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 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!: