Tag Archives: recycling

Holiday grab bag

Christmas Elf with Curly Toes

Christmas Elf with curly toes

Last week I gave you an elf figure – here’s another for you to use in your collages or card making.

If you want some holiday inspiration, there is a ton on Pinterest. Here is my Holiday Decor and Crafts board with links to 174 different projects, printables or ideas. A search of Pinterest will give you endless hours of surfing for creative inspiration.

A year ago I was writing for Natural Life Magazine. My column was Crafting for a Greener World, and I had a few columns related to the holidays. Last year I published this tutorial for a tree topper angel or caroling figure. You can also find a bunch of ideas for eco-friendly gift wrap in another article, and some crafty gift ideas of DIY craft kits.

Here’s my tutorial for one of my favorite holiday projects. This is how I use up all of last year’s received cards, and make evermore ornaments for my holiday tree. Now that we have a house, I see more than one tree in our future, so more ornaments will help.

Over on the ScraPerfect blog you will find many beautiful ideas for holiday cards, scrapbook layouts and crafting. One of my favorite tutorials ever is for my vintage-image transferred Family Tree Ornaments. I won’t be making more this year (thanks to moving) but I absolutely intend to go hog wild next year with my stash of vintage images for ornaments.

Vintage Image Ornament

Vintage Image Ornament

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. We’ll be back in the new year with The Principles of Design, how to find your gateway art form, and more ideas for igniting and expressing your creativity. Much love to you and your family.

Crafting Useful Things Part 2

Corrugated Cardboard hearts

Punching holes

Materials Based Designing Continued.

“ 2. I will often sketch ideas and, usually with recycled things, I’ll cut up a couple for experiments.”

Having worked out the most useful and relevant properties of my chosen material, and also defined those that might be deleterious, I like to sketch and jot down ideas for using it. That is how I came up with my water bottle cuffs.

Step 2 is essentially Play!

Play might be defined as undirected, enjoyable, experimental. It’s putting the various characteristics of the material that I listed to practical testing. I want to see what the material will do. Using the plastic as an example:

  • if it bends, how far?
  • if it reacts to heat, how much?
  • if it seems soft enough to cut, with what tool? And can it be pierced or punched?

I tend to cut stuff up, especially to see how the edges look. Some of the things I cut were small flowers with a pin hole in the center, to use as custom brads, giant sequins or embellishments.

I want to have fun. I might easily make nothing useful at first.

Defining “Useful”.

When I work on craft projects, especially upcycled stuff, I try to make it useful:

  • Practical, pragmatic – Cute is fun, but not enough – the object must serve a purpose that is ultimately to make life simpler, more efficient or more comfortable.
  • Fulfilling a need – including the need for aesthetic appreciation.

My goal is “efficiency with elegance”.

Therefore qualities to avoid include fussy. Good design means functionality that limits fuss.

I mentioned recycled plastic bottle cuffs- and they are cute BUT some are challenging to wear because they get hot, and fasten awkwardly. However the one I made with the button and loop, and soft crocheted edging is much more comfortable and easy to wear.

Recycled Water bottle cuffs dyed and embellished

Upcycled Cuffs

Design Report from Dwell On Design Expo.

I had an interesting time at the Dwell Expo, a trade show about Modernist design focusing on architecture and interiors – all very practical “real world” applications of good design. I saw a ton of design that was both useful and elegant. I saw materials based upcycling – “how can I use this material to make beautiful, useful things?”, resulting in furniture, wall coverings and lighting fixtures.

I also saw a lot of “Solution Based Design”. The designers were defining the problem, choosing an aesthetic (in this case mostly Modernism), and then finding the material to make the solution work.

One company talked about using materials as an aesthetic guide. They are creating new luxury gift products for JCPenney. They focused on the colors and textures of natural materials – wood, stone, metals – as emblematic of luxe.

I was fascinated by the prototyping process, because it reminded me so strongly of scientific method. The designers had initial sketches, then proposed a hypothesis – “will this design work?” They then experimented with more drawings, working models, 3D printed prototypes for shapes to test the functionality and ergonomics, and finally a conclusion – a working, useful product.

I’ll be writing up some articles, especially about sustainable construction and green architecture, for Natural Life Magazine.

So Follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets. Please Retweet and use the share buttons!

If anything turns out to be useful to you, please let me know in the comments.

The Tweets of the Week!

