Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Lost and Found: The Ghost of a Shoe

Once an object is lost or abandoned and out on its own in the universe, it simply waits to be found. Some objects are luckier than others. Some have souls (see Tsukumogami: Objects with Souls). 

This object was a fortunate case of mistaken identity. While my dinner companion was driving us through the Piedmont parking lot one night, I spotted an object on the ground in an empty parking space and ordered a halt. We both peered at the object illuminated in the headlights and tried to figure out what it was. I finally got out of the car, picked it up, and it was mine — to do with as I wished before sending it back out on its travels in the world.

Original mystery object

Both my dinner companion and I thought the object looked a lot like a shoe — more specifically, a Chinese shoe from yesteryear. By the time I ran into a six-year-old who immediately identified the object as the padded armrest from a child's car booster seat, it was far too late. It was already half-way to being transformed into the soul of a shoe.

Embroidered Chinese bound foot

Embroidered scan showing the bones of a foot inside of a high heel


Lining: silk from 100+-year-old Indian temple sari


Embroidered sole


After giving this lost object a soul, the next step was to send it back out into the world to continue its journey. The ideal place to do that, of course, was to take it back to exactly where I had found it. Initially I thought the perfect spot to install the soulful shoe would be atop one of the payment machines in the Piedmont parking lot until this duo came along to use the machine....and I realized that basing the installation on my height might mean that a sizable portion of passers-by would never see it.

Installed atop parking machine

Test subjects

I re-installed the shoe and label card, moving it to a little planter rim on the edge of the parking lot.

Installed on planter rim



And then I walked away. The shoe is now out in the world. May its wanders be wondrous.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Inside-Out Boxes

3 gingko-printed inside-out boxes

It only takes one "hmmm...." moment to start an obsessive, hands-on maker fest. My most recent bout began with a cup of Yogi Ginger Tea from Trader Joe's. While waiting for the water to boil I looked down at the open box of tea and realized the folks at Yogi had gone to considerable effort to decorate the inside of their box. Curious, I settled in with my cup of ginger tea and took their box apart. From that point, turning the entire box inside out and re-glueing it seemed like an obvious idea.

Yogi tea box unfolded

It was the fate of this particular box to become a tiny puppet theater, produced by one of my grandnieces, but I began to wonder about the many other boxes that cycle through my life, ones with blank interiors. 

Inside-out box theater

I began to take apart boxes that would otherwise have ended up in the garbage, turn them inside-out, re-glue, and decorate the new exterior. The result? A lovely array of gift boxes for future use. Below are boxes sporting experiments with gingko leaf printing.

Before: Nicotine lozenge box

After: gingko-leaf printed inside-out box

Before: cookie box

After: gingko print box with peekaboo tissue reveal

The How-To:

Turning boxes inside-out is really easy. The only trick is to start by finding the hidden side seam. Peek inside an empty box and you will spot an overlapping seam at one of the corners.

Find the hidden seam

Next, gently pry that seam apart, using your fingers. There will probably be a little paper tearing as you pry one glued section from another but don't worry, marred sections will be hidden when you glue the box back together.

Pry seam apart

You will now have an intriguing flat box. First, turn every fold on the box firmly in the opposite direction from its original fold. Re-flatten the box. At this stage you can decorate the blank side of your box any way you wish. This could be a great project for kids using markers or crayons or paint for highly personalized gift boxes for holidays and special occasions. Just the process of seeing how the geometry of box shapes work is fascinating — at least it is to me.

Unfolded box

For my first box decorating project I used gingko leaf printing, which simply involves painting a gingko leaf with acrylic paint (copper in this case) and pressing it onto a surface. I usually get two prints out of one painted leaf round, and find that the second, fainter print reveals more leaf detail. You can use each leaf over and over, but try varying sizes for visual interest.

Gingko leaf printing

I also splattered the gingko boxes with a little gold paint, using an old tooth brush.

