Tuesday, June 11, 2013

DIY Painted Wooden Alphabet Magnet Set

This is one of those projects that was way simpler in my head. Painting projects always are!  I set out thinking it'll be simple but then I'm faced with tiny crevices, edges, dry time, UGH! And yet I continue to pick painting projects.  I guess I like the struggle, on some level. 

I intended for Rhys to make these magnets, but since I really wanted them to look finished I used my toddler-proofing trick of pre-painting all the pieces a solid color. That way, Rhys was able to decorate them all and the end magnets were still fully coated in paint, with no bare wooden bits showing through.  Toddler happy, OCD mama happy. Everyone won.

The setup process took DAYS, you guys. No exaggeration. I bought a bag of wooden letters ($3.99) and a zillion paints at Michael's, took them home and let Toddles pick four colors.  Then I pre-painted each letter, including the edges, with two coats of paint, which took about 90 minutes. 

Once the initial paint was dry, I used sticky back magnetic tape ($1 for a roll at Michael's), three small pieces per letter to make the letters magnetic. The sticky back tape wasn't adhering very well, though, so I did go back over and re-glue each magnetic piece with hot glue.  26 letters x 3 magnet pieces per letter  = 78 opportunities to burn my fingers.  The whole magnet cutting/gluing process took about another hour.

FINALLY, it was time for the fun part. I set Rhys loose with the pre-painted wooden magnets and more paints and brushes.  I expected him to make designs or "scribbles" on the letters, but he surprised me by wanting to fully coat each letter with paint.  My pre-painting was maybe not so necessary in retrospect, but I still really like how the letters looked with one color on the face and a different color on the edges.  The toddler painting typhoon took about 20 minutes, with a little help from mama.

I sprayed clear coat over  the dry magnets, let that dry overnight, and, at long last, here are our finished magnets:

I think they came out super cute. SUPER cute. It was a long process, spanning almost 3 hours over several days, but it was a VERY inexpensive project ($5 for materials, a few bucks more if you don't already have paint, brushes, clear spray paint and hot glue).  As to whether I'd do this again, I fully intend to make a few sets as holiday gifts.  I'll probably complain the whole time but I'll make them and I know my kid will be proud to give them!

Friday, June 7, 2013

More Supercrafts for SuperRhys

Now that he has his cape all sorted, I figured Rhys could use some superhero masks as well.  He REALLY likes Spiderman and Batman, so I decided to make those two to start.  There are a plethora of toddler mask patterns out there in internet-land, but I started with this one.  I cut out the patterns on paper first and I'm glad I did, because they were actually pretty small on Rhys so I was able to freehand cut out larger masks using these patterns as a guide. 

I had hoped to make these out of existing stash materials and I didn't have quite enough red felt to do both sides of the Spiderman mask. In fiddling around with my stash though, I realized that I actually preferred to make these reversible so that Rhys can choose a color when he wears them.  So Batman wound up being black on one side and yellow on the other and Spiderman became red on the outside, blue on the inside. I still used the "traditional" colors for each superhero, but I like how the reversible aspect gives Rhys options. 

Sewing tiny objects with curves isn't a strong suit of mine, so I wanted to "idiotproof" these before I started sewing.  I didn't feel capable of keeping the two pieces of each mask perfectly aligned while sewing over all those little bends and twists, so I decided to iron in a layer of Wonder Under between the two halves before sewing. This worked out really well! I used pins to hold the elastic in place, but the rest of each mask I was able to leave unpinned. 

Also, to avoid having to sew a bunch of curves, I spidey-fied the Spiderman mask with black fabric paint, rather than machine sewn web lines.  I think it worked out pretty well!

I love when projects like this one come together and I'm able to make them entirely from stash materials.  These were fun to make and took only about half an hour each.  I think I'll be making more as Rhys' superhero interests expand. I might even try to design Rhys his own mask, to match his cape.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About DIY Gel Nail Polish *but were afraid to ask!

