Category Archives: Your Creative Health

What do I mean by “Your Creative Health?” It’s that feeling of accomplishment and joy when you make something with your own hands. It’s about understanding how things are made and applying your brand to making them. This section will cover ideas for re-purposed, homemade, and shared projects. Hopefully these projects will allow you to save money, extend your resources, and reduce waste.

Fifty Nifty

Just last week I published my 50th post! I am sure that this is very impressive. Right? I am on my way!

Yeah. Okay…the question “on your way to where,” is appropriate. And quite frankly, I have no idea. I think I am like most bloggers out there. We have some ideas, we have some drive, we have some goals. And, we probably all have the secret hope that we can somehow make a living from this whim we embarked on. Or, maybe, a not-so-secret hope– I am still holding my husband to his promise that if I can make $60,000.00 a year off of this thing I can quit my day job. Perhaps it wasn’t a promise so much as a joke he will one day regret, and maybe this little baby has not made me a penny yet–but I am not put off. Oak trees come from acorns and all that. Though, I have to admit that maybe I need a plan.

Not too long ago, my husband sent me an article that really got me thinking, entitled 50 Ways to Promote and Market your Blog Posts, and it was spot on. I especially related to the sentence: “The adage of “build it and they will come” does not work on a web where you are competing with hundreds of millions of websites and over 2 billion internet users who still don’t know you exist.” (Read more at http://www.jeffbullas.com/2013/05/29/50-ways-to-promote-and-market-your-blog-posts/#7CiPqqePiSl8gWcJ.99). Bummer. But apparently there are things you can do…actions you can take to “build it.” I read through the list of 50 things recommended by Mr. Bullas and considered which I could start tackling and I have spent some more energy focusing on the baby-steps of self-promotion.

For example, I opened a Pinterest page, I activated my Facebook page for Lifeimproved.org (go ahead and click here and like my page now!). I also guest-posted on getrichslowly.org and tried to reach out to other bloggers. I begged my sisters to pin my stuff on Pinterest, and occasionally to share my stuff on Facebook. I started following more blogs and plan to be a lot more “chatty.” I am hopeful that all these small steps make a difference.

Unfortunately, I have hit a bit of a mental block, here. I started this project sort of on a whim and sort of to have something to inspire me during a challenging period in my life. It’s easy to spill all my secrets to a bunch of strangers, family and a select few really good friends. It’s a lot more difficult to invite all the people I am “friends” with on Facebook or connected with on Linkedin. Part of what makes blogging so liberating is the anonymity. Yet, if I want to invitedall these co-workers, acquaintances and casual friends to my blog, they would know an awful lot about me. It’s something I am not all together sure I am comfortable with yet. Don’t let that stop you, though, from recommending people follow this blog.

As an unintended consequence of these self-promotion attempts, I have been slowing down in my posts (crap–only 2 posts in September!?) I didn’t mean to. It’s just hard being so witty and thought-provoking and simultaneously trying to convince people to come see how witty and thought-provoking I am. Plus… I still have my day job.

As always, I welcome and encourage comments and questions, recommendations and advice.  If you have a blog and have had success with organic self-promotion, I would love to hear it.

Can’t Touch Dish

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I have been experimenting quite a bit with making my own products, mostly for cleaning, though I have ventured into beauty products. Some projects have been a huge success, some have been failures (big ones), and others… I can’t figure out and have no scientific proof that it’s working or not working–though everyone on the internet seems to say it is. In a previous post,  I went through my odyssey to create a safe, cheap, green alternative to expensive and chemicall-y all-purpose surface cleaner.  That was one of my huge successes, by the way. I absolutely love the solution I have created.  If you missed that article…well I just linked to it like five times, so go read it!  As noted above, though, other experiments have been a little less successful, as you will see below. 

In this post I want to talk about the dishwasher and my quest for the right detergent. Let me begin by explaining that while I am sometimes motivated by avoiding harsh chemicals, in this product that was not my primary motivation. I mean, you don’t ever really handle dishwashing detergent, so it is hard to get a sense for its harshness.  It was different with the all-purpose surface cleaner where I was concerned about what was remaining on surfaces, what I was inhaling, and what might unintentionally get on food.  Also, I don’t have allergies, and quite frankly, have never even heard of an allergy to dishwashing detergent like you would for laundry detergent.  It wasn’t so much the chemicals in my dishwashing detergent, it was the cost. The stuff is expensive!  When my husband and I finally committed to our weekly grocery budget, I decided staying out of the household cleaners aisle completely would go a long way towards staying under budget. 

However, I put off trying to make the detergent for a while because my sister-in-law assurred me it wouldn’t work.  Shaking her head in her been-there, done-that wisdom, she said, “no, it leaves stuff all over your dishes.” In the end, it’s not that I didn’t believe her. It’s just that I had decided my situation was different. Maybe it was her hard water, I thought. (honestly, I don’t even know if they had hard water… that just seems to be the go-to excuse with things being washed or rinsed.) Or… maybe she had a different recipe. Plus, I had already purchased Borax and Super Washing Soda for Laundry Detergent, so I pretty much already had all of the ingredients.  And all these people on the internet said it was soooo easy and perfect. So, why not!?

