Posts Tagged With: crafts

Crafty Time: Playing With Fire

I’ve always enjoyed hobbies that involved some kind of creative activity.  The urge to make things has continued, and when I was getting close to retirement, I started buying things for making jewelry, for playing with precious metal clay, and looked forward to having more time for that.

I worked some with the jewelry — basically making simple earrings and wire-wrapping pendants and beads.  It was wonderful therapy for nights when I needed some kind of outlet, when I couldn’t grade (or didn’t need to), when I couldn’t sleep.  After I moved in with Dad (while I was still teaching and then after I retired), I had short periods of time when I could make some earrings, or wrap a stone or two.  I even took a watercolor collage class for a few nights with a friend.

But it was all hit and miss.  I learned by watching videos, some on YouTube, some on DVDs.  Of course, I also did what every academic does:  I bought books and studied them.  But there were no classes.

My crafting/creative urge has been there most of my life.  As a child, I spent time with both of my grandmothers.  Grandmother Ware had me help her when she sewed — I used my hands to peddle the sewing machine.  When I was old enough, she put a threaded needle in my hand and gave me some fabric.  I “sewed” when she did.  If she was in the kitchen baking, then I got some dough to work with (and to work to death), along with my own tiny wine bottle sample to use as a rolling pin.  Since she was a teetotaler, I have no idea where she got that.  Dad even remembered what kind it was — a Kupenheimer wine bottle, I think.  I was very proud of what I made — and of course my biscuits, or rolls, or whatever, were usually as hard as rocks.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Adair (I called her Mom.  That’s another story) taught me how to embroider.  She also taught me how to dance.  And when I was old enough, she taught me how to make a grapefruit highball.  She loved to read, and with her I could feel comfortable just curling up in bed to read sometimes when I stayed with her.

My actual real sewing started when I was maybe 9.  When I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school, I was in 4-H.  I made a lot of things — still have a small mosaic ashtray from 1964 or so (I use it to hold a sponge near the sink). Though I entered many contests at the yearly 4-H day in our parish, the staple project usually was something I’d sewn.  That instruction came from our neighbor, Audie Watson.  Audie taught me how to use a sewing machine.  From her, I had many lessons in making things.  I learned to lay out a pattern, to cut it out, and to sew it.  I also learned that if it weren’t made just right, to Audie’s satisfaction, I’d hear the words that I always told her needed to be on her headstone:  “Rip it out.”  To this day, when I buy clothing in a store, I turn it so that I can see the hems, the stitching, and judge how well it’s made.  When I ignore the little voice that’s now in my head and let something not-quite-perfect go, I always feel guilty.  In addition to every math and science course our high school offered, I also took Home Ec.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew what I wanted for my high school graduation present from my parents:  a sewing machine.

Fabrics continue to fascinate me.  Browsing bolts of fabrics at a fabric store can take hours.  When I was younger, I’d look through the scraps and remnants, buying luscious velvets and satins and silks.  These I made into fashionable clothing for my Barbie (yes, I had a Barbie.  I won her; I did not buy her.) and then later for my sister Kay’s Barbies.

I look for fabric stores.  I seek out exotic fabrics and weaves and designs if I can find them.  And I have more fabrics than I have used.  They are carefully folded and stored in my mother’s 1940s alligator-patterned leather suitcases.  At an India night, I bought saris.  I won’t wear them, but might use the fabrics for some things I have in mind for my house.  Or maybe for purses.  I’ve got some material to recover a rocking-chair seat (the rocker was my Granddad Ware’s).  Recently, I found some different small pieces of turquoise and aqua leather (thanks, eBay).  Not sure what I’ll make with those, but I’ll think of something.  I’ve even used nice cloth placemats to make evening bags, or clutches.  Sheets?  For years that’s what I made curtains out of.  Easy to find, easy to make.  Lots of choices in patterns and colors.

In college, if I wanted new clothes, I’d make them.  It wasn’t unusual for me to make a new dress or top for a date.  Now I spend almost no time making clothing.  Instead, I’m more likely to run up something for a tablecloth, or for curtains.  Something for the house.  Maybe five years ago, my Singer machine finally died.  That Christmas, I picked out a new one for my present from Dad.  It’s smaller and lighter than my old one, and it does some really neat things.

When I graduated with my MA, I spent some months (8 months, to be exact) with my parents and relatives before my first teaching job started.  At one point, Dad simply gave me a gas credit card and told me to hit the road, spend some time with relatives.  I stayed with my Aunt Jean for a while, and she taught me how to crochet.  Specifically, she taught me how to make a granny square.  I made a small granny-square throw that I still have somewhere.  Needless to say, I have lots of yard around the house.  My attraction to yard is almost as bad as my attraction to fabric.  I’ve got so many kinds, so many colors.  Mostly I try to stick to cottons and wools, but I have some polyester yarns as well.  Oh, and I’ve moved beyond granny squares.  I can makes scarves too.  And table placemats.  I’m trying to make purses.

