Friday, April 08, 2011

The maker's dilemma

I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have acquired for making stuff. It's really quite scary. But, occasionally, I am really happy that, when the urge to create strikes, we have enough to do just about anything.

Iris used to play imaginative games with another girl in first grade and her teacher suggested that I invite the girl over to our house to play. She mentioned that the play dates should always take place at our house because things at the other girl's house were quite rough*.

During one play date, I suggested the girls paint. Iris has two craft carts full of supplies--one for painting, another for scrap booking. We set up the paints and papers and I let the girls at it. When I walked by again, the guest asked if she could have another sheet of paper.

I pointed to the stack and told her to help herself. She painted another and then another. Iris got bored and read a book while her friend painted. I overheard them talking.

The guest asked Iris what happens when she uses up her supplies. Iris told her that I buy some more. The other girl was stunned.

I was reminded of this incident when I came home with this skort from the Lands' End clearance rack. Iris said that it fit, but she would not wear it so plain. She wanted an asymmetrical motif on the front.

I got out my stencil books and paints. None of them were what she had in mind. Then I remembered a Japanese pattern book that had some simple, but bold embroidery motifs. She found the perfect one immediately.

All I had to do was scan the motif and display it with Picasa. I moved the size slider bar until it was enlarged to just the right size. Then I traced it onto a piece of printer paper using the computer screen as a lightbox. I transferred the motif to the skirt using carbon tracing paper and a plastic Hera marker while Iris rummaged around in my tin of embroidery floss, looking for the perfect shade of blue.

I showed Iris how to do a back stitch and she went at it with surprising perseverance. When she got tired and went to bed, I finished the last ~20% for her. The project was conceived and executed in one evening because I had all the supplies on hand.

Another morning, I decided to make the Star Fragments quilt out of the book, Flying Colors. I've been dragging this poster from one home to another since 1983. I saw the George Costakis collection at and was completely blown away by the saturated colors and composition. The poster is faded now, and I wanted to put something really bright in its place. I found everything needed to complete the project in the sewing room.

I thought about cropping out the clutter, but then decided against it. There are so many commercial images of clutter-free perfection, I felt like it would be a public service to show what an actual house with children looks like.

(Lest you remark that I only have one child, have you met my husband yet? Yes, that is the Lego NXT set I wrote about in What Do Automobiles and Spacecraft Have in Common? while guest blogging for the Atlantic Technology site. Iris made that Duplo rainbow when she learned the colors of the rainbow--and their order--in kindergarten. We keep that around to remind us that red goes on the outside and violet goes in the middle. The rainbow sits on a set of nesting boxes that she used to play with as a baby. No, the stuff diet is not going well. Why do you ask?)

After I bound the quilt, I put it through the washer and dryer. While I was waiting for that to finish, I made this charity quilt top. Sometimes, I just want a brainless project that is ready to go. I always keep a few 7-minute quilt top kits stored in Ziploc bags in the sewing room. It took considerably longer than 7 minutes.

In other news, I finally recovered my ironing table. The old cover was so stained and ripped. The padding also needed new augmentation as it had compressed to the point where you can see the impressions of the metal grill underneath. I was really happy to find the perfect fabric, this sturdy African printed cotton, in my collection.

20 years ago, I had a heat-sensitive mahogany dining table that required a cotton insulator pad under the table cloth. I got rid of the table, but saved the pad--for 20 years. I must have known that I would need to recover an ironing board someday.

Using the old cover as a pattern, I cut and hemmed the replacement cover. I tried to thread a piece of string around the edge the same way as on the old cover, but I used the only thin string I had, crochet cotton. It lacks the tensile strength to allow me to gather up the cover taut. It snapped immediately, sending me to the fabric store to buy some polyester cord. I found polyester cord, but some more fabric also came home with me.

I did take a trunk full of stuff to Goodwill and another trunk load went to Iris' cousin. While we cleaned up her room, Iris found some neglected but well-loved toys. While I was taking the boxes downstairs, she built an assemblage, complete with Snap Circuit sound effects.

So her floor was clear for like, 10 seconds.

* I had previously mentioned that we moved into what realtors euphemistically call a "neighborhood in transition". The other girl was an old timer family that people like us are pushing out. She lived with her grandmother, who couldn't afford the rents here any longer. A few months later, they moved a mile to the east, where rents are lower, but the homicide rate is 10 times higher and the elementary school has a ~90% poverty rate (vs ~20% here).

Our neighborhood school was full up and she was unable to get an inter-district transfer. She attended another school for one year before she was able to get readmitted to our neighborhood school.

By then, she had completely changed. She became very quiet, didn't play imaginative games any more and had become obese. The changes occurred in just one year.

People in that neighborhood are scared to let their children play outside. Several children have been shot in gang cross-fire in recent years. Check out the excellent LA Times interactive homicide map to see the disparities. We live sandwiched between gang warfare on one side and a resort-like beach community where homes sell for $2-20 Million.

Meanwhile, we are cozy inside our home, but we are up to our eyeballs in tools for creating.


  1. My husband teases me about all my suuplies, but we all use them all the time. He needs to make a poster for the neighborhood pool meeting? I have paints and pens. My daughter needs to make a last minute, yet creative birthday gift?We use printable fabric to make a picture pillow. Iris will grow up knowing she can make her own art. It's empowering. (I feel so bad for her friend.)

  2. Anonymous05:30

    This is a lovely reminder of how kids' creativity can be supported (as well as a very sad story about your daughter's friend! I hope being back in the familiar school environment will help her).

    I have enjoyed your essays for some time - they always make me think (and sometimes act.....). Thank you.


  3. The stories about the scholarship applicant and your daughter's friend are so sad. I can't believe we spend so much time arguing about the supposed impact of gay marriage on our children and so little time looking for solutions to the problems that are really impacting their lives.

  4. That's not a dilemma, that's a wealth of raw materials waiting for inspiration!

    I hope your daughter's friendship, and access to all her goodies, helps her friends see the possibility in the world.


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