Making Things

It has long been a family joke that I have only one skill – verbal reasoning – and that’s it. I am distinctly not an all-rounder. But my friend, Ms Thrifty, started it, being a very capable and artistic sort of person.  She found a link to these incredible artworks made out of pages of books by Su Blackwell and sent it to me and to the manager of our book store. Once we had exclaimed excitedly about the installations – and they are extraordinarily exquisite and gorgeous – she began to tempt us with weasel words about having a go at making something similar. Oh I remembered how it all went back in childhood, watching the presenters of Blue Peter making some amazing model of Tracy’s Island out of egg boxes and cereal packets that you believed you could reproduce perfectly, only to find your sagging, shedding model, bound up like an S & M victim with desperate quantities of sticky tape, bore no ressemblance to anything other than the sum of its diminished parts. But I am older now, with better motor skills, even if no wiser. And so it was with some excitement that I arrived at Ms Thrifty’s house one evening last week, with a copy of Colette’s Gigi that I had saved from the recycling bin, ready to craft an artwork.

I’m sure an art therapist would have had a field day with the different approaches that we took to the task. Ms Thrifty started snipping up a cereal box to make a basic framework, our adorable manager let rip with a Stanley knife on the pages of a hardback book, and I started fiddling around with a quantity of wire. In the meantime, in the way of women through the ages, we found it very easy to talk about all the things that were bothering us, while our hands were creatively engaged. Ms Thrifty had a friend staying over who is going through a difficult divorce. Our manager had had to undergo a formal interview to secure funding for another year of PhD research. Ms Thrifty is very busy at the moment with a geological museum project. And you know all about me already. It struck me how very 21st century were our concerns, all mostly career-related. Wouldn’t our mothers or our grandmothers have had a very different kind of conversation over their tapestries and their crochet?

In the end, we were pretty pleased with the results. Ms Thrifty made a dinky little cottage with a tiled roof and  a collage of windows and doors (see it here). Our manager made a pop-up style scene with pine trees and ghosts and directional arrows that rose from the open pages of a book. And I made a tree:

Considering that my husband and son had been convinced I would return home with my fingers glued to my head or the seat of my jeans, this counted as a roaring success on my un-dextrous terms. Afterwards, Ms Thrifty and I got a bit over-excited and imagined a whole scene for the windows of the bookstore at Christmas, with a Santa sleigh and a little hamlet of houses. I think this was wishful thinking, but we’ve said we’ll have another art evening soon and try again.

While we’re on the subject of making things, you may remember my son’s extended project at school, which was to bake a series of fancy cakes. Well, on the weekend he produced the cake that started him off on all this, a rainbow cake:

Pretty neat, eh?


36 thoughts on “Making Things

    • Oh thank you! It’s been fascinating to watch my son get better at baking over the course of the year. He is so much more confident now than he was to begin with! I love that!

  1. I’ve also been thinking a bit lately about how women’s conversations have changed in recent generations. I am part of a crafting group that includes both women in their 60-70s and women in their 20-30s. One of the older women pointed out to us recently that the way we younger women interact with each other is very different from previous generations. She said that we are much more informal with each other and are more able to give and take suggestions for improvement without offense. The prevalence of work related conversation that you mention is probably another difference.

    • biblioglobal, you are so right! The suggestions were flying back and forth all evening about what we should each do (lots of opinions on my particular situation, and I was just interested to hear what other women thought). I hadn’t thought of that older generation as less able to take advice but I suppose, yes, that may well be the case (or at any rate, that it’s perceived as intrusive, and not anyone else’s business).

  2. It was such a good evening…a repeat is needed very soon! I was so busy making that I didn’t really think about the conversations that we had…but you are spot-on with your analysis! Off to post about exactly the same evening now!

  3. Oh my gosh Litlove, I am still laughing at your description of a childhood project “bound up like an S & M victim”! Good show on the tree. And your son’s rainbow cake is not only pretty but also looks quite tasty.

  4. These are both fantastic projects–I’m very impressed! I try my hand at quilting sometimes because I love the idea of making things too, but I have pretty mixed results. The fun is in the doing, though, right?

    • Rohan, I had forgotten you did that until you mentioned it! I think sewing in a group might be even more relaxing. You’re right that the value is in the doing, although that bad Cambridge part of me likes to produce something not too shameful by the end! 🙂 Actually I think the issue may be how fiercely we judge the products of our labours. I’ll bet if you showed your quilts to me I’d be hugely impressed!

    • Thank you, my friend! The different colours are somewhat deceptive, I think, as the layers all just taste of cake. I will have to suggest to my son that the next level of sophistication would be to have a strawberry layer, a blueberry one, a lemon one, etc. It’s a great idea!

  5. Terrific tree–impressively coloured cake! I think it’s fabulous you did that. I love doing things with my hands though I have no talent and because of that I need a push to start. My visions tend to be so much beyond my skill is the main problem. I did manage to hem drapes and enjoyed it very much!

    • Oh that is so much the case in my family. Both my son and I have ambitions beyond our abilities! But I would like to do more with my hands – that kind of activity is very relaxing, and a nice break from the endless thinking.

