Crafts · Holiday

Tutorialish: Grapevine Wreath

I have Opinions about seasonal decorations.

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My entire Facebook feed beginning in mid-August. Calm down, Karen, we live in North Carolina and there won’t be any hoodie-wearing weather until December.

Now let me just say, if you want to keep your Halloween decor up all year around because that’s one of the few ways you can wring a drop of joy from this dismal world, then you do you. But am I the only one who thinks things are more special when they’re Limited Time Only? Hanging up Christmas stuff in August is like eating peaches in December – just really leaves you wishing it was time for the real thing. In our house, Halloween decorations don’t go up until October and the Christmas season doesn’t start until December.

Yes, I said DECEMBER.

That being said, I did find myself strolling through the fall stuff at the craft store. I’m only human. And it was all 40% off.

You will be shocked to learn, I also have Opinions about fall/Halloween decorations. I’m a pretty big horror fan, but I trend towards Gothic horror – give me that haunted mansion, dripping with cobwebs and freaking infested with Gray Ladies…

And dark birds shrieking harbingers of doom…

And the giggling ghosts of children whose tiny skeletal hands trail through your hair as you pass through an ornately carved doorway into a shadowed library with a guttering fire struggling to emit just the barest breath of warmth…

Where a mysterious group of attractive people has gathered in secret because this time, it’s all going to be different. This time, the curse will finally be broken.

*cough* Anyway, it happens that we are in the market for a fall wreath. I surveyed my options, looking for a festive wreath that really celebrated the death and decay of autumn, but, like, in a pretty way, and I landed on the one below. However, it was $40. “I could make that,” I muttered to myself, which is how I get myself into so many situations. I’m the kind of cheap where I won’t spend $40 on a wreath but I will drop $60 on supplies to make a wreath.

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My inspiration photo. I’m not crazy about cotton as a decorative element, though.

This was supposed to be a tutorial, wasn’t it?

The first thing you need to make a grapevine wreath is, well, a grapevine wreath. These are nice decorations all by themselves in a kind of Scandinavian rustic way, and they’re fairly cheap. You’re also going to need thin wire (there will be lots of colors to coordinate with your project), wire snips, pliers, and a hot glue gun.

Then you need stuff. This is where it starts to get overwhelming, because the average craft store is going to have a lot of stuff. That’s kind of their whole deal. I like to start with an inspiration photo, or a color palette, or even one special item around which I want to build the wreath. Keep the colors of your door/entryway/wherever you’re planning to hang the wreath in mind as well. We have a black front door, so dark wreaths don’t work.

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When I’m mixing colors, no matter whether fabric or in another medium, I like to plug in my earbuds and go into a kind of craft store reverie. This will seriously annoy your partner and/or children, so bribe them with whatever will get them to go away and let you wander in peace for a while. Then just start putting stuff in your cart. Mix and match. Hold up things together. Put stuff back. Stand away from your cart and observe it from a distance. Take a picture with your phone and look at that – it will give you a different perspective. People will think you’re weird. So what.

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I ended up with two floral swags (these are great; you can remove the flowers from the swag or just wrap the whole thing around the wreath, and they’re often cheaper than purchasing the same amount of individual fake floral items) and a cartful of other odds and ends. But it wasn’t until I found the string of outdoor-safe twinkle lights that I really started to giggle to myself. Note that these were nowhere near the floral section of the craft store! Wandering is essential. Do a lap around the store before you start making your selections.

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And do keep an eye on prices to avoid serious register shock. In all honesty, even with sales and coupons, the pre-made wreaths are probably going to be cheaper because you will need to buy so many individual elements to make your own. As you build up wreath supplies, you’ll be able to shop your stash a bit more (I already had the wreath base and the dark purple gingko (?) leaves), but this is, sadly, not a cheap craft. Sorry.

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To make the wreath, I twisted the two swags together and wrapped the lights around that, secured all three with the wire, then wired it to the wreath base. Remember it needs to resist gravity, so don’t be shy with the wire. I usually make my wreaths somewhat asymmetrical, so I liked that the swags were a bit larger than the base as it gave me a neat little overlapping fullness at the bottom, but I also could have trimmed them to fit the wreath.

