Materials Love Letters

11 February 2021

Materials Love Letters

This year we're celebrating Valentine’s Day Institute of Making style: by geeking out about materials in a series of love letters to alluring volcanic rocks, intense ceramic glazes, sticky gels, bounteous pencils, sulphurous vegetables and lustrous fibres, written by some of our wonderful team. 

We would love you to get involved too! Send us your own materials love letters (email, tweet or tag us on insta @of_making): whether you’re crooning about clay bodies, exposing your private passion for potatoes, or raving about rare bronzes. This could be something you’ve written, a drawing, a photo, or something you’ve made that really celebrates a specific material.

We want to hear about the materials that make you feel all tingly inside, and we’ll be sharing a selection of these on our blog in the coming weeks!

For now, though, we’ll leave you with the moment Mark fell hard for squirty hand gel, a sweet treat of a darning thread that’s Zoe’s new companion for life, Sara’s toxic but sublime relationship with barium carbonate, why cabbage is Sarah’s sweetheart, Beth’s devotion to smooth but severe obsidian, and Necole's pointed haiku about pencils. 

Mark's love letter to hand gel

I thought you were an irrelevant squirt,
Then Covid-19 descended,
But still I held back from loving you.
 
Too cold and sticky I thought,
Your essence is to gel I know,
But really isn’t this over protection?
 
But then my contactless card malfunctioned in the butchers,
And I had to tap my code into the machine,
Touching the (probably) contaminated keys.
 
You were there in the squirty bottle on the counter,
You kill kill killed the coronavirus on my fingers,
And in that moment I loved you fully.

Zoe's love letter to darning thread

The process of mercerisation changes the profile of cotton fibres, rendering them pleasurably smooth and circular in cross section. This increases the ability of their surface to reflect light, generating a beautiful subtle lustre. Alongside this soft sheen, mercerised cotton takes dye and holds that colour close, giving such yarns a certain committed confidence in their appearance. They also hold their shape well over time and maintain good levels of rupture and abrasion resistance, so are solid companions for life. 

This is my darning thread of choice, as the yarn has a tight stable twist that enables one to densely pack the final weave without the fibres splitting and maintain a high degree of control over the mend. 

Specification of photographed yarn:
Brand: Scheepjes Maxi Sweet Treat 
Colour: 115 Hot Red
Fibre: 100% Mercerized Cotton
Hook or Needle Size: 1.25-2mm (0000 - 0 US)
Ball weight: 25g
Yardage: 140m 
Washing: Machine Washable 

Necole's love haiku to pencils

Sarah's love letter to cabbage

To my sweetheart cabbage,

You’re so good for my heart (all those antioxidants), and great for my farts (so sulphurous). That wholesome reputation you’ve grown is well-founded: you’re the cancer-chemopreventor, cardio-protector, and you help me build keratin to leave skin, hair and nails gleaming.

Your Latin genus (Brassica oleracea) might not distinguish between you and your cousins the turnip, radish and sprout, but I know you from kohlrabi. You’re the most cultivated of ancient roots: selected for by our agricultural forebears to be the cloth-dyer, pH-indicator, wound-healer and migraine-mitigator. 

In my old age, when my hair is sparse, perhaps I will cure my baldness with a daily dose of you (kimchi). Or maybe I’ll wear you under my cap to keep my head cool like baseball legend Babe Ruth (strange but true). 

My love for you is like a red, red cabbage: robust, hearty, and surprisingly weighty for a waxy bloom.

Sara's love letter to barium carbonate 
(a common ceramic glaze ingredient)

(Image courtesy of Sara Brouwer Ceramics, photo by James Pegg)

Though rat poison in truth you be,
Your compound is so dear to me.
Ah the potter's darling hue
Of the most electric startling blue.

As traces on terracotta warriors show
This salt was used three thousand years ago,
And to this day, we still find glee
In ceramics like an azure sea.

I wear a mask to mix your paste,
And dispose of you as hazardous waste.
But mixed with cobalt and fired high
You make glazes bluer than the sky.

Beth's love letter to obsidian

(Photo by James St John)

Oh Obsidian!
You are a tricky lover.
Smooth but sharp, hard but workable,
Shiny and reflective but dark as night.

You were born from the most fiery depths of the earth and we met in Geology class,
You were alluring and mysterious.
I was warned to be careful, though, as your edges could cut me swiftly.

As I examined you and your igneous cousins, I couldn’t help but pick you up to feel your smooth surface with conchoidal fracture ridges. But you tricked me and sliced open my finger!

Despite this first encounter, I kept coming back to see you. And I learned how to hold you more carefully. And eventually to fashion you into spears and knives like our ancestors. You must be held and tapped in just the right way. You cannot be polished like other rocks. You have very particular ways!

And I know I must share you with jewellers, geologists and the most skilled surgeons, who transform you into scalpels sharper than steel. You are ancient and modern, clever and wise, and ever present. My foolish heart will love you until the end of time.

Dinky's love letter to rubber

Last but not least, our favourite tiny technician's assistant Dinky shows her limitless love for all things rubber, plastic and ball-shaped in the best way she knows how: