Imagine having something you have created seen by millions of people around the world. That’s what happened for me on January 1, 2019 during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. Here’s the story.
While the large, elaborate floats are commercially built, there are 6 smaller floats that are “self-built.” That means that all aspects of the float are handled by volunteers. I have friends who are volunteers with the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Each year they design, create, build and decorate the Rose Parade float that represents the City of Burbank.
Much as I would love to be part of that, I am a complete disaster when it comes to glue or paint. Not to mention the more skilled tasks like welding, sculpting, animating, and well, you get the idea. But last year, there was something I could do that none of the regular volunteers could do. I can spin fiber into string.
If you saw the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, you may remember the Burbank float presented cartoon animals who brought their instruments together to jam. It was an eclectic collection with a saxophone playing pig, a bass drum playing skunk, a huge bear with a concertina, and an alligator playing a washboard.
Then there was also a hound dog playing a banjo. A wolf playing a fiddle and a HUGE white rabbit playing a string bass. That’s where my contribution came in. One of my friends who works on the float knew about my spinning, and asked me if I could spin strings from raw cotton for those instruments.
Spinning is easy, but cotton is hard, because the fibers are short and they tend to ball up instead of lying flat. But with patience, I came to a compromise with the cotton and was able to produce custom strings for each instrument. The fiddle strings were thin, the banjo strings were more funky, and the string bass had thick strings. The bass strings took the most time because I had to spin 4 threads then ply them together.
Spinning was something I learned when I was working in a living history center in Maryland. We used antique wheels to demonstrate making wool yarn, therefore, I never learned to use modern tools. That was unfortunate for the float because the rabbit was supposed to be covered completely in cotton “fur.” I had to help the decorators find a woman with the machine that could produce batts (flat plates) of cotton. She prepared over 4 pounds of cotton batts needed to completely cover the 6 foot tall rabbit.
No, I didn’t go to the parade, I watched it on TV. But after the parade, all the floats are parked together to allow people to see them up close. I had seen the pieces while they were being built and decorated, but seeing the completed float with my strings on the instruments was breathtaking. Building a float takes thousands of hours by many talented people. Being a very small part of something as big and amazing as a rose parade float is a memory I will treasure.
From Staff: Beira has been a volunteer since 2006 and has managed to rack up almost 1700 hours of time as a listener for Instructional Text and the Literature team.
Stacie,Beira is ever more talented than I knew!! Our TOC tool volunteers are amazing!Gigi
Beautiful float, Beira!So unique and creative!
This is so awesome, Beira! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. NOTE: Beira is also a key member of Team TOCTool, the group of volunteers who work hard setting up the books for production so the rest of us can work on them. Thanks, Beira, for the many ways you are helping learners all over the country, and staff and volunteers, too!