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After adding the initial background elements to the wreath, stand back and assess. Just because something isn’t symmetrical doesn’t mean it can’t be balanced. Where is it too full? Where is it too sparse? Time to break out the glue gun – smaller elements can balance out the wreath while adding depth with coordinating colors. Let it sit again. Tszuj it a little bit.

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Then… stop. Knowing when to stop is just as important – if not more so! – than knowing when to add more. I think it’s a common impulse to keep jamming more crap onto a project, but at some point, especially with something like a wreath, it all gets to be too much. I like a little negative space on a wreath, a little trailing element here or there. Find your own balance based on your aesthetic.

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Making a grapevine wreath is not difficult. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really need a tutorial so much as permission to just start wiring and gluing. These are not time-intensive (actually making the wreath took about an hour), and it’s so satisfying to see your own handiwork on your front door.

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Try it!

 

Beauty, Skin, and Hair · Crafts · self care

Bath Bombs

The Source: A Beautiful Mess

The Promise:

They are SO fun to use and pretty easy to make.

My kid loves bath bombs. And I love my kid. But I hate paying $5 (at least!) for something that’s going to literally dissolve within moments. And so like all good crafty people, I began to wonder if maybe homemade ones might be cheaper.

Pinterest, with its siren song, assured me that bath bombs are a feasible DIY enterprise, and then I came across a recipe (is that the right word for something you can’t eat?) I’d pinned from one of my favorite blogs.

I struggled to find a way to say this without a) being mean and b) being an enormous hypocrite but let’s be frank: sometimes bloggers can be… a little much. I’ve eye-rolled through my share of “lifestyle” blogs. But when it comes to A Beautiful Mess, I am a Constant Reader. For more than five years I have read every post, and I admire Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman, the sisters who own the site, for their business savvy as well as their crafty talents.

ANYWAY, fangirling aside…

There are a few bath bomb varieties listed on the Beautiful Mess site, and I chose the lemon and green tea because it sounded fancy. I got bath bomb molds, citric acid, and essential oils online, and the rest of the ingredients at the grocery store.

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Also I learned that epsom salt is not regular salt, so thank you for sharing your knowledge, incredulous store employee!

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Also it is a laxative; who knew?

Basically the dry ingredients get mixed together and the wet ingredients get mixed together and then the wet is added to the dry. The mixture is pressed into the molds and the two halves of the mold are removed as the bomb dries.

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It was pretty easy!

Tips:

  • The directions stress that you want the wet mixture to fizz as little as possible when it lands in the dry mixture –  I assume it uses up the chemical reaction that allows the bombs to fizz in the bath – and to avoid this by pouring very slowly. Look. I poured slowly. I poured a single drop at a time. Still fizzed. I have no idea how to avoid this. It took me a solid five minutes to add the wet to the dry and it fizzed all over the dang place.
  • Don’t put a lot of green tea in the bottom of the mold because it’s not actually sticky like the remainder of the mixture, and it will fall off the bomb as soon as it is tipped. I feel like I should have figured this out before it happened to me. The leaves feel more like a cute garnish than a central ingredient. Emma recommends using matcha powder if you don’t want to have to rinse the leaves out of your tub, but I feel like this might also be a good idea to ensure there is a significant amount of actual green tea in the bomb.
  • Pack the mixture in each half (like packing brown sugar into a measuring cup) so that it is slightly mounded above the mold before pressing the halves together. If the mold isn’t packed tightly, it increases the chance that the ball will collapse once the mold is removed.
  • Pack tightly. On my first attempt, the bombs came out kind of crumbly. On a second try, where I packed the bejeezus out of each side, the results were far more professional.

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Extremely pleased with my results, I texted a picture to my husband who was less effusive in his praise.

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thanks for your support honey

A few days later, my daughter helped me make some with orange oil, which I’m calling creamsicle. She was so excited to help and this is a craft a toddler can actually help with.

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First try (left) vs second try (right). The difference? The second try was more firmly packed in the mold.