Not being able to afford expensive furniture, I relied on hand-me-downs and on flea markets and garage sales.  From a $10 bedside table, I could use sandpaper and paint to re-purpose that old, battered piece into something lively and colorful.  Even the 1950s blonde furniture that was so popular can be transformed without much trouble.  With some reading and practice, I learned to paint faux-marble tops on furniture.  It’s surprising what you can do with a little effort.  Even inexpensive folding TV tray tables can be interesting with some attention and creativity.  If you try something and it doesn’t work out, you can always sand it and start over.

As I grew up, I also came to love jewelry.  Pierced ears meant that I wore all sorts of earrings.  Multiple piercings in my ears also meant that I could wear several different pairs of earrings simultaneously.  That’s fun.

By the time I was nearing retirement, I started watching Jewelry Television (JTV) and got interested in gemstones.  I ordered some, loving the various colors and cuts.  It has been fun also to educate myself about the properties of different gemstones.  I started trying to identify real gemstones with a jeweler’s loupe, and then with other tools and instruments.  I even have a microscope, but am not very good at using it or some of the other tools.  One day, if possible, I’d like to take classes in gemology.  In the meantime, I collect different types when I can.  I also have mixed batches ready to try to identify using the tools and various charts about properties and characteristics to look for.

At the same time, I started working with sterling silver wire and gemstones.  I still do, but want to improve and expand my knowledge.  There’s so much that still intrigues me.  I’ve stuck with different styles of earrings — small stud earrings, with snap-tite settings in sterling silver (I order them) and gemstones (also ordered).  I put them together.  That’s really not hard, and it’s fun to assemble them.  I also make dangly earrings, with gemstones and silver beads and sterling silver wire — and some with wire-wrapping around the beads.

There are so many other things to try out, though — bracelets and necklaces.  More involved wire-wrapping, of course.

And tonight I attended a workshop for precious metal clay.  Actually, I already have some materials and tools, even a small tabletop kiln, and books for this.  I just hadn’t used them.  Tonight, though, I used 9 grams of precious metal clay (PMC 3) — silver — and made a pendant and two sets of earrings.  I rolled out the PMC3, textured it, and used a template to cut the different pieces out.  The class flew by.  The teacher demonstrated everything, talked to us all the time.  As we worked and had questions, she’d answer.  She’d walk around and help.  We used a dehydrator to dry our pieces leather-hard.  Then we watched as she used a creme brûlée torch to fire the demonstration piece.  After that, we each had to torch one of our pieces.  It was so much fun to watch the piece turn salmon color.  Once it was done, we immediately immersed the piece in water, and it was cool enough to work with immediately.  A brass wire brush was the next thing we used on that piece.  This is when the magic happened, and we watched as our pendant pieces emerged from the brushing as beautiful silver.  Absolutely fascinating.


She took the rest of our pieces and fired them in the kiln.  When they were done, we polished them in the same way.

I left with a pendant and two sets of matching earrings.


These aren’t perfect.  But what fun!  I am planning to work with my PMC3 clay on Saturday (day after tomorrow), and have no qualms now about using the torch.

And next weekend on Saturday,  I’ll be in the second PMC3 class — for 8 hours.  More advanced.  I’m already hoping that there will be a ring class.  And other classes.  It’s just addicting.

What a productive evening!

Before I’d left, I’d already posted photos on Facebook of my creations.  I’d already set a time to meet with my friend Myra, who is my jewelry buddy (we play together at least once a week and make jewelry) — we’re going to work with the PMC3 clay on Saturday, and then spend Saturday afternoon on wire and bead jewelry.

I knew that one day I’d get to spend more time with different crafts.  I just didn’t know what kinds.  There are more arts and crafts projects on my list than I ever imagined I’d want to do.  Stepping stones for my yard here and at the beach.  Slipcovers for chairs.  Recovering seat cushions on dining room chairs.  Tiling a backsplash.  Learning to knit (I now know how to make one kind of scarf).  Crocheting more.

Even when I was quite young, I loved to make things.  Visualizing a result was never my problem.  Imagination apparently came fully charged when I was born.  Maybe too much so, my parents might have said.

But having hobbies is a good thing for us.  If we work outside the home — whether in the classroom or an office or a store or whatever — it’s healthy for us to do other things.  Cooking, sewing, crafting, woodworking — you name it.  What a treat — you can immerse yourself in learning something, and use some spare time to create, to produce.

