Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crafting for Kids: The Yo-Bot

I'm constantly looking for crafts to do with my three-year-old daughter, Maya. Although we do buy supplies from the store, I also like to use things we have laying around the house. Never in short supply are 32 ounce yogurt containers. They are perfectly good containers and we can't bear to throw them away, but it presents the ultimate pack-rat's dilemna. The containers just end up taking up space because we aren't actually using them.

So, one day, upon facing the pile of yogurt containers once again and almost throwing them away, I stopped myself and took a deep breath. The thought occured to me that they could be used for kids crafts. Lately, Maya has been really into robots - building them out of various toys and legos. The yogurt containers were the perfect shape for making robots! We used other things we found around the house to make our robots - construction paper, markers, wood chopsticks, tape, and twist ties. The result was a couple of cute "yo-bots!" The possibilities are endless with this project because kids can decorate their robot with almost anything! I think that the smaller, individual sized yogurt containers could work well, too. For younger kids like Maya, you'll want to run the scissors, but they can tape and draw and glue away.

For other awesome kid's crafts ideas, check out this awesome website I found.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Starfish for Christmas

I don't know where she got the idea, but my three year old daughter has made a decision. For this Christmas, she wants a starfish. Seriously? A starfish? Oh, I so wish that I could get into that mind of hers. I haven't asked her if she means a real starfish or a toy starfish, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she understands a real starfish is just not an option. Not wanting to overlook her wishes though - and definitely not in the mood to scour the internet for toy sea creatures - I decided to make a mini-starfish pillow out of some discarded upholstery fabric samples.

 I cannot wait to give this little cutey to my daughter!!

Watch for these to appear in my Etsy shop! This little starfish is eight or nine inches across, but I hope to make a bigger one as well - plus some seahorses and fish in various sizes.

(appropriate for kids ages three and up)

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Small Space

Frugal Remodeler Episode 2

When my partner Jon and I bought our house, we quickly developed grand visions for what we could do with different spaces. (Well, I developed grand visions, and he would express approval or disgust.) Take this wall down here, paint that this color, move the vanity across the room, etc. - some of which has, and some of which hasn't, come to fruition. The one space that stumped us for a little while was a teeny, tiny little room upstairs. It's common in old houses to find spaces like this. Our house, built in 1926, is no exception. Often, the second floor hallway runs lengthwise with the house, but is slightly off-center in order to accomodate a decent sized bedroom on one side. However, what you are left with on the other side of the hallway is a much less significant space. What this space was used for in those days, I can't quite be sure. Sometimes these spaces are big enough for a twin bed, a night table, and a small dresser making it a tight but useable bedroom. However, with our house, this is not the case. To top it off, the ceiling slopes with the pitch of the roof so the room feels even smaller. What to do? An office? Nope, not for us considering we have two computers, a printer, a sewing machine and a slew of craft supplies. Storage? What a waste of real estate! So, it sat as a holding room for our stuff for over eight months.

Then, one night we had guest sleeping in our living room and I thought, "wouldn't it be nice if we had a more private place for them to sleep?" Ding! Lightbulb! Now, I know what you're thinking. "Christi, you just said that it wasn't big enough for a bedroom!" And you're right - this room is not big enough for a traditional bedroom. I would certainly never cram my daughter in their. But for a guest, I thought it just might work as long as their essential needs were met - a comfy place to lay down and sleep, a place to put their water or reading glasses, etc. I measured the room and sure enough - I could just squeak a double size fouton mattress in there. And so the story of teeniest, tiniest little guest room in the world began.

The first thing to do was figure out the bed design. I could fit a fouton mattress in the room, but I could not fit a fouton frame which could be an expensive purchase anyway. And, I couldn't put the fouton mattress right on the floor because all mattresses need some sort of ventilation on the bottom. So, I built my own platform using 2x2 and 1x2 off-the-shelf lumber. (image above) I measured out the thickness of the mattress and the height of the window sill and built the platform shallow enough so that the top of the bed sits just below the sill.

Once I got the bed design worked out, the rest came together very quickly. I painted the walls a warm yellow to play off of a quilt that I spent hours making but never had a chance to properly display. The quilt is African-inspired and made of scrap material that I couldn't bear to landfill. (image above) I made sure to use low-VOC paint,as I always do, but it is especially important in a small, sleeping space such as this. Since I also wanted the room to be a cozy reading nook too, I finished off the bed with two large pillows I had been holding onto, but needed to be recovered. I knit and felted the front of the pillow shams and my gracious mother finished them off for me using a basic cotton for the back.

The room also lacked proper lighting, but thankfully it has an outlet. I knew that I wanted an oversized sculptural pendant fixture, but also knew the price tag on something like that. So I made my own. (image above) I assembled the fixture out of a lighting kit, a lamp shade and a piece of white plexi-glass cut to fit. I hung the fixture and plugged it into a switch that I then plugged into the outlet and - voila - home-made designer light fixture for only fifty bucks.

