was… interesting. It’s easy to feel like I am some kind of crazy person obsessed with making stuff when I read an entire year’s entries in one sitting! The blog has seen lots of changes, from RSI forcing me to give up knitting to passing phases of craft-related internet phenomenon (blogs, podcasts, ravelry, pinterest).

It put me in a strange, fed-up mood, so that once I had a little energy again I began tidying up and finishing things. The Taupe Jacket lining got sewn so I could put the machines away. Materials I’d gathered for a talk at the Guild that was cancelled got packed away as I was sick of them taking up space waiting to see if it would be rescheduled. I finished spinning the banana fibre after not touching the wheel for many months, to see if I should pack the wheel away.

I decided this mood might be good for culling so I started halfheartedly tidying the craft room. I started with jewellery supplies, moved on to refashioning projects and finally tackled the accumulation of carry bags around the house. In the middle of it I wound up in the garage, where I made the biggest impact – all the basketry materials I accumulated early last year went into the green waste bin.

Other than that I didn’t get rid of much. Mostly I put stuff away or stored it better. While the result was satisfying, I suspect if I had more energy and time I could have done a lot more.

I have the WIP list down to just three items now, but I’ll be starting a few weaving projects soon so that isn’t going to last long!

Kitchen Ventilation Patch Mosaics

I’ve done the last of the mosaic patches in the smaller ventilation holes for the old central heating.

My first idea had been to make something in slate, since the floor was slate. I bought a couple of tiles and did some experiments, and was mostly confident that I could make it work. However, when I sat down to actually put together a mosaic, I found I hated the material. There is absolutely no control over how it breaks, so I wound up with a whole lot of pieces nibbled into shape with my tile nippers, and it looked crap. Even then, I couldn’t be sure they’d stay in that shape, as they kept crumbling.

So I brought out some of the smooth-edged tiles I’d worked with already, fiddled around a bit and either didn’t like anything I came up with or worked out I’d have to buy more tiles. When I considered how much trouble I had buying enough of the right colour of these tiles in the past, I just didn’t have the energy to pursue them.

But I’d have to buy something. And I realised that if I wasn’t going to use anything I had already, that freed me up to use any tile that took my fancy and was available. I recalled how I’d seen simple leaf shaped tiles on a mosaic shop website, and loved the sinuous pattern they formed en mass.

I wasn’t going to spent a pile of money without working out if I liked the effect in person, and I didn’t want to discover I hadn’t bought enough tiles only to find they weren’t available any more. I’ve learned that you have to work quickly from concept to finished piece, to make sure the latter doesn’t happen.

So I mocked up a tile in Illustrator, printed it out and confirmed that I’d probably like the effect. I counted the tiles and bought what I thought was enough. However, the tiles I wanted came in batches of two colours. I couldn’t be sure how much of each colour I’d get. I paid extra for fast shipping and when they got here I discovered there were less burgundy tiles than black. I simply reversed the pattern I’d come up with. Then I divided the tiles into three equal sets for the three patches. Laying out the pattern on a cement sheet backing, I worked out that I needed more black tiles, and ordered those straight away.

When they arrived I got to glueing. After a couple of sessions over a few days, I had my patches ready to insert. Then it was just a matter of filling the holes with layers of mdf to get them to the right height, glueing down the mosaics, grouting and sealing.

Another lesson I’d learned from previous mosaics was that I should test the grout colour beforehand. It always dries lighter than I expect. It was worth doing. This time I got it spot on.

There’s one more possible floor mosaic to do: the larger patch when the intake grille for the central heating was. It’s quite a big area, and needs more than a simple filler. But before I do that I have the clock to finish, and I want to do a glass mosaic bowl.

Hail to the Neighbours

Last week I wrote a long post about the garden. It’s looking pretty good and I’d been inspired by a book and a visit to a famous garden. All I needed to do was take some photos and I’d be ready to publish.

Then the storm came.

The laserlite roof of our deck is full of holes, and there’s a mysterious leak in the toilet ceiling. Those are both being handled by the insurance. But the flood of water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court that washed out part of the embankment and flooded the kitchen garden and studio is another matter.

We’ve soaked up all the water in the studio with old towels and ran the aircon for a day to dry it out, and there doesn’t appear to be any damage. But preventing this happening again isn’t easy. Water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court has caused problems before. The main event happened a few weeks after we moved in, over three years agao, washing mud and mulch into our pool. We paid for a pile of drainage work to be done in to prevent it happening again, and that seemed to be working. But dirt has washed down from the neighbour’s place and silted up the drain.

