Tag Archives: Art Deco

How to make awesome Shibori-style cloth Christmas gift bags that will last forever and ever, amen.

27 Dec
Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

In my last post, I believe I expressed myself fully on the subject of the horrors of giftwrapping. But did you know that you can have really pretty handmade cloth giftbags for not much money that can keep you from hours of pointless agony involving lost scissors, tape that won’t unspool, and pieces of paper that almost but don’t quite cover the whole surface of the Monopoly game box? Here’s how I did it (thanks to an at class I took this fall):

1. Buy some plain white cotton gift bags. You can get them at craft shops such as A.C. Moore or Michaels (for about $3). I got some at a store near us called Amazing Savings (3 for $2.99). I also got some from save-on-crafts.com (they have a number of different kinds of bags, including twelve 10-inch cotton drawstring bags for about $9), and I may have purchased some from Oriental Trading company (http://www.orientaltrading.com (12 DIY large tote bags for $20). The important thing is that they should be made of a natural fabric, probably cotton or linen. Any size will do–in fact, some places sell tiny little bags that turn out to be surprisingly useful for gift purposes.

2. Ideally, you should wash the fabric in a special detergent called synthrapol (available through such suppliers as Dick Blick  (http://www.dickblick.com).  I didn’t do it and it came out fine, but it is preferable. While you’re shopping, you’ll also need soda ash and procion dye. What is procion dye? I don’t know what to tell y’all except that it’s a special kind of powdered dye that I could only find at Dick Blick –A.C. Moore and Michael’s failed me. (This will explain more: http://www.dickblick.com/products/jacquard-procion-mx-fiber-reactive-cold-water-dye/). For this project, I specifically chose Fire Engine Red and Forest Green. But I did not mix those two together in one batch, because those colors could mix and become muddy. If you’re going to mix colors, it’s better to stay w

soaking cloth in soda ash water

This action shot (note blurry artistic quality) shows a bucket of cloth being soaked in soda ash. Note that this process is messy. Also note that there is a container of procion dye sticking out from under the bottom.

ith either yellow-orange-red-brownish hues or blue-green-purple hues, because the different colors will enhance each other. I made two different batches.  By the way, each container of dye costs about $4.50ish.

3. Okay, now, ready for fun? Following directions on the package, I mixed up a batch of soda ash with water and soaked the cloth for about fifteen minutes before tossing the soda-ash water out. (You can soak it longer if you want, too).

4. Then, I tied up each bag into a specific configuration. That’s the Shibori part. Shibori dying is a Japanese style of tie-dying that involves resists. But it’s less chaotic than regular tie-dye, and usually done with indigo. I used several different techniques I found on YouTube videos and in my class–folding the fabric in squares, in triangles, in long back and forth fan folds and so forth. YouTube has approximately seven billion videos on this if you want more ideas. I tied the string very tight. But the dyeing process will still give interesting effects even if you just scrunch up the bags and toss them in the same container where you soaked the bags.

Shibori style cloth tied up

I know this looks like a box of mummified cats, but it’s actually just tightly bundled cloth, tied up shibori style.

5. Now, the really fun part. Completely cover the bags with ice cubes. And then, sprinkle procion dye onto the ice cubes. This picture shows an earlier batch of ice dying, in which I used blues and purples. You can see in the photo that the colors are very dark looking in the beginning as they start to melt into the ice.

Procion dye on ice

Procion dye on the rocks. The dye is just starting to melt into the ice cubes which will allow the dye to melt into the fabric.

6. Next, do nothing. Just stay away from your ice-covered bucket for about 12 hours. Put a cover on it if you have pets just in case, because (don’t read this out loud) pets are d-u-m-b. Oh, and speaking of dumb, I should have told you that back in step 5, you might want to think about wearing gloves or you’ll have hands that look as if you’ve dipped them in blood.

6. Now, take your pieces out of the bucket, and unwrap them while rinsing them under cold water until the water is clear. You will see how the Procion dye has colored your fabric. I really like the way mine turned out. I hope you like yours, too. (see results, at top).

