Sunday, October 05, 2014

Yarn Bombing the Environment Centre


Caitlin, quietly absorbed in yarn bombing
The Waikato Environment Centre recently located from a cramped, dark, upstairs office in the centre of town to a spacious, light-filled storefront plus warehouse in a busy shopping area near my house. To celebrate their new home they held an open day on Saturday.

I'd already visited a couple of times and noticed the big windows criss-crossed with ugly security bars. I'd also been thinking, since my epiphany at the People's Climate March, that I wanted to put some positive energy into this wonderful new resource in my neighbourhood.  I woke up Friday morning with the inspiration to yarn bomb the window bars, and turn a defensive, unwelcoming blemish (to my eye) into a fun, warm, quirky and welcoming feature.



 I turned up with a basket of brightly coloured yarn from my stash and offered my yarn bombing services, which were accepted.  Choosing the simplest (but slow) method of covering things with yarn, I was wrapping yarn in the corner by the worm farm display.  This was unfortunate, as people kept asking me questions about worm farming and my experience is dismal, having neglected my worm farm once I got chickens, until the worms disappeared.  Luckily the Environment Centre worms were vindicated when my friend Alice gave a well attended talk about worm farming at midday.

In turn, I asked everyone if they wanted to have a go at yarn bombing, but most of the adults declined. Eventually a little girl called Caitlin agreed to help and stuck with me for over an hour, completing a whole section by herself. She was patient and meticulous and persisted til the end. I was really impressed- not many adults I know have that kind of focus.  She also developed a nifty knotted variation on my simple wrap. We discussed the difficulties of sewing clothes to fit toys, how Skype baffles dogs and cats, Taiwanese pop singers and loom bands (I had no prior knowledge of the latter two topics).


Later, after Caitlin went home with her grandmother, I was joined by Brenda, who persuaded her grandchildren to join in, so there were four people working at once.   Meanwhile, I went and checked out all the other Open Day activities: live music, a talk about chicken keeping, sausage sizzle, the overloaded swap table*, badge making, seed planting and DIY cleaning and cosmetic products...  When I returned Brenda's family had made great progress with the yarn.


Brenda and her mokopuna yarn bombing
Altogether we covered about 20% of the window bars, so there will be more yarn bombing to do at future events.  We'll need more yarn, and I'd love more helpers, but it feels like a great start to a fun project. And, although it doesn't photograph well from the outside with all the reflections, the yarn bombed windows are eye catching, even speeding along the busy road. Look out for them if you are going through Five Cross Roads.



* I swapped in a bag of cabbage tree fire starters and came home with multiplying leeks, a rose geranium, comfrey roots and three lemons.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My beautiful banner



My appliqued banner is the lead photo in the Element magazine article about the Auckland People's Climate March on Sunday!

Photo: Liz Rawlings


I'm so glad I went on the Auckland march. Just as I thought it would, doing something positive and collective on Sunday has helped me to get over the disappointment and frustration of the Saturday night's  election result. The speakers afterwards each, in their own way, really helped to ground me, inspire me, give me hope, help me understand the election result in a constructive way and otherwise set me on a much happier path. 

 I'm not going to let a third term National government make me passively despair. I feel like the election result is an incentive to be more active in building a resilient community around me, and to be much more visible in opposition to climate-change-inducing activities. 

Today I feel hopeful and uplifted, even though I got a nasty cold from spending hours outside in shitty weather.  I've realised that making beautiful, unique, attention-grabbing banners is something that I can contribute to the climate change movement without any ambivalence (unlike my feelings about participating in almost every other form of activism), and I've started making another banner in anticipation of whatever march/protest will be next.  

My banners are all made of out of upcycled fabric from old clothes or remnants.  The parrot and floral embroideries on the Planet B banner were lifted from unwanted children's clothing.   My banner in-progress is a luxurious combination of velvet and silk applique which I think will really stand out in any gathering.  

