Archive | Handmade RSS feed for this section

Experience gift cards

ExperienceGiftCardsOpera

Happy 2015! I have never put a lot of stock in making New Years’ resolutions. This is partly because I would like to believe that I’m capable of finding the resolve to make changes in my life—however large or small, on ordinary days throughout the year. Also, momentous occasions can be weighted by a kind of pressure that for better or worse, I tend to shy away from. But this year I have a few personal goals that I’m moving toward. One is to follow through on the gift “proposals” I made this year. In place of object presents, I gave “experience gift cards” to my loved ones. I made them from recycled, compostable rag paper, give to me by my friend Pam while I was visiting her Shotwell Paper Mill. On the front of each card I drew an image that corresponds with the activity described inside the card. In my remaining time at Parsons, I want to take advantage of the discounted student tickets available at institutions across New York City. These ticket deals often come in pairs, so I realized that this was something I could offer to my friends and family this holiday season and beyond. While coming up with experiences, I chose some individualized adventures and other “wildcard” activities that be enjoyed by anyone in my family.

ExperienceGiftsCardMaking

Experience gifts are my favorite kind to give. Selfishly, I love sharing in the activities. In the context of this blog, I have come to really prefer this kind of expression of love, which aims at making memories rather than waste. Because nostalgia is a mechanism that operates strongly in me, the experience gifts I’ve given and received are throughout my life are the most meaningful and memorable. Certainly, objects can be imbued with nostalgia too… but more on that in an upcoming post.

ExperienceGistCards

I was curious to see what would happen if I let everyone draw from the pile, so in a Christmas day experiment, I laid the cards on the dining room table and asked each member of my family to choose the images they were most drawn to. The specifically curated activities were each picked by the person they were intended for. I smiled ear-to-ear watching that unfold.  Then the wildcards were selected and all the holiday date gifts were set.

experiencegiftscardbotanic

ExperienceCardMom

This first date I made good on was with my mom. I took her to the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln center to see La Traviata. The student discount is significant so check it out if you’re eligible. The show was beautiful. Growing up, my mother filled our home and our station wagon with the music of her favorite composers, bands, and folk singers. Like sponges, my brother, sister, and I learned the lyrics and melodies of everything she played for us. We’d sing along, dance around the living room, and perform impromptu concerts for her (many of them recorded on our video camera). To this day, when I’m sad, my mom will tell me to put on some music. Now, whenever I wonder what to give my mom, the resounding answer is to give back music.

I will post the rest of the experiences as they are shared. Here’s to many wonderful adventures in 2015.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

‘Tis the season of Waste and Want

Waste2Want4

While spending Christmas day with loved ones, I have been reflecting on my fall semester in the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons. I can hardly believe how quickly it passed. The design methodologies, technical skills, and new modes of thinking I learned are clearer from the retrospective “balcony” than they were on the mid-semester “dance floor.” I want to share a project I made for my portfolio. This post has a lot of photos because I geeked about how beautiful the process is.

In one of my classes, I was given the assignment of producing a physical portfolio, business card, or brochure that reflects my professional practice. I knew that I couldn’t simply make a digitally printed book on industrial paper manufactured from wood pulp and claim it’s an object that represents my No Trash principles. So, I consulted my enormously talented friend Pam DeLuco, who I’ve written about here on this blog in the past. I told her I was thinking about making the paper by hand and she advised me on different materials that I could scavenge from the trash and natural fibers I could forage to make the pulp. She then invited me out to California to make it in her beautiful studio, Shotwell Paper Mill, the only handmade paper mill in San Francisco. Because the cost of the flight was affordable and I knew I would also get to see my sister who lives in the Bay Area (we grew up out there) I decided to make the trip. Having access to Pam’s know-how, resources, and facilities was an incredible gift. We worked for five days around the clock to create a little book (a chapbook folded from a single sheet of paper) that both describes and embodies the ideas I have been tumbling around over the course of my semester.

JuteSacks

After meeting Pam at SFO, we headed straight to an evening workshop at Dandelion Chocolate where we indulged in holiday samples and collected jute burlap cacao bean sacks. The burlap sacks are used to transport dry food goods around the world but they are only used once. Pam has been collecting these from vendors around San Francisco who would otherwise throw them away. Processed, the jute fibers make a crisp, smooth, beige paper, which I felt would meet the aesthetic and utilitarian requirements of my project. The following morning we hit up Four Barrel Coffee for a few more coffee bean sacks before heading to the Mission district studio.

cuttingJute

To start, I cut the bags into one-inch squares with a pizza cutter-style blade and scissors. By the time I was finished with this first step, my right hand was numb. Pam is 5 feet tall and not much more than 90 pounds, but she must have strong hands from this work. During this process, I created trash—a dulled pizza-cutter blade.

Cacaobeans

As I dismembered the bags, I collected stowaway cacao beans, which fueled our work over the next several days.

CookingJute

Next, we submerged the cut pieces in a 10-gallon pot of water and cooked the fibers over a propane stove for several hours, occasionally stirring them with a long stick. It was a very special brew. The smell of the fermented cacao beans clings to the jute sacks and it filled the studio as the water bubbled and boiled.

BeatingJute

Once the fibers cooked down, I rinsed them until the water ran clear. Pam’s business partner Drew Cameron taught me how to operate the Hollander Beater and we added the fibers to the trough. Drew explained that the beater does not cut the fibers but rather it compacts them, which in a sense makes the fibers “grabbier,” so that they can form the hydrogen bond necessary to make a sheet of paper.

Pulpcheck

To check the beaten pulp for inconsistencies, we drew a sample from the beater and held it up to the light. No clumps. Time to make the sheets.

SeedPaper

I decided to make seed paper. I felt that this element made the piece conceptually stronger. I wanted to create a prompt for users to lovingly move the object I produced into the “disposal” phase of its life. By making the paper plantable, I hope that those who interact with it will one day bury the jute paper in soil and in turn feel rewarded for their stewardship by the food reaped from the sown seeds. I rode Pam’s bike to the Scarlet Sage Herb Co. to pick up their very last packet of heirloom lettuce, which I chose because this seed is hard enough that it doesn’t germinate in the sheet before the paper can dry.

PullingPaper

“Pulling” the paper was one of my favorite parts of the process. We added the pulp to a bath of water, sprinkled in the seeds, and pulled a papermaking mould and deckle through the mixture. The fibers catch on the screen as the water drains through. The paper is then “couched” or pressed onto pieces of felt that are pressed between wood boards and dried.

OldNewType

While the paper was drying, I got to work setting type to letterpress print the text of my book. After making the paper by hand, it wouldn’t have seemed right to run it through a laser printer. I chose sans serif, no frills, News Gothic 12 point font. I did print a digital copy of my text onto a white sheet of paper to use as a reference while I worked. As I sat there lifting each letter out of the tray, I was struck by the strangeness of using a modern technology to assist the antiquated process.

TypeSetClose

This part took many hours. In order to justify the text on the pages of my tiny book, I was editing on the fly, searching for synonyms, unessential words, and rephrases in order to make each line fit. The letterpress printed version is essentially a translation of the Microsoft Word document I had been tweaking before arriving in SF. The contents of this book are ideas that I have been working with very closely for many months. But setting these thoughts in led type has deepened my relationship to them.

FinishedPaper

After the paper was dried and the type was set, it was time to print a test sheet.

PressSpins

So we took the press for a spin.

ProofingType

And discovered some (ironic) typos.

Waste2Want2

Finally, we got all the kinks out and ran the edition through the press. The seeds broke the type in some places but I think it was worth it to have them in there. I can’t wait to plant one of the books. 

Wast2Want1

I hand illustrated and signed each edition copy, because I’m particularly interested in the tension between the preciousness of the object and its true disposability. When I posted an image of the finished piece on instagram, a friend commented, “But why would you want to plant such a beautiful little book?!” My answer is: Because it can be as beautiful in its death as it is in its life. I’m pleased with the end result and so grateful to Pam and Drew for their guidance and unfettered support throughout the project. It’s a glimpse at what I’ve been up to and what I’ve been thinking about.

Read full story · Comments { 13 }

Maker gatherer

gifts2013

This year I decided to give experience gifts to friends and family. I tend to prefer coordinating a shared experience to exchanging objects. I enjoy spending time planning special outings and field trips (both surprise and fully disclosed) with the people I love. Now that I’m in New York, I’m closer to much of my immediate family and I have access to so many amazing sources of art, entertainment, and activity. I’m excited to take advantage of my time between semesters and experience more of what the city has to offer. That being said, the thought of showing up at my parents’ house for Christmas completely empty handed just didn’t seem right. So I decided to make and gather a few trash-free offerings to try to express love and appreciation at this celebratory time of year.

Pambeeswax

Dry skin is a pretty common affliction at this time of year in this part of the world. Combating it from the inside out by eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water is a primary defense, but sometimes it’s nice to have a topical aid as well. So I made some lotion for my family with beeswax (pictured above) given to me by our incredibly talented friend Pam DeLuco. She harvested it from the hives she keeps at her community garden in San Francisco and stamped the forms with the seal from her paper, print, and book company, Shotwell Paper Mill. She brought the bars to me when she visited New York City this past fall. This batch of lotion has just four ingredients: beeswax, coconut oil, grape seed oil, and water. This time around, the mixture was a little on the runny side so the wire bales jars weren’t the most ideal vessels for transport, but it’s still good stuff. 

christmaslotion

My family loves to drink wine. Curious to see if I might be able to bring them some in a reusable bottle, I took a walk in the rain on Monday afternoon down to the Red Hook Winery, located just a couple blocks from my apartment on Pier 41. When I entered the space, I was warmly greeted by vintners Christopher and Darren. I explained that I was looking to purchase some wine to serve at dinner with my family and that I was curious about where the grapes were coming from and how they were making and bottling the wines. Darren gave me a tour of the space, describing the sourcing and the processing that takes place right there in the beautiful and efficiently laid out waterfront warehouse space. I explained my No Trash Project and objective and withdrew my 32oz swingtop bottle from my bag. Darren patiently and graciously pondered options to accommodate my request, asking me questions about the details of my lifestyle. He then led me to a row of oak wine barrels that represented the 2011 vintage—or at least what remained of it after the winery was devastated by Hurricane Sandy last year. He syphoned the burgundy juice into a glass for me to sample. It was bright and tart, but smooth. I nodded and smiled in approval and he proceeded to fill my bottle for me. He drew a label for me on some blue tape, “Seneca Lake CF, 2011” (CF is short for Cabernet Franc) and smoothed it onto the bottle. He told me if I brought it back he would reuse the tape. We agreed to be in touch the next time they were bottling so that I might have some of my own filled without too much disruption to their production. I left feeling even more in love with Red Hook and the people and projects that have settled here. I tried to hit up Cacao Prieto as well for some Red Hook made chocolate but they were completely sold out for the holiday season. I was able to get package-free chocolate from The Chocolate Room to share with everyone instead.

