Saturday, January 25, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part VI: Infinity Scarves for Everyone!

The final post in my DIY Christmas series!

For some of the fashionable ladies in my life (my stepmom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law), I decided to make simple infinity scarves. This was a very straightforward project, though it does require a sewing machine. I was able to use just 1 yard of fabric for each (~60 inches wide if possible), and I picked fabric with some stretch and softness. I got the fabric at a fabric store near where I live -- the selection wasn't as wide as I'd have liked (though I do love what I picked out for each of them -- I think they fit their individual styles well), but later I found that has a really good selection of stretch knits so that's a good option for the future.

For each scarf, first I folded the fabric lengthwise with the right sides facing each other (so the wrong sides facing out). Then I sewed a straight seam along the raw edges, leaving me with a tube of fabric.

(This really helpful photo shows what fabric being sewn looks like...)

Then I turned the tube right-side-out. This next part is the trickiest (though not hard at all) and also a bit tricky to explain, but here's my best shot: take the two ends of the tube, and sew them together. If you imagine the openings at the ends as two circles, you're essentially placing the edges of the circles up against each other and then sewing down the matched up edges until you have just a few inches left (you can't sew all the way around because the circles have to be a little open for the sewing machine to reach the seams). Then just use a simple hand stitch the close the opening.

And that's it! Here are some shots of the scarves in action:

My sister-in-law (sorry for the candid photo, Maddie):

My stepmom:

I forgot to get one of my mother-in-law, but the fabric in the sewing machine picture is what I used for hers. And then I got a bit obsessed and bought more fabric from the internet to sew some for myself and a few friends with birthdays.... Here are two I made for myself (not exactly the Christmas spirit -- but at least I gave gifts that I would be willing to wear myself!).

I never quite know how to wrap scarves, so for me an infinity scarf is perfect because it's so easy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part V: Cookbook of Past Triumphs

Welcome to Part V of my DIY Christmas posts.

As I've mentioned before, Sam's brother is an amazing artist, so I wasn't about to try taking on something artistic that he could have made ten times better and ten times faster for himself. Instead, I decided on a simple little project that I thought would be fun, which was a DIY cookbook based on dishes that he's cooked before. He enjoys cooking for himself and often posts photos on facebook of his finished creations with little descriptions, so I collected all the photos and had them printed through Picplum, an online service that specializes in Instagram photos (since the dimensions are different than normal prints from a place like CVS). I was very happy with the quality of the prints but I have to say I wasn't a fan of the customer service -- I got an error message the first time I clicked "submit" on the photos so I did it again, and then was immediately charged for two orders. I emailed five times over the course of a week to say I only wanted one order, but never heard back from anyone at the company (and there's no other way to contact them). Eventually I just had to fight the duplicate charge through my credit card company (and Amex was very good about reversing it), but it irks me that no one ever wrote back. So that's just a little note for anyone who is thinking about what service to use for printing Instagram photos -- I don't really endorse Picplum.

Anyway, once I had the 4x4 photos, I bought a simple blank notebook and attached one photo to every other page using double-sided tape. Then below the photo I wrote the description of the meal, and left a little space for notes. There are still a lot of blank pages so Isaac can add to it over time if he wants. Here are some sample entries:

For the front, I cut out a square of white lightweight card stock and mod podged it to the cover. I decided to call it "The Tried and True Cookbook."

The idea is that if Isaac is thinking about what to cook, he can flip through it and see things he's successfully made and enjoyed in the past as inspiration. Maybe I'm just projecting what I would find helpful for my own cooking adventures, but I think it could be handy as he's developing a repertoire of dishes. And looking at this has reminded me that I haven't eaten lunch yet....

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Learning to Sketch

I'm interrupting the the stream of Christmas DIYs with something slightly different, but I'll finish recapping the Christmas presents next week I promise.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to learn Google SketchUp, a 3D modeling software used by architects, designers, engineers, etc. There's a very powerful free version that I've played around with in the past, but I never really got the hang of it. This time I decided to really commit and watched a lot of online tutorials, which definitely helped me get over the hump. For anyone looking to learn, I really recommend the tutorials on YouTube under the name "SketchUp: A 3D ToolBox." Each tutorial is ~20 minutes long and covers a specific topic, from basics to way more advanced tools. Since I'm particularly interested in using it for modeling interior spaces, I watched the series of tutorials on designing a house, and that helped me master a lot of different techniques like windows and doors, moulding, cabinets, etc.

