Category Archives: Projects

Vintage Children’s Literature Illustration Notebooks

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Handy Dandy Notebooks

I like the look of vintage children’s literature illustration and so I decided to re-purpose an old collection of bedtime stories into handy notebooks. These books make nice little gifts and are pretty useful if you’re a daily list-maker. You could use any images for the covers, really the possibilities are endless. I plan to make some using maps once I run out of the children’s lit ones.

How to: Instructions are listed along with the photos.

An un-Piggy Bank

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I was trying to come up with something for a Valentine’s Day gift. I’m always a fan of handmade items, and I don’t think that gifts should have to cost a heck of a lot to be meaningful or valuable so frugal options present a welcome challenge for me.

That’s when it hit me. My valentine is really into saving money lately, a different jar or container for a different purpose, and so I got it in my head that I would craft him a piggy-bank. I decided I was going to join a pottery class (I have missed working with clay and the prospect of using my class time to make a gift seemed like a dual purpose idea). Then life got in the way, as it always does, and that idea flew by the wayside.

I was shopping at a thrift store and found a really neat piggy bank made of clay with a cork for a nose (and momentarily re-visited the idea in my head of joining a pottery class). Beside this piggy was another neato swine with designs on the outside that reminded me of folk art. I really liked these and stood in front of them for a while but just couldn’t make the purchase, mostly because it seemed too easy (I enjoy the problem solving that comes with trying to make stuff with my hands) and these particular pieces didn’t remind me of my valentine.

apple juice

Then I went grocery shopping. I found this yummy looking (and not so frugal) organic apple juice in what I would deem to be a rather attractive glass jug. Using the jug’s potential as a re-gifted item, I splurged on the juice and drank it down. After removing the label and cleaning up the jug, it was ready for decoration. I wanted it to be opaque so that he couldn’t see how much was inside-keep that a mystery until the fateful day he gets to shake out the treasure and examine his small fortune.

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How to:

1. Find yourself an attractive vessel in which to toss your spare change (coffee tins and glass jars work well if you’re into old-fashioned simplicity).

2. Empty the contents inside if it’s full.

3. Clean it out if there is any food content to me removed. For removing the label, this particular jug was easy because this company only uses two small smears of adhesive to attach the label at each end of the paper. Mason jars that are used for pasta sauces might give you a harder time because they tend to go overboard with the adhesive leaving a sticky mess.

4. For sticky adhesive issues, I read online and found many people recommending products just for that very purpose. I usually just leave them to soak in a hot soapy sink of water, remove the paper label and remove what I can with my fingernails. The I’ll leave them in for a longer hot soak and if I need to, I’ll run a pairing knife blade up and down the jar sides to remove the tougher stuff.

5. I rubbed the outside of the jar with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils that might cause stuff to not stick to the jar (after all glass is a slippery surface).

6. Next I decided to use a decoupage paste (basically a white gluey mixture, in fact, I bet you could just as easily use white glue) to paste on a layer of natural brown tissue paper. I chose a decoupage that was described as “matte” finish because I didn’t want this project to be too shiny. I would have preferred using wall paper paste (popular for paper-mache) but the store I shopped at didn’t sell it.

7. After your first layer dries, paint it, or paste other pictures onto it: perhaps pictures of things to save for or inspiring things that are nice to look at.

8. Put the lid on (or don’t) and for a classic piggy-bank feel, use a flat-head screw driver and hammer to create a gap in the lid for coins to slide through.

In-vesting a little time and effort

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I have worked in the forestry industry for years and part of the garb that I am required to wear is this vest.

These vests (or similar products) are pretty standard issue for other industries as well. They are often red, with lots of reflective striping to make you highly visible so you are easy to spot by machine operators and other workers in the field. They are covered in pockets for your convenience. For a general purpose vest, I think it meets my expectations, but as an option for professionals who will don this garb for 50 hrs a week, for their entire career, I think some improvements could be made.