  6. *Very* cool and Yum sums up how I feel about your projects! And you keep telling me you don’t have have the patience for these sorts of creative endeavors! I knew that couldn’t possibly be the case. Doing these sorts of creative things really, really is very calming and therapeutic–it would be fun to get together with other ladies to stitch! I love how Colette forms the sturdy base–very fitting somehow. As Rohan says—it’s really almost more about the process than the finished project.

    • Well, you know, if I had any inspiration, it came from Colette! 🙂 It was a lot of fun to do it in a group, and I kept at it a lot longer than I would have done on my own (plus put more effort in!). I love the idea of a group of women stitching together – I completely agree that it would be so calming and therapeutic. This was pretty good, too. I would definitely come and stitch by your side if you were closer!

  7. That’s gorgeous! How did you do it? Are there steps that another non-crafty person who is me might follow? I am terrible at crafts, but I have enjoyed going to classes where they teach you to do a craft and take you through all the steps. I am yearning to learn bookbinding but so far have not been able to find a cheap good class.

    • Oh I agree! Bookbinding would be fabulous! Thank you for your kind words about my tree. It sort of came about, really. I began with lengths of wire, which I twisted into a trunk and branches. Then I took strips of printed pages and wrapped the wire up like a mummy. I wasn’t sure what to do then, so I thought of having lots of butterflies sitting in the branches. So the leaves began that way, but I found by glueing three ‘butterflies’ together I got this 3-D effect, and could hook them over the branches so they sat neatly. Believe you me, if it had been hard, I wouldn’t have been able to do it!

  8. I have a friend who is still overwrought that her holiday decorations don’t look anything like the Martha Stewart examples she is trying to copy. I bite my tongue. I would rather bite your son’s lovely cake.

    • Oh how funny! It’s bad enough when you’re a child – at least you know you aren’t supposed to be good at stuff yet. My son’s cake was actually a Martha Stewart recipe, which led to a lot of ribald comment about her financial situation while he was making it. I really wish I could send you a piece!

  9. Yay for you – I bet making something so pretty, that you doubted you’d be able to make, was satisfying and therapeutic in the best way possible. And I am deeply impressed with the raindow cake… Master J and I have a date with a cupcake tin this afternoon so I’ll let you know how we fare…

    • Oh do let me know how you get on! My son was always a very keen baker. I found in the end that the best thing to do was give him (and a friend if one was round) a quantity of gingerbread dough, and they would cut it into shapes and monsters and sculpt stuff out of it, or just knead it and bang it about until they were calm enough to make things from it is probably more accurate. Letting them in on the act any earlier sometimes led to massive flour explosions, etc. But I’ll bet you have a lovely time. 🙂

  10. I’m a Su Blackwell fan but yous doesn’t need to be ashamed next to hers. No, not at all, it’s really lovely.
    I’m still not sure I could do it, cut up a book, it’s silly, it would have landed in a bin.

    • I would have felt the same, but working at the secondhand bookstore really toughens you up. You would not believe how rank and horrid and disintegrating some books are. They are not objects over which any sentimental feelings are produced! I certainly felt easier about it than I might once have done. And isn’t Su Blackwell amazing? I can’t get over her sculptures; they’re gorgeous.

  11. I bow my head in complete admiration. Flying would be an easier task as far as I’m concerned. If I so much as pick up a pair of scissors The Bears automatically run for cover. As in so many things, I acknowledge you my superior.

    • You could make this, you really could! I am the least handy person (and could provide many testimonies to this effect!). Get the bears to lend you a paw – teamwork is really the key here. 😉

  12. Handy is actually something I’m good at; the faculty and staff at our elementary school, as well as all 846 children, know me as the Origami Queen. Perhaps I’m better at folding than writing? 🙂 That said, I love your little tree. It’s quite whimsical and would look darling with other buildings and such in your shop’s windows. Wish I could add a few origami pieces myself, as I folded many ornaments out of book pages (gasp!) last Winter.

    It’s interesting to me how you all discussed your current woes. Should I have been there I would have bored you all with the most distressing woe to come upon me yet: the worry I tend to carry about my son joining the Marines. I refuse to let it blow into full-blown fear, but only just.

    May we have the strength to overcome what threatens to overwhelm us.

    • Bellezza, I don’t know what you are doing in the States. We need you here! The Origami Queen is exactly who we need to get this window display off the ground! And at the same time we would offer you much warm support over your worries, which sound perfectly natural and reasonable. Only of course life is so peculiar that our children are in as much danger crossing the road and it’s the whole unpleasant task of giving them up to chance and fate that feels so utterly dreadful. I love your last line, and I’m sending hugs.

    • It’s lovely to have you drop by! Well, normally I am firmly on your side. I got seduced into having a go, and it was fun, though certainly not effortless on my part! 🙂

  13. I think you should add this to your list of possible future jobs… Really, your tree is wonderful, I cannot believe you really aren’t ‘crafty’. I bet the three of you could take on that shop window.

    The rainbow cake is just so cool. It must also have involved elements of patience and creativity I can only dream of!

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