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Making: a new use for snowflakes

We went to an exhibition, back around Easter time. A bit of a treat, really – a big collection of Matisse paper cutouts.

Dan and his mum have liked Matisse for a long time. I’m newer on the scene, but had managed to see a few things in galleries, like The Snail at Tate Modern.

Junior Reader didn’t know about Matisse, but does know a thing or two about paper cutouts, having gone through an extensive phase of making paper snowflakes. So we thought it might just suit everyone.

When I was at the exhibition, I learned that Matisse had spent time in Hawaii, and that some of the local art had influenced the shapes that he later cut out of paper.

That rang a bell with the quilting book, and more recently, I looked it up. There is a Hawaiian style of quilting that is probably more accurately described as applique i.e. sewing smaller bits of cloth onto bigger bits of cloth in a decorative way.

The Hawaiian style is to have a high contrast between the cutout shape and the background. So you can imagine a white background, say, and a deep blue or deep red design on the front.

But when I looked at how it gets made, all I could think of was: snowflakes.

When you make the template for the cutout shape, you fold the paper into four. You then just take a quarter of the cutout, and pin that onto material which is folded into four.

Then you cut through all four levels of the material. The result is that when you open out the coloured material, you have your complete shape, all nice and symmetrical.

I fancy the idea of collaborating with Junior Reader on this one. One maker making the design, the other sewing it. I think that’s probably a win-win.

The trickier bit is the sewing that goes with it. From what I’ve read so far, you sew a line around the inside of the cutout shape – that holds it in place. You do it in a contrasting colour so it’s easy to spot (and remove later).

Then you do ‘slipstitch’, which I think is to use sewing to tuck the edges under so it looks neat. After that, you remove the traced line of stitching, and your applique is complete. Or something like that.

I don’t quite know what we’d do with the result – a cushion? A wallhanging? I might canvass Junior Reader for ideas. Given the relative enthusiasm for snowflakes, I can imagine that I would be offered several, at the very least.

I’m filing this one as ‘idea for some time later’, rather than an immediate one. But if I can find a deep enough blue (particularly a kind of Yves Klein blue, if I can), and a lovely enough snowflake shape, I rather fancy giving it a try.

I imagine you could also do the same in reverse – ie white snowflake on coloured background. It might not be so Hawaiian, but it might be more snowflakey.

And as Granny R has kindly made some nice red cushions (with leftovers from the red curtains she produced), we might just have the perfect base on which to balance a few snowflakes.

I’ll keep you posted on the weather forecast for this one.

Keep Calm and DIY

Remember the notion of challenge I mentioned recently? Challenge is all right really – at least, the ones that you think you can actually manage.

What when they are ones that pick you? The DIY jobs that you really can’t put off any longer – the ones you also don’t know how to do?

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Here’s how it goes. You agree that there is a task that must be done: taking out the old sealant round the bath and putting in new.

You don’t know how to do it – but one day, your local supermarket happens to do a deal on tools to scrape out the old stuff. So you pick those up, and a sealant tube, and hope that that will spur you on.

You invite your dad round – not to do the job, but to supervise, and show how to start it. He gets out the Trusty Penknife, starts things off. You learn how to keep going, without worrying that you are carving up things that you shouldn’t.

Your dad shows you a new and exciting sharp tool to add to the collection: a Stanley knife that you can use for DIY. It’s meant to be for getting paint off the edge of windows, but you discover you can degrime shower screens with it. Bonus.

Then you realise that you also need to regrout the tiles around the bath. You don’t know how to do that either.

But your dad tells you how to mix up grout, and you discover some left over from when friends did the job in the first place. So you add that to the list.

You begin to scrape out all the old grout around the bath. It makes a mess, it takes a long time, you work up a sweat. You start to learn that preparation in DIY really does take longer than the job itself.

You like the scraper tool, so you buy one. And a different sealant. And take the first back. And go back to the DIY place a few more times, now that you’re in the swing of things, to get radiator paint.

Because your dad has told you that you can seal the rust on the bathroom radiator that you’re embarrassed by, and the hall radiator would probably benefit from a lick of paint…and so on.

One time, you go to the DIY place twice in the same morning. The first time, because you’ve left your bank card in the wrong place. They smile and park your trolley somewhere helpful.

You discover that you have overcome another challenge, namely, driving a new route to the DIY place. And the supermarket nearby.

You touch up paintwork on the walls in the bathroom. And find yourself repainting the bathroom. With a very small brush, because there’s lots of fiddly bits. Good job it’s a small bathroom.

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You enlist the help of your spouse. You seek out YouTube videos on how to do grouting and sealant. Or rather, he does, and you nod approvingly.

And go back to the DIY place, because now you need masking tape to do the sealant properly. And your spouse informs you that the local supermarket does not stock it. (But it does stock quick cook pasta. That helps. You’re tired by now.)

