The mother of invention

It’s been quite a week here in Frogland. We had two first days of school, a kindergarten parent-teacher conference, and said kindergartener’s 6th birthday. Whew! All that stuff takes planning and preparation leaving me not much time to do anything crafty last week. But I did squeak one thing in…

Rana has an aqua-colored t-shirt that is in fine shape other than the very dark purple and obvious popsicle drip right on the front. I really try hard not to send my kids to school in stained clothing and we really needed her to have this shirt in her clothing rotation (anyone who hasn’t been following awhile should know that our financial circumstances are… well, let’s just say you’d be surprised at what this family of 5 lives on). What to do? Somehow we needed to camouflage that stain. What better solution than painting over it?

Not a big stain, but it's hard to miss

Not a big stain, but it’s hard to miss

T-shirt painting is a lot of fun to do and I love the results I get from a method I found several years ago. It’s a multi-step process, but in the end it looks screen-printed rather than the t-shirt painting you are probably envisioning from your junior high years. No neon puff paint here, my friends. Unless that’s your thing, in which case, by all means, puff paint away.

First order of business is to choose your design. You don’t want anything overly complicated unless you’re a whiz with an X-acto knife. Line drawings tend to be the easiest to work with. You can do a little photo editing on a real picture if you want or, as I did this time, just go straight to clip art. I found a cute little bunny that I knew would make Rana’s heart melt and printed it out in three different sizes. If you are not lazy like me, you could probably measure your available painting space and then size the picture accordingly. But darn, if that t-shirt wasn’t all the way across the cabin and I didn’t want to walk over there to measure it. Besides, I tell myself, that sheet of paper was going to get printed one way or another; may as well fill it up.

Next is time to gather your supplies. (Note: If you don’t already have these items, this wouldn’t necessarily be a frugal solution to hiding a stain. If I had had to buy all these things just for this project, I’d have been better off just buying a new shirt. As it is, though, this was a great way to make use of things I already had)

  • your picture
  • craft knife
  • freezer paper
  • masking tape
  • cardboard or some other surface you can cut on safely
  • fabric paint and small paint brush
  • iron
Freezer paper is NOT the same as wax paper or parchment paper, although it should be found in the same general vicinity

Freezer paper is NOT the same as wax paper or parchment paper, although it should be found in the same general vicinity

Rip off a piece of freezer paper just slightly bigger than your printed design. With the masking tape, tape your design onto the matte side of the freezer paper (that means the shiny side is down, folks). Slide the cardboard underneath and begin carefully cutting out your design. Here is where a little forethought comes into play. You need to decide if your final painted picture is going to be merely the outlines or a filled in picture. This makes a huge difference in where you cut. Whatever you cut out is what the end product is going to be. In my case, I wanted just the outline of the bunny, so I had to cut out the line; that also included the dots for the eyes and the little nose and mouth.

Cutting out the black line itself

Cutting out the black line itself

If you are cutting the outline, save all the little pieces from the interior of the design because you will need these to reconstruct the picture. For me, that meant hanging onto the little feet and tail, body, and the head (minus the eyes and nose). You will also need the “frame” of freezer paper around the design. I guess I should clarify there — you won’t need to save any of the printer paper (unless you want it for reference); it’s the freezer paper pieces that you need to hang onto.

Alright, once your design is cut out, carefully reconstruct it on the t-shirt, again with the shiny side down. That’s important! Check that you’ve got it placed right where you want it. You can undo it if you have to, but it’s better just to get it right the first time. Since the whole purpose of me painting this shirt was to hide the stain, I strategically placed the bunny so that its soon-to-be-painted ear would cover the popsicle drip.

Purple stain will be hidden in the line of the bunny's ear. Little feet pieces carefully placed.

Purple stain will be hidden in the line of the bunny’s ear. Little feet pieces carefully placed.

Now, you’ll need your iron. I turn mine on to “3” which is the setting just below where the steam kicks in, so whatever that corresponds to on yours. Once the iron is heated, carefully lower it straight down onto the freezer paper design, being careful not to fold over any edges or shift any of the little pieces. If your design is bigger than your iron plate, you’ll want to carefully lift and set down in any areas that weren’t covered. It only takes a few seconds for the freezer paper to adhere to the fabric. Once the pieces are stuck on, you can do a couple quick swipes of the iron to make sure that all the edges are really pressed down; you don’t want paint leaking under the edge.

Just prior to ironing -- you can see how the pieces don't quite lie flat, but they will once the iron hits 'em!