I called the neighbour on the night, an they came over with extra old towels and looked at everything. They’ve promised to get advice and a quote to fix things on their side. They want to wait until we get permission to connect to the sewer, so whatever needs doing can be done at the same time.

We’ve dug and raked back the silty dirt that’s washed down (which has given us a pile of free soil to use elsewhere, so there’s a small up side at least). I’m considering putting a second retaining wall in to try to draw away the water. But there’s no guarantee anything we do on our side will work if the neighbour doesn’t sort out their drainage. If it doesn’t and we’re not at home, it’s bad news for our studio. Paul is raising the cupboards and filing cabinets up on pavers.

I can’t help thinking we should just brick up the back door, where the water came in, and raise the level of the floor, but it’d be expensive and mean emptying the studio. We’ll just have to see what, if anything, the neighbours end up doing. And hope we’re home next time we have a big storm.

Laundry Re-do

A laundry renovation was in our future from the moment we bought this house. The old one contained a wall of cabinets on one side, and just a rusty old sink, water outlets for the machine and a shirt airing rail on the other.

For storage we made do with second hand wire shelving and the cabinet we had to remove from the kitchen because our fridge was 5cm too tall. I asked the kitchen and bathroom company that did our ensuite if they did laundries, and they said no – and suggested we’d use cheaper DIY cabinets than their expensive high-end ones. I asked the plumber if he’d do it, and he said “put in DIY cabinets and then call me for the plumbing”.

In the last couple of years I had played around in Illustrator making plans and elevations so we could discuss the layout. We wanted a decent length of bench space so I can do wet crafts like papermaking and dyeing, and Paul could lay out photo processing chemicals when he used the laundry as a dark room. So this was to be a laundry used for more than washing clothes and storing cat food.

A couple of months ago we decided it was time. We had a layout we liked, and found a brand of flat-pack cabinets from Bunnings that would fit the space. The cabinets were easy enough to construct – similar to IKEA ones. Getting the heavy wall cabinets up onto the wall was a challenge, but we came up with a way that didn’t strain our backs. The plumber came over to sort out the pipes, install the benchtop and glue on the cement sheet for the tiling. I painted the wall, Paul added kickboards and I did the tiling and caulking.

And it was done:

I’m pretty chuffed that we managed to do most of it ourselves. The tiling was the most challenging, but only because space I was tiling was about 5mm off the tile size, and it’s really hard to cut a strip that small from a tile.

I’ve done some dyeing in there since. Paul has tackled most of the tasks he needs to do to use the laundry as a darkroom. He’s removed a set of wall cabinets on the other side, which meant I had to patch the plaster and help him repaint the area. He just needs to find a neat way to cover the window when he needs to and block the light leakage around the doors.

It’s a Bar. It’s an Organ. Barorgan.

I suspect one of the defining elements of my relationship with Paul is that he finds junk to buy and I find something to do with it. When he was doing his Batchelor of Photography last year he bought a whole lot of stuff on eBay that might work with his alternative Australia steampunk theme. Like an old typewriter and sewing machine.

He didn’t mention the organ. I have no idea how he got it home and buried in the new garage without me noticing. I spotted it a month or two ago and after sighing and shaking my head at the discovery an idea came to me. I’d been not-seriously looking at second hand bars for sale on eBay. Some of them had been made from repurposed objects. Could we turn this organ into a bar?

Some brainstorming followed, then a satisfying bout of dismantling, then more brainstorming, then buying and cutting of mdf, a bit of painting and varnishing, hinges added, glass ordered, led lights attached… and we have this:

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It was surprisingly easy to modify the organ. A minimal amount of alternation to the outer framework was done. Only the flap that covers the keys and central fill of the lower part of the back were removed. Most of the innards are gone. The hidden ends of the keys were cut off to make more room inside. The visible part was lowered then we had glass cut to cover them. Paul added a strip of coloured led lights that reflect nicely in the glass.

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The back has become the preparation area, with the fold down access flap becoming a preparation shelf. The lower area is open and empty right now, but we’ve bought wood to turn into sliding doors because and it’ll become the storage space for spirits and mixers.

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I’ve seen quite a few piano or organ to bar conversions on Google since we made ours, but none that were designed for a bartender to stand behind it. I figure we need to have a bar warming party.

But first I may need to weave some bar mats.

Yet Another Kind of Weaving

When I was a child my mother added basket-making to the seemingly endless list of crafts she had tried. My Dad took one of her cute garlic baskets to work and came home with an order for 99 of them. By the end Mum’s hands were a painful mess and the gloss had thoroughly worn off basketry as a hobby.

It was the first warning I had not to turn hobbies into work. Not that I listened, having worked as an illustrator and now earning a living as a writer.

