Homes for Things for Making Things

I recently found myself looking at toolboxes, the red metal ones with lots of drawers, but not for my tools. My tools already (mostly) have boxes. There’s one for wrenches and one for sanding supplies, one for the angle grinder and one for drywall. I have boxes for electrical and plumbing parts, tiny organizers for screws and for nails, and another just for hammers. I’m planning on building one for my hand tools. And this doesn’t even count all of the cases that my power tools came with. Having all of these boxes, having them all labeled, is really helpful for keeping me organized, but it is also a convenient justification for ignoring the larger issue: I have too many things for making things.

I’ve been buying tools for several years now, mostly one at a time, on sale or for a specific job. I’m very good at telling myself “I need this because…” And they have all been useful, and they have all been used. There just are a lot of them.

The same is true of crafting supplies, camping supplies, cooking supplies, art supplies, brewing supplies. (And I’ll ignore completely the enormous quantity of things I have bought for teaching and for my classroom.) I don’t have two of anything (except for 16 ounce hammers, of which I have four, because maybe someone else needs to be using one at the same time as me?), but I have one of a great many different things. And they are hard to give up. Each one has a purpose and a useful life ahead of it.


Having all of these things means that I have an apartment (and my parents garage!) full of things. I have gone through periods where various collections of things became too much for where I had been putting them, and I was forced to step back, rethink, and develop an organization plan. How many times has Heather come home and found me in the basement, a few hundred tools all laid out on the floor, new toolboxes waiting to be filled? And so, to corral this potential madness, I keep buying containers to put them all in.

This doesn’t mean that my life is as clean and organized as I would want it to be. Anyone who stepped into my studio, my classroom, or my apartment would figure that out pretty quickly. Having things away, organized, and ready is a goal, not always an extant state.

Which brings me to the red toolbox I have been thinking about. While my carpentry tools are carefully put away, the same is not true of sewing supplies, knitting supplies, or art supplies. I have drawing tools in three different places, knitting tools in four, and printmaking supplies in two. If these are going to be useful, they need to be easy to find and quickly at hand.

I am left with a feeling that two divergent ideas can exist peacefully together. I can have tools for making things because they are tools which satisfy a greater purpose. But, I need to stay vigilant in the war against having things just to have them. If I want to buy something “because I will need it later,” I wait. When the time comes when I need it, I can think about getting it then. For now, my things are away, and I am ready to make.

Class with Lizzy House

Iggy helps out

Back in November, Heather and I took a class with the fabric designer/printmaker/quilter/all-around-crafty-lady Lizzy House. As part of my quest to know how to make anything out of anything, we have been taking a number of sewing classes at gather here, a fabric and fiber store in Cambridge. It is the kind of place where there are always a few people just sitting on the couch knitting, snacks waiting for you when you come in, and lots of amazing things to look at and think about buying. I have so far taken three classes with Virginia, the owner, who really knows what she is doing. We stay up late the night classes are posted, so we can pick something we really want to take before they all fill up. If you take the last spot in one we want, we will have to stop being friends.

This class was on color theory and mini quilts, two things I know very little about. I tend to make what feel like obvious and readily-apparent color choices, avoiding fine differentiation whenever possible. Add to this tendency my issues with situationally-dependent color confusion (known to most of you as color blindness, a gross overstatement of fact) and some degree of indecisiveness. The wall of paint chips at the hardware store is completely overwhelming. So I had to be brave with this class and step out of my comfort zone in a big way.

Little did I know, but Lizzie House is a very critical teacher. Within five minutes of class starting, I found myself out in the hall, writing “I will not make poor color choices. I will not make poor color choices.” I was not allowed to have a gold star at the end, and Heather was so ashamed that she pretended not to know me.

Oh wait, that’s not how it happened.

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Fabric colors before the workshop.

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After playing with color temperature, one of my classmates named Becca took off her tape in a very artistic way!

2013-11-21 22.02.35 Figuring out the quilt. I have never quilted before, so it was fun to mess around and teach myself how such a thing is done.

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Piecing the quilt together.

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Front done!

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For the back of the quilt, I designed and block printed a fabric with this forest.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from this class was a renewed interest in making art. Before it even happened, I took out my sketchbook and played with ideas. I made sketches, I doodled little cartoons, I did some meditative mark-making. After spending so much time back in college making and thinking about art, this kind of creative thinking and work has been an unfilled hole in my life, and it was so wonderful to have a project to jump into once again. And so, with encouragement from Lizzy, Heather and I are going to try designing a line of fabric together. We are going to make some prints, make some drawings, play around in Illustrator, and get back to doing something we love. Thank you, Lizzy.