Monday, June 17, 2013

Personal Project: Simple Wood Shelf

Moving reminds me how much stuff I have.

I go back and forth believing I’m the type of person that needs only the amount of things I can fit in a backpack, to insisting that I keep all of my high school notebooks and collection of tiny trinkets.  Believing one day, my future child will want to read through each one. I have to save them, for my future child’s sake.

My attitude on the subject has been a constant back and fourth, but recently I’ve been accepting more than rejecting. Especially when it comes to clothes. I make the excuse that I’m a costume designer and I need to keep things for stock. What if I need it for a show, right? And even more recently, when it comes to household items, because I am moving into a place alone, I need things.

Even though this push and pull hasn’t gotten any easier, I’ve found a happy medium of sorts. Making things myself.

Handmade things are like school notebooks because they tell a specific story about your life when you made it. So sentimentality, check. Also, if I plan it right, I can also make something useful that I do need in my apartment.

Happily, this was the result of the beautiful, simple, shelf Ben and I made last weekend. On the sentimentality side: we designed it together, we did it together and he taught me how to use a table saw and a miter saw.  A fast spinning blade right next to my hand is not something I’ll forget! On the practical side: where I once had no shelving in my kitchen, I now have a one-of-a-kind shelf to store my dry ingredients, unused syrup containers and various other kitchen necessities. Win-win, I do believe.

In the time when you can buy anything for your apartment from Ikea and anything you need to dress yourself from Forever 21, making something handmade gives me meaning in a world of meaningless, inexpensive things. That’s why people are making craft beer for their friends and table runners fro their wedding. Because of the story. Because you can say, I made that and when I made that, this crazy thing happened. Stories are the currency of life, right? But when you make things you have the thing and the story. Another win-win.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Current (Problem Solving) Project: Flower Girl Dress

This past week I was asked to make a custom flower girl dress for a summer wedding. The bride wanted a simple design for her four-year-old cousin. We decided on a sleeveless, knee length dress with a simple collar.

However, there was a bit of a problem. The wedding and the flower girl were both out-of-state, so there would be no fittings.  The bride told me she was a size 4T and asked me to go from there.  When I found out my wheels started turning as to how I was going to make a dress, from scratch, without a body!

Well, here’s how it went:

First, I borrowed an old dress from my niece, who is growing out of her 4T dresses. I used that as a base for the pattern.  Then, after a few prototypes (two skirts and two bodices) I decided on the pattern. Figuring out how to make sure the dress fit was the biggest challenge, but I do love a challenge! Here was my solution: Elastic and knots.

It wasn’t all me, I consulted my mother, who is of the generation that knows everything about sewing, but never sews. I had already decided on the elastic for the waist, but couldn’t figure out how to make sure the top fit and that she could get it over her head. And of course, the answer was the simplest, which is always the hardest to find, ties at the shoulder.

I simply added three inches to each shoulder seam and there it was, an even more adorable version of the original dress.

I just gave it over to the bride, who is getting married next week. I hope all goes well and maybe I’ll even get a picture. Fingers crossed. -Alice

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Exploring A New Medium: Painting

I’ve wanted to try painting for a while. I recently read a book called Chasing Matisse, where an American writer goes to France to visit the places that Matisse lived and painted, while at the same time, the writer is learning to paint. He talks about both Matisse’s ideas on painting and his own ideas on learning to paint. I’ve always wanted to paint too, but didn’t because hadn’t taken a class. Reading about this man who didn’t think of himself as a painter, but tried anyway, inspired me to finally try it as well.

For my first painting, I didn’t paint flowers like Matisse, I painted the info graphic below. It is hard for me to go from craft (making something useful) to full art (beautiful, but not useful), so I started where I was comfortable. I also used materials I was more comfortable with and that were more easily available to me. Instead of using canvas, I used wood as a base and craft paint as the medium. Both were inexpensive, which is a plus when you’re experimenting!