Gingko-printed boxes with splattered gold

The final step is to re-glue the boxes inside-out, beginning with that hidden side seam. You have already reversed all of the folds in the box, so the re-glueing process should be easy. When glueing the side seam, overlap the seam so that any marred, torn areas from taking the seam apart are hidden. Press firmly and let dry for a few minutes before glueing the bottom flaps closed. I found that a glue stick worked just fine.

Below is a final (for now) pass at inside-out boxes, using a house fly theme. No particular reason — I just thought it would be visually interesting. Materials here included a felt tip pen, acrylic paint, and some squeeze bottles of puffy 3-D paint. For one of the boxes (see below) I also used a vintage children's printing kit I have to print a quote from Bernie Sanders: "Despair is not an option."

Inside-out house fly boxes

Inside-out fly box with printing and peekaboo tissue

Side of box

The end result of this particular discovery/experiment is that I now have enough unique gift boxes to last a good long while. A more dubious side-effect is that I now have a very difficult time letting any empty box go into the garbage. Here is hoping you enjoy making some inside-out boxes of your own, resulting in a lot more gift giving and a lot less landfill.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Seasonal Boro Year 4

Kimono patched with four seasons of leaves

The gingko trees are in full leaf again, and here is year four of an ongoing process piece called "Seasonal Boro." It harkens back to the Japanese tradition of patching worn clothing, called "boro," using fine lines of "sashiko" stitching.

Close-up: leaf patch from a past season

The process gets more involved with this piece each season, as old leaves from previous years grow increasingly brittle. As with patching, the older and more worn they are, the more beautiful they become.

Kimono back with old and new patching

This scaled-down kimono is hand-stitched from Japanese fabric.

Worn gingko leaf patch

The second garment in this piece is a scaled-down traditional happi coat, now sporting a blend of old and new leaf patches.

Happi coat front


Happi coat back


Old gingko leaf patch

If you would like to look at all four seasons of this project and how the garments have progressed as the leaves have been added and then aged over time,  use this link: Seasonal Boro. If you would like to see how boro patching works in a beautifully practical way with fabric, simply use the link: Boro.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sheer Desperation: Upcycled First Responder Shirt with Maximum Pocket Power

Perfectly Pocketed

Sometimes you entirely lose sight of reality while thrift shopping. This voluminous pale-green shirt caught my eye and I had to have it, despite the fact that it violated my cardinal clothing rule: pockets are absolutely mandatory. This shirt had none. In addition, the garment is so sheer as to render it useless for all practical purposes, particularly when worn by a 68-year-old woman.

Totally sheer

What to do? I decided to make this shirt work against its intrinsically frivolous nature by transforming it into a street-ready uniform as part of my ongoing First Responder series. An ancient Chinese first aid print, converted into an iron-on transfer image and then to a fabric patch, offers a handy first-aid manual for just about anything that could possibly break on the human body.

 I also used one of my go-to strategies for solving the pocket problem by adding cargo pockets. See Braving the Urban Frontier with Cargo Pockets for more creative uses for this common thrift store find.

Three simple tweaks.


The plan is to wear this upcycled shirt as a tunic over a black t-shirt and leggings. I figure I can pack enough supplies into the pockets to keep me going in the face of just about any urban disaster for a couple of days.

Onward (and always armed with a dark sense of humor)!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Smash-a-Trump: Holiday and Protest March Cascarones

Trump Cascarones

"Cascaron" literally translates to "eggshell," and in Mexico the term "cascarones" usually refers to eggshells filled with confetti — popular at Easter, New Year, Carnival, and just about any time you want to smash an egg on someone's head or back to cover them in confetti. They are now popular in various countries throughout Latin America.

Smashed Trump cascaron with confetti innards spilling out.

I decided to make a batch of Trump cascarones for this Easter, though it occurs to me that these would be a welcome addition to any protest march as well. I have included detailed how-to instructions below, along with a template of Trump faces so that you can crank out your own cascarones. Throw a Trump cascarones get-together and make a ton of them.

