Tag Archive | creativity

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?

Passing the baton

In high school, I ran track for one year. My dad had told me that I needed to try out for one sport. If I liked it, great; if not, all I had to do was finish the season. Given that girls’ sports at my high school were volleyball (too much pain), soccer (too many potheads) and golf (too much skill and equipment), the default choice was track. Good thing I liked to run. I wasn’t blazingly fast, but I could usually manage not to embarrass myself during a race. There were a couple exceptions; I still owe Erratic Elle for the 400 m that she had to run for me when I didn’t hear my name called. (Sorry!) My favorite race was the 400 m relay. My teammates and I practiced a lot on our baton hand-off, making sure we got it nice and smooth. I haven’t run since college, but I’m passing a new kind of baton these days.

My girls have always been fascinated by all my crafty pursuits and have always desperately wanted to join in. We’ve had a few failed attempts at crochet and the knitting looms. The eagerness is there, but the dexterity hasn’t caught up yet. I feel bad for them when they want so badly to be able to do the things that I do. Last weekend, they were pestering me to “do a craft” with them. Currently, their idea of “doing a craft” is to cut up a lot of paper and then glue and tape it all into interesting arrangements. I can handle only so much confetti before reaching my boiling point and I declare a moratorium on all “crafts” in a fit of neat-freak fury. So this time I decided to try something new with them.

I pulled three small scraps of fabric from my scrap bag, threaded three needles in bright red thread for easy viewing and sat down on the couch with my girls to teach them how to sew. There’s no way I’m letting them near my sewing machine just yet and I figure everyone should have at least some rudimentary hand-sewing skills first. Kind of like learning how to do multiplication in your head before relying on a calculator. I can’t say that our first little sewing session was all sunshine and roses. All three of us got frustrated at one point or another, but for the most part, the girls were enjoying it. They didn’t follow my admonishments to make small stitches and Granota had a tendency to get her thread tangled into fabulously complicated loops, but progress was made.

Granota concentrating hard

The next day, they wanted to do more sewing. Rana wasn’t content with just practicing rows of stitching on a scrap of fabric, though. She wanted to make something. Can’t say that I blame her. I cut a large scrap into four squares and she sewed them together into a sort of quilt for her stuffed bunny. Granota began sewing two squares together, but lost interest after around the third time she tangled her thread. It looks like 6 is about the right age for this kind of thing.

Rana working on her little quilt (and wearing her Easter sunbonnet that I made her).

Still, it gave me a sense of satisfaction watching my girls diligently stitching away at their little squares of fabric and loving it. It will be fun to see their skills develop in the years to come. And nobody will be out of breath or have sore legs afterwards.

Rana's running stitches. Not bad for her second time ever!

Survival of the most prepared

I suppose I’ve always had a bit of a survivalist instinct in me. I remember as a kid, sitting in my room, planning for the end of the world or some other catastrophe and deciding that the bathroom was probably the best room in the house to be. There’s water, you could pad the tub with towels and make a nice bed, and there was toothpaste to eat. I may not have thought that scenario all the way through… My plans have grown in sophistication since then and, while I’m not where I’d like to be as far as disaster preparedness is concerned, it is a lot better than counting on toothpaste for sustenance. The recent power outage brought to light (in the midst of the darkness, ha!) just exactly where we were lacking.  I also had plenty of time to reflect on how much knowledge has been lost thanks to our modern conveniences. Face it — we’re pansies. And ignorant ones at that.

Mr. Gren hauling up river water to flush the toilets.

The day before the power went out, I had just finished reading “Little House on the Prairie” to the girls. When we first started the series, shortly before moving to the cabin, I had pointed out to the girls the way that the Ingalls did things that are different than how we do them nowadays. More people have lived without electricity in the whole history of the world than currently live with it and the human race didn’t die off for lack of toasters or hair dryers (solution to both: Fire). Rana was ready to smoke meat in a log and wash our clothes in the river months ago. While dipping my hands in glacier water is not my first choice of ways to spend a day, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And there are better “primitive” ways of doing laundry than that, too.

Melting a pot full of snow to use for washing hands and dishes.

I started making a list of things that would have been helpful during those four days. In the case of laundry, we could put that off, but if we were going to truly prepare for a prolonged outage or a Volcano-Tsunami-Earthquake Trifecta (oh yeah, we get it all in the PNW), a large washtub would come in handy for a lot of things. While I did manage to cook a few meals in the fireplace with my solitary cast iron skillet, it was not an ideal situation. As imposing as that fireplace is, it’s not really set up for cooking. In order to really make it work, the mouth would need to be much larger to accomodate a hook and arm and so I could see what the heck I was doing. My family appreciated the warm pancakes I made, but they came out looking like Othello chips, although I think they tasted better, especially with butter and maple syrup. The cabin would have stayed a lot warmer if it were smaller, like the Ingalls’. If the well had a hand pump, we would have had less trouble getting water. Lots to contemplate for the day we get to move into our own house, whenever that may be.

No grill? No problem. I used my cookie cooling rack. It's a little worse for the wear now, but it served its purpose well.

So what business does all this survivalist-apocalypse talk have on a crafting blog? Creativity is the link. It takes a certain amount of creativity to figure out how to cook, read, and wash up with no power. What do you eat? How do you stay warm? How do you provide clothing and blankets? It’s that can-do attitude that so many crafters possess that has helped progress civilization as we know it. Something that began as a necessity (ie. I need a covering to stay warm), evolved from mere utilitarianism into works of art (intricate afghans and colorful quilts). I enjoy making things for the challenge of seeing if I can do it and also to see if I can improve some aspect of our lives through my craft or innovation, and then bring a bit of beauty to our home in the process. The “simple living” movement has tapped into this growing realization that centuries worth of knowledge has fallen by the wayside. Self-sufficiency isn’t goofy. Maybe you will never need to put up food for the winter or mend a pair of shoes to make them last, but wouldn’t it be good to have that knowledge, just in case?