Thursday, March 28, 2013

Crafting with Backyard Bamboo, Part 1

I love having bamboo in our backyard.  Sure, it's spreads like crazy if you don't keep it in check, but it makes an amazing evergreen screen.  At over forty feet tall and dense to the ground, there's nothing better for privacy.  And it's icing on the cake that I get to make crafty stuff out of the dead stalks of bamboo wood.  

I know most people think bamboo is a nuisance to control, but I actually think that part is fun too.  In late spring, when the shoots come up, I put on some boots, round up the kids, and we go out back to stomp on them.  I learned the first year we lived here that you have to do this as soon as they start sprouting.  That year, I waited a week, and they were already six to eight feet tall, and way too strong to stomp on.  I had to get out an axe and hack away at them.  That was fun too, just not as easy.  

Ironically, we had a spring snow the other day.  Here is our
bamboo bowing down under the weight of the snow.  
Of course, it's this ultra-fast growth and rapid spread that makes bamboo a "green" renewable resource.  As crafty as I am, I couldn't possibly make enough stuff to wipe out my supply of bamboo.  (I still can't figure out how the Onceler made enough thneads to use up all out the truffula trees.)  When I need some bamboo stalks, I have to squeeze myself into the thicket to find some loose deads ones.  This is not always easy, but when I get in there, I forget I'm in my own yard in Maryland; I feel like I'm an explorer in the jungles of Asia.  

Anyway, the first time I decided to make something out of my plentiful supply of bamboo was for my first son's bar mitzvah.  It was winter, and my son didn't want a theme.  I decided to put together wintery centerpieces of dried floral arrangements.  I was getting ready to buy some glass vases, when we had one of those spring-like winter days that we sometimes get in these parts.  I was outside with the kids when I noticed a bunch of dead bamboo in the thicket.  I started pulling it out and brainstorming things I could do with it.  Each stalk was over forty feet long!  They look a lot longer lying on the ground than they do standing in the yard.  

I cut some bamboo up with a handsaw and quickly realized that bamboo really is as hard as they say.  (I also quickly learned that you do NOT use the pieces with holes -- they have ants in them!  Yuck!!!)  Next thing I knew I was at the Home Depot buying a miter saw.  It turns out the bamboo is hollow except at the nodes.  I designed a vase made of three pieces of bamboo-- staggering heights and cut to be solid at the bottom and open at an angle at the top.  Gluing these together was a pain.  Looking back, I should have screwed them together and/or used a ribbon or cord to hold them together.  

Although we had no theme, my son's Torah portion was about the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle, so we took our design cues from there.  I spray painted the bamboo vases gold and filled them with dried floral elements and branches in metallics, crimson and purple.  I made them very tall and skinny (presenting an interesting balance challenge) because we were serving a family-style luncheon and needed room on the tables for food platters.  I also got so excited about cutting up bamboo that I made holders for the table numbers as well as lots of little place card holders.  

All in all, I was pleased with how everything turned out.  The centerpieces looked elegant (without being too feminine), and best of all, I did not hear any grumbling from the Lorax.  Oh, I take it back, the best part is that these centerpieces did not go to waste.  People took them, and they did not die like flower arrangements.  I kept a couple too, and still use them to decorate the sideboard or the dining table.  
Here are some early prototypes on my dining room table.
(FYI, this is terrible lighting -- the walls are not that bright!)

Here are the centerpieces at the party. They were supposed to have pinspots on them.  Oh well.

I used mini versions of the bamboo centerpieces as place card holders.
I printed them on card stock, and then staked them with gold sticks that I used in the centerpieces.

Three years later, these bamboo vases still decorate
the sideboard in my dining room.
(By the way, this photo shows the true color of the walls!)

Next time, in Part 2, I will follow-up with a few bamboo projects I am working on right now for my upcoming craft show -- including a three tiered bracelet rack!