Tap end of raw egg

Begin by tapping the end of a raw egg with a spoon to just start a crack at the smaller end of the egg. Use a pin to carefully lift away egg shell from that end. You want an opening large enough to easily insert confetti. Use photo below as a guide, but this isn't an exact science.

Pick and lift shell pieces away with a pin.

I simply turned the raw eggs over and shook them into a plastic storage container. The yolk sort of plops its way through the opening, and it doesn't matter if the yolk breaks. Save the eggs for a cooking project.

Save the egg innards and use them later for cooking.

A friend of mine from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico refers to Trump as "the orange man" due to his perpetually bizarre skin tone, so of course I went with orange dye. Around Eastertime you can pick up Easter egg dye. I had food coloring on hand, so I just used the formula given on the food coloring box to create orange. Wash your eggs and then dye them and let them dry. I used the egg carton as a drying rack, but you can also just turn them with the opening down on a paper towel to dry.

Dyeing and drying "orange man" eggs

I had a hard time finding paper confetti — all that I found available commercially was horribly eco-unfriendly metallic confetti. As an alternative I bought a huge, multicolored pack of tissue paper at the Dollar Store and made my own. Just cut narrow strips through a lot of stacked layers of the tissue paper, and then snip those strips into tiny pieces.

Stuff eggs with paper confetti

I had planned to use a makeshift paper funnel to pour confetti into the eggs but as it turned out, I was able to just pinch bunches of confetti between my fingers and stuff the confetti into the eggs. Stuff them fairly full. Cover the opening with a piece of blue tissue paper. Just eyeball the size of your openings and cut circles of tissue paper larger than the opening. I used a glue stick around the edge of the tissue paper circle and then pressed the circle in place. Note: Do not smear glue over your entire circle, and in particular you should avoid getting glue in the middle - you don't want your confetti adhering to the tissue paper.

Glue blue tissue paper over opening

Download, print, and use the template below to create the Trump faces. You'll see there are two versions - pick the one you like or use both (I did).

Template for Trump heads

Cut around a Trump head as shown below. Use a similar-size piece of carbon paper and some pink or orange tissue paper from your multicolored pack of tissue paper. I always have carbon paper on hand. If you don't, you can get some at any office supply store. Use a ballpoint pen to go over the lines on the Trump face and transfer that image onto the tissue paper. Ignore the very top of the head and the collar/tie at the bottom. Don't transfer those (see pictures below). Trim and use a glue stick to affix the face onto the egg. It will wrinkle a bit because the paper is flat and the egg is a three-dimensional oval, but you'll find that the wrinkles just press into place and the whole thing works.  Important: The chin should be down near the blue tissue paper covering the opening (see below). As this evolves, that blue tissue paper becomes his suit.

Transfer Trump face to tissue paper

Face transferred onto tissue paper

Tissue paper face glued onto egg

Using yellow tissue paper, cut three shapes like the one below. Start by cutting an oval, then snip into the oval at one end as shown. This is going to be his hair. Just eyeball the size. The picture following this one should help you see how this works.

Cut three pieces of yellow tissue paper like this.

Glue the three yellow hair pieces around the sides and back of the egg as shown below.

Glue yellow paper to egg sides and back.

Hair back

Now just crumple the hair with your fingers. There is no wrong way to do this. Then put little dabs of the glue stick on top of the egg and press various ends of the hair down to create comb-overs. I like leaving a lot of the hair loose and wild, like a bad comb-over caught in a wind storm.

Crumpled hair, and an added tie.

I realized at this final stage that a tie (red of course) would complete the cascaron. I had some red napkins on hand, and just cut out little two-layer ties freehand. You could also use red tissue paper.

Completed Trump cascarones

And there you have it — a batch of Trump cascarones. Can't wait to smash them.

And what to do with all of those eggs? I made a frittata:

Celebrate with a frittata

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