And depending on the craft, I often connect it with the person who taught me.  There are memories and histories as I work now.  And I’ve tried to pass on my knowledge — I taught my niece how to crochet.  We’ve done different crafts together — made mosaic-tiled coffeetables and end tables, tiled a backspash together.  It’s fun, and it’s our special time together.  She’s a graphic-arts major in college, and we don’t get to spend as much time together now.  But we have much in common.

Reading, of course, has always been my go-to passtime.  Playing the piano is something I do at times.  But beyond that — exploring different crafts and hobbies has been a passion of mine that I couldn’t always indulge.  Being able to, in whatever time frame, though, was beneficial — it balanced out the academic head work that has been my life.  Creativity in one area, I’ve found, sparks creativity in others.

When I took clay classes at McNeese and learned to throw on a wheel, to hand build, and to glaze and then watch what emerged, I found that my stress level dropped.  I didn’t have time to spend worrying or thinking — I had to be in the moment of throwing, of paying attention.  The clay wouldn’t center.  The pot or bowl or whatever just wouldn’t emerge.

I’d like to do more wheel work, to actually learn about glazes and how to run the kiln.  That’s on my list.

For now, I’m working on things at home.  My front bedroom has become my office.  My computer is here, angled off of my beautiful writing desk (thanks, Adam!).  I write here.

But behind me is the desk my brother Phil made me from a hollow-core door (that was what I used as a desk when I wrote my dissertation).  Phil took the door and put turned legs on it and trimmed it and then stained it.  My dissertation-door-desk is my jewelry crafting area.  On another wall is a bench with shelves.  This is for the small kiln — and for supplies connected with it.  Here is where I’ll do the precious metal clay work this weekend.  It’s where I can work with polymer clay.  There’s a small craft oven stored on a shelf — for polymer clay.  There are molds and texture sheets and other tools and supplies.  Most are neatly labeled now.

On another wall is a shelving unit that Dad made for me in high school.  It now holds all sorts of things — boxes for maps, for blank CDs, for some boxes.  And near it is a bookcase.  This is where the jewelry supplies go.  I have different boxes for glass beads, for gemstone beads, for pendant beads, for pendant cabochons, for gemstones (not beads), for findings.  One box is for base metal wire.  One holds different kinds of ribbon and necklace material.  A ring-binder notebook turned out to be a perfect way to organize my sterling silver wire and gold-filled wire.

This room is my new playroom.  It’s becoming itself — slowly, perhaps, but it’s emerging.  Organization is ongoing as I discover what I need where, and what works for me.

What works for me now?  This computer area.  And on Saturday?  The area for PMC3 — I’ll clear off the top tomorrow and get it ready for Saturday.  I’ll put out the supplies.  Get the butane and the torch ready, along with the brick to work on.

So far I’ve only worked with words and pens and computers, with materials and tools that twisted wire and closed it.

Now I get to play with fire too.  Watch out, world!

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Homecoming Week

It’s Friday morning, and Dad came home on Monday.  It’s been a week for homecoming, for adjusting, and for many discoveries.  A long week, but one worth it all.

From last week until Monday I worked to get the house cleaned, organized, and ready for Dad.  My friend Patty came from Moss Bluff a couple of times, and the two of us managed to get a lot done.  By Easter weekend, when I needed to see Dad, I was working still, and exhausted.  Kay came in on Saturday, and I just stayed in my bed and slept.  No visit to Lake Charles.

By Monday morning, things were ready.  By 11, Dad’s hospital bed had been delivered and set up and I put fresh new linens on it, with a blue comforter.  The bed is in what was the living room and is now his bedroom.  I angled it with the head toward the kitchen and the feet toward the front of the house so that he could see the television and look out the front door if he wanted.  I drove to Crowley, signed the discharge papers, loaded his clothes in the truck, then wheeled Dad (holding more stuff on his lap) to the truck and left.  A few minutes down the road, I pulled in at the dialysis clinic and reversed the procedure, getting the wheelchair out of the truck bed, unfolded, and getting Dad out of the truck into the chair.  I sat with him in the waiting room until the dialysis tech came to get him, and talked with her briefly.  Then it was off to run errands.  Medicine first, then a couple of other stops, and then back to Egan.

I unloaded a few things, leaving the rest until later.  I set up Dad’s medicines in his pill box and put some clothes away.  Most were dirty, though, and I left those near the laundry room for later.  Back to Crowley, a quick stop for celery and other things, and then to dialysis.  By the time I picked Dad up and got him home, I was truly tired.  Getting him out of the truck and into the house wasn’t too hard, but learning to get his wheelchair up the ramp and in the house was a bit tricky.  He was really tired, so I put him to bed.  While he slept, I made shrimp etouffee and cooked rice.

