Beer Advent Calendar Tutorial

We found Candy Cane checking out the books on Thing 2’s bookshelf this morning:

Today I decided to make a beer advent calendar for the husbeast at his request, even though we’re already a few days into December. (What can I say, I am running behind in a few things.) I’d seen them advertised online, but they’re not available commercially anywhere around here that I’d seen. I’ve also seen them for wine and for little airline bottles of liquor. I honestly think the best thing would be to build a divided wooden case with 24 little hinged doors on the top and reuse it year to year, much like some of the older traditional advent calendars (only larger). However, I’ve totally run out of time for that, so I went for a cheaper, quicker alternative.

I started with twenty-four different beers, which conveniently fit into a standard flat. Now, a proper box with those little cardboard dividers would have been optimal, but those only tend to be available for bottles. Because I didn’t have a proper box, I needed a second empty flat.

Using a craft knife, I cut about 1/2cm in around the edge of the box. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since it will be hidden.

Then I put the cardboard ring I’d created around the top of the cans of beer.

Next I wrapped the case of beer like a gift. I normally would hide my seams along the bottom of the gift, but since I couldn’t turn it all upside down without it all falling apart, I put the seam along one side instead.

Using a Sharpie and a ruler, I drew a grid above the cans of beer. I could feel the edges of the cans through the paper, so I could easily figure out where the lines should go. Then I randomly numbered the grid from 1 to 24.

My husband tried opening the advent calendar at first by punching holes in the paper, but it tore too easily into the other sections. We found that the best bet is to use a craft knife or scissors to cut a hole a little smaller than the grid markings, so as to keep the paper from disintegrating.

Once the calendar is opened, it’s possible to see the kinds of beer from the side of the case, or to displace everything inside by picking it up. This can be solved by making a cardboard grid and putting it inside the box before the cans. But if you’re not too picky, it works just fine — and my husband, for one, is too happy with his calendar to really care.

Portable Cutlery Set Tutorial

Recently, a video about a sea turtle that had to have a plastic straw removed from its nose went viral on the Internet. So powerful was the suffering of the poor animal in this video that it sparked plastic straw bans in many cities. As much as I appreciated the sentiment behind this move, my personal opinion is that it treats a symptom rather than the underlying disease. For example, to reduce plastic straw use, some restaurants redesigned the lids of their disposable cups — but continued distributing single-use plastic lids that could not be easily recycled. Bans also left many people with disabilities in a tight spot, since they have no options but to use disposable straws. Plastic straw bans don’t help any of the old straws already out there to get recycled instead of going into landfills — and according to this site it takes 100 to 500 years for a plastic straw to decompose. It doesn’t address recycling policies that keep plastics from being properly recycled in the first place. And once the furor raised by the video died down, a lot of people — and more importantly, a lot of companies — went back to single-use plastics without a second thought. As it stands right now, 89% of plastic is not recycled in Canada.

So I asked myself, what can I do? Well, I personally I can stop using plastic straws whenever possible, that’s a given. But in all of the viral-video-fueled excitement for people to buy their own personal reusable straws to use with their takeout food, I think a lot of people forgot about the disposable cutlery that goes hand with those straws. While personal cutlery sets have been available for years (and are especially popular with those who camp), and they’re definitely better than disposable, I think it’s possible to do better. Why? Because these are generally made with new materials.

If you go out to any thrift store you will find that there is lots of perfectly good, used, stainless-steel cutlery that can have a second life as a portable cutlery set. Not only that, it’s generally quite affordable! When I buy vintage kitchenware for my market stall, it often comes with old cutlery thrown in; a lot of people don’t see its value. But all it needs is a recycled travel case to put it in so it can be thrown in a purse, briefcase, backpack, desk drawer, or lunch box.

I made up a bunch of these sets and brought them with me to the 613Christmas this past weekend. However, I think it’s more important to encourage everyone to use them than it is for me to make a profit, so I thought I’d share a tutorial online. It is very basic and can even be hand-sewn if desired. Of course, if you are a master sewer, you can probably make something even nicer, and I encourage you to do so! Experiment! Use even tinier scraps of fabric and quilt them together in incredible designs! Knit a case! Crochet! There’s no limit to the techniques you can use. What’s most important, to me, is that your materials be recycled — not only the cutlery, but also the textiles.

So your first step is to pick your cutlery. If you’re lucky they will all be from the same set, but they really don’t have to be. I recommend the basics of a knife, fork, and spoon, but you can also include a steak knife (although probably not if it’s to be brought to school), reusable chopsticks, and a reusable straw.