Like always, I hit the internet and found a recipe for the kind of detergent I could mold into shapes.  These recipes were essentially the same as the powder detergents, but added a bit more of a wet ingredient to allow it to clump together.  Recipes on-line were all very similar. They all pretty much used borax and super washing soda and some thing for an acid–vinegar, lemon juice, kool-aid (yes, kool-aid). 20131101-130614.jpgSometimes recipes also used regular baking soda, essential oils, and castille soap. I went with borax and super washing soda, vinegar, and a dash of Sal’s suds–not castille soap because we all learned from my eco-heroine, Lisa Bronner,  in this amazing post that vinegar and castille soap do not mix. I mixed everything up until it clumped like sand for a sand castle and then pressed it into my little molds.

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I have these nice silicone cupcake cups that I used, though I have also used plastic candy molds. Both work well, because the little guys can be popped out when fully dry.  Depending how wet the mixture was, it would take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to dry. Like usual, my science wasn’t exact, so it varied a lot. Sometimes I had a sloppy mess from trying to remove the wet detergent from a mold too soon, or when I put in too much Sal’s Suds. More often than not, though, the stuff hardened up and I could place them individually in a re-used jar. And voila! I had loads and loads of detergent for mere pennies.  

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I was so proud of my self.  I felt like I was single-handedly saving the planet and our budget.  But I was pre-maturely smug.  And this is where I feel the internet and many blogs often lead us astray.  They don’t really honestly explore the question about how well something works after someone brilliantly, cheaply, and easily makes something with their very own hands in their very own kitchen for the first time.  You can often get a better sense of how something actually works from the comments to post than from the post itself.  

In my different batches, I would make little changes here and there…more vinegar, less vinegar, added vinegar to the wash cycle, or sometimes vingear soaked in citrus peels for some additional essential oils. I also added sometimes added essential oils, reduced the borax, etc. It really didn‘t matter what I did, my dishwasher left most of my dishes clean, but also left a white deposit on many dishes. It wasn’t necessarily a film (thought sometimes it was) it was more like these white Rorschach-test splotches on some of my dishes that I would have to scrub off before the next cycle or it would get caked on. Was I putting in too much detergent? Or was I putting in too much of one ingredient into the detergent, Borax or Super Washing Soda? I put in less… made adjustments to all of it. I still had the same problem. I don’t have hard water or soft-water, so I couldn’t figure it out.

Still, I was stubborn. I convinced myself, and my husband, that it was not my beautiful, little, pressed pods that were a problem, but our dingy 15 year-old dishwasher. I felt sure that once we got a new dishwasher, everything would be spotless. So, we bought a new dishwasher (Aside–this was not as flippant a decision as it sounds. The dishwasher had not been performing well, was staring to leak, the nozzles were not nozzling and every cycle was leaving behind a lot of dried food particles. Plus we gave it away for free, so it lessened the guilt a bit about replacing an appliance.) We did not buy a top-of-the-line dishwasher, but solid, inexpensive one. I remained in denial for four cycles. And then had to admit that my dishwashing detergent was still leaving white stuff all over everything–though all the other problems were solved. We received two little Sample liquid pods of a name brand detergent that clearly did not leave the same residue behind.

I admitted defeat… except, that I still have some thoughts about this. Perhaps the trick is to make my detergent liquid–or buy a Bosch, which we did not do, by the way. Sadly, I will not buy a Bosch but I will continue to try to experiment with the detergent…partially out of stubborness, but also because the stuff I am now using isn’t perfect, either. I actually switched to store-bought dry detergent (previously I used a name-brand or store-brand gel detergent). The store-brand I now have is fairly inexpensive per wash. However, I have noticed that while it does not leave large white splotches like my home made cleaner did, it does leave a white, cloudy layer on certain items. Especially over time and on plastic.

So I am going to keep experimenting with making dishwashing detergent. I am not defeated.  I am going to look for a liquid recipe. I even bought some citric acid because it was super cheap and is apparently the magic solution to crystal clear glasses. Meanwhile, the little pods I made are actually great for an all-natural scrubbing agent, kind of like a substitute for Comet. In fact, I just used it today to clean the shower.  It worked beautifully.  I also use some as an abrasive to get the tea and coffee stains out of our mugs–because no matter how good the dish washer or the detergent, those do not come off unless scrubbed!

If anyone has any suggestions or comments, I would be happy to hear them! And I will keep you posted on my future experimentation. 

Boo-man Group

Just in time for Halloween! This is an easy project that requires just two materials: acrylic paint and a dried bottle gourd. Admittedly, finding a dried gourd can be tricky. I came across a cheap stash at a local nursery. They were $3 each for the dried, unscrubbed ones. The scrubbed ones were $5 each, and, looking back, I maybe should have paid the extra $2 because cleaning these suckers is hard work.

If you keep your eye out for them, I am sure you can find a cheap, local source. However, if you think these are so cute you want to go out and do them now, I seem to recall seeing them at Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Or, if you want practically free gourds and want to plan this project for next year, you can grow them!

