October 24, 2011

Thinking of Christmas on a 70-Degree Day

This is summer's last hurrah. As I writing this, I'm sitting with tea in hand on my deck in Chicago, and it's about to be one of the last nice days of the year. The forecast says that it's going to be 70 degrees today and the next few days, so I intend to make the most of it. Which is why it's strange that I'm already thinking about Christmas.

Many of you already know that I put out a handmade Christmas card every year. Maybe you noticed that I hadn't posted about last year's card? Well, that's because I didn't start thinking about the darn thing until so late in the year that I was scrambling to get it done.

I originally had an idea that I wanted to do something with a sewn pattern, but I wasn't sure how to really create a nice looking line, how it might damage my sewing machine, or if I would even be able to execute it.

So I decided to stick to a technique I knew would work: good old-fashioned threading a yarn through a hole. I've done this before on one of my first cards but with ribbon. It's the card that's the second from the left in this picture.

So, I came up with the idea of stringing mittens on a clothesline for the theme. Frankly, I was running out of time, and I knew that I didn't have time to screw around with cutting out everything by hand this year. I typically like to buy materials before Thanksgiving and start the heavy construction work over the holiday, if not earlier. Even with the Thanksgiving start, depending on the level of labor, putting together the cards can stretch well into the week before Christmas. (Some people even get their cards around the new year.)

This past year, I didn't even start ideating until right before Thanksgiving, so I knew that I would have to make it simple. In prior years, I frequently cut out shapes by hand after printing them on paper. But I finally decided to join scrapbookers in the 20th century by making use of paper punches. I ordered a tiny mitten punch from some random craft website and hoped that it would turn out to be the right size when it arrived. Luckily, it was, so I proceeded to punch out hundreds of mittens from different pieces of scrap paper I had in my craft drawer.

I used some multicolored yarn and strung them on the card with a little "Happy Holidays" message on each end of the string.

One thing that I'm still not sure was the right decision was to leave the mittens loose on the string instead of knotting them to the string to prevent them from shifting around. How did they arrive in the mail? Were they all clumped or creased or funny-looking by the time they got to the recipients?

All in all, this was not my best card project, but I feel pretty good about how it turned out given time constraints. I have grander plans for this year's card. We'll see what happens. Maybe I'll even enter the Paper Source Holiday Card Contest.

September 25, 2011

Cocktail Collection

Have you ever noticed that when you are searching for something specific that you can never find it? I've been looking for a set of beautiful vintage stemmed cocktail or martini glasses for quite a while now. It's not as if there aren't lots of beautiful modern glasses out there, but there is something incredibly cool about vintage barware and glassware.

I've been inspired by a lot of the traditional American cocktails that I've been drinking at a lot of lounges here in Chicago: The Violet Hour, Sable, and Le Bar all seem to have great traditional drinks with a little modern twist.  Then, when I was at Boka earlier this summer, my friend Nora ordered this delicious drink in an even better looking glass.

It's a little tough to see how gorgeous it is, but it really inspired me to find a set of glassware with this same look and feel. I visited all the great shops in Andersonville - an area in Chicago that has the cutest little antique shops that are wonderfully curated - and searched for that perfect cocktail set with no luck. Barware is getting so popular that there are very few sets these days, and even fewer with the specific look you might be looking for.

On a recent trip to visit my parents in Ohio, we passed by a promising-looking antique store on our way to another attraction. I insisted that we leave whatever family activity that we were doing in time so that we make it back to the antique store before it closes. Man, that was a great move on my part.

Entering into Stagecoach Antiques in Akron was probably one of the more overwhelming shopping experiences I have had. China and glasses are everywhere, with shelves stuffed so full that you couldn't even see was stashed in the back.

Luckily, I'm a patient girl when it comes to shopping, so I was happy to spend an hour wading through glasses to find something perfect. But then it dawned on me: why settle for one style of beautiful glass when you can have several and still have it look like a set?

Few of the remaining cocktail glass sets had enough for even a small party, so I decided that I would get a variety of glasses and use them as a set. Plus, like the lady in the store said, if you break a glass, you can just go out an buy a gorgeous new one without having to match it.

So, here's the variety that I came up with. I'm starting with six glasses and will add to the collection whenever I find something that I love. I think this works for cocktail glasses and could also apply to other things that we buy in multiples. What do you think? Any suggestions on what other items are even more versatile when they're not in a totally matched set?

August 29, 2011

The Power of Flowers

When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy a bouquet flowers from the little florist in my office building every Friday. It was usually a sad little bunch, on sale because it was the end of the week, and it was better to sell it for 50% off instead of letting it die in the store. The blooms usually only lasted for a few days, but I loved having fresh flowers around our apartment.

After we moved to Chicago, I didn't have a real florist in such close proximity. (Well, maybe I did, but I just wasn't looking for one.) Plus, that 50% discount in San Francisco had been very motivating, and living on a student budget made purchasing flowers at full price less appealing. Even after I started working again, I had just gotten out of the habit of having flowers around.