I decided that the best way to learn was to try modeling a place I know and love: my apartment. I thought that if I was modeling a fictitious space, it would be much easier for me to let the details and mistakes slide, whereas if I was trying to recreate a real place I would be fastidious about learning the techniques needed to get things as close to accurate as possible.

The cool thing about SketchUp is that you can build pretty much anything you want, but there's also a 3D warehouse full of items that other people have built and uploaded that you can download for free and then use/customize. So I built the structure of the apartment myself, but then was able to furnish it using a lot of models other folks had created (with a lot of customization of colors and textures). So without further ado, here's the 3D rendering of my apartment:

Living room:





And if you're curious what the empty rooms are, they're either closets (the very small ones), our kitchen pantry (right off the kitchen), or spaces outside of our apartment leading to the unit above (like at the front and back of the house).

I have to admit that I got a tad obsessed with it, especially when it came time to customize a lot of the furniture and artwork and it really started to look like home. But having so much fun with it definitely made it super easy to learn!

If you're interested in seeing more of the details that these snapshots don't capture, you can view it in SketchUp (which is free and easy to download) using this link to the file. Maybe it's a little creepy that I'm letting you navigate around my home in so much detail, but mostly I think it's pretty darn cool.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part IV: Wood-mounted Photos

Continuing my quest to make my Christmas presents for my family this year, I decided to do a similar project for both my dad and Sam's dad and stepmom. My dad always asks for photos on his Christmas wish list, and Sam's dad and stepmom got married last year on New Year's Day so I thought they would enjoy one of their wedding photos displayed nicely somehow.

Rather than just simply framing some photos, I decided to mount them on wood plaques. First I printed copies of the photos I wanted to use at CVS. Then I used mod podge to glue them to wood plaques that I bought at Michaels, and added some additional topcoats of mod podge over each photo to protect it. To make it look more polished, I used stained glass foiling tape leftover from the photo collage project I did for Sam's stepdad to make a small frame around each of the photos. Here's one up close:

My dad and stepmom on a motorcycle trip this summer -- they ended up being fairly close to Sam's mom's lake house in Upstate New York right when we were visiting, so we went o grab coffee with them one morning and I snapped this great photo.

I also attached picture hanging brackets to each one for easy hanging:

Here are all three completed:

The two on the bottom were for my dad, and the one on the top were for Sam's dad and stepmom. I also made another present for Sam's dad and stepmom that I totally forgot to photograph: right after their wedding, I bought a clear glass Christmas ornament and filled it with items from their wedding ceremony like my corsage and strips of their wedding program. I stashed it away in my craft closet, and fortunately remembered to pull it back out almost a year later to give them as a gift for Christmas/their one-year anniversary. Gotta love when advance planning makes presents even easier!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part III: Photo Collage

Welcome to Part III of Homemade Christmas (see Parts I and II for the projects I've already shared). Figuring out what to make Sam's stepdad, Bob, was another challenging one -- he likes reading, spending time outdoors, puttering around the house, corgis, and all things relating to the summer lake house he and Sam's mom bought in Upstate New York a few years ago. Though I'm sure I could have come up with some kitschy corgi items, I decided to go with the lake house as inspiration. The house gets closed up during the winter, but Bob loves to keep tabs on the weather and temperature up there, and during the summer they spend months there relaxing and exploring. Sam's brother is a fabulous photographer and has taken some really nice photos up there, and I thought Bob might enjoy some sort of variation on a photo collage so he could enjoy the view from the house even when they're not there.

I wanted to do something a little different, though, and in my online searching for photo collage ideas came across an idea from This Girl's Life for an adaptation of a photo collage she saw in Urban Outfitters. Here's the project Mandy did (on the right) next to the Urban Outfitters Inspiration:

I really liked her approach, and thought that photos of the lake would lend themselves very nicely to something similar. To pull it off, I needed a large canvas, mod podge, stained glass foiling tape (for the edging), and photos of the lake sized to fit in a grid.

I already had a canvas on hand, and based on its dimensions I determined that 5"x5" photos would work best. First I found my favorite shots of the lake, then played around with cropping and duplicating them until I had 12 variations that I liked. I made each image 5"x5" but on a 5"x7" "canvas" (I use Adobe Photoshop Elements to edit photos) so that I could easily print them at CVS as 5x7s and then trim them to size.