In the end, I was very happy with the finished product and excited by the new medium. The act of painting, holding a brush in my hand, was meditative, like sewing or woodworking. But with painting, you have a different control and have to make different decisions. It challenged both my mind and hand. It was difficult and I made a lot of mistakes, but now when I look on my wall, I feel proud and excited because the biggest hurdle is trying the first time.  -Alice

Monday, May 27, 2013

Personal Project: “What’s in Season?” Painted Info Board

It’s finally farmer’s market time! It’s been an extra long winter in Minnesota (it’s still cold), so knowing that I can buy fresh produce means a lot for my mental health. I love going to the farmer’s market and picking out produce fresh from the ground, but being of the generation that traditionally sees produce in the grocery store more often than in the ground, I, like most people, don’t know when certain things are in season.

I’ve always been interested, but could never find the information all in one place. So when I found a flyer with the information together, I decided to make it into a big graphic piece that I could hang on the wall.

The finished product hangs on the wall in my kitchen. I love being able to look at it and plan my meal off what is in season. I also use it to know what is going out of season, so I can be sure to eat it while I still can! It’s both useful and beautiful. It inspires me to make more like it. Got any ideas? -Alice

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How to Deal with Making Mistakes

When you try to make something new (or make something at all) making mistakes is part of the process. It took me a long time to understand this. I would always beat myself up for it or not want to try something new for fear of doing it wrong or messing it up. I finally had to hear it said outright to make it stick in my mind—making mistakes is part of making, everyone does it, just accept it, learn from it and keep going.

Once this finally got through my head, and I started adding in the ‘mistake time’ to my projects, I worked better and learned more than I had before. I also got braver with trying new projects or techniques, because I wasn’t as scared of making mistakes anymore. It was a freeing experience, and vital to keeping me going and continue working.  Here are some tips to keep in mind that will help you deal with mistakes:

1.     Don’t beat yourself up- Mistakes are part of the process. Everyone does it. If you don’t then you are not learning as much as someone who does make mistake. Which brings me to number two..
2.     Learn from it- Figuring out how and why you made that mistake and then problem solving how to fix it is as important as the process of building whatever you are building.
3.     Buy extra materials.- For each project you do, especially when you are doing something you have never done, you should buy extra materials. So if you need 1 yard of fabric, buy two or if you need three 2x4s, buy four. If you don’t use them, you will have them for your next project. If and when you make a mistake, you will be so happy you don’t have to go back to the store!

I’ve seen this carrying over in other parts of my life. When making a mistake is just an opportunity to learn, it doesn’t seem as difficult or horrible. The more you make, the easier it gets. So start now! :) -Alice

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Learn New Things and Make Other People Happy In the Process

There are two types of making that I do: things I make for myself, that I concept, design and build, and things I make (sew, specifically) for other people. Lately I’ve been doing that latter, doing sewing alterations and commissions for other people. Right now, I’m making a pair of curtains for someone else.

Even though I have to give away the final product, sometimes this is the most therapeutic type of making because, since it’s not my design, my design brain can rest and my making brain (and hands) can be most engaged.

The problems are different. Instead of asking myself 'how do I want this to look?' I ask, 'how can I make this work?' With some Internet searching and problem solving, I can usually fix any problem I come up against. It feels so good!

Another problem it fixes: sometimes when I make things for myself, I get in a rut and start making the same things. I use the same processes, because they are the ones I am use to and know will work. But when I make something for someone else, they often ask me to make something I have never made before or add details that I have never tried. I love the challenge of this and I always learn something new that I never would have otherwise. 

It feels great when I look at the finished product and  get instant feedback and visual confirmation that I successfully figured out a problem. It's also a great feeling you get when you hand over the finished product and it is exactly what the person wanted. Those feelings are addicting.

