Monday, November 28, 2011

pioneers of american industrial design stamps

I'm very fond of this recent stamp release from the USPS, featuring beautiful examples of industrial design.

The works and designers featured in this stamp set proved that form and function could be perfectly married, and the stamp set itself has a nice, clean, modern design.

Other reasons to pick up a few sheets for your holiday cards: they're great for using after the holidays, too; they're "Forever" stamps, so they'll cover the first class cost of mailing a letter indefinitely (stock up!); and they speak to a vintage design aesthetic that's very current, making them a great choice for designers' business mailings.

* I'm not compensated for my reviews of various design products; I just like to call attention to things I think are beautiful.

Photo credit: USPS. Photo is used here for the purpose of review, and links back to the purchase page for this stamp set.

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

new chairs for thanksgiving dinner : under $25

Our beautiful dining room table was wedding gift from one of my sets of parents. It has now filled two too-small kitchen dining spaces with its gorgeous girth.

When planning to have the in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner this year, our lack of comparably solid, beautiful chairs became more noticeable. Up until now, we've had a folding chair and four little Ikea Stefan chairs I bought on clearance three years ago. Cute, yes, and mostly serviceable, though as a salesperson pointed out, built to support the weight of your average Swede. A climbing toddler can topple one of those suckers without even trying (although he does try, and frequently).

I headed to the Habitat for Humanity Restore and the Goodwill (toddler in tow, for topple-testing!), and found two solid-wood-constructed, heavy-duty chairs. Both were half-price on different sale days, and they didn't match. Different upholstery, different wood finishes and different builds. My mission? To make them look a little more like a "set".

Before: Stained upholstery, battered finishes.

After: New upholstery, new finishes.

To replicate this project:

1) Remove extraneous padding (like the back pad on the first chair, which was held in place with staples and hot glue) and toss.

2) Turn your chairs over and remove the screws that hold the upholstered seats in place. Set aside the screws, and take the seat off of the chair

3) If the chairs have been previously re-covered, remove the excess layers of fabric and staples. Set aside the seats and the screws.

4) Stretch new fabric over the seats. Turn face down, fold fabric edge under to prevent fraying, and shoot a few staples along that edge of the new fabric, making sure the staples go through all layers of fabric and into the wooden seat bottom. Pull tightly, and tack down the opposing edge in the same manner.

5) Repeat for other two edges. At corners, some people use a "package fold" but I don't prefer the square-ish edges this leaves. Instead, I make about a dozen tiny folds and overlaps, sort of gathering the fabric with my fingers as I staple. Set seats aside.

6) Sand or de-gloss the chair frames outside, then paint with a spray-paint/primer in one, using even strokes and building up several light layers. These dry more quickly than a single, heavy layer, and also leave a nicer finish.

7) Let dry / cure / air-out for a couple of days. Then bring back inside and reassemble to the newly upholstered seat bottoms.

Ta-dum! New dinner chairs. The kiddo loves them, and so do I!

You can find the fabric here, courtesy of Spoonflower (more about that in a future post). It's meant to be a stuffed animal kit.

The spray finish is a color called oil-rubbed-bronze, a brownish black with a very subtle gleam of metal flake. It's a satin finish.

Any questions about my process? Leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer.

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Friday, November 25, 2011

fun with baking (wedding cookies, c. 2003)

In June of 2003, I married my awesome husband at a mostly-handmade wedding a few miles from our home. Friends and family filled first a quonset hut for the ceremony, then the field and wooded area just outside. A couple of years ago, the quonset hut in question was torn down (we happened to be there one day, and salvaged one of the original nails), replaced by a beautiful wedding and reception hall.

But, though buildings come and go, the leftover cookies I made (with help) remained . . . in my freezer . . . for the last eight+ years.

Okay, cards on the table: the leftover cookies actually moved with us from our old house to our current house about six years ago. Yes, it's true; I moved stale, leftover wedding cookies from one house to another.

They held up remarkably well in appearance, but the flavor and texture were horrible. (What, you mean you wouldn't taste eight-year-old wedding cookies from your freezer?)

I snapped these photos before tossing them.

At the time of our wedding, they were delicious; I followed a Martha Stewart recipe for citrus sugar cookies, similar to the one linked here. They're decorated with a royal icing like in that recipe, too. Time consuming, but they looked really nice on the dessert table next to the wedding cake and the groom's cake! These photos show them on a wooden cutting board gifted to us by a co-worker. On the big day, they were arranged on a silver-plated serving tray, one of seven I collected at thrift stores and consignment shops in the months leading up to the wedding.

Now that it's Christmas time and I have an eager baking (tasting) assistant (21 months old), I'm thinking about making up a new batch, but with reindeer and trees instead of wedding cakes, flowers, and moons. Hopefully, there'll be no leftovers this time. My freezer is completely full.

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

sweater better

I've had this cute sweater in my closet for awhile; I picked it up at a thrift store and wore it once or twice, but it was a little short on me and never fit right across the chest (a constant issue with me and clothes).