On that note, before I get into the project, let’s talk about the gourds. Some people don’t actually realize that these are plants. The dried gourd you plan to craft with was recently growing on a vine somewhere, similar to pumpkins and cucumbers. They are just a particular kind of squash or melon.

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According to Wikipedia, this plant was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not primarily for food, but for use as a water container.” It can be also be eaten. While ancient cultures have used this amazing plant for functional and necessary purposes, we are not so noble. We are going to make cute, fun little ghosts.

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Dried Gourd Turorial

Step 1) Prepare your dried gourd. This means scrubbing the dickens out of it if it still has the flaky black bits on it. 20131007-222118.jpg Incidentally, this is mold…I recommend that you wear gloves and maybe a mask. And if you are having your kids help, do the scrubbing for them. Though, quite honestly, I have never had an issue. Since you are painting the gourds, they don’t have to be pristine. Just make sure you get the flakiness off so your paint does not peel.
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Step 2) Once gourd is flake-free and dry, you can paint it. Go ahead, be generous. I used white acrylic paint and had to do many, many layers before I was satisfied, but the stuff dries quickly so it’s not a big deal. Why not get creative and add some metallic or glitter paint. There is also no reason you can use a color other than white. However, I went traditional Ghostbusters on this and used black and white. I have done the project before with a foam brush and a paint brush. Both work well.

Step 3) Draw in your eyes and mouth. I used black acrylic paint, but you can get creative with this. I also rimmed the stem with black and added a little detail to the back for fun. When you are happy, give it a spray of glossy sealer.
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If you search far and wide for bottle gourds and only find apple gourds, do not despair, here are some Halloween/ Fall ideas with apple gourds.

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The Big Time!

I promise to do a real post shortly, but I just wanted to let my readers know that the very popular site “Get Rich Slowly” published an article of mine today! I am  excited (and totally ignoring comments 21-24).  Follow the link below to check out the story:

http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2013/10/06/reader-stories-our-lightbulb-moment/#comments

And while a bit more subtle, I am taking props for next “shout out” too.  A few months back when I wrote the article about making a natural all-purpose cleaner, I linked to this great article on the website, “Going Green with a Bronner Mom“.   After stumbling across the site when doing research for green cleaning products, Lisa Bronner instantly became one of my eco-heroes. I posted on her site and she replied!  So here goes…are you ready for me to totally over-exagerate credit due?

My Comment:

“Hi Lisa–this article was the one that kept me coming back for more! Love your site. I hope you don’t mind I referred and linked to it in my article.https://lifeimproved.org/2013/03/16/the-solution-to-my-solution/.”

Lisa’s Reply

“Carolina – Thank you for the link! You have a great article there.”

And while we are on the subject, let’s support each other! I mean, if you have a blog, clearly you want other people to read it (otherwise it would just be a journal–or a diary if you’re 12).  I would be happy to consider your posts or ideas for my blog.  And it goes without being said, that if you like an article of mine, feel free to provide a link and re-post it! Feel free to put it on FaceBook, Pinterest, etc.  And of course, you can always leave a (nice) comment.

A crafting Quickie!

This project is so quick and easy you’ll want to start decorating everything. It’s really addictive! I started with a set of three dingy votive holders that held remnants of wax and soot. Cleaning them out was surprisingly easy. I just scrubbed under hot water with dish soap for a bit. And voila!

20130916-193151.jpg You get a nice clean surface to start off with. This is important because even though you’ll be putting a covering on the outside, glass happens to be see-through. Other than the votive (or other glass container), you need tissue paper, a brush and glue (yep, regular old elmer’s school glue is fine–and super cheap right about now). You don’t need to buy modge podge or make it from flour and stuff. Just get plain, white school glue.

So here is the easy tutorial. It practically writes itself.

1) Grab your soon-to-be-fabulous-but-currently-plain-and-boring glass container. Grab your glue and put it in a small, shallow bowl. I added a few drops of water to make it a bit easier to spread.
2) Measure your tissue paper to cover the surface. You can spend a lot of time actually measuring the paper, but this is too much effort! You can always fix it later (as long as it’s too big. If it’s too small, you are screwed).
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3) Spread a layer of glue onto the glass and start to apply the tissue. Caution: do not manipulate the tissue paper too much, it will tear! And it’s tricky to patch up because it is pretty obvious where you’ve doubled up. 20130916-193207.jpg
4) After you’ve applied your layer of tissue, apply another layer of glue to the outside. Be generous. You are sealing it in.
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5) Let dry for many hours. In the end, it looks like a cool frosted design. Here is the final product. a href=”https://lifeimproveddotorg.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/20130916-200604.jpg”>20130916-200604.jpg
And what’s really great about this is if you get sick of it, you can just let it soak in water and start all over again. This project is perfect for changing seasonal home decor or decorating for special occasions.

