30 November 2012

Bramble Patch: November 2012

Imma brag for a second. I made the ornament below out of plastic straws thanks to a workshop at the Lithuanian Museum a couple of weeks ago. Even though I made a Himmeli chandelier last summer, this thing was easily the toughest craft project I have undertaken in twenty years! Are you up for it? Want to start making your own? Listen to this gal.   

Here is a quick list of other happy distractions I collected over the last month. 

Ten simple things to make you happier at home (hint: none of them have to do with how things look).

An easy way to marbelize. Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?

Beware the dangers of Glitter Lung! For real. (Not really).

Cat ladies! Who is up for group tour of Fukuoa Japan? I'm in! Be sure to view with the soundtrack.

How do you write your name in Llama? This is how. 

50 ways to tie a scarf. 

Unicorn leggings? Oh Hell Yes.

Speaking of leggings...my adolescent dream of being in Seventeen magazine came true this month. Sorta.

What does it take to decorate the White House for Christmas? How does the 400 pound gingerbread White House come about? And more important, what does Bo the dog think about it?

Two words my friends: bow lamp.

Victorian Christmas ornaments made from paperThe Graphics Fairy is a great source for this stuff.

What your toddler's teacher will never say to your face. PS: This came to me from a secret pre-school teacher friend who specifically asked me to spread the word here. So, you're welcome, Karen.

Next time you need to deep clean your house, remember this link. Also, here are 33 meticulous cleaning tricks for the OCD person inside you. Side note: Did you know that 80% of household dust is made of human skin? Yeah. Who is in the mood for cleaning NOW? Thought so.

I love phone photo challenges. This one geared toward gratitude is perfect this time of year.

Last but not least in November, a Hipster Thanksgiving:

29 November 2012

Lace. Lace. Lace. I love lace. Always have. Granny crochet lace in particular.  That Duchess gal is doing a good job of making Chantilly lace popular again, which I am rather enjoying, although I fear it will never become massively popular because the good stuff is so darn expensive to make. Even when you buy it by the yard in the fabric store, it ain't cheap. The good news is you can salvage great lace materials from old doilies in your Granny's attic, or by taking apart garments from the thrift store. The number of early 90's prom dresses featuring lace patches is nothing less than astounding.

Above is a sampling of my lace collection. Most of it would never be under consideration for this kind of project, but I have a few scraps that are too tattered to display. Not that I display a lot of lace in my house. I just like to burrow it away. Like a squirrel.

Like a granny squirrel.

Like a granny squirrel in an early 90's prom gown.


If you already own a jar of Mod Podge and have an old doily in the attic, you probably already have the materials to make these in your house. Even if you did have to buy all of them, you can still obtain all the materials for this project for well under $5. In my case, one $2.00 lace runner made 60 snowflakes. Yowza!

These require no special skills what-so-ever. Just mix the Mod Podge with water, dunk in the lace and let it soak up all the gluey Mod Podge wonder, then lay it flat to dry on wax paper. It is going to take a while to dry, especially if you are using a thick crochet lace (after it looks dry, you may need to flip it over and give it a few more hours to be sure).  Then, all you need to do is snip it apart, insert a hook or a loop of ribbon, and hang away!

Except for a little glitter, I didn't dress these up at all, but you certainly could add some paint or beads or glue on some feathers...or....oh why didn't I think of this BEFORE I took the pictures? What a fun project for a bunch of kids on a cold afternoon?

Okay, I know someone is going to ask this; Can I use regular white glue or starch instead of Mod Podge?

Yes. Sorta. White glue works fine but I like the mild gloss I get from using diluted Mod Podge. More important, Mod Podge has a varnish like quality that makes the final surface semi-water-resistant. If you want these ornaments to last for years and years, it's worth the extra couple of bucks to buy the Mod Podge. Liquid starch is surprisingly hard to find these days (you can make your own), but it's a no-no for ornaments that will hang on natural trees that get misted with water (the water is good for the tree -- bad for the starch). Just the same, I'll admit, there is a charming authenticity to old fashioned starch lace. You make the call!

So, who has granny with an attic full of tattered doilies to raid?


28 November 2012

Ten years of collecting vintage mercury balls and I still don't have enough to make a decent wreath. Grrr.

I blame Martha Stewart and her "tag sales" for scooping up the loot before the rest of us have a shot.

In fact, I don't know about you, but I have never even been to a "tag sale."

In fact, I'm beginning to think "tag sale" is just a Connecticut term for "eBay." 

I decided to take my small-yet-passable collection out of the box and hang them from my chandelier, Mrs. Snow. She never looked so good.  I'm glad, because she is going to be wearing that dress until Valentines. Lookin' good Mrs. Snow!

Has anyone out there tried this trick using acetone to make new mercury glass look old? It didn't work for me. Maybe I missed something. Sigh. Next year....

27 November 2012

I mentioned yesterday that I have decorated a lot of trees over the years. A few hundred, in fact. It used to be my job.  Most of them were decorated for a purpose— either to sell goods or create a home-like atmosphere in a non-homey location (example: an insurance broker’s lobby).  To be clear, I never designed the trees – I was just a worker bee. Very few of those trees were anything special. Budgets were tight and time was precious, but, after all those trees, I picked up a few tricks along the way. A lot of people would be surprised how fast, easy, and inexpensive it can be to fill a very large and otherwise-empty Christmas tree. 

Before we go on any further, let’s be clear; there is no right way to decorate a tree. There is no wrong way either. I'm not trying to tell anyone how to do it. I’m just showing a few ways to thicken up a tree to bolster whatever decorations you already have. I like my trees big, thick and abundant. You might like something different. To each his own! 

There are a lot of ways to thicken a tree, but the basic concept is this: repeat a pattern. 

Pick one element and polka-dot it all over the tree. Lay that pattern under or over your regular ornaments and you will give a tree dimension. If you have the patience and pocket book to sandwich your regular ornaments between two 'webs' of pattern, even better. What I propose below are five ways to create inexpensive, high impact patterns. There are thousands more out there (I just couldn't fit them in for demo photos last weekend).

Side Note: If you have 20 years of ornaments collected in a box already, you probably do not need this post. But if you are just a few years into carving out your Christmas traditions, and are looking for a few ways to make things look a little more abundant, keep going…

26 November 2012

My trees. All three of them.

This weekend was an exercise in elf-like triumph.

Putting up trees, making a pajaki, ornaments, wreaths....candles blazing and Donny and Marie blasting out Jingle Bells all through the night. Anything that stood still has now been tinseled, feathered, or sequined. Only the bathroom remains untouched.

Not long, Bathroom, not long.

I'll be posting pictures and projects in the weeks ahead, but I want take a minute to say this one thing now and get it out of the way because some people in real life think this is not normal and I am tired of explaining it. So let's just say it now: I have multiple Christmas trees.

To be precise, I have three Christmas trees; a traditional green, pink flocked, and a smaller silver tree, all of them synthetic.  Some people don't like this. Some people insist that the only Christmas tree worth having is one big natural evergreen, tall and fragrant, bedecked in generations of lovingly curated ornaments. I have had a couple of people tell me my way of doing this with multiple fake trees is flat out wrong. They say that I am buying in to the "War on Christmas" by furthering commercialism and distancing myself from traditions of Yore. And they might be right. But at this point in my life, do I give a rip?


There is a time for harkening back to Yore. There is a place for Tradition.  That place in not my living room. I love it hanging with Yore and Tradition in other people's living rooms. Just not mine.  Trust me, it's better for everyone involved.

Old Timey Mushroom Wreath

In my ongoing effort to expand my Christmas d├ęcor with non-Christmassy things, AND learn a thing or two about new Christmas traditions, I discovered that mushrooms are an ancient symbol of good luck in many  parts of the world. Get that? Mushrooms. They are not just for pizza anymore. I also happen to think mushrooms are super cute and stuff and will look good on my door all the way through February and beyond. Double stuff woot!

I had seen red and white toadstools used as a motif on ornaments and cards at German Christmas markets, but I did not know why. So I went a huntin’. This is some of the delightfully weird information I found:

  • The red and mushrooms, aka Amanita muscaria, aka fly agaric, aka Champignon, are known for being highly poisonous and for having psychedelic properties. Eaten fresh they could easily kill you, but dry them out all winter, and, well…
  • Amanitas are almost exclusively found growing at the base of coniferous trees. Because of their close proximity, ancient pagans used the dried Amanitas to adorn pine branches to celebrate winter solstice, a practice which later evolved into decorating Christmas trees. In other words, Amanitas were the first Christmas ornament. Who knew? 
  • The tradition of using green, red and white as designated Christmas colors comes from the evergreen tree and the red and white mushrooms underneath.
  • According to Wikipedia, Santa Claus’s red and white costume is inspired by Amanita mushrooms. Warning, this part gets a little weird; “The idea of Santa Claus and tradition of hanging stockings over the fireplace is based centrally upon the fly agaric mushroom itself. With its generally red and white color scheme, he argues that Santa Claus's suit is related to the mushroom. He also draws parallels with flying reindeer: reindeer had been reported to consume the mushroom and prance around in an intoxicated manner afterwards.  American ethnopharmacologist Scott Hajicek-Dobberstein, researching possible links between religious myths and the red mushroom, notes, "If Santa Claus had but one eye [like Odin], or if magic urine had been a part of his legend, his connection to the Amanita muscaria would be much easier to believe." Wow. Way to be weird, Wikipedia.