Secondly, you’ll need a piece of fabric, preferably recycled. It can come from old clothing, bedding, or draperies, but another good resource (if you don’t sew much yourself) is a friend or family member who sews, who will inevitably have lots of scraps and remnants that they just can’t bear to throw out, but would be happy to see used.

Cut a piece of fabric that, when the fabric is folded in half length-wise, is at least 6″ longer than your longest piece of cutlery. Width-wise, you want it to be twice as wide as the widest piece of cutlery, plus 4″ or so to allow for the depth of the deepest piece. I found that a 30″ x 6″ strip of fabric was adequate to comfortably accommodate every style of cutlery that I tried.

Fold the fabric in half so that it is long and skinny; in the case of our demo, it became 30″ x 3″. Make sure that the wrong side of the fabric faces out. Sew a seam with half of a centimeter of seam allowance around the two longest edges. Alternately, you can serge the edges, which is what I did. (Seams indicated by blue lines in the photo above.)

Turn the tube you have made halfway inside-right, so that the right side of the fabric is visible on the outside. The tube will now be half as long as when you started (15″). Press flat.

On the unfinished end, fold the top layer back about 4″. Sew a seam on the inside layer about 1″ into the fabric, as per the blue line in the photo. Leaving an allowance of about half a centimeter, cut off the excess fabric at the end.

Fold the top layer back so that it lies flat. Fold the two unfinished edges of the top layer inside the tube, and stitch the end of the tube closed as close to the edge as possible (blue line on the right). Making sure to catch the inside layer, sew a second seam parallel to the first, about half a centimeter further in (blue line on the left).

Insert your longest piece of cutlery (usually the knife) into the tube, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom. On the middle of one side of the tube, mark a spot 1″ down from the top of the knife; sew a button on there, making sure to sew it only to one side of the tube. On the other side of the tube, mark a spot 1/2″ from the top of the knife; sew a loop of elastic onto this spot. The length of the elastic will depend on the level of stretch and how big the button is, so it may take a bit of experimentation.

Insert all cutlery pieces in the tube, roll the top closed, and loop the elastic over the button to secure it.

There you have it, your own personal recycled portable cutlery set. Make them for your friends and family this holiday season! They make great stocking stuffers and teacher appreciation gifts. And after many years of hard use, when the cutlery does finally wear out and the bag falls apart, the steel is recyclable and many fabrics are biodegradable. Even if you chose a synthetic fabric, it’s better that it be reused instead of going directly in the trash. Perhaps only the button (depending on the kind you chose) will end up in the garbage at the end of life of your portable cutlery set — and with any luck by then our recycling programs will accept them too.

Teacup Pin Cushion Tutorial

My kids are learning to sew, so I thought that it was time that they had pincushions of their own. I’ve seen teacup pin cushions around at flea markets and craft fairs, so I thought we’d make a go of whipping up some of our own. They’re really easy and right up the kids’ alwy, patience-wise.

Teacup Pin Cushion

Materials:
– 1 teacup (saucer optional)
– 1 square of cotton or cotton-blend fabric, about 3X as wide as the teacup’s top
– polyester fiberfill
– thread

Supplies Needed:
– fabric scissors
– needle
– hot glue gun & glue
– pins

1. It all starts with a teacup — but none of Grandma’s fine china! We bought ours for about $2.00 at a local charity thrift shoppe. If you’re not into tea, a coffee or espresso cup works well, or an egg cup, or even a sake glass. We even made one using a miniature terracotta pot (picked up for about $0.75 at a gardening supply store). Basically, it has to be an opaque container that you like the looks of that’s about the size of an old teacup, or smaller. You will also need to pick out a piece of coordinating fabric that’s about three times as wide as the mouth of your vessel.

1.B. OPTIONAL STEP: If you’re very crafty, you can embroider a design on your fabric at this stage.

2. Using a pair of fabric scissors, cut your fabric into a circle about three times as wide as the opening of your teacup. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since this end will be hidden inside the bottom of the cup where nobody will ever see it.

3. Using a running stitch, stitch around the outside edge of the circle, about 1cm from the edge. Use a sturdy thread, but don’t worry about the colour, since this will be hidden as well. Tie a knot at each end of the thread, but do not stitch that knot into the fabric.

4. Making sure that the fabric is inside-right, pull the thread taut to gather the fabric, but do not tie a knot. This will make a little pouch.

5. Stuff the pouch firmly with fiberfill.

6. Draw the thread as taut as possible and tie it off securely. This will create a small cushion.

7. Stuff the cushion into the teacup, making sure that the end with the stitching and the gathering is at the bottom of the cup.

