Category Archives: crafting

Patterns in Maths, Music, Nature and Art

It is Artists’ Open Studio Weekend in Whanganui. Here is my regular column in the Wanganui Chronicle.     Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 9.21.00 AM

We love the arts in our household: during daylight hours the radio is playing music; we have impromptu dance parties in the lounge; and a collection of visual art is slowly establishing itself. Our daughter, Verti, regularly engages in artistic activities: painting, singing, playing “moozik.” Coming from a family of mathematicians, I am aware of the connection between music and maths. My calculating mum brought a second-hand piano into our home hoping that my brother and I would play. Research has shown that those who learn to play a musical instrument in their early teenage years also develop their mathematical abilities. But he and I were both far too involved in sport to give the piano a chance. None the less, my brother went on to study maths in university and became a maths teacher (and coach of football aka ‘gridirion’ and track & field aka ‘athletics’). I struggled through with calculus and then threw in the towel. But as I have grown older I have gravitated back to maths through my work as an eco-designer. Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 9.21.29 AM Eco-design is about recognizing and designing for patterns. My growing affinity for maths made sense when I heard this quote from Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Marcus du Sautoy. In a BBC interview about the connection between music and maths he said that, for him, maths has less to do with algebraic equations and that, “A mathematician is a pattern searcher.” His words resonated with me on many levels: As an education researcher I search for patterns in data. As an organic gardener I seek patterns that evidence early signs of insect or disease damage. As an avid beachcomber I search for patterns in driftwood that indicate native hardwoods instead of soft pines, poplar or willow. Much of the artwork in and around our Castlecliff home came directly from Castlecliff Beach. These include decorations for our daughter’s nursery…

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a Christmas tree we have used for three consecutive years…

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numerous surfboard racks, a headboard for our bed,…

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and a seesaw.

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In each case the natural form of the driftwood determined its manifestation into a work of art. In our new home, which is sadly 10 kilometers from the beach, artwork is taking a very different form. Verti’s talented aunty quilted an amazing playmat for her that is a stylised map of the region including the city, Mount Ruapehu, Whanganui National Park, te awa, agricultural land, and even the North Mole. What is especially amazing is that aunty used different stitching patterns for the fabrics representing the different parts of the region: mountains; cobbles, sand dunes; flowing water; and even waves.

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Another amazing work of art that is taking form in our new home is a mandala being painted by our intern, Luna. She is painting it as a feature wall on some old tongue and groove rimu that we decided to re-purpose as a canvas. Pattern is the basis for a mandala, and it is easy to see that Luna’s many hours of meticulous brushwork has gifted us with an amazing piece.

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Peace, Estwing

Modern Art – Antique Tools

Editor’s note: This is another of my weekly columns in the Wanganui Chronicle. Following it, you will find a response I wrote to a letter to the editor from an ardent climate change denier who has made it his mission to attack me personally because of my advocacy of eco-design thinking for our beach. See here, and here, and here, and here.

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What an awesome weekend of well-organized and well-attended community events we had last weekend!

Saturday was all about Castlecliff, and the driftwood/sand sculpture contest at the beach. Ellen Waugh and Progress Castlecliff pulled off what appears to be the eco-thrifty event of the summer. With a little bit of prize money kindly donated by Mars, Jamie Waugh, and Castlecliff Four Square, and a miniscule entry fee, Ellen and P.C. were able to draw more people to the beach than I have ever seen.

The rest of the ingredients for a fabulous community day were free, abundant and non-toxic: driftwood, sand, shells, pumice, flax, sunshine, and heaps of human effort, imagination and enthusiasm.

I spent much of Saturday applying my head, heart and hands to an age-old craft that I acquired on my New England farm a decade ago: hand joinery. I know some terminology between New England and New Zealand may differ, so let me explain exactly what I mean in five words: bit, brace, chisel, mallet, saw. Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 6.44.36 AM

Hand joinery was traditionally applied to cutting mortises and tenons into massive, squared timbers to build post and beam structures in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was a time when steel hardware was expensive, so wooden pegs were used to hold the building frames together. (Think of an Amish barn-raising if you can, and you’ll get the picture.)

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Because my post and beam farmhouse was built in 1782, and because I was young and foolish when I bought it in 2000, I decided to use a book to teach myself hand joinery and then to build a barn without power tools. To make a long story short, the job started by felling pines with an axe, hewing them by hand, and then cutting the mortises and tenons before having my own barn raising party with about 40 friends. Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 6.43.09 AM

Now that I am old and foolish, and the rules of the sculpture contest allowed for hand tools, I dusted off my bits and chisels and headed for the beach. The first thing I learned was that New Zealand native timbers are much harder than New England pine. The next thing I learned is that art and hand joinery should never be rushed.

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Although I spent eight hours working on Saturday, the sculpture was barely finished by the four o’clock judging, and never during that time did I experience the focused but relaxed joy of ‘joining’ that I recall while building my barn.

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To make a short story even shorter, with the help of Dani, Verti, Maddy and Te Rina, our creation – Surf’s Up! – impressed everyone except the judges. C’est la vie.

On Sunday morning, I managed to drag my limp and lifeless shoulders from bed, and load the car with bins, signs and my family to make the trip to Springvale Stadium for Children’s Day.

Good on Lynette Archer and Liza Iliffe, SKIP Co-ordinators, for committing again to waste minimization at the event. With their commitment and my 25 years of experience in waste minimization education/management, we were able to organize our strategy through five text messages, one of which was redundant!