I laid them out on the canvas and played around with their placement until I liked the arrangement, then used matte mod podge to glue them to the canvas (I think glossy mod podge could look good too, but I worried about it looking too much like the magazine collages I made as a kid so I went with matte). Then I applied a few coats of the mod podge over the top, allowing each coat to dry in between. Here's what it looked like as the first top coat of mod podge was drying:

Michael's didn't have stained glass foiling tape, but I was able to order it on Amazon. It comes in a package like this:

I was a little nervous about using it because normally materials that are both delicate and sticky are really hard to work with. However, this was incredibly easy to use -- I just cut each piece to the length I wanted, removed the sticky backing, and applied it to the canvas. After laying each piece down where I wanted it, I ran the handles of my scissors along it to make sure it was firmly adhered. The tape was great for the lines between the photos, as well as for creating a more finished look along the edges. Here's the finished result:

Another shot, showing how I molded the tape around the edges of the canvas:

It's nothing fancy, but I think it turned out nicely!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part II: Monogrammed Tote

In Part I of my "Homemade Christmas" posts, I explained that I decided to make all of my presents for family members this Christmas, and I shared a tutorial for the beer coasters I made my brother. Next up is the monogrammed tote bag that I made for Sam's stepsister, Amelia. Amelia's birthday is a few days after Christmas, so this is actually more of a birthday present.

I came across the idea of using a doily to stencil a canvas bag (courtesy of it's great to be home), and thought it would be perfect for Amelia, who turned 12 this birthday. The supplies I needed were a blank canvas tote bag, fabric paint, a small foam brush, a small craft brush, a paper doily, and spray adhesive. I already had spray adhesive and the brushes on hand, so at Michael's I just grabbed green paint (Amelia's favorite color), a pack of doilies, and a canvas tote (Michael's had choices for a few different sized and styles of bags). Maybe I should have asked Michael's for some sort of sponsorship deal since they're getting so much publicity on my blog these days! And of course my blog is read and emulated by millions....

I started by laying the blank bag on a table. I liked this bag because it seems like it's a good size for holding books or packing for a day trip, and the rope handles jazz it up a little from a totally plain canvas tote. (There's a rigid insert for the bottom that keeps it flat so it doesn't sag like this picture suggests, but I took it out while stenciling so that the bag would lay totally flat.)

I played around the placement of the doily on the corner of the bag, then applied the spray adhesive to the back of the doily and pressed it flat on the bag. The adhesive was essential to keeping the doily in place while I stenciled -- it would have gotten very messy and smudgy if I had just tried to hold it in place. You can see a green mat I inserted inside the bag -- this was to make sure that nothing bled through from the front side of the bag to the back (especially paint). This mat is a flexible cutting board that our neighbors threw out a few years ago and I salvaged from the trash -- Sam loves when I do things like that ;) I use it when I'm cutting with an exacto knife, painting small objects, etc.

Then I used a foam brush to apply green paint over the edges of the doily.

While the paint was still wet I peeled off the doily, which was fairly easy to do despite the adhesive and the paint. (Sorry for the poor photos, I was doing this at night in some weird lighting, so it's hard to get a sense of the true paint color, which is dark green.)

I wanted to add a monogram inside the doily ring, so I found a font I liked in MS Word, made it fairly large, printed it, cut it out, and traced it onto the bag using a pencil. Then I used a small craft brush to carefully fill in the pencil outline with green paint. Here's what it looked like as I was getting started:

A few minutes later, I was left with the finished product:

This lighting shows the green paint much better. I'm really pleased with how it turned out and Amelia seemed to like it, so I'll call it a success! Frankly I'd love something like this for taking to the beach or around town, so maybe I'll make myself one soon!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part I: What do you make for a twenty-something fellow?

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year! It's hard to believe it's 2014.... 2013 was a busy year -- we kicked it off on the first day of the year with Sam's father getting married, in May I finished my first year of business school, in August I spent a week with my mom and stepdad on their new sail boat (which they now live on full-time, right now in the sunny and warm Bahamas), in the fall Sam got a big promotion at work, in November we ran the Philly Marathon (my first full marathon, Sam's second), we hosted our fourth annual family Thanksgiving in Boston, we spent time in VT with my family and in PA with Sam's family over Christmas and New Year's, and throughout it all we shared a lot of joyful moments with family and friends. There was also sadness and loss, most notably my uncle passing away unexpectedly at the beginning of December. It was comforting to take some time over the holidays to reflect.

