Thursday, January 31, 2013

recycled paper chains

Phew! It's been quiet around here lately, hmmmm? The So You Think You're Crafty competition has been keeping me busy during the hours I'm not hanging out with my kid, or designing book covers, or making robot party stuff, or, you know, sleeping.

It's Upcycling theme week over at So You Think You're Crafty, and I'll get to post my project here tomorrow since voting ends tonight; I think you'll like it.

In the meantime, here's an easy little project you can use to recycle (or, more properly, reuse or upcycle) some envelope liners, paper sacks, and wrapping paper into decorative paper chains.

Using scissors or a paper cutter, cut your envelope liners and wrapping paper into strips. I used strips about 3/4 inches wide and 9 inches long for these Christmas chains, but if you want to use wider strips, just try to keep them under a couple of inches wide so you won't have any trouble linking.

After you've made one circle (using glue dots or double-sided tape to connect the ends), just loop the next strip of paper through the circle and start making your chain, just like you did with construction paper back in grade school!

Keep going until you have plenty of length. Like with most party or holiday decorations, multiples look better than singles, so go all out. Spend a couple of afternoons and you'll be able to make a few 25-foot lengths. When the party's over, you can save your chains for next time or put them in the recycle bin.

The chains in these photos were some we made at Christmas, but you can make them for any holiday or for party decorations. If you have a specific party theme or color you're aiming for, you can accent with some rings made of construction paper or scrap-booking paper, while still keeping most of the rings recycled. It makes for a really cool look that's easy enough for even really little kids to help make.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 25, 2013

knock-off mercury glass lamp and coffee sack burlap shade

updated February 26, 2013: I'm so excited to be linking up again to Young House Love's Pinterest Challenge! The two inspiration projects below were pinned to my {private} Competition pin board back in December in anticipation of the So You Think You're Crafty? competition. In January, this project did well enough in the competition to qualify for the next level. At the bottom of this post is a link to my full tutorial.

I love mercury glass. Love it. It's shiny and vintage-looking and meant to look imperfect, all of which make it work well in my house. I especially love the way mercury glass lamps look, and the contrast of a rustic burlap shade really sets off the shiny mirrored glass. What I don't love is the price-tag.

For quite awhile, I've had the desire to try and make a mercury glass lamp with thrift store cast-offs, on a super small budget. Thanks to the So You Think You're Crafty competition, I had the motivation I needed to pull it off!

First: the originals and the low-cost knock off:

Originals from Restoration Hardware ($174 w/o shade) and Pottery Barn ($269 w/ shade). My copy: $18, w/shade.

I built it using an extra-tall glass thrift-store vase, a repurposed pan lid, the light kit from an old lamp, and some Looking Glass paint. The drum shade is one I stripped down and re-covered in coffee sack burlap. The Edison-style bulbs were a ReStore score for 50 cents apiece.

Mine has a more rustic shade than the Restoration Hardware version, and straighter lines than Pottery Barn's, and it suits me pretty perfectly.  I hope it suits you, too! At a savings of over 90%, you can't really afford not to make one!

For the full tutorial, you can click here, and I'll take you through it step-by-step!

Linking up to:
Junkin' Joe Vintage Finds

and the Pinterest Challenge

Young House Love

Decor and the Dog

Bower Power Blog

The ReModeled Life

Saturday, January 19, 2013

pull-string robot piñata and candy filler

Hey everyone! This has been a long week here at the old homestead. We've been home sick, and I finished in the bottom two this week over at So You Think You're Crafty?, despite my mad love for this project. I'm through to the next round, but the person I tied this week could just have easily have been the one to stay. I've got my fingers crossed for next week and I'll let you know when the voting opens!

I made this super fun robot piñata using mostly found materials and some crepe paper that I've had out in the studio since (*gasp*) my wedding ten years ago. My piñata is a robot for an upcoming birthday party (my kiddo's third!) but you could adapt the project for basically any theme. Just look in the recycling bin, and you probably have enough materials to start building one today!

I built the basic structure using boxes, tubes, and containers held together with duct tape and Makedo cardboard connectors, then covered it using glue sticks and crepe paper, and decorated with bits and pieces.

I like crepe paper better than the tissue paper I see used on most commercial piñatas because crepe has more flexibility to it. Curves aren't a problem. Tight corners aren't a problem. Stretching it to fill a gap isn't a problem. It's kinda awesome. And it's nice to have a way to use this dove grey color that I hadn't found a use for in the past decade. Plus, he's pretty adorable, isn't he?

Because this is a pull-string piñata (more suitable than the traditional "bash-able" kind for a group of really young kids), the harder-edged pieces (like the connectors and the reflectors) aren't a problem like they would be if you were going to hit them with a stick. All the kids just grab a string and pull till the base opens and all the treats spill out!

And speaking of treats, we spent some time last week making some yummy homemade gummy robots and chocolate robots in matching packages (designed in Illustrator) as piñata filler. I'll include the printable packaging graphics in the tutorial , for anyone who's been searching high and low for robot-themed party favors.

In fact, two separate tutorials are coming your way soon; one for the piñata and one for the candies; subscribe if you don't want to miss either of those!

Thanks a ton for reading and for voting over at So You Think You're Crafty! Wish me luck this coming week, too! It's heating up to be another edge-of-your-seat contest for me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

the cupboard under the stairs

Once upon a time, my bookseller friend James and I ran the tiniest book store in town. And as it happened, we managed to stay in business through the publication of not one but two Harry Potter books, number 6 and number 7.

I was a huge fan. I ran a bookstore, so of course, I was really excited to throw a midnight release party. And for Deathly Hallows, we managed to get everything lined up to make it happen.

I didn't run a blog then, so I wasn't as thorough in my photo-taking as I should have been. These gnomes, for example, were for the gnome toss, which was complete with a faux garden wall to toss them over (made of drywall compound stenciled in a stone pattern over a plywood base, and painted gray).

The gnomes themselves are made of muslin, drawn with sharpie and colored pencil, and filled with beans.

These paintings were part of another game. Before I knew about architectural prints, I made these paintings by enlarging vintage photos from a Dover copyright-free image collection, printing on regular printer paper, Mod Podge-ing on tag board, and painting over the surface before attaching them to aged thrift store frames. In some of my lousy photographs, you can make out the seam lines; were I to replicate the project today, I'd have architectural prints made rather than printing on 8.5x11 at home.

As a big ol' Harry Potter nerd, I painted these with specific characters in mind, and there were clues to their identities in the paintings and in the titles of the paintings (on plaques beneath). The game was to guess their identities. The person who guessed the most correctly won a prize.

Another activity was Arthur Weasley's Muggle Objects of Unknown Origin.

As Mr. Weasley worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, my idea was that he'd run across several (mundane) things he couldn't figure out, and had catalogued them as being special and unique. The party attendees were responsible for trying to figure out what the objects were by viewing them though a hole in the side of a dimly lit shadow box. The person to guess the most correctly won a prize.

Speaking of prizes, activities like the Gnome Toss and Spell Casting awarded prizes of Harry Potter glasses and spider rings; as I recall (and it's been five years, I think), Fred and George Weasley's Wizard Boxes (stuffed with things like Laffy Taffy, whoopee cushions and Abra-Ca-Bubble) were awarded to the winners of the painting and muggle objects contests.

We also had a photo booth. It was really just a section of the store set up to look Hogwarts-ish and a box of costumes and props, plus a photographer friend I'd bribed into helping by buying him a copy of the book (there were several friends I'd indentured this way, and bless them for being game).

I'd love to show you copies of some of the photos, but I didn't have anyone sign releases for that stuff, so I'm afraid you'll have to take my word as to the epic-ness of some of those shots. Cute kids, sure, and lots and lots of adults in witch hats and striped ties.

Isn't it funny, that with everything else I'd put together, the copyright I was worried about infringing upon was the name "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans"?

To stay on budget, less-expensive bulk jelly beans filled out most of the bag, with an occasional ear wax or popcorn or grass flavored bean popped in for a little surprise.

Crowd shot, as prizes were being awarded.

The wand-making station included wand blanks (chopsticks), glitter, stickers, markers and paint, etc. There were some fancy looking wands walking around as the evening progressed.

They included a warning not to run with or jab a wand at anyone. I hope kids and parents took those warnings to heart. The last thing we need is an E. R. overrun with wand accident victims on Harry Potter night.

And finally, the last photos I have are from some wands I made up ahead of time, along with wand boxes I made from brown and black poster board and box labels designed in Illustrator.

We sold them at the party and later at craft shows for awhile.

So. The reason I'm posting this stuff now is that I have birthday parties on the brain. If you were planning a Harry Potter party, you could go ahead and borrow any of these ideas from me; heck, I still have a pile of wands I've been meaning to list on Etsy. If you're looking for party favors, send me and e-mail and I'll make a listing sooner rather than later.

Thanks so much for reading!

If you'd like more details on any of these projects, let me know. I might just write up a more detailed tutorial for you!

p.s. you can make these photos larger just by clicking on them, but you probably already knew that. you're clever like that.

Monday, January 14, 2013

deer hart: a recycled "vegan" deer trophy

Update: voting for "So You Think You're Crafty" completed on Friday, and my Deer Hart faux  deer head taxidermy made it through to the next round!

