Frugal, thrifty or cheap ... which one describes you? Consider the power of words in shaping our perceptions of ourselves and others. We'd probably prefer to be recognized as frugal or thrifty rather than cheap. As savvy consumers, we pride ourselves on finding the big sales, shopping with coupons and trying to live within our budgets. "Cheap" is the relative with bad breath lurking deep within our pocketbook hearts.
Back in the day, "reuse" and "cheap" could be kissing cousins. Over time, we became more aware of what we consumed and what we discarded. "Recycle," a revolutionary new word, entered our vocabularies. Right along with recycle came "repurpose." Now the word shapers have given us "upcycle." Evidently to "upcycle" an item is to take a recyclable item and repurpose it so it emerges as a better item that it was originally.
Can't you hear the dear women of the past sighing and shaking their heads, for they were ahead of the time. Many lived by the "waste not, want not" rule. In economy measures, they ironed wrapping paper and gift ribbon, remade old Christmas cards into gift tags, and saved brown paper bags.
We were a family of six, which meant piles of brown paper bags from bringing home the groceries. I thought Mom had gone over the top when she ironed the bags, cut them in strips and wove the strips in to placemats. It was a labor intensive project. To say the paper bag placemats were durable is not an exaggeration. I now treasure the remaining four I have tucked away in the sideboard. As I eye my mounting stack of brown paper grocery bags, I sometimes think of weaving placemats.
Today, the plastic bag invasion is on the wane, but during the peak plastic bag years my mom again let nothing go to waste. Was she thrifty or cheap as she cut bread wrappers and plastic bags into strips and crocheted them into disposable door mats? Thank goodness it stopped there, for I have seen women walking on the beach sporting brightly colored sun hats made of crocheted together squares cut from bleach and detergent bottles.
Not long ago while strolling around a community craft fair, I paused at table of gift baskets filled with something resembling fake firecrackers. For one of the very few times in my life I was at a loss for words as the elderly crafter told me that all the items for sale at her table were made from dryer lint. In this case, I believe making something from nothing might also be classified as upcycling. She introduced me to her best sellers, the firecracker items. She explained that dryer lint was highly flammable, so she couldn't make stuffed animals and such. But because of its flammability, it was perfect for creating firestarters. She would take wrapping paper rolls, paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls, cut them to a uniform size to resemble a large firecracker, then decorate and stuff them with dryer lint.
Dryer lint is highly flammable, making it the perfect vehicle for firestarters.
She also had gaily tied clear gift bags filled with multi-colored lumps. Yes -more lint firestarters. This time, she packed the lint into egg cartons and drizzled it with wax from melted candle stubs. After the wax cooled, she popped the nuggets from the egg cartons and bagged them. An added bonus: these firestarters are waterproof, making them perfect for camping.
Bless her, the little old crafter also had a line of dryer lint greeting cards. According to her, she first folded cards from card stock and applied double sided sticky tape she'd cut and arranged in geometric patterns. Then she dabbed wads of lint on the sticky tape to make the designs. The result was a very interesting textured design. She cautioned not to use glue as the lint would lose its texture.
When I inquired as to how she colored the lint, she said she didn't. I learned that day that lint comes in all colors. How could I not have known!?
Evidently, she kept her lint collection - including donations from neighbors -in various coffee tins and glass jars, sorted by color.
On the far end of the table, ornaments such as jolly little snowmen with sequin eyes, lacy winged angels, and glitter-decorated hearts were carefully arranged in the folds of pretty green fabric. She emphasized that little ornaments were decorative and not to be used as fire starters. As I touched a lighter-than-air red heart, she told me that these items made from lint clay were not flammable. Lint clay?
To say that lint crafting put a new wrinkle in my brain is an understatement. I became obsessed in my pursuit of dryer lint information. What looks I received when I asked folks if they were lint crafters.
I received an education as I researched. Yes, there are several recipes for lint clay floating around in cyberspace. None requires flour or cornstarch. Ingredients include lots and lots of lint mixed with water, white glue, dishwashing liquid and food coloring. Apparently some folks mix lint into flower pot soil to keep it moist.
There are crafters who actually make lint based paper. I began to consider the feasibility of embedding seeds in the lint paper and planting the paper in flower pots.
During the past year, coordinated by area artist Susan Tracy Maness, Steenrod Elementary School students have collected lint as part of a year-long, schoolwide project. Soon they will pack and ship their lint along with letters about their collecting experiences to Pittsburgh artist Cheryl Capezzuti, who makes lifelike figures from lint. As part of her National Lint Project, Capezzuti will create a sculpture based on inspiration from the children's letters, and then she will present it to Steenrod. Her website is www.studiocapezzuti.com.
I'm convinced the only reason mom missed dryer lint as an art medium was because we lived cheaply by hanging out our wash to dry. In summer, it was outside; during winter in the furnace room.
So, the next time you clean out your dryer's lint trap, you might view lint with new respect -or maybe not!
- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.