Tag Archives: inspiration

Sequestered

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My dog EmmyLou has this relaxing thing down…until I start snapping pictures.

A little more than two weeks ago I was talking with a friend at an annual gathering for my son’s school at a local roller rink. We talked about music and local venues and how much you’d pay to see your favorite band. We talked about the various activities our kids were involved in and how their schedule had become ours. Eventually the conversation shifted to current events, and the dreaded Coronavirus. He told me that he was almost 100 percent certain that our public schools would close due to the Coronavirus before the end of the school year. At the time I thought he couldn’t possibly be right. His prediction seemed so preposterous and over the top. There was simply no way that could happen.

Fast forward by what seems like a blink of an eye and now here I am, sequestered with my husband, two sons, and our dog in our home, which is more stocked with food and provisions than it’s ever been. Today is the first day of the mandatory school shutdown to “flatten the curve” of the rapidly spreading virus. Yesterday the very thought of every business closing and having nowhere to go flooded me with a sense of despair.  But today I’m focusing on shifting my thoughts of what to do with this sequestered time in a more positive direction.

Last weekend (was that really only two days ago??) I felt little pangs of relief as the six activities we had scheduled were canceled, one by one. Would we possibly have a quiet weekend at home with nothing to do? My introverted, homebody self did a little dance (That little dance was inside my head, of course). Perhaps cutting outside activities and powering down could be a good thing?

I stocked up on food, getting only what we would need for the next couple of weeks. The thought of hoarding seems crazy to me, but I found myself doing an inventory of the number of toilet paper rolls in the house (17 jumbo-size rolls) and swinging by the home paper goods section at Target just to see if all the hype was true (it was).

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No toilet paper at Target and no chicken at Aldi on Saturday.

I’m just finishing up a couple of pottery classes so I stopped at both studios to pick up finished pieces and see if I could glaze those items that had been bisque fired. At this point, news of businesses closing had been cluttering up my inbox every hour or so, and the writing was on the wall…these studios would close soon, too. I did what I could and then left the five bowls and one vase on the shelf waiting to be bisque fired. Who knows when I’d be back to glaze them…or if they would still be there?

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These will remain “greenware” for the next few weeks at least 😦

Yesterday we made the final, final decision to postpone our upcoming trip to Costa Rica with friends until next year. What seemed perfectly do-able just last Monday was obviously the wrong thing to pursue less than a week later. It amazes me how quickly this whole pandemic has unfolded and filtered into all parts of life. And I realize this is just the beginning. I’m trying not to dwell too much on how it will affect my freelance business or the work of those around me. Like I said, I’m trying to shift into a more positive mindset.

In the meantime, I have an editing project that is at a standstill as I wait for the author to revise a chapter. Many of my usual downtime filling activities—going to the pottery studio, going to the Y—are no longer options. I’ll be honest: I’m already going a little stir crazy. I’m one of those people who can’t really sit still. Ever. The only time I’m not in constant motion is when I’m asleep.

So my plan is to make a list. There are limitless projects I’ve been wanting to do around the house that I just haven’t had the time or energy to tackle: Decoupaging and painting an old end table, sewing a scarf out of upcycled t-shirts, making a few more embroidered hearts, sewing another origami bag or two, starting a practice of drawing something every day, playing the ukulele…the list goes on. Maybe I’ll even revisit one of the windowsill gardening ideas from Dig In!

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I made this cherry moon pie for Pie Day on Saturday…more baking to come!

I’m also thinking about what I can do to safely help others in my neighborhood. Runs to the grocery store? Still exploring options. What I definitely don’t want to do is fritter away my time scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or checking the latest news. I’m taking this whole pandemic-induced shutdown as a sign that I need to untangle a bit from my constant need to check the latest anything on an electronic device. Instead, I’m going to go for a run or walk along the river, dig into one of the many books stacked on my bedside table, start one of the projects I mentioned above, or bake something with my boys. Better yet, I’m going to make a point to just sit every once in a while. I’m challenging myself to make more downtime a part of my day.

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What are your plans? Any books you recommend that I add to the list? Have you found any ways to help others in your community during this crazy time? Please share!

And if you’re looking for ways to keep kiddos busy during the long days at home, check out one of my gardening or craft books: The Craft-a-Day Book, Dig In, or The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book! Most of all, be well.

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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An Ode to My Grandma

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My grandma Valen with her great-grandchildren (and a creepy fake cat!).

