Category Archives: Stuff I Make

Easter bunnies on parade

Just a quickie here, with a tutorial to follow later today. These three bunnies are about to go out to new homes, but I wanted to get them their 15 minutes of fame first.

The large map rabbit contained a couple of surprises. Purely by accident, his right flank includes the town in West Virginia where my mother was born (okay, the town large enough to be on a map at all that’s closest to where my mother was born) AND, on his left ear, the town in Ohio where First Child is in college.

These are some smart bunnies, I tell you.

A play date

I was recently invited to a fabulous event–an art-making day at the home of my dear friend Leslie. She provided the hospitality of her beautiful, Swedish-inspired home in the woods, the company of her charming dogs Luna and (the newly rescued) Broomis, and a spectacular seafood curry soup.

And large, blank houses cut from illustration board.

Her ten or twelve lucky guests brought rolls, salad, chocolate, chai, and bags and bins and boxes of art supplies and ephemera.

What a day we had, and how beautiful the resulting town of houses was when we finally–after 6 hours or so–stopped for show and tell.

I wish I could show them all to you, but, alas (and damn!) they don’t belong to me, but to their individual makers. But I will show off mine if I may (yeah, try and stop me). This baby’s been working up through the murky recesses of my consciousness, Magic 8-Ball style, for weeks, and it was both challenging and freeing to help it find form.

Here she be.  It’s called (after the Lhasa de Sela song of the same name) Soon This House Will Be Too Small.

The house is hinged with silk ribbons along the left side, and opens like a book; it stands about 9″ tall. Here’s the outside:

And the inside, with a somewhat closer view of the right-hand page (note the tiles that show through the windows on the front):

and the rear view:

Each woman there made something different–there were cheerful houses, somber houses, homes, shops, houses with words, houses that held their tongues, tropical houses and beach houses and fantasy houses. Amazing.

Here’s the interesting thing. Since that day I’ve been having incredibly vivid, long, detailed dreams about houses of all kinds, so real, so insistent on being recognized.

I think we need another art day. Soon.

Solstice baby

I love Christmas, though I don’t always celebrate it in what we have come to think of the traditional way. I’ve also been doing some reading and giving a lot of thought to the winter traditions and themes that are shared by various religious and cultural groups.

Take, for instance, the theme of nativity. which just means birth. Last winter I wanted to represent this theme in our holiday decorations, and I came up with this little swaddled child (“swaddled,” by the way, is such a great word).

Anyway, I had a huge bag of scraps of merino wool felt from Morehouse Farm in my stash. Back in the day when they had their fabulous retail store (Sheep’s Clothing) in Red Hook, New York, I used to stop in a few times a year on my regular trips to the Catskills and buy scrap bags of this stuff (they don’t seem to have these any more, though they do still have wonderful yarn and related items–wonderful knitting patterns, for instance–at their web site). Yummy.  This felt is so thick and soft, and comes in such brilliant colors. So I played around with it at the last minute last Christmas and made and gave away a number of these little babies, who look so warm and cozy even though they were born in the middle of the winter.

At first I made them in what we think of as traditional skin colors–the faces, that is. But after I ran out of tans and ochres and pinks and blacks, I just started mixing them up. I made babies with purple faces, green faces, orange faces, gray faces (only one of these, actually–it looked a bit macabre) and used all the colors I could.

I promised you a tutorial for them, and here it is. The only trouble is that Second Child is taking a photography class at school and she’s had my camera all week, so I thought it might be fun to draw one up by hand (and it was). Have a go and see what you think–the finished babies are about the size of hen’s eggs, but you could fiddle with the pattern and make them any size you want.

Click here to go to the illustrated tutorial. And I promise I’ll put up some actual photos when my camera comes back to me.

A pretty thing

I made a present for someone with a birthday this week (who doesn’t, fortunately, read this blog).  Someone who likes blue.

My Better Half came home from an estate sale a few weeks ago saying, “there was a lot of cool stuff there–you should make me a list of things you want me to look for at tag sales and auctions, in case you aren’t with me.” Art supplies and old kimono fabric, said I.

He looked crestfallen. He had seen both within the previous two days.

It was too late for the kimono fabrics, which apparently went for a song at an auction, but I did get to go back with him to the estate sale selling art supplies, and picked up some wonderful big brushes, some old books that can ethically be cannibalized for projects, and a whole heap of canvases–the whole lot for $5.00. Sometimes these sales make me sad, but at this one the grown son of the artist (his mom) was genuinely happy to have her art supplies being carried off by people who appreciated and were going to use them that I didn’t feel so badly.

