Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making your mark

While I was looking for craft ideas for my Christmas projects I came across a lot of

"handmade is better" sentiments. Well I happen to agree! To promote the idea I made special tags for all my gifts to let the recipients know their gift was "made with love" - which it was, let me tell you. There is nothing like a ton of thought and effort to show someone that you care.

Thankfully, my cousin Dawn had loaned me an enormous amount of stamping supplies (a friend asked when seeing it, if she owned her own store!) to play with while she took a break from the hobby. Stamps, ink and even stacks of paper all at my disposal. Well of course I had plans to make Christmas cards, but I think we all know how far I went with that idea. Instead I used those supplies to make my tags.

For the tags pictured above I used only two sheets of paper, two colors of ink, one stamp, some glue and a gel pen.

What I wanted from the paper was a subtle yet elegant look so I chose ink that was the same color, but different tone and a stamp that was a beautiful swirly kind of pattern. Once you start stamping on one sheet, cover the whole paper with design - it doesn't take too long. Be sure to clean your stamp well before moving on to the next sheet! Then do as before.

Using a set of graduated heart-shaped mini cookie-cutters (from one of those kitchen gadget stores) I traced small hearts all over the paper. Then I went to cutting. Doing the project in steps like an assembly line makes the work a little smoother, but that doesn't mean your hands will forgive you for all the monotony of tracing and cutting.

Once they were all cut I used a little glue to affix the red to the green and let them dry thoroughly before writing on them. I considered printing the words on the paper but I thought that kind of defeated the whole idea so I used a black gel pen and hand wrote my message.

Some I taped to packages, others I punched a hole through and strung them on jute string.

Out of just two sheets of paper I got a large stack of tags - more than I even needed for Christmas - so I have leftovers for Valentine's Day! (Or St. Patricks Day or May Day or...etc.) Not to mention that all my friends and family know that their gifts were extra special.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The running tally

If you are visiting from SimplyVintageGirl you have to excuse my total and complete lack of actual tutorials appearing here. I posted this when I was new to blogging and links and photos were just not something I knew about. I've made attempts to rectify that but feel free to browse about my other posts - I'm always making something and I hope you can find something you'd like to try too.

I'm not the only person advocating homemade gifts! I found a series of posts at Simply Vintage Girl dedicated to "a homemade Christmas" (hence the banner). If you click the banner you can visit her site.
Even though I'm still not finished with Christmas gift-giving due to some seriously inclement weather, here is a tally of what I spent my time on from October to December.
Photography alphabet collage x2
dried apples
toasted pumpkin seeds, shelled (yes...shelled)
oreo truffles x2
chamomile soaps x2
steampunked pens x8
decorated ornaments x4
cedar berry sachets x4
beaded ornament
bracelets x2
gear art
fireside basket
Oddly enough, I feel like I'm forgetting things. That's what happens when you have so many projects going on at once and they all require multiple steps to complete. Some of you, my friends and relatives, may be getting Christmas gifts from me in March - when I find them under the mound of craft materials now strewn about the house.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Something for the guys...sortof

As I've mentioned, I made nearly all my Christmas gifts this year. If you don't know already, let me tell you how difficult that is to do for guys. I knitted scarves, made paper flowers and jewelry and decorated ornaments for all the women on my list, but the guys? What do you make for someone who can recite the fine qualities of practically every motor vehicle available (including ATV's)? Who loves big tires, loud noises and grease? That is an excellent question. If you have an answer for me, please leave me a comment and let me know what it is.

But I'll tell you what I decided he might get a kick out of - something made from duct tape. I think I can count on one hand the men I know who aren't in love with duct tape. So thank goodness for websites like The Duck Tape Club and their list of project ideas.

I am actually quite impressed with the array of items that can be made from this wonder product. What I chose to make were the duct tape roses (I didn't have any Duck brand, sorry Duck Tape Club) also consulting this tutorial. Yes I made them for a man. I was making everyone else flowers why shouldn't he get any?