I have bad nails for polish.  Seriously, I will get a manicure or do a meticulious DIY one and wake up the very next morning with chips.  Manicures don't last more than a few days . . . sometimes hours.  So when I first heard of gel polish I couldn't get into the salon fast enough.  My first gel manicure lasted almost three weeks.  THREE WEEKS! I continued to get them more or less monthly for the better part of a year, until I finally decided that $45 ($70 including pedi and tip!) was just too pricey for my cheap side to bear.

After fiddling around with better base and top coats (Orly Bonder base coat and Seche Vite top coat gave me fast drying, high shine results that lasted 2-3 days without chips, which was better, but still a far cry from gel), I started looking into DIY gel options.  My first try was with the "sounds too good to be true" Nutra Nail Gel Perfect UV free system.  Waste not your money on this stuff, ladies.  If anything, this polish was more brittle and chipped faster than regular polish for me.  I had massive chips within an hour or two.  It was also approximately 3 1/2 bitches to remove fully.

I then tried one more "gel like" "lamp free" option, Revlon's Colorstay polish.  The first time I tried this stuff I did so using Bonder and Seche (see above links) and it peeled off in sheets within a day.  I gave it another try alone, no base or top coat and that mani did last about a week with major tip wear, but no actual chipping.  The shine left a lot to be desired, but might be improved by use of Colorstay's base and top coats in conjunction with polish.  I wouldn't write this stuff off, if you have "good" nails and your polish generally lasts a week or so.  It is not, however, a substitue for real gel.  And by this point, after experimenting for a few months with alterntiaves, I was jonesing for the hard stuff again.

I came to the realization that I was going to have to buy a lamp.  Now, most UV lamps contained in drugstore kits are not big enough to fit a whole hand in, so you end up DOUBLING your UV curing time doing 4 nails, then a thumb, 4 nails, then a thumb . . . multiply that by a base layer, 2-3 layers of color, a top coat . . . and your at home mani is going to take two full episodes of Mad Men.  

I ended up going with a 36W UV bulb lamp from Amazon, which is very similar to the ones my salon uses.  The price was right and it has been serving me well for a year with one catch: the bulbs are harder to find than a needle in a haystack.  I had one burn out and have twice ordered replacements from various Amazon sellers, none of which have worked.   I still haven't figured the bulbs out, to be honest, but I'm using my lamp effectively with just 3 bulbs for now and will likely either buy a new lamp or invest in a more expensive, but bulb free, LED lamp when my current lamp craps out completely. 

When you first get started, you'll need either a kit which includes all of the basic top and base products or, just a bottle each of base coat, top coat, ph bonder and regular drugstore rubbing alcohol.  Gelish and Red Carpet Manicure both make kits which I can vouch for.  You're going to want to stick with well known brands for your basics.  Gelish and Red Carpet are both great. Once I tried to save a few bucks and tried IBD Gel's top and base and my polish  peeled off whole within 48 hours. Buyer beware! There are lots of inexpensive gel polish brands out there, and predominately I've found that bargain color polishes work fine with Gelish or Red Carpet basics, but you MUST have decent basic products in order to get results that will merit your money and time investement.

I realize this is starting to sound complicated, but I promise once you get all of your products, DIY gel is easy as pie.

Now, colors!  I have had good results with Gelish, Sensationail, and IBD (although again, DO NOT buy their base and top coats!). I'm mixed on Red Carpet colors because I have a black that is all but unusable and a red that is ok.  If you're going for a dark, opaque color, I think you are "safest" choosing from Gelish's range.