Note-the picture above shows the vest empty; however, when loaded for a day of work, they can weigh anywhere from 25-35 lbs. From what I understand, the most important aspect of this vest, is that it is “high-vis”. Some companies will allow you to wear simple, lightweight safety stripes instead or a vest similar to what you see crosswalk crossing guards or road construction workers wearing for this purpose. This cruiser vest though, attempts to fulfill the high-vis requirement while also doubling as a gear cache.

I have been wearing vests like this for almost 10 years now and I have found them to be lacking in a few areas.

My main complaints are as follows:

  • With so many pockets (convenience of choice) to choose from, there seems to be a place for everything; but this also means I am carrying the weight of everything I need for the day on my shoulders/neck, opting to fill every pocket with something, with little overall support (inconvenience of neck and shoulder pain).

*it is important to note that there is a frame you can purchase at extra cost, to insert into the vest (like the frame of a hiking bag) complete with straps and clips to secure the load; however, I find that this is simply adding extra materials to a product that already has a surplus of material. These vests get hot and feel bulky while full of tools and gear, the last thing I want to do is add more bulk, especially in warmer seasons.

  • A second complaint about this rear pocket is that you cannot see it. Considering it gets such frequent use, this pocket’s main inconvenience for me is that I waste time rooting around in it pulling out things until I finally have the thing I was searching for in my hand. I have watched others do the same. It’s painful to watch someone trying to reach for a roll of ribbon in a certain colour (who carries up to 5 different varieties or more daily) reach in and pull out the wrong roll, repeatedly (or a can of paint, or bug spray, or a notebook, or a field guide to tree diseases, or a water bottle… you get the point, it’s inefficient).
  • The vests appear to be designed for broad shoulders. I can’t help but think that this is simply because the industries these are used in have , in the past, been male-dominated and so as women have gradually populated the industry on a larger scale, the manufacturers of these products have scaled down the bulky square vest to a smaller size which is still ill-fitted for smaller frames.

So after multiple seasons of neck pain and tight sore muscles in my shoulders and back, and many moments day-dreaming about tweaking the design, I finally put a little time and effort into making myself a custom product that feels better on my body and doesn’t have a surplus of material to overheat me during warm seasons. I can’t say that what I ended up with is the best version possible, or would please everybody, but I was feeling rather utilitarian at the time and I don’t really care how I look in the woods so I kept it simple. I would definitely make some alterations if I were to be making this available to others. For me, this was a matter of necessity, and it needed to be done quickly.

In the pictures above, I have not yet added the high-vis striping to replace the deteriorated stuff, but after a trip to a fabric store,  I bought some reflective striping for a couple bucks per meter and had plenty to re-stripe the old vest pockets. The belt now has stripes and the front and back of the vest are decked out in new high-vis stripes.

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How I did it:

I should give thanks to my employer for the donation of this retired vest (at no cost to this frugal gal), usually ranging in price from $100-200 depending on if you choose to get the extra support frame inside.

Based on years of planting trees, I decided that the best place for me to carry the bulk of the weight daily, would be my hips, where I have grown used to carrying up to 50lbs of soil/seedlings.  I decided a belt option with a wide clip would suit for the larger pockets to carry that weight. Vinyl strapping for belt about $1.50 per meter and another $1.50 for the clip.

I would be left with a vest meant to carry only those instruments meant for navigation which I would be consulting frequently (map, compass, GPS, pens, markers, pencils and clinometer).

I sliced and diced the vest until the most useful pockets were available for re-attaching to the new belt. The remove the back pocket and enjoy a pocket free, flat-backed vest instead.

So there you have it, an inconveniently bulky one-piece vest converted into a functional two piece option that allows better weight distribution for a happier neck and back. Plus, the vest feels pretty awesome, I liken it to Batman’s utility belt, and it cost under $10 to make.

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This is the pile of unwanted, surplus material that I shed in the process.

I’ve seen a few eye brows furrow at the sight of this two-piece ensemble. I attribute that to my leaving the mid-section open. I’m sure if I extended a little material down around my waist, that my colleagues wouldn’t really notice the difference.