I used the silver color (because that is also the color of chrome, another thing he's enthralled with) covering the stems with the same color and even making a duct tape "ribbon" which I used to tie around the trio in a bow. He got a laugh out of it (and I got a "that's awesome!"), which is really what it was all about. And I learned that working with duct tape takes skills that I have yet to master. However I'm looking forward to trying a few other things! He's got a birthday in March, maybe I should start now...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paper whites

I love growing things - especially flowers. When summer and sunshine are over I mope a bit, I admit it. I get over it soon enough with the beauty of Fall leaves but growing things gets put on hold for...well, too long. Which is why I always grow some paper whites in a pot in my window. I grew quite a few of them this year and they were lovely! But now they are also done. *pathetic sigh* So what to do?
I was perusing the merchandise in the craft aisle at a local store when I spied a "stack" of paper already cut and ready to create paper flowers. The papers were all patterned and pre-cut and they looked very cute. However, I couldn't justify spending money on something like that so I went searching. Ah, bless the internet! And all their lessons and tutorials! I came across Jeffery Rudell at CraftSylish and his instructions for paper flowers. His designs are fantastic! [I already posted a link to his snowstorm idea - which I tried and loved.]

I did alter his instructions a bit, to suit what I had.

First, I used printer paper instead of his lovely vellum (which admittedly looks better and more delicate) and I also used the floral wire that is already covered. I simply applied some tacky glue to the bottom of each stem (and let dry) to hold the thread in place when I push the flower onto the wire.

I also cut each of the wires in half to make the flowers a little shorter, more natural looking (to me) and it also extended my wire supply allowing me to make twice the amount.

As a variation, on one bunch I bent the loop of wire that is to represent the pistil so that the flat side of it faces the front and glued a flatback faux gem.
You can also layer the flowers by cutting an additional circle larger or smaller than the recommended 3 inch and threading it before (if smaller) or after (if larger) the original size.

Now I have a bouquet of true paper whites which won't wilt (wow.).

Give a little hope and cheer (which is what flowers always represent to me) to your friends and neighbors by making a bunch and tying a ribbon around their middle. How lovely!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Second "R" meets Green Friday

I'm new to the blogging world, but I've found a few that I like to read - one of those being Mt. Hope Chronicles which I found through a friend of a friend (sounds very convoluted doesn't it?). Somewhat recently she posted an item about starting a "green Friday" tradition of getting out. I was in the middle of a copy edit at the time and I thought, "YES!" The sun was shining and the weather was pretty mild considering it was almost December. So I went out (not on a Friday, but that's beside the point) to just get up and out and look at nature and not a computer screen.
I gathered tons of stuff: mini sunflower heads, rose hips, acorn caps, cedar berries (or cones, whatever they are called) spruce cones, birch twigs, pine needles and loads and loads of moss in two colors. Everything I gathered I spread on newspaper in the shop so they could really dry out and hopefully all the spiders would crawl away. Since I had already decided to make all my Christmas gifts, I knew I'd find a use for everything; the following project is just one example.

Scented mossy...orbs...

[I apologize in advance for the poor picture quality - I was rushing since I was about to have a house full of guests.]

You've seen those balls or orbs all over stores and in magazines. They just kinda...sit there and are supposed to add some texture or shape to your decor. I thought it would be fun to make some mossy ones - talk about texture! Problem was, I didn't have the styrofoam balls that would just make this project so easy. And I wasn't about to buy them because I am not allowed to buy anything (a challenge issued to myself)- I have to make what I have work. (See my previous post). So how to make a round when you don't have any?

I started by finding a broken down moving box and digging out my set of graduated circle cookie cutters (biscuit cutters or even a drawing compass would work) and tracing and cutting those.

As you can see I cut four of each size.

I dabbed tacky glue around the edges and coated them with pumpkin pie spice just to add a yummy little scent to them.

Then hot glued them together in two's so that when I was finished I had two little stacks that look like mini layered cakes. Remember that you have four of each shape so there should be two of each size in each of your stacks.

If your carboard has wording on one side, glue the sides with wording face to face so that you just have plain cardboard showing when you are done. Now you can hot glue the two largest sides back to back to get a vaguely round shape. But don't worry that it's not actually round, you'll fill it in with moss and you won't even be able to tell!