Of course, I had to try one. I know, the things I do for you guys. Really, I’m a martyr. I filled the tub, turned on my current murder podcast (spoiler alert: the husband did it), and pitched in a bomb. I was concerned that all the fizzing during the mixing process was going to keep it from fizzing appropriately, but nope! Worked fine!

Promise Kept? Yes!

This recipe was easy to follow and my resulting product not only looked professional, but worked just like the store-bought version. It tinted the water a pretty green and made it smell all nice. I did have to jump into the shower afterwards to rinse the tea flecks off my skin, so I might either omit that next time or use the matcha powder instead. I also felt that the homemade bomb left more residue behind in the bath water after it was drained.

So with just a few fairly cheap supplies, it’s on! Bath bombs for everyone!

Crafts

DIY Floral Monogram

The Source: The Cofran Home for Hometalk, plus about five broken Pinterest links

The Promise:

It is such a simple project that just looks way harder than it is!

My daughter’s preschool has a method of teaching letters that is shockingly effective – they go on and on about each kid’s “special letter” and it truly does teach the kids to associate sounds with letters. My daughter will stare at a G and mutter “g-g-g for Grant” as she puzzles out the sound.

Anyway, her special letter is R. And to that end, I’ve had this wooden R monogram sitting in her room for about three years, intending to do something with it. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I bought one, painted it, let it sit on some newspaper before it was dry, got newspaper stuck to it, decided I was too lazy to sand off the newspaper and repaint it, and bought another one.

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Somewhere there is a minimalist no-waste reuse blogger sighing in disgust. I know. I’m the worst. I’m simultaneously the laziest and least laziest person on earth. I’m Schrödinger’s Sloth. The deadly sin, not the animal. I don’t think animals can actually be lazy.

Where were we?

Tips:

Get one more bundle of flowers than you think you’ll need to complete the monogram, just in case you need to make edits. I started off with several of the large peachy roses interspersed with the small yellow roses, but quickly decided I didn’t like that arrangement.

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bleh

I would recommend that all the flowers should be close to the same size to give that impression of rich fullness – the bigger roses looked odd next to the small ones.

After I ripped off most of the large roses (dang, hot glue is stronger than I thought!) I was far more happy with the composition. I wish I had purchased at least two similar colors of the smaller flowers.

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Promise Kept?

This was indeed a simple project. I don’t know that anyone familiar with the workings of a hot glue gun would think it would be difficult. It’s sort of mindless and pleasant and the result is sweet.

Final Thoughts:

Perhaps this is just me being overly critical, but I’m kind of meh with this result. My R looks more like an A, so the style of letter (or the letter itself) is important. I also wasn’t very pleased with my yellow flower options at the store (and R specifically requested yellow so I was a bit stuck). It’s fine. It’s nice. I’m not going to redo it. It was cheap and fast and a perfectly enjoyable way to spend the morning.

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And it looks nice on the wall! So – success!

 

 

Have a suggestion for Anna to try – recipe, craft, or project? Send me a message or leave it in the comments!

Crafts

Tutorial: Counted Cross Stitch

All linked images in this post go to artwork for sale, because someone should make some money from this endeavor. If you see your work here and you would like me to remove it, please message me.

If, like me, you live below the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s far too hot to go outside right now. So the smug northerners with their breezy high-of-78 can enjoy the twenty minutes that their environment isn’t a frozen hellscape*, and let’s you and I huddle under the sweet breath of the air conditioning and make something neat.**

Of all the needlework techniques, counted cross stitch is the easiest to learn. It’s the one with all the little x’s, and most patterns use no other stitches.

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Titmouse Pattern from Hawthorne Tree Designs

Traditional cross stitch is the oldest known form of embroidery and can be found cross-culturally. It’s often worked on linen or other fabric with a loose weave. In Europe and Colonial America, cross stitch samplers were commonly created by young girls learning how to stitch.

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“All Creatures Great and Small” Sampler by Needle Case Goodies

On a small scale, cross stitch has a pixelated folk art effect that is twee and charming, while on a large scale, these pieces can create tremendous shading effects with densely laid stitches not easily reproduced by other embroidery techniques.

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Dorothy Lamour Cross Stitch by Heritage Chart

And because of its associations with sweetness, innocence, and grandmotherly sayings, cross stitch provides a deliciously sharp medium for snark.

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Please don’t do coke in the bathroom by Narwhal Design Ink

Ready to start your own?

Materials:

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  • Cloth – 14, 16, or 18 Aida cloth is what I recommend. This is an open weave cloth designed for counted cross stitch, and it can be purchased in multiple colors and sizes. The higher the number, the smaller the stitch. Aida cloth can also be purchased as ready-made items – bibs, towels, mounted canvas, etc. Cross stitch can really be done on anything, and many experienced stitchers use linen, but let’s not try to run before we can walk – linen is around 30-40 count, meaning much smaller stitches.
  • Needles – cross stitch should be done with blunt, not sharp needles, because you want to push the thread through the holes in the fabric. Size 24 or 26 is recommended.
  • Thread – More properly called embroidery floss, and here you got options. Cotton, silk, rayon, any color that can be seen by the human eye, variegated, metallic, truly endless options. I’m going to be using cotton 6-ply floss. DMC is the industry standard, and what you’re most likely to find in craft stores.
  • Small, sharp scissors – you can use kitchen scissors, but it’s going to be a pain. Get a pair of small embroidery scissors.
  • Hoop (optional) – you do not need to have a hoop to do any kind of embroidery. For a small piece it may, in fact, be easier to do without. But it is nice to keep the fabric taut. Any old hoop will work, I like the old-fashioned wooden ones. No need for anything flashy.
  • Needleminder (optional) – small magnetic pins that “mind” your needle so it doesn’t get lost and fall into the carpet and stab your husband in the foot, for instance.

Now you need a pattern. There are plenty of free small patterns available all over this great wide internet of ours (like this), or you can purchase a pattern on Etsy, or even pick up a kit from your neighborhood craft store. If you want to make your own snarky saying, check out this tool (I suggest you use the fonts that use full x’s – i.e. not Monaco or Paris).

Step By Step:

Step 1: Prepare your fabric. (If you’re embarking on a big project, stitch or tape around the outside of the fabric to keep it from fraying. I mean, you can do this. I suggest you do this. [I never actually do this.])

Fold your fabric in half to find the center, and press the creases with your fingers. Find the center of your pattern. With COUNTING. This is why it’s called COUNTED cross stitch. Figure out which row of stitches you’re going to start with to keep the center of the pattern in the center of the fabric.

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Hoop up (if you’re going to use a hoop).

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Step 2: Get your needle ready. The temptation is going to be to make a really long thread, but resist this. You’re more likely to tangle the floss which is the worst. Keep it relatively short – maybe half the length of your arm. If you’re using the 6-ply floss like I told you to do, separate out two of the threads. In general, embroidery uses two plies of the six, so for each six-ply thread from the floss bundle, you actually get three lengths to use.

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Separate two plies from the six

As you work, keep a nice long tail on the threaded needle. This will limit the risk of accidentally unthreading it. And NO KNOTS ON THE END. NO KNOTS IN CROSS STITCH, IT’S LIKE CRYING IN BASEBALL.

Step 3: Pull the thread through for your first line of x’s. For the neatest effect, you’re going to do a whole line of slashes before coming back to cross each slash to form the x. Stop pulling when there is about an inch of floss remaining on the other side.

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As you continue to make the slashes, make sure the backside floss tail*** runs down the center of the row so that it is neatly trapped by your line of slashes.

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Front (top image) and Back (bottom image)

When you’ve done your row, change directions and complete each x.

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When you are done with an area or have come to the end of your thread, pull it through a line of x’s on the back of the piece to hold the thread. No knots needed!