7. You don’t really have to do anything else, but it doesn’t hurt to iron your dyed fabric (with a piece of newsprint over it to keep dye from leaching into the iron), and don’t put it into the washing machine with other stuff until you’re sure it won’t run any more.

tin can tied with dyed string

Don’t get excited yet, Mom, but this dyed-string tin-can pen holder is heading your way!

8. Oh, and tying up the fabric with string or yarn yields a bonus: dyed string that you can use for other projects. I’m making my mommy a pen holder from a tin can and that string (and Mod Podge, of course). Will she love it? She has to. She’s my Mom!

So, 135journalistas, I hope that you won’t have a frustrating December 24, 2015 and that you can easily toss whatever gifts you have into pretty little bags like these. And the good news is, you have 363 days to prepare!

Writing Prompt: What would you like to do differently next holiday season that you didn’t do this season.

Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, even if it’s for five minutes

17 Dec
Beanitos bus stop ad, photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

The writing process needs lots of fiber to keep things moving (from NYC bus kiosk, photographed with loving care and a sophisticated sense of humor by Alexandra H).

Hello friends,

I am writing from Starbucks, where I am taking my last chance to get a fancy drink for free after signing up for one of them there Starbucks cards the kids love so much these days. I don’t know why they want me to have a chai latte for free but it is giving me the opportunity to do what I sometimes do with my friends—write a five minute email. It’s not that I have too little to say, it’s that I have too much. So whatever comes out in that five minute is at least a down payment, if a rambling one, on the friendship. I have incredible friends and I feel the joy of them in my mind.

So what’s this got to do with you, the reader? I have a feeling that one of the things that makes it really hard for most people to develop a writing habit is that they don’t write enough actual words, so the cost of each word is way too high. To me, writing is like plumbing—you have to have a certain amount of flowing clean water wasted and going down the drain to keep the pipes moving and not to get, um, unsightly clogs. Or, maybe it’s like eating. You’ve got to have enough fiber—i.e.; stuff that doesn’t provide nutrition in itself but functions as Nature’s Broom. Just keep it moving. In other words, although of course different people have different writing processes, but for most professional or at least frequent writers I know, their writing flows because they just do a heck of a lot of it, and a lot of it is to crap. Of course, sooner or later, serious writers need to learn to edit. But very often they need a safe place to write. (As I sit here, a young woman is writing long Christmas cards. She shakes her wrist, she’s written so many. I look at her, a pretty 20-something black woman in a green woolen cap, I am filled with admiration. I feel like saying to her, “Your friends are lucky to have you.” Heck, maybe I will say you.
I started a new journal today. Again. I started one last week, and I lost it. The reason I started one last week was because I left the LAST one, almost completed, on the bus. It may be hard to believe, but the proprieter of 135 journals.wordpress.com cannot lay her hands on every journal that she has ever written. I have left a few on the bus or god knows where else. You may wonder, isn’t that horrifying that somebody could know so many personal things about you? Yeah, it’s kind of a bummer, honestly, but I have to slap myself. I wrote to keep a record, but I also wrote to express my feelings, to find relief, to try to add up different parts of my life and make sense of them. I also drew, painted, doodled, thought of ideas that have no doubt been strengthened by the eye-hand connection. Maybe someone will find it and be amused. Maybe they will be disgusted. Maybe they’ll be inspired. Maybe it will be swept up and tossed out—the most likely scenario. It was a very small book only 4” by 6” with a black cover. It probably didn’t look like anything special from the outside. But it was practice for me.

Part of me hates that I have to start again. But I whisper to myself that Time’s Arrow moves only forward. What will happen if I don’t write start writing in a new journal book today because I mourn the loss of the last (2) journals? I’ll lose the good and bad of today. How I went Christmas shopping in the quaint little shops of Montclair. How I went to my memoir writing group and got to hear some of the hilarious family misadventures of my fellow group meetings. Best of all, how my son Jacob stayed up all night so he could cook my husband a chorizo and mozzarella omelet for breakfast and so he could make a test batch of latkes for me before I left for said memoir writing group. Okay, the staying up all night thing may not have been a direct result of wanting to make breakfast latkes. But I love his creative spirit, the hunger in his hands to create exquisite food. Of course, not everything has been perfect. I lost $30 of Christmas presents I just bought. I forgot to bring the present I made for the person who is leaving the group. My dawgs are barking from tromping around town. It’s getting dark and my art room is still in chaos. But I was excited and happy about being able to shop, and about thinking (probably too ambitiously) about all the things I want to make people I love for Christmas. No time like December 17 to get started, right?

Just a few little moments from December 17, 2014, the only December 17, 2014 I will ever have. Complete with doodles of trees, feathers, flowers, stars, leaves, and zigzags. Because writing is a long unfurling over time.

And now, half an hour of writing is passed. Time’s arrow is moving forward. Something is here that wasn’t here half an hour ago. Good? Not good? It doesn’t matter—it is all part of my great river of words that seek to move.

Writing prompt: What has happened to you this one precious day? Can you write something—anything—for five minutes? Or more if the spirit strikes?

July is Journaling Month Part 19: Kitchen Dreams

28 Jul

On Friday I had so much fun making the search for my lost journal into a story with words and pictures. I had never done anything like that before. I was curious to see how distracted I could be from my main goal, though I did get a lot of things done that I didn’t expect to get done, like going to the stained glass store. It was so interesting to meet the matter of fact, nice looking, middle aged woman who had been doing this kind of work for 25 years. I enjoyed being with my husband and dreaming about the kitchen we’re going to change. We’re going to add ten feet to the back of the house so I can have a woman-cave/office (i.e; Mr. B. wants a place to throw my crap that I leave lying around all the time.) It is intriguing to think of the possibilities of how the space can be altered. We can have a “peninsula” with a sink in it that looks out the large glass back windows, for instance, into our backyard. So you could wash dishes and look out at the squirrels and trees and Mr. B’s garden. Of you could fill up glasses of water and pass them to the people at the kitchen table. I need to lie down a lot, so I got an idea that we should have a “nook” in the new section of the kitchen, one large enough so that if I were at dinner and I needed to lie down, I could—but which could also serve as half of the seating for the table if we had a number of guests. Our dishwasher is on its last legs and the oven is old and outdated, and I don’t know what style we should use. We tend to gravitate toward the same things—our biggest furniture splurges have been on a Stickley dining room set and a beautiful Stickley bed.

We also like vegetable dyed carpets and fairly bold colors. Which is a bit at odds with the Stickley style, which favors a more naturalistic palette. So we’re a little bit art nouveau, a little bit Italian/French country kitchen, a little bit cottage style (like wainscoting) and a little bit Prairie style/Frank Lloyd Wright-ish. I am also favoring a color palette that reminds me either of Turkey or of India. I can imagine using yellow with a sort of dull blue and middle range purple for accents. Or I can imagine yellow with hints of the sinuous beauty of cobalt blue Iznik pottery. We have a friend, Anna Sher, an incredible artist. She makes massive sculptures and gates and other things out of metal.



I went to college with Anna and her best friend Joyce, and I am completely stunned by her talent.

Anway, she had a brilliant idea about decorating. She had found a 1950s formica table with bright colors that she really liked. So she painted everything in the room one of those colors. After a trip to Turkey, we came home with a small but precious rug, I forget the style, and we hung it up and painted everything in the room one of its colors. I found blankets to cover the ugly Ikea couches we bought in just the right hue, and we got lots of pillows. It inspired all the other decorations for the room, which we call our “rest area.” It is a wonderful place to read and think.

I have a Pinterest page


with ideas for this kitchen. But I am craving more. Okay, as you can see, I am easily distracted from the subject at hand (how to find your journal), and now I am all up into this magical dream kitchen where we aren’t going to be all crowding into each other

Prompt: So if you were going to build a dream kitchen, what would it contain? What kind of counters? What special features? What kind of storage space? Open or closed? Wall hangings? Rugs? Islands? Sinks? Dishwashers? How would you reorganize your spices? What kind of statement would you  want your kitchen to say? Oh, and what about shoes? We’re a take-off-your-shoes family in honor of our many Asian friends and their customs. But there are so many of them they litter the steps when you try to get into the side door of our house. Do you have good ideas for shoe storage? Are you happy with your kitchen? If you could improve anything, what would it be?

