A World of Colors
The Fun and Fancy Free Art of Pixels
Lessons from Grandmothers
Poking the Gravid Chicken
Lessons from GrandmothersHealthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
Sometimes, I become aware of generation gaps that expose how culture has changed over the years. Visiting homes of older relatives, the changes in consumer habits are easy to see; Go back enough generations, and you'll find in your family that there was probably a point in time in which your relatives threw almost nothing away, due to economic depression or war (or both). If you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), some of them may be hanging on the skills that enabled them to turn any object seemingly past its usefulness, to something that can be used again.
Homes of creative recyclers are never boring -- they're either crammed full with "rubbish" waiting to be processed, and/or one crammed full with charming crafts. Either way, this month's column pays tribute to the wonderful people I've known in my life who could teach today's upstarts a thing or two about being creative and green!
I've described these briefly before, but the real people who taught me how to make and use these were my grand-aunts. There are tutorials online on how to make square original boxes from square pieces of paper or post-it notes (here and here or a crazy bunch here) but my favorite remains the method for making collapsible square boxes out of oblong pieces of paper of any proportion (like letter-size or A4, or greeting-card halves and so forth). One has to admit that most of the paper used in our lives doesn't often come in perfect squares. My grand aunts were using this method to recycle magazine pages, junk mail, flyers, and so forth. They even used this box to hold the collapsed form of the hundreds of boxes they made. The folded boxes were utilised to hold fruit, candies, nutshells, or serve as individual disposable plates at messy family barbecues. With a little planning and ingenuity they can make desk and drawer organizers. If the boxes are still clean at the end of their use, they can also be recycled.
Old Cloth, Needle and Thread
My grandma and grand aunts (both sides) were gifted with needle and thread. They came from a time when no woman could be without sewing skills, because they could then mend and rescue torn clothing, or make home goods like indoor rugs, quilts, pot holders, even toys (stuffed with uncooked rice), from whatever that could not be rescued. The skills alone to do this are worthy of admiration, but it's the small carbon footprint of creating new things from things rescued from the waste stream that really impresses me out of this creative waste-not-want-not ethic. Whereas most of us may think of home linens and our clothing as two completely separate, unconnected things, others may break down the mental walls, and are able to convert one to the other (and backwards) with a little bit of ingenuity and without spending a load at (or even visiting) the craft store. (Think about the energy involved in creating new fabric/craft supplies as well as shipping them in from China!) Drawstring sacks and bags may be the easiest and most useful craft project to make out of stained or ripped cloth, and make storage tools that are healthier and a lot more attractive than plastic -- frequently PVC (polyvinyl chloride) that outgasses phthalates.
Sewing machines do not have to be a bank-breaking or earth-harming purchase. Ask around for a antique machine that someone may have languishing around in their attic, or look in newspaper classifieds for secondhand or refurbished machines. Hand sewing is also sufficient for small projects. There's also nothing like presenting (and receiving) handmade items as gifts -- something to remember as we approach the holiday season!
The old ways of reusing whatever is available are classic -- and poised for a well-deserved return as climate change is forcing us to look at earth-friendly ways to live, work and create. Becoming curious about these old ways may even help us forge new relationships and experiences with those who can teach us. Enjoy!
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