Archive for the ‘Crafts’ Category

I’ve kicked the plastic bag habit, but there’s always the occasional plastic bag that gets into my house. I swear, it’s like an infestation or something, I don’t know how those things get in! Anyway, instead of just carting them off to the grocery store to be recycled, I thought maybe I could cut them into strips and crochet something out of them.

I’ve been needing a new bathmat in the bathroom, and I thought this would work perfectly. Easy to make, easy to clean, it would dry fast, it would be free, and best of all, it would divert something out of the waste stream.

It’s really quite easy to prepare plastic bags to be crocheted. There’s even a nifty way to hook the bag strips together without having to tie any bulky knots.

First, take your plastic bag and fold or roll it so the handles are at one end, and the bottom at the other.

Then, cut it into strips 1-2 inches wide, like this. Each strip will open up to a loop, and that’s exactly what you want. Don’t cut the loops open! You will have to discard the handles and the sealed strip at the bottom of the bag.

Open up the loops, and pull one through the other one, about halfway, so now you have two small loops.

Take one of the ends of the loop and pull it through the one on the other end. Basically, loop it through itself. It will look like this:

Pull it tight, and there you have it!

Continue the process by looping another one on the end, and in no time, you’ll have a giant ball of plastic, ready to be made into something new.

So I started crocheting. And….I blew through my stash of plastic bags. This thing has been quite a while in-the-making, since I just don’t accumulate plastic bags that quickly. That’s a good thing, but this half-finished rug lying around my living room has been starting to annoy me.

Enter: Madeline, my cat.

Something I have to tell you about Maddie: I don’t know why, but apparently, she loves plastic, and she’s been absolutely loving my rug-in-progress. Seriously. Husband and I were laying in bed the other night and wondering about the rustling sound we were hearing from the living room, along with cat howls. In the morning, we found my plastic rug, in a pile in the dining room. She drags it around at night and howls (with joy??). Since I didn’t have enough plastic to make a rug anyway, I went ahead and just finished it as a cat-sized little square for her.

Behold, the happiest cat ever, pictured with her new bed.

But I still don’t have a rug! So when we took down all the plastic window sealer, I started cutting that up into strips and crocheting with it. (As a side note, I hate that we have to seal our windows with plastic every year, but that’s the best solution for us right now. As much as I’d love to just replace all the windows, that’s a task for our landlord.) That clear plastic film in rug form actually looks nice! It gives off a bit of silvery shine and makes a thick mat. But given that I used all the plastic from all the windows and it’s not nearly as big as I want, it might take me about 3 years to finish it 🙂 And in the mean time, I just have to get my cat to NOT steal it….

This was a bit more time-consuming to work with, because when you cut it up it doesn’t make nice loops that you can hook together. I tried cutting it into a spiral shape, and that didn’t work at all. The plastic tore apart at every curve or corner. So I ended up cutting each piece into the longest strips possible and just tying them together. Yeah, it was a bit of a pain, but it gives another use to something that we usually throw away every year. And that makes it worth the trouble.

Here it is as I was just starting out:

And here it is now. Madeline comes running every time the camera comes out, and the fact that I brought my other plastic rug out of the closet was an added bonus. This was the best I could do, a blur of a cat running to get in the picture:

And a few of the happy kitty, just for good measure. She does try so hard to be in every picture, after all.



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Husband’s work had a gift exchange this year, but it was something a little different. They had a Yankee Swap, but instead of buying a gift, everyone was supposed to bring a handmade, homemade gift they made themselves.

In addition to being less commercial and (likely) more eco-friendly, it was a great way to showcase everyone’s talent (or lack of talent, as some of the gag gifts suggested). And it was just plain cool.