So there you have it: If you have something that could use some tweaking, take a risk and alter it to suit your needs.

 

Weather Sticks-Mother Nature’s Psychrometer

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I first saw a weather stick years ago and was intrigued by how reactive a tree branch might have to humidity. I’ve been wanting to write this blog entry for years, since before I knew about blogging actually, if that’s possible. Basically, the more humid it is, the more your weather stick (tree branch) will react.

This could be a fun way for you and your kids to make connections between weather and how it affects living things (and dead things)! Collecting weather sticks is a great excuse to go on a hike and explore the woods together.

How to

1. Go enjoy a day outdoors together and begin your hunt for your weather stick.

2. I have only tested branches from conifers so far: a Balsam Fir and a Cedar tree. It could be fun to grab a few different kinds to see how different species react.

3. Try to collect from those trees that have already died and/or fallen to the ground that way you don’t have to kill a tree. It is not necessary to kill a tree to find a good weather stick.

4.Once you locate your desired tree, you can cut the trunk above and below the branch you wish to have as your weather stick. I used a set of pruning shears for this. If using a saw or knife, please be careful and children should be supervised while doing so.

5. Once you have your stick chosen, cut away all excess branches and twigs extending from the weather stick.

6. Shave off the bark if there is any left on the branch. This can be a delicate process since weather sticks are typically thin. Be careful not to snap your branch.

7. Once the bark is removed, your stick is ready to be mounted.

8. Mount stick as you wish, see what works and what doesn’t; just make sure that nothing will inhibit the movement of of the branch as the humidity fluctuates. I once set one up along a windowsill, so that while indoors, I could write details about the weather on the window to track the stick’s changes. Whenever the stick moved up or down, I would make a mark on the window and write the temperature and whether or not it rained or snowed that day.

Now watch for changes in your stick(s)!

Photos

Notice the Changes

In the first photo you will see two thumbtacks in the wall where the tip of the weather stick used to be. The thumbtacks represent a day where humidity was recorded to be %100, on an overcast day. The thumbtacks are at the base of each drawn arrow. The branches in this photo are where they normally go during dry, sunny weather.

*you will notice that the cedar branch (top weather stick) went down in high humidity (typically “poor’ weather) while the Balsam Fir (bottom branch) went up. There is a scientific theory based on wood-cell physics that will explain why some branches go up and others go down in identical weather conditions, if you follow this link.

http://www.new-potato.com/wstick/Science/science.html

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* Arrows indicate movement from overcast, high humidity to dry, warm conditions.

In the next photo, I have overlaid two snapshots of the sticks during different weather conditions, taken 2 days apart, so that you can see how much movement you might notice from day to day.

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* Black dots beside thumb tacks indicate high humidity conditions.

If you do end up using a Balsam Fir (as I have a few times) and you want the stick to perform by rising in “good” weather (dry) and falling in “poor” weather (high humidity), simply install it upside down 🙂 How we feel about the changes in humidity is relative though: A farmer might see high humidity as an indication of rain to come (good for crops) whereas too many dry days means drought and potentially a crop burned by the sun. Install your stick so it performs the way you wish.

Happy weather monitoring!

“Oh yes, wait a minute Mr. Postman…”

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I’m always curious what I can send through the mail system, before they reject it, and write “return to sender” on it, because it’s too weird or doesn’t fit in one of their various measuring instruments.

This time, I decided I would try and send a fabric post -card. I like sending post-cards because the limited amount of space for writing forces you to be succinct with your words (something I need more practice doing) and they are a nice way of simply letting someone know you’re thinking of them.

I decided on fabric because there is something funny about receiving awkwardly floppy mail. Usually mail (especially a post-card) is rigid enough to be held in one hand and easily read at the same time. The idea of a flimsy cotton post-card makes me chuckle. Fabric mail is also unique; I doubt many people have received such a piece of mail before. I was expecting this post-card to either get lost in the mail system, but it appears things went smoothly.