Finally, I added curtains to the window and the doorway for privacy, a little shelf for the water glass, a few other accessories, and I was done. From top to bottom, this room cost about $400 to complete, and that's including the $200 futon mattress that I totally splurged on. Just try to tell me that's not frugal!

I wanted to post this not to get everybody to turn all their small spaces into guest rooms, but to show how a little creativity can go a long way in improving the space efficiency of anyone's home. This is even the kind of thing you could do in an apartment. We Americans always think that we need more and more space, but maybe - just maybe - we already have it and we don't even know it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stepping Out

This past Sunday, I went to my first craft show. To be more precise, it was actually a mix of a dozen or so venders, some selling crafts and some selling commercial products. It was hosted by my cousin Tina (pictured below) at her house in Monona, WI. Since it was small, it was the perfect thing for my first time out. I'd say it was exactly the sort of low-pressure situation I needed. I even sold a few things! I also made a whole bunch of refrigerator magnets with my logo and shop website on them to hand out for free. I figured if folks walked away with nothing else, they would at least have a funky piece of Wastenot Workshop marketing pafanalia to take with them.

When I was there, I thought "I could get used to this." I've been told that doing shows can be a hectic lifestyle, but it was so much fun to meet other folks who are stepping out into the world in similar ways. I noticed that many of the women I met are moms - like me. Many of them have gone this route in order to be at home with their kids more. Some of them are even home-schooling their kids while running a business out of their homes! Talk about supermoms! I don't know if I could ever make all that work for my family, but it reminded me of a really nice bonus that comes with having your own crafty business - you get to be with your kids more. I started having visions of taking my daughter to shows with me - both for the help for me and an experience for her. So, the show reminded me of one of the reasons I am doing all this - my daughter.

I also just had a darn good time meeting and talking with people - asking about their products and techniques and why they got into crafting in the first place. Plus, I found some recycling comrades there - the super sewing sister duo, Bridget and Claire Maillefer, who make mittens out of second-hand sweaters (pictured to the right). We shared out sewing woes about working with difficult fabrics such as their chosen medium of sweaters and the wallpaper samples I am working with right now.  If you were at the Madison Farmer's Market on the square last summer, you may have seen them in the craft selling area at the top of State Street.

My Aunt Judi was also there with her hand bags, wine bags, and wallets made out of reused juice drink packages (pictured to the left). It's always amazing to me what people can make out of... well, garbage!

For so many reasons, participating in this show was a boost - a re-motivator - which I think we all need once in a while. Mostly, this boost stems from the connections that I made. I don't mean business connections, although those certainly can't hurt. What I'm talking about it the sense of fulfillment I get when I am connecting with others - with other craftsters, with other women, with other moms, and with potential customers. It just goes to show that if you send out the good energy, it will come back to you even stronger.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Something out of Nothing

Frugal Remodeler Episode 1

Too many people now-a-days are totally obsessed with new stuff! In my architectural design work, I see the symptoms of this more often than I would like. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say - "gut it" or "tear it down" or "that's gotta go" Ugh! Why is this? Sure, some portion of whatever it is may need to go, but why do we think it's okay to throw the baby out with the bath water? What has happened to the frugality that was so cherished by our grandparents? The idea that we don't have to be frugal the way our grandparents had to be frugal doesn't fly with me. Today, our landfills are full of construction debris and a mass amount of energy is being used to churn out the new products that we are all demanding. What's more, many of us don't have the money right now to remodel, even though we may have spaces that are crying out for it.

I think the real problem comes from lack of vision. People have a hard time seeing the potential in something. They may think that something could be reused but it will always look old. Not true! I love stylish design. I like things to look neat, contemporary, and fresh. But, I believe that remodeling can be done with less new material and for less money than what is commonly spent. That is why I am starting this blog series. I have been knee-deep in the (low-budget) remodel of my house for over a year now and I have learned much along the way. I'd like to use this series of blogs to share what I have learned and hopefully provide inspiration as I take you with me on my wild ride of frugal remodeling.

To prove my point about creating a fresh look out of old stuff, I want to begin this series by sharing a few projects from by remodel with you. Each of the following projects re-invigorates an item that is either worn and in need of TLC or is just down right boring or outdated.

Sewing Machine Cabinet Reincarnated
When I decided to splurge a little on a white porcelain vessel sink and fancy faucet, I knew I could balance out the damage by saving money on the vanity. So I took a trip to the antique mall. Right now, I can hear some of you crying out "blasphemy"! But, don't worry, I know that most of the pieces in an antique store are much too pristine to alter by saw and drill. Besides they would be way too expensive anyway. I knew I was looking for a quiet little wallflower in need of some love. I had almost finished combing my first antique mall and was ready to give up for the day when I found this little gal - an old, worn-out sewing machine cabinet. The finish on this thing was SAD and you can still see some of the imperfections in my bathroom today. But that's the character! And, I really enjoy combining sleek modern elements with slightly rustic pieces. The best part about it?  It only cost me 15 bucks!