July is Journaling Month 6: Your Favorite Place

11 Jul


“Spinning class, brought to you by Citi Bike!” (courtesy of the talented Maria Chang)

Nobody should be dressed in the full white plastic body armor of a Federation stormtrooper on a steamy July day. After all, It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.  but there he was, leaning against a garbage can on 42nd street , shoulders slumped. He looked too tired for the indignity of begging tourists to take photos with him and give him a tip. What a painful way of making a living, I thought. But then I think the same of all the Elmos, Minnie Mouses, gold-painted Statues of Liberty, Spidermen, the Naked Cowboy and his new competitor, the Naked Indian, and other characters who roam Times Square, hoping for a buck or two from the one out of 100 or more who pass by with indifference or mild curiosity, jostling with the vast crowds that pour through the area. I feel poignant wonder at what leads a person to that kind of thankless, excruciating job. I wonder—what is that man’s story? And that is why I love New York. Because it is filled with wonder and stories and questions. That very plump family sitting next to me at Mickie D’s where I’m having a very large and icy diet Coke and finishing my$%@#$  captions for my bee book  sounds as if they’re speaking French, but it’s not really French—is it even Indo-European? Are the two black men who have their arms around each others’ shoulders brothers or lovers? What is the story of the large statue at a park on 33rd Street of Minerva presiding over two bell ringers and a massive bell that says “New York.”  (I read on—the statue once actually worked like a clock on the New York Herald Building back in the day, the two brawny bronze workers actually hammering the giant bell once an hour). Now, the park is guarded by fierce owl statues on pedestals, symbols of Minerva).  Why Minerva? I can’t remember what she has to do with bell ringing. I see rows of Citibikes, my husband’ s new passion, and see Citibike riders in the new bike lanes of the much-improved city since the dark days of the 80s. Everywhere, busy walkers weave up and down the streets, creating new tableaus of color and expression.

I had gotten to Penn Station at 12:44 and started walking east from 7th Ave. Old men talk with big hand gestures by the side of the road, next to rusty chained up bikes, with those ubiquitous old man flat caps. A monk in a long white robe and short white cape struggles along with his cape, long string of rosary beads dangling from his belt and carrying a small black  pocketbook, or, I guess the kindest thing I can call it is a Murse. Where is he going? How does he keep that robe so white? I’d have Nutella stains on it in two seconds.

“Que calor!,” says one middle-aged woman to another, fanning her face with her hand. A guy has cut his hair so the top looks like a pencil eraser. A Korean guy wear a button down shirt in an eye-popping tangerine.Has he been in this country long? I have seen so many young Korean immigrant men slowly change their bright, imaginative wardrobes to the duller, more subdued American style of dressing. It seems a pity, as if we clip the wings of their creativity so they can fit in.

“Job jobs jobs, 10 to eighteen dollars an hour” calls one man.

A tour guide tries to yell over him, “Affordable prices, guys, check it out. Affordable prices.”

I pass through the garment district and its wholesale clothes— “Al por Mayor.” Affair Lady Evening Gowns, Fashion 5, Alamoda, Janique—sparkly gowns, ridiculous hats with gauze and feathers, “fascinators” with stiff spiral ribbon-covered whirls—who buys that stuff? And who thought “Affair Lady Evening Gowns” was a good name? Not a native speaker, I’m guessing. And the furs!! I am dripping with sweat and my feet burn. The air feels thick enough to eat with a spoon.

“Anywhere special you want to go?” asks tourist Mom.

“The Diamond District!” says teen daughter. I wonder what they’ll think of the street of sparkling gems and the little shops of Chasidim and Indian merchants–merchants from everywhere.

Old and new buildings mix together. The details on Art Deco buildings are full of symbolic meaning. One I love is a doorway framed with elegantly carved peacocks, and one stern word carved in Roman style capitals. “FREIGHT” it says—from a time when work and workers were honored. . .

Oh, so much more to say about New York City, its secrets and its iconic places. Everyone knows what New York is like, but it never runs out of surprises. It is unoriginal to love it, and yet it is filled with such originality.  It is so sad, so sweet. And being there feels like a fresh breeze on your back, even on a day hot and moist enough to stew your flesh.

Writing Prompt #6: What’s a place you love? What does it feel like to be there?