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  • Writer's pictureLouise Worner

Recycling Toilet Rolls and Ikebana

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Isabel's arrangement for the 9th Everyone's Sogetsu Facebook Exhibition

One of the distinguishing features of Sogetsu Ikebana, compared to other schools of ikebana, is the use of unconventional or man-made material.

During the height of our lockdown period in Madrid, everything was closed and we were only permitted to leave the house to walk our dog, go to the pharmacy, or go grocery shopping. Ikebana material was hard to come by and so I would often raid the recycling bin for interesting ikebana material.

Schools across Madrid closed on the 11th March and for several months parents across Spain taught their children at home. After sorting through the recycling looking for ikebana material, I realised that it would be the perfect opportunity to link ikebana with the work my daughter was doing in Social Science on recycling. As an introduction to the lesson, we talked about the different coloured recycling bins in Madrid and the different materials that belong in each. I made sure that the vocabulary and grammatical forms I used reflected the language and information taught in her textbook.

My Belgian ikebana teacher Ilse Beunen has a series of online ikebana lessons. Many of these classes are easily adaptable for teaching ikebana to children. Ilse’s online tutorials on using cardboard toilet rolls have been a favourite in our house. Her method of interlocking rolls is perfect for older children. For those less adept at using scissors, connecting toilet rolls with a stapler is an alternative option.

Painting the toilet rolls

To introduce the element of colour, my daughters painted the toilet rolls in their favourite colours using non-toxic water-based poster paints. Once the paint had dried, the rolls were cut into sections and either stapled together or intersected using Ilse’s technique. The sections can be cut in a variety of widths, although, if they are cut too thin, they become flimsy. As a general rule, 1.5cm works well as a minimum width. To maintain the form of the toilet rolls without creasing them, cut a small slit across the roll. Insert the bottom edge of the scissors into the slit and slowly cut around the roll, turning the roll while cutting.

Cutting the toilet rolls into segments

After cutting all the rolls into sections, my daughters then chose a vase for their creations. In my atelier I have a selection of cheap second-hand vases, or self-made vases for them to use. If you don’t have any child appropriate vases; empty bottles or recycled containers can be used as cheap and inexpensive alternatives.

Both of my daughters have been studying ikebana for a number of years. Once they have chosen their vases, I usually ask them which fixation technique they think is best for their vase and material. For these arrangements, we used two different fixation methods. Usually my daughters choose to use a vertical fixation for their arrangements. For safety reasons we always prepare the fixation sticks together. We always talk though the process of creating fixation sticks and now that they are older, they measure the sticks themselves and show me where they want the cuts and incisions made.

Cutting slits in the toilet roll segments for fixation

Because the white glass vase is thin and fragile, we decided that the best method of fixation was to cut two small slits in a toilet roll and attach it to the side of the vase. As the toilet rolls are cardboard this method of fixation kept it dry by keeping it out of the water. A few toilet roll segments were added to the fixation roll. Gradually, more rolls were added to build a structure and shape of their own creation. Once they were happy with their structure, they added flowers and green material always remembering to cut the stems under water before adding them to their arrangements.

Fixing the segment onto the vase

After several years of studying ikebana, my daughters know that less is more and do not add too many flowers. However, most children learning ikebana for the first-time love to add flowers…. often too many! I often explain to first time learners that with so many flowers we can’t see the beautiful structure they have created… and all their hard work is hidden! I gently explain to new students that ikebana uses less flowers and ask each child if they think they need to remove a few flowers so that we can see all the hard work they have put into creating their beautiful structure. I always leave it up to each child to decide which flowers they would like to remove. At times, some children are adamant that they don’t want to remove any flowers. The decision is theirs - I don’t intervene.

I enjoy using unconventional material when teaching ikebana to children. The end result is always dynamic and creative as children do not have a preconceived idea of what should and shouldn’t be used in ikebana.

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