I was on a beach in Mexico when I learned that my Grandma Valen had died. It wasn’t a total shock. She was 92 and she had fallen a few months earlier and broken a hip. Then she’d come down with pneumonia. And just when she was beginning to walk again with assistance and gain back some strength, she started to act a little off. A day before we left on our Mexico trip, I’d gotten an update on her condition from my mom. I was in the car, so the conversation was short. My grandma was showing signs of confusion, which was unusual for her. Doctors were chalking it up to a bladder infection. When I hung up the phone I didn’t think this was the beginning of the end. But it turned out that it was. She died three days later.

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My grandma and grandpa on their wedding day.

I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but my Grandma Valen was the best. She had 19 other grandchildren who I’m sure feel the same way. She was always there for special celebrations and milestones, no matter what. She was there to see me graduate from high school in Delavan and college in Eau Claire. When my son, Will, was born 14 years ago, she and my Grandpa endured the 5 hour drive to Minneapolis to meet him in person.

Not only was she there for her grandchildren, she knew us all as individuals and made a point to connect with each of us about our interests. I loved hearing about what my cousins were up to during our visits. She was a great letter writer, and I regret not writing more often as my boys got older and our lives grew busier. But she understood. She also loved reading and talking about books. When my first book was published she made a point of going to her local library and asking if they had it on the shelves. She was so proud to see that they did.

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Thread and notions from my grandma’s sewing stash. 

That first book, For the Love of Knitting, was an anthology of stories and essays that I had collected and edited. Back then I was knitting all the time…in the car, in front of the tv, on the couch in front of the fire. A friend from college had started a knitting group, and we were all new moms. I knit for my own sons, and I knit for my friend’s babies too. I was a bit obsessed and fascinated with anything knitting related.

In the essay I wrote for the book I mentioned that I hadn’t known any knitters when I was growing up. I had written, “No one in my immediate family was a knitter, and it seemed to me that knitting was an art one should learn at a young age, preferably under the watchful eye of a grandmother or mother. My grandmother is a superb seamstress, but she does not knit.”

This was a nonsense stereotype, of course. For one thing, my grandma did knit–she simply preferred to sew. But my grandma took it to heart. The next time I saw her she said, sheepishly, “Sorry I never taught you how to knit.” Of course then I felt bad. I didn’t care that she hadn’t taught me to knit. In the essay, I was just building the argument that I was not destined to be a knitter because it had not been in my family. Also nonsense. I was just trying to be clever.

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A classic sewing book from my grandma!

What’s funny now is that I haven’t knit in years, but I have found my way back to sewing. I’ve sewn curtains for the boy’s rooms and halloween costumes. I’ve transformed old t-shirts into pillow covers, added appliqued designs to t-shirts, and made a whole slew of origami bags. I’m kind of a rebel at the sewing machine in that I don’t really like to follow patterns. Instead I tend to just make up designs as I go along. This can lead to problems, of course, but I simply deal with those as they come. To me that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun.

So when my mom called me up as she and my aunts were sorting through my grandma’s things and asked if I would want the Bernina sewing machine, I didn’t hesitate. I can’t wait to take it for a spin. And I love the thought that my grandma will be with me each time I sit down to sew. Perhaps I can channel some of her talent and German precision into my own projects. A girl can hope, right?

Rest in peace, Grandma. I feel so lucky to have had you in my life!

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My grandma’s Bernina sewing machine.

 

 

Pottery Redux

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It’s been awhile since I first posted about my adventures in pottery. Like every other extra-curricular activity, life sometimes gets in the way. I finally signed up for a second class at Northern Clay Center one year after completing my first class, which means I was basically starting over–only this time I had the advantage of having been through the process before.

Having a little muscle memory in my back pocket made all the difference. After a couple of frustrating classes (and a few YouTube videos), I was starting to get the feel of centering and then gradually pulling up the clay, many times over. At one point Lisa, my instructor, told me I needed to slow down and that certainly resonated with me. Truth be told, I could stand to slow down in all aspects of my life. Too often, I’m rushing through to get everything done so I can finally sit and enjoy what I really want to do, whether it’s reading a book, crafting, or watching a movie. But this time I was rushing through what I I had set aside time to do…be present in this pottery class.

So I slowed down, and things became easier. I also made more time to be at the clay studio. Giving myself more opportunities to throw, trim, and glaze allowed me to take my time at each phase. And this made the whole process more relaxed and fun. I was focusing on the “doing” instead of just getting it done.