When I saw that the Handweavers and Spinners Guild had a one-day basketry class in their summer school schedule, I decided to sign up. I’ve been a bit wary of cane basketry, because I’ve heard it’s a bit hard on the hands. But these were coiled baskets, which involves stitching materials into place not wrestling them into a weave. I like the idea that I could use plant materials from the garden rather than much harder cane.

Well, it was great fun. We started with polymer clay bases, as starting is the hardest and slowest part. We used cordyline (cabbage tree) leaves, which I have the red version of in the garden, and stitched it all together with waxed linen thread.

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I finished it by leaving some leaves sprouting from the rim, adding another bunch and sewed around to the opposite side before finishing off, leaving another tuft of leaves.

You can use this method with other long, flexible materials, like rags and rope. I have a pile of old garden hoses. I’m thinking of using a plant pot drip tray as the base, and sewing it all together with wire or heavy plastic twine.

But I do love the idea of using plants from the garden. I’ve already got some of the recommended plants growing here: cordyline, lomandra longifolia, dianella, lavender and aram lily. I already planned to grow red hot poker. Maybe I can find a place for New Zealand flax and canna lilies as well.

The Photo Album Project

Some years back, when I was on Pinterest, I followed a pin to a website with sensible suggestions for getting photos organised and into albums. I thought I’d managed the first step: getting all photos into one spot. After that I got busy, and the enormity of the task overwhelmed me every time I thought about tackling the next step. Especially this last year, when I had to start limiting my time on the computer. Making photo books was never going to rise high enough on the computer time priority list to ever happen.

As January arrived, I got all enthused again after I got some photos printed to use as photo references. It hit me that if I gave up on the idea of photo books and just had photos printed and slotted into album, the albums might actually happen.

Then I had a look at my old albums, and saw that some of the photos from my childhood are fading. I really ought to scan those or get a hold of the negatives and print replacements that’ll last longer. They’re in one of the old photo corner style albums, and I still haven’t got around to adding the corners for the last third of the album – the photos are just slotted loose between the pages where I intended to put them. So there was that to do. I started a list:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Once that album had filled up, I had kept the rest of my photos in plastic envelopes and a couple of albums for specific holidays. I really ought to put the photos in the envelopes into albums, so that went onto the list:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Photo project #2: put photos in envelopes in albums

Most of my holiday pics from the late 80s to 00s and are slides, because I used to take pics with Lonely Planet books in mind (employees and ex-employees were encouraged to, but eventually they started an image library and became very fussy about the style of photos accepted). Getting them scanned to print as photos was too cost-prohibitive in those days, but a friend scans slides for a modest fee so I recently had her do all mine. I just needed to select what I want printed. That became a task all of its own:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Photo project #2: put photos in envelopes in albums

Photo project #3: select, scan and print slides and put in albums

It occurred to me that my photos really fit in three categories: birth to independence, independence to Paul, Paul onwards. The Photo Album Project was growing rapidly larger, so this division seemed a good way to break a big project into smaller chunks. I also decided that the holidays from the ‘Independence to Paul’ era would be combined, chronologically, with photos of friends, family and events, but holiday photos from Paul onwards would be in separate albums since we’d already made a few photo books. So the list suddenly became more complicated:

Photo project – Birth to Independence

#1: scan and print fading photos

#2: add corners and insert rest of photos

Photo project – Independence to Paul

#1: move post-independence photos from first album to new one

#2: select, scan and print slides

#3: select photos from envelopes

#4: fill albums with #2 & #3 plus holiday album contents, chronologically

Photo project – Paul Onward

#1: select images of non-holiday subjects (family, friends, pets and events) from 2002 onwards, print and place in albums

#2: select images from holidays not yet in albums and either make albums or photo books

I could break the last task into the separate albums, too, but for now the list is intimidating enough! Of course, a lot of the work involved requires using a computer, so I’m delegating as much of that as possible to Paul.

I’d like to concentrate on one chunk of the project at a time, but so far I’ve wound up concentrating on bits of all them. I can’t do much on the Birth to Independence album because Dad is looking into whether he has negatives of the early photos. I’d start moving later photos from that album to the Independence to Paul albums, except we don’t yet have albums. I’ve found some nice-looking acid-free ‘slip-in’ photo albums online, but the shop doesn’t open until mid-January.

So I’ve been tackling the slides. This had me going through old diaries to date them, going through holiday diaries to caption them, renaming files and sorting them into folders (so much for avoiding the computer!), and I’ve just started selecting what I want to print.

As for the Paul Onwards albums, I’ve selected all my non-holiday photos. Once Paul chooses his we can print everything and start filling albums. It might end up being the easiest of the projects chunks to finish.