Just prior to ironing — you can see how the pieces don’t quite lie flat, but they will once the iron hits ’em!

After all that, NOW you are ready to paint! For painting, I really recommend the “soft” fabric paint. It will stay flexible with the fabric and won’t peel or chip off, even after several washings. Case in point: a t-shirt I made for Mr. Gren several years ago. He wears this every week, so it has seen the washer many, many times. Still looks great!

That there's a movie quote.

That there’s a movie quote.

I used three thin coats of paint to get good saturation and color for this little bunny. I didn’t wait the “recommended drying time” — just a couple hours in between. I did, however, wait a full day between the last coat of paint and removing the freezer paper. I didn’t want to take any chances that late in the game. The paper removal is very satisfying. The larger pieces rip up without any problems whatsoever. The tiny pieces may require the use of tweezers, but once you’ve grabbed a hold of them, they come right off, too. Genius. I don’t know who to credit for the freezer paper method, but it’s brilliant.

Peel away

Peel away

One cute bunny t-shirt where before was a stained t-shirt!

As far as she's concerned, this is a major improvement

As far as she’s concerned, this is a major improvement — bunny trumps plain shirt any day.

And just for bonus fun, did you know that you can bake a cake in a bread machine? We’ve had many interesting iterations of birthday cake since we moved to the cabin (no oven, peeps) as I’ve experimented with different ways to conjure up something that the kids would accept as suitable birthday cakeness. I used a regular cake recipe, removed the mixing paddle from my bread machine, and poured the batter in. It seems like a lot, but it does all fit and it doesn’t overflow during the baking process. My bread machine is an Oster — nothing fancy — but it does have a 1 hour “bake” setting (supposedly to set jam? Dunno). The cake took two hours to bake, which wasn’t a big deal other than I didn’t start early enough and had to stay up til midnight to babysit it. Of course, it comes out in loaf shape, but the taste and texture are great.

Loaf o' cake. Beautiful pink frosting achieved via beet puree.

Loaf o’ cake. Beautiful pink frosting achieved via beet puree. Mr. Gren took this mid-way through the icing process, so forgive the unevenness.

So what do cake and t-shirt have in common? It all goes back to that saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If we had a more substantial cash flow ’round these parts, I wouldn’t have been forced to come up with creative solutions to everyday “problems.” Have you ever been forced into creativity out of necessity? How did it turn out?

Comfort on the road

A couple of weeks ago we returned from our 3000 mile journey down to Colorado and back to see my family. Growing up, my family often made the reverse trek from Colorado to see my dad’s family in Oregon. Even with generous 80 mph speed limits in Idaho and Wyoming (because really, who wants to linger there?) (don’t get offended Idahoans; I lived in Southern Idaho for four years — you and I both know there’s nothing to see) (I’d soothe the egos of Wyomingites, too, except, well, I’m pretty sure there are more cattle than people) (Utah, you get a pass because, even though your scenery isn’t fantastic in that particular corner, it’s better than hundreds of miles of flat scrubland) — what was I saying? Oh yeah, even at 80 mph, 3000 miles round trip is a lot of ground to cover in a car with a seatbelt digging into your shoulder. We needed seatbealt pads and STAT!

This sounds like a job for…


Not that a few seatbelt pads were going to eliminate much of my fabric scraps, but I’m all about cheap as free and saw no need to buy new stuff when I could just as easily make it at home with the stuff I already have. Except for the Velcro. I ran out of Velcro.

I wanted a fabric that was soft yet sturdy (it’s going to be sliding up and down on a seatbelt and needs to not wear through), which is how I landed upon the sizable scrap of corduroy which you may recognize from this dress. It’s all well and good until the day when I wear that dress in the car and get stuck to the seatbelt like some kind of Sunday school flannelgraph. We’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.

Next order of business was to measure the width of our seatbelts. I used my soft measuring tape to measure across the front, around the back, and then allowed one inch overlap onto the front for attaching the pad to itself around the belt and came up with a measurement of 5.5″. I think most seatbelts are pretty standardized nowadays so you could use that, too, if you want to follow along and make your own.

So the finished cover is going to measure 5.5″ wide, but we need to account for seam allowances (of which I used a skimpy 1/4″, but you can add more if you want, just adjust all the measurements all the way around), giving me a width of 6″. Length of the pads is a little bit subjective, but I went with 7.75″ which seemed to cover the area that the seatbelt would come into contact with.  Got all that? I’m gonna apologize up front for the pitiful lack of in-progress photos. I swear I took more, but I don’t know where they are. Apparently figments of my imagination. However, it’s a pretty simple project and I have faith in your ability to follow step-by-step instructions.

Materials: thick fabric; quilt batting; Velcro
Finished cover: 5.5″ x 7.25″
Cut two rectangles of fabric and one of batting: 6″ x 7.75″
Cut two Velcro strips: 2″ (mine were 1.5″ only because I was trying to eke out as much from my Velcro remnant as I could)

1. Sew the batting onto the wrong side of one of the fabric rectangles.


2. On the right side, sew the two soft Velcro strips 1/2″ away from the top and bottom edges and 3/8″ from the left edge.

seat belt cover diagram

3. On the other fabric rectangle, also on the right side, sew the two scratchy Velcro strips 1/2″ from the top and bottom edges (be sure to line them up with their counterparts on the other piece of fabric) and 1/2″ from the left edge.

4. Place the two fabric rectangles right sides together (the soft and scratchy Velcro will be on opposite sides, NOT hooked together) and sew around three sides. Trim corners. Turn.

5. Press the seat belt pad and fold in the seam allowance on the unfinished edge. Sew closed.

6. Wrap around the seatbelts in your car and travel in style and comfort!


Yay, Wyoming.

Yay, Wyoming.

Bag lady

I have returned! My trip back East was wonderful beyond words. We didn’t really “do” anything other than just spend time together. It went by so quickly (well, maybe not for anyone else staying in the same hotel who had to listen to us), but it was worth everything it took to get there.

A couple of days before I left, I assessed my carry-on luggage options and decided that I needed a new bag. I had a small carry-on suitcase for my clothes, but I needed something that I could actually get into on the plane without thunking another passenger on the head, not to mention big enough to hold all my entertainment during hours of layovers. My purse doesn’t cut it. I like to keep my purse as small as possible. This bag needed to be able to hold my purse plus a water bottle, book, and small crochet project all while still looking like a purse so as not to arouse the ire of picky flight attendants.

I needed the body of the bag to be big enough to hold all the aforementioned items without being too big (Please store your personal item under the seat in front of you). Neither did I want it to be just one big cavern where small items would sink to the bottom making me That Person in the security check line. Obviously, multiple pockets were required to hold those smaller things. Also, knowing that I would be schlepping this thing through multiple airports, I wanted to have a long strap that I could wear cross-body to keep my hands free. This is more practical in my daily life, as well, when I’ve got to be ready to guide kids across parking lots and through busy stores. It needed to be a wide strap that could bear the weight of the bag without digging into my shoulder. With those criteria in mind, I spent some time searching online and I found two tutorials for different bags that I liked and created an amalgam of the two. I used the body of the Pleated Tote by Artsy-Craftsy Babe and the strap and pockets from the Olivia Bag by Dixie Mango.

Both of these tutorials are well-written, well-illustrated, and produce great-looking bags. And that’s high praise coming from me, because I’m not normally one to get excited about bags and purses.

Finished bag ready to fly!

Finished bag ready to fly!

So next came the question of fabric. Since it was only two days before I left, I didn’t have time to go to the store and I knew that I had enough in my stash. Sadly, the fabric I had in mind for the interior was actually yardage I had bought to make another blouse like the rose/leopard one of a few weeks ago. Why “sadly”? Because the print was terribly, obviously off-grain. That made it unsuitable for clothing, but for the inside of a bag — who cares if the stripes are a bit askew? I needed something heavier than just a plain cotton for the outside and, lucky for me, I had enough denim leftover from a skirt I made years ago (I think that was pre-blog). Well that was easy!

After cutting out pattern pieces, the first order of business was getting the pockets sewn onto the interior fabric. I made an easy pouch pocket for one side of the bag and sewed it down in little sections to fit my phone, pens, and pack of tissues.


But, the most fun was the zipper pocket that I put on the other side! I have never done anything like this before, but it went together like magic. More scrounging in my stash turned up this bright green zipper that I had bought years ago. It was originally intended for a dress, but… I changed my mind about the fabric and all of a sudden I had a bright green zipper with no immediate use in sight. Ah, but that’s why I save everything. The zipper was a few inches too long for this pocket, but a little zigzag stitching at the right length and *snip* Hello, appropriately sized zipper! The link to the zipper pocket tutorial is included in the Olivia Bag post, but I’ll give it to you here, too, just in case that’s all you’re interested in. Show me the zipper pocket!

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!


Two other features that I wanted for my bag that were not included in either tutorial were an elasticized pouch for my water bottle and a flap to keep the bag closed. The flap was easy enough to devise on my own, just taking measurements of the bag and sketching out a pleasing shape on paper to use as a pattern. I sewed it onto the exterior of the bag at the same time that I sewed the ends of the strap on, before attaching the lining.

The pouch for my water bottle wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it did take a little bit of advance planning. I measured around my water bottle, allowing enough for seam allowances and a slight bit of ease, and I also measured how high I wanted the pouch to come up on the bottle. It took a few pinning sessions to figure out the placement of the pouch within the bag. I actually sewed the side edges of the pouch onto the individual interior bag sides before sewing the bag sides and bottom together. The rest of construction was the same as the tutorial.


I found the outside a little plain in just the denim, so before I had sewn the exterior together, I cut out a little flower from the interior fabric and appliqued it the the bottom front. It’s not really “my style” necessarily, but it’s nice enough.


So how did the bag fare on the actual journey? Well, I packed that thing to the gills. And therein lay the only real problem I had with it: When I had sewn on the toggle button, I hadn’t taken into account where the buttonhole on the flap would fall once the bag was packed. I ended up really straining the buttonhole to reach the button. It doesn’t look so hot anymore. I’m going to have to reinforce the buttonhole and move the toggle button up higher on the bag so that it won’t be a problem for next time. Other than that, though, the bag worked beautifully. The strap gave nice support, the pockets held my stuff. The water bottle pouch was a wee bit flimsy so next time, I would interface it first to give it a little more structure. But all in all, I deem it a success! And was surprised to find that I had a lot of fun sewing it. If you’re on my Christmas list, you may end up with a bag.

Sock loom tips

As you saw last week, I recently finished my first pair of matching socks on my sock loom! One friend had been having trouble with hers, so I proposed putting together a little photo tutorial. This isn’t a comprehensive tute by any stretch of the imagination, but hopefully it will help differentiate between the knit stitch and purl stitch process. If it proves helpful, I can do more later.

First, I want to apologize that I don’t have beautifully lit, high resolution photos. I live in a log cabin, but as far as lighting is concerned, it may as well be a cave. There are two useable windows and they’re both on the north side and… you see where I’m going with this. After a long, painful and frustrating photo session involving Mr. Gren and myself and a lot of contortions and bitter muttering, we managed to get a few pics that should more or less illustrate what I’m trying to explain.

To start with, I’m going to make the assumption that, if you have a sock loom, you already know how to cast on. This could very well be a faulty assumption. If so, leave me a comment and I can show you how to do that next time (although “next time” is going to have to wait until I get the current sock off the loom). Right now, I am working on the cuff, which is ribbed. Ribbing involves alternating knit and purl stitches. In this case, I am doing two of each; if you want wider ribs, you can make them 3 knit, 3 purl. When I was making my very first sock on this (which I had to redo a couple of times and then it turned out the wrong size), I had a lot of trouble remembering whether I was on a knit or a purl. I suppose in regular knitting you would use stitch markers or something or probably, you would just be able to see where you had left off. But with the loom, all your completed knitting goes down inside the loom where it’s hard to really see what you’ve done. After having to go back and count from the first peg several times, I got sick of it and figured there had to be a better way. My solution was to line the outside of the loom with a narrow strip of masking tape and then marking the two pegs that would hold the knit stitches. Since then, it has been much easier to keep my place!

purl (6)

So first, a knit stitch. Lay the yarn above the loop that is already on the peg.

knit (2)

I’m working on the third peg from the right.

Then poke the hook from the bottom of the loop up to reach the working yarn.

knit (3)

Hook the yarn and pull it down through the loop, so now you have a loop on the peg and a loop on the hook.

knit (6)

Pull upwards with the hook and the loop on the peg will lift off. Gently place the loop from your hook onto the peg. Ta dah! Knit stitch done.


Purl stitch is really no more difficult. This time, start with the working yarn laying underneath the loop on the peg (I didn’t get a great picture of this, so you’ll have to use your imagination). From the top, poke your hook down through the  loop on the peg and hook the working yarn underneath.

You can see the working yarn laying underneath the loop on the peg.

You can see the working yarn laying underneath the loop on the peg.

Pull the working yarn up through the loop on the peg, giving you a loop on the peg and one on the hook.

purl (3)

Now, for me, I can do the knit stitch in one fluid motion, but at this point in the purl stitch, I have to take the hook out to change the angle of my hand. But the concept is still the same. Pull upwards on the hooked loop until the peg loop comes off and then place the hook loop onto the peg. And that’s all there is to it.

purl (4)

Lifting up and off

Putting the new loop back on the peg.