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My goal in this class was to throw a perfect cylinder. The last time I took pottery, I marveled at a classmate who could make one cylinder after another, all in beautiful form. At the time I was struggling just to center the clay on the wheel. I’d “center” until the clay was gritty in my hands. Then I’d finally give up and just go for it. Of course the pots were off center and I’d end up cutting off the wobbly top and creating a stubby, bottom-heavy bowl, just to have something to show for my efforts. But now look at this pot above…getting the centering right makes a world of difference.

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Nailing down the basics allowed me to focus on learning how to do new things like make handles. Since I had made it my intention to throw cylinders, I decided to make a few of them into mugs, and I even made this sweet little pitcher. My handles need a little work, but they stayed put and feel solid.

I also took some time during the glazing process to actually think about my approach (rather than just dipping all pieces into VC Green with reckless abandon!). I thought about and the order in which I was applying layers. I thought about how and where I was going to hold the piece as I was dipping it in the glaze. I thought about how different glazes might overlap and interact. I thought about all these things so much sometimes, my head hurt! In fact, on my way home from the studio, I even found myself trying to match the colors of cars I saw to glaze colors in the vats! I guess you could say I got immersed in the process.

I tried wax resist techniques (see the diagonal lines and dots on the mug at left?), experimented with stains (see those little blue dots on the mug?), and tried applying slips and then etching in patterns (see vase below, right). I basically had fun and began to let go of the idea that I might “ruin” anything. This, I think, is an important point. Classmates and instructors advised not to become too attached to any one piece at any stage of the process. This is so spot on, yet hard to do at first.

 

These two pots are a perfect example of letting go. It was our last day to throw, so I was working to get as many pots done as I could. These were the biggest pots I’d ever made, and I was pretty happy about them. And then I was rushing to get the one on the left off the wheel and onto a drying board when the board tipped off my knee, crushing the tops of both the pots. I could have cried. But one of my classmates told me to keep them and go with it. These are now glazed and waiting to be fired, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

It’s safe to say I’ve caught the pottery bug. My friend and I are already signed up for our next class, which starts in a few weeks. I’m itching to get back to the wheel. My next goal is to work on trimming and lightening up my pots…but whatever happens, happens, right? Stay tuned for the next installment of As the Wheel Turns!

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A New Year, Merry and Bright

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Happy New Year! Here we are on my favorite day of the year, at the best time of the day—dusk. The sun is setting and the view from my living room window is calming and peaceful. The wind-swept dusting of snow from yesterday takes on a bluish tint in the fading light, and I’m content in the warmth of our cozy home. There’s no place I’d rather be. This is the perfect way to end the first day of 2019.

One of the things I love about New Year’s Day is that it holds the promise of what the next year will bring. We usually have no real plans, so we can whittle way the hours as we like…and most years that amounts to not doing much of anything at all. Any other day finds us trying to fit in too much, leaving no downtime. That’s why I purposely like to set this day aside for nothing. In a sense it acts as a reset day for the year ahead.

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I don’t usually set New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to think about new things I may want to try or learn in the new year. In 2018 we traveled to Vietnam, which was another step in living our goal of experiencing new places and cultures with our boys. I was thrilled to run the Twin Cities Marathon…the first time I’ve tackled a 26.2 mile race since Will and Theo were born. We also made it up to Camp du Nord as a family, where I learned how to make soap, gazed at millions (billions?) of stars each night, and enjoyed as many dip-sauna-dip sessions as I possibly could.

For 2019 my hopes are not nearly as tangible; there’s no set bucket list of items that I can check off throughout the year. My goal is a bit loftier—and, admittedly, much more daunting. My hope is to approach each day with more joy and optimism. Those of you who know me may be thinking I’m biting off more than I can chew. I am, and have always been, a complete pessimist. But this year I’m pledging to walk on the sunny side of the street. (Friends, if you catch me doing otherwise, please call me out.)

This is big and I’m going to take it seriously. It may mean taking a few days off of social media, reading a book instead of checking my email at night, or learning to say no every once in a while. One key thing that makes me happy is something I often shove aside: taking time to be creative. I want more creativity in my day-to-day life in 2019.

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I’m starting with this. Over the weekend I sat down and folded several of these origami paper lanterns from my Craft-A-Day Book. I originally saw this project in a Martha Stewart Living magazine several years ago, only they were all made with white paper. I love mixing and matching patterned origami papers for a whimsical look. Or, better yet, I like to use this project as an excuse to reuse wrapping paper. Use old scraps of wrapping paper to decorate your light strings during the holidays. Watch out: folding these cute little boxes is addictive…it’s hard to fold just one.

