Dec 022012

I’ve been an absentee blogger for a couple of weeks, I confess, because I’ve been involved in creative or creativity-promoting endeavors, in addition to getting ready for the holidays. If decorating for the holidays can be counted as a form of creativity, then I guess that’s one more creative activity that has been on my plate! Two craft shows, one very successful and the other decidedly less so, are behind me,  as well as two conferences at which my husband and I promoted the Destination Imagination program in Iowa.  This program, by the way, focuses on the process of teaching creative thinking, from imagination to innovation, for young people  from primary age through college and university age.

Yesterday I spent the entire day running a Destination Imagination facilitator workshop, which was both an emotionally exhilarating and a physically draining experience, the latter because I don’t normally spend all day on my feet.. We hosted a small but very energetic group of adults who were excited about learning how to be better Team Managers for their teams. We spent a lot of time, in particular, learning about the value of doing mini-challenges, short versions of on-the-spot problem-solving that the Destination Imagination program calls Instant Challenge. There are three types of Instant Challenges: performance-based, task-based and combination. Our group focused on task-based challenges and how to make materials work.

You might ask what learning how materials work  has to do with creativity, and the answer is everything. Artists, engineers and scientists focus on the business of knowing  the intended purposes of materials, and exploring alternative uses for them. On a small scale, Destination Imagination students do the same thing. Their materials could be straws, paper clips and rubber bands, but their real world counterparts are PVC pipe, cable wire and bungee cords. The program is predicated on the assumption that with practice, creative thinking is possible for everyone. I do believe, in fact, that the more you think sideways, the easier it becomes.

I chair a committee of Instant Challenge writers, all of whom are state Board members of a non-profit organization called Students for a Creative Iowa. This is the same organization that administrates Iowa’s Destination Imagination program. Every year we spend several months a year, writing practice Instant Challenges that we offer at a team workshop, and later post in our Instant Challenge Library. As we brainstorm ideas for Instant Challenges, we bounce these ideas off each other, and one Instant Challenge leads to another—an example of creative thinking becoming easier simply through practice! Anyone who is interested can download these challenges for free from the library. They are great to use in a classroom, an after-school program, a community group such as Scouts, or among homeschoolers.

Yesterday’s series of workshop mini-challenges involved solving a series of problems using items from a single pool of materials that grew smaller with each challenge. The materials included 10 plastic straws, 12 paper clips, 12 mailing labels, 10 toothpicks, 4 index cards, 5 sheets of 8-1/2 x 11-inch paper and 2 sheets of newspaper. Participants solved each challenge in six minutes or less. They built a lightweight tower that supported a ping pong ball, created a bridge that supported two ping pong balls, designed a path and propulsion system for a ping pong ball to roll into a cup without touching the ball itself, and developed a system to launch two ping pong balls down the length of a bridge they built without touching either the bridge or the balls. With each successful solution, everyone learned not only that there was no single solution that was the so-called correct answer, but also how to manipulate their materials in ways they were never designed to work. They also grew in confidence, a necessary component to taking risks, making discoveries, and developing creative solutions.

I like to think that the Destination Imagination program for which my husband and I volunteer is helping to develop the minds of young people who will be tomorrow’s creative problem-solvers, people who could be artists, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and more. I also like to think that that I am one of those problem-solvers, in my own corner of the world where I create and sell handmade goods on Etsy. Below are examples of creative thinking on that same Web site. If you click on the large photo, you’ll be taken to Etsy, where you can click on individual thumbnails. Hooray for creativity!

Recycled/upcycled/repurposed materials, top to bottom row, left to right: zipper & wine cork, birch bark, vinyl records, magazines, old metal (tin, sugar bowl, vacuum tube, forks, spoon, springs, keys), coffee filters, cereal boxes, tennis ball, plastic spoons, silver spoons & forks, T-shirts, bottle corks, flour canister & found metal objects, cardboard, dryer lint, and pencils & book.

© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.


Mar 042011

As many of you know, I joined Kym Delmar’s 52 Weeks Challenge at the beginning of the year. This challenge has been a great way to keep focused on finishing projects, although sometimes a project involves so many details that I can complete only part of it. That has been the case this 9th week of the Challenge, when I completed bits and pieces of several projects.

Two items I finished, from start to finish, are head warmers than can double as head warmers. As I share them with you right now, it occurs to me that you are thinking more about spring than winter accessories. However, the truth of the matter is that once winter arrives, I will be working on warm weather projects. When you sell handmade items, in some ways it is like publishing a magazine. The winter layout is being planned six months earlier, and vice versa.

Crochet Head Warmer - Neck Warmer in Heathered Jade

Crochet Head Warmer - Neck Warmer in Snow White

My second project involves a thank you gift for buyers who purchase from my shops on Etsy. I have been thinking about this for a while, trying to determine what would be fun and useful for a buyer, but not too expensive for me. Since I always have leftover scraps from my paper crafting projects, I decided to make some bookmarks and matchbook-style note pads. The bookmarks were completed, but I’ll have to leave the note pads for another day.

Finally, I finished the needlework portion of some items that will eventually be incorporated in some items in Dancing Thimble, my as-yet empty shop on Etsy. These projects have sat on the backburner for quite some time, so hopefully you’ll see the next stage of their development in the coming weeks.

Swedish weaving needlework pieces

Curious to know what the other 52 Weeks Challenge participants did this week? Visit Kym’s post HERE.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Feb 252011

Leftover yarn is the by-product of every yarn enthusiast I know. I have a plastic tub, in fact, that is filled with small balls of yarn that are in search of a project. Last week, in an effort to remedy this situation, I designed a head warmer that uses about two ounces of leftover yarn. This 8th week of the 52 Weeks Challenge, I became a “hooker on a mission,” completing three head warmers with scrap yarn, and one earflap hat and matching scarflette with yarn from my main stash. You can see the results below, as well as in my Etsy shop, JN Originals.

Other ideas I have considered for leftover yarn include:

  • Crocheting flowers that can be worn as brooches or fastened to bags
  • Weaving the yarn into cord for pillow edging, bag handles or even fiber necklaces
  • Using yarn instead of ribbon for gift packages
  • Donating leftover yarn to the local senior center, an after-school program or an elementary school art teacher
  • Weaving or crocheting yarn into place mats or drink coasters

Lisa Hamblin of Crochet ‘N’ More has collected many ideas about ways to use scrap yarn in her post, Scrap Yarn Ideas. Among them are spool knitting, wrapping a potato chip can with yarn and using the container as a pencil case, and using the yarn for plastic canvas needlepoint. Knitters will discover a wonderful range of free scrap yarn patterns from Barbara Breitbach, who co-wrote with Gail Diven The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, 3rd edition, at Knitting on the Net.  Another collection of ideas for scrap yarn is blogged about by Kristina of Scraps Creatively Reused and Recycled Art Projects (S.C.R.A.P.) in her post, 16 Ways to Use Up Leftover Yarn (and other threads) This Christmas. The ideas in Kristina’s list can be implemented not just during the holidays, but anytime of the year.

How do you use your leftover yarn? I’d love to hear your ideas.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.