Sometimes, the things we love the most are the things we create with our own hands. Not so long ago, before everything we wanted could be bought with the click of a mouse, people would often just make something for themselves. These could be something useful, or something beautiful, or both.
In keeping with this age-old tradition, the Lounge team puts together its favourite Do-It-Yourself hacks, from learning new things to setting up a gym, a home recording studio, a slick bar or a darkroom. Make something useful (or simply pretty) that brings joy.
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Build your home recording studio for less than the cost of an iPhone: What do you need for a functional home studio? First, either a guitar and/or a MIDI keyboard, depending on what your primary instrument is. Next you need a soundcard, that is, an audio interface that will channel your musical signals on to a recording software on your computer. A good soundcard will help you adjust the gain (loudness) of your musical inputs; it is also your chief interface with the recording software, both to record through, and, later, to produce and mix.
You will need at least one microphone. You could opt for a more expensive condensor microphone, or a less expensive dynamic microphone. You will also have to invest in a couple of male-female XLR cables to connect to the soundcard. If you have an electric guitar which you would also connect directly to a soundcard, you will need a phono to XLR cable.
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Next, to play back your recording, in order to produce and mix it, you would ideally need monitor speakers, which can be expensive. Until you are sure you want to spend a whole lot of money, you could just get a pair of wired over-ear headphones.
Finally, the all-important music recording software, commonly known as Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. When you buy a soundcard, a free version of a DAW usually comes with the software bundle. In case you are a Mac user, you will have free access to Apple Garageband. But all this and cheaper than an iPhone? Yes indeed.
Soundcard: Audient EVO 4 with “smart gain”; ₹12,990 on Amazon.in. Comes with free Cubase LE3 DAW.
Microphone: Shure SM58S dynamic microphone; ₹11,239 on amazon.in.
Electric Guitar: Squire Affinity Telecaster; ₹21,494 on Amazon.in.
Acoustic Guitar: Alvarez solid top LJ2 little jumbo; ₹22,918 on Bajaao.com.
Headphone: Sennheiser HD 206; ₹1,490 on Amazon.in.
– Bibek Bhattacharya
Develop a taste for world cinema: Find a film-maker or tastemaker you like and see what foreign films they recommend. Often, an enthusiastic prompt is key to discovering new voices.
Keep an eye out for foreign titles on streaming platforms. In India, your best bet is MUBI, which adds a new film a day and has a well-stocked library.
All world cinema isn’t created equal. The power centres that decide on what’s important in world cinema tend to be concentrated in the West. To shake up your cinema viewing, try this canon cleanser for a month: no films originating in Europe and North America.
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There’s a wealth of information about world cinema in print and online. Read David Thomson’s Have You Seen?”: A Personal Introduction To 1000 Films. Subscribe to Sight & Sound magazine. Watch expert masterclasses and interviews. Look up video essays (the 35mm group on Vimeo is a good jumping-off point).
Film podcasts are a good way to keep up to date. While there are any number to choose from, The Film Comment Podcast is a good indicator of what’s new on the global film scene.
There’s nothing like a theatre screening to turn you on to a new director, so look out for stray screenings in your city. Attend film festivals, and, if that’s not feasible, use their lineups as a viewing guide.
– Uday Bhatia
Style your own map wallpapers: Create a custom wallpaper of your favourite neighbourhood using mobile apps and browser-based applications like Alvarcarto.com. Go to the website and choose any location anywhere on the planet. The website uses data from OpenStreetMap to create line maps. Choose the map background from any of the four colours on offer and the dimensions of the final wallpaper depending on your smartphone. That’s it. With one click, your custom wallpaper will be generated. This feature is free to use.
Meanwhile, Cartogram is a dedicated Android app that lets you make live cartography wallpapers. Once you download the app, remember to keep background location permissions on for it and choose Cartogram as your default live wallpaper app. Pick from any of the colourful curated map styles or create your own custom imagery style. Zoom in or out to set the dimensions of the map. You can even click the location pin button to move the map to your current location. Once you finalise everything, hit the camera shutter button in the middle to create the wallpaper. You can then set it, save it or even share the background with others.