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Here’s a quick video we did of the folding process, to make it easy (I’ve included step-by-step photos below). You can also find the instructions in The Craft-A-Day Book, along with several other fun projects. Hope this is just what you need to kick start a crafty new year!

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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!

T-Shirt Make Over

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We are getting to that time of year again (and already!). The boys started school this week, morning’s are crisp and clear, and the sun is setting earlier each day. All of these subtle changes mean only one thing—fall is on its way.

With these seasonal shifts, my thoughts turn from the garden, lake swims, and weekend getaways to more cozy, inside activities. Like whipping up a pot of homemade chili, watching a movie with the family, cuddling up with a good book, or, as you see here, crafting. This sort of crafting—the kind I like to do on a T-shirt—goes hand in hand with another nesting instinct that seems to kick in for me when seasons change—the wardrobe overhaul.

For me, the urge to purge is especially strong in the spring and fall. But I’m not one to be hasty about it. Usually the shirts, skirts, pants, shoes, or any other items that failed to see much play during the fading season hang out in the far flung corners of my closet or dresser for a bit before I’m moved to actually pack them up into grocery bags and haul them to the nearest Goodwill. Lately, though, I’ve been setting some of those shirts aside and giving them a second look, with an eye to what I might do to give that shirt new life, right here at home. Think about it. With a little embroidery thread on a lazy, autumn Sunday, I can transform that shirt into something I might actually want to wear again.

Embroidered to a T

If you like to embroider, this is pretty easy to do. The inspiration for the black only floral design came from Naoko Shimoda’s book Artfully Embroidered, which I highly recommend. First, I doodled with pencil on a sketch pad until I came up with flowers I was pleased with (this part can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like!). Then I traced over those flowers with a fabric transfer pen. Before ironing the design onto my shirt, I cut out a piece of iron-on interfacing, slightly larger than the size of my design. Interfacing is what really makes it possible to stitch a design onto a t-shirt. Without it, the knit fabric is too flimsy to support the stitches. Follow directions on the interfacing package to iron the piece to the inside of the shirt, on the back side of the area where you plan to place the design. Lay your sketched design face down on the shirt, cover with a light cloth, and iron, making several passes to make sure the design transfers to the fabric. Place an embroidery hoop over your design, grab a needle and some embroidery floss and start stitching. I do most of my embroidery using split, stem, and running stitch, but try out other stitches as well. Craftsy is a great place to find instructions for basic embroidery stitches.

Applique Upgrade

If you’re not into the embroidery thing, though, there are many other ways to add interest to dull T-shirts. An obvious one is applique. As I was sorting through my kiddo’s too-small clothes, I came across these darling octopus swim trunks. The seat was well-worn, so I didn’t really want to donate them, but the pattern was so cute! I decided to cut out one of the octopi (?) and applique it to an orange and white striped shirt I had in the drawer. This was so easy to do, and it turned out great! Again, I used interfacing on the inside of the T-shirt to make it sturdy, and then I used a few dabs of fabric glue on the back of the octopus to keep it in place on the front of the shirt (test this first to make sure it doesn’t show through). Then, set the sewing machine to zigzag stitch, thread it with a thread that coordinates with the colors of the shirt, and sew along the entire edge of the cut out design.

Just Add Trim

This last T-shirt make over is even easier. Before I tell you how to do it though, I have a confession to make…I snagged this idea from a J Crew catalog. Last summer I pined for a cute v-neck T-shirt with bobble trim sewn along the sides. But I didn’t really want to shell out more than 40 clams for a short sleeve T, so I passed. Then I had a blinding flash of the obvious—why couldn’t I just sew trim onto the sides of any old shirt? So, using bobble trim I picked up for $1, I added some flair to my $7 v-neck T. Love it, and it was so simple to do! I ironed the shirt, aligned a strand of trim along each side seam  (beginning at the arm pit and ending at the bottom hem), pinned them in place, and then sewed them on using a straight stitch.

 

These are just a few ways to get a little more wear (and joy) out of a T-shirt you might otherwise cast away. For more fun ideas for projects made using old T-Shirts, sweaters, and even socks, stay tuned for more crafty posts AND (drumroll please) more details about my upcoming book, The Craft-a-Day Project Book. Can’t wait to share it with you!