In the end, you chicken out, and let your better half do the actual grouting and sealant. He doesn’t seem to be as nervous.

You stand alongside and provide kitchen roll when asked for, and dig out one of those primary school style glue spreaders that happens to be the right size for pushing grout between tiles.

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You discover that you don’t need to repaint the woodwork. What you really needed to do was to clean it properly in the first place.

You hunt around the attic for the sugar soap, and it does the trick. You are simultaneously pleased at the result and depressed that you let the grot hang around that long.

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You have to remove part of a significant sticker collection around the window to repaint – and breathe a sigh of relief when you can do so safely and return them to their owner without ripping them.

You use one of those masks for painting the radiator. Because the DIY place doesn’t seem to stock radiator paint without significant fumes.

You feel halfway to a proper tradesman, but don’t understand why he doesn’t get headaches from the fumes if he’s doing this all the time.

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You show up for school pick up in painting clothes. Three days running.

It’s only when you’ve finally finished the job that your child informs you that, one more day of painting clothes at pick up, and they might start to get embarrassed.

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All of a sudden, you discover that you can redo a bathroom by doing the cheap bits that freshen it up. You feel very pleased with yourself.

But in the meantime, you eat a whole pork pie on your own, for lunch, because it turns out DIY can take it out of you. Even if you’re keeping as calm as you can.

Making

Over the time I’ve been reading blogs, I’ve discovered that whatever your passion, you’ll find plenty of others eager to share their ideas – successes, failures, tips and so on.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the interest is – science experiments you can do at home, knitting patterns for tiny babies – there’s plenty to borrow from.

So I’m tentatively creating a new category here: making. Not because I think that what I’m trying to do is Pinterest-worthy (hardly, given that I’m still avoiding adding photos), but simply because That’s Where It’s At right now.

Making is probably not big news any more online – but there’s plenty more encouragement for what is effectively free-range creative endeavours. It might be putting together paper and cardboard, it might be making finger puppets, or all kinds of different things.

I’ve reached a point where my head is too full of chatter in the evenings. Sometimes, I drown it out with TV – that works fine, but it seems that my hands would like something to do as well.

So, little by little, I’ve been starting some making of my own. It’s not going to be a new and exciting invention, it’s not going to inspire other kids in the playground, but it’s going to be something that I made. By myself.

I do do making, of sorts. Cooking has been my big area of making, for a long time, but in a funny way, it doesn’t feel like making particularly.

In cooking, you have recipes to follow (or at least to use as a guide). There are techniques to learn; variants on how to use different ingredients.

I dare say the same could be applied to something like woodwork, but I have lacked the confidence to feel that I could then approach a new area of making, and extend my skills there.

So what I’m trying is a bit different for me – it’s in the following your nose kind of category of activity. I’m trying things out: no patterns, no how tos, no instruction booklets.

No one is telling me what to make but me. No one is devising the plans but me. That is partly faintly alarming and partly very releasing, because I can be on my own side. It’s about having fun in the activity, and hopefully it turning out OK.

The thing with making is that it encourages all kinds of useful skills. Learning through trial and error, thinking on your feet, improving techniques as you go along.

It’s a very arts/crafts way of thinking – much more what you can do with your hands than I’m used to. But that’s OK. I don’t want to write a thesis in the evenings; I want to relax, and maybe explore a little too.

I am worried about whether I’ll manage to be precise enough. I fear cutting into things and making mistakes, but maybe I’ll find a different idea as a result. (I hope so.)

So every now and then, I’ll share some making thing that I’m doing. I might even mention what Junior Reader is up to – there’s someone who loves making, and is not afraid to try new things. Maybe I can learn a thing or two.

I’m hoping that what I come up with will be a little bit eco, too, finding new purposes for things, spinning out the life of a garment. Stopping some fabric sitting doing nothing, and turning it into something useful.

If you’re really lucky, I might even take photos. Not for the how-to factor, but to prove to myself: I made something. I can do it.

And I can enjoy the process as well as the finished product.

Some days, I’m just packed

Down day. Family are off on separate excursions. I’m home, resting. That’s the plan.

Except. It’s harder to rest. I’m not at home, so it should be easier – fewer ‘to dos’ that I can find. But I find some anyway – packing for going home (two and a bit days still here!), washing, catching up online.

That creative e-course I mentioned a while back? It didn’t happen – but I found another. The emails seem to be coming through thick and fast – let alone all the traffic on the message boards. Feelings of ‘can’t keep up’.

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I did create a category for ‘challenge’. I know I did. Here’s one already, and I didn’t even plan for it: learning in a new way.

Funny, really, because the course is partly about supporting others to learn in a certain way – and doing the same myself, as part of the support. So I shouldn’t really be surprised about new ways of learning for me.