cidervinegar

Also in tow was a large swing top bottle of homemade Fire Cider. Loved ones around me in Brooklyn and those I planned to visit for the holidays have all been sick with a cold or the flu, so I made up a large, potent batch to share with everyone. I’ve been trying to fortify myself over the past several months with homemade remedies to make it through a hectic time without falling ill. I first learned about Fire Cider when I fell ill with the flu back in the spring of 2012. My friend made a trip to Farmacy Herbs of Providence for me and came home with a bottle. I used it to combat my symptoms then, and have continued to use Fire Cider to ward off illness ever since. It is a warming concoction with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, meant to aid digestion, soothe sore throats, boost immunity, and increase circulation. As promised in my last post, I’ve included my recipe below. I determined the ingredients and amounts for this batch by browsing recipes online and combining things based on what I could find fresh and package-free from the store or the farmer’s market and what I had on hand in my fridge or on my spice shelf. Quantities can be tweaked in any direction according to personal preference and availability.

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup of grated ginger

½ cup grated horseradish

1/8 cup of minced garlic

1 quart of apple cider vinegar (with the mother)

¼ cup honey (or to taste)

1 lemon (juice and zest)

1 tablespoon of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

fresh rosemary sprigs

horseradish

I purchased the onion, horseradish, ginger, garlic, and lemon fresh and package-free. I’ve been able to find apple cider vinegar and spices in bulk at food cooperatives and health food stores. The  4th Street Food Co-op has a fantastic selection of dry and liquid bulk goods. They carry apple cider vinegar, turmeric powder, and cayenne pepper. The cider can be left to steep for a few weeks to a few months and then strained or it can be blended well and consumed immediately. This time around I prepped and combined all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blended them thoroughly with the immersion blender. I then poured the mixture into some glass bottles for storage and snipped some sprigs of rosemary from my beloved potted plant that lives in a south facing window and dropped them into the bottles.

christmassunset

The gifts were savored and enjoyed by us all and on Christmas night we were treated to the most spectacular sunset over Long Island Sound. The sky looked as if it was on fire and the water glowed red beneath it. Between the two, New York City appeared to float above the horizon. It was a lovely closing to the holiday.

Read full story · Comments { 12 }

Pallet project

palletprojectprogress

This past weekend I got into a project I’d been scheming on since the start of spring. My landlady generously offered me a bit of space to grow some food in by the cement wall/iron fence that surrounds her backyard garden. The sunny spot is located in the small driveway off the alley by which I access my apartment. Two cars fit snuggly in the lot so building anything with substantial depth would have blocked vehicles from pulling in and out. Inspired by readings and projects from the Urban Agriculture class I took at Brown this semester, I decided to try my hand at some vertical gardening. I had seen DIY pallet garden projects in books and online and thought that might be a good place to start. I figured it would be economical too. A couple weeks ago I picked through some discarded samples behind a paper supplier in Pawtucket and found a few good specimens that I could pull apart and rebuild into a Franken-pallet. Gorgeous weather, a visit from my enormously talented woodworker/furniture maker friend, and the day off from work on Monday gave way to a perfect opportunity to finally get busy.

We started with a sturdy 3′ x 4′ pallet that boasted tightly fitted boards on one side. This would serve as the retaining wall on the back of the planter. Then we framed the sides and bottom of the planter with wood from the other dismantled pallets and some leftover scraps that were available from an ongoing home repair project (a new floor being laid in the laundry room/entrance to my apartment). Next, we mapped out the spacing of the boards that would enclose the front of the box. I decided to leave 2.5″ gaps between the boards to plant in. It seemed like a good amount of room for my herbs to grow but not so much space that the soil would forever be spilling out.

palletprojectdetail

After lifting the basic frame into the right location/position and wiring it to the iron fence posts, we built the garden layers from the bottom up. We filled the pallet with soil, laid and watered each plant, then one by one we nailed each board to the frame. We collected sticks from the property (last summer’s cuttings from my landlady’s hedges) and pressed them in between the plants to try to create a webbing to help retain the soil until the vegetation fills in. To give the plants a good  start, we mixed in worm castings as we worked our way up.

palletprojectdone

Above is the finished garden. Eight rows (including the row planted in the open top) currently hold twelve different edible plants. I’m growing rosemary, oregano, sage, two different kinds of marigolds, dill, cilantro (coriander), three different kinds of basil, tarragon and nasturtium. Marigolds, rosemary, cilantro, and basil are all pest repellent crops. The plants were grown from seed in my windowsill and purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale. I’m pleased with the look of the garden and I think its’s a great use of the very narrow space. I’m not sure how well everything will grow in this planter. I wonder if there will be enough soil for all the root systems that will be vying for water and nutrients. And properly saturating each layer with water may prove to be a bit tricky. There’s already been talk of a piped in irrigation system for the next pallet project. For now, I’m very happy about what we were able to create with the resources around us. The garden is an experiment and I’m excited to see how well it works over the course of the growing season.

