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?

A Prose Poem

Summer Circles Green

Summer circles green and my hair is growing another color, silver/white like tinsel or Christmas tree ornaments or snow on the slanted roof of the artist’s yellow house, who paints her daughter blonde, reclining as in a lawn chair, her oiled canvas stretching now in a museum down the road, where we, on Sunday mornings, relax like swans, drinking flavored coffee from blackened mugs so the darkened rims don’t show.  I despise the dirty rigs on my own blue mugs, like arctic circles, tea rings, skim milk spilling on the wooden floor beneath the picnic table benches.

Summer circles green and my hair is growing another color, preparing cob-webbed gowns we wear like gauze bandages, covering the cigarette burns on our wrists and upper arms, slices of roast beef for the noonday meal, when we should be eating turkey along with last year’s yellowed photographs, boxed memories of three years’ madness, the hospital gowns, green and open in the back, displaying what we’d prefer to hide behind some sturdier covering.

Summer circles green and my hair is growing another color, asking impossible questions about misplaced rooms and lilacs beside the brick house that stained my childhood brown, brown hair like dirty ponds in winter, though I pretended it was red, imagined I was burning, wondering—will I ever be consumed like bread crumbs scattered to the pigeons that roost on slate roofs, cooing, calling—

Make Green, Not Greed: Sustainability in Haitian Art

When you think “island music,” you most likely think “steel drums” and the almost bubbly music they produce—happy notes.

But here in Haiti, the 55 gallon oil drums recycled for music-making have yet another artistic application—one I learned about last spring on my first trip to Haiti.

In March of 2010, I traveled to Port-au-Prince to celebrate a birthday with my partner Sara, who had already been in Haiti for nearly two months.  Nine weeks after the earthquake, the place was not exactly a “vacation destination”—the city was largely a landscape of rubble and debris—remnants of a city that used to be.

But Sara had recently moved into a house expected to be home for the next several years.  So in an effort to make it feel more like “home” and less like a house of a hill seeking its soul, Sara and I decided we wanted our home to mirror the cultural landscape of the city, to fit with the creative lay of the land, so to speak.  And it seemed easiest to accomplish that with art, or whatever remained of it here after the earthquake.

In fact, last January’s earthquake dealt Haitian art a devastating blow, severely damaging the Centre d’Art, which launched Haiti’s art movement in the 1940s, and collapsing the Musee d’Art Nader, which had housed the country’s largest private collection of more than 12,000 pieces.

But even so shortly after the earthquake that nearly leveled the city, in March artists were back at work, perhaps, partly because Haitian art is largely a study in sustainability, and artists use whatever materials they have on hand to make creative statements, sometimes even hammering them from the steel remains of oil drums, the same material on which musicians mallet out their melodies.

Ever since the 1950s Haitian artists have been pounding cultural messages into steel—a tradition of metal art that owes it origins to a blacksmith from Croix-des-Bouquets named Georges Liautaud, who began fashioning simple metal crosses to mark graves in his village, since so few Haitians could afford tombstones.  

In fact, the first piece of metal art Sara purchased and had hanging in our home when I arrived last March was such a cross.  Yes, they’re still being made some 60 years after Liautaud began the tradition.  The cross Sara had hanging on our bedroom wall looks like this:

However, the piece of metal art we purchased that Saturday in March was done in the African mask style, a stunningly beautiful Haitian woman with bold spiraling hair and DNA-ed dangles hanging from either ear:

When I returned more permanently to Haiti in June, we purchased our lovely lady a mate—a warrior, whose long, stern face guards our entrance way with steely spikes of hair and sadly serious eyes:

Since then, Sara selected and purchased a spritely angel who hovers in our bedroom—a circling girlish figure, a feminine compliment to the more masculine cross that still hangs on an adjoining wall:

So what’s one to make of this art being pounded out in Port-au-Prince?

In the US some still accuse the Bush administration of entering Iraq for oil, but it’s unlikely Obama will make war in Haiti for empty barrels of the same black gold, so Haitian artists will use the rubbish from the rest of the world’s over consumption, its gas-guzzling greed and extravagant excess, to hammer home a message other countries had better learn, learn before it’s too late.

Haiti reminds us that maybe we should sing a different tune, beat our drums not for more oil, but make do with what remains.

The pied piper of Haiti may make his music on metal drums, but will the world follow a Haitian example of green consumption over greed?