But I am. Because, the thing is, I’m good at learning. I did it for a long time. I did it so I got bits of paper with my name on.

After a while, I even got brave enough to do learning with practical application! Twice. So there. (Yes, I did write ‘so there’. I’ll go and think about why I needed to do that. In a bit.)

Now, there’s no one making me do the course – except me. No one will actually know exactly how much of the material I read – except me.

But the way I’ve learned in the past is a lot about reading all of what I’ve been given – and already, what I have to read is spiralling, every time I go back to my inbox.

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This is my holiday week. The one where we all go on holiday together. As opposed to the other ‘it’s the school holidays but I’m working’ weeks. So it ought to be a good time to do some reading.

It was, a day or so ago. I had three books on the go at the same time. A chapter or so per book, then on to a different one. All interesting.

The difference seems to be when it crosses over from ‘want to’ to ‘should’.

Right now, it’s feeling like a should, rather than a want to, even though I know I am really interested in the course, the whole approach, and so on. I should do the reading… because I paid for the course.

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When I started off writing today, I had that Calvin and Hobbes book title in my head: ‘The Days Are Just Packed’. The thing is, they are. Pretty much every day. (All without me spending time going downhill in my magical go-kart.)

So I get to the holidays, and the days are still packed with washing, cooking, packing – and I don’t want to do another thing that feels like a ‘should’. (Even when it is really a want to.)

Some days, I’m just packed. Only just. The morning we were due to set off, I sent the others off on an errand to the supermarket so I could finally pack. That morning. (Those who know me well will know This Does Not Normally Happen.)

Trying to decide how to do the reading in a full week, with lots of time with other people, is causing another should to emerge when it’s not about shoulds. Particularly on holiday.

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The challenge is not the reading. The challenge is prioritising my own interests over the every day.

Part of the reason I wanted an e-course to do was to do just that: make this writing thing important enough to push (a few) other things out of the picture.

Right now, that feels selfish. Impractical. Unrealistic. And any of those other words mothers use, when they justify why they don’t spend time (or money, or other things) on themselves.

The challenge is behaving differently. The big challenge to add to that is asking those around me to help me behave differently – by giving me time to myself. And helping me protect it too.

But firstly, I need to show what that looks like. Why it matters to protect some time to myself. And why I can choose to sit and write, just now, instead of running around doing the household things that are there, whether it’s holiday time or not.

Here I am. Writing.

Hello.

Living dangerously

Call it the hot and sticky weather (unusual for Scotland). Call it the approach of 40. Call it the congruence of thoughts and various blog posts.

Whatever I call it, it feels like a call, of sorts, to shake a few things up. Try some new things. Live dangerously, even – or dangerously for me.

What does that mean? Dangerous might mean stepping into unfamiliar territory, even territory that I’ve purposely avoided for most of my life. Like drawing.

Like a lot of people, I tended to expect that drawing is just something that you’re good at. Or not. I was in the ‘not’ group from a fairly early age.

Thankfully I found words instead of pictures – and those did me well for a long time. They still work well now, in fact. But all of a sudden, I seem to be coming across encouragements to draw.

At first, I thought they might be for Junior Player – some things to try out over the summer. Then I read a blog post talking about kids learning to draw for themselves. Interesting.

Shortly after that, I found some ‘how to draw’ books in my favourite second-hand book shop. I decided to buy them. (They didn’t have to be for me, right?)

In the meantime, I read another post about a family all drawing together for a month. But somehow, a day or two before, I announced the drawing project to Junior Player – and found myself saying that it was for both of us.

Committed now. Deep breath.

I like learning new things. They have tended to be things that fit with what I can already do. They might add a bit of challenge, but they often come back to some form of book learning, and writing.

I can’t get away with writing if I’m meant to be drawing. The best I can do to sidle round it is to draw – and write about it afterwards.

At the same time, the second article reminded me of what I’d been reading about for writing skills – and what I’d set in motion when I started off the ‘write a post a day for a month‘ endeavour.

It isn’t necessarily about being good. Having it all sussed in advance. It is about turning up, trying, maybe mixing things up a bit when the first rush of inspiration or intention is used up.

Will I put up my pictures to go with posts? Dunno. Maybe. I am meaning to do photos to go with posts – maybe it’s a nudge in that direction.

But I started to realise that it’s part of a wider pattern of trying new things at the moment. Some of them are a bit tricky, but manageable (first go at making sushi? I’ll tell you about that another time).

Others are emerging, little by little. Changes in what I want to eat. There may also be more.

So I’ve given myself a new blog category to go with it: challenge. It won’t be a series for a month. (Trust me, I don’t need to introduce that many challenges at one time.)

Drawing will certainly be a challenge for me, but I’ll give it a go. And that’s probably enough for now. To turn up, to give it a go, whether it’s scary or not.