8. Affix the cushion inside the cup using hot glue. I found that I got the neatest results by pushing the fabric down below the edge of the cup, and then running a bead of hot glue quickly about 0.5cm lower than the edge of the cup. Then I carefully released pressure on the cushion until it sat at the height I wanted, holding it in place while the glue dried. Otherwise, the cushion kept trying to puff much too far out of the cup.

9.B. OPTIONAL STEP: Using hot glue or by sewing, decorate the pin cushion. You can add a border of ribbon or trim around the edge of the cup to conceal the glue. Buttons, lace, small pompoms, googly eyes, felt cutouts, silk flowers… If you’re so inclined, this is a great time to be creative.

And that’s really all there is to it!

As for our last March Break craft, Thing 2 went with a more contemporary look.

Whereas I made mine in a little flower pot. I created the floral element by sticking sewing pins through little fabric flowers bought in a confetti-like pack from the dollar store.

And Thing 1 used the fabric flowers slightly differently, pinning them into place with her pincushion’s pins.

String Art Tutorial

I’ve been wanting to try this craft with my girls for a while; it is a great way to learn how to use a hammer and nails! I never did this as a child, but my little brother did, and his string art masterpiece hung in his room for years. The nice thing about this craft is that you can make it simple or complicated, depending on the skill level of the people doing it. We went with really simple, perfect for a busy day’s work!

String Art

Materials:
– 1 piece of 1/2″to 3/4″ thick wood, approx 12″ by 12″ (pine preferred)
– 1 colour of acrylic paint
– 20 (or so) 1″ long common framing nails
– scraps of thin yarn or string
– sawtooth picture hanger & screws

Supplies Needed:
– fine-grain sandpaper
– paintbrush
– hammer
– wooden clothes pin
– screwdriver

1. We started with a 12″ by 12″ piece of 1/2″ pine shelving left over from an old project. Pine is inexpensive and easy to hammer nails into. Such a small piece can be often be found inexpensively (or free) off-cut from a home improvement store. If you’re not handy with a saw, most reno stores will cut wood to size if you ask.

2. Using fine-grain sandpaper, give the piece of wood a quick once-over to remove any splinters.

3. You can leave the wood unfinished (in fact, a lot of string art is done on gorgeous, rustic barn board), but my girls opted to paint theirs. Two coats of crafting acrylic turned Thing 2’s board an eye-searing pink, while Thing 1 chose a more muted lavender. Don’t forget to cover your work surfaces with paper or plastic if you care at all if it gets stained! (Graffito from the kids is optional.)

4. Nail in the nails in the pattern of your choice. My kids went for an abstract creation of their own design. However, any number of designs and shapes can be downloaded off of the Internet, printed out, and then taped onto the top of the wood. You can then nail along the edges of the design, and rip the paper away when you’re done. Alternately, you can freehand a design in pencil and then paint over the marks before you add the string.

Since the kids hadn’t done much hammering with full-sized hammers before, we used wooden clothes pins to hold the nails upright while they got them started. This keeps their fingers away from the hammer, at least until they have a little bit more precision! (It stunned Thing 1 that I could hold a nail while hammering without smashing my fingers.)

Thing 1 went with a free-form design.

Thing 2 went with a more geometric plan.

5. Tie a few knots around one of the nails, and then go to town wrapping the string around the nails!

6. If you’re planning on hanging the string art on the wall, using a screwdriver, attach a sawtooth picture hanger with screws to the top back of the piece. Alternately, it can be propped on shelf, or held up by a mini easel.

Salt Dough Creations

A friend of mine bought me a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Treasury of Christmas Crafts & Foods for Christmas, and leafing through the project ideas therein brought back many memories of the kinds of crafts that I did when I was growing up. One of the ones that stood out the most was the salt dough Christmas ornaments. Although I never made any in the patterns suggested by this book, I did make some simple ones through Brownies and Guides, and I had a lovely little girl in a red dress as part of my ornament collection until she eventually fell apart. I thought that my kids might enjoy playing with dough that becomes a permanent creation for a change. (If your kids would basically like to do the same exercise but come away with something that they can eat, I would highly recommend Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough instead.)


Rolling out the dough and cutting it out with cookie cutters and Play Doh cutters.

