traveling and making things
December 16, 2012 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find creative outlets that don't require living in one place or computer screen time, that aren't repetitive, and that pack small.

I'm traveling with someone who absolutely needs to be building something at all times. In the past, they've built bicycles (usually recumbents) and now it's kayaks. Even building folding bikes and kayaks still requires a lot of space and tools.

Knitting and whittling, for instance, are small but out because they're repetitive. It has to be something that requires one's full attention. (Art's unfortunately out, so is writing.) Hands-on and active is the way to go.

I'm not sure if this is bonus points or a requirement, but it would also help if the end product were practical/useful in some way.

It would be nice if the tools and materials could all fit into half of a backpack. Or even if just the tools could fit in the backpack and the materials were commonly available, even small towns.

Suggestions of any collectives/farms/workshops/etc. anywhere on the half of the world that contains New Zealand where we could do work/work-trade/apprenticeships related to making things would also be very highly appreciated.

Please and thank you.
posted by aniola to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
posted by knile at 1:26 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make wire jewelry / ornaments with a pair of needlenose pliers and other stuff.

I'm not exactly convinced of it even myself, but with a cordless Dremel tool and some planning it might be possible to make dollhouse furniture, wargame set pieces, or model railroad scenery out of a backpack's worth of balsa wood, dowels, styrofoam, and other stuff, but I guess you'd have to plan each project carefully for it to both fit into a backpack and require serious, non-repetitive attention.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:50 AM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is a desk or table surface to work on going to be available or does it have to be something you can do while seated in a bus or airplane, for example?
posted by XMLicious at 2:16 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want WWOOF farming. Very high on the cruncy-earthmagic type people, but they are meant for travellers who want to work with their hands.

Paper cutting is a very simple to very difficult hobby. Get a decent book to inspire and an x-acto knife and a small cutting mat, and you can practice on any scraps of paper. Should fit into a single file folder that could double as a work surface.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:19 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: XMLicious: A desk or table surface is fine. Doable while in the physical act of traveling is a bonus but unnecessary. Even something that takes a fair bit of space would be fine, it just has to pack small.
posted by aniola at 2:32 AM on December 16, 2012

Flintknapping can be done with one hammer, gloves and some protective covering over the legs (since it's frequently done in one's lap when sitting down). The safety gear's the most important part with that. It can be a bit repetitive, because you are chipping out stone, but it requires a lot of concentration because you have to figure out where to hit the stone so it cleaves the way you want it. It also can be interactive with the environment since you can seek out the stones if you're in a place that has 'em and where it's legel to take 'em. The hardest part to transport is the actual rocks. However, it is one of the oldest human crafts and one of the most portable (since you have to be able to take all your spear heads with you hunting), but finished pieces do get heavy pretty fast, and I'm not sure how well airport security would take piles of sharpened flint in luggage, so that's a consideration.
posted by NoraReed at 3:29 AM on December 16, 2012

Birding. A nice set of Nikon Monarchs, a field guide, and that's it.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:42 AM on December 16, 2012

Whittling. All you need is a knife and some soft wood. Projects can either be useful, like hooks and spoons, or decorative. Both simple designs and more complicated ones can be beautiful.
posted by apparently at 4:47 AM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

D'oh! I see you specify no whittling. FWIW, I've both knit and whittled, and I would agree that knitting can be insanely repetitive, but every move in whittling is a new decision, so doesn't seem as much of a "forced march" as facing 4" of stockinette.
posted by apparently at 5:20 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a category of jigsaw cut puzzles which build small model animals or buildings or vehicles, like this - I don't know the name, but they are complicated, portable, lightweight and extremely engrossing.

MUJI has some right now with an XMAS theme. I also saw a whole book with these cut outs with various complicated consturction vehicles that one could easily carry and assemble. They look easier than they are.
posted by infini at 6:01 AM on December 16, 2012

I suggest a small set of traditional woodworking tools, with which one can create almost anything. Look through some episodes of Roy Underhill's Woodwright's Shop (viewable online) for ideas and inspiration on what can be made with small tools and no electricity.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:16 AM on December 16, 2012

Drop spinning is repetitive but oddly hypnotic.


Oh, needle felting! Bonus: Risk of bleeding fingers if you're not paying attention.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2012

I've never done it so I don't know, it might be repetitive. How about tying flies, for fly fishing?
posted by Fortnight Bender at 9:15 AM on December 16, 2012

What about making little electronic gizmos and doodads? I do it as a hobby and the kits and tools don't take up that much space (my current project kit came in a Ziploc bag and all my tools and such fit in a small cardboard box at the moment).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:27 AM on December 16, 2012

posted by Sophont at 12:25 PM on December 16, 2012


My father spent several happy years repairing and binding books at a fairly skilled level out of one small suitcase of tools -- there are other tools like large presses that are often used, but he either improvised or did without. The biggest things he used regularly were a small folding frame for sewing the bindings and a two foot square piece of plate glass that he pared leather on, but I suspect the glass was used because he had it and other flat surfaces would work. The materials don't take up much room either, unless you want to build up collections of things like marbled paper; if you buy just what you need for each project this isn't an issue.

The results, after a bit of practice, were beautiful and useful
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on age of course but around these parts beading rave masks and other wearables is quite popular and can easily be packed for a trip. Rave Candi
posted by ptm at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2012

Woof types aren't always crunchy, in Japan we stayed with some retried landscape architects from Tokyo. Compared to other places, Japan Wwoof seemed to have a lot of craft-based opportunities...traditional building, fabric dying, etc. It was pretty cool.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2012

Hello! I'm the person aniola was talking about. I should have posted the question myself, but aniola beat me to it.

Woodcarving is excellent, and I have some basic carving tools, but most of the carving projects I've seen are primarily decorative. I favor things that are immediately useful, especially things that solve problems I encounter regularly. If I can find good guides to carving utensils and/or musical instruments I'll be more inclined to try carving.

Ghostride The Whip: Electronics is an excellent suggestion, and one I've been considering. I've done some basic projects in the past, and I might try picking it up again.
posted by sibilatorix at 8:35 PM on December 16, 2012

To reduce the repetitive nature of knitting, try some fair isle, intarsia or cabling.

You can also look into small size tapestry weaving.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 8:46 PM on December 16, 2012

Sewing/embroidery can pack pretty small, and is a totally practical skill.
posted by koucha at 9:39 PM on December 16, 2012

Response by poster: Sounds like sibilatorix has settled on building small instruments. Your answers were all very helpful; thank you.
posted by aniola at 4:36 PM on December 20, 2012

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