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.

Salt Dough 2//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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.

Tie Dyed Pillow Cases

Tie dyeing with the kids is really something that I prefer to do in the summer when I can throw the kids outside in their bathing suits (which are synthetic and don’t absorb dye) to minimize the mess indoors. This time of year, with temperatures hovering around freezing and snow still covering the ground, that’s not exactly an option. Instead, the girls worked in their bathing suits and socks (warm feet are important) in the kitchen, over the metal sink, and we hoped for the best.

In the spirit of keeping things as cheap as possible, we used fabric we already had — four old, plain cotton pillow cases. We also bought the dye at the dollar store. So far, this are the cheapest kits I’ve found locally, with even Walmart’s selection starting at about $11.00 for a two-colour Tulip-brand kit that only makes three items. For six colours, you’re looking at upwards of $25.00. At Dollarama, they sell their own Crafts brand three-colour kits for $4.00 apiece, and we bought two in different colours. But would these kits work as well as the more expensive ones we’d tried?

When it comes to the supplies included in the kit, I found that they were more or less the same as other brands. They contained everything we needed except the water and the plastic to wrap the fabric as it sat, which is standard. Slightly higher quality gloves would have been appreciated, since they did leak and now the kids have splotches on their hands in places, but that seems to be standard too (just like the ones that come with hair dye). The instructions were clear and concise, and even had a brief photo tutorial for how to make different kinds of designs. We used the spiral (left) and bullseye (center and right) techniques on the kids’ pillowcases. (If you need more information about how to tie dye there are a million sites out there, but the Tulip site has some great tutorials that will work with any brand of dye.)

The kit did contain soda ash, which is necessary to pre-treat the fabric to retain vibrant colours. However, the directions did say that the dyes could be used without pre-treatment, but they would come out more pastel. I let the kids choose between waiting a bit longer to dye so they could have bright colours, or to do it right away and have lighter colours, and not surprisingly they chose to go with the route that required the least amount of patience. Despite the dire warnings of the packaging and articles online, after the first rinse the colours remained vibrant (above).

After a run through the washer and dryer, the colours did fade a bit, and I expect that they will continue to do so throughout their lifetime, but I remain happy with the final product. The kids are thrilled (according to Thing 1, the pillow cases are “Awesome!”), and since the project was for them, I say it was a success. (Bottom left and top right were done in the spiral techniques, top left and bottom right were done using bullseye — more techniques here.)

I will say one thing, though: each package of three colours claims that it contains enough dye for up to eight T-shirts. I guess that could technically be true, if you were to use very small shirts, and if you didn’t want a lot of colour saturation or variation in your design. Two packs, for us, did four very saturated single-bed-sized pillow cases (which I would say are about the same size as a small adult T-shirt), with enough left over to do maybe one more. That’s five items out of two packs of dye, when it claims we could make sixteen items. So keep that in mind when you decide how many items to prep. Even so, that’s five items in six colours for $8.00, compared to Walmart’s three items in two colours for $11.00, so Dollarama remains the cheapest place in town to buy supplies for tie dye crafts.

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!

Double-Layered Tuque Pattern

I finished up a second of my extremely-warm double-layered winter hats the other day, this time for Thing 1, and I thought I’d share the pattern. It’s a pretty easy one, as such things go. It involves the basic techniques of casting on, casting off, knitting, purling, increases (k1fb — knit one front and back), decreases (k2tog — knit two together), and knitting in the round (I prefer the magic loop technique, but whatever you are most comfortable with is fine). Don’t let the seemingly long pattern deter you! It’s mostly because the pattern contains a flat-brim and a ribbed-brim version.

A note about sizing: this hat is made to fit my 23″ head with room for a ponytail or other hairdo underneath. I’m no Brent Butt (who claims to have a 27″ head), but my head’s still large enough that it generally falls outside of the women’s hat sizing category and smack-dab into the men’s. Don’t worry, this pattern is adjustable to the size that you want it; instructions are below.


Left: plain brim hat knit in Polo Stripe colourway
Right: ribbed brim hat knit in Favorite Stripe colourway

Double-Layered Tuque
Adult male size, fits 23″ to 24″ circumference head

Materials:
– one 141g (5oz), 215m (236 yds) ball of Red Heart Super Saver Stripes yarn (100% acrylic)
– for ribbed-brim hat only: scraps of contrasting yarn for stitches & pompom
– one set of 5mm (US 8, UK 6) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I prefer 120cm/47″ or longer)

Gauge:
– 21 stitches and 27 rows in stockinette stitch = 20cm x 20cm (4″ x 4″) square on 5mm (US 8, UK 6) needles

Instructions:

Cast on:
– Cast on 18 stitches (flat brim) OR 24 stitches (ribbed-brim).
– Place half of the stitches on each half of the circular needle so as to use the magic loop method.
– Join to work in the round, being careful not to twist.
– Knit one row, placing a stitch marker after every third (flat brim) OR fourth (ribbed brim) stitch. This will divide your work into six sections.