I did my due Googling, and I discovered that although the style of ornament that people make has changed a bit over the years (especially when it comes to the choice of colours used), the actual technique remains the same. Multiple books and many sources on the Net stick to the basic recipe of:

– 2 cups flour
– 1 cup salt
– 1 cup water

Which you then knead together to create a stiff dough. You then cut out/shape your designs and lay them on parchment paper on a cooking tray. Advanced creations can take a long time, a lot of skill, and a great attention to detail. However, when you’re making crafts with younger children, quick and easy cookie cut-outs are the name of the game! As a bonus, since the dough is so cheap to make and is 100% biodegradable, if the kids proclaim themselves done after having made very few cutouts, it’s not too big of a deal.

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After shaping, you put the salt dough creations in the oven at 200°F (93°C) for… Well, that’s where directions vary. I think it all really depends on the thickness of the final pieces. I’ve seen it anywhere from two to eight hours, so I kind of guessed at three, which worked out okay. I think that what everyone agrees on is that you don’t want to bake or brown the dough, you just want to remove all the moisture.

Then the cut-outs need to be cooled on a cooling rack, which doesn’t take all that long, really, since they weren’t terribly hot in the first place. We left them overnight to hopefully remove the last of the moisture. It’s not like you have to worry about them going stale, after all.

Then it was time for paint! I have what seems like a million colours of acrylic and many different paint brushes, all from the dollar store. If you don’t have a stash of paint and want to keep costs low, stick with red, yellow, blue, black, and white. The kids can mix any colours they want with the primary ones, and it’s a good lesson in colour theory.

To be honest, my girls ran out of patience with the fiddly details, so the painting will have to be completed another day. Since I had to make dinner, I didn’t get a chance to finish painting the ones that I made either, so we’ll have to sit down and do them all together tomorrow. I really liked how the ones with the impressions turned out, though. The girls used rubber stamps, carved rolling pins, and even leaves of plants to create textures.

Of the ones that I painted, I am particularly happy some of the simplest: the Easter bunnies, made using a cookie cutter and a little ball of dough for the tails.

The next step is to seal salt dough, which I’d prefer to do with spray-on acrylic, so that will probably have to be done out in the garage once it warms up a bit. I’m told it can also be done with Mod Podge or PVA glue, both of which I own, but I’d like to test them first to see how badly they smudge. Then the ones with holes will become ornaments, and the ones without holes will have a magnet (also from the dollar store) glued on the back to become fridge magnets.

Fairy Light Lamp Tutorial

It’s March Break, so I’m trying to keep the kids entertained without plopping them in front of screens the entire time. We’re going to try to do a craft a day, and I thought I’d share what we did and how we did it so that others can use these same techniques this week (or any time, really).

The first craft we did was a fairy light lamp. There’s no wiring required, and for safety’s sake all of the lights are LED and the power source is battery-powered. We’ve all seen a string of lights in a jar, but I thought we needed to do something to take it up a notch. If you’re working with younger children, some of these steps will need adult supervision. The end result should be an ornamental lamp or night light that the kids can be proud of! As a bonus, all of the materials can be obtained at the local dollar store, or can be made of recycled materials for free.

Since there are a few ways to do this craft, be sure to read all of the instructions first, to keep from having to re-do steps!

Fairy Light Lamp

Materials:
– small sturdy cardboard box with lid
– Mason jar or recycled jar with lid
– paint
– string of 20 battery-powered LED lights (or two strings of 10)
– batteries to power the LED lights
– diffusing fabric
– small piece of card or paper (optional)
– stickers

Supplies Needed:
– pencil
– craft knife
– duct tape
– paint brush(es)
– heavy-duty scissors
– drill (if using a jar with a one-piece lid)

1. Unscrew the lid from the jar. I used a 1L Mason jar because that’s what fit best with my box, but it’s a very subjective judgement. I also liked the look of a round box, but square or rectangular is fine too. Just make sure it’s the kind of box that has a lid. Don’t worry about a colour or pattern on the box, since it will be covered later. If you want to use a wooden box, that can work too, but you’ll need heavier-duty tools to proceed with the next steps.

2. Trace the opening of the jar onto the lid of your box.

3. Using a craft knife, cut a hole along the line that you have traced. Make sure not to use the knife on a surface that you don’t want damaged, since it will make marks on whatever’s underneath the lid!

4. Make sure that the jar fits into the hole as shown. If the fit is too tight, trim off edges of the hole with the craft knife.

5. Use a few pieces of duct tape (any colour) to reinforce the cardboard around the hole on the inside of the box.

6. Paint the outside of the box. My kids chose a base coat of their favourite colour, then two coats of glitter paint in different colours. We used acrylic paint, since it is more permanent and covers better than kids’ craft paint. Because of this, we covered our table in craft paper first to protect it — and if you look at the paper under the box, you can see why.

