Tag Archives: Gifts

I Heart Cinco de Mayo

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First heart I made!

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! I’ve had this project in my back pocket for months, but I decided to wait until today before sharing it, because, you know, it’s Cinco de Mayo.

Way back in mid February, we took a trip to Tulum, Mexico with friends. We had an amazing time. We relaxed on the beach, snorkeled in beautiful cenotes (freshwater limestone pools and caves), visited Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, and ate lots of good food. We spent a couple of evenings in the town of Tulum, where I couldn’t resist doing a little shopping in the market stalls. Not only were there pom pom garlands in all sorts of fun colors (and I’m a sucker for pom poms), there were these adorable hearts, made of felt and hand embroidered. Needless to say I became a little obsessed with them. I ended up buying two hearts and a pom pom garland the night before we flew home to stuff in my suitcase as keepsakes. I love ’em!

A pom pom cart in Tulum, Mexico.

Well, those hearts soon became the inspiration for this cute project. I love making these hearts for so many reasons. One, they allow me to use up some of the scraps from thrift store sweaters I bought a few years ago and felted for various projects. Two, embroidery is so easy to pick up and tinker away at whenever you have a spare moment. Three, this project is also small, so it’s perfect for stuffing in a tote or purse and taking along to soccer games or public transit commutes. And four (this is my favorite reason), they provide the perfect use for all that polyfil my dog pulls out of her chew toys…reusing and recycling at its best!

Heart Instructions

To make your own hearts, you’ll need the following.

  • Wool sweaters or felt, in any color
  • Large heart cookie cutter (the one I use measures 5 inches across)
  • permanent marker
  • small embroidery hoop
  • crewel embroidery yarn in a variety of bright colors
  • embroidery needle
  • scissors
  • polyfil stuffing
  • pom pom
  • tassel

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Using the cookie cutter and permanent marker, trace two heart shapes on the wool or felt.

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Center one of the hearts in the embroidery hoop, pulling it as taut as possible.

Use different colors of crewel embroidery yarn to embroider a design of your choosing. (Before you begin stitching, practice drawing possible designs on paper if that helps you solidify a design.)

As you stitch, try not to get too hung up on your embroidery skills or worry about how your design is coming along; Keep adding to it until you like what you see. (Need to brush up on embroidery stitches? Check out this site. )

Once you’re happy with your design, remove the embroidery hoop and cut out the two hearts (the one you embroidered and the one you did not).

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Stack the embroidered heart on top of the unstitched heart. Sew a quarter inch seam along outside edge of the hearts, but leave a 2 inch section along one of the sides unsewn. This is where you’ll add the stuffing.

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Push the polyfil stuffing through the hole. Use enough to give a puffy dimension to the entire heart.

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Stitch the opening closed.

Chose a complementary color of yarn to create a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge of the heart. Here’s a quick how-to.

 

Use yarn to sew a pom pom and tassel to the bottom of the heart. Here are instructions for making a tassel

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Sew a loop to the top of your heart for hanging.

 

Last but not least, find the perfect place to hang your heart. I love how they look on door nobs, window closures, or as Christmas ornaments. Or better yet, give them to a friend!

Happy heart making! If you like this project, then definitely check out the other cool crafts made from recycled sweaters in the Craft-A-Day Book!

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Origami Bags: A Little May Day Cheer

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Happy May Day, all! And what a picture perfect day it is here in the Twin Cities. After biking the kids to school through spring showers, the clouds cleared and the sun shined through.  What makes this weather all the more sweet is that a mere two weeks ago we had snow up to our knees!

I thought it was fitting to celebrate the long-overdue arrival of spring with a new craft project: the Origami Market Bag. (I couldn’t resist hanging it on the front door with a bouquet of flowers, by the way. It reminds me of a modern May Day basket. For years my mother-in-law has exchanged May Day baskets with her neighbor, and I love that tradition. One of these days I’ll get my act together and surprise my own neighbors!)

Anyway, I’ve been a bit obsessed with making these bags lately, and it all began with a lovely linen tote bag that I picked up in Vietnam last month. It is such a simple yet elegant design, that as I was eyeing it in the shop my mom said, “you know, this would be pretty easy to make…” Just like that, the seed was planted. I did buy the bag, and I love it, especially the red tassel that adorns the front. But I had to make one (or two, or three…) myself. A couple of weeks later as I dug through piles of patterned fabrics at the textile garage sale, I had these bags on my mind.