memorialdaypicnic

To reward ourselves for a day of work in the sun, we bought some take-away and headed to the coast for a sunset feast on the beach. With a bunch of stainless steel containers in tow, we hit-up East Side Pockets and the grocery store salad bar for some good eats. We also packed some water, fruit, and trail mix to snack on.  My trusty 17-year-old Block Island beach blanket served as both a nearly sand-free surface to sit ourselves and our delicious meal upon, and later as a much appreciated wrap to keep warm with after sundown.

Read full story · Comments { 4 }

Pam

pam

I know some pretty incredible people. A dear family friend recently gave this yarn to me. I think of her often on my journey toward Zero Waste, as her values and work have influenced me greatly. Pam is a renaissance woman who for as long as I’ve known her (about 14 years) has been interested in sustainability, health, and handmade processes. She spun these wool yarns herself. The gray yarn on the bottom is a worsted Shetland yarn she made with wool fibers from her friend’s sheep in Idaho. The warmer colored yarn on top is a woolen yarn she made from Polwarth sheep fibers she collected while living in Australia. I can’t wait to knit something from these beautifully crafted, oh-so-soft materials. She described the processing of both to me in an email.

“The Shetland wool was prepped and spun worsted–that means all of the fibers were combed out first so they are parallel and then the spinning is also controlled in a way that preserves the alignment of the fibers. If you look closely, you’ll see it’s a relatively smooth yarn. I spun it on a drop spindle. The Polwarth is from Australia and I got it when I lived there. That one I prepped and spun woolen. I washed it first and then carded it with hand cards. This makes the fibers go in all different directions. I spun it on my spinning wheel using a long draw (a technique where you draw your hand back and let the twist enter the yarn). I also fulled this yarn. That’s a finishing technique where you basically shock the fibers. Fibers either felt or full–trial and error will let you know which one your fiber will do. So for fulling I put the yarn in a bucket of really hot water with soap. Using a small plunger I plunged it up and down a bunch of times. Then I took that hot, soapy, skein and put it into a bucket of ice water. The process is repeated a bunch of times until it looks finished. Woolen yarns tend to be fuzzy and this helps give it a cleaner look.”

Everything Pam does she does all the way. Her past projects include a hand-knit mohair sweater made from yarn spun with angora fur she collected over time from her pet rabbit, Jambo. And another sweater she knit using silk yarn spun from the silk fibers she collected from her own silk worms. I don’t remember where she got the silk worms, but I do remember that they escaped their designated habitat and made their cocoons all over the bathroom of her San Francisco apartment. Not wanting to disturb their pupa phase, she coexisted with her metamorphosing roommates for weeks until they emerged as moths.

Once while I was in high school and Pam was staying with us, I arrived home after class and entered the kitchen through the sliding glass door. I was met with a strange and terrible odor that filled the house. “Pam!” I shouted. “What’s that smell?!” She appeared laughing and said, “I’m rendering cow kidney fat.” Sure enough there was large pot of white suet chunks and water simmering on the stove. “What? Why?” I exclaimed. “I’m making soap,” she giggled. “The old fashioned way!” Oh, duh. Of course she was. And she did. Lavender and orange scented bars, which she later gave to my family. The soap smelled lovely.

It was Pam who first hipped me to the questionable and hazardous ingredients in common beauty and hygiene products. She taught me the importance of knowing the source of the goods we consume and the conditions under which they were produced. And most importantly, she taught me there’s almost always an alternative way of getting what we need, if we are dissatisfied with the products that are marketed toward us.

These days Pam’s newest loves are paper, print, and book making. She runs a studio called Shotwell Paper Mill in SF’s Mission district. All their papers are made from recycled fibers. Check out this beautiful video of Pam making paper from an old pair of jeans. She also rides her bike around San Francisco collecting used jute coffee and cacao bean sacks from local coffee roasters and turns them into beautiful cocoa colored sheets. She explained that since great amounts of work, energy, and resources are required to grow and harvest the jute and manufacture the bean sacks, it seems right to extend the life of the jute fibers by turning them into paper. Yep. I like the way this lady thinks. Oh and she also keeps a beehive and grows food in her local community garden. I hope to visit her and see all these fantastic projects in person someday soon.

Thank you, Pam for this beautiful gift and the endless inspiration.