Tips:

  • Aida cloth is stiff at first – it might even be awkward to wrestle into the hoop – but will soften as you work with it. So even if you don’t need a hoop at first, you may want to as the cloth softens.
  • I like to stitch in bright natural light if at all possible – even lights designed for crafting don’t really provide the same quality of illumination as, you know, the sun.
  • As you’re working the piece, always work in the same direction – all the top slashes facing the same way in the final product makes for pretty work.
  • Don’t worry about using every tiny length of floss – remember each single two-ply thread costs less than a penny!
  • How to deal with those dang slip knots
  • Don’t leave your piece stretched in the hoop when you’re not working on it – it warps the fabric.
  • Don’t split stitches as you work – be precise with your needle placement, it will make for a much neater-looking finish. As tempting as it is, sloppiness and laziness are not rewarded in needlework.
  • Similarly, resist the urge to simply move the needle across the fabric to a new area, leaving a long tail on the backside of the fabric. Secure your thread, cut it, and start anew. The mark of a talented needleworker is a backside as pretty as the front.

If your pattern calls for 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4 stitches, because you just have to make things hard for yourself, here’s what those look like:

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Left – 1/4 stitch; Middle – 1/2 stitch; Right – 3/4 stitch. Pay attention to the pattern regarding the direction of these stitches.

Final Thoughts:

I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly and pleasantly a small cross stitch project stitches up! (If you’ve chosen a larger, complex pattern, well – you’ve done this to yourself.) Have fun, and leave any questions in the comments! Next month, I’ll show you how to finish your project for display.

 

 

*I grew up in Minnesota. I may have been scarred. By frostbite.

**Perhaps also there are non-North American folks here too! Hello! Send me fun snacks from your homeland and when you are done doing that, sort yourself into activity groups appropriately: Go-outside-and-play or It’s-too-hot/cold-here-to-move.

***band name, I called it

Crafts

Tutorial: Canvas Art for Father’s Day

It’s almost Father’s Day! My husband follows the traditional model of being very difficult to buy for (unless I’m in the mood to shell out a bunch of money on camping gear, which I rarely am), so for his second Father’s Day, I had a brainstorm. And since this kind of deluge is so rare in the parched landscape of the inside of my head, I want to share it with you.

Every year since my daughter was about a year and a half, I’ve let her go nuts with actual paint and an actual canvas to create a finished product for her daddy to appreciate. We have them hanging in the gallery wall in our bedroom. One of the best parts of parenting is watching a small person learn how to do things, and the changes from big baby swirls to actual representational art have been fascinating to track.

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This isn’t a tutorial exactly because it’s more like an idea, but I’ll share the tips I’ve picked up from doing this now three years in a row just in case anyone wants to create some canvas art of their own.

Materials:

  • Canvas of your choosing
  • Sponges and brushes – we like these with the large handles
  • Acrylic paint (if the artiste is under twelve or so, be sure that the label says conforms to ASTM D-4236 to guarantee it is nontoxic and safe for children to use – here is a good article on choosing paint for children’s projects. Get the water based paints unless you feel like messing with turpentine.)
  • Paper plates (to use as a painter’s palette)
  • Painting smock (optional – we have Mala from Ikea which has been in use for two years and will fit for several more – not bad for $5!)
  • Easel (optional)

Steps:

Let kid paint canvas. Done!

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Age 2

All right, here’s a couple tips. Outdoors is definitely preferable for this, if you can manage it, or you can go with the newspaper-on-the-table-and-floor option. I use paper plates as palettes for the paint, and measure out just a tiny amount at a time, using more as requested by the tiny artist. Throw on the smock or just let ’em be naked, if they’re young enough for that to still be socially acceptable. Tie back their hair, provide several brushes, and stand back.

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Age 1

Well, not too far back. Just far enough that the paint doesn’t splatter in your wine La Croix.

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Age 3 – tongue out for maximum artistry

As for advice or direction regarding the art itself, I don’t give much. When it comes to kids and creativity, I believe that adults can steer and model and provide inspiration and materials, but if kids are always being told what to make, then that’s not really being creative, is it? So let them go and enjoy what transpires – one year glitter glue was incorporated – and even if it doesn’t mesh with the aesthetic of your wallscape, it will no doubt be a perfect snapshot of a moment in the life of your child.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Anna

 

Have a suggestion for Anna to try – recipe, craft, or project? Send me a message or leave it in the comments!