Before I applied any glue, I made sure to pick through my pile of moss and choose a piece and eyeball where it would go. Then I applied hot glue to a small area and held the moss there, pressing not too firmly (so as not to squish the moss down) until the glue had a chance to dry a bit. Repeat that step until all the cardboard is hidden. You may have little gaps you have to fill in, just keep adding moss until it looks nice and full.
See the before and after:

(you're right, they aren't the same size - I made only one large and two slightly smaller orbs by simply leaving out the largest circle size)

And no, you didn't miss a step, those twigs in the photo are leftovers from the Pretty Ditty woodland snowflake project from the last post.

I made three since I like groupings in odd numbers and I also made one of them with a different color moss just to mix it up a little. Now I have a yummy-smelling bit of textural decor to give as a gift with no cost involved since I used all found materials and supplies I already had.

Just think what you'd have to pay for something like that in a store? But better than any store these are made with love!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snowing inside and out

Don't be alarmed - that doesn't mean there's a hole in my roof or anything like that, it just means I've been making snowflakes!

I found these woodland snowflakes over at Pretty Ditty and decided I needed to make some too. After yet another windstorm the yard was again filled with birch branches just begging to be made into something.

She used wood glue to make hers but I don't have time on my side at the moment and I dug out...the glue gun! DUNDUNDUN!!!

The only problem with using hot glue is the mess that it leaves behind. It's not exactly invisible and it always leaves those spiderwebby strings floating all over your project. Not to worry! Use just a little dab and make sure the glue has finished coming out of the gun before putting it down(I just envisioned everyone insulting their glue gun when I said that). The glue that is still visible I wrapped jute string around. Easy fix!

But the project is much more kid friendly without the flesh-burning glue involved. If you decide to also use wood glue, just be prepared to wait a while so they can set up.

I made six of these hand-sized (well, my hand anyway) snowflakes to give to some friends to go with their cabin-like, woodsy decor - just right! (said Goldilocks).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

At least it isn't a limerick...yet...

In the spirit of rhyming Christmas stories comes the Christmas crafter's poem-ette

My hands are all dried out
from knitting and gluing,
So many projects - wait! -
which one am I doing?
Ribbon and moss,
wire, twigs and beads,
Can I figure in time
what everyone needs?

This is what you get when a writer and crafter has to wait for the glue in projects to dry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Second "R"

I remember when I was a kid there were commercials that encouraged us to "Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!" to an odd 70's tempo. Odd music aside, it's a good thing to remember. We always laugh when we find the strangest things in Grandma's cupboards because she refuses to throw them away but reusing is a great way to turn your garbage into something useful.

These three containers once held chocolate, spreadable Swiss cheese (SO YUMMY) and humuus and are now ready to hold gifts thanks to some scrapbook paper and scrap items from around the house.

1. I had thoughts about giving up on this one, but I kept layering until I got something that looked decent. Using a brown paper bag and scrapbook paper/vellum I covered the sides and top. There was a seam in the paper bag piece I used on the top so I covered it with ribbon and added another ribbon piece just for interest. Using a stamp, embossing pad, powder and heat tool courtesy of my cousin Dawn, I made the floral, dark green design on a separate piece of the same paper bag I used to cover the top. I am a huge amateur at stamping and I didn't trust myself to get it right on the actual lid. Once it was stamped and embossed I cut around the design and glued it to the lid. I also used ribbon to glue around the edge of the lid to hide the expiration date printed there. And you thought it was just to make it pretty!
2. Using the container itself as a guide, I traced around the top, bottom and side (to measure width) on the backside of scrapbook paper. Then I cut and glued them to whichever side they were intended for. I did, however, pencil in the words "top, bottom, top side, bottom side" on the backs since they were all slightly different. Then I took some jute string and wrapped it around and tied it in a bow, using a dried leaf from an old floral arrangement as an embellishment.
3. Scrapbook paper again! (Funny. Especially since I'm not a scrapbooker.) This one took more time than the others simply because the box was all one piece and I had to glue in sections, sometimes slitting the paper to allow some give. If the box had been two pieces it would have been much easier, but it's what I had! Once dry, I glued some black ribbon (albeit crookedly) to one side and glued a gold leaf (cut from candy wrapper foil of all things) to add a little sparkle. I was impressed with how nice the black ribbon complemented the whole thing.

