art life

Make Don’t Break #MakeDontBreak

I did the #MakeDontBreak challenge in January, and I wrote up how I found it and what I learned.

Continuing on from my 12 days of creativity over the holidays, I joined the #MakeDontBreak project and committed to making something every day in January, documenting it on Twitter. It was easier than I expected, easier to make the commitment and find something to do every day (lockdown helped with that, there aren’t an abundance of options right now), and easier in that I had already built up the momentum, and it was just a matter of continuing it.

In the end, my projects fell under two main themes – things I made on the Glowforge, and a surprising amount of cross-stitch. There were a few other random mostly one-off projects just to mix things up bit.

Lasering on the Glowforge

Days: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12, 19, 20, 26.

Projects included: Retro camper desk organizer (x3, two different colors), keychains, custom bracelet, coasters, tiny planter, photo frame.

I am still having a ton of fun with the Glowforge [referral link]. The main thing that stopped me from making more things was waiting for materials (international shipping – what a pain). I am super excited to make the tiny fluorescent acrylic planters in more colors, and two tone! I also have more ideas for things to do with photographs I’ve taken, maybe I will get to those in February.

Cross Stitch

Days: 2, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31
8 pieces total (one almost finished – waiting on thread, one with substantially more to do).

Cross stitch was a surprise addition. Wanting to mix things up a bit, and having enjoyed making the owl toy in my 12 days challenge, I dug out a couple of cross stitch kits a friend had sent me ages ago. The first one was an ordeal (bring me tea), the second (the kitten!) even more so, but for some reason… I ordered a bunch more kits, including one for my partner to have a go. By the end of the month, I’m a lot better. Day 30 I did a similar pattern to the one I struggled with on day 2, and found it so much easier I could follow it whilst talking to a friend on the phone!

My grandmother taught me to cross stitch when I was a kid, and it was nice to reconnect with that and remember her more clearly. It fulfils a similar function for me to video games – a level of focus that keeps me from getting distracted by the state of the world, but that leaves me feeling recharged.

Miscellaneous Projects

Days: 4, 8, 11, 13, 17, 27, 28, 30, 31

Projects included: Friendship bracelet, home spa experience, cookies, writing, origami crane (least successful endeavour), dim sum, sunflower plants, candles.

Some days I just wanted something different and often smaller; those projects are here. I made some friendship bracelets (another childhood hobby, turns out some friends still want them). One Friday night when I was feeling really fried after the week I “made” myself a home spa experience, another day I wrote a post that I’m excited to share sometime next week (subject to external publishing schedule). I made dim sum, which was nice, and a way for us to add another food into the mix – our meals are becoming increasingly eclectic as we try and mix things up.

This was also a way that I tried to bring other people into the project with me. My mom sent me the origami paper and instructions, and the candle making kit. My partner and I planted the sunflower seeds and made the cookies together – which has turned into a weekly thing of making different ones each time and sharing them with the very few people we ever see.

The Hardest Parts

Honestly, not every day was easy, and some days I lacked the creativity and/or energy to do much. Those days were some of the most useful ones, that pushed me to look at self care through a lens of “making”.

I have a terrible tendency to make everything into an optimization problem and then stall if I can’t solve it (not everything is an optimization problem… not everything should be an optimization problem… and yet). At the end of this project (and also after a month of this PQ course), I’m better at incremental progress (such as domestication, and skincare), at doing little and often rather than huge amounts at once.

This project also forced me to plan, which I’m much better at when at work than in my personal life. I could claim my planning energy is used up by my job, but part of the problem was that I didn’t feel like I had time or control in my personal life – even though this is no longer true. But in this case, because I had committed to making the time, I had to plan what I would do each day.

I had to confront my completionist tendencies. I started with a project each day but eventually realized this wasn’t always feasible and was on track to destroy what is left of my sleep schedule. As a result, in week three I had a single project (the fox cross stitch) that I worked on for most of the week. Leaving it unfinished every day, and feeling like my progress was barely visible was hard!

Then, my perfectionist tendencies. The origami crane was a disaster, I was watching two videos, again and again, trying to figure out how to do it, but it’s very hard for me to process how a 2D image maps to 3D, and things were just going worse on the third attempt than the second. After the time I had for it (about an hour), I just had to call time and let it go. Origami is not for me!

The Best Bits

Overall the best way for me to describe this process was as “healing”. I feel calmer, and like I’ve found my attention span again.

I have a new – totally unexpected – hobby. I will keep cross stitching. I’m also more and more comfortable with making things on the Glowforge, which is awesome.

The clarity around these projects created a clear opportunity for deliberate practice which is hard to find. I could choose projects that suited what I wanted to improve next.

Finally, it was something (positive) to bond with friends over, and a nice topic of conversation with people I don’t often speak to – who are also into making things! I suggested to my mom that she join me, and she picked up a long abandoned project too!

What I Learned

  • Meaningful change really is possible in a month. Look at day 2 vs day 30’s cross stitch – similar pattern, but I found it so much easier.
  • I can get a surprising amount done in an evening after work, but it helps a lot to know what it is I want to get done (i.e. it’s easier to continue a project after work than start one).

What’s Next?

Obviously, I’ll continue making things – it’s been a really positive outlet for me. But perhaps not every day… as monthly challenges seem like a good way to get through lockdown, in February I’ll be focused on two different ones: reading, and exercise.