– Nitin Sreedhar
Create a cat corner for your feline friend: I have a confession to make. When people come home to visit, they nearly always comment that my interiors appear to be designed more for cats than people. While not everyone may be disposed to convert their entire home into cat county, like yours truly, there are some easy ways to make a great cat corner in your house.
For starters, choose a space with a view of the outdoors, ideally a balcony or a large window. Cats are notorious escape artists and are easily tempted by birds, so ensure this is proofed with strong netting. You can create levels in that space by placing a couple of cat trees in there, preferably overlooking the window or balcony ledge. If space is not a constraint, a few basic wall shelves for kitties to clamber up and down can be thrown in.
You can even place a few pet-friendly plants (check out the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for the list) in this space. A small tub of wheat grass, catnip or lemongrass would be especially welcomed by your kitty. Note: You may have to replace these regularly as it is very likely that too much nibbling can lead to the early demise of the plants.
Throw in a cosy rug, a basket or a fuzzy cat bed. Even though it is more than likely that your cat will continue to sit on your bed or sofas, covering them with hair, they do appreciate having a few soft things soaked in their scent. Toys are great, but ensure that they do not have strings or small, detachable parts if you are leaving them unsupervised in this space. This is especially important if you have brought home a curious kitten. And yes, don’t forget to ensure your cat has easy access to a litter tray, food and water.
– Preeti Zachariah
Use coffee from bean to dregs: If you are a coffee junkie like me and gulp down a gazillion cups a day, then this one’s for you. For the longest time, I didn’t know what to do with the dregs. I was convinced that their life could be extended beyond a mere cup, but how to achieve that was the question.
Until, that is, I came across an article about repurposing used coffee powder as an exfoliant. It suggested combining coffee grounds with brown sugar and oil and gently massaging the face. Dermatologists too believe in the antioxidant properties of coffee. According to Gunjan Verma, consultant dermatologist, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, Delhi, a coffee scrub is useful in removing blackheads and whiteheads. A gentle massage helps get rid of the extra layer of dirt as well.
“Coffee is anti-inflammatory as well and has antioxidant properties. One can even follow the DIY method at home by crushing coffee beans and mixing them with a small amount of water. You can apply this on the skin for 15 minutes and then wash it off. It even serves as a good body wash,” adds Dr Verma. You could follow this method or the sugar-oil-coffee combination that the article mentions, or modify it on the basis of the ingredients available in the pantry.
A lot of people make this scrub with instant coffee but I prefer to do it with the dregs that are left in the French Press. Brown sugar is not always available in the house, so I have been experimenting with sea salt, and have come to the conclusion that it works as a great scrub. Combine the dregs and sea salt with a teaspoon or so of coconut oil, until you get a paste of sorts, and massage the face.
– Avantika Bhuyan
Raise the bar at home: While good quality spirits matter, never underestimate the power of serveware. Ensure a steady supply of clean glasses, straws (preferably steel or bamboo), cotton napkins to minimise waste, and clean coasters. It’s good to have a variety of glasses, including beer mugs, wine glasses, scotch and highball glasses.
To add flavour, look into your chai cabinet, and you may possibly have everything you need to stir up a bar-style cocktail, including fresh herbs like mint and lemongrass. If you have time, make a few infusions. Take 250ml of a white spirit like gin or vodka. For a tea infusion, add a tea bag in vodka and let it rest for 6-8 hours. Strain and serve with tonic. For a herby infusion, take a dry gin like Greater Than, smash a lemongrass stalk, add it to the gin and let it rest for a day. Serve with tonic.
Go beyond just white and red wine or Kingfisher and Bira. Stock up on different grape varieties, from Sangiovese to Merlot, and wine styles, from sparkling to late harvest, to enjoy the full spectrum of a wine experience. Use this as a yardstick for beer too, and get IPAs, witbiers and lagers.
