Things to Make and Do

A few days ago I came across this old book in a used book store. I grabbed it instantly, recognising it as one of my very early influences. "Things to Make and Do", by Esther M. Bjoland got me started on a life time of making stuff. It's from 1960, and quite a treasure today with its simple hand drawn illustrations, enormous variety of projects and DIY philosophy.

The projects cost little or nothing and were intended to use things one had around the house. Cardboard boxes, scrap wood, paint, and crayons are the main ingredients. The author states in her introduction: "A child who has a chest full of ready-made playthings often becomes indifferent to them. Eventually none please or amuse and the toy-owner becomes restless, dissatisfied, and frequently difficult to live with. Such a child urgently needs a wholesome release from his ready made toys and to make some of is own." Sound like a description of modern times? And maybe not just children but adults could benefit by making things themselves? (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

So I spent my formative years immersed in books such as this, and I did indeed make stuff. Some of it was lame, like these yarn dolls (no fun to play with) but there was block printing, woodworking, making a leanto, sewing soft toys and much more. As I grew into my teenage years, I would buy craft magazines from Women's Day and Family Circle (this was in the 70's) - there really weren't a lot of resources out there. I remember going into the woods and collecting lichens and plants to naturally dye the thick, coarse yarn I had spun on a wheel converted from an old treadle sewing machine.

I remember making this peep show when I was about 10. What a classic rainy Saturday project!

Then came 1976 and punk rock reflected my teen angst perfectly. I spent many years denying my hippie heritage. But DIY was always a part of punk and in my mellow old age I don't see these aspects of myself as being all that far apart.

Reading it so many years later, I see an odd subtext, a vision of childhood that's just a little too perfect. Check out the end papers! Charming, maybe, but the more you look the stranger they are.

And look at how happy the mom is with the yarn holder her daughter has made. How motivating!! Too bad my mom wasn't a knitter, I would have made a hundred of these.

But, hey that's just the corrupting influence of art achool talking! I don't have the need to analyse the Freudian depths of this great book. Thank you, Esther M. Bjoland for setting me on the joyful path of creativity.


  1. The yarn dolls! they have risen from the past, i'd forgotten about them completely and yet, I spent hours making a whole wedding group, complete with groom in a black suit and everything; and I was so unhappy because I couldn't think of anything to put on their feet in lieu of shoes! Thank you for a great dive into the past.


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