Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crafty Weekend

This weekend I did a couple crafty things that I had never done before. The first was that I took a candle-making class and poured my very own soy candle. The process was very easy, because the teacher already had the wax all melted down, so we just basically poured a layer, waited for it to set, then poured another layer. I thought it was a blog-worthy project, because I learned a few things that I hadn't known before. The first was that regular paraffin-wax candles come from oil, and that buring them is kind of like burning deisel fuel in your living room. Apparently doctors recommend not burning candles if anyone in your home has any kind of respiratory problem because of the indoor air pollution. But, soy candles are not a problem like paraffin candles are. I snagged a list of benefits off a random website for you to peruse:

Soy candles are cheap - Beeswax is a great natural alternative to paraffin, but to get the same results as a soy-based candle, it is very expensive.

Soy wax is a new alternative to paraffin wax that is cost effective. Soy wax is also made from a renewable source.

Soy wax is all-natural - Soy wax is a favorite of environmentally conscious people because it is not made from petroleum, like paraffin candles. Burning of soy candles does not increase the CO2 level in the atmosphere.

Soy candles last longer - They can last up to 50% longer than paraffin candles.

Soy candles spills are easy to clean - It's very difficult to remove paraffin wax from furniture or textiles. Soy wax spills can easily be cleaned up with hot soapy water.

Soy candles produce less soot - Soot should be avoided because it is very unhealthy and can eventually coat furniture and walls. Soy candles produce about 90% less soot that paraffin candles.

Scented soy candles distribute more flavour - The incorporation of soybean oil lowers the melting point of the candle, which translates into cooler burning candles and faster scent dispersion.

Amen to that last one...I was surprised to hear that the candle I made in my little mason jar might have 70-80 hours of burn time.

Ok, on to last night's craftiness. I went to a knitting bee. Ok, actually it was more like trying to learn to knit in the middle of a drunken riot, but that was just because one girlfriend had too much sangria, and another guest was just the loudest person on the face of the earth. And also quite intoxicated. But I persevered in my craft and came away with some Crazy Phat Knitting Skillz.

but I learned how to knit. This is not something I would ever attempt to explain with words or drawings. But I thought that next time I start a project (which won't be for a while, since I started another one today that will take at least a week to complete) I might attempt video-taping the three basic knitting stitches and posting a video knitting tutorial. Because it's really not hard, but I definitely needed someone to show me a few times how to do each maneuver before I could do it on my own. Then this morning I had to run out for yarn and knitting needles, because I knew if I didn't practice some more, I'd completely forget everything in less than a week.

So, that's a subject for another blog...for now I'll just post a picutre of the proof that I knitted something. I was going for a dog scarf (I don't have a dog, but it was small and I couldn't think of anything else to make it into) but I had to just be happy with a 6" x 3" rectangle because it took about 3 hours for me to complete that! And my knitting tutor was trying to teach me how to "bind off" the end...but I didn't quite catch it because she just took over the project and finished it up herself. At the end of the project I'm on now, I'll have to take it over to her house and have her show me again, in slow motion, so I can practice that skill as well. I was pretty impressed the space of an hour last night she taught me how to "cast on" stitches, how to knit, and how to perl. Woot!
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Seasonal Wreaths

I have noticed a trend on this blog...we something we like and figure out a way we could make it cheaper. That is the same theme of this tale. This past spring, I found a Making Memories wreath kit on sale at Target. It was being clearanced at 9.99, but had originally been over $20. I realized it was a simple concept. Cut small squares of patterned paper. Place pictures on them. Place a frame over those pictures (cut a square out of a square). Adhere. Attach a ribbon to the top of each matted and framed picture (via a hole or staple). Tie the ribbon to a wreath. Voila. So, I made my own, sans kit for summer and fall. I got the wreaths when they were on sale at Hobby Lobby for half-off. So, the whole project costs less than $6 when you do it that way. On the fall wreath I just completed, I used my coluzzle templates and blade (available at most craft stores) to cut out the circles and it made the process much faster. On the summer one, I weaved in some of that sparkly garland that they always sell for various holidays that looks so fun but I have previously never been sure what to do with. Also, I have found that you need to use more than a typical adhesive runner to attach the pictures. The sun tends to make them peel away from the paper. I have used brads and staples to secure them.