Voting is live once again for this week's theme, "For the Boys". Again, voting is anonymous, but I have faith in your good taste to lead you to my project, readers. ;) 

Here is my entry from last week, which would have gotten me through to this round even if someone hadn't dropped out early.

Week one! I'm so excited for the weeks ahead. I've had a ton of projects on the back burner, so I'm glad to be able to pull out the supplies I've been collecting and get to crafting!

This project (a faux deer head trophy made mostly from recycled scraps) competed for my attention with another project I've been longing to get around to, but I ended up picking it because it's a low cost project that's on-trend and can be made with materials that are really easy to find. Even non-hunters can play along!

Using materials from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Bring, recycled cardboard, a thrift store map and some tape, the cost of this project's materials comes in at under $10. The blog tutorial I'll post after voting ends will include a template for the basic structure and detailed instructions, so you can make one yourself!

The name for this project (and the inscription on the little metal plaque) comes from my love of puns and old Grimm brothers fairy tales, which often mention a "hart" running through the woods (and led to a bit of dictionary research when I was eight).  One of the lovey nicknames I call my kiddo is "dear heart", so the  pun fits well for something that might hang in his room later. It's etched on the backing of an old drawer pull using a simple awl. I also used a vintage German map for the decoupage, since the Grimms were from Germany.

To finish it off, I distressed the edges lightly and added a little yellow chalk line detail. A big project, but I'm so excited by the results. I hope you like it, too!

I'll be back to post a full tutorial later this week, including a template for the cardboard pieces you'll need for the basic structure. Until then, start gathering your supplies and tools!

*one old board or cupboard door, preferably with a beveled edge (mine cost $2 from the ReStore)
*some pieces of scrap wood (free)
*heavy cardboard (I like the double-walled kind you can find fruit or wine shipped in; free from Costco)
*a small metal plaque (mine cost 25 cents from Bring, and was originally the plate behind a drawer pull)
*two 1/2 inch screws (free, with the cupboard door)
*thrift store map (another 25 cents from St. VIncent dePaul)
*masking tape (I used Greener Masking tape {30% recycled} from 3M)
*duct tape
*glue gun + glue gun sticks
*four 1-inch screws
*four washers
*Mod Podge or suitable decoupage medium
*leftover paint or paint sample

Optional materials:
*wood filler

(p.s. you can make these photos larger just by clicking on them, but you're probably so clever that you already knew that.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

thrift store finds: steel storage box

Update: voting for "So You Think You're Crafty" is completed for the week (as of today, January 11th) and I've made it through to the next round!

Thank you all for your votes, and please check back; I'll have a full tutorial for my project up within the next few days. Woohoo!

I found this great steel box with a sliding lid out at Bring awhile back ($4) and have had it sitting in my carport on top of a set of lockers for a couple of months now.

Finally, right before Christmas, when we were expecting house guests and I was trying to get things just a smidgeon organized, I went out and cleaned it up and decided to finally hang it on the wall like I'd intended to do since finding it. Its purpose: to hold cleaning supplies and the kitchen fire extinguisher.

I don't know what purpose it served in its previous life, though it looks to be from the first half of the 20th century. I thought at first it might be a flammable liquids storage box, except the vent on the front (or top, depending on how it originally sat) wouldn't make much sense.

My sister-in-law suggested that it might have been a bread box, which would make sense. Maybe one that stored inside a drawer or something? The sliding lid could still have functioned that way.

At any rate, there were no holes or hangers on the back, and a note (written in marker on bright pink paper) attached to the side (with masking tape) read, "curtains to mend". Not that those two clues narrow it down much.

I admit it: I drilled holes in the back and tried hanging it with picture hangers, but that was just a temporary fix and was really unstable; it needed to be hung with drywall anchors, screws, and washers. I'd normally woman-up and do it myself, but I didn't want to brave the shed right now to find the drill. When the mister offered to take care of it for me, I let him.

I always like the character that beat-up old things add to the house. And it inspired me to put in a little more time priming the kitchen walls, so hey, double points for me!

So: what fun old stuff are you bringing into the house these days? Anyone getting any eye rolls? The mister is a master of hiding his, if he's rolling them at all. He's a good guy.

Thanks for reading!

Updated to add: Yup! Bread box for a cabinet drawer!

Linking up to:

Junkin Joe Vintage and Thrifty Finds

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

chocolate stout birthday cake

This year, unlike in past years, the mister requested a specific cake flavor, instead of a cake theme (like the Fallout cake here, the Zelda cake here,  and the Skyrim cake here). This year, he wanted a chocolate stout cake, like the one an old friend of ours made for his own birthday a couple of years back.

Now, I'm not as good a baker as our friend, but I can fudge it. (Ha!) I used Jamie's recipe from My Baking Addiction, with a few alterations.