But recently, I ran across this great article about flower arranging from the NY Times magazine and decided that I needed to start having flowers around again. All the prearranged bouquets I had ever purchased always looked a little sad. This article addressed what you can do with a cheap bunch of flowers with just a little trimming and arranging. I pulled out the article and put it in a little heap with some magazines, thinking that it would come in handy at some point.

A few weeks after reading this article, I was strolling through Whole Foods' floral section one day and saw a some gorgeous hydrangeas and peonies. I decided to give flower arranging a shot with these luscious looking buds. So, I bought the flowers and a few greens to get started.

I took everything home and started trimming wildly. Whenever I would bring home flowers before, I would hack all the stems off at one point on the stem and stuff them into the nearest vase. It was very efficient, but produced somewhat iffy results. Plus, I noticed that almost all the vases I have are meant for tall, traditional arrangements, but I like tighter, denser bouquets that sit a lower to the table. So this time, I tried to have a nice little bunch of flowers grouped low to the vase. I have to say that I like the results.

It was definitely a lot of fun trying to arrange the stems, and turned what was normally a five-minute activity into a half-hour long adventure. (The last 10 minutes of that half-hour were cleanup from the insane number of stems and leaves littering my counter, but it was part of the whole experience, I suppose.)

I ended up replicating this arrangement a few times because I liked it so much, and then peonies went out of season. (A very sad time in my summer.) I tried a different arrangement again a few weeks later with some spider mums and these weird purply prickly things.

I haven't gotten as many flowers recently because of a project that has eaten up my whole dining room table, but I plan on trying again soon. I'm pretty sure I won't have another gap like the one I had before after my SF-Chi move. That's too long to wait for something this pretty to show up on my dining table again.

August 21, 2011

New Life - Repurposing Old (Ikea!) Furniture - REDUX!

Hang on. Repurposing old Ikea furniture again? Didn't we just go through this? It doesn't seem so long ago that I dreamed up this whole scheme to start this blog and repaint and old Ikea chest to make it new again. But now we're back in the same place.

See, we finally decided to redecorate our office. No more baby-boy-themed paint scheme with a mishmash of cheap furniture. Now we have a real desk, a cool paint color, fancy chairs, actual non-ugly light fixtures and table. New! That's all fine and dandy, but where are we going to put all those books we had accumulated over the years? There was no room left in our office for all our books. Our one tall and one short Billy bookcase from Ikea were still serving a very real purpose but didn't fit the space anymore. So, one bookcase got shuttled off to the attic, and one earned a place in our guest bedroom as a functional decorative piece.
Oh, but Billy, you're kind of boring, and your natural finish doesn't match the room I'm putting you in. So let's hit those paint cans again. I have to be honest: even though the room is very clearly a homemade Holly Hobby piece, I'm totally in love with it. It's the only room in the house where I picked all the furniture, color, and decor myself, and I think of it as MY room. MY work in progress. The room is a deep grape color (crazy, I know) with black and white accents modern and baroque accents, so I wanted to keep with the theme and paint the bookshelf white with black accents. 

To be as thrifty and environmentally friendly as possible, I used the same paint I had purchased from the last Ikea refinishing project two years ago. So, I dug out the old paint I used last time to paint my furniture and scraped off the icky solid layer of paint that kept the rest of it relatively fresh. After sanding and cleaning, I painted the craptastic chipboard veneer and even that terribly flimsy chipboard backing that slides into the grooves on the back of the shelves. You know, the one that actually you could pop out just by giving it a gentle nudge? 

In my thriftiness, I didn't really calculate how much paint I would need. It was barely enough - I didn't even paint the underside of one of the shelves. (Yes, friends, if you come visit, I officially give you permission to inspect the shelf and mock me.)

Keeping with the modern baroque theme I'd already started going with in the room, I chose a stencil from Michael's that mimicked the pattern on the bedspread in the room:

I toyed with the idea of taking the design across the sides, top, and even the back of the shelf. However, I planned to put decorative items on top of the refinished pieces, so it didn't make sense to take all that time stenciling the top. Also, since I'm bad at editing my book collection, I figured that no one would ever see the back of the shelf. So, I just took the stencil up the side in black stencil paint.

Why is it off center, you ask? Well, in my brain, it made sense that it would be slightly closer to the front of the bookshelf so you can see it, and I thought it would look fine since there is a little divot on the back of the shelf to prevent it from tipping forward. Like I said, it made sense in my brain. Don't judge me too harshly

After finishing the stenciling, the paint took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to dry. The stencil paint I purchased had a dense, dry, powdery texture, which gave the stencil a nice antique-y look. However, the high-gloss paint that I used as the base probably extended the drying time by a lot. On the paint, it tells you to let it set for 24 hours. After 3 days, it was still rubbing off with a touch of the finger. I thought I was going to have to scrap the whole thing - and let me tell you how excited I would have been about that - but luckily, it finally set after almost an entire week.