We did a lot of travel over the holidays and it was wonderful to see so much family, but we're also glad to be back in Boston. I can lose sight of what a blessing it is to have a safe, comfortable place to call home, especially when I spend so much energy trying to improve it. Being away from it for weeks definitely reminds me that we're very lucky. That doesn't mean there aren't home projects in store for 2014, though! But before I get ahead of myself, I thought I'd share some DIY updates from the tail end of 2013. This year I decided to make all of my Christmas presents for my family, which was a bit of a rollercoaster. There was excitement. There was frustration. There was despair. There was pride. All things considered, it was totally worth it -- but having a full week between the end of the semester and leaving for our holiday travels definitely helped, so it likely won't be feasible again in future years when I have less free time.

Anyway, I thought I'd post about each project over the next few weeks. First up: the coasters I made my brother.

Figuring out what to make for my brother was one of the toughest presents. I really wanted to make things that first and foremost people liked and that secondly happened to be homemade, not just things that people felt obligated to like because they were homemade but didn't really speak to their interests or passions. But I was struggling to come up with something that my 23-year old brother would like. He has his own apartment and there are probably plenty of things I could do decor-wise for the space, but I wanted it to be something that he would enjoy having in his apartment, not just something that thought would be nice looking. Maybe I was overthinking this, but I just didn't want to send a message like "I think you need to have new art," or "I think you should have different curtains."

Anyway, I ended up coming across an idea for DIY beer coasters that I thought fit the bill. My brother is a beer connoisseur, having visited all of the 21 breweries in Vermont (twice), so I thought he would enjoy some functional home goods that show off his interest in beer.

The only supplies I needed were some ceramic tiles, felt, six pack holders, and mod podge. We happened to have some six pack holders left over from a recent holiday party and I already had some felt and mod podge on hand in my craft closet, so all I needed was ceramic tiles. Easier said than done since none of the hardware stores within walking/public transit distance of my apartment carry supplies like this -- they tend to have basic tools, paint, etc, but not the materials you'd need for tiling and other bigger renovation projects. I was prepared to rent a car to go to Home Depot but wanted to avoid that if possible, so while I was out running errands one afternoon in an area I don't go very often I stopped in a small hardware store just to see if they happened to have anything that fit the bill. They didn't, but suggested I ask at the flooring store next door that installs carpets and hardwood floors. They also didn't sell tiles, but the owner happened to have some ceramic tiles on hand for a personal tiling project he was doing in the upstairs of his store that he was willing to sell me for a grand total of $5 for six of them. So let it be known that the owner of Cambridge Rug and Flooring Company is an incredibly kind and helpful person, and if you're in the market for new rugs or floors I hope you'll consider them (I can't actually speak to the quality of their rugs and floors, but they have great reviews on Yelp).

In any case, with my supplies in hand, I tackled this extremely straightforward project.

First, I cut pieces of felt slightly smaller than the size of each tile. Then I coated the bottom of each tile with mod podge and stuck the felt on (this is to protect whatever surface the coaster is placed on, since the tiles have rough, grooved bottoms). The mod podge dried within a few minutes.

Then I took my six pack holders and cut out six squares the size of each tile. I applied mod podge to each square, and pressed them firmly down on the tiles. My method was to hold each square in place for ~1 minute while the mod podge firmed up, then stack a book on top to keep the corners of the cardboard flat while the glue dried completely. I just stacked all the coasters up at the same time with a book between each one, and let them dry for about 15 minutes.

Lastly, I applied 4 coats of mod podge over the top of each coaster, letting them dry completely between coats. This is to make sure they are completely waterproof so they don't get ruined when actually used as coasters. I used a high gloss modge podge so they are very shiny (which I love), but you could also use matte mod podge if you prefer.

And that's it, tada!

My brother has beer labels that he's collected from all the breweries he's visited and I told him it would be really easy for us to make more coasters using those if he ever wants, so it could be an expanding coaster collection over time.

There are plenty more presents where this one came from, so stay tuned to learn about what else cooked up in the week before Christmas.