Long time blog followers may recognise the appliqued letters made from the lower case Gil sans stencils I've used for appliqueing gauzy curtain projects in the past.  My sewing on these banners is machined and a lot rougher than my meticulous hand stitched art for galleries.  These are designed for long distance viewing and outdoor adventures.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Pretty Panniers


The moment I spotted this book in the library I knew I wanted to make these pannier bags. On my daily bicycle commute, on shopping trips, social visits, sessions of letterpress printing my pannier bags are stuffed full with changes of clothing, food, water, library books, groceries, gifts, anything that will fit all go in my panniers.  I've worn through two sets of pannier bags in five years and developed strong ideas about what would constitute my ideal form.  I have yet to see anything on sale that I consider good enough to spend what new panniers cost- and  my second hand pannier purchases have inevitably been disappointing compromises.

Pannier bags must be capacious and water proof. They should be stable i.e. not get caught in the spokes, bang into your legs or slide around unbalancing the bike. And I want bags that are both high visibility and pretty. I don't need them to be easy to remove from the bike, in fact for security reasons, I appreciate the opposite. I challenge you to show me panniers on the market that meet every one of these criteria.



I would never have dared to try making my own panniers without finding Lisa Lam's book with her detailed and well-illustrated instructions.  I might not have dared to tackle Lisa Lam's pannier pattern without roping in Anna, to make it a collaborative project. Lets spend your school holidays making ourselves pannier bags! I said.  It will be a good challenge, I said, we'll learn lots. And amazingly, Anna said yes.

 


 Poor Anna, I led us down a dark ally way of quite the most difficult project either of us have ever sewn, and we are both fairly experienced home sewists.  It was definitely a good call to do it together because I would have given up in despair at several points but Anna kept me going, and I believe, visa versa.  However, I would not recommend you try this particular pattern with out an industrial sewing machine: there was simply too much bulk for our domestic machines to handle. 

Capacious insides lined with beautiful brassicas.
We did alter the pattern somewhat: our bags are wider and longer, with a front end angled to avoid hitting pedalling feet and pocket flaps with a fitted velcroed lip, etc. Some of our changes made the sewing harder (extra reinforcing), and some of it made it easier (no buckles).  But the hardest bits to sew on our machines were straight out of Lisa Lam's pattern. One of the best things we did do was first to practice making a mockup from curtain offcuts to come to grips with the pattern's challenges and to test our alterations. 


My flaps are a little big and don't fit the pockets perfectly.  Don't look to closely at the seams please!
 We didn't save any money making our own panniers once you count in buying gorgeous laminated cotton from the USA via Etsy, lots of haberdashery*, a walking foot for my sewing machine and the cost of sewing machine repairs. Interested bystanders who casually remark 'you could make these to sell' invoke hysterical laughter as a response. I think it's meant as a nice, naive compliment.  But, the frustration and anguish of extending far far past our comfort levels as sewists; the moments of accomplishment not only at the end but intermittently when finishing some tricky bit and pronouncing the result 'not completely crap'; the ubiquitous wonky, wabi sabi seams; the passion each of of us feels for our own quirky choices of fabric; all these things bear absolutely no relation to the idea of making things for money.   I am inordinately proud and pleased with my home made panniers but I am under no illusion that they could be a commercially viable product.

Born of blood, sweat and tears (literally)  but aren't they beautiful?
*In the middle of the project we ran out of binding and when Anna went to buy more, the shop ran out of my colour, and when she ordered more, they lost the order. When she finally picked up my long awaited binding, they gave it to her for free, thank you Spotlight. Why does Anna do my shopping? That was part of our division of labour in this collaboration: I'm the one who can read patterns and she's the one who has a car. 



Monday, July 21, 2014

Where are all the letterpress cats?

Inspired by the good times we had at the Hamilton Zinefest, Phil and I have made a new zine which we took up to the Auckland Zinefest last weekend. Our letterpressed zine, all set with moveable type and printed on the big proofing press at Black Fox Press, is called Anti Social Media.

