Photo by Judd Irish Bradley
Wendy Tremayne has contributed a number of projects to the pages of MAKE and CRAFT over the years, all under the themes of creative reuse and homesteading. She’s also founder of the Swap-O-Rama-Rama event that combines clothing swap and DIY workshops, and has become a vibrant part of Maker Faire. Wendy will be at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, where her new book will be pre-released. And walking the walk, Wendy and her partner Mikey Sklar together have created and documented their off-grid homestead in New Mexico, named Holy Scrap.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. No project has required more commitment, energy, and focus than writing the book, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living (Storey Publishing). The book begins with a realization that I am part of the first generation alive to witness the whole world for sale. What follows are a series of pledges starting with to stop making decisions based on money.
First I made a remedy for the lust for stuff, a model for textile repurposing that I named Swap-O-Rama-Rama. I gave it to the commons. This was scary. I didn’t have a stable income. But I knew that since the project solved a real problem money, copyrights and entanglements of capital must not prevent it from being copied and used. The decision was liberating. It freed me to create new projects, but with the realization that there is no such thing as a last good idea. On a budget of zero and staff of one, the first year 25 cities adopted Swap-O-Rama-Rama, then 100. Communities made it their own and they made it better.
As if the wealth of the people who use Swap-O-Rama-Rama is my own, I feel full. Now I see that every time a gift is given, it is evidence that someone has enough. The rumor of abundance spreads fast like Swap-O-Rama-Rama did. Wealth seems comparably weak, subject to the rise and fall of markets and it needs guarding; while abundance is safely stored as creativity and shows up in the world as happiness. It grows exponentially when shared. I think it is the way the next world will be made.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
1. A Place for Poop: The next pledge I made was to create a decommodified life. With my partner Mikey, I set out to create Holy Scrap, a homestead in southern New Mexico. Our goal was to build it out of waste and do the work ourselves. My previous identity, creative director in a marketing company, faded from view. New titles replaced it: herbalist, plumber, carpenter, gardener, contemplative crafter, and welder to name a few. Had I known that my future included plumbing I’d have built a humanure set up the first year. Plumbing systems are difficult to maintain, expensive to fix, and destructive to natural resources. It is no fun watching gallons of clean water turn black knowing that human waste could have been converted to valuable compost for food-providing plants. The water flushed could have provided trees with nourishment. This planet only has one water. Humanure is next on my list. Meanwhile I resolve to peeing in an apple juice container and pouring the nitrogen-rich resource around the base of the trees in the yard.
2. Get Off Petroleum: We purchased a crappy old Mercedes and converted it to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO). It takes time and work to make fuel. I learned to honor myself and value my labor by putting fuel in a car that is efficient and works well. The next car I bought was a diesel-burning VW Beetle that I made biofuel for. I did not have to convert the fuel system. Lesson learned.
Illustration by Christopher Neal, excerpted from The Good Life Lab
Three books you think every maker should read:
1. Design with Heart: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is a philosophical building and design book. From massive to tiny, the authors show how every part of a design has a functional and emotional impact that shapes community life.
2. Experiment: My book, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, was inspired by the classic, The Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearings left NYC for Vermont during the Great Depression. Mikey and I headed to the desert before the 08 collapse. We shared a wish to create a world rather than adapt to one ready-made and failing. Different about our stories is the use of technology to solve old problems (fermenting food, making yogurt, and watering gardens) and new (maintaining batteries for a PV solar array and home manufacturing). The two titles mark points along the industrial revolution as seen by people seeking a life as makers of things while living inside a commodified world.
3. Share: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde teaches that makers are connected to economy. They make decisions that free or limit their ideas. Lewis Hyde shows us that if makers create for the commons, their ideas can support life, community, and culture and make life on Earth better for everyone.
Four tools you can’t live without:
1. Get Dressed: It is hard to do a big project in regular clothes. My first tool each day is the clothes I am wearing. I choose white Dickie painter’s overalls because they are tough, easy to move in, and have loads of useful pockets. Each time I climb into mine I remember that my labor and leisure are intimately connected and I smile.
2. Make Coffee: I filter things. Mostly tincture (an alcohol-based plant extract) and coffee. The AeroPress does a great job at filtering small batches of liquids. If I have a bellyache, for example, and need a does of plant medicine, I soak ocotillo plant in alcohol for a few hours then press it through the AeroPress and swig the liquid extract.
3. Make Good Tools: We found it so hard to live without a temperature controller and battery desulfator that Mikey built new versions of them. During a skill-sharing party in our home we watched our friend Libby struggle with a crappy timer while making tempeh. Right then Mikey decided to make a new device. The YATC (Yet Another Temperature Controller) he made gives precise control to other devices, making them able to hold temperatures. Use any plug-in device, hot or cold: a light bulb to heat the inside of a box for a DIY fermentation chamber, crock pot turned into a sous vide, freezer made into a refrigerator to lower home power consumption. An open source design, today we sell it in our online store in kit form for tinkerers, or as assembled units.
4. Keep Tools Working: When your home power comes from a solar PV system, batteries are a way of life. We run two electric cars, use battery-powered tools, and choose electric power over fuel-based alternatives. Batteries are one of the most toxic materials in landfills. If we’re going to be a battery-run world, we’d better get smart about how we use them. Mikey’s desulfator works by emitting a sound that breaks the crystallization that naturally forms in unused batteries. It revives batteries of all chemistries. With its aid we pick nearly dead batteries out of the waste stream and put them to use on our homestead. Like the YATZ, the desulfator became part of our home economy, and we sell Da Pimp battery desulfator in our online store.
Illustration by Andrew Saeger, excerpted from The Good Life Lab
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
1. The Future Is Coming: Many say that in these post millennial times there are no futurists. I disagree. Doug Ruskoff is a clear-sighted predictor. He writes about technology, media, capital, and culture with a knack for knowing their effects on people. He tracks how we got to where we are. By doing so he shows how to make a way out.
2. Learn to Build: Madagascar Institute, a metal shop in Brooklyn run by maker Chris Hackett, gave me the courage to work with tools that I once thought of as scary like welders and plasma cutters. I can still hear him say, “Fear is never boring.” He was right.
3. Reconnect: Everything we make comes from nature. Logically we should have an authentic relationship with it. There is an ancient tribe of Sufis called the Chishti who carried a treasure to our modern time. The gem is a way to dissolve the boundary between people and the natural world. The reward for the effort is a source of wisdom. Look for the voice of current-day Chishti, author Pir Zia Inayat Khan, and you will be well guided.
4. Inhabit Land: Water guru and publisher Brad Lancaster showed me how to inhabit land. Thanks to him I favor indigenous plants and trees that create habitat, invite local wildlife, and conserve water, and I build smart to reduce the need of secondary systems.
5. Eat: Author Sandor Katz is a fermentation fetishist and real community guy. In an age when food can’t always be trusted, Sandor is a guide. He taught me how to raise microorganisms for food and improve my health.