There are several books devoted to exploring the ties between ancient Christianity and mushrooms. I’m not buying any of them (literally), but it’s an interesting subject. You decide for yourself. In the meantime, I’m making a wreath!

This isn’t much of a tutorial. These little Styrofoam mushrooms came with stems on the bottom that made it easy to pierce them through a wreath base. After I painted a few of them red and white, I just stuck them in and added a little silicone adhesive to help with stability. That was about it. After it dried, I filled the gaps with some reindeer moss (how appropriate) from  the dollar store. Simple and abundant.  

Where did you get the mushrooms? Floral supply places will have them, or you can get them online. I got these on clearance from The Pottery when I was in Virginia last year. A year ago, if you were within 100 miles of Williamsburg I would tell you to make the trek to shop there, but as I understand, The Pottery recently moved and lost it’s friendly-craft-supply-warehouse-with-rock-bottom-prices way. This makes me sad. For many years, it was by far my all-time favorite craft store. Sad face. Does anyone else know of a beyond fabulous craft supply warehouse worth visiting? I might need to make a road trip.  

21 November 2012

Gobble Gobble

Not being a matriarch has it's advantages. Especially on Thanksgiving. While everyone else is running around in a whirl of hoopla, I get to sit back and take it easy. Eat. Wear sweatpants. Watch It's a Wonderful Life for the elevety thousandth time. And while everyone else is diving into the dishes, I am eying a Barkalounger and a bowl of dip with my name written all over it.

Let me tell you something, it's tough.

Guys, it's Thanksgiving.

Today is the day we give thanks. The day we look back and reflect up on all the things for which we are most grateful and indebted. For some folks this means dinner with family, but for some it is an occasion to take an inventory of what is important. What is sacred. What is humbling.

When I look back at this past year, even just this last month, and I list all the things I am most thankful for, you are most certainly one of them. Yes, you. Your readership, your comments, and your very presence in my life has made a difference that is hard to describe. It is something for which I am profoundly grateful.

Because I don't say it enough: Thank You. 

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Every year I like to come up with a one-size-fits-all homemade item that I can give to everyone. Something that is inexpensive, easy to make in large batches, personal, impressive, but not so time consuming that I'll be offended if they toss it come January. Some years it's a small box of cookies, other years it's a magnet calendar featuring a photo of my cat. You would be shocked how many people take a pass on magnetic cat calendars I tell you. Shocked.  

So this year I'm making these little ornaments featuring people's initials. They are special enough to stand on their own, or serve double duty as a package tag. Well color me pragmatic.

  • Felt Letters (sold at craft stores and teacher supply stores, or just cut your own out of cardboard)
  • Shiny Bits (glitter, beads, rhinestones, sequins, whatever you have on hand)
  • Mod Podge (the regular glue-like kind)
  • Mod Podge Dimensional Magic (I used two kinds with gold and silver glitter mixed in)
  • Wax Paper (optional - for drying)

20 November 2012

My mother liked to use the term charm bracelet as a verb. That sounds weird but it's actually a handy thing. You can use it to describe anything that accumulates with purpose over time.

I'm going to charm bracelet my way to a decent set of matching flatware.
When it came to Christmas, the Hendersons took their inspiration from previous generations and charm braceleted a whole new set of family traditions.

After seeing a sign-the-tablecloth last year, I decided I wanted to take a similar charm bracelet approach to Thanksgiving. But because I hardly ever host a Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted something that could hang on display for a few weeks. Something I could build on a little each year. Something festive. Something...turkey.

One of the printers I work with gave me some overrun on a piece that was printed on the most beautiful watercolor paper. It was too gorgeous to throw out, so I got my watercolors out and painted it unicorn colors. Yes, unicorn colors is an established pallete.