Sure there are some flaws in the finished product but I am not one of those people who likes cookie cutter perfection. Flaws mean character!

Now, go dig around your garbage/recycling pile and see what you can find.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

A while back (that's country talk for last month) there was a wind storm that knocked all kinds of fun things out of the trees. One of those things was this large birch branch that was just too cool for me to throw on the burn pile. Instead I kept it and decided to make a "tree" out of it.
The limb is hefty, but top-heavy so I used a very tall vase I had and filled it mostly with pea gravel courtesy of my neighbor George. The stem of the branch is too crooked and nobby to fit perfectly into the vase opening, so the pea gravel gives the bottom some interest and gives it some weight so the whole thing doesn't fall over on me or the cat (who was fascinated by my working on it, let me tell you).

Once secured I knew I couldn't adorn it with anything heavy or I'd just add to its top-heavy nature. My solution was lightweight sparkly materials that would turn it into something fun and evocative of the winter season.

In the craft room are little storage bins full of plastic faceted beads. Using clear fishing line I made a loop with the bead on and tied a simple knot. I did have to use my needlenose pliers at times as the line I had was really stiff.

My other idea was inspired by my friend's mom, Judy. She has "Victorian tinsel" that are little strips of twisted metal that are a wonderful, re-usable tinsel that you don't have to untangle or worry about pets or small children inhaling it. I didn't want heavy metal, but I wanted the look, so I cut strips of aluminum foil and curled them around a pencil. Once curled I gently stretched them out and folded one end over the branch I wanted it on.

My Charlie Brown "tree" really sparkles in the light like a natural tree with icicles. And since I used found materials or things I already had around the house, it didn't cost me a thing.

Note: If you decide to make your own aluminum foil tinsel, please know that your scissors will not appreciate the bad treatment, so don't use your nice sewing scissors or anything like that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let it snow

I had a hunter gatherer adventure in the yard a few days ago and found an abundance of little twigs with buds on them under the oak tree. They were so interesting looking that I figured I could do something with them. None of them had long enough stems to be put into an arrangement but I thought they might go nicely as a gift embellishment with my gold and copper oak leaves. The only problem with doing all this gathering from nature is that it usually looks a lot more Thanksgiving than Christmas. To remedy that I relied on two old craft icons: tacky glue and glitter. Glitter is usually one of those things left to children's crafts along with the popsicle sticks and wiggly eyes, but in moderation, glitter can be a nice Christmas craft resource for adults as well.
With a crummy paintbrush from a child's paint set I applied Aleene's Tacky Glue (I love Aleene's!) on the tips of the buds and sprinkled them liberally with irridescent clear glitter. Oddly the only "white" glitter I had was glow-in-the-dark and I didn't want to scare my friends with glowing twigs so I opted for the clear.
Now they have a "frosted" appearance much more appropriate to Christmas!
Frosting your findings works on any number of items to be found around the house. Just make sure to apply your glue over one surface and your glitter over a second with a sheet of paper beneath. That way you can pour the unused glitter back into the container for the next round.
If you're into making more faux snow at your house try this fantastic idea I found while browsing around paper craft patterns. Such humble ingredients become such great decor - I love it!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Put a cork in it

