Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

In this period of economic downturn it is easy to forget what we have to be thankful for, but, if you are able to read this post, you very likely have a lot to be thankful for.  You probably have all of your basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, and safety, taken care of.  There are still many people around the world who do not have these luxeries (but are still thankful for life, family, love, etc.).  So, as we sit down to our dinners tonight, whether lavish or meager, know that you have something to be thankful for.

I am thankful that my family is spending the holiday in one of my favorite places.  We will be back on Sunday, and I will tell you all about it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mini Stocking Advent Calender

The website Burda Style has recently published a free and easy stocking advent calender pattern. They even have a step by step tutorial that makes this project easy as pie for even beginners.

The stockings are small enough to use up scraps of fabric and ribbon, and they sew up quick enough that they could still be made before December. Even if you couldn't make them all in one go, you could make them one per day in December taking only a few minutes per day. Pictures of a few of mine are below.

Not interested in the stockings? You should still check out Burda Style. They have beginner to advanced sewing patterns that are mostly free, and great sewing info, and several quick holiday projects (even a few for ambitious hand sewing).I made all of my stockings thus far out of home dec weight fabric leftovers from other projects (mine, and the leftovers I have collected from other crafters), and scraps of ribbon. I really love the eclectic look.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gift Idea 3: A Gift Your Toddler Can Make

Recently my friend K (a former elementary school art teacher) e-mailed to tell me about Crayola's Model Magic - a kind of modeling clay that doesn't stick to anything and dries to a flexible firmness after being left out of it's bag for about 24 hours. Since we both tend to stick to basic art supplies, like crayons and glue, I took the suggestion of such a high tech medium as high praise. She suggested that Violet - my 3 year old - would be able to work with it, and unlike traditional clay the finished product wouldn't easily crack in toddler hands.

We bought some on our next trip out, and Violet set out to make a present for her Granny. While I suggested what to make and how to make it, she did nearly all of the work herself.

Granny likes butterflies, so she is using cookie cutters to cut out butterfly shapes.
I poked a hole through the tops so they can be strung on ribbon and hung as ornaments.
After the medium is dry it can be painted.
I think they turned out beautifully.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Paved with Good Intentions

I had big plans for this week's blog posts. A whole bunch of quick Christmas projects were buzzing along, nearing completion, and posting, and then.....
And then my very old sewing machine began to sound as if it was working VERY hard. Far harder than it actually was working. I thought that it was high time to do some long over due routine maintenance, before a real problem occurs. It was taken apart, cleaned, and oiled with little incident (the bobbin did give me a few problems - but I was sure that was nothing). I sat down to test out the machine , run the oil through the gears, and get oil on scrap fabric, rather than on anything I wanted to keep.

Within a few stitches it was clear there was a problem. The bobbin tension was far too tight. Despite the fact that I knew the tension was already set low enough for the muslin I was sewing, I adjusted it down, as if I was sewing the most delicate of fabrics. I ran the fabric through the machine, or rather I tried to run it through the machine again, because a few stitches it, the machine simply stopped working. I would not turn over, not even by hand. Even worse, the tiny screw that holds in the bobbin case (the part that I was pretty sure was the culprit), was almost completely obscured. I spent the better part of the next two days simultaneously trying to figure out how to reach the screw with a jeweler's screw driver and stay sane. In the end a stiff piece a wire was able to reach he screw and turn it. I was able to pop the bobbin casing out, and there was a small piece of thread behind it. Fixed, right? Wrong!

The bobbin tension was too high in the next test as well. The only thing that hadn't changed, that had not been fixed, was the bobbin itself. I changed it, and it sewed beautifully. I can't tell you exactly what happened to it, but somehow it had actually increased in width.

Regardless of what happened, I am back in business. I have already gotten a few more projects finished, and hope you enjoy the days to come.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gift Idea 2: Recycled Candles Tutorial

My kids love candles. They take an especial fancy to expensive pillars and delicate tapers, taking chunks out of them with their sharp little finger nails (so they smell nice), or brandishing them as swords while they wage epic battles with one another. However, their favorite thing to do with candles is carry them by their wicks, breaking them off in the process. Needless to say, candles in my house rarely live out their natural lives, turning slowly into stumpy little bits of over used wax. Our candles are broken, nicked, shapeless, wickless, masses of wax that have never been used. I hate to throw it out. The result; recycled candles.

How to Make Recycled Candles:


1. Broken Candles (feel free to mix colors, but be warned, mixing complementary colors like red and green will make muddy brown)
2. Wick (salvaged, homemade, or store bought)
3. Pretty Heat Safe Jar that the finished product will reside in
4. Something stiff that is longer than the jar's opening - like a pencil
5. A small heavy object to attach to the wick -like a washer (may not be needed if using a store bought wick)
6. A disposable, microwave and heat safe container to melt the wax in - like a paper cup or something from the recycling bin
7. A Microwave
8. A knife and cutting surface

Using your cutting board and knife, cut your wax so that it go from resembling small rocks, like small pebbles, like this.
Place your small pieces of wax in your microwave safe container, and microwave on high until the wax obtains a liquid texture. Make to to check that the wax has not escaped it's container every 30 seconds to one minute.

While you are waiting for your wax to melt, prepare your jar to receive it. First attach your heavy object to your wick. As you can see, I simply tied a square knot around a washer. This is to make sure your wick stays in place while the wax is poured in the container.

