Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wedding Centerpieces: DIY Rustic Terrariums with subtle Nerd Accents (Star Wars Terrariums)

I was recently asked (allowed, more like) to help make centerpieces for one of my best friend's wedding.  We made simple glass terrariums and accented them with some rustic wood slabs and moss, and LED lights.  As a finishing touch we added Star Wars Micro Machines, because we are adults.

The terrariums are very simple and not really made to last very long.  We put them together two nights before the wedding and they still looked great for the wedding, but their long-term prospects are likely not great.  The glass jars have no drainage, so plants that don't do well with humidity (particularly cactus and succulents) are unlikely to do well long term.  BUT they looked fantastic for the evening!


-Clean glass jars
-Garden dirt
-White pebbles
-A variety of small plants (flowers, succulents, cacti, etc) in 2" plastic pots (adjust size to fit size of jar)
-Accoutrements: Sea glass pieces, twigs, Star Wars Micro Machine toys, etc

-Oak slabs
-Dried moss (varying types/colors/textures)(they sell 'sampler' bags at Michaels which work well)
-20ct LED copper wire starry light strings (one string per centerpiece)

To make the terrariums:
   1) Take the plant out of the plastic pot and break up the root ball.  If the pot was particularly tall you may need to simply remove the bottom 30-50% of the roots.  Place the plant in the jar.
   2) Add dirt around the plant until the roots are covered and the dirt is level at the base of the plant.  Shake gently to get dirt off the leaves and evenly spread.
   3) Carefully add pebbles around the plant until the dirt is covered.
   4) Add toys as desired.

Again, we made our Terrariums 2 days in advance and they looked great, but these aren't really designed for long-term survival of all types of plants.   We gave the plants a VERY light watering after we put the terrariums together.  Leave the lids off if possible until the event to let them breathe and get rid of excess moisture. 

 To put together the Accents

1) Place the Terrariums on wooden slabs
2) Unwind the LED lights and wrap them around the terrariums; they don't need to be wound tightly, just keep them nice and loose
3) Cover the LED battery pack with a large piece of moss.  Add additional types of moss around the edges of the terrarium on the wooden slab to further hide the wire for the LEDs

This process will get dirt and moss bits on the linens; you can use the edge of a credit card to clean off the debris.  

 Congratulations! Your wedding is now beautifully nerdy!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Campbell Sisters Dancing by Lorenzo Bartolini

My first two-figure painting.  16x20 acrylic.  Complete with traditional unnecessary Tuscan countryside background and Botticellian flowers.

This painting is based on Lorenzo Bartolini's statue 'The Campbell Sisters Dancing the Waltz' ('"Gruppo delle sorelle Campbell in atto di ballare il Valzer").  Looking at the plaster model used for the sculpture I thought they were walking, and made my background accordingly; only later when researching the sculpture did I find out they are in fact dancing! Oops.  Sotheby's has a nice write up on the history of the statue here.

Placing religious moments and Bible scenes in the Tuscan countryside was a strong tradition during the Italian Renaissance, so I thought I would give it a try.  I've been trying to find a Greek myth to attribute this moment to but haven't found one yet (most Greek myths, like Bible stories, took place in the Tuscan countryside, according to Italians in the 1500s).

Friday, May 27, 2016

DIY Dining Set Makeover

Re-finishing a table and chairs, or How I learned to hate chairs.


We were recently given a table from the delightful Moira Katson, writer extraordinaire, and decided it would be a great opportunity to put all of our years of HGTV watching to use.  The table had a very dark finished veneer, and many years of love and use had left it a bit worn.  After perusing many, many photos of tables we decided to re-finish the top of the table in a lighter wood color and paint the legs a distressed white. Painting the bottom of the table turned out to be an excellent decision, as it is far less work to prep a table surface for paint than it is to re-finish a dark veneer into a lighter color. Sanding and painting the chairs also required less waiting time than refinishing the table top, but sanding and painting every single surface of an entire set of chairs will leave you cold and dead on the inside.  Just saying.  