Putting the new loop back on the peg.

Knit begins above, purl begins below. I hope that makes sense!

Burn, burn, burn it to the wick

Before Guns n’ Roses was the hip new thing at the Little Cabin in the Timewarp Woods, Granota was all about Heart’s song “Barracuda.” I couldn’t help but sing this line to myself while working on this particular project.

Out here in the woods, we have frequent power outages. A storm kicks up and pretty soon a branch has hit a power line somewhere and we’re all in the dark. And I mean dark. And somehow, even though it usually happens in the middle of the night, the kids know instantly and start screaming. Last year, I dropped small pillar candles into tin cans to serve as nightlights. With the flame down inside the can, it’s not exposed to anything that may catch fire in the house and the can is able to withstand the heat. Of course the kids know not to touch!

Right before Sandy hit the East Coast, we had a sympathy power outage. But, all of our tin can candles had burned down into unusable lumps of wax. Not only that, they had burned so unevenly, that I couldn’t even drop a new candle in because it wouldn’t stand up straight. I had to rummage through the recycle bin to find a clean can to use for that night. The next day, after the power had been restored, I looked up how to recycle candle wax. I knew we still had lots of good wax and it seemed a shame not to do something with it. I also found instructions on how to make my own wicks.

The wicks had to be started a couple of days before I could get to the actual candle part. I have balls of kitchen cotton that I’ve used to crochet dish cloths that I thought would make pretty good wick material. From what I read, I needed to make the wicks almost twice as long as the finished candle. I measured my string up against the cans and cut off one long length of it. Then I had to soak it overnight in a salt-borax-water solution. I’m really not sure what that does, but everything I read said that this was necessary for making a good wick. Who am I to argue? I don’t know what I’m doing!

2 Tbsp borax, 1 Tbsp salt, 1 cup water, and one long cotton string.

After an overnight soak, I had to let the string dry thoroughly. I hung it up on the chimney where kids couldn’t get to it and the warmth would speed the drying process.

Day 3 I was finally ready to make candles! But first, I had to extract the wax from the cans. I stuck the cans in the fire to heat them enough to loosen the wax and pour it out into a $2 pan I bought at the thrift store just for this. I don’t have many cooking pans and I didn’t want to ruin one of my good ones! I’m glad I did it, because I’m not sure I would have been able to get all the wax out. And now, with a dedicated candle wax pan, I don’t even have to try. Efficiency and laziness all rolled up into one!

The can is not actually on fire, but it does look kinda cool.

So where was I? Oh yes, wax in a pan. Unsightly globs of half-burned candles.

I set the wax pan over a saucepan with water to make my own little double boiler. I didn’t want the wax to get too hot too fast. It didn’t take a terribly long time for the candles to melt and it was interesting to see how certain ones went faster than others. Once everything was nearly liquified, I had to fish out the old wicks and those little metal disks (wick holders? Is that a thing?). At first I tried using a fork, thinking that the hot wax could just drip back down into the pan while I scooped up the wicks n’ stuff. I didn’t count on the wicks also being thin enough to slip between the tines. Nor did I count on the fact that cleaning hardened wax from between fork tines is a pain in the butt. I traded in the fork for a spoon and that worked much better. When the wax hardened on the spoon, it was easy to scrape off back into the pan (Never ever ever ever put wax of any form down your sink!! I know, it looks like kool-aid and you might be lured into thinking it will always stay so beautifully liquified, but you would be wrong. Also, don’t drink it; you don’t want to clog up that plumbing, either. I have to say these things. Just in case).

Pretty! Not yummy!

The next step was to cut my wicks and dip them into the wax. They’re supposed to have a nice coating.

And we’re dipping…

It doesn’t take long for them to dry, but I hung them from this sophisticated drying rack just to make sure that they would stay nice and straight.

We’re state-of-the-art here.

Finally, it was time to pour wax back into cans. Oh, and for the record, these are larger than soup cans. I think they were pineapple cans in a previous life. At this point, my wax melting pan left a little to be desired: when I poured out the wax, a fair amount also dribbled  on the counter. Luckily, if you peel it up when it has cooled but is still soft, it’s an easy clean-up. Just toss it back into the pan to melt again! I didn’t fill the cans to the top because I purposely wanted there to be a good inch or so between the candle itself and the rim of the can, for safety’s sake.

At this point, my internet instructions diverged into two camps: those who advocate inserting the wicks into the still-hot wax, allowing the wax to cool and harden around them, or those who are proponents of letting the wax cool and then drilling a narrow hole through the hardened wax in which to insert the wick. I liked the sound of the latter; it seemed like less hassle. But I was impatient and didn’t want to be caught in another power outage without any viable candles. Into the hot wax we go! Well, not “we.” That would hurt.

As I predicted, this was a hassle. Of course the nice, stiff wicks instantly soften once they come into contact with the hot wax. After a little bit of trial and error, I found a way to keep the wicks up and centered without me having to stand there holding them, ’cause who wants to do that? I set them outside on the porch to cool overnight. They looked like they were going to turn out great.

Still hot

Less hot

Until the next morning.

Not what I had envisioned.

Every single one of them had a sinkhole right next to the wick. Obviously that’s not going to provide the most efficient burn. I needed to fill in those holes with more wax, but I didn’t get around to it that day. Guess what happened that night? Yeah, another power outage. With the help of a tiny flashlight, I found the least-sunken can candle and used that for the nightlight. Once I trimmed the wick down to a little over 1/4″, the candle burned really well. Success!

I’ve now filled in the rest of the candles and trimmed all the wicks so we are set the next time we lose power. If you have leftover candle chunks, I’d suggest doing this and keeping a few can candles around for emergencies. It’s not hard to do and it could be a real help, especially if all the flashlight batteries are dead because your kids keep playing with them during the day.

Yes, it used to be pink. Now the top of it’s white. Guess what? I don’t care.

A note on candles in glass containers: I had a few half-melted votive candles and a large jar candle that had burned unevenly. One site I saw recommended putting the glass containers in the freezer for a little while; the wax would then pop right out, ready for re-use. That was fine for the votives, but the jar candle had a lip that the wax couldn’t get past. I used a table knife to carve out chunks and that was working ok until I put my thumb right through the glass. Amazingly, I didn’t cut myself. The glass was very brittle from being cold and just cracked and broke like pieces of plastic. So if you do put glass in the freezer, be extra careful!

I had one decorative glass bowl with a candle in it that had also burned unevenly that I wanted to try to pour again. I set the glass bowl into a pot of water (lifted off the bottom with a metal jar lid so that the glass wasn’t in direct contact with the bottom of the pan) and heated the water until the glass was hot all the way through. I made sure that the water level was low enough not to spill into the bowl, but high enough to heat the majority of the bowl. Then it was ready for me to pour hot wax into it without fear of cracking it from thermal shock. It worked like a charm! I also ended up with a sinkhole in this candle, so I poured additional wax into it; it’s not quite as pretty now, but once I burn it for a bit, all that wax will even out again.

Hot glass, hot wax, A-OK.

Happy candlemaking!

From trash to treasure

Does anybody remember the show “Decorating Cents” on HGTV? I always liked that one. And I’d justify my TV time by folding laundry while I watched it. One of my favorite segments of the show was when they’d visit some antique/junk store in Minneapolis and show how they turned “trash” into “treasure.” Of course this appeals to me; I think it’s an inherited trait — my grandpa is a self-styled dumpster diver and is always finding new uses for old things. I’ve already shown you my tin-can lanterns and wine rack. I’ve also been known to make wrapping paper from meticulously flattened Hershey Kiss wrappers (just to wrap a cd; I don’t hate myself enough to make a whole roll of the stuff). I’m all about using what’s on hand! Which brings us to today’s project.

My kids have been acquiring coloring books like crazy lately and we’ve been running out of places to keep them. Time for a new coloring book holder. The supply list is pretty simple.

$1 for the contact paper, however much for Cheerios that we already ate, and scissors I already have. Cheap.

  • Costco-sized cereal box
  • Contact paper
  • Scissors
  • And maybe a pen for marking

I’ve also used large oatmeal boxes. The box just has to have enough depth to accommodate the width of the coloring books (or magazines or notebooks) and the cardboard should be somewhat sturdy.

Step 1a: Cut off the top flaps of the box.
Step 1b: Cut off excess height from the top of the box, leaving a couple inches above the height of the book for protection.

See how your box and book compare, size-wise

Step 2: Cut down about 1/3 off the front of the box to make it easy to remove the books (and to put them back, of course! Because that’s the whole point of this thing).

Ok, so I forgot to take a picture of the opening until after I'd finished it.


Step 3: Lay the box on the wrong side of the contact paper to measure out how much you will need to wrap around the entire thing. Leave an inch or so to fold over the cut edges and a couple inches to overlap on the bottom of the box.

Look! It's actual Contact brand!

Step 4: Slowly begin peeling back the contact paper and rolling the box over it to make it nice and smooth. Before you fold down the extra flaps at the top and bottom of the box, make a snip into each corner for the flaps of contact paper to fold over smoothly.

Inside top of the box

Bottom o' the box. I suppose you could cover the whole thing if you were so inclined. I am not.

Step 5: Fill it up with all those stray coloring books! Ta dah!

Ahhh, nice

Super easy and it looks so much better than just having a Cheerios box permanently on display. The contact paper makes it look nice enough that the kids no longer perceive the box as  fair game trash. Other boxes I’ve made like this have actually lasted for years, which is longer than some of their toys.

So there you go. Start rounding up all those flimsy books and magazines and make them a new home!

Here comes the sun!

It’s 80 degrees here today! Most people around the country saw 80 a couple months ago, but we’re pretty excited up here in the Pacific Northwest (well, to be fair on the Western side of the PNW; I know the Easterners have been roasting for awhile now). In honor of Summer and Sun and Heat, I made up a bunch of little hand fans today. These are so easy and fun to make, you’ll probably want a variety, too. They’re just the right size for tucking into your purse to take wherever you go that might lack air conditioning.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 6″ craft sticks (more slender than popsicle sticks)
  • Some sort of sturdy paper (wrapping paper, old calendar, stationery, etc)
  • Scrap paper
  • Thin wire (I used jewelry-making headpins because I already had them)
  • Good ol’ Elmer’s glue
  • Pencil
  • Something sharp like a thumb tack or large safety pin
  • Thread for tassels (optional)

Fan-making supplies

The first thing you’re going to do is mark each stick where the hole for the headpin or wire will go. Since these are such short little sticks, 5 will be enough to make your fan. Line them up and make a dot about one inch in from one end.

Then take your sharp instrument of choice and poke a hole through each stick. You may be tempted to just gently tap a nail into them, but you’re going to want to fight that temptation. The wood is so thin that any kind of force like that will split the stick right down the middle. I learned from experience just to save you the emotional pain.

Steady pressure wins the race

Once you have jabbed of all of your sticks, poke the wire or headpin through all five of them.

Just like threading a needle

Ok, I forgot to list one of the tools you will need: needle nose pliers. Use the pliers to snip off the majority of the wire tail and then bend the pokey end down into a loop.

Nice and neat = no perforated fingers later on

Now you’re ready to make your template! Spread out your fan spines into a shape that you like on the scrap paper. Hold it very still and trace around your fan skeleton and each spine.

Cut out your template and place it on the wrong side of your good paper. Trace around the outside and then use the template to help mark where the spines should be.

The bottom of the fan shape may need a little bit of shaping to fit around the wire ends on your sticks; I usually cut a sort of crescent ’cause it’s purty that way. Slick some glue along the spine tracings and then lay the sticks down onto the paper and gently press the ends into the glue. Then you can pick it up and smooth the paper against the rest of the length of the spines. Let it dry really well before you start folding.

And we're folding

In theory, each section of your fan should be equal. This could probably be achieved with high-tech gadgetry like a ruler. I didn’t feel like looking for mine. As you fold your fan, bring the sticks to meet each other, one at a time and ease the paper in between. When it is completely folded, you can give the edges of the paper a nice crease.

Now you can't even tell it's uneven.

You can get as fancy and frilly as you want with these. Different paper gives a different look. I’ve made them with fabric before, which is still pretty simple (Cut out your template with a seam allowance; sew two layers of fabrics together and channels for the spines; insert spines, ta dah!) , but I thought a no-sew variety might be fun to put up here. With a little coaching, even young children can do this.

Rana demonstrates proper fan usage

This fan was made from a heavy “artisan” paper (see all the little flecks of wood and stuff) which turned out to be a great weight for the fan. It’s sturdy enough that it won’t tear easily, but not so thick to prevent it from folding cleanly. This was not pretty enough for my girly-girls, though, so I used some flowery wrapping paper for theirs.

Three fans took about an hour of my time

They also requested tassels. You could fancy these up a hundred different ways: glue some lace or ribbon around the top edge, glitter, draw your own picture, paint the sticks. They’re cheap and they’re quick, so making up a variety won’t break the bank or kill your day. I made myself a special one after these three were done:

I'm a Beatles fan! No, really. I'm a Bea... oh, you got it. Ok.