It goes without saying that one needs at least one good single malt, preferably something that retails for ₹10,000 in your city but can be bought for ₹6,000 at duty-free. It’s nice to have a balance of white and dark spirits, like gin, rum, cognac and bourbon, and something that’s newly released. There are a host of home-grown brands to choose from, such as Short Story white spirits, Sector gin or Maka Zai Rum.
Master a recipe, be it Sangria or Mojito, to create a crowd-favourite cocktail in bulk. I usually refer to the recipes by Three Bar Stools on YouTube. Their recipe for Punch comes to mind—it helped me make at least two litres for a friend’s intimate mehndi party. Do not shy away from ready-made cocktail mixes by brands like &Stirred, Bartisans and Jimmy’s Cocktails.
– Jahnabee Borah
Add a cosy touch to your balcony: Make friends with succulents. Every novice gardener is told this but it bears repeating. You can buy potted ones from websites like Nurserylive and Ugaoo but you can also ask neighbours for cuttings, for succulents grow easily from a part of a stem.
Start with plants like golden sedum, snake plant and some hanging pots of jade, and choose small, bright ceramic pots or metallic-finish pots for an instant lift to your space. Then, hang a jute wall planter with pockets (available on amazon.in) on a wall, fill the pockets with earth, plant trailing succulents or money plants and your ultra-hipster and utterly natural living wall is ready.
Next, create height variations by using wrought iron planter stands—or better still, DIY this by stacking old wooden fruit boxes and crates—to have plants at different levels. Combine with planters on wall-mounted shelves to give your space a sense of depth.
Add some seating—it doesn’t have to be costly garden furniture, just a floor cushion, a few bright back cushions and a throw will make your balcony cosy and inviting. To light it all up, I have found that old-fashioned strings of bulbs that can be connected to a socket work best. Ask your electrician to install one if your balcony doesn’t have it and hang the strings at different heights (on the railing, from wall to wall, etc.) for an Insta-ready balcony.
– Shrabonti Bagchi
Develop your own photographs: If you are an analogue photography enthusiast unwilling to trust photo studios with your film, or just want to attempt the process yourself, photographer Srinivas Kuruganti has you covered.
1. A bottle opener: To get the roll out of its canister.
2. The tank: A light-tight container where the film goes, soaks in chemicals and gets developed. The most accessible is a Paterson tank—the smallest size holds one 35 mm roll. It comes with a reel around which the roll of film is wound.
3. Measuring cups or beakers: To separately dilute the developer, stop bath, a fixer, and an archiving/wetting agent that helps keep dust away when drying the film. (Note: We recommend Ilford’s Simplicity Starter Pack if you are a beginner. It comes with the chemicals ready to be diluted with warm water and used.)
4. Sponge: To remove excess fluids before drying the roll.
The room: Since film should not be exposed to light before development, transfer it out of its canister and into the development tank in a room that can be made dark, says Kuruganti. If that’s not possible, get a changing bag, which you can make by cutting and tailoring blackout curtain cloth to certain measurements. (Readymade changing bags are also available on Amazon.)
Develop: Pour in each chemical—the developer, stop bath, fixer and wetting agent—in separate steps, in that order, into the tank. For each chemical poured, turn the tank upside down and right side up, for the duration mentioned on the kit. Pour out each fluid before pouring in the next one.
Drying: Your roll now needs to dry. Hang it from a coat hanger or a shower curtain rod in the bathroom, and use a heavy clip at the bottom end to prevent curling. Depending on the climate, drying can take two-six hours. Once dry, the film is developed and ready to scan. For easy handling, cut your developed roll after every sixth frame.
Scanning: You could get a Kodak Mobile Film Scanner or invest in a negative scanner like the Basic Kit for 35mm from Negative Supply. With these, take pictures of each frame with a DSLR or your smartphone. Upload into either Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to flip the negative into a positive. That’s it. Your very own “handmade” photographs.