Read full story · Comments { 5 }

Glove love

gloves

The index finger on the left hand of my beloved SmartWool gloves gave out this winter. It started to unravel at the beginning of the season and I tried to tie it off but it didn’t hold and now I’m exposed to halfway down my proximal phalanx. It’s been fine when I’m on foot and can pocket my hands, but on really cold days while I’m riding my bike, it can get pretty uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to buddy up in the middle finger, but it’s a tight fit. So it was time for new pair. I searched around for some used gloves in local thrift and consignment stores but couldn’t find any that had much life left in them. So I picked up the above beauties from the Moonlight Rose Alpacas stand at the Wintertime Farmer’s Market. Moonlight Rose breeds and raises alpacas in Swansea, Massachusetts less than 20 miles from Providence. I’ve long admired their hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, and socks on display at the markets. The grey, brown, beige, and white colors are the natural alpaca fiber colors. No dyes are used. Unfortunately the gloves did come with a plastic tagging barb (not recyclable) that holds the company’s paper tag to their products. I find it’s really hard to avoid these little guys when shopping for clothing, even when you are buying used garments. They are so soft and warm and I’m really happy with my purchase. It feels good to buy a locally sourced and produced pair. Hopefully with proper care they will last a long time!

Meanwhile I have to decide what to do with my old pair. I considered the possibility of composting them but they contain 1% elastane and 4% nylon (the other 95% of the yarn is merino wool). I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to cut the rest of the fingers off and sew the ends well enough to prevent unraveling and make them fingerless gloves for warmer weather or for working in the cold studio or archive. I’m determined to stretch their life out, repurpose, or recycle them somehow.

Read full story · Comments { 4 }

Better late than never

neckwarmers

I’m knitting gifts for some friends and family I didn’t get to see over the holidays. I buy my yarn from Fresh Purls on Hope Street in Providence. They have a great selection of yarns made from natural fibers. Each skein usually comes with a paper tag which can be composted or recycled. I love giving hand knit things. With yesterday’s balmy weather it seemed for a moment that it may be too late late to give wintry accessories. But the forecast shows that we’ll be getting another cold snap before the week is out. So these neck warmers may indeed get some good use this season.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Giving

succulents

succulents2

This year I am giving few physical gifts to friends and family for the holidays. I filled the ceramic pots I made with colorful succulents and will present those to loved ones without any wrapping, but I have wrapped some of my unplanted pots and hand thrown bowls with Furoshiki style cloth—something I’ve always wanted to try. There are many wonderful illustrated directions available online and I found this video, which was incredibly helpful! The wrapping is beautiful, elegant, and easy to give to the gift receiver or keep as the gift giver to reuse.

ceramicbowls

furoshiki

The rest of the gifts I will give this year will be experiences. Surprise field trips. And because my wonderful friends and family read my blog, I will wait to share those adventures until after they’ve been had! Sharing good food and conversation with loved ones this week is precious time spent.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Glaze fire

Ceramics glazed and in the kiln about to be fired again!

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Handmaking

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Thrown and slab bowls.

Thrown and slab bowls.

The urge to make things wells up in me regularly. It’s real and tangible and may even be called a need. Sometimes I’m able to fill that need by cooking a meal, scribbling a drawing in my sketchbook, through photography, or by writing. Other times I’m consumed by a desire to make objects. Useful, functional, quality, beautiful objects. But No Trash practice can be extremely difficult when it comes to studio work.

Lately, while washing my cheaply made, chipped and cracked bowls in the kitchen sink, I’ve been wondering about ceramic production processes on a large and small scale. And as the official start of winter draws near and my seasonal inclination to maximize the amount of green life in my apartment grows, I find myself scrounging for more vessels to accommodate cuttings, separated plant pups, and newly acquired greenhouse perennials. I have been daydreaming of lean windowsill-sized, handmade pots to display them in. The itch to make some ceramics lead me on a trip to the North Shore of Massachusetts this past weekend.

My best friend heads a high school art department in a beautiful seaside town not far from where I was born. I drove up to see her with the intent to make some bowls and pots and to donate four brimming boxes of books (a pile my parents decided to get rid of during their recent move) to her classroom. Books have always stuck to my family and together we’ve amassed quite a collection over the years… and over the years, many of them have sat unopened on shelves. My friend and I sifted through the boxes with one of her students and they happily accepted most of the contents. I like to imagine young art students breathing new life into the books, smearing them with charcoal as they rummage for inspiration.

On Sunday we spent all day and a good part of the night in the classroom studio making ceramic gifts for friends and family. I hadn’t worked with clay since my own high school art class and I had so much fun relearning the basics. A company originally based in Laguna Beach, California called Laguna Clay manufactures the high fire white stoneware clay in Ohio. It comes in a large wedged (kneaded) brick inside a stretch plastic bag. The bricks are shipped to the high school in cardboard boxes from Portland Pottery of Portland, Maine.

Curious about the ingredients and manufacturing processes of clay, I called up the Laguna Clay national headquarters in Los Angeles County and was able to connect with Clay Manager Jon Pacini. He graciously and patiently answered my questions. He told me that the company uses about 8 common minerals mixed in different compositions to create clays with varying properties and characteristics. All of the minerals are obtained from mining companies in the states who distribute them to clay manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and livestock feed manufactures. Clay minerals are used as binders to pelletize feed. Yep, as Jon put it, “clay is used in a whole myriad of things we don’t think about.” He was able to break down the white stoneware clay I worked with on Sunday, which is meant to be durable enough to be used for tableware. It’s comprised of fire clay from Missouri, ball clay from Kentucky and Tennessee, silica from Illinois, and feldspar from South Carolina. These minerals are combined with water, mixed in a “pugmill” and compressed into bricks. Pretty simple. The base ingredient in ceramic glazes is silica sand, which is the same sand used to make window glass. Other glaze ingredients include feldspar, zinc, barium, limestone, and calcium carbonate. The pigments come from metal oxides, like iron, nickel, and cobalt oxide. Jon explained that glazes used today are not so dissimilar from glazes that Japanese potters were experimenting with 2,000 years ago.