I became an accidental collector of glass bottles. My whole house would probably look like an
apothecary if I had them all out at once - but I have to admit, I kinda like that look. Rows of glass containing bits and potions. I don't know if I like that containment/organization or if I like how the contents of the bottle can make it so interesting, like a decoration itself.
Bottles are also great gift wrap! Fill them with the objects/substance of your choice, tie a bow and tag on them and there you have it.
If you don't already have some glass bottles they are easily found at craft stores like Michael's or garage sales or even Goodwill. Corks to keep the pretties contained can be found at craft stores, although I think mine came from Hi-School Pharmacy of all places.
The bottles in the photo are holding sunflower seeds, columbine seeds and...I'm drawing a blank on the third. Well that will be a surprise when I plant them! (and it's also a good reminder to label your bottles) All of the seeds I took from flowers growing at my Grandma's house. When I plant the seeds I will have living reminders of her and the beautiful yard she kept. [Problem for you is that there aren't many flower seeds still around in December - so write that down for next year and gather them in the fall.] "Living reminders" are a touching and thoughtful gift that your gardening friends will appreciate.
How about a message in a bottle? Make sure the bottle you buy has a large mouth and write a message or things you appreciate about a person, roll them up, tie them up and place them in the bottle. The recipient can take one out every day until they are all opened.
Have an herb garden? Fill bottles with dried herbs or herb salts. Or flavor an oil or make a vinegar and give them away in pretty bottles with accompanying instructions/ideas for use.
The only limits you have in using bottles are what can fit in the ones you have. So go forth and be creative!
When I wrote the title for this entry it reminded me of a quote I recently came across that I thought was a great: The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Free is a very good price

A few years ago I got into embellishing packages. Gifts themselves are great, but having someone say, "wow!" before they've even opened your gift, is a lot of fun.

Last year I used copper-colored paper and gold-colored paper and used flatback faux jewels, jewel-toned curling ribbon and even peacock feathers to dress up the tops of packages (thanks to my neighbor Liana who gave me a grocery bag full of feathers when her peacocks molted). The packages looked rich (in color, not necessarily cost) and sparkly and became a decoration themselves as they sat under the tree.

This year my color scheme is coming from nature. I have plain brown paper for wrapping (I already had some, but I also found some in the gift wrap/card aisle at K-Mart) and a spool of 1"green grosgrain ribbon bought for just over a dollar at Joann Fabric and Crafts. Now for gift tags! I've been buying the sticker kind since they are easy, pretty affordable and have some cute patterns - but that doesn't go with the creative and hand-made spirit! What I looked for was something I had available to me in quantity. Now what do I have available to me in quantity in fall....

I'm not sure why but the oak leaves stuck out to me from all the other leaf choices as the most Christmassy. I tried to gather them before too much rainfall to make sure the leaves I had were as whole as possible. Then I took my leftover spray paint cans from another project (I am the spray paint queen) and did two batches: one in gold, the other in copper. The gold leaves really stand out, which was good when I forgot to bring them in one night and there was a wind storm and I spent the next day hunting gold leaves out of the yard. The copper leaves simply look like a darker, shinier version of their natural selves. I could have left the leaves alone but I was actually hoping that the paint would act as a sealant and prevent any more decay. And don't worry about time, mine dried very quickly and I was able to get both sides done in under 20 minutes.

When it comes time for Christmas wrapping, I will affix the leaves with small ribbon or maybe a jute or cotton string. Using a dark ink pen, or paint pen I can write the recipients name on the leaf. So there you have a sparkly Christmas embellishment and gift tag all in one - and it didn't cost a thing!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An opportunity to be creative

There's a quote I've heard that goes along the lines of "a problem is just an opportunity to be creative." With Christmas coming and no income I have found plenty of opportunities to be creative lately.

Instead of fretting about not being able to buy all the things I see that my friends and family would love, I've busied myself making gifts for everyone on my list. I'm not talking about making one or two or three things like I've always done, but I'm making everything for everyone on my list (with just a couple of exceptions of items I purchased much earlier in the year).

The biggest challenge has been to come up with enough things to make! I'm a beader, but somehow I don't think my brother would appreciate a sparkly bauble. Just as I don't think my mom really needs another knitted scarf when she has half a dozen she's made herself. It's been a huge stretch on the imagination! But while a lot of it has been a lot of work (some of my projects I've been working on since early October) I've enjoyed the chance to make useful those things which would otherwise be wasted. And when my friends and family get their gifts they will know these things were made with love - I wouldn't have spent this much time on just anybody!