I Ain't Afraid of No Manual Labor!

Alright, Gina...this one's for you!

A couple years ago, I got so sick of the astroturf (yes, I said ASTROTURF) that someone had long ago laid on our front porch, that I ripped it off. And was left with a giant glue-stained slab of concrete. It wasn't pretty. We needed a new plan. I went to the tile shop and was told that porcelain tiles work just fine on outdoor areas. So I jumped right in. I rented a wet saw, bought the tile, thin-set & grout and was on my way.

This past winter, the corner tile came up...maybe because I've bumped into that corner with the lawnmower countless times. Anyway, you have to wait for a certain type of weather (no rain for 72 hours, temps between 55 & 80) to work with tile, especially if you're an amateur like me. So while I was waiting, the tile next door also popped up. Too many piano students walking on my porch, I guess.

But this past weekend, I finally had the right weather and enough time to do the repair. And if I can lay tile, YOU can too!

The only stumbling block I had was not being able to get the same color grout, because they discontinued it. But it hadn't really dried true to color anyway, due to my husband using way too much water washing the grout off the tiles when I originally laid them. So I picked a grout a couple shades lighter, and I don't think you'd every know that the two corner tiles had to be repaired.

The hardest part about laying tile is mixing the thin-set and the grout. They should be about the consistency of peanut butter. And in order to mix them in large batches, you have to buy this giant beater thing that you hook to a drill (we burnt out 2 drill motors mixing like this, so I don't know what we were doing wrong.) But it's next to impossible to mix large batches by hand. For the repair though (Thank God), I mixed up just a small batch by hand. The whole repair took less than 20 minutes on two consecutive days. (The thin-set has to dry 24 hours before you can grout). The lady at the tile store asked me if I had used the new mortar that is supposed to be better for outdoor areas, but when I bought supplies at her store two years earlier, no one had mentioned it. But if you want to do an outdoor area, you might ask about it. Also, you should use sanded grout (as opposed to un-sanded) for outdoor tiling projects. The wet saw was a little intimidating, but you have to use one for porcelain tile. For ceramic, I guess you can just score it with a utility knife, then knock it in half. But I think the saw made really clean edges, and it wasn't hard to use. So don't be scared to tile. Brain surgery it ain't...but your body will be hurting the next day!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mob of Monkeys

In other craft fair news, I've been busy making sock monkeys this week. I had a dozen "red heel socks" tucked away in a basement craft drawer (they've been there since maybe 2003) so I figured I'd turn them into sock monkeys to sell. They are very easy to make, only requiring about 10 minutes each on the sewing machine to make each appendage. Then you stuff everything and hand-stitch the whole thing together. I went for embroidered eyes on these, since I don't want to take a chance on selling one to a dumb lady who might let her baby eat button eyes off and choke to death. If the baby eats the string eyes off...well, that will eventually come out just fine, in more ways than one.

So I could give you a step-by step on the instructions, or I could just show you the instructions that come with every package of these socks. I think I'll be lazy and go for that. Here's the big secret you need to know to make sock monkeys: they ONLY sell Red Heel Socks at Farm & Fleet. You will not find them at any craft store or any department or discount stores. Just Farm & Fleet. I'm sure you could turn out really cute monkeys using other socks, too...I'll have to try that next time. The offical instructions also contain directions on how to make either a little monkey had or a monkey fez, but I just went for the basic monkeys this time. Now I just have to throw them all in the washer so they don't smell like our musty basement any more!
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

What I've Been Up To Lately.....

