Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Poor Artist

When I was a kid we used to get the best stuff in the mail. Now days all you get is junk mail and the creative brain has to work a lot harder to find use for it. We always used to get carpet and wall paper sample books. These could be used for so many things.

My family was pretty tight on cash for most of my pre teen years so creativity with what materials were had was a big deal. My grandmother used to make her own wall paper paste. She had a large wooden bowl and a large real horse hair wall paper brush. In her bedroom on one wall was a pattern of wall paper sample rectangles. She had taken the scraps from the other bedroom wall paper jobs and used them in the pattern as well. Waste was not an option. It looked like a patchwork quilt. The paper would often come in packs with the same pattern in different colors crating a uniform feel to the different squares.

The sample books were great for kid projects too. We would take old cardboard boxes and cut the tops and a side off. Small windows and a door would be cut and the samples were used to carpet and paper the new doll house.

My grandmother also knit and crochet. With this skill she would take baling twine that was readily available on the farm and make floor mats. She even used old bread bags and wove them into rugs for the really nasty muddy areas that could use something more resistant to the muck. Dog beds, seat cushions and close pin holders on the laundry line were made of old jean scraps.

She would go to the mustard seed thrift store and take out the old zippers from the discarded clothing, elastic bands, buttons and then cut up the fabric its self to make quits with. Sweaters were unraveled and the yarn reused. The bottoms of old milk jugs were cut off and placed over seedlings in our spring garden to protect them from rabbits and give them a little green house. My grandfather took old barn boards and shaped them into furniture, wall planters and picture frames.

All of the old bubble bath bottles were saved and we would use them as toys. UPC codes and coupons were painstakingly clipped saved and used. My mom used to have boxes and boxes of coupons that we would sort out and use when we went grocery shopping. Our toys were often refund toys that came if you saved up enough UPC’s. My grandfather often sat in his corner at the kitchen table with his refund Cheerio’s t-shirt and suspenders.

A pair of orange handled scissors a large Tupperware bowl or a giant metal bowl were the primary tools for any project in our house hold. Halloween costumes were always hand made and awesome. I won first place at a costume contest one year for being a giant eyeball. My mom used the frame for an old pop up tent to give the eyeball some shape.

The creativity even went into the guy functional gadgets realm. My dad built a fishing igloo / sled out of an old toboggan, press board, copper piping and some recycled tent canvas. It had a hinged lid and a hole cut in the top. It stored all of his ice fishing rods and had a hole for the bait bucket (an old 10 gallon bucket). He made tip up lights out of Christmas lights film canisters, mercury witches and electrical tape.

In today’s society we often don’t think about how we could make something out of what we have. Not having a lot of money made my family environmentalists out of necessity. Keep in mind next time you go to throw away a pretty tissue box that is a freebie! It is a material that your creative soul could repurpose into something amazing!


  1. Thanks for sharing! We recently decided that this would be a bought-toys free year, including Christmas. The children have so many that we were buying toys just because it was a gift-giving occasion. Too.much.STUFF. You've given me some great ideas. <3

  2. your family sounds a lot lke mine was, Connie. My Mom planted a BIG vegetable garden every summer...and she home canned fruit and veggies for weeks in the late summer/early autumn. My father and brothers were hunters and big chest freezers were filled with venison, my father knew how to butcher and would help friends butcher thier cattle and pigs in exchange for some meat. I am the youngest of 9 children, and my mom was always a stay-at-home-mother...so ways to feed 9 children had to be with a lot of hard work and creativity. Clothing wasnt tosssed out each season, it was worn as long as it was good, and when it wasnt good enough for school anymore, they were assigned as play clothes to be worn around home.
    so many of these things were instilled in me as a child, that i tend to be called a cheap skate a lot. Ex. I refuse to pay dept store prices for my kids clothes...i will not pay $20 for that dress for my 3 yr old! no way...in 2 mo she will of outgrown it and if i check throft stores and yard sales i can find her the same or similar dress for $1 or $2...lol. to be honest..I never buy clothes for ANY of my family...me, hubby, 2 little kids, 1 grown kid and my elderly mother at "store" prices (unless its a spceial holiday like b-day or christmas)..the exception is under-clothes, socks and shoes.