Now, I'm sure at this point you're thinking "I just spent $50 on all the things BESIDES colors, can't I just use one of my zillion regular nail polishes with gel base and top coats?" The answer to which would be, sorta.  Gel top coat cured in a UV lamp over regular polish (no gel base required) will last about a week chip free for me.  There are two catches:  1) The regular polish must be BONE DRY before the gel topcoat goes on or the color polish underneath the cured gel will pucker (Use of Seche Vite before a gel topcoat can usually accomplish full drying if you wait 30-45 minutes before applying the gel. Yep. Two topcoats.  I warned you there were catches!) . . . and . . . 2)  Gel topcoat over regular polish is 9zillion times harder to remove than gel topcoat over gel polish.  Gel tends to come off in chunks, gel on top of regular polish does not. There is much scraping and buffing and gnashing of teeth . . . to the point where regular polish + gel topcoat *basically* isn't worth doing.

So! You've got your lamp, your basics, your gel polish.  The process is pretty simple.  Clean your nails with alcohol using a paper towel (cotton leaves lint that gets cured in the gel and will piss you off for the duration of your manicure).  Use PH bonder (liquid that you paint on each nail, no curing afterwards).  A coat of base, cure for 2 minutes.  2-3 coats of color, curing for 2 minutes after each coat. A coat of top coat, cure for 2 mins.  Wipe nails off with alcohol on a paper towel. DONEZO.  Since I know you're doing math in your head right now, you probably have already figured out that we're talking 16-20 minutes of curing time, depending on whether you do 2 or 3 coats of polish. However, with practice you can do a full set of 10 nails in 30 minutes or so and your nails will be done, fully dry, rock hard at the end of that time. 

My salon gel manicures have been known to last 3 weeks.  My at home manis last one to two.  So there IS a bit of compromise on the durability end of things, but again, I'm not spending $45 a pop and I can do my nails in my pjs while drinking beer and watching TV, so . . . .

And now you know!

Friday, May 24, 2013


I don't know how exactly it happened, but sometime in the last few weeks Rhys has become enamored with superheros: Superman, Batman, Robin (especially Robin, since his cape has an R on it).  I figured my little guy needed his own cape with his very own superhero logo.

A cape can be as simple as a blanket tied around the neck, or as complex as a floor length, satin, breakaway neck, appliqued PROJECT. I decided to go middle of the road and make something with a fun printed lining and a custom designed logo, with a velcro neck closure for safety and a hemline around Rhys' knees to help keep him from tripping.

I really wanted to make this from existing materials from my stash, and I had quite a hard time finding pieces of fabric big enough, but I managed. I used a plain black cotton for the outside and a fun acid green and black buffalo check flannel for the lining (super . . . hipster? maybe!).  The sizes of my fabric dictated the size of my cape, to an extent.  I used the neckline template from this tutorial, did some mouth breathing math to try and estimate how long the cape should be and then cut the body of the cape from the neck to the hem at an angle, so it flares out a bit.

Before I sewed my pieces together, I applied the R logo.  I google image searched "Pow" and when I found a shape I liked, I printed it twice and cut the spiky shape out of one page and the cloud shape out of another. I made an appropriately sized R on word and print and cut that template out too.  Once I'd chosen felt colors from my stash, I ironed Wonder Under to the backs of each sheet, which served to make the felt pieces iron on but also made them MUCH easier to cut out in perscise shapes.  After I'd cut all three shapes, I ironed them to the front center panel of the cape.  The R and the cloud are still sticking admirably, weeks later. The pointy bits are starting to lift a bit, however, so I'll fabric glue those down when I get a chance. 

So! Sewing.  I pinned and sewed the two fabric panels almost all the way around, reverse sides facing, leaving the bottom hem unsewn for turning.  Then I turned the cape right side out, pressed the edges and hemmed the bottom up.  For the closure, I used my secret trick: Sticky Back Velcro.  This stuff TOTALLY SAYS on the package that it doesn't stick to fabrics.  The first time I used it (on Rhys' apron) I did so thinking I'd stick it on then sew over the edges, but it stuck so well I didn't bother. The apron is still working really well, months later, so this time I shamelessly used stick on velcro to make the cape neck closure with absolutely no intention of sewing over it.  I'm such a rule breaker. 