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By maximizing good design and minimizing physical effort, we were able to divert over 80% of ‘waste’ from landfill – an accomplishment rarely equaled anywhere in New Zealand. Once again, win-win-win eco-design thinking succeeds at being good for people, good for the planet, and saving money.

I strongly believe that as adults it is our highest obligation to set good examples for children to follow. If we do not teach them that recycling and composting are important enough that we ‘do’ them at community events, then what we are teaching them is rubbish.

Peace, Estwing

Response to Letter to the Editor:

Please note I wrote the accompanying column on Monday morning with no comments about council or the man who identified himself as E. Parker that verbally abused me while I participated in the driftwood sculpture event on Saturday.

But on Wednesday, E.Parker, who has previously called me a hypocrite because of my eco-design suggestions for the beach, had written a letter to the Chronicle claiming some further nonsense about me. What he did not include in the letter was a series of bizarre and clearly untrue comments and accusations he made during his tirade.

I understand that we may disagree on how the beach should be managed, but I do not understand why E. Parker has made it a personal issue. May I suggest that I like Castlecliff as much as E.Parker, a fact supported by the hundreds of hours I have spent working with all four Castlecliff primary schools, not to mention the thousands of hours of volunteer work my wife and I have done in the community. Can we agree that we both like Castlecliff while having somewhat different visions for its future?

Value in all things Vintage

After looking at last week’s column, I must hand it to the Chronicle editors for their mastery of the pun when writing captions for photographs. I thought I was good at word play, but I can’t handle a candle (you see there, that’s alliteration) when compared to the punsters in their new offices at the corner of Guyton and St. Hill streets. I doff my cap-tion to you, sirs and madams of our local press.
But in the world of puns, allusions, and similes, in the words of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel (This Is Spinal Tap, 1984); “It’s a fine line between stupid and, uh…”
While this week’s column addresses many things vintage, it seeks to do so only with respect.
Among the many values we hold dear to eco-thrifty renovating and living is seeing potential value in building materials no matter their age or surface appearance. We have found time and again, that below the rough surface of many a piece of 100 year-old native timber beats a heart of rock-solid, tight-grained integrity.
We have re-used beautiful, durable native timbers in many ways throughout our renovation. One of the latest examples – and last touches to our nearly finished home – is the threshold at the front door. Regular readers will recall I recently made reference to the fact that on day one (also on day 1,000) we had a gaping hole beneath our front door where one would expect to see a sloped sill, or some such piece of timber.
No Joke: No Hearth
But no – just a hole that remained until I got to item number 1,478 on my list of things that needed to be done to the villa. In April of this year, I tracked down one of the original windowsills that we had removed and tucked safely away in October, 2010. As plainly seen in the first photograph, its surface was worn and weathered from 100 years of Whanganui storms, showers and sun.
Old window sill
But beauty is only skin deep, and integrity comes from the heart, whether it is heart rimu, or another dense, native hardwood. After 100 years exposed to the elements, the sill had not a single borer hole of speck of rot. I cut it to length, and ripped it to width, nearly burning out the motor of my saw.
Hard-as timber
In houses and in human beings, there are those that look nice on the surface and those with integrity underneath. Some may have both, some may have neither, and some may have one or the other. Personally, I’d rather surround myself with walls and with people of integrity no matter how they look.
About two hours later
As a culture, we often disregard what is old, dated or worn. Often times our seniors feel the brunt of this ‘youth bias’ and may feel neglected, unwanted or of little value except when holidays come around and they find themselves surrounded by family for a brief period of time.
Eco-thrifty Christmas tree
But for those seniors who may not have family nearby or even in the country, the holidays may be especially lonely or depressing. With this in mind, we would like to invite any seniors who may find themselves alone this Christmas Day to an afternoon tea at 10 Arawa Place, Castlecliff, from 2 pm to 4 pm.
Fully decorated
We will have a platter of biscuits and a bubba that enjoys cuddles. We’ll have a grand, old time – no pun intended.

Peace, Estwing

She’s Crafty: Driftwood Frame Playgym

This is one of the first projects we made for EcoThrifty Baby. We wanted a play gym for her, but were (and still are) trying to avoid plastic as much as possible. Ironic, since tupperware is her ultimate favorite toy at the moment.

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ETB chillaxin on her sheep skin under her handcrafted playgym – lifestyles of the rich and famous.

I made the hanging pieces for this playgym from scrapbook paper glued onto cardboard. I tried to pick natural themes and shapes, but also wanted her to have high contrast and bright colors for her little developing eyes.

playgymThe pieces of ETB’s play gym were scrap book paper glued onto thin cardboard.

ETH scoured the beach near our house for a few days before he found the perfect pieces of driftwood to form the base and hanging frame. He then drilled a hole into the base just slightly smaller than the diameter of the piece that he wanted to use for the frame, and sanded it down to make a perfect fit. The base is heavy enough that ETB can’t pull it over if she tugs on the shapes.

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Driftwood frame with no glue, no nails.

When ETB was a tiny infant we hung the shapes over her carseat and bassinet. When she transitioned into her bouncy chair, they were her favorite entertainment. Now that she is a crawler, this still sits in the corner of her play area. Every once in a while she still bats around the shapes, but I think her days of really enjoying the play gym might be over (sniff, sniff).

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ETB as a tiny bub with her play gym pieces hanging above her.

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.45.16 PMETB is a big girl now and her play gym still sits in the corner of her play space.