Last week, I noticed this tutorial over at the I am Momma Hear Me Roar blog and pulled the sweater out of the closet for a quick re-make into a cardigan.


Now I can wear it way more often. Gonna keep on the look-out for other spare sweaters to make better, too! Awesome project tutorial, Delia. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Saturday, November 12, 2011


Whenever I finish a project, there are usually leftovers of one kind or another. In the past, I have just boxed things up and stashed them away, but the recent clean-out of the spare room may just have cured me from that habit. New habit I'm trying to form: using the leftovers to make another fun project right away.

Saving things for later seems like the right thing to do, but when you have as many different kinds of hobbies as I have, and when you tend to forget down the road where the leftovers are or whether you have them at all, you end up buying new stuff each time anyway. Wasteful. Makes storage areas messy, too, and then when you're pulling stuff out to donate, you start adding up in your head the money you spent . . .

The Halloween costume project this year meant leftovers of several kinds: felt and fake fur, most obviously. With Christmas coming up, I thought I'd take some of the stuff and make something cute with it for my kiddo.

Voila! Monster pillows!

To start, I cut the largest rectangle I could from the leftovers of a remnant of faux fur used for the tail of my son's Halloween costume. The pillow pictured is made with a piece that measured about 13 x 25 inches. (Folded in half and stitched, it made a nearly-square pillow approximately 12 x 12 inches.)

Next, I planned the face, and cut face parts out of leftover red, orange, ivory, and charcoal gray felt. I stitched the layers together, then planned where they should go on the pillow (not too close to the edges, and not to close to where the fold would go at the top of the pillow). You can pin your pieces in place; I just free-handed, because I wasn't too picky about having the face end up perfectly placed. I think it looks a little sillier slightly off-kilter.

Using my machine, I stitched around the face pieces close to the edges, attaching them to the fur.

Then, I clipped my threads, made my fold so that the furry sides were together, and stitched around all of the open edges, leaving a space open to turn the pillow right-side out and stuff it. I stuffed it full of fluff, then hand-stitched the opening closed.

I may have a hard time keeping this guy (and his soon-to-be siblings!) out of sight until Christmas. He already looks quite at home in the nursery chair.

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

once upon a time . . .

. . . I ran a bookstore. And I used to make elaborate displays with box cardboard and packing paper, and signs on chalkboards. I found these photos the other day, and wanted to share. These are all free-hand and took between one and three hours each.

From the last book of a Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket:

From a display of new summer books:

To advertise a book club discussion of Suite Francaise:

From the side of a magazine rack near the children's section:

To advertise pre-orders for the final Harry Potter book:

From an appearance by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, to advertise her book Let's Have a Dog Party:

To celebrate our second anniversary at the store:

To advertise a shelf of books by our favorite publisher of quirky books:

To advertise our book club meeting for Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys:

To announce the party celebrating our store's closure after three years:

To make the chalk boards, I used a quart of chalkboard paint, painted over foam core board (in the large frame) and on repurposed bare wood shelving for the smaller board. In three years, it never chipped or flaked; good useful stuff! I'm hoping to use it again soon to put some chalkboards on the bebe's bedroom door.

Have you used chalkboard paint in any unusual applications? Share links in the comments section below.

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Monday, November 7, 2011

felt circle curtain

I haven't decided yet if this is permanent, but at least it offers semi-privacy to the bathroom window since I took down the paper roller shade that got ruined (Ahem. Cats.).

It's made from circles of felt leftover from this year's Halloween costumes, via this recent Pin from Pinterest:

It took a little under an hour this morning, partly because I'm pretty certain my circles are larger than the ones in the original tutorial. Whatcha think?

(Former Pinterest inspiration posts: here, here, and here!)

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

pinterest challenge — max + wild thing costumes!

Pinterest Challenge time, sponsored by the Young House Love blog and the Bower Power blog, joined this month by Ana White and Erin!

When it was time to get started on a Halloween costume for my kiddo this year, I started searching Pinterest and the web-at-large for a pattern or tutorial to make a copy of Max's wolf suit from the book Where the Wild Things Are. My search turned up this:

a free, downloadable BurdaStyle pattern in exactly the right size—2T. Thanks, SuzeB! I'm almost certain that the poor rating on this pattern isn't a reflection of the pattern itself (it all fit together just fine), but the result of dim bulbs like me trying to click on the bubbles to see other people's ratings, and thereby giving it a poor rating accidentally. The pattern is great. Here's my kiddo wearing it now, up to mischief of one kind and another, as the story goes.

I started with an ivory-colored, slightly stretchy, minky-feeling, polyester faux fur instead of the recommended polar fleece, because I don't really dig the way polar fleece pills after washing—even the "no-pill" kind. The lovely, bushy, furry tail is made from a quarter-yard remnant from JoAnn Fabrics.

Other alterations to the pattern: I made the hood very slightly deeper and made the front closure a velcro closure so that the sewn-on buttons are purely decorative (I like a quick-release one-piece costume for diaper emergencies). No need to get too in-depth on the alterations; SuzeB provides a nice tutorial on how to put the suit together. I just left off the front facings and folded over a narrow hem on the front edge, then stitched in the velcro. Easy peasy.