First: I halved the recipe to make a 6-inch, 3-layer cake instead of an 8-inch 3-layer cake. All that high school math served me well (thanks, Mr. Tutland!) as I was calculating to see if a half-recipe would be enough batter; it was close enough for my purposes, so I went ahead with it. I did this because chocolate stout cake is very rich (the "icing" is just chocolate and cream, for heaven's sake) and we were only needing enough for five people . . . and still only ate half of it on the mister's birthday. A 6-inch cake is just enough for a couple of days, without anyone getting sick of cake.

Second: I substituted a mixture of lowfat milk and whipping cream for the sour cream in the original recipe, and didn't notice any lack of richness, taste, or texture.

Third: I left off the decorative chocolate curls and used sprinkles to decorate instead. (And it's kinda pretty, but I wouldn't recommend it. The crunchiness of the hundreds-and-thousands detracts from the experience of the icing.)

So here's the recipe I used. You can find the original here.

Six-Inch Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

for the cake

3/4 cup Chocolate Stout (Trader Joe's makes a great one, which I used)
1/4 cup strong black coffee
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat  flour and 1 cup all-purpose)
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup milk

for the icing

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 pound chopped semisweet chocolate (I used chocolate chips)

Directions for the Cake

1) Set oven to 350 degrees F, and grease three 6-inch cake pans. LINE THE BOTTOMS WITH PARCHMENT PAPER. Very important. The cake is very moist, and you'll need the parchment to help get the cake layers out of the pans.

2) Melt butter in a medium saucepan with the chocolate stout and coffee until simmering. Stir in the cocoa powder and whisk till smooth. Remove from heat.

3) Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. 

4) Using your electric mixer (or a lot of elbow grease) beat eggs, vanilla, milk, and cream together, then add the COOLED stout mixture. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Divide batter between the three pans. Bake until cake tester comes out clean; approximately 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to cake rack to cool.

Directions for the Icing

1) Simmer the whipping cream in a small, heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until spreadable, approximately two hours.

2) Use a small smear of frosting on the cake plate to stick first layer in place, then spread a small amount of frosting over it. Top with second cake layer, and spread with more icing. Repeat for third layer, then spread remaining icing over top and sides.

I used a stencil cut from parchment paper to get the sprinkles to stick in a specific pattern.

As noted in the original recipe, this cake tastes best fresh the first day, but it can be refrigerated and warmed for leftovers. 

Thanks for reading!  Enjoy your cake!

Monday, January 7, 2013

so you think you're crafty voting is open for week one!

"On the Wall" is this week's theme, and I committed some pretty serious time to getting my project together. The contest is anonymous, so I can't tell you which one is mine, but if you can find it and vote for it, I'd appreciate it. I'm told my style is fairly easy to decipher.

Thanks for reading!

Update: voting is completed for the week (as of today, January 11th) and I've made it through to the next round! Thank you all for your votes, and please check back; I'll have a full tutorial for my project up within the next few days. Woohoo!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

freezer paper stencil viking shirt

I had a falling out with the owner of a local shop recently. I'd gone there to buy a specific t-shirt for my kiddo, one with a cuuuute viking pattern screen printed on it by a company I like, but can't always buy (because good sense dictates I can't spend $30 on a toddler t-shirt on a regular basis).

But I left without it.

It's all too bad because I like to support local business when I can (even if it means waiting for a sale) and I especially like to support mama-owned businesses. More than that, I like to support good graphic designers, and this particular clothing manufacturer hires great ones.

In the end, though, the idea of stenciling a viking design onto a t-shirt isn't copyrighted. In fact, this tutorial that Cheri wrote over a year ago could have inspired the (more recent) designer t-shirt, for all I know. I know it inspired me!

Freezer paper stenciling is something I've posted about before, but this viking design is a whole lot less complex. As you can see, I made it in two different sizes, one for the mister and one for the kiddo.

I also (word to the wise) accidentally cut it into wax paper the first go-around (which DOES NOT WORK) and had to re-do it, so it's a good thing it's so straight-forward.

Cheri mentions in her tutorial that you can find some free-use images on-line and cut them with your Silhouette cutter; you'll be happy to know you can also free-hand the drawing and cut it out with a craft knife if, like me, you're artsy and don't own a Silhouette.

Cut on FREEZER paper, iron onto t-shirt (plastic side down), paint, and let dry.

If your beard is too close to the color of your shirt, lighten it up, dry again, and remove the wax paper.

Heat set, and you're ready to go!

I used a Gap t-shirt from the Goodwill for this design, so the project was really inexpensive and fast. And we like it! I hope you'll link to your freezer paper stencil projects in the comments section below, if you have the urge!

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!