What possesses someone to get up before sunrise and decorate a tree with origami hearts? I’m still wondering that myself.
But that’s precisely what I did this Valentine’s Day. I spent the weekend before sitting in a local arts space, drinking tea and folding around 60 origami hearts, with a break to teach a small girl how to make her own. The night before I turned them into hanging decorations, and then got up at 6am to walk to my local high street to decorate a tree on the high street before too many of the residents started their day.
No one has really asked me why I decided to do this and I’m not really sure I have a good answer. There are several small answers; I wanted to make the people who live in Stirchley smile, to challenge the Valentine’s Day sceptics that it’s only overly-commercial if you make it, and I thought it would be fun. But in all honesty, the real answer is that last year was pretty hard for me for all sorts of reasons, but one of the things that continued to bring me joy was the sense of community in my area – the enthusiasm and bread from Loaf; the wonderfully eccentric conversation and tea from Artefact; and the warmth and beautiful houseplants from Isherwood & Co. I wanted to do something for all of them to say thank you for helping keep me afloat last year, when treading water felt the hardest.
The folding was pretty simple, because 2D hearts are not a complicated fold in the way many origami projects can be. To start, I followed an online tutorial (is there anything YouTube can’t teach you), but after the first few I’d learnt the moves and muscle memory took over. Which meant I could sit in Artefact and start my own one-person production line.
Cost wise, I made a few hearts from some paper I already had but most of them came from a £1.50 book of patterned paper from The Works, and the cotton and needle I dug out of my emergency sewing kit. It probably took the best part of a day, all in all, but once I memorised the folding pattern, it was quite simple.
As the skies greyed and rain threatened, I took the hearts down. There were 45 left of around 60, so 15 or so have gone beyond that little tree in Stirchley. I suggested people take them, if they wanted them, and so I know a few have gone to good homes because they told me. Ones have gone to people’s offices, to their homes, hearts were chosen by children and hopefully gone to be enjoyed beyond the few days they were up.
For those who prefer statistics, Twitter tells me the initial tweet had 5036 impressions, 487 engagements, 74 likes and 13 retweets. The tweet telling people they’d be up for a while and to help themselves to a heart had a further 3658 impressions and 62 likes, plus a further 1870 on a tweet when I couldn’t bear to take them down after just one day and various people put it on Instagram too (102 of my Facebook friends reacted positively to the photo too). Which means the Valentines Tree, as Fran (tweet above) called it, went beyond just the people who walked down the high street, especially as someone had added it to Reddit too. My favourite response was from someone who said they made a point of driving down the hight street to see them again.
Those 45 hearts are in a bag and ready to go to a new home, for other people to enjoy. I’d already found a home for the ones that stayed up the longest, and that’s the thing about doing something a random act of kindness – it usually goes beyond just the place you intended.