Wednesday, July 21, 2010

true tinkering!

One of the main goals I had this year was to give myself more time to play. It sounds great but I, like almost all adults, am still hardwired to 'make good use of my time' or whatever: run errands, cross things off my list, I'm sure I don't have to tell you how it is. Making things just for the sake of the making (and not even for the end product so much as the experience), pursuing projects purely for curiosity's sake.... is what I'd call true tinkering, and it ain't as easy as it seems. But I've been cracking the whip on myself of late. And of course come to find out I'm mysteriously refreshed AND I often come up with some great new idea or solution to a problem that's been plaguing me, when I let myself do something totally frivolous and fun. Here's a few photos from tinkering mania.
This first photo is a tower of condiment cups made by Jack, not me. Because of my involvement with Austin Creative Reuse, people are often giving me their interesting odds and ends (we haven't even opened our doors and people are already champing at the bit to give away loads of good stuff... making the need for our reuse center even more crystal clear!) and I just love playing around with the goods.

I just thought of making this jumbo glider today.... Matt had stuffed a whole bunch of leftover pieces of this insulation in the trash. I thought I could try to make an XL version of those little foam or balsa wood toy planes that the kids love so much. I'm glad I toyed around with this idea because I think it would be a FANTASTIC project to do with kids. I need to find a good source for this insulation stuff.... I bet construction sites throw out a TON of it.
And last night was when I was REALLY having a delightful time. I've really been becoming aware of how much I strive to just stuff my brain with all manner of delightful distractions and new information. At the end of a long and trying day I just love to watch movies or listen to podcasts or radio shows... anything but be alone with my thoughts. Well, I'm not going to give that stuff up anytime soon. But I did make the effort last night to just have some fun tinkering after the kids went to bed... and to do myself the service of not turning on any other form of distracting entertainment. And wouldn't you know it... I had so much fun.

The first thing I did I don't have any photos of... I've been really interested to experiment with dyeing, figuring out some really cool dyeing projects that I can do with kids and not have to worry about the toxicity of the dye. I did a really T-shirt dyeing project with my kids recently and I have to admit I was panicking quite a lot because we were using your average clothes dye. Because supposedly you need it to dye cotton. But what about stains? They don't wash out. If you spill koolaid or tea down your front... it usually stays put. And when I washed this sheet in the washing machine... that paint sure didn't come out. I experimented with koolaid dye (which I've often used to dye playsilks with kids) and tried adding salt as a fixative.... well sure enough, the white piece of cloth I was using washed out just as lily white as the day it was made! I'll try using the tempera paint next time... I think that will do the trick.

Then after that I got a wild hair and started experimenting with some different concoctions. This was incredibly fun! My hair was standing on end, I felt so electrified just dabbling around like some sort of mad scientist. There's only a few books for kids projects that I find invaluable and one that I think has lots of great projects in it is called Kid's Concoctions (and yes that couple is completely creepy). I looked in my cupboards and the cornstarch was staring me right in the face. I started thinking gee, how did they come up with THEIR recipes? And I have a HUGE quibble with their silly putty recipe (I'm sorry dudes, that is NOT silly putty... call it something else). I decided to pull out some of the standard ingredients and see what I could come up with. I experimented with cornstarch, salt, gelatin, koolaid powder, sugar, vinegar, and dish soap. Did NOT come up with anything earth shattering but I DID come up with a really great idea I think... maybe next time instead of going to the kids with some recipe to make, I'll just present them with a table of these ingredients. I bet they would be pretty excited to do some recipe tinkering. And who knows what they might come up with... maybe something really great. I'm a-gonna try it, I certainly am. Which reminds me, Jack has been SO inspired by Dangerous Thing #42: Break the Recipe Rule Book (create and eat your own confection) from Gever Tulley's invaluable book, 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do). He totally approaches cooking in a different way now and as a recipe-addicted person myself, I'm totally in awe.


child central station said...

I love your tinkering!!! We have been doing some dye projects too. I found a lot of information on natural dyes, and found that sometimes you need to presoak your material in alum/water or in the case of kool-aid, I would assume that using vinegar would help it to set. You can see our strawberry shirts here. (We boiled strawberries to make a great dye for some shirts.....)

They did fade with just the salt, but were much more vibrant when we used alum instead.

I found some good information here:

I don't remember exactly where I found the best information about using alum as a mordant, but I'm sure if you search for more information about mordants for natural dyes, you will find an abundance of information!

Happy Tinkering!

Anonymous said...

YAY! I'm so glad someone could creative use all those blasted plastic cups. All I could think to do with them was make jello shots!

Kami said...

CCS, that is absolutely awesome! If strawberry can dye cotton like that... the sky's the limit. I love it, thanks so much for sharing!

Aw yeah, Angel! It was super cool! I wish I had been able to take more photos before the sibs demolished it. I have another idea to use them for a really cool lighting project... we'll have to see if it works. Oh the possibilities!

Teacher Tom said...

I'm so looking forward to your post on bacon flavored cupcakes with peppermint frosting! =)

It's funny, but reading about your experiences, I'm beginning to see little difference between what people call "tinkering" and what I call "making art."

Kami said...

Absolutely, Tom! When Gever was here he talked about how he didn't think tinkering just applied to working with tools, construction, electronics, all that.... it could be applied to anything. I want to champion that definition and spread it everywhere! I keep thinking about how true artists must allow themselves to tinker... to make things just for the sake of making them, probably without thinking about whether or not it will sell or what it will be used for (though perhaps they might wonder these things and still create... nothing against it)... just bravely try new things, and follow their interests/obsessions. With my tinkering school I really just want to create lots and lots of opportunities for kids/people to be totally creative and play and think outside the box.... with all sorts of different materials. Exactly like your school!! (In fact, I just was talking to a friend who's a preschool teacher about creating a Teacher Tom style preschool as part of Austin Tinkering SChool... existing all in fantasy still but I think it would be sooOOooooOOOooo dreamy! And I think everything you do with the kids is tinkering... it's wonderful).

Teacher Tom said...

. . . and I've been thinking about adding a Tinker School to our preschool! =)

Bess said...

You mentioned concoctions. My 5-year-old niece so loved to make her own "potions", her mother had to hide all of the shampoo, dish soap, chocolate syrup, you-name-it. Then for her birthday, all of her adult friends presented her daughter with all of the hotel size toiletry bottles they had ever collected and her own box of food coloring. She was in heaven!

Kami said...

That sounds brilliant, Bess!