But the kimono scraps stuck in my head, so I started surfing for them online, and . . . voila: I bought the first of what I hope will be many. This one started life as a sleeve, probably in the mid-20th century, and over the last day or so I transformed it into what I think is a quite elegant scarf.

The fabric is silk crepe de chine with a pattern of what might be highly stylized clouds, but might also be ripples in a pond. Either way, they’re lovely, the fabric is in great shape, and I was able to find a nice silky crepe in a contrasting color (a sort of storm-cloud blue-gray) that works either way to use as a backing for it.

I took the top picture yesterday when I was starting the (hand) sewing, and the bottom one this morning after I finished it. I took them in different rooms and in different weather, but the top picture gives a better sense of the actual color, which is slightly grayish. Looking at both pictures, though, shows the slight difference in the pattern–one side is sort of a negative of the other. I debated long and hard about which side to have show, and involved everyone in the family in making the choice. In the end, Second Child pointed out that it was a win-win, as the two sides are equally pretty.

And, honey, you picked exactly the right thread color when you went to the fabric store with me, but I still don’t get that you don’t get that a scarf doesn’t have to be wooly and warm to be desirable.

Tiny notebook tutorial

This is another tutorial for something that seems rather intuitive, but someone asked how the little notebooks were made, so here goes:

What you need:

  • Backing: A rectangle of cardboard, like the ones at the back of a legal pad
  • Filler paper: 20-30 rectangles of plain paper of just about any kind suited to the use to which you’re going to put your notebook (e.g., printer paper for a notepad, drawing paper for a sketchbook, miscellaneous papers for a funky look)
  • Cover: A rectangle of decorative paper for the front (here I’m using a piece of lightweight art paper on which I’ve used one of my hand-carved stamps)
  • A small ponytail elastic (I like the “non-ouchy” kind without the metal part, but you can use an ordinary one as you like)
  • A small paper clip
  • Something to cut with: scissors, a craft knife and ruler, or a paper cutter
  • A hole punch
  • A stick, wooden sandwich pick, or the like

The first three items, the back, filler paper and cover bits should be the same size. We made our notebooks 4 x 4 1/2 ” (because we needed a lot of them and needed to get an assembly line thing going) but you can use any dimensions that are pleasing to you.

The sticks should be a bit shorter than the smaller side of your notebook, and should not have any splintery or rough edges

Step 1: punch your holes. If you’re using a handheld paper punch, make a template for the hole placement using an extra sheet of the filler paper. Fold the paper in half and punch a hole through both thicknesses about 1/4″ from what will be the top of the notebook and about 1/2″ froom the side. Unfold this paper and line it up with a few sheets of your filler paper–punch holes through the holes you’ve already made. Repeat until you have as many filler sheets as you need. If you’re using an adjustable multi-hole punch, set the placement for the holes using the guides on the hole punch.

Do the same for the cover paper and the backing cardboard.

Step 2: Sandwich the filler paper between the backing and the cover and line up the holes so you can see all the way through.

Step 3: unbend your paper clip as shown:

Poke the small hook you’ve made through one of the holes, working from front to back, and pull through a loop of the hair elastic:

Insert one end of your stick through the loop, then repeat with the other hole, the other end of the same elastic, and the other end of the stick:

All done!

Notebooks, notebooks, as far as the eye can see!

A good friend teaches a wonderful writing class. This most recent class had a few more than 20 students, and she wanted to give each of them a notebook they could keep with them at all times.  Three of us got together and made notebooks until our fingers were sore, learning, somewhere around notbook 18, exactly how the notebook assembly line should run.

Here’s a prototype, made with one of my hand carved stamps and some scraps of brown handmade paper. And a wooden sandwich pick:

And here are sons (and daughters) of the prototype notebook (by now some have sandwich picks and some have twigs):

My writer buddy said people just about fell out of their chairs when told they could each pick one. Easy stuff, big payoff.