Under my friend’s instruction, I tried my hand at throwing some small bowls on the wheel. She told me not to worry about messing up because the scrapped clay is rewedged and completely recycled. And it’s a good thing because my first few attempts collapsed. But after sticking with it for a couple hours, I produced a set of small bowls. Through all the fails and few successes, I had a blast! I also made some small slab pots by rolling pounded clay through a press and then wrapping and seaming it around a plaster mould. Once the vessels are dry, they will be fired in the electric kiln for 8-12 hours at 2,000 degrees! The high heat permanently alters the soft porous material, causing the particles to melt and flow together, strengthening the clay. After the bisque firing (the first firing) glaze is applied to seal the still somewhat porous pieces and they are fired again for another 8+ hours.

I love this kind of meditative, careful work, during which time seems to melt off the clock. I was lucky to be able to experience this every day at woodworking school this past summer. While we busied our hands shaping and forming the clay, we played the Ken Burns National Parks documentary series on the classroom computer, rarely glancing up at the monitor, but listening intently to narrated stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and their work to establish protected “reservoirs” of the natural world. It was a wonderful Sunday.

Since beginning my No Trash Project, I’ve become deeply interested in the life cycle of objects, from the creation or harvesting of source materials used to make each thing I encounter, to the recyclability and biodegradability of those materials once they are disposed of. Taking on different “make my own” projects has led me to a greater understanding of the resources and processes required to produce the quotidian items I possess. My appreciation for the belongings I choose to keep, and my relationships with the objects I use daily continues to grow. So much energy and so many resources are required to bring ceramic making materials (and the packaging surrounding them) to me. So much time, labor, water, and electricity goes into creating each piece of pottery. The things I learned this weekend have changed the way I will look at every ceramic object I meet from this point forward.  

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Table

After a wonderful extended play in Maine, I’m back home in Providence. I set up my dining table. It works well in this space, and more importantly, the knockdown joinery enabled me to fit it through the very narrow (27 inch) doorway of my 225 year-old apartment. I’m interested in modular, quality furniture that can be adapted to a wide range of living spaces. In particular, tiny spaces.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Soap finish

I love this chair for it’s design (beautiful lines and joinery) and craft, but also for the materials consideration that went into it. In addition to choosing recycled upholstery, Reed chose to finish his chair with soap—a natural finishing option I mentioned a few posts back. I got to see first hand what it’s all about and now I have finish envy. The process is so… well, clean. Mix soap flakes and water, lather up wood with a saturated rag, then buff suds. The rag used to apply the soap can be rinsed and dried and used for each consecutive application (the idea is to build up the finish on the surface of the wood) and because the process is self-cleaning, that same rag can be repurposed for another job afterwards. The soap looks and feels great too. Matte and silky—a surface that asks to be touched. I love the idea of the soap being the only thing between you and the wood. No chemicals, no skin irritants. When it’s time to refinish, just wipe it off and reapply. I can’t wait to try it on a project of my own.

Unfortunately, the flakes come in a stretch plastic bag. But a little bit goes a long way. The polymerized tung oil finish I used on my table comes in a steel can (pictured a few posts back). A spoon in the drill chuck makes the soap frothing go much faster. A fork would work even better… and an immersion blender would be perfect too.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Repurposing

My friend and assistant teacher built a dining chair this week. A conversation about seat upholstery options led to a decision to search local thrift stores for used leather garments that could be repurposed for the piece. After a few misses, we hit an indoor merchants co-operative that showcases the goods of about 20 different dealers. One dealer’s section boasts a sign that reads, “Home on the Range”. Bingo. Leather cowboy boots, suede fringe jackets, vests, and skirts adorn the display walls. After careful consideration (and a bit of dress-up time), two suede skirts were chosen.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Pins

Working on some clothespins from some of the offcuts of my projects.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Non-toxic options

I went back and forth on what to use to finish my piece. My teacher and I discussed a number of natural, environmentally gentle options. At first I really considered trying a soap finish—which is just what it sounds like. Soap flakes whipped with water to a frothy consistency can be applied straight to wood surfaces to seal the pores. It’s a popular floor and furniture finish in Denmark. Over time, a patina will form and the finish can easily be refreshed by rubbing the soap away and reapplying it. So appealing.

But for a dinning tabletop that is being spilled on and wiped down regularly, soap might not the best choice. I also thought about using a “salad bowl finish”—straight walnut oil perhaps… But in the end I went back to Tung oil, which is what I used on my bench. It’s harder than walut oil and maybe a bit more durable. I’m using Sutherland Welles Botanical Polymerized Tung Oil. My teacher is a fan and when I read about the company’s mission and the product details on their website, I decided to go for it. The Di-Citrusol thinner speeds the drying time. So far I have two coats applied. I’ll report back on the results.