– Vangmayi Parakala
Create signature seasoning: Experiment with spice powders and herbs in your kitchen to make signature spice mixes. Mix the ingredients in a clean, dry bowl and spoon it into airtight bottles. Two recipes to get started:
Indian all-purpose seasoning: Combine 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp black salt, 1 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp amchoor powder, 1 tbsp onion powder, 1 tbsp ground coriander, 1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder and 1 tbsp crushed kasuri methi. Use it to finish curries or dals, or mix with some oil and smear on rolled-out dough to make layered masala parathas.
Heart-friendly salt-free seasoning: Combine 1 tbsp garlic powder, 2 tbsp onion powder, 1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder, 1 tbsp smoked or regular paprika and 1 tbsp dried oregano. Fill this in a salt shaker and use it to top any dish with more flavour. Use on fried or scrambled eggs, omelettes, yogurt, sliced raw vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.
– Nandita Iyer
Ferment your own condiment: Have you ordered 100g of green chillies, only to use a few as the rest turn into a soggy, smelly mess in your vegetable drawer? How about preventing this food waste while creating a flavour bomb of a condiment with near-zero effort?
Enter lactofermentation. A complex term for something very simple. This is a process in which good bacteria break down the sugars that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and other foods to form lactic acid. Lactic acid not only prevents the nasty bacteria from growing but also adds flavour and nutrients to the fermenting food, aiding its preservation.
Everyday instances of lactofermentation in our kitchen include the conversion of milk to dahi, preparing kanji from carrots, mustard seeds and water, pakhala bhaat from day-old rice fermented in water.
Back to the chillies. Roughly chop a bunch of green chillies. You can mix a few varieties like the light green milder ones, dark green hotter ones and large bajji chillies. Take a glass jar with a lid, large enough to fit all the chopped chillies. Place this empty glass jar on a weighing scale and ensure that the scale is tared (set to zero).
Add the chopped chillies to the jar. Cover this with filtered water so that all the chillies are submerged. Now note the weight of the chillies and water in the jar. Calculate 3% of this weight, which is the number of grams of salt required for this lactoferment. For example: If the weight of chillies plus water is 500g, the salt requirement is 15g.
Mix the salt well into the water in the jar using a chopstick or a long spoon. Close the lid tightly. Keep aside for two-three weeks.
At the end of this period, lactofermented chillies would have lost a lot of their bite, acquiring a salty tangy complex flavour, and the brine would have taken in the flavour of the chillies. Use these chillies in salads or blend them to make a hot sauce. Use the brine in gin- and vodka-based cocktails. (Nandita Iyer)
Set up a mini gym at home: Yes, gyms are now alive and bustling but if there is one thing the last two years have taught us, it is that fitness at home is accessible, effective and time-saving. You don’t even need too much space: You can just work out in your bedroom and stash the equipment under your bed, or, in the case of resistance bands, on a hook on the wall.
You don’t even need much equipment to start with: a basic yoga mat, a few resistance bands and a stool, box or step. You don’t need weights to get stronger (bodyweight workouts are effective too) but it would be nice to pick up a few dumbbells, or, even better, a pair of adjustable ones A Swiss ball is a good investment too; you can use it in multiple ways, including core workouts and as a substitute for a bench if working on your chest or shoulders.
A pull-up bar can easily be installed in your doorway. But if you aren’t strong enough for that yet, an adjustable dip bar training station will help you get there. (Preeti Zachariah)
Become an amateur historian: A decade ago, there was hardly any guidance for amateur history enthusiasts. What were the significant archaeological findings of the time? What were the connections between, say, perfumeries and culinary history in your city or town? Unless you came across journals and news articles, there was no way of knowing the latest in the field of history and archaeology.
Today, however, there has never been a better time to satiate the history bug within you. There are resources galore to help you on your way to becoming an amateur historian. With their help, you can just chart a direction for yourself.