The Martha Stewart folks at Plaid sent me some samples of their liquid gilding, and I have to say, it's pretty good stuff. It stinks, but it's good. Just a little bit here and there really makes the paper sparkle. Way more effective than gold acrylic but less fussy than genuine gold leaf. Not that anything is wrong with gold leaf, mind you.

No template here, just a quick fold over, some fringe snips along the edge, then a little twist to help ruffle the feathers. Easy Peasy. The hard part is stringing it in a way that doesn't tangle. I used a simple needle and thread with a few sequins tagged on for sparkle. Because I plan on adding to this each year, I have reconciled with the idea that I will probably need to snip and restring each year. And I'm OK with that. Strong paper and small holes...it'll be fine.

 I can't wait for this thing to grow a bit more next year. I'll be looking for strong-yet-nifty bits of paper all year round. 

 Happy Thanksgiving :)


19 November 2012

Potato Flowers

I like a big foofy floral centerpiece as much as anyone else, but there are occasions when the food needs to be the center of attention. Like Thanksgiving. Let's face it: however beautiful, flowers look downright prissy when stacked next to a turkey carcass and Aunt JoAnna's chess pie.

Just the same, I like a little bit of floral on the table. A little flowers, a little candles, a little bit of cloth napkins....suddenly everyone forgets who is winning the football game and is wondering what scrumptious bounty they are about to consume. Let's give thanks!

These are called potato flowers but the potato is not required. You could use apples, pears, eggplants, tomato, pumpkins, gourds....any sort of fruit or vegetable that is independently hefty and leaks a bit when you cut it.  Use a knife to make small, deep incisions and stick the flower stems in the potato as though it were a flower frog. The flowers will stay alive for hours (sometimes days) by drawing on the moisture in the potato.

Hearty flowers like mums, carnations, roses, dahlias and status, do particularity well. One time I did this with nothing but clementines and baby's breath. It was a weird combo, but in mass quantity scattered around the table, it worked great.  You just need to remember that the more acidic the fruit and the more delicate the flower, the faster they will fall. Lucky for us, the hearty sort of flowers always seem to come bundled together at the grocery store for cheap. Or if you are like me, there are some mums sitting out on your front steps just waiting for a haircut. While I'm out there, I also grab some fresh rosemary -- it adds a fragrance and evergreen-ish texture that is just perfect for Thanksgiving.   

I learned this trick from my Mother's friend Ramona, who learned it from her mother, who as legend has it, would make these arrangements for her bridge club using tiny red potatoes and flower cuttings from her garden. After the flowers were inserted she would wrap the bottom of the potato in a piece of ruffled bib lettuce and set it in an old-fashioned wide-mouth champagne glass. The arrangements would be clustered together on the buffet table at the start of the evening, then later when the ladies broke into groups to play bridge, the flowers would break apart and one small arrangement would be set at each table. Because they have such a small footprint, arrangements like this are especially nice for Thanksgiving (or bridge club) when you want to maximize every inch of real estate on the table.

Off topic: Why doesn't  anyone play bridge anymore? I don't even know how to play but I'd take it up in a heart beat if it came with finger sandwiches and miniature floral arrangements.

  You like my plaid table cloth? It's a blanket. Got it on sale at Target (don't buy on line if you can help it -- it's cheaper at the store).  It's super soft and washes beautifully.

For the base, I used apples and old-fashioned sundae cups. I find sundae cups at thrift stores and garage sales for 20cents, sometimes less. I have no idea why anyone would get rid of them. I like them because they give a little bit of height, but they come in handy for all sorts of stuff around the kitchen, especially when it comes to entertaining. I should write a post on the many ways to use sundae cups. They are a seriously under appreciated!

16 November 2012

Happy Weekend

Glitter and candles are two of my favorite things. I didn't think it was possible to like either one of them more than I already do, then pa-pow, I see them together. They are loving in each other and I am loving on them. It's a glittering love triangle.

Dude, that's just like Twilight!

One of my favorite readers, Kara, did a tutorial on a similar candle votive project on her blog -- check it!
...Speaking of Twilight -- the last movie is out this weekend, right? Anyone going? I am so behind on pop culture these days. This is very unlike me. I blame it on Honey BooBoo. And Downton Abbey. And the return of Trapped in the Closet (Chicago people: there is a midnight singalong tonight!)

Happy Weekend :)

15 November 2012

The Mommy Card

Sorry guys, I don't have a real post today.

I had one planned for weeks but it was a sponsored post about holiday photos and the company pulled out at the last minute. At the risk of sounding ungracious, would you like me to tell you why?


Because I am not a mother.

And I quote: "This campaign is specifically targeted to families. It wasn't until we saw your images that we realized you do not have children."

Okay. I get it. Their target audience is mothers. They feel that mothers only read blogs and take product recommendations from other mothers. A lot of companies think this way. I could see their point if this particular company produced, say, breast pumps. Or books about childhood nutrition. Or vaccines. Or stuff you can buy in the diaper aisle....but online photo prints?

Let me get this straight: I am not a credible source for recommending a photo printing company because I am not a mother? Seriously?


14 November 2012

Coffee Filter Garland

One of my co-workers had a baby shower last month. The decorations were a potluck effort, including my contribution -- a festive garland to swag around the conference room.

I'll admit, it didn't turn out like I expected. But it sure is fun. It was also a great way to use up some of the many hundreds of pre-dyed coffee filters I had left over from Easter and various other craft projects.

And although it took a while to figure out where this was going, this bad boy was surprisingly easy to make. Woot! 

And let's talk about cheap. Because Whoa Nelly, this is cheap. My little garland here cost absolutely nothing since I was using up existing materials, but, if I had cause or occasion, it wouldn't take much more than $20 to fill a ballroom with ropes of this stuff. Most grocery stores sell liquid food coloring for $3 a box, and coffee filters are dirt cheap. My dollar store sells 300 for $1, or Costco sells 700 jumbo filters for $2.50. Double woot!

12 November 2012

Flamingo Weekend

Something I was recently informed: The term turd burglar is not offensive, while the term Indian summer is offensive.

Well now I know. And now you do too.

So lasted weekend, while most people were outside enjoying a Native American summer, I decided to skip the 70 degree temperatures outside and stay indoors and with the windows open. I have a weird thing about open windows – they make me crazy productive. Emphasis on crazy.

I know my brain chemistry well enough by now to identify the correlation between brief surges of warm weather and brief surges of prolific industriousness. Working. Cleaning. Crafting. Cooking. Saturday I stayed up late felting flowers. Sunday I woke up at 3am and decided it would be a great time to rearrange furniture. And swap out the rugs. And wash the walls. And set up the pink Christmas tree. And color my hair. While making meatballs. Before 11am.

Why? Because I felt like it.

I realize feelings like this must seem bizarre to some people, but I’m now at a point in my life where I not only accept it – I embrace it. It feels so good to accomplish things. As long as I can keep my mind busy and my hands occupied, I’m happy. The hard part is when the weather changes and the cold crashes in…there will be a day or two of adjustment (like this morning) when it’s a struggle just to get up out of bed.  

Ahhh, Winter. You have a cruel sense of humor.

Speaking of humor – my friend Ann sent me a set of reindeer flamingos. Let me repeat: Reindeer Flamingos. I suspected they were from her the second I saw them, but there wasn’t a note and my thing for flamingos isn’t exactly secret, so I called the factory to ask where they came from (plus, let’s be honest, I always wanted an excuse to call a flamingo factory). They were soooooooo nice. Turns out they even threw in some extra flamingo gear, including these swizzle sticks, which Lola promptly tried to eat. Since they were so nice and the factory is in the area, I am going to take a tour in a few weeks. Can you even imagine touring a flamingo factory? Oh man. I have visions of a How’s It Made video ala Sesame Street.  Stay tuned!

PS: Just in case you were wondering, it's not too late to buy a Turkeymingo (scroll to the bottom). It has hints of both pilgrim and Native American flair. Way to be PC, Turkeymingo.

09 November 2012

Happy Weekend

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post ran a feature on a variety of ways that us crafters can use our talents to help the thousands of animals displaced by Hurricane Sandy.   

Thank you to HP for featuring the cat bed Imade for Lola out of an old cashmere sweater, as well as for pulling together a comprehensive list of ways we can help, including a link to Petfinder with a specific list of shelters that have been affected by the flooding -- places that have an immediate need for food, blankets, bowls, and so forth. Check them out. 

I realize not everyone is going to send a box of cat litter to New Jersey. But if you have 10 minutes this weekend, an old sweater and some cotton batting, or maybe some yarn or a sewing machine, you have the tools to help keep an animal stay warm this winter.  That might not sound like much at this very moment but you know what they say about small gestures…they add up to big changes. 

And let’s be honest – you could make one to keep. Your cat (or dog, or ferret, or opossum) deserves something nice. Even after a year of naps and washing, Lola is still very fond of her red cashmere. 

What can I say? The girl has taste!

Happy Weekend.
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