Anti Social Media No. 1
It was a ridiculously rushed job which makes for some pretty rough printing. The limitations of the available type and (inevitable) lack of time were miraculously overcome by the magic of creative collaboration. Neither of us could have, or at least would have, made this on our own. We both contributed content, I chose most of the type and sort of set it, then left my loose arrangement to be finished up and printed by Phil in two passes through the proofing press- hand inking each one! I cut the pages, and we both glued, creased and folded, finishing up late the night before the Auckland Zinefest.


Early the next morning we set off through freezing fog so dense that we got lost getting out of Hamilton! But we arrived in time to claim more than our fair share of available space at the Old Folks Ass in Ponsonby. There we met up with our mutual dear old friend David Merritt, setting up his table of handmade books of original poetry and recycled book covers.  In fact all day long I was reuniting with decades-old friends, as well as new zine and letterpress buddies. As well as being a great social event, we both sold more than enough of our wares to make the trip worthwhile. We drove home in the dark, buzzing with all the connections and inspirations, planning our next zine and plotting our next Zinefest adventure.

Phil ready to welcome people to the Black Fox Press/Bibliophilia table.
Anti Social Media is a limited edition of 36. No more will be printed. Move fast to ensure you don't miss out on one of these rare hand printed, hand made zines. You can buy now on Etsy or contact me directly (email address in the sidebar) or on Black Fox Press' Facebook page.

You have to buy a copy of the zine to see our letterpress cat!
 In other news,  I've adopted a cat, well, a half-grown kitten.  Wallis is enhancing my life greatly with his warm purry companionship.  He's the perfect crafter's cat, because he's not bothered that my lap is usually occupied with a project, but when I do want to stop and have a snuggle with him, he's always available.

Wallis at six months


Monday, May 19, 2014

Shop's Open

Hey, I restocked and reopened my Etsy store. It's a been a good couple of years since I paid it any attention, but like so many things on the internet it was all still there waiting for me to click a few buttons.  Due to my camera problems I haven't added anything new to Etsy that I've made since 2012, like my fresh off the letterpress capitalism stickers. If you want any of those you'll have to contact me directly until I can get some decent pictures.
Happy Bus zine

Basic Book Craft Skills zine

Five Fossils

The Optimistic Heart

Boob Book

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Zine Fest!


I've been busy getting ready for the Hamilton Zinefest next weekend.  I've reprinted and sewn up new copies of the two zines I first published in 2009. Happy Bus and The Bibliophiliac's Little Book of Basic Book Craft Skills will be for sale to prove my zine 'cred'. I've also gone through my old artist's book stock boxes and pulled out a few stray copies of The Optimistic Heart, Boob Book, Cock Book, Five Fossils and Non-Linear Time (plus a few other surprises from my book arts past).

Inking up a silver ampersand on Phil's proofing press
 But it's not all old stuff! Lately I've been getting back into my letterpress groove, working  at Black Fox Press alongside Phil Guthrie.  He's got a big old proofing press, and I've got the speedy little Adana and between us we've got some (mostly wooden) type and all the kit.   Our backgrounds and skills are complementary, and I think we are both learning lots from working together.

It's appropriate to highlight the ampersand in our collaborative print.

Phil and I have collaborated to print a poster-sized quote from Flaubert as an aspirational motto for getting the workshop tidy to further unleash our creativity.  We'll be selling copies from this limited edition print, along with Phil's signature prints of poems and quotes in mixed wooden type.  



Inspired by the Zinefest, I've also printed a brand new edition of my Capitalism Cards, this time as stickers. The original cards benefited from the wide selection of typefaces, rules for printing lines and art blocks that I had access to in my first printing home at Te Kowhai Press in Whangarei back in 2007.  Black Fox Press is a much smaller operation and the stickers are thus a kind of austerity version of Capitalism, though almost as much fun as the originals I hope.  Who doesn't love stickers?


The stickers are printed on the Adana Press which, with its self-inking rollers and clamshell action, is perfect for making lots of little multiples. The Adana is also small enough for us to bring along to the Zinefest, where we will have it inked up for demonstrations throughout the day.  You might even get to pull your own print  of 'Drink Coffee' or 'For Fox Sake'.