How to

  1. For this project I simply cut a rectangular piece of raw cotton (canvas) material and ran a straight stitch around the outside to prevent fraying. I then sewed on the stamp using a straight stitch as well.
  2. For the reverse, I used a piece of white cotton fabric to provide a nice base for writing on.
  3. For writing I used Pentel’s “Gell Roller for Fabric” pen. This pen is my favourite fabric pen so far and I have used it for many of my projects. It is the most versatile and I have found it draws/writes easily onto many fabrics. This ink does not require heat treating with an iron either, which is a bonus.
  4. I simply drew the design on and once it was dry, I flipped the fabric and wrote the message and destination address on the reverse.

This mail arrived within the same amount of time an ordinary letter might arrive, which lets me know it didn’t get lost in the mail or require extra care/handling to reach its destination.

Owly-owl

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So I bought a cute little owl at an art festival and decided to make a similar one for a baby shower.

yellow: festival owl black: my owly-owl

yellow: festival owl
black: my owly-owl

I heard that babies eyes develop a certain way, and that in the early weeks, they prefer high contrast images of black and white, only developing the ability to distinguish between bold colours after a month or so. Around that time, they still prefer bold contrasting patterns to lighter ones. This is why I decided to make my owl out of bold, contrasting colours, with a striking pattern on its belly.

I will have to wait to hear how the owl performs and if it catches baby’s attention at all. Time will tell.

How to “Tutowlrial”

http://moonstitches.typepad.com/photos/tutowlrial/

This is where I found visuals that explained how this little stuffie comes together.

For mine, I used a Pentel pen -“Gel Roller for Fabric BN15-A”  (my current favourite for quick fabric decor for the last two years) to draw on the eyes (less of a choking hazard than buttons) and the belly pattern that loosely resembles feathers. I contacted Pentel to make sure that my owl was sufficiently non-toxic and explained that it is expected to come into contact with a lot of drool.

Pentel told me that prolonged or chronic exposure has not proven to have harmful health effects and offered to send me the MSDS sheets for the particular ink pen in question, I hope they are right.

Fabric Bowls

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My roommate has this set of woven nesting bowls. She keeps all sorts of interesting things in them, often her extra little bottles of things in the bathroom, hairbrushes, hair accessories etc…

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I liked the idea and so I decided to make my own. It turns out they are a nice way to spruce up a boring plant pot as well (just make sure you remember to place a barrier inside to protect from water leaking from the pot).

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How to

  1. This design is pretty simple. It consists of a circle of fabric for the bottom of your bowl and a strip that will form the walls.
  2. Find a round container of the size you would like to reproduce and use it for your template. Trace the bottom for your round bowl bottom and measure the outside walls of the container  to determine how long of a strip of fabric you will need to make the outside wall of the bowl. For instance, you could use a large coffee tin for your bigger bowl.
  3. Another option would be to use math. Once you decide on how big your circle needs to be for the bottom, measure the diameter of the circle (the distance across the center from one edge to the other). Using an equation that we learned in grade-school, figure out the length you will need to make the strip that goes around the perimeter of the bottom circle, to make the walls of your bowl.

Equation

C= Pi x d

“C” is circumference (the perimeter of your circle). “Pi” is 3.14, and “d” is diameter.

  1. Once you have cut your fabric, cut a second set of shapes to be the liner for your bowl. I used a raw cotton canvas material because I wanted something that would be strong and hold its shape. If you use fabric that is too soft (i.e.: silk or thin cotton) the bowl may not hold its shape as well.
  2. Once you have your pieces, sew your two circles together and sew your strips together.
  3. Sew your strip together along its short edge so that it forms a sleeve shape. This will look like a container with no bottom.
  4. Using a zig-zag stitch setting on your sewing machine attach the circle to the strip. Be patient here, this takes time. You may need to remove the front piece of your machine base (so that you are working on the sleeve arm) while attaching the bottom piece. Alternatively, you may sew this bottom circle on by hand.
  5. Once the piece is attached, you are done.

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Good luck!