Take, for instance, the Studying Food Workshop, started by Mythopia, a community-led initiative that shares information on mythology and ancient Indian culture, and Kurush Dalal, a Mumbai-based archaeologist and culinary anthropologist. Through the pandemic, they conducted online workshops on various aspects of culinary history—be it the food and customs of the tiny Bene Israeli community that resides in various pockets of the country, or a study of ancient desserts with experts like Pushpesh Pant, Preeti Deo and Shri Bala.
Both Mythopia and Dalal continue to conduct sessions—both offline and online—on niche aspects of food history. The Telegram channel of the Studying Food Workshop is also a veritable treasure-trove of information—from discussion on archaeological evidence of 2,600-year-old pots of cheese in Egypt’s ancient necropolis to the art of perfuming food. Discussion and debate is integral to any aspiring historian’s journey, and this channel makes space for that.
Mythopia by itself conducts several workshops on mythology and ancient Sanskrit literature. In April, an interesting session was on the retelling of the Ramayana in various Sanskrit texts. The Instagram page of Mythopia contains details of all the upcoming workshops, besides posts on relevant books and reading material that any aspiring historian should read such as Some Women’s Rites and Rights in the Veda by Hanns-Peter Schmidt and The Book of Indian Kings: Stories & Essays by Rupa Publications.
The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune started online sessions during the pandemic, starting with an English-language course on the 18 parvans (parts) of the Mahabharata. Since then, the institute has conducted online courses on the Upanishads, the connections between Kalidasa and Bhasa’s texts, and the fundamentals of archaeology. To nurture the interest of amateur historians, BORI has now launched Bharat Vidya, an online e-learning platform on Indian history and heritage. Some of the courses are free, while others are priced between ₹1,500 to 2,400.
Immersive Trails, a Kolkata-based start-up dedicated to making culture, heritage and history accessible through technology, conducts regular walks and tours. Some of their themes are rather unconventional, especial the ‘Murder and Mayhem’ walk, which traces the footprints of one of the most sensational murders in 19th century Calcutta. Then there is the Gaur and Pandua trail, which explores the twin medieval capital cities of Bengal. The Twitter handle of Immersive Trails regularly posts interesting nuggets about history as well. Besides such start-ups, you have open online resources on art, culture and history such as Sahapedia, which offer articles and immersive online experiences on topics like the petroglyphs of Ladakh, the folk instruments of Karnataka or the history of ikat. They also conduct heritage walks regularly. It has never been easier or more fun to be an amateur historian! (Avantika Bhuyan)
Make a water-based facial mist: You will need 2kg of blooming, fragrant flowers (in my case, it was rose). In a pressure cooker, add the flowers with 2 litres of water. Remove the whistle from the cooker lid and attach a 1m-long tube to the nozzle, connecting to a small vessel that has a smaller neck. Put the flame on low. Ensure at all times that the connecting tube is cool (put a wet towel on it for half a minute).
After 15 minutes, the distilled water from the pressure cooker would have reached the smaller container, containing essential oil mixed with water. Within 20 minutes, you will have 0.5 litres of water-based perfume in the small container. It can be used as body or face mist. One flower has 0.03% essential oil. (Pooja Singh)
Personalise your cotton tote bag: Whether you want to embroider your name or a message on your tote bag, you first need to zero in on the font style and sizing of the letters. A cotton tote is an easy option since the material is easy to work with. Now, for the fonts: Having a stencil would be ideal to decide on the font style but if you don’t have one, you can use a pencil/chalk to see what your desired letter style should look like. I would suggest a small, simple font.
The next step is to figure out whether you want to embroider the letters using beads/threads, or use sequins that can be glued to the bag, which is quite simple. Embroidery has more charm since it lasts longer and gets you more involved in the crafts project. For embroidery, there are a wide variety of stitches but I would suggest the simple back stitch lettering.