Whatever I've got leftover after the Zinefest will be available to buy through the internet- I plan to restock and restart my lately languishing Etsy store (and you are always welcome to email me directly about buying anything).  Any profits will be going towards the purchase of a new camera: this one is on its sad last days, so that I never know whether I'm going to get a picture at all, but I can be sure that when I do, its probably not going to be very good. Apologies for the crappy photography. Come to the Zinefest if you can and buy some zines and stuff so I can start posting good pictures again!





Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something new

Battery hens (detail)
It was the peak of my flu, when I spent most of a day lying in bed with the curtains drawn on a headache reverberating through my whole body, even between the agonising coughs.  I was missing out on a long anticipated weekend of festival going with a friend from out of town, and I should have felt more miserable than I did. But inside my fevered mind, half dreaming, half hallucinating, electrical connections were sparking between memories and desires, concerns and pleasures, requests and distractions, to become a roaring fire of new ideas for making.

It's not the first time I've been inspired with fresh art ideas in the past 18 months, but its the first time for a long while that I immediately upped tools and then didn't fizzle out.  As soon as I could lift my head and move from the bed  I grabbed fabric, threads and needle on my way to the couch.  Then I stayed on the couch for three more days, barely moving as my body worked through the flu's painful, tiring, disgusting symptoms. Whenever I had the energy to have my eyes open and my hands moving I was lying there, taking simple stitches and imagining more complex interpretations to come. Straight lines were the foundation for my feverish journey, inspired by photos of Kantha quilts, and practiced as distraction without direction to ease my social anxiety at a symposium earlier that week.

Four weeks later and several pieces are taking shape, as my embroidery slowly creeps across flat pieced blankets that I see as wall hangings, something like little woolly quilts. Simple, and not-simple, stitches are becoming a vocabulary for telling stories about industrial farming.  Here is a V to represent chickens, the shape of a beak or the scratch of their feet.  Here is combination of two uneven detached chain stitches pinned into parenthesis by another pair of small stitches- 12 piercings of the cloth by my needle to complete each hoof-print to signify cattle- and thus painstakingly slow.

Dirty Dairy (detail)
I am  interested to see that quilter Kathryn Clark is simultaneously developing another textile vocabulary of quilt patterns to address  "Issues like climate change, the digital era, migration, water and food security, etc." The same kind of issues I've been concerned about in my work for the past six years.  It seems as though there might be the possibility of the conversation I've been hoping for might finally be developing a language in which I can contribute along with many others.  Kathryn's intention is to create " something that could be used by others to generate new pieces and new ideas.    Her vision of creating  a body of work to start the conversation.  is so aligned with my own vision, yet expressed more explicitly that I am inspired by her generosity.

I know I said I wasn't going to blog anymore, but it seems that was no more likely than me saying I would blog every week. So, yes, here I am again but with a new blog policy of only posting when I have something compelling to share.  Right now, my desire that's been building for a month to share this new series is being shaped by a renewed desire for conversation through textile art, with makers like Kathryn Clark. And so I expect I'll be posting again, sooner than later

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Withdrawal

One year ago this month, in my eighth anniversary post I vowed to blog more, but instead I blogged less. In fact, I haven't posted at all for several months.  What was apparently procrastination has become a deliberate decision to stop blogging, if not forever, then at least for quite a bit longer. So this ninth anniversary post is a formal farewell.

On one hand, putting the blog to sleep relates to my withdrawal from Facebook (to which I had become quite addicted) as well as most other social media sites.  I currently don't feel inclined to share photos or descriptions of my activities on the Orwellian version of the internet that was revealed to us in 2013. Not because I have anything to hide from the governments, but because I don't feel inclined to contribute more than I have to the Big Data that corporations are increasingly using to undermine the environment, human rights and democracy.  Yes, of course my banking, podcast listening, video watching, library borrowing, musical preferences, TimeBank activities, yoga practices, petition signing, online purchases, Google searches and dozens of other activities are feeding into Big Data, but I don't have to share my thoughts and emotions regularly as well.