Rhys really loves his finished cape!  He's been wearing it all around the neighborhood, every chance he gets.  I'm not even going to pretend that isn't the most adorable thing EVER.  I'd even say it is SUPER adorable. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Adventures in Bias Tape

A few months back I converted a sweater to a cardigan and it went pretty well.  I'd already earmarked my next victim, a rarely worn mustard yellow sweater that had been gathering cobwebs in the back of my closet.  However, this time, I knew I wanted patterned bias tape for the binding.  There are two ways to get patterned bias tape:  buy it on Etsy or make it yourself.  There are two ways to make it yourself:  buy a really expensive bias tape machine or buy a very inexpensive bias tape tool.  Since I have a massive fabric stash and I knew having just one print to play with would never do it for me, I figured making my own was the best option.  Since I am cheap, I went with the tool over the machine. 

Full disclosure, you really can't get by using  scissors to cut your bias strips, you MUST have a rotary cutter and mat, which I initially did not.  However, thanks to a 50% off Joann's coupon I was able to pick up a cutting set AND two sizes of bias tape makers via amazon.com really inexpensively. The bias tape makers may be one hit wonders, but the rotary cutting set I'll get a ton of use out of (union jack bags and pillows, anyone?).

SO!  I used this fantastic tutorial to cut and piece my bias strips:

The whole process went really well.  I was a little intimidated when I realized I'd have to sew the strips together (duh), but even that was fairly painless. 

Then on to the pressing:

I did find that I got a better, more symmetrical edge by keeping my iron about 3/4 of an inch away from my tool as I pressed along, which may have been due to the really thin gingham fabric I was using.  If I had it to do over for my first try, I'd pick something with a little more weight.  The tape was functional, it just may have been easier to make for the first time using a weightier fabric.

I sliced up my sweater and cut two strips of bias tape a bit longer than each edge and sewed them in using this tutorial and a ball point needle:

The first time I made a cardigan out of a sweater, I sewed the bias tape on the inside of the cardi. This time, since I had cute tape, I sewed it on the outside. 

Ta da!:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rhys' Road Trip Box

I was in The Container Store yesterday, picking up a bakery box for bringing mini birthday cupcakes to Rhys' school tomorrow (Three!!! I KNOW!!!).  Since we're taking the little dude to Legoland soon to celebrate his birthday, I stopped by the travel bottles aisle for some trip supplies.  I saw a travel soap dish and remembered this idea about making a travel coloring set with post its and a soap box . . . then I realized I was already in the perfect store to buy a box to convert into a travel busy box for Rhys  . . . and that there is a Toys R Us next door to The Container Store . . . and basically that the world would end if I didn't put together a travel busy box THAT VERY DAY. 

This is how I operate.  I'm an extremely motivated magpie.

So I left The Container Store with a small accessories box and a soap box.  At Toys R Us, I picked up a Hot Wheels car, a package of Silly Putty and a new box of crayons. I picked up a free newspaper on the way home and then stopped off at Joann's with the little guy after school for a few small supplies (a sheet of craft foam and a lace).  Everything else I used to build the busy box I had on hand already, so my grand total spent was only about $6, including what I spent on the box itself.  The idea is really adaptable to using whatever small toys or craft materials you have on hand, but this is the selection I came up with: 

The item of which I'm most proud, a set of 12 cards depicting Duplo block patterns ranging from 3 to 6 blocks each, and 8 Duplos for Rhys to use replicating the patterns.  I saw this idea on Pinterest and thought it was perfect for a Legoland road trip busy box.  I made my cards using Gimp (a free Photoshop like program that I just love to pieces for layout type stuff).  I "laminated" them front and back with packing tape and used a hole punch and a binder ring to tie the cards together.  

Next up, a Button Snake and a Lacing Card.  The card is foam sheet that I cut into a heart and hole punched all the way around. The lace is just a bit of cord from the by the yard ribbon section at Joann's (although, if I'd had a spare shoelace on hand, that'd have worked just as well).  The button snake is made from vintage buttons and random bits of ribbon and felt from my craft room. 

