Buy Nothing New Decorating

Having volunteered to host the extended family Christmas bbq and tackling the lack of tree by whipping up this…

I set myself the challenge to buy nothing new when decorating for the event. A friend had made a whole lot of wrapping paper cones to decorate an op shop window, and when she heard about my challenge she asked if I wanted them. I said an eager ‘yes, please!’.

When I got them I realised that they would blow away if I didn’t find a way to anchor them. I used a circle cutter to make lots of small discs of card, then speared those with bamboo sticks from the kitchen. That gave the cones something to sit on. Then we rescued some scrap wood from the ‘stuff for the tip’ pile and Paul drilled holes in them. That got me two long rows of trees that happened to fit perfectly along the kitchen windows:

And four small ones for the tables:

The rest I stuck into the ground of the shade garden next to the deck to make two little forests:

A few days before it had occurred to me that the trees, large and small, still would make for a rather sparse amount of decoration. I brought out the ‘chalkboard’ bunting I’d bought for another party, which you can see in one of the pics above. More bunting would be good, but I didn’t have much fabric or time. Then I remembered that I had some leftover drop cloth fabric from when I’d made a canopy for our pergola-ish-thing. It was lined with plastic and wouldn’t fray, so I only needed a seam on the top to thread string through. Draggin it out, I realised I had just enough to make flags to put around the other three sides of our deck. So I cut it into two strips, sewed three more seams, made a flag template and marked out the shapes on the back:

Then I painted the fabric red, blue, green and yellow:

When I was done I cut up the flags and threaded them onto some craft string. Immediately there was something not quite right. The bunting reminded me of car yards. I asked Paul and he said it did the same thing for him. Looking at it critically, I realised two things: the yellow flags made the colour combination too ‘primary school’ and all the colours were too flat.

So I got out my printing supplies and used white paint and a plastic lace drawer-liner to add a bit of pattern to the flags:

Re-threading the flags without the yellow fit better with the colours in the Christmas paper trees, too:

So I grabbed the red, green and blue lanterns from a party I had a few years back and hung those up too:

Now we were ready to party.

The party went well and one of the first guest to arrive was heard to say “awesome Christmas tree!”. We used reusable plastic plates and cutlery, provided cans and bottles of soft drink to reduce plastic, everyone separated their waste into the ‘recycling’, ‘compost’ and ‘rubbish’ bins I’d set out, and nobody expressed any surprise, let alone a grumble, at it all. Some guests brought gifts in reusable bags, so maybe they are already on board with low-waste.

The bunting will definitely be used again – maybe a different colour combination next time – and maybe the Christmas wrapping trees. But the hose and stakes tree will be dismantled after New Year. If I need one again, I’m sure I’ll find another creative way around buying something new. I had too much fun not to try again!

Non-fiction Meanderings

When I’m working on a book I tend to avoid reading fiction. Instead I stick to non-fiction – usually books about the history of something. This year it’s been books about waste.

The first was Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, who wrote the wonderful ethical fashion book, To Die For. It was clear and interesting, covering much of the same territory as The War on Waste tv show.

That led me to review my (then unpublished) post on maximalism, and deciding I needed to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. The book repelled and intrigued me as much as I expected, which is to say lot of repelling and a little bit of intriguing. As I suspected, the minimalist lifestyle she advocates ignores the problem of our throwaway culture – and possibly encourages it.

Next I started How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett, which I think was referred to in Lucy’s book. I only got halfway through, however, finding it a bit too repetitive though I liked the idea of gentle crafty protest.

After that I found Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Though I don’t have an itch to go zero waste, I read it for ideas and motivation on reducing waste. She moved from a gigantic house to a modestly-sized one so a lot of her family’s belongings would have had to go, and she talks about disposing of things responsibly, but there’s a Kondoishness to her minimising – her wardrobe in particular – that didn’t appeal to me. However, she’s nowhere near as neurotic as Marie Kondo comes across and is honest about failures in a way that is humble and appealing.

In the following book, I went back to ethical fashion with Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan. In the ethical fashion books I’ve read so far ‘fashion’ was an umbrella term for ‘clothing and accessories’. This one uses the term as it relates to designer clothing. It focusses on shifts in designer fashion, and how it filters down to fast fashion. I really enjoyed it, especially her accessible system for choosing what clothes to buy. Not long after I read it I bought two pieces of new clothing using her system, and it worked very well.

I came away from all this reading thinking that keeping stuff is perhaps the most beneficial and weirdly subversive decision you can make. Maybe it’s not so much about owning stuff, but owning up to it. Would people stop buying crap indiscriminately and then cull it over and over if they couldn’t easily toss it out? Would manufacturers stop making products that don’t last if customers started taking things back and asking for a refund? How can people learn to make good shopping decisions when prices are so low they can easily throw mistakes away? My little reading binge certainly had me thinking.

Recently I read A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button. Written by the founder of BuyMeOnce, a website containing a curated list of products made to last, it is a guide to avoiding overspending, valuing what you have, ditching the trend treadmill and living ‘a more fulfilled life’. While it did have the usual chapter on culling your wardrobe and preaching the ‘capsule’ wardrobe nonsense (I skipped that bit) I found lots of interesting factual nuggets and tips for resisting spontaneous purchase regret.

Now I’m reading a book I picked up at a sale about human hair, so off onto another tangent. I wanted to read a book about the psychology of fashion, but it isn’t available on iBooks.

Just Heads

Early this year I decided I was a bit tired of painting portraits that took five or more months to complete. So after I finished two big ones I set about doing some ‘exercises’ – small portraits that had the same dark background and close enough to the head that little clothing was included. I also decided, and I took reference photos, that I wanted the sitters to not look at the camera or have an open mouth smile and the post didn’t have to be front-on. I reckoned I could do one of these per month.

It proved to be great fun. While I do like painting backgrounds and clothes, minimising them meant I could hone my skill at depicting skin and hair and eyes. Being able to paint heads from the back was a rare treat, too. By December I had eight paintings, not far off one a month since I started them a few months into the year.

Now I’m wondering what to do next year. Keep painting my little ‘exercises’, go back to big portraits, or try something else? People have often said to me they like my underpainting, which I do in watery acrylic paint in either alizarin red or viridian green. I might try doing one intended to be the final piece, starting off with the usual big sweeping paint strokes then adding finer ones, perhaps layering alizarin over viridian or visa versa.

I’ll see how I feel when classes start again next year.

Posted in art

Retiring

I read somewhere that the average number of careers people have these days is three. That has been spot-on for me. I was an in-house graphic designer, cartographer, illustrator and occasional visual merchandiser first, then a freelance illustrator, cartographer and occasional designer second, and writer third.

The first paid a good wage but felt limiting and was not always fun. The second was fun but didn’t pay well. The third was enjoyable and paid well and has, much to my surprise, lasted the longest.

However, the third is causing physical difficulties that I’m barely managing to keep in check and will eventually force me to stop. I don’t want to stop writing, but unless some miraculous cure for diagnosing and treating severe neck pain is developed, I will have to. Probably in the next few years.

The difference between semi and full retirement is significant, not just in income. Scarier to me is the prospect of not having a big task or creatively fulfilling project to occupy my mind. Oh, there’s heaps I’d like to do, from a degree to pursuing art to smaller writing projects, but they, too, would be limited or prevented by the same chronic back problem.

The five month break I took last year proved to me that my back gets better when not doing the things that cause pain. By the end could re-introduce some activities I could do at the beginning. So the key may simply be time.

And That Time of Year, Too

End of year restlesness. Usually it doesn’t set in until after Christmas and is gone by New Year. Now it seems to grip me earlier and earlier each year.

Last year I got fed up with how much time I was spending on my phone and set out to de-phone my life. I made some changes that proved to be beneficial and became permanent, though I do still use it more than I feel is healthy.

This year I’m thinking about social media. Facebook in particular, but also social media in general. I would love to quit it all, particularly Facebook, which is the only one I use regularly now. I don’t like how it works or how it eats up my attention and time.

For years now I’ve looked at alternatives. I tried Ello twice, but there was never much happening there. Vero looks promising, but when I contemplate joining I realise that I’d likely just be swapping one data mining company for another.

I want to leave all social media completely, but I hesitate. So I’m going to consider what I’m afraid of losing, and see if it’s really worth worrying about.