For the past few years almost no one read this blog who didn't also follow me (and thus links to new posts) on Facebook. Thus it's entirely possible that no one will read this (unlinked to social media) final post. If you are reading: Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

What's filling the gap in my life left by blogging and social media?  Chickens and gardening for food, preserving my harvests,  face to face time with local friends and writing letters on paper to friends and family who are far away.  My creative energies are more focused on solving practical problems like designing and building a chicken coop. I'm committed to developing my nascent carpentry skills, and perhaps this might be another way my art may express in the future.

Right now, my art practice is low key and unexpectedly papery and collaborative. Frugal with the Bruegel, my altered book collaboration with Bethwyn Littler, seems to be taking a new and exciting direction this year: not just books anymore!  And I have added my Adana press and cabinet of lead type to the workshop at Black Fox Press and am excited about working alongside friends typesetting and printing text again.

So that's it, after nine years of Bibliophilia, I'm putting the blog to bed for the foreseeable future. The archives will stay online of course, but there won't be any new posts. So Happy New Year, and Goodnight! xxMeliors

Snoozing chicks at 2 months. They really have that green and mauve disco sheen to their feathers.



Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Spoils at draw.inc

Stuart Shepherd's ice penguin (foreground) and Dispersant (background)
There is still at least a week left to see my work in the Spoils exhibition at draw.inc in Hamilton. My two large textile installations share the gallery spaces with Stuart Shepherd's sculptures, conducting a lively conversation about oil and mining, asset sales and climate change.


Dispersant
Dispersant has been hung for this Hamilton audience, looking just as lovely though quite different than in a tight space against a blue background as it was installed in 2012.

Dispersant detail

Looking through Dispersant to Alexandra Street and Creative Waikato opposite
 Occasional flashes of sunshine through the window and a breeze from the door add movement and shadows unique to this space.  Those moments are quite magical, all the more for their rarity.

Catching shadows and a breeze
The show is in two galleries, facing off on opposite sides of the street.  So, across the road from Dispersant, I've installed Memorial (Pike River) which almost perfectly matches the grey carpet in that gallery.  It is the first time I've ever been able to spread the 29 pieces out in a suitable space and finally realise my original vision. I played around with different ways of arranging the stitched blanket mounds and eventually settled on the little groupings randomly spaced because it reminded me of the family, friendship and workmate relationships between the men who died two years ago, and still lie underground.

Memorial (Pike River)
 Also in this much larger space Stuart has installed paintings, prints and sculptures.

Stuart and Philippa installing his wallpaper, printed off a carved wooden table which forms part of his installation.
Our opening last Thursday was good fun. I made all our food myself, and everyone said we had the best nibbles of the three openings that evening on Alexandra Street.


 After we packed up, I put the posies I'd made from my garden for the food table down into the installation, as flowers seemed appropriate for a Memorial.

Memorial with flowers from the opening

Friday, August 30, 2013

Parental Discretion Advised

 

Frugal with the Brueghel, my altered book collaboration with Bethwyn Littler has been reinvigorated this winter. Bethwyn has quit her job and now has lots of time for creative practice, which is lucky because we committed to participating in a group show at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, opening next month.  We are installing a little reading corner with nine of the altered books that we've worked on over our four years of collaboration.

We are frugal with both Brueghel the Elder and Brueghel the Younger.

We started altering books together (or frugalling as we like to call it) when I was writer in residence at Hamilton Girls High School in 2009 and have kept it going through all sorts of life changes since then. Our first books were pretty random but we soon began to impose themes or restrictions on each book project. We often use a children's board book at the base and then collage wacky additions from all sorts of other source books. The board books are usually relatively quick to finish in three or four mornings together.  The most recent of these is Origami Flowers: The Ballet of Today.


