Turn Summer Trash into Christmas Cash (A Holiday Ecology)

The holidays cost big bucks, bigger bucks than some out-of-work elves and cash-strapped consumers can afford.

But if you want to pay for Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa gifts this December, especially during difficult financial times, now is the time to plan ahead, now is the time to turn summer trash into Christmas cash.

I sometimes start as early as May or June, making quilted Christmas ornaments, sometimes to give as gifts, other times to sell, raising the funds to purchase presents for my partner, perhaps  iTunes for my nephews, a mirror for my mom.

These tree ornaments can be made from found fabric and repurposed paper—skirts to shirts, magazines to maps.

fabric version

another fabric ornament

paper version made from canned tomato labels

variation on the label ornament above (notice ingredient list)

This mixed fabric and paper ornament uses recycled New York Times.

close-up of the same fabric and paper ornament

What you will need:

–found fabric (40 squares per ornament, 2 inches each) OR

–repurposed paper from books, maps, or newspapers (40 squares per ornament, 2 inches each)

–straight pins (approximately 200-210 per ornament)

–Styrofoam balls (2.5 inches each)

–ribbon (5/8 inch, ½ inch, and ¼ inch)




Follow these steps:

  1. Cut fabric and/or paper into 2 inch squares.  You will need 40 squares per ornament.

  1. Pierce center of first square with pin.

  1. Fold fabric/paper  as shown in photos below and attach to ball.

  1. Add fabric/paper squares until you have 4 in the first circle, 8 in the next, and 8 in the last.

secure with 4 pins across the bottom of the triangle

secure second folded triangle opposite the first

add the third triangle

add the fourth to complete the first set of triangles

add the first triangle of the next set between triangles of the first, inserting the top pin about 1/4 inch from the center

add the second opposite the first

attach the third triangle of the second set

add the fourth

the fifth

the sixth

eighth triangle finishes the second set

second triangle of third set

third triangle of third set and so on until third set is complete

  1. Repeat steps 2-4 on the opposite side of the ball, again adding 4 squares in the first circle, followed by 8 each in the following 2 circles, until fabric/paper squares nearly meet in the middle and you can see only a narrow band of Styrofoam circling the center of the ball.  (See images below.)

side one and side two meet in the middle

  1. Pin 8 inch strip of ribbon (5/8 inch wide) around the middle of the ball to cover pins.

secure one end of ribbon with two pins

where ends meet secure with two more pins

  1. Add optional ¼ ribbon over the 5/8 inch ribbon to create layered effect and pin in place.

secure quarter-inch ribbon on either end with pin

  1. Attach ribbon to form bow on top in desired pattern and color.  Secure with pins.  I usually use two colors, applied in opposite directions and crossed in the center.

attach first half of bow in the same direction as 5/8 inch ribbon

attach the second perpendicular to the first

  1. Secure loop for hanging with decorative beads and pin.

loop attached with pin

decorative bead finishes the top

  1. Pin optional decorative beads in the center of the smallest star on either side of ornament.

feed bead onto straight pin

finished ornament

(Note:  I would make a number of ornaments with fabric before proceeding to paper, which is more difficult to manage.)

Will you rethink your ethic of giving this Christmas?  Do you have a holiday ecology?

Haiti’s Greatest Gift: notes on the nature of giving

It amazes me how often Haiti is a study in extremes, not only between the most obvious of oppositions: rich/poor, white/black, have’s/have-not’s—but also between the more subtle and insidious of extremes—the ones I notice once I’ve returned to the US and realized all over again just how much we as Americans have and just how much the people of Haiti don’t.

I understood this even more clearly yesterday when I thought about how well “we-with-the-leisure-to-read-blogs” have it, that one of our biggest anxieties during the Holiday Season is the worry over whether we’ve gotten Uncle Joe or Cousin Rita just the right gift—from perfect stocking stuffer to the most ideal of electronics—iPhone, iPad, iPod.  It’s i-ronic just how much “I” is in our gift-giving, how many “me’s.”

I realized that the leisure and disposable income gift-giving presumes suggest profound things about these two countries I now call home.  Namely, if we have the time and energy, not to mention the funds, to spend on gifts, then we obviously aren’t worrying about keeping our children safe from cholera, aren’t worrying where our next meal might come from, aren’t worrying how we’ll keep our babies dry during the rain at night, the torrential downpours that turn the floors of our tents into pools of liquid, dripping mud.

However, sometimes I think that my graphic, black and white drawings, even my poems, express something about the extremes of Haiti that these well-chosen words of explanation fail to communicate.  So in closing, I offer some recent, some not-so-recent drawings that try to articulate in ways these words do not—the kinds of graphic contrasts that keep me awake at night—not only in Haiti—but in other places, as well.  Below the images are used to punctuate a poem I wrote some years ago, one written in the voice of someone displaced, alienated, alone—someone struggling to climb up out of endlessly hopeless circumstances, someone not unlike the poorest of the poor in Haiti.

On Rattlesnake Mountain

At dusk we lock

                the iron gate 

                                                collecting bones

                bleached in tufts of matted grass

                scaffolding the bluff

I insist on picking them

                a carcassed bouquet

                                                of cow bone

                picketting our path

                back up the crooked slope

Eye sockets shape

                a separate ascent

                                                dead leaves

                thicken the air

                like smoke

The moths are tongueless

                it’s simple to blame

                                                the mothers

                their beaks vacant as stairs

                I climb a thicket ofdry sticks

(For a more light-hearted and truly hysterical look at the holiday, I suggest you read today’s post on “The Ramblings.”  Tori’s comment  helped me gain some of the insights I share here.)