I found a couple of bundles of coordinating fabrics for 1 or 2 dollars each, and I couldn’t wait to get home and sew up some origami bags. I found great instructions for how to make an origami bag here, at VeryShannon.com.  I made the first bag using a polka dot upholstery fabric and a much lighter weight striped fabric, following the instructions pretty much to the letter (although I did make a slightly longer handle).

The bag turned out well, and it was fun to make. I love how it’s big enough to sling over one shoulder and take to a farmers’ market. But, just like any other project, I was interested in trying a few things differently the next time around. I wanted to make a bag with a liner and I thought it would be fun to size it down a bit.

I also had some trouble with the heavier fabric I used for the first bag…it didn’t have the drape I was after and it made for some bulky seams that were challenging to sew. So I unearthed (I almost mean that literally…you should see my fabric stash) this blue and tan coordinating set of much lighter weight upholstery fabrics, one in floral and one in leopard print, that I had picked up for almost free at the local Goodwill outlet. Then I used the heavy polka dot fabric for the handle, where its sturdy stiffness would come in handy. The second “mini market” bag turned out pretty cute. Okay, I kind of love the result.

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I’m still fine-tuning, of course. I’ve already cut the pieces for my next attempt, which will be in a striped linen and cotton floral. You can see the beginnings of it here:

I’m so excited to finish this one, which will be more in line with the weight and size of the original bag. I’ll keep you posted on my progress! If you’re looking for a little crafty inspiration yourself, check out my latest release, The Craft-A-Day Book! Happy Spring!

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For the Love of Lanterns

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My favorite traveling companions indulged me in a photo in front of  just a few of the lanterns we saw in Hoi An. 

It’s been a week since my family and I returned from an epic trip to Vietnam. In a span of 10 days we covered a lot of ground, traveling from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, jumping up to the central coast towns of Hoi An, Danang, and then over the mountains to the imperial city of Hue, and then flying on to Haiphong in the north to catch a junk boat tour through Lan Ha/Halong Bay before traversing over to Hanoi for the final day of our stay. Everything, from the delicious food and kindness of the people to the breathtaking scenery and colorful cities with their frenetic pace, was entirely unforgettable. So to narrow down the experience to a single favorite moment seems nearly impossible. Instead I’m going to pick the one memory that makes my craft-loving soul sing: making silk lanterns at the Handicraft Workshop in Hoi An.

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The Handicraft Workshop, Hoi An.

My youngest son found mention of the Workshop in a guidebook and added it to his list of things to do in Hoi An. Hoi An, an ancient port city, was part of the Silk Road long ago. The port eventually silted up, but the architectural and cultural influences brought to the city from traders throughout Asia and beyond remain. The result is a perfectly charming old town–narrow lanes divide the ancient store fronts that are home to shops, coffee houses, and restaurants today.

By night, colorful silk lanterns brighten the streets, transforming Hoi An into an outdoor party (with plenty of tourists in attendance!).

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Hoi An street at night.

Just before dusk on our first night there, we found a restaurant with a second story balcony and ordered dinner. Then we watched as the daylight began to fade and the lanterns came to light. On the river below us, row boats filled with tourists floated candles on the surface of the water. It was nothing short of enchanting.

So it made perfect sense to seek out the Handicraft Workshop and make lanterns on our second day in Hoi An. The process was pretty straightforward and we had plenty of help from the instructors. My two boys, who are 13 and 11, had no problem making a lantern on their own. Each of us selected a color and we were given pieces of silk, a bamboo lantern frame, a tassel, and two finishing tapes in the color of silk we’d chosen.

To make the lanterns, first we applied a thin layer of glue (later investigation revealed it was a heavy duty shoe glue) to three of the lantern slats. Then we used scraps from the silk clippings to rub away most of the glue, leaving the bamboo tacky, but not dripping with glue.

Next we took pieces of silk, patterned-side up, and stretched them between the glued slats, making sure the pattern was straight and the fabric was taut. The instructors checked our work, tugging and adjusting  a little bit more as needed.

Then we repeated the process of applying the glue for the next three slats. Once we’d covered the entire lantern frame in fabric, we used a scissors to trim the excess silk along the edges of the slats.