Bethwyn putting the finishing touches of Peepshow: Books and Competitors
Other books are based on cloth-bound adult non-fiction, and with so many more pages to fill, they may never be finished.  Three of these 'works in progress' will be included in our exhibition.  We started Handsome Man Maintenance and Am I Woman or Lady: Pages of Fun way back during the residency (when they were known as the Man Book and the Woman Book) and The New Book of Kitchen Sex (aka The Courtship book) a couple of years later.  Although there are still plenty of pages left to add to, there is also plenty of altered content to enjoy. Together the three books address the rich complexities and confusions of gender, sexuality and relationships.

At the Fringe Classic exhibition at Hamilton's Riverbank Mall we are providing gloves and comfy seating so visitors can sit down and have a leisurely leaf through the pages.  There is nothing deep or meaningful to look at in our books, but we hope they make other people laugh out loud the way we do when we look at what we've done.  Most of the humour comes from the juxtapositions we create, but some of it is intrinsic to the books we are cutting up: Men's Hairdressing (1972) is a perplexing favourite; and also our deeply mined copy of Photo Love Annual 1980- a treasure trove of banal speech bubbles and headshots almost as gruesome as Men's Hairdressing.

Some of the content of our books is a bit risque, though nothing more perverse than most music videos.  In fact, despite feeling naughty while we do it, our making children's books a bit sexy seems quite tame compared to the mainstream media's widespread co-option of pornographic tropes. However, the title of our reading corner installation, 'Parental Discretion Advised', is so that parents aren't (we hope) deceived by the children's book element of our work.  I wouldn't have been comfortable for my preschooler to look at some of the sexual references made in our work, and I assume most parents would like to exercise their own discretion.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Beginning a Plastic-Free July

Oh the irony that on this, the first day of the Plastic Free July Challenge I've signed up for, I find myself in desperate need of some plastic bottles.  I don't regularly buy products in plastic bottles but they do come in handy around the garden. Last spring I went raiding my neighbour's recycling bins on rubbish day to collect enough to use as cloches for seedlings, and seep irrigation in my potplants.  This winter I am regularly draining liquid fertiliser out of my worm farm and storing it in large plastic bottles.  Today saw me scrabbling desperately for enough bottles and coming up short, with half a bucket of worm wee left unbottled.  Luckily tomorrow is rubbish day and I will be able to cruise the street collecting my neighbours' cast offs.

Bottles of worm wee 

What is the Plastic-Free July challenge? "Simply to attempt to consume no single-use plastic during July." The website offers two levels of challenge: to avoid all single-use plastic or the TOP 4 challenge (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids).  A couple of my friends have also signed up for the full challenge, because like me they already rarely consume the TOP 4. We talked about the challenge a lot on the weekend- debating where do we draw the line with single use, what does 'consume' mean? If we intend to reuse a yoghurt container multiple times after the product is consumed is it still considered single use? Does consume mean just not buying, or not using up products already purchased in their single use plastic?

We decided that the point is to make us (and others) aware, and it's a challenge, not a competition, so there need be no shame in our dilemmas.  So far my dilemmas are mostly personal care ones. I buy my natural soap direct from a maker in a paper bag. I wash my hair with baking soda and condition it with diluted apple cider vinegar. I use  home sewn cloth menstrual pads. I have handcream and lip balm packaged in metal. Yet there are still some challenges for me go completely plastic-free.

I have a stockpile of toilet paper that came wrapped in plastic- should I go out and buy paper wrapped TP for this month and wait to use up my stock pile in August? That seems silly, so I guess the plastic wrapping is the first addition to my dilemma bag.

Homemade toothpaste (coconut oil, baking soda, salt and peppermint essence)
My toothpaste comes in a plastic tube that seems impossible to repurpose, but since I have all the ingredients to make some homemade toothpaste, I whipped some up which tastes pretty bad so it will be a real test of my commitment.

I used home made moisturiser* on my face all through the summer, but in winter my mixture is chilled solid in the bathroom cabinet and impossible to spread, so I'd reverted to something from a plastic bottle. Today I've brought my homemade cream in to sit near the fire and it seems to be softening up nicely, so I just have to remember to change my routine to involve moisturising in the living room instead of the bathroom.