Note: Most of our steps were determined by picking up the item we liked in the store (such as wood stain or paint) and reading the can for directions and tips on how to use it and then how to seal/finish it (both the stain we bought and the paint we bought came with suggestions for a second product to finish them with, so we just followed along humbly).  Be sure to follow any safety instructions the products list.

1)      Re-finishing the surface of the table:

First we tried to strip the veneer using a chemical stripper.  This was as misguided as it was unsuccessful.  The chemical stripper just removes the lacquer or protective sealant over the top of the veneer; not the veneer itself.  What we *actually* wanted to do was remove the sealant and the top dark stained part of the veneer, leaving the lower un-stained portion of the veneer to be re-finished.  In the end the chemical stripper wasn’t even enough to remove all the sealant, so it didn’t matter anyways.
Chemicals having failed us, we next moved on to power sanding.  This turned out to be an excellent plan.  Be sure to use proper protective equipment! We used a 120 (‘Fine’) grit and with a few hours of elbow grease we sanded off the sealant and then down through the stained aspect of the veneer.  Fortunately for us, the veneer was thick enough that the dark stain only penetrated part of it, and beneath that there was still light colored veneer covering the plywood table.  

Left: a failed chemical removal.  Right: Power sander glory

As we sanded deeper through the stained veneer, the color gradually lightened until the raw veneer was exposed.  Different areas of the table had stain that penetrated deeper, however, so there were some areas that stayed darker than others.  You can keep sanding deeper in sections where the stain penetrated further down, but you risk an uneven surface and going all the way through the veneer and exposing the plywood below.  We might have done that a few times.  Don’t tell anyone.  

Here you can see the layers of stain as it was sanded through

Sanding done, the next step was to wipe off the dust with paper towels, then a finishing wipe with tack cloth (sticky cloth that picks up any remaining dust). 

 The raw veneer was fortunately a very light tone

To re-stain the table, we used a gel stain which was a bit darker than the raw veneer (but far lighter than the original stain).  The gel stain is spread onto the surface of the wood, then the ‘excess’ is wiped off with clean cloths after about 3 minutes.  This is slightly trickier than it sounds, because you have to wipe off evenly or you will get some areas that are more heavily stained and splotchy, and if it dries too much you cannot wipe it off.  If you really mess up (which we did in a couple spots) you may need to re-sand an area (by hand is enough to take off the extra color) and re-stain.  

The stain required 24 hours before we could seal it with polyurethane.  The polyurethane was then applied over the entire table top.  The polyurethane had to set for about half a day before we could lightly sand it and apply a second coat (note; sanding the polyurethane looked like we were destroying it, but the second coat made it all pretty again).  24 hours later the polyurethane was set and the table top was done!  If by chance you are applying polyurethane in a garage, make sure one section of the table isn’t in direct sunlight and 15 degrees hotter than the rest of the table because the polyurethane will dry unevenly and you will have to re-do it.  I mean, a friend told me that.  

2)      Refinishing the table legs and base

While all that was going on with the table top we were also re-finishing the rest of the table.  We lightly sanded the legs and base of the table by hand (to help the paint to stick to the veneer), then once again paper toweled and tack clothed the surfaces to remove any trace of dust.  We painted the base and legs with two coats of a chalky white paint.  Our plan was to hand distress the table anyways, so we weren’t too picky about painting it perfectly. (Note; some paints are made to be distressed, so if you are interested in distressing an item make your life easy and chose a paint made for the job!).

                                                  We put the legs back on before painting

Once the paint had dried for 24 hours, we distressed the surface using sand paper.  Focus your distressing in areas that naturally get bumped and chipped over time; corners, edges, places where chairs bump the table, etc.  Start small; you can always add more distressing, but if you go too far you have to re-paint.  

Once we were happy with our distressing, we cleaned off the dust again and we sealed the paint.  The paint we chose recommended Miniwax as a sealant, which was a new experience for me.  It is literally a wax that you rub over all the painted surface with a clean cloth, and allow to dry for a few minutes.  Once dry, you go over it again briskly with a clean cloth to polish it.  The polishing part worked pretty slick, but be prepared to have your hands very waxy during the initial application.  Actually, be prepared to have everything you have ever known be covered in wax.  But really, it gets all over your hands.  Maybe a smarter person would have worn gloves.    

3)     Refinishing the chairs

We had 4 old wooden chairs (mis-matched) which we wanted to use for this table.  As the chairs were not stained the same as the new table top, we knew we would need to give them an update to make the dining set work.  As the chairs were pretty cheap to begin with, we did not think it would be worthwhile to try to refinish the wood to match the table top. Instead, we decided to paint them in the same distressed chalky white as the rest of the table.  

The process for refinishing the chairs was the same as the table base and legs: sand, clean off dust, paint, paint again, distress, clean off dust, seal.  Here’s the thing; chairs are way more annoying than tables.  Tables have large, flat surfaces.  Chairs have a million little rounded edges and ledges and corners.  It takes much longer to sand, clean, paint, and seal a chair than a table.  And there are So Many Chairs. 

                     From the top: Sanded but not cleaned chairs, Painted chairs, Distressed chair

Once the chair purgatory was over we went and bought new cushions.  We continued our not-quite-matching scheme and got different colored cushions for each of the different chair types.  Originally we were going to make our own cushions and buy our own fabric and everything, but then we found out IKEA had cushions for our chairs for $5 each.  And we were Done with dealing with the chairs.  

And that was our live-action HGTV episode! We're really happy with the results, and it was way cheaper than buying a new dining set.  The total cost of supplies (paints, stains, sealants, brushes, masks, gloves, etc) was ~$100 since we were able to borrow a power sander.  I have a new-found appreciation for working with furniture.  And a new-found hatred of chairs.   

(PS be sure to check out Moira Katson; writer of novels and donator of tables)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ballerina Acrylic

Acrylic, 16x20
Currently challenging myself to do some figure paintings.  What has become an annual Ballerina piece for Amy. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

DIY Customized Kitchen Spoons: Wood-burning Art

I was given a wood-burning kit a few years ago and this past Christmas used it to make customized wooden spoon presents for friends and family.  The wood burning tool itself is pretty easy to use; just plug it in and go.  The tool comes with a variety of points, though I just use the finest tip point and ignore the others for now.  I like to draw my designs in pencil on the wood before I burn them so I have a guide.  It works best to do nice slow steady movements; staying in one place will create a little crater, and if you go to fast you won't get a nice dark line.  Below are some of the presents I made this year (and hot-dish competition prizes!). 

I finished the wooden spoons with mineral oil to darken them and make them a little more robust. 

Yes, I have Futurama and New Zealand All Blacks related puns on my creations.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

DIY Nutcracker Creche or Playset

For Christmas this year I thought it would be fun to make a Nutcracker themed Christmas decoration.  The framing from the stage gives it a sort of Creche-like appearance.

The Characters:
I cut the figures roughly out of balsa wood, then refined them with sandpaper.  I used a hot knife (a knife blade attachment to a wood burning kit) for cutting the balsa wood, which worked pretty well.  For the fine details, I used large grit sandpaper if I needed to completely re-shape something, or fine grit to just smooth edges. 
Here you can see a rough cut (right) and sanded (left) present box

I painted the figures using basic kids acrylic paints and simple shapes and patterns.  I started by painting the background colors first (boots, pants, jacket, face) then adding details on top (buttons, eyes, mouth). Spaces I couldn't cut out (eg the triangle under the arm) I left un-painted so that it blended in with the bases.
Here you can see the characters in various stages of painting

I broke two of the characters while cutting them out (an arm and a sword) and used wood glue to put them back together.

For the bases I bought little round wood circles at a craft shop.  The characters wouldn't stand on their own, so  I cut out triangles of balsa wood and used wood glue to attach them to the bases.  

Once the triangles were secured, I next wood-glued the characters to the bases and triangles (in front of the triangles).   

I then painted the backs of the characters white.  I left the bases un-painted.  

The scenery was made in a similar fashion, with triangle supports to help hold them up. 

The bulbs on the tree are just single dots of gold or red with a smaller dot of white in the upper left corner of each.

For the presents I made 4 separate boxes, then layered them across the base.

The curtains are three pieces (top and two sides) with diamond embellishments to help glue the pieces together.  There are also rectangle embellishments on the back to further secure the pieces together. The curtains sit on two stands with very large triangle supports.

A few of the characters up close:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Dinosaur Hat Knitting Chart

I've been learning how to knit (poorly) and started designing my own two-tone patterns. 

I used worsted weight wool and US 7 round needles.  Cast on is 120; each dinosaur is 30 wide and 25 tall (23 tall if you ignore the bottom two rows). 

I would recommend a knit-purl for the bottom 6 rows before you start the second color, but obviously I didn't actually do that for this hat. Click on the image of the chart for the larger version

 The orange bars are not part of the pattern, they just show where to put the yarn markers

To finish the pattern I did: 
1) knit 11, k2tog*, repeat thru 1 round
2) knit 1 round
3) knit 10, k2tog, repeat thru 1 round
4) knit 1 round
5) knit 9, k2tog, repeat thru 1 round
6) knit 1 round
7) knit 8, k2tog, repeat thru 1 round
8) knit 1 round
9) knit 7, k2tog, repeat thru 1 round
10) knit 1 round
11) knit 6, k2tog, repeat thru 1 round
12) knit 1 round
13) knit 5 k2tog thru 1 round, 
14) knit 4 k2tog thru 1 round,
15) knit 3 k2tog thru 1 round,
16) knit 2 k2tog thru 1 round,
17) knit 1 k2tog thru 1 round,
18) k2tog 1 round
Use darning needle to tie off.

*k2tog - grab two stitches instead of one and knit them together to decrease the total number of stitches by one

Friday, November 6, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

DIY Jewelry: Captured ('Caged') Bead Chains

This is a fun technique I learned this summer.  I saw a necklace that used this technique at The Bead Monkey and then found this excellent tutorial video online.  So if you want a video version of this, click that link! If you prefer photos and text, read on!

The Basic Idea: Each cage is made with 4 jump rings which are joined to make sort of a tiny box for a 'captured' bead, which is not connected to anything.

The hardest part is finding the right size jump rings so that they fit around the bead, but are not so loose that the bead falls out.  I used 8mm beads and 11.5mm jump rings, and they were just a hair larger than I would have liked.  They worked well as long as the jump rings were perfectly tightened, but if they were loose at all the beads sometimes slipped out.

Of course you can experiment with different types of beads and different color jump rings to get a wide variety of results!

How to make the cages:

1) Start with two small connecting jump rings.
2) Loop two of your large jump rings ('A' rings) through these two small jump rings

3) Loop two more large jump rings ('B' rings) through the 'A' rings

4) Hold the small jump rings together, and let the large jump rings fall open, sort of like flower petals.

5) Place bead inside the opened rings

6) Close rings over bead.  The lower 'A' rings will be close together at the bottom then spread apart.  The top 'B' rings will be spread apart then come together over the top of the bead.

7) Thread two new 'A' jump rings through the top of both 'B' rings, one on either side of the bead.  Notice how the new 'A' rings sit INSIDE the ends of the previous 'A' rings. 

Add you next 'B' rings and continue!

This is how the jump rings fit together as you add more cages (again, notice how the ends of one cage fit inside the  previous one):

After you have made your last cage, use two more smaller connecting rings to 'close' the chain.  This is how the caged bead chains attach to the regular chain:

As I mentioned before, the hardest part is finding jump rings and beads that are 'just right' sizes for each other.  If the bead is falling out easily you need a larger bead or a smaller jump ring.  In general it seems that the jump rings should be just a little larger than the beads.  Thicker jump rings will need smaller beads.  If you know a formula for determining bead/jump ring size please let me know!

If you make the entire necklace and everything seems to be going well then suddenly one of the beads falls out it may be that those jump rings weren't quite tight enough.  Sometimes I will over-tighten jump rings if a bead keeps falling out and I don't want to get a larger bead.