Add a few vintage books, some adorable little foo dogs from west elm, and voila! A new decorative bookshelf is born. Okay, it's not that impressive, but at least it looks different from how it started and it matches the room. That's all I ask for.

Materials used in this project: 
  • Old Billy bookshelf from Ikea
  • Gloss oil paint
  • Stencil from Michael's
  • Stencil brush
  • Masking tape
  • A place where the bookcase can dry for days on end since you can't move the stupid thing for fear of smudging the stencil.

August 14, 2011

Cheater, cheater, Chrysanthemum Eater

I've spent the last few months buried up to my neck in... the New York Times Sunday Crossword! I'm obviously terrible, because I work on it for a while on Sunday and then gradually throughout the week. I'm almost about to break through, though - I've only got one little chunk left to solve from this past Sunday's puzzle. Hooray! Only one week later.

So, creative endeavors have taken a backseat lately. But a few weeks ago, I saw the front cover of the Paper Source catalog and decided that I HAD to have the chrysanthemum wreath featured on it.

So pretty, right?

Paper Source sells these kits that you can assemble yourself. The make it really easy to be creative. Actually, it's so easy, that it feels like cheating. All you have to do is punch the petals out of the pre-cut paper that they provide, curl the petals, and then stick everything together with the tape that they provide. Really, the only decisions you have to make are where to put the flowers and leaves when they are assembled.

That got me to thinking: so much of my creative activities are really just following directions that the real creative people give me? Most of us pull inspiration from elsewhere, but there comes a certain point where it crosses over from "drawing from" to "copying." Where is that line? I'm pretty sure this project is pretty deep into copying territory, but I loved the process (and the result) just the same.

Materials used in this project:
  • Paper Source Chrysanthemum kit
  • Bone folder

July 4, 2011

Summertime Is Bloggy Time - Candle Scandal

Greetings! I've spent lots of time over the winter on creating fun new creative projects, I just couldn't manage to get them up on the web. So here's a start to it.

For one of my projects this winter, I decided I needed to maximize the life out of a candle I received as a gift from one of my friends. You see, I've always loved candles, but I have this hesitation to use them because I want them to last forever. Call me a bit of a candle hoarder. When I was younger, I would take any wax that had dripped off of a candle and stick it back in the still-burning flame to make sure I got every single bit of mileage out of it. Walk around my place, and you'll see little collections of candles everywhere - most started, but sitting dormant for years at a time.

So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I finally made it to the bottom of this deliciously citrusy hunk of wax. This square Jo Malone candle was huge - about 5"x5" but had finally burned down to the very bottom. It is one of the first candles I've finished on my own - quite a feat considering its size and the fact that I never finish even the smallest votives. Now its empty shell was just sitting on my fireplace mantle collecting dust since it only had one wick - the thing probably had more than a third of its wax left even after it was done! Maybe I should send a note to the good folks at Jo Malone to help them rectify that.

So, being the little saver that I am, I decided to melt down the wax from the remainder of the candle and turn it into several smaller candles. I had several small vases I had received from two friends' wedding that needed to be put to good use, so I decided they would make good votive containers. I used kitchen twine to create the wicks. Never mind that you're supposed to do all this prep work to make an effective wick; I wanted to get this project done TODAY, so I just used the wicks as-is. Sure, they might not be totally straight, but whatever.

Meanwhile, I stuck the big hunk of wax into a smaller pot and boiled a pot of water underneath it. Instant double boiler! I didn't have the patience / courage to chop the giant block of wax into chunks, so I just left it in a chunk waited for it to melt.


Almost half an hour later, everything had melted, it was time to put the wax in its new vessels. I didn't really think through how I was going to get the melted wax into the vases, so I just had to wing it. Suffice it to say that using something that has a spout to pour, or at least a narrower mouth would have been better. Wax everywhere on the counter and placemats I had laid out, down the side of pot, on my hands, all over the vases.

But finally, all the wax was in the vases. Time to let it cool! This is where the project ends, right? Well, that lack of wick preparation finally caught up to me. The string was waving around like no one's business, creating a snakelike line through the wax. I kept trying to readjust their paths, but it was too late.

Also, It turns out that wax contracts when it cools, so I ended up with a strange hollow shape for the candles. The wax clung to the sides of the vases and the wick, but left a nice bundt-cake style gap in between. Oops.

If I were to do this again, I would figure out how to do this in two halves instead of pouring all at once. I tried to take little bits of wax that I had to peel off of my placemats and stick them into the gaps, but it doesn't really fill much of the space. So now, every time I start a new candle, I have to take it outside for a little starter burn. Since the wick is effectively too long for the amount of wax, I have to let it burn then trim, burn then trim... At least I get to spend a little time outside bathed in warm (and great-smelling) candlelight, right?

Materials used in this project:
  • Kitchen twine
  • Glass vases
  • Chopsticks
  • Double boiler (also known as two pots)
  • A steady hand so you don't pour wax all over yourself