Finally, in refilling an old plastic bottle of deodorant spray with diluted cider vinegar I emptied out a plastic bottle of vinegar- hooray, something else to put worm wee into!



*My home made moisturiser recipe
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
3 capsules of evening primrose oil
2 drops of lavender oil (or I'd use rose oil if I had any)
Heat the coconut oil just enough to melt it then cool down. While still liquid squeeze out the contents of the capsules and stir in , then stir in the essential oil. Pour into a small container and apply to clean skin.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Creating Pathways

A new little pathway (with Jaq the three legged chihauhau back by the worm farm)
I  continue to be preoccupied in the garden, making new raised beds for planting, and putting in access paths. Both tasks are hard physical labour that leaves me exhausted if I go at it for more than a couple of hours at a time. But the results are very pleasing, so I'm trying to learn to pace myself better when carrying concrete slabs or digging.

I'm also trying to avoid unnecessary expenses in the garden so both my raised beds and paths are made with things I've found for free or very cheap: odd paving stones, old bricks, broken concrete, a material that usually ends up in landfill but when reused  is sometimes called 'urbanite'.  There was a lot of broken concrete lying around the property when I arrived but I've used it all up and now have to go out and collect it from other people's places- more heavy lifting.

My two most recent path projects are short and sweet.  Inside our front gate is a dark damp little wedge which I'm trying to make lighter and more attractive.  This is what it looked like a year ago, just before I moved in:
That nasty spiky plant positioned to poke everyone in the eye as they entered was the first to go.  
Weeded, with a few pavers and bricks arranged at the bottom of the steps
Cleared for action, with a bunch of tiny baby succulents newly planted and almost invisible on the right. 
I cleared away all the weeds, moved the pebbles around a bit, and planted up succulents against the house. Access to the front door is up the steps but to get around to the back garden and the cottage where my flatmate lives involved crunching over more pebbles- particularly troublesome for pushing a bicycle or wheelbarrow, but it stayed like that for nearly a year. I kept waiting for someone who might help me make a proper path.
looking down on the new path from the deck
Then last month I finally just went ahead and made a new little side path, using only materials I already had and laying them onto bare earth. I've researched enough about making paths to know I haven't done it properly, but it looks all right and so far it hasn't tripped anybody up.  I still need to rearrange the pebbles some more, and once the planting takes off come Spring it should be a much more welcoming entrance area.  Even at this stage of work in progress I still get a little thrill every time I come home and open the gate.
An improved entrance- look how well my succulent garden is coming along.
The other recent path project was to fill in a soggy gap between the wooden boardwalk and the steps to Shirley's cottage behind the house.  A few overgrown bits of broken concrete dotted a low lying lawn which collected rainwater, making winter access very muddy.  Having gained some path making confidence with the entrance above, Autumn's rains prompted me to finally have a crack at the cottage pathway.

The old path, last Spring
I decided to try and make the path flush between the top of the boardwalk and the bottom-most step, which meant raising the path quite high up from the lawn. I bought a $17 of pit sand for the purpose- the only cash spent on both paths.
A Summer view showing the boardwalk which comes to an abrupt end halfway to the cottage.
 I dug out the grass first and then put in little trenches on each side of the path to try and help with drainage.  Shirley and I put in wooden boards on each side and then filled the trenches and centre with sand, trying to make it as compressed and level as we could without specialised tools.

More-or-less finished path, raised up from the lawn to be level with the boardwalk and bottom step.
We made the path on a Saturday morning, trying to beat rain forecast for late morning so I had started very early preparing the foundations. Just as I'd laid the first few pavers, friends arrived with a truck load of free firewood which I had to help unload, and by the time I'd done that I could hardly move. Luckily Shirley did a great job to finish laying the path, so it was truly a collaborative effort.

High and dry crazy paving. The feet came with the cottage.