Monday, December 20, 2010

sugru cookie cutter

We'd never heard of sugru before this year's Maker Faire, where it caught our attention by having hands-on demos and the unabashed enthusiasm of everyone who worked in the Shed. We came home with a pack, not entirely sure what we'd be using it for but thinking it could be a fun material to have around.

Fast forward to the other day in the car, when I idly mentioned that my ideal phone mount would attach to this part of the dash and be angled just so. S's instant response was, "Why don't you just make that with some sugru?" That's how much faith we have in this sci-fi amazing material now.

Sugru is a moldable silicone that cures at room temperature in a matter of hours. It adheres, flexes, and is heat resistant. And it comes in colors, which you can mix. It's like silly putty, but brighter and more durable. It's also like the grip on your favorite kitchen utensil—one you can mold to fit the contours of your own, individual hand.

In just a year, sugru and its users have repaired, tweaked and created a full gallery of applications.

We've used it for typical fixes, like this storage bin whose lid had cracked from being stuffed too full.
Or to cover up a large picture hook which didn't seem decorative enough to hang my favorite broom from.
I'm not much of a baker and have absolutely no talent for decorated sweets; nevertheless, something in me really wanted to make this melted snowman cookie as soon as I saw it. I'm also linking to it because of its story, a likely too-common tale of an idea published for free, only to have others appropriate it as their own.

But back to the cookie: her original directions call for cutting out the melted puddle shape with a knife. I knew I would not have the patience for that and thought it would be faster to make a melted puddle cookie cutter instead. 

And yes, you guessed it, sugru was used.

In fact, this is the sum total of what was used: the metal strapping discovered at Halloween (I knew I'd be using it again!), some J-B Weld, and the sugru.
The strapping was bent into shape and epoxied.
Sugru was applied to the top, both to seal the shape and as a bit of a grip.
Had I meant for this to be a lasting cookie cutter, I would have used enough to cover the entire top; but I really wanted to just try this as an experiment first. What is on here is the contents of a single packet. It might take 2-3 packets to cover the entire top edge.

Here are the melted snowmen, made in gingerbread instead of sugar cookie dough (not an improvement, I have been told by the kids) and with the lazy-baker modifications of half a marshmallow for the head and candy-covered sunflower seeds for the nose.

Thank you, Meaghan Mountford, for sharing a fun and adaptable cookie idea. May you regain all the credit you deserve.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

gingerbread house

S recently turned 12 and decided to make a gingerbread house, just as his brother had done at the same age. We'd found it then to be a great project for thinking about measuring, proportions, structure and support—as well as, of course, candy and color and decorations!

So S drew up a design and cut the pieces out of cardboard to test them. Modifications and adjustments were made before baking them in gingerbread. We always use James Beard's recipe. It's spicy and deep, with a lot of molasses. Though we ice it for houses or for sharing with friends, it is best eaten plain so that nothing cuts into the rich, dark, almost savory taste.

James Beard's Gingerbread Cookie Dough 

3 c. sifted all-purpose flour 
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ginger
1/3 c softened butter
1/3 c firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 c molasses
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift (or pulse in a food processor) dry ingredients together.
Cream together butter & brown sugar; beat in molasses and egg.
Add sifted dry ingredients and combine well. Can chill if dough seems too soft. 
Roll out on a lightly floured board and cut with cutters. The thickness of the dough will depend on the size of the cutters. If using a large cutter, dough should be 1/3 or even 1/2 inch thick.
Bake on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 8 to 15 minutes, depending on size and thickness.

We had to make two batches for S's house, though it's possible that had we rolled a little thinner and used a different design, a single batch would have sufficed. This recipe is also good for about 3 dozen 2" gingerbread men.

I have this Royal Icing recipe handwritten next to the gingerbread recipe, so I don't know where it came from, although I suppose most are more or less the same:

Royal Icing

3-4 egg whites
1 lb powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2-1 tsp vanilla or lemon juice 

Mix together until well-blended, thick and glossy.

Here is S cutting out an end piece.
Easiest way to fill an icing bag is to sink it into a drinking glass and fold the edges over.
Decorating. S is something of a minimalist and also will not work with candies he doesn't like the taste or texture of. This means absolutely nothing gooey or gummy!
S noted an assembly mistake almost immediately. We had put the end pieces on the inside of the shorter walls, making a gap in the support for the roof pieces. Had we place the end pieces outside, the roof would have had a more solid place to rest.
We did our best to fill the gap with icing, but to no avail. Once the roof was frosted and decorated, the additional weight led to a collapse on one side.
Duly noted for next year, and S was unfazed—but he also wouldn't let me eat the broken part. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

needle felting

What I'm loving about this holiday season is how often we've been able to gather and craft with friends. The other day we went to C's house for tea served in antique china cups, Burl Ives and Bing Crosby, and needle felting.

Needle felting is probably the fastest, easiest and most satisfying wool craft there is. It also seems to be the one most attractive to the boys we know, perhaps due to the felting needle's resemblance to a tiny sword? All I know is my sons  and their friends seem to particularly enjoy stabbing wool as a means of shaping it.

Some truly elaborate work is done with felting needles—do an image search on "needle felting" if you want to see a sampling—but it is also possible to get a perfectly sweet and simple shape in an hour or two, tea and singing breaks included.

C makes an ornament:
M works on a Christmas tree:
C and G work side by side:
S felting onigiri. All those blurry hands show needle felting motion as captured by my cell phone. (I'm old enough that it still amazes me to be able to use my little phone to take pictures and upload them to the web. How cool is that?)
And the partial results of that afternoon? J's spiral-adorned heart:
S's rice and sushi trio:
A Seussian Christmas tree:
I'll add one caveat about this otherwise ideal winter craft: felting needles are barbed, and it is pretty easy to stab yourself—and it hurts! The pain from a felting needle lingers enough that all the boys mentioned it. It's thus not a great activity for the young or very inexperienced, but for everyone else, it's a truly fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

a felted pouch

I can't seem to get off this subject, but I wanted to share a way to make a very quick pouch.

I have a little Flip video camera which I love, and which my son also loves. In getting passed back and forth between us, the drawstring pouch it came with somehow disappeared. So while we had all the wool out, I made a quick felted pouch.

The only measuring needed was at the beginning, to get the dimensions of the camera. It was 6" in circumference around widthwise:
And it was about 11" in circumference lengthwise. Divided in two (since there would be felting on both sides), I made a roughly rectangular pattern that was 3"X5.5" with an additional flap up top:
Felted, it looked like this:
When the felt was partially dry, I cut an opening and removed the plastic:
Then put the camera (wrapped in a ziploc for protection from lingering dampness) inside to shape the pouch while it dried:
A day later, I rummaged around and found some velcro and a leftover button. I may change the fastening (or the button) later, but for now, at least, we again have some protection for the Flip.
If you're interested in felting and other handwork, please take a look at Jennifer's beautiful Waldorfian blog, Syrendell. Love the slippers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

(re-)using mistakes

Last week we had some friends over to felt with us and were reminded again of the differences in how people work. Some learn best by doing, feeling out the process as they go along; others like to take in words and precise instructions.

Being of the former type, my explanations fell far short for those in the latter mold; consequently, some stockings felted but did not hold together or else developed little felted tags that hung off the sides.

Two days ago S and I made yet more felted stockings and paid closer attention. Along the way, a little brainstorm hit and we refined the technique a little.

We had saved the felted failures, knowing that we could use them in needle felting. But my hand carders were right there, and I wondered if I could pull them back into roving again. 

It turns out you absolutely can.
(I got this pair of carders on sale when our local yarn shop closed its doors, but I have a friend who uses pet brushes to card wool and gets good results. If I needed carders for this type of project, I would go with the inexpensive pet brushes.)

Carding is done with the handles facing outward. You brush in a single direction at a time, back and forth until the wool fibers are separated and aligned. The matted lumps above became the fluffy wool below.
Then you start wet felting as usual. I'd meant to try and quantify the process a bit more, but I can't pretend it's a strength. How much wool do you use? You use enough to enclose the pattern.
How tightly do you hold the wool when you submerse it in the water? You hold it as tight as you need to so that the wool doesn't fall off.
How long do you felt? I usually start to shape the felt around the pattern as soon as I feel it collapsing in the water. I may bob it up and down a bit, may pat the wool into place around the shape, and then will scrub back and forth (in water or a ziploc) to get it densely matted. Answer: you felt until it looks and feels the way you want it to. 
Over the day, we used up all the leftover felted scraps and tags, then tried cutting open the stockings we weren't that fond of, carded and refelted them. That worked, too. I had some chunky, unplied yarn sitting around. With some patience, it also broke down and was able to be felted—in fact, it turned out to be my favorite. Hand carders can salvage and recycle quite a lot, it seems.

By evening we had a new pile of little felted stockings, the wool more variegated and blended than our first set was.
Strung into a garland, they add color to the house in this otherwise wet, gray season.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

little felted christmas stockings

I guess I got on a bit of a tiny stockings jag. A friend had asked about making felted stockings last year. We never got around to it then, but it's been on my mind this year so S and I did a trial run last week. Here is how we made them:

First I drew a pattern on a plastic bottle in a shape that S and I could both live with. He thinks stockings should have a big toe to hold a special something at the bottom. I prefer a long cuff, and so our end result was a bit of a compromise. The pattern was cut out with scissors—had I thought ahead, I might have spaced more carefully and been able to get 6-8 stocking shapes. Extra pattern pieces come in handy, as you can continue to make more stockings while the first ones are drying.
Besides the pattern, all we used were wool and a bowl of warm, soapy dishwater. A towel on the counter also comes in handy. Below is one of the color patterns S laid out. You can felt in a single color or in several, but many small pieces gets a little tricky, so it's a good idea to start simply. The wool is wrapped around the plastic pattern and carefully submerged it in the soapy water.
Once underwater, we agitated the piece as if washing clothes by hand. After a only few minutes of swishing and scrubbing, the wool begins to take shape.
A semi-shaped piece can be put into a ziploc bag and felted from the outside by rubbing it vigorously back and forth across a towel.
You can felt as little or as much as you like. I experimented with leaving the top of the cuff a little looser and fleecier on some of the stockings (see photo below) but generally we aimed for a denser, smoother felt.

The stocking almost always felted so well that the plastic pattern piece ended up completely encased but once the stocking had partially dried, it was easy to snip open the top with scissors and remove the pattern so it could be used again.
We made the set below in an easy afternoon, music on, stopping for little breaks here and there. These could be finished in a number of ways: adorned with more felt, beads, bells, yarn or embroidery; hung with a loop of ribbon or fabric, trimmed with straight or pinking shears. We'll make more and play with the finishing over the next month, although I am inclined to keep them as is, with very little embellishment. I love the look of the wool itself.
Felted stockings are a faster way to make a stocking advent calendar. They can also be hung on a tree or strung across a window. One can also use this wet felting technique to make pouches and cases, bowls and baskets, tea cozies and coffee cup sleeves—the pattern is simply adjusted to suit the project. If you do try some wet felting, for little stockings or otherwise, I hope you will post about it and let me know. I'd love to see it.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

little stockings advent calendar

Remember these? They were the reason for my very first blog post, as I wanted a place to post the pattern.

Lovely and artistic Sam left a comment suggesting making 24 of them into an advent calendar. This year I decided to do just that.

Knitting during music lessons and at other spare moments, I eventually made some revisions to the pattern and turned it into a printable .pdf file.

The file can be found here.

The original goal of the pattern was to be able to knit up something quickly. But it's easy to get bored doing the same thing over and over so in the end, I traded a little speed for some variation: striping and stranding, duplicate stitching and basketweaving. With last year's trial versions thrown in, there was soon a good-sized pile.
And at Michael's, we found something to hang them that seemed made for an advent. Twenty-four to a pack!
Here's how they are hanging—I think you can barely make out the dates scribbled at the top of the clothespins:
And here's all 24 of them, waiting to be filled:
I'd love to hear about (or better yet, see) your advent calendars, homemade or otherwise. Please feel free to link to your photos or blog posts in the comments.
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