Bring it on in: home decor from the outdoors

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One of my favorite perennial flowers is the Siberian Iris. They are the straighter, cleaner, less delicate cousin of that other show off, the bearded iris. This is a great plant not only for its tall, beautiful flowers, but also because they have interest before and after they bloom–well into late summer. In the spring, they start to come up early in straight, contained clumps that provide structure and height to your spring flower bed. Then they bloom. The quintessential color is that deep purple seen above (plantings courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden). After the flowers fall off, a thick, green bulbous head is left on the stalk. This is the seed pod. It stays bright green for quite a while before slowly starting to turn yellow by the end of the summer.
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And then in the fall, something wonderful happens. The seed pods turn brown brittle and opens up, like a tiny little cup just waiting to be tipped over to spill its seeds and propagate.

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While I cut many of my iris flowers for bouquets throughout the spring and summer, I always make sure to leave some of the flowers so that I end up with these dried seed pods. I have used them in my home decor for many years.

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Where (Young) Eagles Fly

In this post I want to talk about a free program that few people know about: Young Eagles.  This is a program promoted by the Experimental Aircraft Association (“EAA”), and its hundreds of chapters across the country.  Did you know that there is a probably an EAA chapter near you that offers free flights in really cool airplanes to kids–okay, okay, they probably also offer free flights for adults, too, but it’s all about the kids, right?

Anyhow, some chapters hold several events a year, some only one or two, but there are there are almost 1,000 active local EAA and divisional Chapters and Squadrons all over the world so, chances are, you live by one.  You may not even realize it.  I mean, why would you be interested in general aviation unless you are a pilot?! However, general aviation is about more than just having an expensive hobby. It is important to keep it alive at the grass roots level and you should expose your kids to a Young Eagles flight and general aviation immediately for many reasons:

1) It’s really cool. Cooler than cars and trains. And it is totally accessible.

2) It can help foster an interest in science and technology. Aviation incorporates many scientific principals like lift and drag and deals routinely with meteorological influences, engineering design, and gravitational force.  Do you want your kids to be engineers? Take them to a Young Eagles Rally and before you know it, they’ll start building rockets and start talking about Newton’s first, second, and third laws.*

3) You can’t be an astronaut unless you are first a pilot. There are also many other careers that an interest in general aviation can lead to: meteorologist, rocket scientist, engineer, A & P mechanic, as well as careers in avionics, government at all levels, and the private sector.

4) Young Eagles flights are FREE!

NOTE: getting a pilot’s license is not free. It can be the opposite of free. However, if you start young, there are many programs available through the EAA that can help defray the cost and get a kid pretty far.

5) It can take up a nice chunk of your day if you have nothing better to do with the little rugrats.  Many Young Eagles events offer other amenities like flight simulators, pancake breakfasts, tours of the airport, and if you’re my local chapter, cows, a pond and a walking trail.  By default, airports are usually large tracts of land.  They can be fascinating to explore.

Are you ready to take them?  Your child can particiapte in a Young Eagles flight if they are between the ages of  8 and 17.  They will go in whatever plane the volunteers for that day are flying, which can be anything from a Cessna to a Stearman. The flights generally last between 15 and 20 minutes.  Kids will receive an official Young Eagles logbook, signed by the pilot. And there is nothing that says that your kid can’t go on multiple Young Eagles flights.

Now, this does require a leap of faith….you are, after all, sticking your child on a small plane with a probable stranger.  And the name, Experimental Aircraft Association, doesn’t help.** There is nothing experimental about it.  The program has a phenomenal safety record, the pilots are trained, and the events are well-coordinated. And, c’mon, it’s free. The pilots and volunteers donate their time and their planes and their gas because they believe that keeping an interest in general aviation alive is important.  Plus, it will be the coolest thing your kid will do all year.

Read more about the program here: http://www.youngeagles.org/flightplan/flight.asp.  Find your local chapters at either of the two links above.  Then call the Young Eagles Coordinator to ask about upcoming progamming.

And if you keep thinking, why should my kid have all the fun, then go here: http://www.eaa.org/eagleflights/

*results not guaranteed

**Emphasis added for Irony

Pillow talk

I’ve had this cable-knit throw for years. I really like it. Perhaps that is why I held on to it far past its prime.

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Coincidentally, I have been searching high and low for cheap pillow covers. Mine have been looking sad.  Having furry little animals doesn’t help the ivory raw silk I bought before they came around. As I finally admitted that I needed to retire the throw, the answer revealed itself.  It was like peanut butter meeting chocolate.

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I can’t get too fancy with this sewing thing. Despite all the tutorials I have pinned from Pinterest, sewing with zippers is way beyond my skill-set. And buttons … they create their own set of problems. But, I needed the pillow covers to be removable, so I couldn’t just sew the four edges and leave them be.  That left the Envelope-style pillow cover. Easy. Below is my tutorial. After my tutorial is a better tutorial where the patient, clever lady actually measures and sews things. I take the guestimate approach and prefer to use fabrics with straight lines so I don’t have to measure or pin.

1) Start by cutting a long rectangle about 1/2 inch wider than your pillow but about 2 & 1/2 times to  2 & 3/4 times the length of your pillow. The looser or stretchier the material, the longer you want to make the length because it may gape a bit.

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2) Lay out the piece good side up and and fold back the top to create a pocket.
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The inside of the pillow should be facing out. Sew down the right and left side.20130805-194713.jpg

This top that is sewn first will also be the top side of your pouch, so if you have a nicer seam at one of the ends, this one should be the one flipped back first.

3) Then take your bottom half and flip up lay several inches over the top flap. Remember, you want the top and bottom to over lap.

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This is where some measuring might come in handy. I did this casually by laying the pillow on top of my folded almost-done cover to size it up. It looked about right, so I carried on.

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4) Now sew the bottom half along the right and left edges.
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5) Flip right side out, poke out the corners and stuff your pillow inside. Now sit back and enjoy your work.
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For those of you desiring more precision, check out this great tutorial. I find mine more inspiring, though, because it should leave you feeling that of I can do it, and make it turn out, so can you! Look how nice.
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This project was so easy I made these, too, out of a tablecloth I ended up with.

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Mobiles

For many years, my go-to baby gift was a set of totally over-priced (but thoroughly adorable) baby socks and a crinkly, rattle-type thing. Recently, though, I wanted to make more personal gifts. And I was on this scrap fabric kick so I wanted a project that I could make with scraps. I bought plain baby onesies double-sided fusing to make cute designs.
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See, totally cute, right?! Except…the onesies seemed kind of a short-lived gift, especially when baby goo squirted out the back of a diaper–the sad fate of the chubby penguins above. I always had making a baby mobile at the back of my mind, but the project seemed too ambitious. However, a few weeks ago, my very special friends announced they were pregnant. (Aside: all my friends are special, but these friends got pregnant at the right time…when I had already experimented with the fusible webbing for a while–and after the baby goo incident.)

So, I committed to making a mobile for their baby. I had plenty of time…more than seven months, so I could take my time. I searched the Internet, craft, and hardware stores for the right piece. Specifically, I was looking for a four-way connector to cross two sticks or wires. I didn’t want to purchase the whole thing, I wanted to salvage materials from home or nature and use scraps to make the decorative pieces. Unfortunately, nothing existed for mere craft mortals. I have no idea if there is some secret resource out there for all things connectors, but I did not come across it. For a crazy second, I considered buying a kit and just using what pieces I needed. But that was wasteful and all I really needed was the thing on which to hang all my craftiness.

I abandoned the idea of ever finding a connector piece, or even for making a cross–at least for this mobile. My next choice was going with a circle. Heck. I could make a circle.

“From what?” you ask. Well, the most obvious option was using a hanger. You know, one of those annoying wire ones from the dry cleaners. My husband laughed at me. He figured that using the hanger would make the project look like a grade school project. I accepted the challenge.

With tin snips, I cut off both sides just where the hanger started to swoop up. I then entwined the two ends together and once the connection was secure, I pushed and pulled the hanger into a circle. Granted, it was not a pretty circle and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the ends I had cut to not poke out dangerously. I eventually got the circle look more like a circle, but no matter how much I tried, I could not get the pokey ends to not stick out. Since I knew I would be covering the hanger, I was not too worried about it.

I then cut many, many strips of a plain cotton fabric that the week before lined the interior of my throw pillows. My plan was to wind the fabric around until I could no longer feel the pointy tips. I think it ended up being about three layers. I distressed the edges for that shabby baby effect. I used glue to make the fabric stick.

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At this point, I decided to make the hanging implement. I used tulle because I had a lot of it. I took four long pieces of tulle and wound and knotted them at four opposite points on the circle.

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NOTE: I later decided to hang a little owl from the center…and had to go back and fix things. So, if you want to hang a critter from the middle, it would be easier if your hung an extra length of tulle or your ribbon of choice from the center now.

Take all the lengths and gather them about one foot above the circle. I tied a knot. Don’t bother trying to tie a bow because it will be impossible to get all the lengths to me the same. Since I was using tulle, I knew I could get a big poofy puff at the end.

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To do that, I folded back all the ends and tied them with a piece of twine. I then cut off the ends that were beneath the twine and covered the twine with a thick piece of tulle, which was glued down.

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Now that my structure was in shape, it was time for the fun (and time consuming) part of making my little owls. Clearly, any little bug or animal design would work. I went with owls. And I wanted to make them two sided and poofy, with feet and ears sandwiched in the middle. This was just the way my little owls developed.

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Above are pictures of the materials for constructing my owls. The fronts were made up of a big circle for the body, a smaller oval for the belly, two pointy ovals for wings, and a triangle piece for a nose. (See the photos below). The back had a big circle for the body, and a tail. In addition to these pieces, I used a polyester batting for stuffing, double-sides fusible webbing, tulle for hanging the owls and the mobile, and fabric paint for the eyes. You can use regular glue, too, but the fusible stuff dries a lot more quickly.

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I fashioned some ears and feet.

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My owls were constructed by taking one of the circles and sticking on the pieces on the front and then taking the other circle and sticking the little tail on the back. At this point, the front and back are not attached. If you have ears and feet, you can now attach them to one of the sides, on the inside.