Above & Below: The sewing machine cabinet reincarnated as a vanity.

(Supplies used for this project:
 sandpaper, walnut stain, polyurethane, self-leveling metal feet)

 Chandelier Rescue Mission
This "lovely" little item came with the house when we bought it. Of course, we immediately upgraded the incandescents to CFLs - you know, to improve it's aesthetic qualities. When we finally got a ceiling fan to replace it and realized we needed a chandelier for the entry, my brain geers began to turn and voila - the result was a cute chandelier makeover for a third of the price of a store-bought chandelier!

Above & Below: The chandelier after being rescued.
(Supplies used for rescue: spray paint, lightbulbs, lamp shades)

O' boring, boring filing cabinet

There's not a lot of cute filing cabinets out there, and when you do find one, it's really expensive. So I purchased a used metal filing cabinet that looked just like the picture to the right for only $30 and set out to set if free from it's office cubicle attire. Just a little paint and fabric did wonders! By the way, when you paint metal, make sure you rough up the surface with sandpaper and prime it before painting. This will increase the durability of the finish.

Above & Below: Not-so-boring filing cabinet
(Supplies: primer, paint, fabric, decoupage, wood feet)

Looking to do similar projects? I am quite happy to elaborate on any of the methods I used to revive these items. Just send me an email and I'll post more information right here on my blog.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A lost craft?

For my first blog, I thought I would share my recent weaving experience with you. It seems that ever since I moved to Madison (Wi) four years ago, all I’ve been hearing is “where are the weaving classes?” Our beloved Lakeside Fibers used to have them, but then….?  Enter Lauren Paul. Friends of mine and I have an informal craft group. Lauren came to the craft group by way of another friend and responded to our weaving pleas with “Hey, I know how to weave and I can teach you.” Yea!!!! Lauren, pictured below left, graciously offered us a four-part weaving class that she dubbed “weavenings”.

During the first class, she introduced us to basic weaving vocabulary and ‘the loom’. There is something really mystical about looms. Practically speaking, when you first approach one, you wonder how you’re ever going to work that thing. But, it goes deeper than that. Women (probably some men, too) have been passing down the knowledge of how to weave on a  loom for generations. So, when you look at one of these looms, you are reminded of our connection to the past. Often, the looms themselves, and also weaving patterns, are passed down through the generations.

We assembled a new loom during the second class. I won’t go into assembly details, but let me just tell you that it did involve a candle and a flame. (I know you’re intrigued. You can’t hide it!) The loom that we assembled was a Kromski Rigid Heddle Loom (right).

At the end of assembling the Kromski loom, we realized that the loom itself is also a warping board. I personally didn’t realize the profundity of this until later, but at that moment, Lauren was beaming with true-weaver’s delight.

During the third class, we learned how to make a warp on a warping board (picture above). The warp is the yarn that is loaded onto the loom before weaving can begin. The basic method is to wind the yarn around a series of pegs to achieve the desired length. During the warping process, you are also creating “the shed,” which is the opening you weave your yarn through once the warp is on the loom (pictured left). When you first witness warping, it makes no sense at all. Even the most 3-D minded people struggle to see the end result. Thankfully, Lauren talked us through it step by step (patiently, I might add). Apparently in some cultures, a warping lesson includes no words, only actions. Students learn by observing, not listening. (I’m really glad that Lauren didn’t do that.) If you ever get the chance to learn to make a warp, just take a deep breath and flow with it – it’s worth the eureka moment at the end.

We had to wait a whole week, until the fourth class, to load the warps onto the looms. By this point, we were hooked and some of us were even having dreams about weaving! Getting the warp onto the loom involves another complex set of steps. And I should tell you, it can be a bit of a nail-biter. At this point, the warp - which was so carefully wound and counted and secured the week before - is going to be CUT! (Ah, scary!) The cut ends are then tied to one side of the loom. Then came the job of threading the yarn onto the loom, the whole while preserving the organization of the warp strings which forms the shed. I know it seems very complicated, but, just wait for it … here is your eureka moment. Once you cut and tie the other end of the warp to the other side of the loom, you finally see how it all goes together! Then comes the best part – weaving!

So now we all have the skills we need to begin and I'm sure our questions will come flowing out of us in email form to Lauren. But, as with any craft worth doing – the joy is that there is always more to learn. We're really lucky to have Lauren as a resource.

Check out Lauren's blog:

I really don’t think weaving is something can learn from a book, as I have done with many crafts. Weaving is something that needs to be taught and observed. More than that, it’s something that connects us to each other and connects us to the past.