So every so often I get an itch to create stuff to sell. My latest nudge came from a moms' group that I belong to. They decided to host a "vendor sale" in November for all the moms who have at-home businesses to come and peddle their wares. I don't actually have an at-home craft business, but seeing as how I can't exactly peddle my actual at-home business of piano & voice lessons at a vendor sale, I just made one up. And voila! "Trinkets and Trappings" was born. (Yeah, the fact that I had to come up with a name was kind of lame since I don't plan on this being a regular thing, but they wanted something to call my table at the sale. And "Nicole's Crafty Stuff" didn't sound like it would draw in many shoppers. So, I went to the on-line thesaurus to look up synonyms for "jewelry" and "accessories" then picked two that would make an alliterative title. Anyhoo....)

The thing I've been making lately for this sale is kiddie aprons & smocks. I actually have 3 styles, but one was a little too complicated to photograph well for this forum. So I'm giving you the two easier styles. The first is this two-sided beauty. They're both reverseable, with the inside fabric being the same as the pocket I attached. The ties come out the side seams, so it can be put on with the blue side facing out or the Winnie the Pooh toile facing out and the ties will work exactly the same.
This one was made with a full back. So it's not only reverseable inside-out, but you could actually put it on backwards and it would fit exactly the same. These were both made to fit 12-24-month-olds, so it looks like a real shorty-smock on my 4 1/2 year-old, but you get the idea. On the right-size kid, the hem should hit somewhere in the mid-thigh-to-knee range. To make either of these, make a pattern out of newspaper (you could trace a tank top, then add another 6 inches to the bottom that flare out at the sides. Hold the pattern up to your kid before you cut the material so you can make changes to it if necessary.)

Cut out two pieces of each fabric, then sew the matching pieces, right sides together, at the shoulder seams. I should mention that I picked a cute cotton print fabric and a heavier canvas or denim fabric for the other side, just so the apron would actually have a chance at being thick enough to catch whatever is spilled on it. My sister said that there is also some sort of scotch guarding/waterproofing stuff you can buy to treat the fabric, so I might look into that, too. Ok...back to the instructions: Cut a rectangle of the fancier fabric, and turn the edges in with an iron if you want a pocket for the other side. Stitch the top of the pocket or sew bias tape over the raw edge. Pin the two one-sided smocks together at the shoulder seams (still right sides together), then pin down each side and at the hem. Once it's pinned, cut 4 lengths of ribbon (about a foot long each) and slip them inside the smock (2 in the front half and 2 in the back.) Pin them so they hit at the wait of the apron . The ribbons should be inside the smock, with just enough sticking out each side so you can sew it securely into the side seams, and so you can see that the ribbons line up on the two sides when you fold the smock flat in half.

Stitch the entire way around the outside of the smock. Use the open neckline to turn it inside-out. Iron the smock flat and pin the sides and neckline. Top-stitch the entire way around the outside of the smock, then stitch around the edge of the neckline. Pin bias tape over the neckline seam and stitch that in place. Go have an ice cream sundae. You deserve it!
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Here's apron style #2. This one is a little easier to make. I put a shirt (size 3T) under an apron that I intend to fit the 12-24-month-old crowd. Just so you can see how it would be pretty easy to lay out a shirt a size or two bigger than the ones your kid actually wears and draw out an apron shape on newspaper that you could use as a pattern for this project.

It's sewn pretty much the same way as the first style of aprons. First doing the front pocket, then laying the first side face-up and pinning the neck ribbon & side ties in place (pointed in toward the middle of the apron), then laying the second side on top of the first one so the two sides have their right-sides together. Stick all but a small portion of the hem, turn inside out, iron & top stitck all the way around to finish.

If you were really ambitious, you could put a pocket on both sides, but I figure it's really just for decoration on the "boring side". I mean, how many preschoolers are actually going to carry around their paint brushes or wooden spoons in their big pocket while cooking or crafting? Speaking of that though, I thought this would make a really good birthday or Christmas gift for a little kid if you had the apron pocket full of paints, brushes, markers or other various crafty stuff. Cute and practical!
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