If you want to learn new skills and make other people (and yourself) happy as you go, I would suggest making some things for friends, family or anyone else who has a need. Their input will first make you nervous because you don’t know how, then excited to fix the problem, then ecstatic once you finish. I want to do it more. Any requests? -Alice

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Listening While Doing: Podcasts

One of my favorite things to do while making is listen to podcasts. I my day-to-day life I never feel like I have the chance to listen to a full 40-minute episode (unless I’m on a really long commute).  If I do have time to listen while I’m at home, I get fidgety and can’t sit still or feel like I shouldn’t be just sitting there.  That’s why I’ve found it’s such a great thing to do while making something. I feel no guilt listening to hours of back logged episodes of my favorite shows. I even think I concentrate better on the content when my hands are busy. I often get inspired by what I’m listening to since many of the podcasts are about creatives and makers, hearing about their work keeps me inspired to continue with mine. Here is a list of a few of my favorites, hopefully they will inspire you too!

1.     Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project- This is Adam Savage’s  podcast (of Mythbusters) about making. My boyfriend turned me onto it since I had never really been a fan and didn’t know Adam’s history as a maker. Needless to say I am a convert. The format is very casual, just three guys talking, but Adam has so much knowledge and experience about making. I could (and might) write a whole post about him.
2.     Fresh Air- This has been my favorite podcast for years. The host, Terri Gross does long form interviews with artists, authors, reporters and other thinkers and doers. She always asks the most interesting questions, and gives people a chance to really talk. This is especially great to listen to while making because, since its in Q&A format, you don’t have to give your full attention all the time to enjoy it.
3.     99% Invisible- This is a super fantastic show about the hidden design elements in our everyday life. It’s one of those shows that makes you look at the world around you in new, more detailed and questioning ways. So many times I have had audible exclamations because the ideas were so interesting.

Hope it inspires and keeps you busy! -Alice

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hacer: To Make, Do

My favorite job I’ve ever had was working in my college costume shop. I was hired to make whatever costume pieces were needed for the main stage production happening at the time. It was a 10-hour a week work-study job, minimum wage, but I would have done it for free.

I worked with 9 other students, every afternoon after classes, listening to show tunes and stitching bloomers. It was so relaxing and enjoyable, a needed break from the constant mental demands of classes. In the shop I was able to use my hands to make a piece of flat fabric into a three-dimensional garment that someone could wear. I loved the process of turning nothing into something, using my hands and at the end, having something tangible to show for my hard work. All day in classes I would use  my mind to solve theoretical problems or try to fit one more fact into my brain for a test. When I got into the shop, I was able to relax my mind, still work hard and problem solve, but using a different part of the brain.

Now, a couple of years out of college, I spend much of my day in front of a computer (like many do) where I use the same part of my brain as I did in classes in college. I love mental problem solving and I love the internet (hello blog!) but from my experience working in the costume shop in college, I realize that I need to make time for making, not just because I get a great set of curtains (insert other item here) from my labor, but purely for the process and therapeutic nature of making. In the age of the Internet, our pace is sped up and too much time in front of the computer can melt the mind. The therapeutic act of making, working with your hands, slows down the mind again so it can balance back into real world life.

The DIY and craft movements are HUGE right now. Etsy has so many beautiful shops filled with great handmade items. It’s fantastic that making things yourself and with your hands is so valued, but often you hear about the finish product (someone else’s pictures on Etsy, etc.)  or the specific steps of how to make something (so many awesome how-tos!), but not often do you hear about the specific and fantastic process of making something.  

When you make something yourself, it’s awesome that you saved all that money by painting and sanding that chair you found on the sidewalk, but it’s even more awesome that you thought about the new design, learned how to sand and painted the whole thing. That feeling is the best. And here, in this space, I want to gather around that feeling, talk about it and cultivate it. This is a space for makers on making and the importance of making to sanity and happiness.

A note on the name: I studied Spanish in college, ‘Hacer,’ comes from the Spanish verb which means ‘to make, to do’. In Spanish, there is no distinction between the two, which I have found to be a truism in my life. When I’m making, I’m doing and vice versa. Putting it together has become a mantra for me. Don’t try to define or distinguish, just ‘hacer’, whatever that means for you. -Alice