Gifts ranged from knitted scarves, bookmarks, screen-printed pillowcases, framed photographs, baked goods, mini clay sculptures, mix CDs, and so much more. What a cool idea, and so completely obvious. It seems like just one more thing to have to do in an already busy time, but I had so much fun making my gift, and I imagine others did too. What a great way to bring some meaning back into gift giving. I usually try to make most of my gifts anyway, but it was fun to know that everyone had made theirs too. Usually, I’m the rogue crazy environmentalist offering homemade lip balm and vanilla extract, wrapped up in a reusable bag made from an old umbrella, and it felt good to not be the odd one out for a change.

So what did I make? I wasn’t sure where to start, but I wanted to definitely make something fun and whimsical. Then husband asked, “what’s a Yankee Swap without a Yankee to swap?” And it was all over from there. I had to make a Yankee. Uncle Sam was my inspiration (whom I have now decided bears the surname Yankee).

And here he is, himself. Uncle Sam Yankee.


Did anyone else give or receive cool handmade gifts this year?

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Save those cherry pits!

Here in Boston, the weather has really been warming up. You would think that makes it the wrong time of year to be thinking about making a heating pad, but I’m here to tell you that now is the perfect time to start working on this project. Why? Because cherries are in season.

I know this sounds really strange, but go with me here for a minute. You see, cherry pits do something awesome when you put them in the microwave: they will stay warm for like 3 hours. And they smell wonderful.

So start collecting cherry pits. Save them, clean them up, and sew a little cloth bag to put them all in. And come winter, when you need a little warmth or have a headache, this will be the best thing in the world.

This will also work well as an ice pack too if kept in the freezer. Just make sure to keep it in a Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get dried out.

You can use any number of things to hold heat or cold for long periods of time: corn (not popcorn of course!), soybeans, rice. But of all of them, the cherry pits definitely smell the best. Corn would be a close second, but it’s hard to find good dried corn outside of a farm town. (That’s what I used to make them when I lived in Ohio.) And when you do find it, it usually comes mixed with those animal feed pellets that you have to sift out.

An old cloth placemat makes a great heating pad

The downside (or upside!) is that you’ll need to eat a lot of cherries. And I mean a lot. The standard size bag I like to make is with a cloth placemat folded in half lengthwise and sewn shut. A bag that size takes about 5 cups of filler. And a 2 lb. bag of cherries will yield about ¼ cup of pits. So it will take a while. But if you like cherries as much as I do, it’s a good excuse to eat them.

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Making Paper

There are sites all over the place about making paper. They make it look quick and easy. It isn’t really. Well, it’s easy, but time-consuming and tedious. And it takes a lot of preparations and special materials. But it is a lot of hands-on fun, and the homemade paper comes out pretty cool. Here’s some details on what I did.

Making paper isn’t really something you sit down and decide to do in an afternoon. You’ll have to prep some stuff beforehand.

  • First, dig out an old wooden picture frame, take out the glass, and replace it with screening. Use thumb tacks or nails to attach the screen. I went to the dollar store and bought an 8 1/2 x 11 document frame and some screening from the local hardware store. This will be your “paper mold,” and will give you a sheet of paper the size of your frame. In papermaking lingo, it’s called a deckle. Here’s how mine came out. My frame broke in a few places from the nails, so I used lots of duct tape to reinforce it. As a side note, I bought an enormous roll of screening, just for a 9 x 12 piece (it was really cheap though). If you want some, call me. Seriously. I don’t really know what to do with a 9-foot roll of screen.
  • Gather an old phone book or other source of paper, and tear the paper into small pieces (about 1″ square). Put all these scraps in a big bowl.
  • Find a large tub that your picture frame will fit in. I used a plastic underbed box.
  • Make sure you have a handful of rags on hand that measure larger than your sheets of paper will be.
  • You also might want to have some liquid starch on hand. This one is optional, but it helps the ink not spread out into the paper and become hard to read when the paper is dry.

Once you’ve prepared all your materials, take your bowl of paper scraps and add water to it. Mash it up with your hands until it’s thoroughly soaked and soft.

Then, get out your blender and fill it about half full with wet paper scraps and the other half with water. Blend it until it’s smooth.

After you have a batch of paper pulp ready, pour it into your large tub. Add about 3-4 batches, and then about as much water as paper pulp, maybe a little more. Add some liquid starch, if desired. Now you’re ready to actually start the papermaking process.

I set the lid to my box next to the bin itself to serve as a means of catching all the water I squeezed out of each paper sheet. Here is my workspace. Yay for sunlight streaming in!

Take your deckle, dunk it into the bin, and pull it out with a layer of paper pulp over the screen. Cover the wet pulp with a sheet of plastic so you can press out as much water as you can. The plastic helps keep the pulp from sticking to your hands. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, my chocolate chips wrapper worked just fine, though it will go a tad bit faster if you have a piece of plastic that is big enough, so you don’t have to keep moving it around to be able to press all the water out.

Peel the plastic back and there is your paper! But you’re not done yet…

Lay a rag on the box lid to absorb extra water, and set your deckle on it. Don’t flip it over yet, you want to squeeze out as much water as possible first.

Wring out the bottom rag and replace it. Now you’re ready to lay your deckle face down to get the paper out. I started by tapping on one end and then gently angling the deckle up so the paper peeled off.

You now have a piece of very wet paper on a very wet rag. But you’re still not done…

Put your deckle face up on top of the paper, then lay another rag on top of the paper and press down, trying to absorb even more water. The screen of the deckle keeps the paper from peeling off with the top rag. Wring out the top rag as much as needed. Lots of water will come out…

Now you’re finally ready to let your paper dry. Remove the top rag and the deckle, so you’re back to the wet paper on the wet rag. Pick up the rag, plaster it on a window and peel the rag off the back, leaving the paper stuck to the window. The paper will dry faster if you use a window that gets full sun or mostly full sun. Leave it for about a day and peel off your dry paper tomorrow. And let the neighbors across the driveway wonder what’s going on in your kitchen…

Continue the process until all your windows are full!

If you’re going to make a bunch of paper, you’ll notice the paper gradually getting thinner because you’re straining out the pulp and leaving the water in the bin. You’ll need to add extra batches of paper pulp from the blender after about 12 sheets or so. My 3 batches made all the paper in the windows: 15 sheets. The last few were super thin though.

Oh and a bin of paper slurry will keep at least for a few weeks in your kitchen if you’re not ready to dump it out yet and want to come back to making more later. But it will be annoying and in the way. And it might make your kitchen smell funny, kind of like wet phonebook.

When you’re all finished DO NOT pour the remaining paper slurry down the drain. It WILL harden in your pipes….which doesn’t really sound like fun to fix, so I poured it in my compost bin. It watered it down a little, but that’s fine. It’ll drain out eventually. And phone books are printed with soy ink, so I don’t have to worry about extra unwanted chemicals going into my compost.

I ironed my paper on a really low setting to smooth out some wrinkles and bubbles from the windows, and to flatten it out a bit. It was a little curled from peeling it off the windows. Make sure the setting is really low, or it will singe the edges of your paper (oops).

Then, when you get all your paper made, you can use it to make your own handmade journal 🙂

EDIT: Oh, and one more thing, I learned an interesting lesson about recycling throughout this process. It took about 1/8 of a big book of the yellowpages to make about 25 sheets of paper total. That’s a concrete lesson illustrating why paper recycling is ok, but using less paper is better. It’s nowhere near a 1:1 ratio. A whole lot of old paper recycles into a little bit of new paper. It was fun, but the better option is to opt out of the yellowpages in the first place.

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Recently, I embarked on the exciting journey of making a handmade book. The finished product came out beautifully, but in my true fashion, I neglected to take pictures of various stages or document in any way what I did: you know, the sorts of things that would be helpful for a tutorial. But there are lots of good ones already on the web, so I’ll be linking to the ones I used and offering my own advice and suggestions along the way.

The first thing I did was tear apart my old phonebook and make the paper myself, but that’s definitely a post for another time.

Cut your paper down to be twice the size you want your book to be, so when you fold it in half, it will be the right size. Fold each piece in half, and stack them inside of each other in groups. Press the back of a spoon over the folds to make sure they are evenly creased. My paper was thick, so I had only 3 sheets inside each other, so when folded there was 6 pages that looked like their own little book. If you’re using regular printer paper, you could probably fold 5-8 pages together in a set, called a signature. Make as many signatures as you need to get your desired book thickness. Mine had only 3, again, since my paper was so thick.

Next, you’ll need to prepare your signatures to be stitched by poking holes in them. You’ll need either an awl or a hammer and nail as well as a piece of cardboard, and a phonebook. This site shows a great technique for getting the holes just right.

Once you’ve gotten the holes punched, then you’ll need to stitch them together. Most sites advise against using cotton thread or embroidery floss and strongly suggest linen thread. I used some kind of thread I had on hand from beading. It had the texture of thin, yet strong dental floss. I have no idea what it was made of, but it worked ok. I  double-layered it, just in case. Actually, I imagine just waxed dental floss would be fine to use too. As long as you don’t mind a little mint-y scent in your book :). I used this site as a guide for stitching the signatures.

From here, I started following this tutorial. Put a layer of glue along the spine of your book block, to firmly hold the binding and ensure there are no large gaps between certain pages. I used tabs like in this tutorial, except I forgot to place them under the stitching, so they were glued on top instead.

That same tutorial site has helpful instructions for making your cover as well, unless you have an old hardcover book you are refilling with something new. I used an old shoebox and cut a front and back slightly larger than the inner pages, and a spine the width of my book block. To attach the three pieces of the cover, I used some sort of fabric tape I had around. I actually liked the texture of the tape so much I covered my whole book in it. You could probably use duct tape, and I bet it would be fine. Or glue pieces of fabric, as the tutorial suggests. And instead of coating the cover with one layer of the same paper, I decoupaged mine with brightly colored paper scraps, thin enough for the fabric texture from the tape to show through, so it looks like I used fabric pieces instead of paper.

Then, taking my finished book block and finished cover, I trimmed two pieces of cardstock to serve as the end papers. The cardstock gets folded in half, just like the book pages, except one half is glued to the inside of the cover, and the other half is glued to the first page in the book block. The other piece goes in the back, between the last page and back cover. Check out the pictures here in steps 4-5 for a visual.

And finally, the results of my work: a really cool homemade journal, made mostly with junk from my recycle bin.

Side view

Top view

Handmade paper inside

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Today, I was suddenly frustrated with all the curling, faded pictures on my fridge. It’s hard to place magnets that will both hold them up and not obstruct smiling faces, and my pictures were always falling down. And it’s just plain a poor way to display pictures: it just doesn’t do them justice. They deserve a frame or something, not just to be shoved behind a magnet. What I did was simple and obvious, but I just needed to sit down for a moment and do it. All I did was trim them down to fit inside of various jar lids, use a little dab of glue to hold each picture in place, and mount a magnet square on the back. This is a great way to make use of various plastic lids that would otherwise be thrown away and extra blank magnets I had stuck all over the fridge. And now instead of using magnets to hold up pictures, I can now use those very pictures to hold up other important stuff!

I have been saving plastic lids off of everything for quite a while now, and I have a hunch I’ll be making loads more magnets, some with photos inside, and other smaller ones maybe just painted or with other things inside.

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So I recently decided to try again with crocheting. I learned the basic stitch, with the goal of cutting down on the crushing amount of t-shirt scraps that fill my fabric box. Goal achieved! It’s crazy, spontaneous, and colorful, just like me!

And though it’s not nearly as nice as the one my mom made me, I’m working on it. This one is good enough to wipe my feet on at the door and is a much better use for all those scraps than just being stuffed in my fabric box.


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