Over the next several days I'll be posting some of the projects I've been working on that will hopefully inspire you to look at the things around you with a new creative eye.

The wreath hanging on our door was made from an old beat up wreath form and clippings from our cedar tree along with a couple of faux berry sprays I found out in the craft room.
I haven't made a wreath in years, but it was great trekking about the yard, gathering my materials and then standing in the cold, crisp winter sunshine, building a little Christmas cheer for my family and anyone who visits.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gone Postal

Have you ever had a series of events collide causing you to start something new and then you like it so much you wonder why you haven't always done it? That happened to me over the summer. First, I was unemployed and driving a full-size truck with a V8. With gas near four dollars a gallon I went nowhere I didn't have to go.

While I was going nowhere I had plenty of time for reading! My friend Karen loaned me a book series by Elizabeth Aston based on the Pride and Prejudice universe. While only a couple of the original P&P characters crop up for cameos, I thought the stories were interesting and delightful. In them (and also in P&P now that I think about it) the characters are always writing correspondence. Did I mention I got a stationary set for my birthday? Can you guess where this is going? Letters! Old-fashioned, snail-mail, walk-to-the-mailbox tangible proof that someone is thinking of you.

How much garbage do we get in the mail every day? Credit card offers, magazines, credit card offers, bills, credit card offers. Who gets excited about any of that? But you can't tell me you don't get a smile on your face when there's an actual letter or card from a friend. So I started writing letters and mailing packages.

It's not as good as a face-to-face, but in an economic pinch it certainly is nice to be able to send yourself to visit a friend without the cost. One day I mailed a package to Germany, one to Arizona, and one to Beaverton. With ecclectic mailing like that I probably seem like an ebay seller but I couldn't have travelled to all those places for the price of postage.

Something about the personalization, seeing the handwriting and knowing that someone took time to first write you and then brave post office lines for you. It's a warm, fuzzy thing! And it not only let my friends know I was thinking of them, it was a lot of fun for me as well. Win, win!

I'm not a USPS employee or marketing strategist, in case you were wondering. But I do encourage you to let your friends and family "visit" with you with something personal, tangible, and memorable.


If you've never heard the term "steampunk" you're probably making the face that I made when I first heard it: one eyebrow raised in quizzical wonderment. When I realized it was a newish term to describe something I'd always found so fascinating I got all excited. THEN I found out that people were crafting all kinds of shiny goodies to embody the spirit of steampunk. I am constantly being inspired by other artists to incorporate new materials into my jewelry-making and clock gears became next on the list. Lucky for me my cousin Mario used to repair clocks and watches and has drawers full of leftover parts. He let me dig around in his shop and I got very dirty, but inspired. The results:

I ended up keeping this last necklace for myself! Partly because I needed it to wear at Halloween and partly because I knew I could do a better job next time. I do have your best interest at heart!

What was fun about Halloween (I mean besides the adorable kids that came to the door) was that I got to wear my great uncle Heinz's top hat from wayyyyyy back when. He was a magician and I'm not sure if he used this particular hat in any routines but there are a few clues that lead me to believe so.

The Steampunk Workshop will provide you with some steampunk inspiration of your own. JLH Jewelry sells some great steampunk pieces as well as plenty of other beautifully crafted wearable art. I've bought a couple of things from Jen that I just love!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An introduction

It's in college when you're suddenly living with other people who don't know you like your family does that you realize you've got some strange habits. My roommates started calling me Molly the Pirate when they pointed out to me how much I said "Argh!" It must have been my inherent pirate-ness or my mischievous subconscious that brought it out, but I still use it. The nickname and the word.
You don't have to ponder whether my name is something to arouse concern. No references to raiding, pillaging, plundering, pilfering weaselly black guts out or any other unsavory behavior. We're all clean pirates here. :)
Now when you get a thought, idea, epiphany it's like a sparkle, a glimmer, a lightbulb, a...shine.
Or maybe I'm just going to blab about some shiny jewelry...or...bit o' shine that I made. You just never know.

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Monday, December 1, 2008


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