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Make a single stich with a colour of your choice (say, a neon green) and then come up one stitch length away and return to the same spot where the previous one ended. Follow the same steps for the rest of the letters using the same or different colour threads. Do finish the thread strand before you start working on the next letter. (Pooja Singh)
Create a sneakers corner at home: You don’t have to be a sneakerhead to create a nice little corner for your favourite sneakers. That process becomes easier with the use of sneaker crates. Sneaker crates are made of high quality plastic board. They are more sturdy and durable than your normal shoe boxes. But you need to assemble them by yourself. Here’s how to do it:
You can choose storage boxes from Sneakare (sneakare.com) or Crep Protect (crepprotectindia.com). The price range starts from around ₹2,699. Decide if you want a front-drop or a side- drop door crate box. Front-drops are good for smaller storage spaces. A side-drop crate box is perfect for large spaces, especially if you want to make a “sneakers wall”. These crates come disassembled in six panels; one of them is the door. They are easy to assemble. The two side panels go with the back panel first. These three are then clipped to the bottom panel. Then you attach the top panel and the door. The crates protect your sneakers from dust and help in organising the shoes neatly.
You can also use old shoe boxes to make interesting storage boxes. For this, you will need a cutter to cut a rectangle on the side of the shoe box. The other items you need are a double-sided tape and a sheet of transparent PET plastic. Use the double-sided tape to fill that rectangle space with the PET plastic sheet, creating a transparent window that will showcase your sneakers and shoes or sneaker-care products like sneaker wipes and brushes.
To make a cord organiser out of your old shoe box, you will need several of the cardboard rolls used for toilet paper. Tape them all together to make vertical storage spaces inside the shoebox. You can easily place one cord in each roll. This way you will never misplace the cords. (Nitin Sreedhar)
Work up a lather with a home-made lotion bar: If even slathering on body lotion seems like too much effort, you’re sure to love the idea of a rich moisturising bar that you can run over your hands, legs and feet. Assemble the ingredients: 1 cup coconut oil, 1 cup beeswax, 2-3 drops essential oil (try lavender, rose or vanilla) to make 5-6 bars.
Put the coconut oil and beeswax in a saucepan, and place over low heat. Chip the beeswax to help it melt faster. Add the essential oil and let it cool a bit. Pour the mixture into muffin tins or silicon moulds. Place the tray in the refrigerator to help the bars solidify. Add pure cocoa or shea butter to the mix (one-third cup) to increase the bar’s emollient-like qualities. Remove from the moulds and run over your hands to see the transformation. Store in the refrigerator to avoid melting. (Excerpted from Live Smart by Teja Lele, with permission from HarperCollins India. Edited for length)
Make a natural mosquito- repellent candle: This DIY packs a double punch: it looks super-pretty and keeps mosquitoes at bay. It’s ideal for use in verandas, balconies, and during outdoor parties and get-togethers.
You need 1 glass jar, 2 lemons (sliced), 3-4 rosemary sprigs, 6-8 lemongrass strips and 10-15 drops eucalyptus essential oil, plus one floating candle.
Place the lemon slices, rosemary sprigs, and lemongrass strips in the jar and drip in the essential oil. Fill the jar with water up to the mouth. Float the candle in water and light it. (Excerpted from Live Smart by Teja Lele, with permission from HarperCollins India. Edited for length)
Make all-natural scent sachets and heating pads: Gather pieces of old cotton or muslin fabric. Stitch small bags or pouches with them with one side open and fill them with raw rice grains and aromatic substances like camphor crystals/essential oils /lavender buds (for one-fourth cup of rice, use one-fourth cup camphor crystals or 10 drops of essential oil, or use 2 parts lavender buds to 1 part rice by volume).
After filling the sachet with the stuffing, secure it tightly with a rubber band. For a heating pad, make around 6- to 8-inch square bags with cotton material, keeping one end open. Fill with rice and eucalyptus essential oil and seal the open side with running stitches after filling the bag. These can be microwaved for a minute or two and used as heating pads for any aches and pains.
(Excerpted from This Handmade Life by Nandita Iyer, with permission from HarperCollins India. Edited for length)