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Since I wanted to make these owls poofy, at some point I needed to stuff these little guys. At first I tried to stuff them like little dumplings, i.e. stick a clump of stuffing in the center of my owl and sandwich it in, but that made it tricky to add enough stuffing. After a different methods, I found that what worked best was to fuse the edges a portion at a time, until I had a gap (usually between the ears) to shove stuffing into. This made for lil’ fat owls. I could then finish with my tulle ribbon between the ears. I stuffed the ends of the tulle into the gap between the ears and fused them to seal the tulle inside. By leaving this step for last, I could wrap the ribbon around the circle hanger and not have to worry about tying it on.

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Then repeat several more times until you have enough little fellows to be happy with your mobile. I did nine owls of varying sizes, fabric combos and styles.

The final touch was to add eyes. I decided to use fabric paint for the eyes mostly because the idea of cutting out all those little circles made my head spin. The fabric paint was a lot easier.

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And now it’s ready to lull a baby to sleep.

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Pretty Petals–Ribbon Flower Tutorial

Here is a fun flower tutorial. In this style you cut out individual petals. The trick, though, is to use a lighter or flame to curl the petals. So you need to find a fabric that will basically melt instead of burn. I have found that many shiny ribbons will do work very well.

What you will need to start:

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A ribbon, a flame, scissors. You can use a candle like in the photo, but I honestly found more control with a lighter. The downside is that the sucker gets hot!

Cut your ribbon into pieces that you can then shape into rough petals. You can vary the size of your petals or leave them all the same…it’s really up to your own design aesthetic.

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Once you have all your petals roughly cut, hold them over the flame to melt the edges and get them to curl slightly. You will get a sense of how the fabric behaves after just a few petals. 20130531-204751.jpg

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Once you have amassed your petals, start constructing your flower. Again, I like to use a base of sturdy fabric to see the flower onto so that I have control of its shape. I prefer to sew, but there is no reason you couldn’t glue the thing if that is your preference–except that its messy and not as sturdy.

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Once you have sewn all your petals on, you can go back and fill in spots and manipulate the petals by holding a flame to them.

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Here’s another flower done in pink and organza ribbon. I attached a pin and clip to the back to make it wearable. 20130531-210024.jpg

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(These flower pins and others available for purchase at http://www.etsy.com/shop/LifeImproved)

Savvy Save

This basic, ultra-functional, little cotton v-neck was about to become a new headband, or flower pin, or whatever was the t-shirt project of the hour was on Pinterest. I unknowingly splashed some drain cleaner on it the last time I wore it and next thing I knew, it had little splotches on it.

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I thought about trying to salvage by tie-dying, but I don’t really care for tie-dye, so I probably wouldn’t wear it. But, the bleach thing I could work with. Playing with bleach didn’t have to be in concentric circle format, after all. So I took a chance and decided to paint with bleach.

I grabbed a couple of q-tips, a shallow small bowl with a small amount of bleach, and some contraption to keep the front of the t-shirt from touching the back and keeping the fabric somewhat taut. I used a glass baking dish.

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Then I went for it. I tried to use the splotches to guide my design. Obviously, with the q-tips as my “brush”, precision was not going to happen.

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You are only limited here by your creativity, and tools. Obviously, if I had wanted to get really artistic, I could have used a finer point on my painting instrument. I did read online that bleach will dissolve synthetic fibers, so careful, both on the fabrics and brushes you use. Be patient, too. The fabric will continue to lighten and if you keep adding bleach to the design your shapes will run together. As when I was done with my design and satisfied with the bleachiness of my dots, I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the shirt with water and then threw it in the dryer.

I also found out online that this is old news. I am not a genius. It’s been done before and there are a lot of posts about it. I guess now there is one more!

This was my end product, which I am pretty sure I will wear. If not, I can always make headbands out of it.

Holey Sheet

This post regards was previously my favorite sheet set. Then the cats came along a couple years back and slowly, over many months, their little claws caused little holes that, with some unintentional help by me, ended up as huge gaping holes.

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It’s not that they mean to do this. Unfortunately one of my cats is a little on the corpulent side and he needs a little grappling assistance to scale the mattress.

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There’s the culprit. It’s a flattering photo. He actually quite massive. In any case, this past Sunday, I finally took scissors to the sheets. I could have made pillow cases…but that is so expected (and I thought maybe too challenging?). I decided to make bulk produce and grain bags.

1) CUT OUT THE CLOTH YOU WILL WORK WITH: I started out with the established side seams thinking this would give me an already finished edge and less work. I cut about sixteen inches down the entire length of the side seam. It seemed like a good size. Lucky for me, my sheets had stripes.

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2) IRON: I then debated about whether I really needed to iron this for several minutes. I hate ironing. I am much more the spray and hang kind of girl. But the more I tried to lay the sheet flat to cut my panels, the more I realized this would be easier if I just ironed the darn thing. So I recommend it. If I can do it, so can you.

3) CUT INDIVIDUAL PANELS. Back from ironing, I could lay my sheet flatly on my cutting board and decide how big I wanted my bags. Here is where I remind people that I am not a sewer. At least not a good one. I am not even sure I am using the terminology correctly. Please correct me (nicely) if I am not. Also, I was kind of winging this project as far as size goes. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter that you make one the same size as mine, so I am not going to tell you to cut panels that are 16″H X 11″ W (11″ being the seam side) like I did. I am going to tell you to cut equal panels for the size bag you want to make, remembering that you might lose about an inch from both height and width after sewing. I ended up cutting 16″ X 11″ panels because that’s about the size of my cutting board and I found this long piece of cardboard that helped me cut a straight edge. If I had not come across this piece of cardboard, I guarantee my panel would have been much smaller. Also, I debated about whether I really needed to make two panels per bag, or one panel twice the width that I could fold in half and have one less seam. I finally decided to go with two panels because I like the idea of have a definite seam at each side. BUT, you could definitely save yourself some cutting and sewing by making one long panel (i.e, using my measurements above, 22″ W X 16″ H.)

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3) MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CLEAN SEAM ON TOP: I then placed my two panels together. My sheets really didn’t have a front or back, but if yours did, you would want to make sure that the good side was facing in at this point. NOTE: if you decided to go with one long panel, skip to step 4, unless you need to stitch the top, then see the next note. NOTE: If you did not cleverly use a pre-made seam at the top of your bag, then the very first thing you want to do it fold each panel about 1/8 ” down and sew a seam across both tops separately. When putting the panels back together, the seams will be facing out (the good side will be facing in).

4) CREATE FINISHED EDGE FOR THE DRAW STRING: Once you have a clean edge on the top, you take both corners on one side and flip them back (away from each other) about a quarter inch. Sew down each side separately about an inch and a half. You are not sewing these two panels together, you are creating a finished edge on each panel, the purpose for which you can see in the last photo even though that is jumping several steps ahead.

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5) SEW SIDE SEAM (on opposite side): After sewing these little seemingly random seams above, go to the opposite length and sew the panels together down the entire side.

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6) TRIM YOUR SEWN SIDE: At this point you can trim the entire side seam or just notch it like I did below. You do this to make the next step easier, which is going to be adding your draw string. You can, of course, add your draw string later, but only if you want to plan a thoroughly aggravating and frustrating project for yourself. Add it here, it’s much easier.

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7) ADD DRAW STRING: Once you have either trimmed or notched the seam you just sewed, spread out the now-connected panels seam side up. Spread your draw string across the top of the bag. I used a thick, candy-cane colored twine for your easy viewing pleasure. However, any substantive string or ribbon would work. Make sure it is about six to nine inches wider than the bag on EACH side (or at least a foot longer than the combined width of the bag). Fold the top down about 1/2 inch. You want to make sure and push your draw string all the way up into the crease. I would recommend pinning the draw string at the very top to make sewing faster, especially if you are using a flat ribbon that you cannot feel through the folded fabric. The important thing is to NOT sew the string. Sew below the string so that it will continue to move freely.

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8) SEW REMAINING EDGES: Once you have completed sewing and confirm that your draw string moves freely, fold the bag back, good sides facing in and touching. Since you have already sewed back the remaining side by about 1/2″, I found it helpful to actually sew only about 1/4″ seam on this side now, otherwise the top where your drawstring comes out bulges a little too much. Begin sewing just under your top seam all the way down the side. Finish up with a final stitch along the bottom to close up the bag. Trim it up, flip it outside in, and you have a bag great for produce or bread! Here’s a tip since they’re not see-through:Take the sticker from the produce and apply to the outside of the bag to make the cashier’s life a little easier. Also, since these bags can be a bit weightier than polyester bags you can buy on-line, when you first get into a store with a digital scale, weigh the bags without anything in them so you know how much you have to take off the total weight.

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9) USE BAG: My Husband, the (reluctant) hand model.

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Other good uses: a shoe bag for travel, a lingerie/underwear bag for travel, a gift bag (great with pretty ribbon), or lunch bags.

And I realized that by starting small, I could now totally handle making nice pillow cases.

BAG TWO

I also ended up making a cloth “sandwich” bag. I wanted to re-create that fold-over concept for bulk grains and dried fruit so that they wouldn’t fall out. I had two small-ish panels left over from what I had cut out above. These panels had no finished edge because I had to cut around some holes.

1) CREATE POCKET: So I started with one panel folded it down about 1/4 inch. I sewed a clean edge. (I should also have serged this edge, as I found out later when I flipped it back.) I then folded this side down about two inches, so that the clean edge is facing up. I then pinned this down and forgot about it for a while. DO NOT SEW THE BOTTOM EDGE OF FLAP TO THE PANEL. EVER. You are creating a pocket here.

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2) CREATE FINISHED EDGES ON THE NON-POCKET PANEL: I then took the next panel and folded the top down 1/4″ and stitched and serged the top, and then did the same to each side (though not to the bottom.) Too late I found this fabulous link to make nice corner. Maybe next time. But I included the link above if you are feeling ambitious.

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3) PUT BOTH PANELS TOGETHER: I then put both panels together. My pocket is facing in. On the other panel, the clean side is facing in. I then stitched both sides together. I flipped my panels over so that my previously sewn panel was on top so that I could follow those stitches down. If you are a better sewer than I am and you left yourself room on the outside of your previous stitch, you could do a nice double stitch. What you do not want to do, however, is sew on the inside of the previous stitch.

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Finally, I stitched the bottom and flipped it inside out.

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I decided I didn’t like the way the top flipped in on the sides, so I just sewed them down. Remember, I am not the world’s greatest sewer. But they turned out nicely.

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I welcome comments and suggestions!

(Other) People are so clever

Last Saturday I went to small craft fair in Woodstock, Illinois. This is nothing new. I like crafts and I visit Woodstock fairly often. What is new is that this is the first time I have gone to a craft fair since starting this blog. For a minute I thought about just sneakily taking a photo and recreating the items for my adoring public. But, I quickly realized that was not cool. I decided, instead, to use my powers for the good of man-kind. So I am sharing some crafts that completely impressed me.

By the way, I don’t know these people, their partners, parents or cousins. I am not associated with them, and I sure the heck wouldn’t get anything if you decided to buy anything from them…I just think that people making cool things from old materials deserve praise:

The Modern Homesteader

I have seen many fork crafts in my day, but I really appreciated the simplicity in The Modern Homesteader’s crafts.
These cheese labels are clever and stylish. Just stick them right into your cheeses and done.

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I didn’t really do justice to these labels in the photo, but this next craft is simple and so functional. These are herb and plant labels (they end pretty much where the picture cuts off on the left) They are perfect for the planting season and pretty enough to use decoratively on an indoor potted plant. 20130504-230615.jpg
And finally from The Modern Homesteader, these wooden spatulas that were planed and shaped from pallets!! And priced way too cheap for all the work that went into them!

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The Modern Homesteader has a Facebook and Etsy page. Check them out for some clever items.

Pretty Theory

Next are the ingenious items made from hard back books that Cricket Mrozek of Pretty Theory makes (Even her name is creative!)

First are these book marks made from book bindings. They are sturdy and smart!
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But these purses…they are so unique. You have to look twice to even realize it’s a purse. What a great conversation piece.

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You can find more things at Prettytheory.com.

Slowburn Candles

And finally, the delicious smelling, high-quality soy candles that Kris Hayden of Slowburn Candles makes from wine bottles. I mean, how many of these do each of us throw away every week year? And according to Kris, that lighting-an-alcohol-soaked-cloth-wrapped-around-the-bottle-on-fire trick that is all over Pinterest really just doesn’t work. They’ve taken time to perfect their craft, and have some really great smelling soy candles, too. These would be great indoors or out, but just imagine how perfect for an outdoor dinner party! 20130504-230646.jpg        20130504-230650.jpg

Slowburn Candles ships, too! Check them out their website, www.Slowburncandles.com

Clever Leather(like) fabric roses

Sometimes I make really cool things completely by accident. And since I didn’t intend to make it…I didn’t take before-hand pictures. I was cutting up this old t-shirt to make T-shirt yarn after I saw this done on Pinterest, and had the leftover part with these big shiny black numbers. I separated non-number having t-shirt strips for random projects and also started cutting the numbers into strips. I was left with these shiny 1/2″ strips.

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See, the back is just t-shirt fabric. So, I started with my go-to flower, the rose, and by the time I was done, I realized I had created a leather-looking flower! Kinda cool.

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Tank top up cycle

So I had this ratty old tank with a hole in it that I had been hanging onto for who knows what reason. It was just so soft and I thought a use would eventually come to me.
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See…the hole is pretty obvious. I was finally inspired to cut it up when I saw this great head band idea on Pinterest. This I could totally do. Here is my version of this project.

1) Cut a long strip about 1 1/2 ” thick. Make sure to use the seam here as a natural end for the headband.

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2) Measure the strip so that it will go around your head, but so the ends just meet. The jersey material is stretchy so don’t worry you’ll go too small. Cut the strip into three strips only up to seam. Do not cut through stitching of seam.

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3) braid length of strip making sure it doesn’t get all twisty. Secure end with something if you are not going to sew right away.

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4) place ends together and fold the braided end into the seam so there is a nice, smooth finish.

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I was so proud of myself. These were easy and now I didn’t have to get those elastic headbands from the store. You can get creative, too and make them a little fancier. I took one strip, about 1/4 inch thick and cut that into three really thin strips (like, thin enough to thread beads). Cutting the ends at an angle helps to thread the beads. 20130421-211117.jpg20130421-211719.jpg
I originally intended to do this braided thing where the beads always end up on the outside but my tank fabric was not structured enough for this. So I just threaded several beads per strand and then randomly spaced them out. 20130421-211727.jpgIt turned out really cute.

Of course, this project doesn’t use up all the tank. Even if you made a dozen headbands, you would still have scraps left over. I had the seams from the neck and arm holes and small strips I had cut of from the length.

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I didn’t want to throw them away. So I started making flower pins.

The seams were perfect for a rosette because they are already folded for you! It made a very contemporary, compact flower.
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The strips I ruffled by using a running stitch and then pulling taught until I got the ruffle I wanted. 20130421-211210.jpg20130421-211154.jpg<I then sewed the ruffle around until I got a the desired effect. 20130421-211159.jpgTotally adorable. 20130420-131123.jpg20130420-141521.jpg20130420-141528.jpg

I also made a third type of florette. A simple string of five circles, folded in half and connected with a running stitch.

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