1) The connection to friends and family.
My family doesn’t use social media, so I lose nothing there. My friends do, but they don’t share much about their personal lives, really. At every FB scandal they interacted less. I can’t help thinking that if my friends dump me because I’m not on FB they’re not my friends. There are other ways to keep in contact, even when you’re a long way apart. I have text and Messenger conversations with my closest friends. Yes, the latter is a FB product, but it’s not a social media.

2) The ease of organising events
But not the unreliability. Recently I tried to organise a couple of events within a group of FB. After getting only one response I checked the post to find that only that one friend had seen it. I asked in a general post if anyone else in the group had and a few people said yes but they hadn’t responded.

Not responding to event invitations or only doing so at the last moment is being noted as a new kind of rudeness. I suspect what happens is that when people can’t answer a question on the spot (say, they have to consult their calendar or spouse) they move on to the next FB notification and forget all about the invite. So no, organising events is not easier, in the long run.

3) The calendar reminders
To be honest, I’m not that worried about this. I bought a small diary last year and it has been so much more useful than the FB or phone calendar. It doesn’t, for one thing, lose past events. I note the birthday of friends in it who are close enough to me that I’d wish them well on or near the day. Not using FB would release me from those awkward moments on FB when you ignore a birthday notification because the person really isn’t that close to you.

5) A diary of your life
Yeah, nah. There are plenty of alternative ways to record your life. Even public ways. (Blogs, anyone?)

6) Showing people your holiday snaps, or other pics
These days when someone goes on a trip or has a party they put pics and anecdotes on an event or group page so as to not annoy everyone in their feed. It’d be just as effective to put them on a website and provide a link. I like to remind myself of a trip by looking through my diary and photos, but I don’t if they’re on FB. I write a physical diary most trips, which I read later. We don’t get around to making physical albums any more, however.

During the last trip I deliberately didn’t put anything on FB, and it felt weirdly liberating. It was like saying “FU Facebook, you won’t be earning money from this bit of my life.”

7) Another way to contact friends in an emergency.
If you can’t get in touch via a phone call or text, then perhaps you shouldn’t be relying on that person in an emergency.

8) Promoting myself for work
The only reason I didn’t leave Twitter completely last year was because it was the only way readers of my books could contact me, once I had to shut down comments on my blog to stop the endless stream of spam. But I don’t use Facebook for work (not for lack of trying… long story!) so there’d be no loss there.

Well, that’s a fairly thorough examination. I’ve decided to do what I did with Twitter: take Facebook off my phone so I only use it on the desktop computer. I only turn my desktop computer on a few times a week. That means I’ll have Facebook-free days. If I don’t miss it between now and New Year’s Eve I’ll delete it completely.

Lava Cowl

A few months back a friend surprised me with a lovely small handmade gift for my birthday, so I decided I’d give her something I’d made for her’s. Trouble was, I couldn’t find anything I’d already made that suited her. That wouldn’t be much trouble normally, as I don’t usually need a nudge to make something new.

However, I’d come down with a virus. Vertigo, headaches and fatigue weren’t exactly helping me find my creative mojo. But after a rustle around in the craft room and a flick through a book, I decided to Keep It Simple and just weave a quick scarf out of some graduating yarn with 5ply burgundy cone yarn for warp, using my weaving sword shuttle.

As it turned out, I had some red warp still on the Knitters Loom from when I’d been doing some variable dent reed experimentation earlier in the year. Not enough length for a full size scarf, but fine for a cowl. I added more of the same yarn to widen the warp then got weaving. A few hours later I had this:

I rather like how the warp and weft interact. The red warp stops the overall effect being too burgundy-ish.

It was a good short project, done in a day. In the meantime, I’ve been slowly working out the specs for a table runner a friend requested. It’s going to require some sampling, as I haven’t seen the particular mix of techniques I’m planning to use.

That Time of Year

No, not the pre-Christmas craziness, as that’s only just starting. It’s Spring that is the culprit. Whenever I have a spare day on a weekend I end up weeding for a few hours, after which I want to rest.

The result: very little craft happening.

However, I have managed to fit in a bit here and there. I’ve made progress on the mosaic clock.

And after volunteering to host the extended family Christmas gathering I realised I don’t have any decorations. Not wanting to buy more plastic crap, I whipped up this ‘tree’:

And I’m thinking of making salt dough decorations, so they can be tossed in the compost heap after the event.