Other options to painting include decoupage, stickers, and wrapping the box in pretty paper. No matter what method you choose, make sure that the top and bottom are done separately, since you’ll need to be able to get into the box.

7. Put the batteries into the battery pack of the light string(s). Stuff the diffusing fabric and strings of light into the jar, leaving the battery packs and some cord outside of the jar. I used a cheap tulle (a lightweight, very fine, stiff netting as my diffusing fabric, which is available at most craft stores, fabric stores, and dollar stores in the craft section. A good place to look for this kind of thing is in the Christmas clearance section. You can use a plain colour or one with a glitter pattern. Whatever you choose, the point of the fabric is to make the light from the LEDs softer, hide the cords, and keep it all in place. Arrange the fabric and lights until they are in a position that you find satisfactory. I found that it helped to do so in low lighting so I could see how the light would shine through.

8. Using the heavy-duty scissors, cut a wide slot into the flat part of the Mason jar lid. If you are using a recycled jar with a one-piece lid, using a drill make hole large enough to easily pass the light string through.

9. Cut small strips of duct tape (any colour) and use them to cover the sharp edges of the hole in the lid. This will keep little fingers and the wires from the lights from getting cut.

10. Cover the inside of the lid with a piece of coordinating-coloured duct tape. If you don’t have any, a piece of card or colour in a coordinating colour will also work.

11. Thread the light strings through the hole. If you’re using a piece of card/paper, that should be between the lid and the jar. If you’re using a one-piece lid, you should do this step before you fill the jar with the lights and fabric.

12. Using a piece of duct tape in a coordinating colour, cover most of the hole. If you’re using the card/paper layer, this tape can be any colour. This step is unnecessary if you’re using a one-piece lid.

13. Assemble the parts in the following order:

– jar
– box lid
– card/paper (optional)
– Mason jar lid, then Mason jar band OR one-piece lid

14. Put the battery packs into the bottom of the box, then flip the jar and box lid over on top of the box bottom. To turn the lights off and on, just reach inside the box and flip the switch(es). If you like your lights simple, this can be the end of this craft. My kids wanted a bit more fun, though!

15. My girls really wanted to decorate their lanterns with 3D butterfly stickers, so that’s what we did. Honestly, any kind of sticker would work, although shiny ones (especially the faux-jewel kind) would reflect the light better.

My girls made a lantern each in their favourite colours. You may notice that the jars are slightly different because they’re from different manufacturers. The kids didn’t notice, though.

The lanterns look especially nice in the dark, and they throw interestingly-patterned shadows on the wall.

I promised Thing 2 that I would post a picture of her orange and gold lantern all by itself, since I’d done so many of Thing 1’s blue and silver one already.

So there you go! I hope that your kids enjoy making these fairy light lanterns as much as mine did!

Jack-o’-Lantern Herb Pots

I grow most of my indoor plants (and some of my outdoor ones) in terracotta pots a) because I like the look of them, and b) because they’re inexpensive. I generally have a row of herbs growing in a window planter all year long. I was looking for a way to spruce them up for Halloween on the cheap.

I came up with this quick craft — and I do mean quick, as in it took me less than ten minutes to decorate five pots. There are all kinds of tutorials out there for how to paint or draw on terracotta pots to make them look like Jack-o’-lanterns, which is simplified by the pots already conveniently being orange. I wanted something a little less permanent, since I didn’t want to have to re-pot my herbs for every holiday.

I took a sheet of black construction paper and cut it out freehand into the appropriate shapes. If you’re not comfortable drawing or cutting freehand, you can always Google “Jack-o’-lantern face template” and either trace one of those designs or print it and cut it out. I then stuck the pieces onto the pot with tape. Any tape will work, but for something so temporary I prefer to use painter’s tape (any brand), which isn’t meant to stick forever and rarely leaves any sticky residue behind.

I really like how they all turned out! The plants in the pots make fun “hair” for the Jack-o’-lantern faces, which tickles my kids to no end. Those plants are, left to right: chives, oregano, baby pine tree (okay, technically not an herb; this craft will honestly work with any kind of plant, I just like how quickly and thickly herbs grow), thyme, and garlic chives.

I think that this craft cost me maybe a quarter? Of course, I already had the potted plants. If you don’t have that, the pots generally run only a few dollars for the smaller sizes (they’re generally available at dollar stores and at WalMart all year round), and you can pick up a small pot of herbs for only a few dollars more at your local grocery store or garden center. As a bonus, after Halloween you can use the herbs in your cooking.