Crafting Useful Things – Part One

Materials Based Crafting

Practical crafting is a combination of flourishing creative thinking and design, and skilled manufacturing or making. A few years ago I wrote about my process for designing craft projects for my then column in Natural Life MagazineOver the next couple of weeks I’m going to break down my project and object design process as weekly themes, and hopefully illuminate my philosophy for making those intentional design choices in the cause of making useful things.

Buttons and paper Wall Decor

By way of an overview, here’s the relevant part of the article, which was in part about my challenges in upcycling plastic bottles and packaging items.

“I do not want to design a goofy crafting project just for the sake of “cleverly” using the recycled material in some contrived way. The end product must be genuinely artful or pretty or useful – and sensible. I’m pragmatic too. Costly tools or extra materials for making it from a recycled source can doom a design idea. The project design should take advantage of the qualities of the source material as a good way to achieve the final result, rather than displaying an uncomfortable union of wishful thinking and imposed manipulation.

But most of all, especially in light of what I have learned about the recycling industry, I don’t want my crafting project to be a less green use for the plastic item than placing it intact into the collection bin. So multiple use is important.

Here is an insight into my intentional design process:

    1. I examine the material and list the qualities.                                                                                                For plastics: Generally unbreakable. Somewhat flexible, yet largely rigid – the shape is inherent to the object. Often soft enough to cut with ordinary scissors or X-Acto blades – but still retains shape. Impermeable – at room temperature – to water but may be susceptible to some solvents or dyes. Often transparent or translucent. Reactive to heat in a variety of ways and temperatures (caution required). Slick or shiny surfaces – may or may not accept paint, markers. Usually very lightweight for the size. Sometimes can be folded and retain fold. Lasts and lasts.
    2. I will often sketch ideas and, usually with recycled things, I’ll cut up a couple for experiments.
    3. I make a prototype or examples.
    4. If necessary, I test the instructions, patterns, and fun quotient by inviting friends – child or adult – to try out the project with my supplies. If need be, I make changes based on the success of the lab.”

Step 1 is unique to what I call “Materials Based crafting”. It can be great fun and a great creativity jump starter. It’s the imaginative equivalent of wandering around the arts and crafts store and asking yourself “What can I make with that?” For anyone interested in upcycling and creative reuse, it’s an essential step.

Understanding the physical qualities of the material, whether it is new or upcycled, whether it is man-made or natural, is important if you want to make something useful, lasting and beautiful, out of the material.

A similar mental process is taking inspiration from fabrics for your fashion design, rather than going in looking for a specific color or cloth.

Button Headband

People who enjoy this are often great at extemporizing with assemblage and collage. They see the potential in a stack of stuff. They are also great at using familiar materials or objects in different ways. One example is taking buttons and twisting wire to make them into brads for scrapbook layouts (my favorite). I love these found object art dolls (robots) by ckudja on Etsy.

On the other hand people who are meticulous planners, engineers at heart, also can appreciate the process of examining and categorizing material.

Some crafting materials to consider: plastic bottles (as I did), corrugated cardboard, junk mail, padded mailing envelopes, old fencing or pallets, polymer clay, air dry clay, regular clay, sticks, pebbles, concrete blocks, metal pipe fixtures, felt sheets, sandpaper, acrylic scraps, wire, rusty nails, melamine plates, ceramic pots, balsa wood, leather, raffia, canvas, chiffon, old pencils, empty jars.

It’s not a finished list by any means.

Now an idea that seems to be the opposite: Wabi-Sabi

There’s a Japanese aesthetic principle called Wabi-Sabi. The Wikipedia entry has a nice summary, including:

“beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”….materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time .”

It has a lot in common spiritually with Shabby Chic and Prim aesthetics, which also embrace wear, age, distressed surfaces and rough edges. But it differs from them to embody spacious simplicity with one tiny, asymmetrical flaw, and man made structures with a random seeming intrusion from the natural world.

A big part of creating Wabi-Sabi art pieces is embracing randomness (which will be an upcoming theme on its own) and improvising with imperfect or found materials.

Worn Calligraphy

Worn with age

But Wabi-Sabi is still founded on understanding and appreciating the qualities inherent in the materials along with the outward visual appearance.

Examining the material is like actors improvising a scene to play and warm up before working on the script. Next week I’ll be talking about the more structured next steps, including how the approach to materials is different when the focus in on an intended/desired outcome.

So Follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets. Please Retweet and use the share buttons!

If anything turns out to be useful to you, please let me know in the comments.

The Tweets of the Week!