Saturday, December 4, 2010

Third World Green Daddy Part 3: School ideas and Handmade stuff

I'm not a fan of private schools, because I feel they isolate their students from the rest of society. Public schools, on the other hand, are a microcosm of society, and introduce kids to dealing with all sorts of people, and engaging in civic life. Furthermore, often private schools are not as professional or regulated as public ones, so you get a subpar education while paying exorbitant fees. It seems like the main advantage of many private schools is the prestige and exclusiveness associated with sending your kids there, not any actual educational benefit. I went to public schools all my life, including the notorious Chicago Public Schools for 13 years, and I turned out pretty damn good. So I don't plan on sending Samuel to a private school.

All that said, my stepdaughter's private school employs a project-based teaching method that I respect. Kids spend all year working on a research project (ranging from graffiti art to snakes to bullfighting to women in Islam to the paramilitary economy), and this unifies their efforts and gets them concretely interested in what they're learning. Another nice thing about her small school is that there's sort of a family environment. For instance, here is a sweater that my stepdaughter's school principal's mother knit for Samuel.

This brings me to the topic of my current post, handmade things for our baby.

Who knows if making things yourself really is the greenest option? I mean, I guess you're using the same amount of materials as if it were made in a factory. And you're robbing a factory worker of a job, no? But there's a satisfaction in making your own items for daily use, or having a friend make them for you, or even in ordering them special-made from a nearby business. And in all the above cases, you exert total control over design and what materials are used. Also, if you're making things from recycled materials, you are avoiding consumer waste. Below is a rug my friend made for me from my father's old clothes after he died. It will serve to keep Samuel warm as he plays on the ground, and connect him to a grandfather he'll never meet.

In the above photo the rug is resting on top of another beautiful fabric, shown below in more detail:

It is a carrier for babies, handmade by tribal people in Laos. My wife bought it there while she was doing research for her masters project. We also have a modern, backpack-like baby carrier, but I love the look of this one. And in the Hmong society it comes from, men are the main ones to take care of kids. They do their hunting and gathering and farming with a baby strapped to their back!

My wife originally got the baby carrier for a friend who had a newborn baby at the time, but the friend then returned it to us for using with Samuel.

For my part, I got this lovely quilted elephant during my thesis research in Benin.

My mother thought it would be nice for decorating my future baby's bedroom. Well now the future baby's about here, so we've got to think of a good way of mounting this in a frame or something.

Since we found out she was pregnant, my wife has been working on some little projects for Samuel. Early on in the pregnancy, we got a book out from the library with cute needlepoint designs, so she and my stepdaughter have made some pretty (though unfinished) pictures.

We don't know yet where we'll put these. Maybe on a towel, or on some sheets or something.

It seems my stepdaughter is a natural craftswoman. She made this pillow when she was maybe eight years old.

In addition, in the past week or two my wife has been knitting a baby blanket from brown virgin wool.

It will serve to carry our baby around, wrapped up against the Boyaca chill. She's been advancing steadily on it, but we also bought a square of warm (synthetic) fleece fabric that we can also use if the knit item isn't done by the time our baby arrives. I don't know how to knit, but I'd like to learn how. Maybe once Samuel is born my wife can show me, and we'll make lots of socks and sweaters and such for him.

Another treasure is a ruana, a traditional wool poncho, that my sister-in-law bought a long time ago.

Her son used it, then my stepdaughter, and now fifteen years later Samuel can dress up like a typical Boyacense.

Above is a pillowcase sewn by our boss. It goes over a pillow that she also made, which we stuffed with cotton scraps left over from a textile factory in Cucuta, on the Venezuelan border. It's not virgin organic cotton, which many people might prefer for stuffing things that their baby will use, but at least we know it's not synthetic. And because it's cotton that's been ginned, spun, and much of it woven, I feel like most residual pesticides (of which there are many used in cotton production!) will have been broken down or leached away in the course of the various washings and mechanical stresses to which the fiber has been subjected. Best of all, we're taking advantage of what would otherwise go to waste.

The pillows go with this lovely bedsheet set, all sewn by our boss at the archeology museum where both my wife and I do occasional work.

Our boss also knitted this little sweater vest for Samuel:

And here is my favorite gift for Samuel, two quilts sewn by my cousin.

My cousin claims these quilts were simple, quick designs, but they are absolutely stunning, and will be very valuable for keeping Samuel warm through our region's cold nights.

My mother-in-law is also very handy with crafts and things. Here is a baby scrapbook she sent us.

My mother-in-law has her own company in Spain called Impronta. They make handmade artisanal cards, bookmarks, and scrapbooks (for first communions or babies or things like that) out of paper cut and bent into forms of flowers, people, or other shapes, like the baby stroller in the photo above. All of her employees are immigrant women, like her, many of them with slight physical or mental disabilities. If you are interested in ordering cards or scrapbooks from her, write me a comment on this post and I'll give you her contact info. She designs and produces everything to order, so you can tell her what you want and she'll make it a reality.

Below is a photo of some Amazonian nuts that we've tied to our baby's crib. They will serve as a little rattle. They too were used fifteen years ago when my nephew and my stepdaughter were babies. Within the crib you can see some orange fabric. That is a bedskirt and trim for inside the crib that my mother-in-law sewed and sent from Spain.

Here is a tentative look at the skirt put on the crib, though we still have to attach it and outfit the crib more permanently.

But our quest for an artisanal crib, as well as a handmade cotton mattress, is a story for another post.

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