My teacher also turned me onto Old Brown Glue—a non-toxic, organic animal hide and bone glue modified with urea. My classmates and I each received a free bottle (the first plastic bottle I’ve accepted in quite a while… can’t remember the last product I got in plastic) to try on our projects. My table design left me with little to glue up but I did have to join the four legs to the apron stretchers that run along the length of the table. I loved using it because it has a 20 to 30 minute open time that allowed me to carefully position and clamp my work. Yellow glue (Titebond) expands a lot and sets up quickly, which stresses me out a bit. Old Brown Glue is also bond reversible. From a restorer’s point of view, this is preferable when repairs need to be made. Yellow glue is stronger than wood and we’re not sure how it will behave over a great amount of time. PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glues have only been around since the 1950s.

So as I continue to reconcile my desire to be a maker of things with the responsibility of the waste that’s created in the process, I’m grateful to learn about products like OBG. Thanks Tim.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Assembled

Getting close…

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Knockdown

Working on a knockdown joint for the small dinning table I’m building. The wedges pin the tabletop stretchers to the apron. No glue needed.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Snacks

Cashew butter and fruit at the workbench. Purchased at the Belfast Co-op.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Wood school

The last two weeks have been fantastic. My weekdays are filled with studio work—learning to sharpen hand tools and cutting dovetail and mortise and tenon joints. I’m working amongst some really inspiring people here and I’m making friends. Breaks from the work are filled with adventures on land and in water. Hiking, biking, swimming, and sailing.

Getting package-free food in this new setting is going really well so far. There are a couple great dry bulk grocery store options (one of them even sells bulk spices) and for the most part I’ve been able to get what I need. For the sake of research and curiosity, I plan to check out a couple recommended co-ops that are a bit farther (one 7 miles and the other 25 miles) away at some point. I may need to refill on cooking oil before I leave Maine and I’d also like to get some bulk tea.

I’ve been making dinner at home for friends and myself and saving the leftovers for lunch the next day at school. There’s also a business not too far down the road from campus called the Market Basket with a great prepared food selection and the employees have been so nice about filling up my stainless steel container on the days that I arrive to school without lunch. The picture above was taken on such a day. I enjoyed a meal of wild rice with walnuts, roasted potatoes and stuffed grape leaves at my workbench.

I had one fail at a fish market in Rockport called Graffam Bros. Seafood Market when I went to get a piece of Arctic char to cook at home. I introduced myself to the woman at the counter and proposed my special request. She happily agreed but then laid two pieces of sheet plastic on the counter to cut my piece to size. At the register I asked her if there was anyway around having to use the plastic and she explained that she needed to cover the counter surface to make the cut. Understood. The next time I went back, I was shopping to make dinner for myself and two others. The young man behind the counter that day was able to tare my container and put one large uncut fillet directly into it. The piece ended up being the perfect amount for the three of us. It was super fresh and delicious.

For sustenance, I’ve been toting stone fruit, carrots, almond butter, nuts, and energy cubes to class. Yesterday I snacked on wild blueberries while out on a hike with a friend. My land people have been extremely generous in offering me sugar snap peas and berries from the property and when the grapes on the deck are ready, I will help myself. I’ve been eating like a king.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Great escape

I’m currently in Maine. I’ve been here since Sunday. I’m enrolled in some woodworking classes at a school in Rockport and I will be here for the entire month. Being away from home for this time means having to make adjustments to keep my No Trash Project on track. Luckily, I’m finding I am surrounded by resources that support my lifestyle.

I’m staying with a couple that rents their garage apartment to students of the wood school. They have the most beautiful home with spectacular gardens. Eric and Laura live on about six acres of land, much of which they’ve cultivated into a community garden that’s shared with and cared for by about 10 of their friends. They’re growing so much food! I am so inspired by the work they’ve done and the systems they’ve established. The scene above is what I wake up to every morning. The deck off the apartment kitchen overlooks the vegetable garden, berry bushes, orchard, chicken coop, compost pile, and solar panels. A grape vine is growing on the deck railing, and a clothesline runs from the exterior of the garage to the trunk of a pine tree. There’s also a modular greenhouse in the side yard. The enclosure sits on tracks and can be moved to house different crops at different times of the year. Their Labrador, Moxy is hanging out in the apartment with me, sitting on my feet as I type this. Basically, I’m in heaven.

I’ll be in class full time during the 4 weeks that I’m here. Right now I’m learning how to hand cut mortise and tenon and dovetail joints. I hope to come out of the courses with two functional objects. Some of my posts this month will be about the property I’m living at (fruits and vegetables will be ripening while I’m here), shopping for food and hygiene goods in a new community, woodworking waste, and conservation. It’s going to be a good July.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Raised bed

Took a ride out to Smithfield Peat Company today to get some yard waste compost for my planting box. With buckets and plastic storage bins loaned from a friend, I was able to get enough to fill my box. The company sells top soil, gravel, mulch, compost, and more by the yard. I was shy of a yard but they were very generous to let me have just as much as I needed.

It’s late in the season to be preparing the box, but some of my plants are really going to appreciate being transferred to this cozy bed.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Bed frame

Built a planting box today for my tomatoes. My landlady suggested the project and I took her up on it. I will put it in a corner in the driveway that gets a lot of sun and hopefully they’ll grow well there. The wood is salvaged from outside the Ajay Land Company building where I share a studio. There was some slight warping to the found boards, so the box turned out a bit wonky, but it will serve it’s purpose well. Now I need some dirt!