To finish, we applied a finishing tape along the top and bottom and added a tassel to the base. Voila!

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Ta-da! The finished lanterns.

These lanterns are the perfect keepsake from our time in Hoi An…they actually compress into a narrow tube, making them easy to stuff in a backpack!

Now that I’m home, I’m working on gathering the supplies I need to light these babies up in a corner of my house. And, I really want to find a way to make lanterns in different shapes using patterned fabrics. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out the projects for luminaries and paper lanterns in my latest release, The Craft-A-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials. Keep crafting!

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The Land of Round Pots

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Happy New Year! It’s been a crazy couple of months with work, which is fantastic, but I’ve missed sharing my creative adventures. While a busy work schedule often means my downtime is filled with mundane, everyday tasks and sometimes more work instead of crafting, I did manage to squeeze in one fun class this fall that’s been on my bucket list for awhile.

I’m giddy to have finally gotten around to taking a pottery class, and not just any pottery class. I’m a lucky girl–I live only a few miles from the Northern Clay Center, a pottery studio that has a stellar reputation among potters nationwide. And, because evening classes are popular and fill quickly, I’m also grateful to have the somewhat flexible schedule of a freelance writer and editor…and friends who have flexible schedules, too.

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My friend with her lovely round pots.

So every Tuesday in November and early December, I found myself spending most of my day in front of a pottery wheel, doing my best to churn out somewhat round pots in a class called–you guessed it–The Land of Round Pots. At first I felt a little guilty to be sneaking away from my desk on a work day. But having this scheduled class actually forced me to make better use of my time the rest of the week. In fact, for a couple of weeks in a row I was able to finish projects on Thursday, freeing up Friday mornings to spend a couple of hours in the studio. This felt nothing short of luxurious, and I’ve decided I need to do things like this more often.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this class was like spending a day at the spa (although I did sometimes feel as if I were getting some sort of spa treatment when I was up to my elbows in clay). Pottery, as one of my friends warned me, is not easy. The way I began, crouched over the wheel in a state of intense focus, reminded me a bit of how I huddled awkwardly over knitting needles for the first time. Wasn’t this supposed to be relaxing? Admittedly, learning how to throw pots was more than a little frustrating at first. Centering the clay on the wheel looked easy enough, but I found myself spending far too much time trying to get it just right, working the clay until it was gritty and rough in my hands. And if the clay wasn’t quite centered, attempts to shape the pot went south fast. There’s something about centrifugal force that isn’t easy to overcome. But eventually, with the help of our fantastic instructor, Lisa, I got the hang of it. I learned how to hold my hands in order to guide the clay rather than force it, which tends to pull the whole works off center.

Trimming the pots nearly stopped me in my tracks. I get this way sometimes when I’m worried that moving forward will ruin whatever it is I’m working on. As I kicked the base plate of the wheel, spinning it fast and then slowing it down a bit with my foot, I noticed I was holding my breath. When I worked up the nerve to apply the trimmer to the leather hard pot, I said a little prayer, hoping it wouldn’t catch (and I’m not really the praying type). I did get a little carried away with the trimming on one small pot and went through the side. This was a reminder to really study the interior shape of the pot and commit it to memory before flipping it over, securing it in place, and beginning to trim. Without that mental picture of the contours of the inside of the pot, I may as well have been trimming in the dark. By pot number 3, though, I was able to trim a foot I could be proud of.

I think my favorite part of the process was glazing. For some reason, I was able to forge through this stage with reckless abandon. My biggest glazing challenge became pushing myself to explore glazes other than VC Green, which I fell for immediately. The best part of it all? Going back to the studio a couple of weeks later to look for my pots. This was like Christmas. I was surprised by how the pots were transformed by the glaze in unexpected ways. I love the pots I made, and although the learning curve was steep, I can’t wait to make more. Here’s to learning a new skill and having it change your life in some way, big or small. Looking back, I see this was on my list for 2017...what will it be in 2018? And what bucket list item will you take on in the new year?

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In 2018, look for two new books from me: Dig In! 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps (the follow up to The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book) and The Craft-a-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials. Can’t wait to share them with you!

Comfort and Joy

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After a long and unusually warm fall, winter has finally arrived. Since my last post, we’ve gotten our first snowfall, which was calming and beautiful. With the snow came a shocking blast of blustery arctic air that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, having settled  over our part of the world quite comfortably, as if tucked in under the blanket of  gray clouds. This is the time of year when 20 degrees fahrenheit feels bitter and cruel, but I know come January or February I’ll be talking about how I love temps in the 20s. It’s all relative.

For now, though, it’s time to settle in. Go to bed early. Get cozy with a book and a glass of wine by the fire. Spend weekends in pjs with an endless cup of coffee and the paper. Knit. In Sweden, they have a name for this feeling of coziness: Mysig (pronounced MEE-sig). In her blog post “9 Swedish Words that Should be Incorporated into English Pronto, Immediately, Now,” Kate Reutersward describes mysig as “anything that is in anyway cozy, exceptionally pleasant, and comfortable…” and she gives the example of sitting by a crackling fire on a cold night, sipping a warm beverage and nibbling on something sweet. I love this. I love that the Swedes have a specific word for just what I’m talking about here; the very feeling that makes me begin to look forward to winter.

One of my favorite mysig moments on dark December evenings is savoring a comforting dinner (If you know me, you know it’s soup and crusty bread slathered with butter) by the warm glow of candlelight with my family. These beeswax luminaries cast that exact cozy glow I’m talking about. The first time I saw a beeswax luminary I was at a gift shop in a retreat center in Oregon. The sides of that version were decorated with delicate, pressed pansies, which I loved. I bought one as a thank you gift for my mother-in-law, but I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of making one myself. It turns out, it’s not difficult, and they do make great gifts. Here’s how.

 

You Will Need: 9-inch balloons, 2 lbs beeswax, parchment paper, slow cooker*, candy thermometer, scissors, paring knife (optional)

* Don’t use this insert for food after this project; I have a separate, removable insert that I use just for beeswax.

Prepare the Wax and Balloons

  1. Place beeswax into the insert of a slow cooker. Plug in the slow cooker, cover it, and turn it to high to melt the wax. This will take 30 minutes to an hour.
  2. As the wax is heating, slowly fill balloons on the faucet in the kitchen sink, just as you would if you were having a water balloon fight. Use warm water and fill until they are as big as a large softball. Make sure the balloons are plump and taut.
  3. Set a cookie-sheet size piece of parchment paper on the counter beside the slow cooker. Before dipping balloons, turn the slow cooker to low and insert a candy thermometer into the wax to check the temperature. If it is over 160 degrees F, let it sit for 10 minutes before dipping balloons. Check the temperature again to make sure it is between 150 and 160 degrees before starting to dip balloons.

Dip the Balloons

  1. Hold the balloon by the knot at the top and slowly dip it into the wax to the water line. If the wax is not deep enough, turn the balloon on its side slightly to cover it in wax, but again, do not dip above the water line. Lift out of the wax and allow 5–10 seconds to pass before dipping the balloon again, making sure all sides are covered to the water line.
  2. Dip six times, then gently set the balloon on the wax paper to rest for 30 seconds. This creates a flat spot on the bottom of the luminary.
  3. While the first balloon is resting, you may dip a second balloon, following the same procedure outlined in step 1 above.
  4. When you set the second balloon on the parchment paper, pick up the first balloon and dip it another 6 times, following the same procedure in step 1.
  5. Repeat with the second balloon, alternating between the two until you’ve dipped each balloon 20–30 times. Set the balloons on parchment to cool. The goal is to create a luminary that is sturdy enough to stand up to use, yet thin enough to allow light to shine through.

Tip: Wax should stick to the balloon smoothly. If wax is still lumpy, it is too cool. If it is melting the previous layer off, it is too hot. Adjust the temperature accordingly.

Pop the Balloon

  1. After about 10 minutes, when the wax is firm but still warm, hold the balloon over the sink and snip the top of the balloon with a scissors to pop it. Tip the luminary to dump out the water, and then carefully peel the balloon from the inside of the luminary. Trim the top of the luminary with a paring knife if needed.
  2. Set a battery-operated tea light inside and enjoy a bit of handmade mysig!

Note: Always use a battery-operated tea light with this luminary instead of the real thing. Over time, the beeswax will melt and the luminary may stick to the table.

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The beeswax luminary is one of many projects that will appear in my upcoming craft book for teens. Stay tuned for details! Until then, have a warm and cozy holiday season.