Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Christmas in July Giveaway!

Hey, everybody! Let's celebrate the end of Christmas in July with a giveaway!
I have a set of never–been–used Susan Branch brass stencils, and instead of stashing them away for a rainy day, I want you to have them.

I whipped up the wreath card in about 10 minutes using water–based markers. I scribbled the marker onto a piece of acetate and used the tiny stencil brush to pick up the wet ink and swirl it through the stencil.

How to Enter the Giveaway  Closed
for Eight Susan Branch brass stencils, a mini stencil brush, and an embossing tool*:

Just leave me a comment and tell me what your favorite holiday is and why.

Our favorite holiday is Halloween. We're known as the Spider House. Our neighbors turn their porch lights off early on Halloween, but we keep ours on to lure in our "victims." My husband drilled a hole in my entryway ceiling to run a fishing line out to the porch. Why? All the better to drop a big hairy spider on your head. He streams the screams live over the Internet.

I'll draw from all entries for the stencils on Tuesday, August 7, at noon U.S. Central time. C'mon, you can still do Christmas in August!

Thanks for sticking with me through this crazy, crafty experiment,

*all products by Plaid Enterprises, Inc.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Craft Book Challenge Week 30: Putting on the Paint

I'm ready to put Christmas away (until at least November), but I'm so glad I got a few Christmas tasks finished in July.

My big task this week is to reclaim my dining room table. My husband telecommutes from the dining room. He has an office in the basement, but he likes soaking up the sun upstairs compared to wilting beneath the underground fluorescent lights. Our mission was to move him to an upstairs office while giving us back our table for actual family meals.

Enter the underused dinette. My kids no longer sit at the table to eat their cereal or draw their pictures. Now you're more apt to find a laptop there surrounded by snack food wrappers.

My husband wants to use the table as his desk so others can sit on the opposite side and keep him company as he codes.

I bought the table as an unfinished flat pack project and finished it with flat paint and furniture wax years ago. I've needed an excuse to refinish this table. Baby Suzy Q. gnawed the trestle, but the thought of stripping the wax made me live with it. Suzy is eight this year, so it's time to fix, update, and repurpose.

I've pulled my design inspiration from Puttin' on the Paint by Better Homes and Gardens.

Have you ever lived with flaws because the fix seemed harder than the flaw?


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Give a monkey a paintbrush and eventually he will paint a masterpiece (so you can too)

photo by Etolane on Flickr
Santa keeps a list.

I keep a list too, except my list is titled "People who will appreciate a handmade gift." I don't fault people who don't like handmade. However, it stinks finding out that trait right after you've spent countless hours knitting/sewing/painting them a gift.

I'm ashamed to admit that I have lied when asked, "Did you make that?" because my giftee likes the idea I went to a craft show and spent money on her more than she likes the idea that I spent time on her. Sometimes I even leave the price tag on (when I'm feeling particularly annoyed with gift exchange rules). Yes, I'm petty.

However, here's an idea even I would give to a hardcore consumer. Go buy a fancy frame (on sale) and let's get started making a Tempera Resist Portrait.

You can follow the original instructions here. You first need to know what your giftee loves. Family, children, pets, himself...? All these subjects are ripe for a personalized portrait. Choose a photo to immortalize, but keep in mind that the more simple and clean the background of the photo, the better your result.


Open your photo in a photo editing program and change it to black and white using the threshold adjustment.

Print out the black and white photo to fit your frame. Scribble on the back with pencil, and then flip the paper over and trace the black edges onto a piece of watercolor paper. The scribbled pencil acts like graphite paper and transfers the markings to the new paper.

Paint thinned white tempera paint in the areas you want to resist the acrylic paint wash. Let dry completely before moving to the next step. Don't worry about being too precise with the paint.

Wash over the dried tempera with an acrylic paint wash. When the wash is dry, rinse the watercolor paper under running water and rub away the tempera. 

Frame the dried portrait in your fancy frame and wrap it up for Christmas. This portrait (titled "Monkey Boy") is going to my brother.

Don't forget to sign your name.

I did my nephew's portrait in one afternoon. My brother will love his son dressed like a monkey in his favorite hockey team's color.

Any crafty gift horror stories out there?


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Christmas in July: Let's make some gifts

Here we are in the last week of July. Have you made any progress on your Christmas projects and gifts?

This week I'm working on my gift list. I am not a huge fan of gift cards. They seem impersonal to me. I will admit to giving them as gifts, though. Sometimes, I just have no other ideas in mind.

I thought a gift card might be more fun for me to give if my giftee had to work a little to get it. Plus, there is no guessing what is in a sealed can until you open it. Muwhahaha. Gift peekers foiled!

The last time I opened a can, I used an under–the–rim can opener to preserve the lip of the can lid. I measured the width of the original label and then washed out the can.

Since gift cards are rather generic, I thought a generic can label might be funny. I actually weighed a gift card (½ oz, 0.03125 lb, and 14.175 g in case you were wondering). I printed out a simple label and sprayed it with Rustoleum Crystal Clear Enamel to give the label a bit of gloss and water protection.

Now for the fun part. The original top of the can will now be the bottom. I filled the can with gift bag filler and popped in the gift card. I squeezed a thin bead of model glue on the lip of the lid and adhered the lid.
I used a glue stick to adhere my generic label to the can. I guess I could include a can opener with the gift can, but it would be more fun to see the giftee try to figure out where I keep the can opener (especially if he/she lives with me).


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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Add some spice to your gift giving

Sometimes, the presentation is just as important as the gift. I can make a bunch of spice mix for the grillers in my family, but how much cooler is BBQ spice branded with a personalized label?

personalized spice bottles dog family pet

Bob is our sweet little dachshund girl (named by my son) who loves to eat but can't. Hope springs ever eternal for the Big Ol' Baby as she munches down on her prescription dog food. For anyone who knows Bob, they can imagine her asking for a bite of whatever they're having. A Bob label makes even the most mundane BBQ spice mix special for the guys in my family.

So how do you make a personalized label? First pick a container. Small spice canisters can be purchased for 50¢ at most grocery stores. Measure the original label. I drew a box in my graphics program to the label dimensions. I then traced over a photograph of Bob to make a caricature for the label. Make it personal to your gift recipient using clip art, photos, inside jokes, special names, etc. Even the simplest graphics program gives you plenty of design opportunities.

photo caricature dog dachshund

Plain paper is just fine to print out the label with an inkjet printer. You can use sticker paper if you have it. I sprayed my inkjet labels with Rustoleum Crystal Clear Enamel to give the paper a slight finish. I've heard you can rub the label with white candle wax to waterproof it too.

crystal clear spray enamel paper label

I couldn't find my Goo Gone, which was good because I realized I could use the slight stickiness left on the plastic jar from the original label to adhere my new label.

spice bottle jar label sticky

Just roll it on.

personalized spice jar bottle plastic gift

I may make a fabulous BBQ rib rub, popcorn spice, and chicken rub to put in my jars as it gets closer to Christmas. Or, I may buy premade mixes and put them in the jars. It's all in the presentation anyway.

Did someone mention ribs?


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Friday, July 20, 2012

Civilization begins with soap

Men like to smell... good. Not like flowers. They like to smell like men. It's really easy to make a great smelling man soap from a regular bar of soap. It's the perfect quick gift to pop into a man's stocking.

I used the instructions found in Soaps, Shampoos & Other Suds. I bought a bunch of soap to try, but Ivory soap and Castile soap worked the best. 

Rebatching allows you to add all sorts of scents, oils, herbs, and scrubs into premade soap. Before you begin to melt the soap, gather your add–ins. I used almond oil, liquid lanolin, dried rosemary, rosemary essential oil, honey, coconut oil, and cheap cologne. 

The soap melts quicker if it chopped or shredded. I chopped bars of Ivory and Castile soap using a food processor.

Ivory soap for rebatching

Ivory soap chopped in food processor for rebatching

Put the chopped soap into a pot over low heat and add ½ cup distilled water. Keep stirring the soap until it becomes stringy and translucent. Actually, it will look like mashed potatoes. Ivory soap melts much quicker than the Castile soap. 

Remove the pot from the heat and add your additions. I added 1 tbsp almond oil and 1 tbsp honey to this batch of soap.

Stir the honey and oil until they're evenly incorporated into the soap.

Pack the soap into a mold. I used my silicone brownie pan with ridged bottom. I just hand–formed the soap into bars. Other possibilities include a shoebox lined with plastic wrap, plastic storage boxes, candy molds, and large–diameter pvc pipes. Anything can be a mold. I put reject food–coloring disaster soap into Jell–O egg molds. My nephews should love them.

bar soap ivory castile soap honey tea rosemary almond oil

In one evening I made:
1. Ivory soap incorporated with almond oil and cheap men's cologne.
2. Palmolive soap (which didn't completely melt) incorporated with moss green food coloring, almond oil, and cheap cologne.
3. Castile soap incorporated with a strong infusion of chai spice tea and coconut oil.
4. Ivory soap incorporated with dried rosemary, two droppers of rosemary essential oil, and 1 tsp liquid lanolin.
5. Ivory soap incorporated with honey and almond oil.