That's them at the library, right before Halloween story time. Which brings me to the other part of this costume: my husband's Wild Thing. Not something I'd planned on originally, but then I came across this:

while looking for a "quick" way to make a Wild Thing costume head. Hah!

The directions Seamster provides with his Instructable remind me of the way I crochet: intuitively. You see what you want the end result to look like, you get out some materials and a basic set of directions, and you interpret and innovate where necessary. Voila!

A couple of weeks later, you have this guy.

Now, a couple of people on the Instructable commented that they started this project mere days or hours before Halloween, and finished in plenty of time. I guess I forget sometimes how quickly things can get done when a person has all their evening hours free! For me, working a couple of hours a day a few times a week, it took a little longer than anticipated, which is how I ended up at the mall on Halloween in my Where the Wild Things Are t-shirt (or, as my husband called it, my "cloak of invisibility") instead of a matching costume. Never mind. The boys were instant celebrities.

We were sitting at the table, just like this

eating dinner in the food court and cooling off, and still had people coming up to compliment the costumes and take photos. While we were eating. Back off, paparazzi! I'm trying to eat my enchilada!

As for alterations to the Seamster's Instructable, I started with felt instead of polar fleece, this time for cost concerns as well as to make the Wild Thing have more of a Muppet-like appearance. The base is made as described here, except I enlisted my husband to cut it in a 18-inch diameter circle since his head is larger than a child's head.

I used 4 mm newsboard for the base, then, for the step in which I built up the hat base, I used cheaper, more flexible kraft board attached with tape and hot glue.

In the next step, in which I sewed the dome out of felt and attached it to the base, I followed the advice on measuring and cutting the fabric (felt, in my case), but the part about using trial and error stood out to me as being time-consuming . . . so I did this instead:

After stuffing the bubble with polyester fluff, I folded over the saggy parts and used a whipstitch to hold them down. I made sure to keep the whipstitching where I knew it would be out of sight under the Wild Thing's fur. It made a nice, relatively smooth dome shape, without having to rip the thing apart and re-machine sew + stuff a half-dozen times.

Since the whole thing is made out of felt, I also left off the step about stitching together a facade of felt for where the cheek lines would be, and used an alcohol-based marker to sketch those lines in instead.

I followed the instructions for shaping the nose and eyes from newspaper and masking tape (!) which are not materials I would ever have thought of using for this . . . kind of like dry paper mache. Once covered in felt, I was really impressed by how nice and smooth + solid the pieces turned out. I attached them as directed, accented around the eyes with the alcohol marker, then sewed the horns out of the same felt and stitched them on before beginning to hot glue the fur in place.

Next alteration? Instead of gluing down the teeth on top of the red mouth felt, I cut slits through the felt as I was attaching it so that I could poke the teeth up through the felt, concealing the little tabs. Because I have just a touch of the crafting OCD.

I finished the lower jaw mostly as directed, but I used a piece of foam pipe insulation instead of a 2-inch x 3/4-inch piece of foam. The curve presented some challenges, but in the end it looked pretty good, I think!

Here's one more of the boys in the wild (the kiddo's crown is something I sewed out of wool felt and dyed golden yellow):

Materials list:

Max's Wolf Suit
1 yard of 72-inch wide furry stuff (from JoAnn's with coupon)—$7.49
3 large plastic buttons (on-hand from Grandma's button box)—free
1 package bargain velcro (from JoAnn's)—99 cents
1/4-yard faux fur remnant (from JoAnn's)—$1.30

Wild Thing Head-Piece
1 30x48" sheet of 4 mm newsboard (from Oregon Art Supply)—$5.50 (with enough left over for a couple of other projects)
1 24x36" sheet of kraft brown tag board (from Paper Plus)—45 cents
1 9x12" yellow eco-felt rectangle (from JoAnn's, on sale)—25 cents
1 9x12" orange eco-felt rectangle (from JoAnn's, on sale)—25 cents
1 9x12" dark grey eco-felt rectangle (from JoAnn's, on sale)—25 cents (or use a scrap of something you have on-hand)
1/4-yard red 72-inch wide eco-felt (from JoAnn's, on sale)—75 cents
1 yard antique white 72-inch wide eco-felt (from JoAnn's, on sale)—$2.99
1/2-yard "Grizzly" black fur (from JoAnn's, on sale)—$5.10
elastic (on-hand)—free
masking tape (from Jerry's hardware store)—$2.29
20 extra-strength long glue gun sticks (from Jerry's hardware store)—$4.99
1 32-oz. bag polyester Fiber-Fill (from JoAnn's, with coupon)—$5.00
alcohol-based marker (on-hand)—free

Wild Thing Costume
1 heathered-red long-sleeved t-shirt (from Target, on sale)—$6.00
2 yards beige flannel (JoAnn's, on sale)—$4.78
acrylic paint (on-hand)—free
alcohol-based marker (on-hand)—free

(Other Pinterest inspiration posts: here, here, and here!)

(p.s. you can make these photos bigger by clicking on them . . . but you probably knew that!)

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