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Scrub update

I think it’s finally time to retire this hemp dish washing “scrub”. It’s the same one I made and started using back in November. There are holes in it now, which I think resulted from snagging the yarn on silverware, but It has held up remarkably well for the amount of work it’s done. I can’t imagine ever returning to a traditional dish sponge. One of the things I love most about this little knitted square is that it never smells bad. I just wash it with soap and water and hang it on a nail to dry between uses and it stays quite clean. I loathe the smell of a cellulose sponge after it’s picked up billions of bacteria. Hemp is naturally mildew resistant and antimicrobial. Now that this one is starting to fall apart, I’ll cut it up into little pieces and throw it in the compost. I knitted a new scrub to replace it.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

End table

Working to complete my second woodworking project, an end table with a drawer.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Housewarming

This past weekend I went to dinner my friend’s apartment. I brought her raisins in a glass jar (for the meal she was cooking) and handmade soap from the farmer’s market, tied with a piece hemp.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Done!

I finally finished my bench. It feels good to complete a project of this scale. I can’t wait to start using it (once the tung oil has dried completely). Now back to the small table I’ve been working on…

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Bench project

The bench I’m building is nearly complete. I’ve been applying the finish in my living room. I’m using 100% Tung oil to seal the walnut legs and seat. Tung oil is a natural drying oil derived from the nut of a tung tree. I wanted to use something completely nontoxic and easy to apply. I also like the idea of using a finish containing only one ingredient. Fortunately I don’t have any nut allergies and the oil doesn’t irritate my hands or my lungs. I’m not worried about hazardous fumes (the tung oil smells good) in my living room. The drying time between coats is long but it’s worth the wait. Once the final coat hardens it will be nearly impervious to water. I feel good knowing that this functional object soon to be put to use in my home is made almost completely from organic materials (not including the wood glue). Over time the bench may have to be re-oiled but I don’t mind.

I have really enjoyed working with wood. The material seems alive as every cell expands and contracts depending on the moisture in the air. I prefer finishes that showcase the material rather than cover it up. Because this bench is one of my first woodworking projects, I went with my class to a hardwood supplier for my material. However, I’m very interested in learning about more sustainable woodworking practices like building from reclaimed and salvaged wood or from naturally fallen timber.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Hardware

Today I was able to find the washers I need to finish a woodworking project in bulk at The Home Depot. Small victories.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Pattern play

Experimenting with different patterns for dishwashing cloths. I’m curious to see if one holds soap better than the others.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Dish cloth

A new tool put to use.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Scrubs

My search for the elusive package-free natural loofah sponge has come to an end. For a while I was hung up on the idea of finding a no trash source for this amazing little dried fruit. I had hoped to use it as a dish scrubber and a shower sponge. But, from bath and beauty stores to natural food stores and even online, every loofah product I’ve come across has been wrapped in some kind of plastic. I was using Twist sponges for a while but most of their products are no longer available without a plastic wrapper. I emailed the company and was told that the initial attempt to package their sponges in a simple paper sleeve had failed because the sponges shrank as they dried on store shelves, causing them to fall out of the sleeves. What a shame to have to put a biodegradable, environmentally friendly product inside packaging that ends up in a landfill. So, the time has come to rethink the kitchen sink.

What about hemp? A friend of mine suggested knitting my own washcloths from hemp yarn. I thought this was a nice idea. I figured I could knit some small dish scrubbers while I was at it. I visited my local yarn shop and discovered that they do not carry it. I found some suppliers online but the yarn is more expensive than I had imagined and it’s all imported. Oh, that’s right–isn’t there some kind of movement to legalize industrial hemp in the United States? I started to do some research. I’ve learned a little about why so many are looking at hemp as an alternative sustainable resource, and why it’s a touchy subject in our country.

Because of its long fiber and strength characteristics, hemp is a versatile material that can be used to make paper, rope, fabric, and building materials (particle board). It is a 120-day crop that grows well with little more than rainwater in a variety of climates, and its root system actually improves soil quality. New growth tree farms harvest wood on 20-35 year cycles, depending on the tree species. Hemp pulp is naturally whiter than wood pulp and requires less chemical processing to turn it into paper. Unfortunately, because it is a non-intoxicating variety of cannabis sativa (the same species of plant that marijuana comes from), it has been illegal to grow it in the USA without a special Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) permit since 1970. So far, it is still extremely difficult to acquire this permit. ‘Hempsters’ from coast to coast are working to change that. Progress is slow.

After much deliberation, I finally decided to order some hemp yarn from an online supplier. I bought 900 yards of fair trade, organically grown, unbleached yarn that is imported from Romania. The knit square pictured above is meant for dishwashing. The fiber is naturally mildew resistant and can be thrown in the washing machine. I’m hoping that when paired a stainless steel mesh sponge, the hemp scrubbers will make dishwashing a synthetic fiber-free cinch. Slightly larger knit squares will replace the cotton washcloths I have been using in the shower. Though it’s only a small square, I find that the cotton cloth is cumbersome when saturated with water and it’s not the most effective exfoliant. Time will test the durability of my cannabis cloths.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }