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.  Based off a play set you can buy (if you don't want to make one yourself)

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

Degas Ballerina Pumpkin

Degas inspired ballerinas for Halloween this year.
See all the pumpkins here.

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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

DIY Jewelry: Pearl Necklace

I've made Amy a few different pieces of jewelry over the years, and I'd been wanting to get her a pearl necklace for awhile.  However, a complete pearl necklace is super expensive! So I decided to learn how to make one myself.  Below is a description of materials and methods that hopefully will be easy enough for anyone to follow along themselves!


-Needle nose pliers
-Silk Bead Cord
-Lobster Clasp and 2 Jump Rings
-2 Cord Clasps

Pearls: You can buy these in strands at bead/craft stores (I got mine at Michaels).  They come in 'round' and 'potato' and the larger and rounder they are the more expensive.  Because of this variation, you can adjust your pearl quality to fit your budget pretty easily.  How many pearls you need depends on the length of the necklace you want to make, but roughly you need as many inches of pearls as you want of necklace (so a 24 inch necklace will need roughly 24 inches of pearls).  You can also of course use fake pearls, or a completely different type of bead! Make sure the pearls have holes drilled in them for the cord. Use a handy necklace size chart like this one if you are uncertain how long to make the necklace. 

Silk Bead Cord - This comes in different gauges (#2,4,6 etc), and each corresponds to a different diameter.  I used #4 (0.6mm) which fit through the holes in the pearls (when you buy the pearls it should say the diameter of the hole in them) but was still strong enough to hold the weight of the necklace.  You don't want to just use the smallest possible cord because it needs to be strong and the knots you tie in it need to be large enough to stop the pearls from sliding.  The cord I bought came with a needle attached, which is GREAT because otherwise it is awful trying to thread all the beads onto the cord.  Keep the entire length of cord (usually comes in 2 meter lengths) because with all the knots you will be tying you will use up a lot of it!

Lobster Clasp: I've been told that these are the most comfortable and easiest to use of all the different ways to clasp a necklace.  Results may vary.

Jump Rings: These are little rings of metal that are cut at one point so you can bend them open and closed again.  The jump rings need to be able to fit through the hoops of the cord clasps, and one of them also needs to be small enough to thread the Lobster Clasp onto it.

Cord Clasps: This is a little tube with a hoop at the end so that you can tie off a cord and then attach a jump ring to it.

Ideally make sure your Lobster Clasp, Jump Rings, and Cord Clasps are all the same tone of metal!

Making the Necklace:

A) Starting: First you need to thread one cord clasp onto the cord (put the needle in through the hoop side).  Tie a knot on the non-needle end of the cord, then tie a second knot over this knot.  Slide the cord clasp all the way down to this knot, and make sure the knot cannot slide through the cord clasp!  I forgot to take a picture of this step, so here is a very terrible illustration:

Now tie another knot on the other side of the cord clasp.  Tie the knot as close to the cord clasp as you can.  This knot will prevent the first pearl from running into the cord clasp. Another terrible illustration:

Here is a diagram of the two ends of the necklace, for reference:
We will add the jump rings and lobster clasp at the end.

B) Adding Pearls
There is a knot tied after each pearl, which prevents it from moving.  The key is to make the knot as close to the pearl as possible.  I used a needle nose pliers to make this a bit easier, after struggling for a long time to do it by hand.  This is by far the most time-consuming aspect of this project, and, fair warning, can take hours depending on how long a necklace you are making. 

1) Add a pearl on the far (needle) side of the cord and slide it aaaaall the way down to the knot you just made.
2) Make a big knot (do not tighten it) on the far side of the pearl

3) Use your needle nose pliers to grab the cord just as it exits the pearl.  The far side of the loop of the knot must be past the pliers (the cord you grab must be 'within' the knot) (see picture)

4) Tighten the knot down towards the pearl and the tip of the pliers

5) Release with the pliers once the knot is almost tightened, and use your fingers to push the knot closer to the pearl and cinch it.

6) Repeat until the desired length of necklace is accomplished.

C) Tying off the cord: Now you need to tie off the other end of the cord into a cord clasp.  The technique I used to do this is very similar to what I did for the pearls themselves.

1) Thread the cord through the cord clasp

2) Tie a very loose knot on the 'hoop' side of the clasp

3) Grab the cord immediately as it comes out of the cord clasp (within the knot) with a pliers (grab as close as you can to the cord clasp). Again grab the cord within the knot.

4) Tighten the knot down towards the tip of the pliers.  Let go with the pliers once it is almost fully tightened and push it down further into the cord clasp with your fingers.
5) Tie a second knot in the same place to make sure it stays! Once you are sure the cord clasp cannot slide over the knot, you can cut off the rest of the cord. 

Here is a third terrible illustration to show you what BOTH ends of your necklace should now look like:

D) Finishing
Open one Jump Ring (bend it open) and thread the Lobster Clasp onto it.  Now open both Jump Rings and thread them onto the hoops of the Cord Clasps.  Close the Jump Rings using needle nose pliers.  
Open the Lobster Clasp and connect it to the other Jump Ring.  Ta Da!
(shown: open and closed jump rings)

Again, the two ends together should look like this:

The little ball of pearls at the end is made by just tying a knot with the strand.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


The latest ink drawing: Chou!