And then on to the coloring kit that got me into this whole mess.  My post its didn't quite fit, so I had to cut them with a paper cutter, but in the end it all works out. I love how this idea keeps the crayons contained!  I also threw in some stickers and letter tracing worksheets for each letter of Rhys' name, since he's working on learning to write it. 

And then a new Hot Wheels car (in the wrapper, since unwrapping is half the fun) and a stack of animal trading cards from Rhys' old issues of National Geographic For Kids, clipped together with a yellow binder clip I found in the junk drawer.

And, lastly, an egg of Silly Putty with a few pages of newsprint and a Road Sign Bingo printout with Post-it flags to mark off the signs. 

 Here's what the box looks like all put together:

I'm really pleased with how this turned out!  All 9 activities fit neatly inside the box (which is about half the size of a shoebox), so this really is perfect for travel.  I'm also super excited that this came together for only $6.  I'm always falling prey to crafty ideas that end up costing me way more in supplies than they're worth. This idea, though, really did come together for only a few dollars.  The idea is adaptable so that I might have spent more, but then again, I might have spent less, even nothing!  When I was planning this project I searched "toddler busy bag" on Pinterest and found pages upon pages of ideas, most that would be inexpensive or free to put together.  At some point, I might replenish this box with a DIY noodle stringing set, maybe some cuter lacing cards,  or a piece of fabric with various clasps attached, or a homemade paint chip color matching set . . . the possibilities are practically endless. 

For now, I can't wait to see how Rhys likes his new box. I'm keeping it hidden until we get on the road!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shorts with Leather Detail: Reconstruction

I've basically never found shorts that look good on me. They are always either too short, too relaxed fitting and saggy or too twee. I really wanted shorts that fit well, were long enough that I didn't feel over exposed wearing them and that were a bit edgier than the very "juniors department" looking styles I'd seen in stores.  After being disappointed in the dressing room one too many times, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Calling cuttoffs a "reconstruction project" is kind of reaching, but in this case I think the term is warranted since the jeans I cut off had been in the garbage/goodwill/spare fabric pile for years on account of a massive 3 inch long rip in the seat.  So fixing these jeans up and making them wearable and cute was a three part process: 1) fix the rip, 2) cut them off and 3) sew in leather panels, so as to look like a not-twee badass.

First up, the rip:  I started off by cutting a piece of black twill a bit longer and wider than the rip and then rounding off the corners (so that the patch, if it does lift, won't have pointy, uncomfortable edges).  I used a piece of iron on fusible web to make the twill into a patch, which I then carefully ironed in to the inside of the jeans, making sure the fabric was flat as I ironed.  Then I flipped the jeans back right side out and used my sewing machine to make a slew of zig zag stitches back and forth over the rip, until it was completely covered and the loose threads were contained.  I used black thread and black twill, since that's what I had on hand and since I didn't mind the jeans having a "scar", but i might have also used denim from the lower part of the legs to make the patch, and denim colored thread for the stitching.  Here's a great tutorial with lots of photos and explanation of the zigzag stitch process:  http://www.rawrdenim.com/2012/10/how-to-a-simple-guide-to-diy-denim-repairs/, and, below on the left, here's my finished patch/scar. I think it adds to the general bad-assery of the shorts:

Next up, cutting.  I tried the jeans on and marked where I wanted them cut with chalk.  Then I took them off and cut them about 3/4 of an inch longer than that mark (to give them room to fray down an inch or so), making sure they were a little longer in the middle than they were on the outer seams (so they made a slight v shape, when laid flat).  I went over the cut edges with sandpaper to start them fraying, then washed and dried the shorts to finish messing up the edges.  I cut off all the long loose threads and it was time for step three:

Applying the leather panels.  The jeans have a triangle shaped motif on the back pockets and the button, so I went with that inspiration and cut two pieces of black scrap leather into triangles and used masking tape to affix the triangles to the outer seams of each leg.  Leather shouldn't be pinned, since the pins would leave lasting holes in the fabric, but the masking tape worked like a charm.  I just ripped it off when I was done sewing.