Increase the Crown Exterior:
– First row: *Knit until one stitch before first stitch marker. K1FB on the stitch before the stitch marker. Repeat from * until row is complete. (Every row like this will increase your work by 6 stitches.)
– Second row: Knit.
– Repeat first and second rows until you have 57 stitches per side (flat brim) OR 60 stitches per side (ribbed brim)

SIZING NOTE:

This is where you can adjust for head size. Once you have established your gauge, which you can do either with a swatch or by measuring your stitches as you go, you can calculate how many stitches you will need in total. Use one of the following formulae, depending on whether you’re measuring in metric or imperial:

(Head Circumference + 2.5cm) X Number of Stitches per CM = Desired # of Stitches

OR

(Head Circumference + 1″) X Number of Stitches per Inch = Desired # of Stitches

Then, round the stitch number up to the next multiple of six. It gets a bit more tricky for the ribbed brim version, which must also be divisible by four.

Knit the Body:
– Use a piece of differently-coloured yarn or a safety pin to mark the row where the increases end.
FLAT-BRIM:
– Knit until body measures 9cm (3.5″) from end of increases.
– Remove increase marker.
RIBBED-BRIM:
– Knit until body measures 5cm (2″) from end of increases.
– K2, P2 for and additional 3.8cm (1.5″).
– Remove increase marker.

Decrease:
FLAT-BRIM:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by three, and place a stitch marker after each group. Knit the next round, knitting two stitches together for the two stitches before each stitch marker. There should be 54 stitches on each needle.
RIBBED BRIM:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by two, and place a stitch marker after each group. Knit OR purl two stitches together, depending on what that stitch should have been in the normal order of K2, P2. There should be 58 stitches on each needle.
– Use a piece of differently-coloured yarn or a safety pin to mark the row where you made these decreases.

Knit the Body Lining:
FLAT BRIM:
– Knit until interior body measures 9cm (3.5″) from decrease marker.
– Remove decrease marker.
RIBBED BRIM:
– K2, P2 for 3.8cm (1.5″) from decrease marker.
– Knit for an additional 5cm (2″).
– Remove decrease marker.

Decrease Lining:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by three. For the flat-brimmed hat, unless you have adjusted for size, that means each group should be 18 stitches. For the ribbed-brim hat, the number will not be even. If you have not adjusted for size, divide the stitches 19-19-20. If you have adjusted for size, try and make the groups as even as possible.
– First row: **Knit until two stitches before first stitch marker. K2tog on the two stitches before the stitch marker. Repeat from ** until row is complete. (Every row like this will decrease your work by 6 stitches.)
– Second row: Knit.
– Repeat first and second rows until you have 12 stitches per side (flat brim) OR 18 stitches per side (ribbed brim).
– Cast off, leaving a long tail.

Finishing:
– Run the tail of yarn through the cast off stitches and draw tight, tying a secure knot.
– Run the other tail of yarn through the cast on stitches and pull tight, tying a secure knot.
– Fold the lining into the exterior of the hat so that the cast off and cast on stitches touch, back to back.
– With a few stitches of one of the yarn tails, secure the two ends of the hat together at the point. Tie one tail to the other and pull them between the two layers of fabric.
– Create a pompom out of the leftover yarn (flat brim) or out of scrap contrasting yarn (ribbed brim). Stitch it to the exterior of the peak of the hat.
– About 1cm (about 0.5″) from the bottom edge of the hat (flat brim) OR along the edge of the ribbing (ribbed brim), stitch leftover/contrasting yarn every second stitch, affixing the lining to the exterior of the hat. Then run a piece of leftover/contrasting yarn through these stitches, creating a continuous line. Make sure that these stitches are not too tight, so as not to be uncomfortable around the ears. Tie off the yarn and run it between the two layers of fabric, snipping off any extra if it protrudes.

As usual, should you note any errata in this pattern, or if any instructions need further clarification, please let me know so that I can fix it and/or make my instructions more clear!

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

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.