After an hour or so, the soap will be hard enough to handle but soft enough to trim with a knife if necessary. If you rebatch several bars of soap at once and pack them into a box, you can slice your bars instead of forming each by hand. I trimmed the chai spice tea bar before I wrapped it.

To package the soap, simply wrap it in tissue paper like a package. Label with a handwritten sticker or get all fancy and print it out or stamp it.

Most of these soaps are for my son, who has discovered that girls don't like stinky boys. He defined the soaps as 1. coconut bar, 2. gelatin cup, 3. ham, 4. corn bread,  and 5. sour dough bread. He did approve of the scents. He's just always thinking of food.


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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Women

It's easy to make little trinkets for women and girls. From little purses and pouches, to jewelry, notebooks, and lip balm, the only limit is crafting time.

I went back through my Craft Book Challenge Projects and found several that can double as small holiday gifts.

Need a gift for a writer? Try the Stab Binding Notebook,

Decorate the cover with a collograph print, collage, decoupage, marbling, stamping, etc.
the No–Glue, Folded Paper blank book,

the Mini Paint Chip book,

or the Monogram Journal (hmmm, I didn't realize I was that obsessed with handmade books).

Add a nice pen set, a tea cup, and some herbal tea for a lovely gift set.

Now, some ideas for those who like a little bling. The teen girls in my kids' fencing club (ages 12–19) really like my stretchy paper bead bracelets. My daughter wears hers all the time. I've gotten a few comments on mine too. Cover the beads with images from her favorite catalog or magazine.

When I dropped my stacked paper bead pendant, my husband rushed to catch it. He thought it was blue and white porcelain. (He needs new glasses.) All you need to add is a nice chain.

Envelope liners come in multiple colors and patterns. Check your junk mail for a free supply.

Every woman appreciates a lovely scent when she opens her closets and drawers. These paper mache sachets require a lot of drying time, so you might as well make several sets at once for gift giving.

I've been polling the men in my life for stocking stuffer ideas. They have no clue what I'm talking about. However, my daughter and I have brainstormed a few ideas. I'll give those projects a whirl and let you know what happens.

Hope you found a little bit of inspiration. Remember, Christmas is only 159 days away!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Week 29: Stocking Stuffers (and Holly)

Two weeks of Christmas prep accomplished and it's only the middle of July. Can you imagine how you'll feel when it's the middle of December? If I hadn't dedicated this month to Christmas, I know exactly how I would feel. I've felt panic in the middle of December for the last 20 years.

I dedicated Week 2 to the decorating for Christmas. This week, I'm going to tackle the stocking stuffers.

Before I move on, I have one more decoration to show you. While browsing through The Complete Christmas Book (published 1961), I found a pattern for interlocking holly. It's basically a holly leaf with a knob on each end and a slit to slip the "berry" ends through.

So I made a fun foam holly garland to hang in my kitchen.

I used four sheets of fun foam and got eight hollies per sheet.

It's hard to show Christmas decorating in July.

I also made a felt version of the garland to hang on my Christmas tree. I haven't had a different tree garland in years. I'm still working on the felt version. It's a great project to do while watching TV.

Here you can see the size difference between the felt and foam holly leaves. I cut a double slit in the felt so the red beads can interlock on each leaf.

Anyway, we have really big stockings in our family. Please put your stocking stuffer/tokens of appreciation gift ideas in the comments. Especially if you have ideas for men!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Super–Sized String Snowflakes

I hate snow.
I grew up in the upper Midwest where it starts snowing in November and ends somewhere around April. I spent enough mornings trekking to the frozen bus stop in the dark and returning home just as the sun was setting to have earned my hate.

During my ignorant youth, my brothers and I thought snowbirds were idiots because they couldn't handle the cold. I could totally be a snowbird now. 80° is paradise year round.

Snow, unfortunately, represents winter, which also represents Christmas. I don't like front door wreaths. They're too fussy for my entry way. So, what the heck. At least these snowflakes aren't cold.

The Internet is full of crochet snowflake patterns. I used a pattern from The Spirit of Christmas Book 8. The middle snowflake on the door is a Martha Stewart pattern. I grabbed a size H (5 mm) hook, a roll of twine, and a DVD and got to work.

My mom tried to teach me to crochet. You know how some people can't learn math? That's me with crochet. I have to look up the basics EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I pick up a hook. And then when you finish, an unstiffened snowflake doesn't look too impressive.

I drew a six-spoked guide using my 60° ruler, soaked the snowflake in glittery Stiffy, and pinned out the arms on a piece of foam core covered with waxed paper.

What's great about the stiffened string is that a pair of scissors and glue fixes all problems.

Stupid snow. Why do you have to be pretty?
All those in favor of joining me in a snowbird caravan to Tahiti this winter, raise your hands.