Positive outcome from negative thinking

I am addicted to glass jars. I hang onto nearly every one that comes into my house. Pickles, jelly, salad dressing. It’s like a two-for-one deal! I get the contents and this fabulous, multi-purpose reusable container! The shelves in my laundry room are full of jars. A couple of months ago, I realized that the jar collection was getting out of hand and gave away a box free on craigslist. But there are still plenty to choose from (plus, we keep buying jelly). I needed a quick craft today and decided to do a little glass etching. I have tried my hand at this before and it’s really a pretty simple craft, especially considering the great results you can get! The two main things you need to do this are 1) something glass with smooth surfaces (a drinking glass, vase, mirror, whatever) and 2) etching compound. The etching compound is available at craft stores; I’ve only ever seen this brand:

Look! It’s even new and improved!

It comes in two sizes; this is the larger 10 oz bottle. I now have a lifetime supply of the stuff. When I went to Michael’s to buy it, I had no idea how much of it you actually need to complete a project. I was etching four drinking glasses for a Craftster swap and panicked, thinking that the tiny little bottle wouldn’t be enough. Good thing I had my 40% off coupon because this stuff cost about twenty bucks!! Let this be a lesson to you: Buy the tiny bottle.

Next, you need some kind of glassware. If you don’t have an abundant jar collection like I do or some drinking glasses that need an update, check out thrift stores or dollar stores, or finish off that last lonely pickle floating in its home of chartreuse brine.

There are two schools of thought for glass etching: One requires vinyl contact paper and an X-acto knife; the other requires some paper and fabric paint. It’s up to you, but I prefer the fabric paint method. Here are my supplies:

  • Glass container
  • Armour Etch
  • Rubber gloves (unless you enjoy caustic burns on your skin)
  • Fabric paint in a squeeze bottle
  • Paintbrush
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Paper (this is tissue paper, but I used printer paper the last time and it’s fine, too)
  • A picture!

I wasn’t in the mood to draw anything myself today, so I exercised my 2nd grade tracing skills and traced that butterfly like a champ! Really, you don’t have to be artistic at all to do this. You can also print a picture off the computer, just make sure it has good, bold lines. Once you have your picture, whether it be by tracing or printing, tape it to the inside of your container.

Oh yeah, you should have a container with an opening big enough to get your hand through if you go the fabric paint/tracing paper route.

Next step: More tracing! Can you handle it? This time, you’ll be outlining the picture with the fabric paint. This requires a little bit of “negative thinking.” In college, I always thought my art prof spent an inordinate amount of time on negative space, but it turns out to actually be helpful in my crafty life. Basically, whatever you want to be etched, needs to be left blank and whatever you want to remain clear, needs to be covered with the paint.

See how I went around the antennae?

Because it didn’t matter much to me how the pattern on the butterfly’s wings turned out, I just went ahead and traced straight over the top of the design rather than try to outline each of those little lines. Once you have your picture outlined, you need to give it a pretty healthy buffer of paint. This is to prevent the etching compound from accidentally etching anything else as you are rinsing it off. Yes, even under water, this stuff is potent!

One of the antennae got covered. Just use a toothpick to scratch out any mistakes.

Then, if you are ultra-paranoid like me (or, just stingy and want to save paint), use your masking tape to seal off around the edges of the paint. You can also remove your template picture from the inside now.

Set your jar aside for a couple of hours to let the paint dry. Watching it is optional.

Stretched your legs? Had some snacks? Got “Tara’s Theme” stuck in your head now? You’re welcome. Alright, back to work! After you lock up the kids. This is actually the easiest part of the whole process, but don’t forget your gloves!! Shake up your etching compound, ready your paintbrush, and slather your picture with the stuff. Forget coloring in the lines, just coat the whole thing, paint and all. After a little bit, the compound will start to foam. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. The longer you leave it, the darker the etching will be.

I left the butterfly for about five minutes. What can I say? I was anxious to see how it turned out. Keeping your gloves on (for the love of all that is good, don’t take off the gloves!), take your jar over to the sink and rinse it under running water. I use my brush to help wipe off all the compound. Once it is well-rinsed, peel off the paint and tape. This is kind of fun: it comes off as a rubbery exoskeleton of your picture. Wipe down the jar with a little window cleaner and admire your handiwork!

Ta-dah! Custom-etched glass!

You may take off your gloves now. And you should probably let the kids out, too.