He ate some etouffee, enjoyed it, and then after taking his medicine, slept.  I tried to sleep, but gave up — he was restless, I was anxious, and didn’t really sleep steadily. At 3:30 a.m. I looked for him and he wasn’t in bed; he’d managed to get out of bed and into the kitchen– without a walker!  I have no idea how long he’d been there, but his skinny legs were pretty shaky, and I managed to get him back to bed.  He was confused, thought it was suppertime, and had been ready to get something to cook.

Needless to say, I did not sleep any more that night.  Luckily, the recliners in the room are very comfortable.  My iPad kept me company as I watched and worried.

Tuesday morning was a busy one.  Physical therapy came to evaluate and assess his condition; a physical therapist will come twice a week to work with Dad.  While the PT was still there, the home health nurse came to evaluate and assess Dad as well.  Dad was pretty alert by this time, which was good to see.  He interacted with the PT and nurse and held conversations.

He slept; we had visitors on and off that afternoon.  Tuesday night was better — I gave Dad his bedtime meds a bit later, to assure that he slept through the night.  Or I hoped so.  I slept, on and off.

Wednesday morning was pretty uneventful.  I cooked breakfast again; he ate.  He always wants his coffee, though I notice he doesn’t drink as much as he used to do.  Still, it’s something he wants. The home health aide came to help Dad shower. By 11:30, I’d delivered him to dialysis again and headed back to Egan.  My friend Patty had come again to help; she was catching up on Dad’s laundry while I took him to Crowley.  I came back and we worked some more.  Charles came over and visited some; I love friends who bring chocolate cake with them!  That was a perfect snack.

Errands, errands:  this time to Jennings, to find a bed alarm (the home health nurse had told me I could get one at the medical supply pharmacy there), a new shower bench (adjustable, because the one in the shower is too low).  I then headed through Egan to Crowley, stopping for another couple of errands.

Dad had been clear all morning.Wednesday afternoon, though, when I picked Dad up at dialysis, the tech told me he’d become a bit disoriented.  He still was so — and stayed that way through yesterday.  Every day at dialysis seems to tax him a bit harder.  He slept on Wednesday night and wouldn’t eat supper, though he did take his medicine.

Yesterday, I puttered around the plants on the front porch.  Carmichael’s delivered the portable oxygen concentrator that’s been in repair for nearly two months.  Physical therapy and home health came again.  Billie sat with Dad so that I could take Dad’s tax information to his CPA in Iota.  I quickly picked up mail and came home.  After Billie left, I warmed up some lunch and he ate, slowly; he finished his small bowl of etouffee.  Later in the afternoon, he wanted cake, and ate the whole piece. That was good.  He was still a bit confused, though less.  His back has been giving him a good bit of pain, and the pain meds help.  He does sleep a lot, though.  But I have to pay attention: last night while I was working on my taxes on the computer here in the office, I heard him — he’d gotten out of bed and was using the walker to head to the back bathroom, which has always been his.  Only when his walker wouldn’t fit in did he believe that he had to use the front bathroom.  By the time he’d turned around and gotten back to the living room, he was too tired to do anything but go back to bed.

Even confused, he manages to do things that surprise me.  Yesterday he kept talking about cooking peas.  He was dreaming, I kept telling him.  I wasn’t cooking peas, and neither was he.  He kept insisting, though.  It was about 5 when I finally noticed a plastic container out on the kitchen counter.  You guessed it — frozen peas. Just when he got them out, I have no idea.  But believe me, I’m learning that he manages to do things whether he should or no.

By this morning when I got up at 6:45, I’d been awake for awhile.  Dad was awake too, and I started breakfast while I gave him his meds.  In between, I finally started writing this blog again.  It’s 7:45 now.  In the last hour, he has gotten out of bed and used the walker to go to the bathroom by himself. He’s eaten part of his sausage and most of his biscuit and jelly.   He’s resting again now, after taking a pain pill.  I told him I’d let him sleep for a while.  I need to shave him and help him change clothes before I take him to dialysis.  While he’s there, I will run errands.  I also need to put the bed alarm on the bed — it’s a pad that fits under the sheet, wired to an alarm.  When Dad is off the pad completely, the alarm sounds.  I’m sure it will startle both of us if it goes off.  But I don’t want any more 3 a.m. surprise visits to the kitchen.  Nor do I want to find any more containers of frozen peas (or whatever) on the counter and wonder when he got those out of the freezer. I’ll unload the groceries and the shower bench.  I probably ought to load the extra garbage bags and boxes and take them to the dump as well.  By 3:30, I’ll be at the clinic waiting for Dad, and wondering what to expect.  Will he be confused again?