Eye of the Needle

I worked on this piece for a couple of years. It was the project I’d take on trips or work on while listening to a speaker and an event. It was also the test piece I worked on after my eye op.

I have to confess, I didn’t enjoy it much. It may be that I didn’t because it hung around so long and I got bored with it. Struggling to work on it post-surgery turned that lack of inspiration to discomfort. There’s some irony in that my last fine embroidery project is an eye, when my eyes are the reason I stopped.

To get the eye finished quicker, I decided not to do the eyebrow and an area of shadow under the eye. The lines were done with the orange-based cleaner on a printout method. I’ve washed these sorts of lines out before, but this time it was hard work scrubbing it off, and I wasn’t entirely successful. Maybe because they’d been there for a few years. To hide them, I painted the piece with Procion dye while at the weaving retreat.

I do like how it turned out.

I just need the perfect frame for it.

Not long after I dyed it I got a fortune cookie at a friend’s birthday party:

I laughed and laughed.

Social Isolation

We just got back from a short holiday on an island. Well, not an island with palm trees and resorts and beaches but an island with farms and mountains and beaches. And not all holiday either as we were there to help a friend who lives on the island celebrate her birthday as well as take a few days to look around.

It was exhausting. And relaxing. I wasn’t there long before the real world and my life at home felt like a distant thing I couldn’t easily bring my mind back to. Yet where I was felt dream-like and unreal. I was a visitor, welcomed by those who lived there, but I wasn’t at home.

The people there are isolated but social. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone looks out for everyone. Everyone gossips about everyone. That’s so different to where I live, in a city with lots of people but I’d have to drive for 15 minutes to an hour see any of my friends and I’ve only talked to three neighbours since I moved here four years ago – and only once to one of them.

I’m not sure what I’d prefer.

Because to be honest, I’m not that much of a people person. Oh, I like people, some very much… so long as I get to spend heaps of time alone. It’s curious to me to come back from such an isolated place all peopled out.

And yet it was a great trip. We really enjoyed ourselves. I think I have a bit of culture shock, though. In a good way. Travel lets you see other ways of existing and surviving and seeing the world. Before we left I was a bit wistful, thinking that in a few days life would be back to normal, but now I’m home I just want to settle so I can get the things done on my to-do list.

Though I suspect the to-do list felt just as overwhelming before we left anyway.

Finishitis, Stash Acquisition & Stinky Yarn

The Guild recently held their annual Textile Bazaar. I rocked up right as the doors were open and left with almost more yarn than I could carry. No cones this time. I wanted two things: rug yarn and maybe some knitting yarn to use on the machines if it took my fancy. I found both.

However.

Most of it stank of moth balls. The stinky yarn got wound into skeins then soaked in woolmix and left to dry and air. The big batch of caramel brown knitting yarn came up fine. The rug yarn utterly reeked, and while it was drying the whole house smelled like a chemical factory. I had to put it in the bathroom, turn on the fan and leave it for a day. Thankfully it’s much better now, though still with a faint mothball odour.

In the meantime, I’ve leafed through my books, to-do list, stash spreadsheet and visual journal and felt only a few little sparks of interest. Whenever I’ve had time for craft I’ve fallen back on existing projects. I’m all out of inspiration.

I got to wondering if am in the throes of a very long bout of finishitis. So I decided to go with it. I finished spinning the yarn on my wheel – some lovely camel fibre – and I plied some banana fibre I spun a while ago with some overlocker cotton.

The third iteration of the twill sampler came off the loom. When I labelled it I discovered I’d completely missed one of the drafts. No idea how that happened. I’m not going to warp up the loom for one 10cm sample, though. I’m not even sure if I want to finish the chapter, to be honest. I have all the two-colour warp ones to do – 27 in total. The realisation that it would take me 20 years to get through the book at this rate was rather off-putting. Maybe I should do something more achievable, like picking ten drafts from each chapter.

All I have left on the WIP list is the mosaic clock. It would be nice to wipe the slate clean, I suppose, but it would also be nice to feel the excitement of starting a new project. For the moment, however, I’m giving my creative brain a rest. It will fire up again when it’s ready, I’m sure.