This week’s project is a tshirt rug. I recently cleaned out my wardrobe and had a ton of college tshirts that I honestly didn’t feel comfortable donating to Good Will. They were fine tshirts and someone honestly could have worn them if they didn’t mind wearing college team memorabilia. But those tshirts represented a time in my life that I’ve been missing a little lately. So, what better way to be ecologically and nostalgically friendly than to reuse some memories and make new ones with the outcome?
Before we go on, this isn’t a tutorial. I strongly believe that everything has been done before (listen to the song “It’s All Been Done” by the Barenaked Ladies, if you don’t believe me). I’m not the first person to make a tshirt rug, nor will I be the last, and I’m certainly not adding anything new to the conversation in this project. If I were, I might build a tutorial around that process. If you would like some resources to make your own, click on down to the resources section at the end. No, this isn’t a tutorial, rather a musing as to why I make and what making means to me.
I’ve been making for as long as I can remember. At first it was Lego sets and cardboard castles. I would build these imaginative space ships and sturdy fortresses, creating stories with the few Star Wars miniatures I was fortunate to get for Christmas or my birthday. Making was an expression of self that I didn’t have many other outlets for. I found pleasure in the process and the satisfaction a job well done brought. As I grew up, so too did my interests and feelings about making. I was introduced to wood, power tools, and knives by my grandad. He was a furniture maker and woodcarver. He would carve these beautiful sea birds—seagulls, sandpipers, and pelicans, to name a few—and position them just so on scenes of drift wood and seashells. (I tried learning to carve but didn’t have the patience for it, much to the chagrin of my grandad). But in those formative years I really latched on to the idea of furniture.
The idea of furniture is of form and function, beauty and purpose. A table isn’t just something you do puzzles or eat on. It’s an expression of the material and the maker. I loved tracing the patterns and rings of the wood with my fingers, mesmerized as to how much a simple coating of shellac could make the irregularities of the wood pop. Even painted or manufactured furniture was a pleasure to behold; the function and overall form, the maker would say through their work, was the most important aspect. Something made can be functional AND beautiful.
And that goes for anything anyone makes. Some of my favourite makers on Youtube—Jimmy Diresta, Frank Howarth, Alex from French Guy Cooking, Chris Salomone, and so many more—make these beautiful things that they actually use: wood turned bowls, ice picks, mid-century modern furniture, ramen noodles (I highly suggest this series Alex is doing on ramen. It’s dope.). And that pleases me so much, the function. Traditional art is great. I’ve grown up going to museums and marveling at the time and energy that has gone into paintings and sculptures. I went to school for art, so I obviously like it. But I’ve never truly liked doing art, in part because I’ve never seen its functional usefulness (I mean aside from graphic design, which is very practical for conveying directed messages. #bias).
I don’t like making for the sake of making. It makes me bitter and despondent. I don’t find joy in bringing something into the world if it isn’t used. But when someone brings me a challenge, whether that’s a task they want to accomplish or a function that isn’t being met, I rejoice. I’m immediately flooded with ideas and aspirations. It’s not just a computer desk, it’s how that desk interacts with the room and how the pieces fit together. Do I want to use mortise and tenon joints? It a half-blind dove tail really what I want or would finger joints work better? How are they accessing wall outlets and is there some part of this desk that could assist in that? I over think the project, not only making something work and getting something done, but making it work well and look good. If my graphic design classes taught me anything or brought out an aspect of myself that I didn’t already know, it’s that there’s done and done well. I always want something done well.
Which leads me to this weeks project. Why a tshirt rug? I could literally make anything else. I could donate those shirts to someone who could use them so they could be warm and clothed (I feel a little bad about that, but it’s not like I’m throwing the shirts away) and just buy a rug from a big box store. Easy peasy, wash my hands of the hastle. But I have a need and I want to do something about that need. I want to be a part of the process and feel the invigorating success of completing this project. When I wake up in the morning and stand on my warm rug, I’ll see not just a rug, but also time, energy, mistakes, and memories that I’ll have had a hand in collecting. But more importantly, I won’t be standing on cold ground. #winning