Next, place the wick in the jar with the heavy object in the bottom of the jar, and the other end wrapped around something stiff covering the opening of the jar (I used a wrench because it was on hand). Be sure to center the wick over the middle of the jar, unless you would like an avant guard and likely shorted lived candle.
When the wax reaches liquid state, pout it into the jar.....
.....and let it cool.Once it is cooled, snip the wick to 1/4th of an inch.An your beautiful candle is ready to go.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preparing for winter: Chopping Wood

During the past summer's hurricane season our neighbor lost a few trees; a water oak, a live oak, and a black oak. All of them make good fire wood, and all of them have been laying in the neighbor's pasture for months. A few weeks ago Mr. Incredible helped them cut the tree into pieces, in return for hauling some of the wood home. Today Mr. Incredible and my father-in-law used a rented wood splitter to break the logs into usable firewood.

Here is the family observing Grand-dad at work.

Mr. Incredible stepped in to help with the big logs. Manual labor looks good on my man.
Then my little man helped out with the big guys.
They grow up so fast.
Almost all of the dogs helped process the wood.

Here is my boy. See the intensity and determination.A little less determination.
This is my husband's boy. He is a very efficient wood processor.
My SIL's girl. The kid's dog was the only one that wasn't helping with the wood processing. He was too scared to go near the wood splitter.

This is what the stall in the barn that is used for wood storage looked like about half way through wood chopping.
We are not worried about any of the wood walking away. We have a "guard" dog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gift Idea 1: Melt-and-Pour Soap tutorial

I have a huge family, and as a result I am constantly trying to find or make nice gifts for lots of people at low cost. This year my mother's sisters will be receiving melt-and-pour lavender soap.

Unlike soap made from scratch, melt-and-pour soap is quick, easy, fairly safe, and can be made in small batches. The following is a quick tutorial on making melt-and-pour soap.

1. Buy melt and pour soap base. It can be found at Michaels, Joann's, and most other craft stores. I got mine from which has great prices for large amounts. I am using an opaque goat's milk soap.
2. Find a heat safe mold. You can buy these at craft stores, but there is no need. I used paper cups left over from a party (this was their 2nd use, and they have at least 1 more use in them if not more).
3. If you would like to add anything to the soap, like herbs, put them in the bottom of your mold. I used dried lavender grossa, a non-flowering version of lavender that grows well in my Florida garden. Other herbs or flower petals also look nice, but some discolor in heat, so you may want to test whatever you use before you make a large batch.
4. Melt your soap base in the microwave (on high checking the soap every 30 seconds) or a double broiler (being careful not to get any water in the soap). Add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice after taking the soap off the heat. I melted about 14 ounces of soap base, and added 8 drops of lavender essential oil for a mild lavender scent.

As soon as your EO is mixed in, pour the soap base into your prepared molds. The herbs will rise and mix on their own, but you can mix it yourself while the soap base is still very hot.
5. When the outside of the mold is cool to the touch you can squeeze the sides gently and pop the soap out. The soaps seen below are about 2 ounces each, and about half the size of the bars of soap you get at the grocery store.

Alternative method: You can also weigh the amount of soap you want in each bar, place that amount in your mold, then microwave the mold to melt the soap.

How much? I already had all of the materials I needed on hand, so I didn't spend anything. However, has 2 pounds of olive oil soap base for only $9.99. That is enough to make 16 2 ounce bars. If you gave 2 bars per person, that would be only $1.25 per gift. Not too bad!

Note: Melt-and-Pour soap does not have to cure like soap made from scratch, but it will sweat for a few days after it's made (due to it's high glycerin content), especially in high humidity. So, it is a good idea to wait a few days before wrapping it in plain paper - although wax paper does a good job.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Holiday Gift Budgeting Spreadsheet

I have made a spreadsheet to help us all stay on budget while making and buying holiday gifts this season. The formulas that let you know how much you have spent and how much is left in your budget have already been inserted. All you need to do is type in your total budget, and info about the gifts you are giving. Feel free to save a copy for your personal use, and let other people know about it by linking back to this page.

Holiday Gift Budgeting Spreadsheet

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November is the Time for Holiday Gift Making

Now that the election is over, and we have a new president elect, it is time to focus on the holiday season. If you are anything like me, then the country's current economic situation has not gone un-noticed, and the thought of paying for holiday gift giving gives you pause. I have well over 20 people on my gift giving list, and if I spent only $10 on each person (a ridiculously low amount if I were buying off the shelf), my gift giving budget would still be a couple hundred dollars.

I don't want to go into debt this holiday season, but I still want to give everyone on my list gifts they will really love. What to do? I turn to crafting.

I know what you are thinking. Crafting gifts often leads to gifts that cost far more than they would have had you simply bought them (and many people don't appreciate the hard work you put into the gifts you make). However, I assure you, that beautiful gifts can be hand crafted for little money, if you take the time to plan ahead.

During the month of November I will be crafting gifts for my friends and family, and sharing my ideas, process, and finished objects with you, in the hope that I will inspire you to craft your own gifts.

First you need to know the people you will be giving to. Some people will not appreciate hand made gifts, no matter how perfect. There is no point in trying to make gifts for these people - save your time for someone who will appreciate it. You will then need to carefully consider the type of gift the rest of the people on your list would like (ex. make a hat for a person that likes hats, not a person that doesn't).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Costumes

My daughter wanted to dress up as a mighty knight for Halloween since she saw the Backyardigans' Tale of the Mighty Knights. In fact she wanted the entire family to dress as characters from the video. So, Mr. Incredible and I made the kids mighty knight costumes.
"A Mighty Knight"

Then she got sick. She felt too bad to go trick-or-treating, and instead lay miserably on the couch wishing that she was knocking on doors and demanding candy from strangers. Even though she had only just turned two last Halloween, she remembered trick-or-treating vividly, and had been wanting to go for months."King Pablo"

The next day she was feeling better, so Mr. Incredible and I went to the store and bought some candy, gave it to my in-laws, and dressed the kids up for a mini trick-or-treating outing.

"A Mighty Knight with Eggbert the Dragon"

Did you do your civic duty today?

Today was election day in the US. Did you vote?