Sunday, December 6, 2009

Making Do: Tradition of Mountain Ingenuity in the 21st Century

If you spend any time reading or listening to what life was like in places like Beech Mountain, NC, back in the old days before paved roads, 4-wheel drive (heck, cars!) and electricity/phone transformed things for mountain communities, you might find yourself impressed a time or two with a clever way some individual fashioned something useful out of . . . well, trash. All those rustic hand-crafted things we prize, punched tin pie safes, stick furniture, hand-carved toys, were traditions begun by folks who didn't have a lot (no Walmarts a short drive down the mountain, or Internet connections for online shopping) and used their time and ingenuity to turn old flour sacks, flattened tin cans, yard waste, into things to make life easier. (In my linen closet, I still keep a bed sheet made from flour sacks made by an ancestor or mine.)

Nowadays, other motivations (environmental or financial concerns, or the fact that it's just plain fun) inspire folks to take the time to make something out of junk rather than go out and buy it. I'd like to think it's also a nod to our grandparents and great-grandparents who carved out of a life up on the Appalachian mountains with strong backs and clever fingers.

Anyway, having just gotten back from spending Thanksgiving up on Beech, I'd like to think a bit of the spirit of Mountain Ingenuity influenced me to do the following:

We got the tree up yesterday, but found a looong string of lights from last year had burned out. I didn't want to just throw them out. Seemed a waste. Got online and saw another person made jewelry out of old mini-lights, and it inspired me to make Christmas ornaments out of 'em.

So I made this . . well, ball of burnt out mini lights (looks prettier than it sounds) . . . for the tree.

If you'd like to do the same, here's how:

First, I pulled all the little mini-bulbs off the wire (protect your fingers and make this easier by using one of those rubbery, grippy jar-opening gadgets . . . or a damp towel). Then, I pulled off the little green plastic bases from each mini-light. If you look closely, each bulb has two wires threaded out through the bottom of that plastic cap which you can bend straight so the cap will easily pull right off.

The next thing to do is make the center of your ornament (You might want to heat up your glue gun at this point.) and a stand to hold it while you work. I balled up a piece of tin foil onto the end of a chop stick, then punched two holes into an empty cardboard box to act as a stable base. Then, bent the wires sticking out of the end of each bulb around to act as "feet," put a blob of hot glue onto the bottom of the mini-bulb's wire "feet," and stuck it onto the surface of the foil ball. Good idea to blow lightly on the glue as you hold the bulb in place for a few seconds before letting go. (Also, it's a good idea to get a source of fresh air into the room, as hot glue gun fumes probably aren't awful good for you.)

Just keep gluing on bulbs till you run out of room. Let it dry on your chopstick stand for about an hour, just to make sure your bulbs don't shift. Then pull the whole thing off the chopstick, flip it over, take a last bulb and an piece of ribbon (about 8" long), use the bulb's wires to twist around the middle of the ribbon to secure it to the base of the bulb, then use a blob of glue to secure your ribbon-based bulb over the gap formerly filled by your chopstick stand. Tie a bow, and there you have it!

Now, does anyone have any ideas for the leftovers?

P.S. I should give credit to the person who posted about using old mini-lights to make a brooch, which inspired my Christmas ornament idea:
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