I’ve been under medical house arrest for nearly 3 weeks waiting for the stitches (see previous posting) to come out.  Last weekend I played hooky and carefully walked through a nearby pick-your-own orchard gathering these with second child and a friend of hers:

At the moment the whole house smells like peach chutney, thanks to the stalwart efforts of my Better Half, who is using his grandmother’s recipe.  Mmmmm . . . peaches, sugar, vinegar . . . okay, I won’t give away his family recipe. Wonder whether I could convince his non-bloggingness to do a guest post about making chutney, though. Stay tuned.

Travels and tutorial

Of course, the reason I haven’t finished the long project I’m working on for my sister’s birthday is that I’ve hardly been around. Four weekend trips in four consecutive weekends have left me playing catch-up.

I’ve been here:

Note: the Mike’s cap is just here for scale–tiny red efts were everywhere–but it was handy. It was that kind of weekend.

But I’m back, back at work on the many parts of this project. One of them warranted making some new hand-cut stamps, and those, in turn, seemed to warrant a little tutorial. So here goes.

Tiny Stamp Tutorial

What you need:

Small amounts of craft foam

Sharp scissors with a fine point

Stamp pad ink


Ordinary white school glue

A fine-tip marker that will show against the foam

Spare Scrabble tiles (easy to find on eBay, etsy, or at second-hand stores)

A sheet of white shipping labels

  • Draw your designs, tile-sized or smaller, on the foam and cut them out. Simple designs work best. I’ve embellished some of mine by using a 1/8″ hole punch to create details

  • Glue the foam pieces to the blank sides of the Scrabble tiles (it doesn’t really matter much which side you glue them on, but this way the letters on them won’t show in the finished stamp. Use the toothpick to clear away any excess glue, taking care to make sure any holes in the designs aren’t filled up with glue. Let dry for about 30 minutes.

  • Using the stamp ink, stamp each design onto the sheet of mailing labels.  Leave enough room between each one that you can cut around it and have it fit on the back of the tile.
  • Then cut out each design, centering it in the middle of a tile-sized square (and orienting the label to correspond to the placement of the foam shape on the other side, and you’re done.

Moose mod

Got a boring long-sleeved t-shirt? Got scissors? Got 45 seconds?  Then you, too, can have a spiffy little summer sweater.

Amy, over at Angry Chicken, shows you how.   Seriously, the hardest part will be remembering where your scissors are. Making the sweater will take less time than it will take to read this post.

Here’s the version I made Second Child about 2 minutes after I saw the one at Angry Chicken:

Can you tell I still have all my freezer paper stenciling stuff laying about?  The moose motif (she likes moose . . .er . . .  mooses . . . um . . . meese?) came from a rubber stamp–I scanned a print from it, enlarged it a bit, and used a copy of it to cut my stencils.

We didn’t let the cuffs go to waste, either.

Brown bagging it

When I’m shopping at the Goodwill store (we live near a really great one), I walk up and down the aisles with my radar set on “linen.” I love, love, love linen, and it calls out to me from between polyester shirts and corduroy skirts and cotton blend trousers.

So I was delighted to find a gorgeous Ann Taylor linen skirt in a nifty tweedy brown. For–given that its tag was the magic color of the week that meant it was 50% off–$3. Alas, my size radar isn’t so acute–the lovely skirt was a size 4.

My bones are bigger than a size 4.

But it was gorgeous fabric, and, as you’ll see, the shaping (very slim with an interesting front detail) told me it could be turned into a wonderful bag.  Within minutes I’d found (for .99) a pillowcase in a beautiful blue with a print of pink and brown flowers–perfect for the lining.

This is not exactly a tutorial, but perhaps you can see what I did from the plan I sketched (the orange thing on the skirt is a flower petal that’s an inclusion in the paper the journal is made from):

I sew totally by the seat of my pants, rarely measure anything the proper way, and fudge a lot of things, but most of the time they come out.  Here’s the finished bag. It’s on the big side, about 8 x 15. There are buttons I covered with the lining fabric on both sides where the strap joins the bag, and the underside of the strap is made of the lining fabric:

If you look carefully, you can  see the interior pockets below. And I was ridiculously pleased with the magnetic snap, which was a breeze to install.

And, once again, a thrifty project.  Even with the thread, the snaps, and the button forms, the whole thing came in at under $10.  It was a great way to recycle this gem of a skirt, too.

As I’ve said before, I hate carrying a purse. But I love making them–what’s a person to do?

A cool way to keep cool: noren

I’m sure I’m not alone here in saying it’s been hot. And sticky. The humidity and the temperatures both hover near 90 for days on end–weather broken occasionally by impressive summer thunderstorms–but, you know . . . it’s August. What do we expect?

With no central air conditioning in This Old House, we rely on several strategies to keep cool:

  • Sending First Child to work slaving over freezer cases full of cold treats  (his summer job is in a high-end ice cream parlor)
  • Ferrying Second Child (who takes summer vacation very seriously) all day, every day, to and from the homes of friends with pools and to the beach, which is nearby, and free to residents who walk in
  • Keeping a running list of places we can go in the air-conditioned car
  • Bopping between the hyper-chilled local library, the movie theater (I recommend 500 Days of Summer), and the frozen food aisle of the local supermarket
  • Drinking massive amounts of iced tea, of which an enormous urn is always in the refrigerator

There is a small window type AC unit in the den, but there is no door between the den and the rest of the downstairs, and we were losing a lot of usable chilliness, not to mention feeling guilty about our rather inefficient use of the electricity.

I hit on the idea to make a sort of curtain, very plain and flat (no frills or frou frou) to hang in the den’s open doorway. I was inspired by having seen many such curtains in Japanese movies (especially older, black and white samurai movies–I’m a huge fan of The Blind Swordsman series and of anything starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, or–be still, my heart–both). These are often hung at shop entrances, or used to hang between two rooms.  I figured they might be just what we needed to help corral the cool air and keep it in the den.

Noren have a simple basic design:  a flat panel with one or more vertical openings to permit coming and going.  They don’t typically reach all the way to the floor (some of my family think this looks a bit odd, but it works for me). They can simply be plain, but they’re often adorned with striking designs. We don’t, obviously, live in a Japanese house, but we do live near the shore, and I thought a simple seaside motif might be appropriate.

Over the weekend the Better Half and I ended up doing some bookstore browsing, and I came upon this on a sale rack for just a bit over $3. The very thing. I brought it home and First Child fastened on a group of cranes standing together–the ones at the bottom right in the book cover above. For simplicity’s sake, I left off the three cranes at the right of the grouping.

And got to work. The curtain practically made itself. The off-white canvas I bought at the fabric store (with a 40% off coupon) was exactly the right width, so the sewing involved was minimal and the whole thing came together and was hanging in the doorway within half an hour. Within 40 minutes we were delightfully cool in there.

But the curtain was painfully plain, so I got back to work and began the decoration.  I was distracted by a small emergency, but finished the design today. I used the freezer paper stencil method to cut out the design I wanted, and daubed in the birds with a pumpkin-y color that sort of goes with the surrounding woodwork. Here are highlights.

Tracing the design onto the freezer paper (shiny side down):

The finished design:

My cutting guide (I used a crayon to help me keep track of the negative and positive parts, and marked the pieces–with letters–that would have to be cut away but then ironed back into place in the finished design):

Cutting the design. I used a variety of tools, including an exacto-knife, a razor blade, and a pair of little Japanese scissors. The cutting was finicky, especially all the little tiny lines that would need to be ironed into place to show where one crane ended and another began. And, oh, those little bitty bird feet were a pain (but also sort of fun):

The image all cut out. At this point it’s still taped to the big sheet of cardboard I’d been using as a work surface:

Here the stencil has been placed onto the fabric and ironed into place. I used a hole punch to cut tiny eyes for the cranes and took care not to iron my fingers as I fixed them in place:

The actual painting went remarkably quickly–15 minutes, tops, using a flat, sponge stencil brush. Nice, after all that painstaking cutting. I used a mixture of several colors of acrylic paint thinned with some stuff from the fabric store that’s supposed to turn acrylics into fabric paint:

Once the paint was in place, Second Child and I had to go out for a while to keep ourselves from peeling the stencil too soon–very tempting. Besides, with the noren drying on the kitchen table, it was hot in the den. So off we went to shop for some school clothes for her.

Then home, to peel away the stencil from the fabric and hang the final work. (Not completely final, actually, because I still need to heat set the paint and we all think it needs a big round coppery sun in the upper right quadrant, but that can wait until tomorrow.)

Let me add a small boast about the cheapness frugality of this project, which, including $6 for a spring-tensioned curtain rod, cost all of $12 to make. I am very pleased and eager to do more freezer paper stenciling:

Some people here still think it looks too short. They just need to sit in the nice, cool den and watch old samurai movies until it looks normal to them.