Homecoming Week in high school and college is usually about football games and parades and celebrations.  It’s been Homecoming Week here, just without the football game or parade.  Celebrations?  They’ve gone on all week, every day.  I celebrate that he’s home and asks questions about the house occasionally.  I celebrate when he wants to look outside and I coax him to sit on the front porch bench for a few minutes.  I celebrate when friends drop by and he engages in conversations.

Those celebrations are important — he’s home.  He knows it and is comfortable.  He’s glad to see friends.  Even with the confusion and the weakness, Dad knows he’s home again, and I think he’s relaxed more.  He smiles more than I saw him smile while he was in Southwind.  Sometimes, I think, he wasn’t sure he was going to come home.  Now he’s secure in his home of nearly 46 years.

It’s been a week of adjustments — for both of us.  By today, I know the schedule to expect from home health:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, physical therapy; Wednesdays, aide to bathe Dad; twice a week, home health nurse.  I’ve figured out that my free time to run errands will be on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while Dad is at dialysis.  If I need to make an appointment for me in Lake Charles, it needs to be on Tuesday and Thursday morning, when Billie can sit with Dad; I need to be back by 1 because she works at the library in Crowley on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.   Friday afternoons by the time I get Dad back from dialysis, Kay will be here, and I can have until Sunday afternoon to head to Lake Charles to my house.  I know I’ll have a week to 10 days in June; I’m trying to figure out how to have a longer break — I want to go to Greece to a friend’s niece’s wedding, and to see my apartment in Athens, and to hang out with friends there.  That’s my goal, anyway.

I can tell that every day I will start Dad’s breakfast by 7 — a biscuit, one patty of sausage, and some coffee.  He doesn’t want an egg right now.  I’ll cook.  We eat supper together every night, which is good for both of us.

He sleeps.  While he does that, I do laundry.  I watch television.  I wash dishes and I cook.  I check on him frequently, sometimes talking with him if he’s awake.  Reassuring him if he’s confused.  Today he told me about a trip to town, seeing someone he used to work with.  I guess his dreams take him places he can’t go anymore. I don’t fuss at this; I just accept it and nod and talk.  Frequently, he tries to get out of bed because we “have to go . . .” somewhere; I reassure him that no, we don’t, that he’s at home and we don’t have to go anywhere yet, that he can go back to sleep.  Keeping calm is easy, I find, and if I’m calm, it sets the tone for him.

Now I also I putter around the front porch plants.  They’re all looking healthy and green.  The agapanthus are beautiful and blue; I have some other smaller blue flowers as well.  My friend Carolyn gave me some lovely yellow flowers in a blue pot.  I have two kinds of ivy in hanging baskets.  I’ve planted a lot of herbs.  I have a hibiscus tree in a big pot.  The windchime reminds me often just to close my eyes and listen, to sit and enjoy the moments.  The hummingbird feeder and bird feeder haven’t gotten any action yet, but I’m hopeful — and they’re cute, anyway.  The yellow bench with the blue and tan floral cushion is comfortable and inviting.  It’s lovely to have the small space so handy, so available — and so welcoming to all.

As the week winds up, I now find time to write as well — finally.  It’s as though I’ve been racing for days to get ready to get Dad home, and then to get Dad settled and to figure out what’s going on.  Now, I think I have a handle on the general scheme of things.  I’ve still got chores to do and appointments to set up; I need to set up a follow-up visit with Dad’s primary physician.  Today while he’s in dialysis I’ve got to buy groceries and some cleaning supplies.

Charles reminded me yesterday that I need to spend time here in the office space, too.  I’ll need my own space, he says, and he’s right.  So I’ll start working on clearing up the boxes that are still stacked here.  I’ll figure out where my own craft supplies really are so that next week I can begin working on jewelry again.

In the meantime, I have discovered that when I go to Lake Charles, I have to crate my three cats and set them on the front porch there while I flea-bomb the house.  Yes, that house now has fleas.  Oh well, at least I can bring the laptop and iPad and some cold drinks and sit on the porch there in my rocker.  I don’t have any plants in pots on that porch, but I do have lovely roses that are in bloom.

Two porches to enjoy — and my pets.  Dogs here in Egan, cats in Lake Charles.  Friends in both places.  Dad at home, comfortable and feeling secure.  Kay to relieve me on weekends.

And time to enjoy, to write, to read, to create.

Who needs a parade?  I’ve got porches!

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