I'm not one for fancy single use machine needles, but I did use heavy duty leather needles when sewing these panels in.  When I first bought the leather needles, I thought they were probably overkill, but in retrospect I'm really glad I had them.  My leather was pretty thick, and I was sewing it over thick denim. because of the placement of my panels over the side seams, the denim was 4 layers thick in places . . . add that thickness to a chunk of leather, and I'm pretty sure judging by the noises my machine made as I sewed that I would've busted quite a few needles trying to sew this with a standard needle.  I barely made it through as was!  If you're going to try sewing leather applique, spring for a pack of leather needles. You won't regret it. 

Here they are, all completed! 

And on:

I wore these on Sunday and I'm happy to report that they're the exact shorts I was hoping they'd be.  I don't feel like a stripper or a teenager in them. Huzzah!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sweater -> Cardigan

Converting a sweater to a cardi is a DIY, upcycle skill that I've been wanting to add to my repertoire forever.  When I found this grid patterned sweater on a sale rack at Forever 21 for FOUR DOLLARS, I knew I'd found my first victim.

I used this tutorial, which has great photos and step by step instructions: http://xoxotrina.com/2011/01/diy-sweater-to-cardigan/

The project was actually a little more complicated than I'd expected it to be, since once I cut into the sweater I realized that it was comprised of two thin layers of knit, rather than one thick layer like I'd expected.  Sewing went pretty smoothly regardless, though, and in about 20 minutes I had a brand new cardi:

My biggest fear was that I'd wind up with a ruffle-y edge since I was using a standard sewing machine needle (not a ball point needle, as the tutorial's author suggests) and because I've never had much success sewing stretchy or knit fabrics.  I'm pleased with the edge in the end though, no wonkiness in sight. I just went as slowly as possible and was extra careful not to pull the sweater as I stitched. 

I'll be scouring my closet for more victims! 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tea Towel Toddler Apron

Oh, hey there, blog!  I don't really have a great excuse for 6 months of silence. I've been making lots of stuff, having adventures with my boys, taking tons of photos, etc. etc.  There's been blog fodder a-plenty, just none that I've actually taken the time to post about. Until now.  Because when you see this totally adorbz little apron I made for my son in the span of ONE NAP, including pattern cutting, instructions reading and sewing machine wrangling, you'll want to drop everything and make one for the nearest toddler too. 

Hopefully you're like me and you have a stash of new linen tea towels lying around the house waiting to be sewn into something awesome.  Even if not, this project uses so little fabric that I'm sure you could cobble together enough from your fabric stash or Goodwill pile.  You'll also need a little over a foot of elastic, some velcro and this awesome free pattern:  http://sewliberated.typepad.com/sew_liberated/2011/05/childs-apron-revisited.html

The pattern's author includes some incredibly thorough instructions for embroidering and embellishing the apron, but since I get the most kicks out of quick and easy projects, I opted to use a tea towel with a cute design already printed on it.  I was able to salvage the header of the tea towel to use as a waist strap that reads "Irish Sheep" in back. Gah! The cute!  I finished it off with some simple black and white gingham as a lining (I always have gingham on hand) and some plain black linen (2009's old curtains, represent!) for the neck strap. 

All told, I did complete this project from printing the pdf pattern, to finding fabrics in my stash, to pressing the seams and snipping the final threads in ONE NAP. It was a longish nap, though, since my boo was sick.  Two hours, maybe? 

I'm already working on a toddler birthday gift idea involving one of these aprons and a cobbled together craft or cooking kit.  How cute would that be?

My boy was reluctant at first to put it on, but I realized after a little discussion that he thinks aprons are ONLY for wearing while cooking. He was reluctant to try it on just at random in his room, but the second he got it in his head to squeeze a few oranges for juice, he gladly and willingly strapped it on.  Thanks to the elastic neckline and velcro closure, he can put it on all by himself!

This pattern is a keeper, for sure.