Tips and Tricks
Rambling cat lady side note: Not all cats like beds, and not all cat beds are the same. While most cats like to have their own special ‘nest’ for napping, some cats feel trapped or unsafe when sleeping in a confined space, like in a bed with four high sides. This is sort of like how some people can only sleep with their socks off (for the record, anti-sock people are just plain weird, but we love them anyway)… So if your kitty is anti-bed, try offering them a bed with low sides, or three sides, and see if they like it. Cat beds are great, because not only do they help kitty feel comfortable, they help keep shedding cat hair in one place. Win-Win!
- Old cashmere sweater. Any sweater will work, but most cats will avoid acrylic on account of the static electricity. However, I have heard from people with small dogs who love snuffling on sturdy acrylic sweaters. Use your discretion.
- Cotton quilt batting.
- Needle and thread.
- Glove warmers (optional).
I have a confession to make.
Three years ago I stole a chocolate Cadbury bunny from a small child.
By stole, I mean, I quietly removed it from his mother’s shopping cart at Target while she was turned in the opposite direction.
Look, I’m not proud of my actions. I’m certainly not in the habit of removing things from other people’s carts, especially while a drooling toddler looks on from the front basket, but it was the Saturday before Easter and there were no more Cadbury bunnies on the shelf.
There would be no more chocolate bunnies UNTIL NEXT EASTER.
Do you hear me? A WHOLE YEAR PEOPLE.
It was a now or never, fight or flight situation.
I needed that bunny.
Later, as I sat there eating that bunny
in the Target parking lot later that night, I thought to myself…. You’re a grown woman. This holiday is a celebration for kids and families and churches and wholesome stuff like that. Think about it; Is this chocolate bunny really worth stealing from a small child?
Of course, Karma, the ever-faithful mistress of Truth, decided to seek her revenge this weekend. As I once again strolled the Easter isle at Target I arrived just in time to watch a little boy, probably around 8 years or so, struggle to reach the last Cadburry bunny at the rear of a very high shelf.
No joke. What are the chances? I know, right? Karma. Or worse: Chocolate Karma.
Plagued with three-year-old guilt, I assisted in reaching the bunny and placed it in his hands. Now, I could have taken it and made a run for it, but instead I gave it to him. I know, right? Sainthood.
With no more Cadburry bunnies on the shelf I settled for a bag of Cadbury eggs and the Lindt chocolate bunny featured here. Lindt is good chocolate too. Not Steal-from-a-small-child Good, but pleasant enough to photograph.
The flowers are made from cupcake flowers (click here for full tutorial). It came out nicer than I suspected. It would look nicer with a Cadbury bunny in the middle, but these are the sacrifices I make. For the children, you know.
Decorating the basket is easy. Just twist the cupcake flowers directly on to the basket until you feel it looks like a proper church hat. I don’t like messy tails and twister pieces showing. Luckily it’s easy to wrap some seam binding around the ugly bits.
And yes, I said chocolate tree. And you’re right, it was magnificent.
Most of the eggs got eaten right off the tree, except these ones, which are just superficially decorated with real chocolate in hopes
I would not eat them in mid-November chocolate craving rage they would last . Yes, you heard right, real ten-year-old chocolate. I took plastic eggs from the store, painted them various shades of chocolate brown, then glued mini chocolate chips all other. Two layers of outdoor varnish, and look, still kicking! They are way to heavy to heavy to hang on the tree, but they look nice in the base of the annual Easter basket. The chocolate chips are a little speckled, but amazingly, they have held up beautifully.
And who needs to buy Easter grass when you have colorful trimmings from making coffee filter flowers. Yes, I even keep my craft coffee filter scraps. They are too pretty to throw away.
Lola decided she wanted to be the chocolate bunny in the middle of this year’s Easter basket. It didn’t go so well. Now working on a bigger basket to accommodate. Stay tuned!
- Various cupcake liners. Or muffin liners. Or nut cups. Or candy cups. Or coffee filters. Any ruffly cup things will do the job.
- Pipe cleaners.
- Beads with holes large enough to easily accommodate pipe cleaners.
- Faux flowers. You could snip from fabric if you are anti-faux flower.
- Something pointy like an extacto knife or an awl.
Lisa is one of my favorite blog friends. She sends me emails and gives me her honest opinion on things, and once in a while, she gives me a family recipe, like her Grandmama’s secret recipe for sweet-n-sour peanuts.
Let’s pray her sister Dina didn’t read that.
Recently, Lisa emailed me and asked me to give her some pointers on improving her Christmas snapshots without upgrading from her regular point-and-shoot camera. I was really flattered because, honestly, if someone is coming to me for advice it usually involves chocolate covered bacon or seeking revenge on an ex husband. Why people think these are my territories of expertise, I will never know, but I am happy expand my turf to photography for a day.
So, as long as I was typing them out and emailing to her, I thought I would share with you too. If anyone reading this has any other great resources for novice photographers, by all means, please link in the comments!
1. Ditch the Flash
If you want to capture the essence of holiday warmth, turn off your flash. Period. Nothing alive looks good when photographed with a point-and-shoot flash. Nothing. Zip. Zero. The image may come out crisp but it kills any sense of mood or atmosphere. That’s fine for product shots, but isn’t going to help make memories. In short, the flash kills the Christmas spirit. Avoid it whenever possible. Use natural light, or even overhead lights. If your photos are looking blurry, balance your camera on a tripod or the back of a chair. If you *must* use your flash, try diffusing it with a piece of gauze or white tissue paper. Experiment!
2. Less Posing, More Candid Photos
There are two kinds of photos: Lookers and Story Tellers.
Looker photos are about looking good; school portraits, bridesmaid line-ups, real estate promo shots. Your hair should be combed and the lawn should be trimmed. They’re all about making the subject look good. Example: Imagine Little Jimmy in his plaid pajamas, smiling wide, holding Grandma’s Christmas gift next to his face. Grandma will want to see this!
Story Tellers are about telling stories. Anyone should be able to look at the photo, without explanation and instantly understand what is going on. Example: Little Jimmy in his beloved Spiderman T-shirt and dirty hair, tearing open a package with fistfuls of wrapping paper and ribbon. Little Jimmy will want to see this when he is a grown up. Oh how he misses that Spiderman T-shirt.
3. Find a New Angle
When I flip through photos on Facebook, including my own, 99% of the photos are taken at the same height as the photographer’s head. This isn’t a bad thing, but gosh, the whole world looks a lot more interesting when photographed from a new perspective! Try photographing the tree while laying on the floor, or while sitting on the kitchen counter.
How many times have you seen a family photographed standing on the stairs? Many.
How many times have you seen a family photographed from above, while the family looks upward toward the photographer on the stairs? Never.
Bonus: You know who will always look good when photographed from above, chin raised and eyes coyly gazing at the camera? You! Everyone looks great from that angle.
4. Capitalize on Twinkle Lights
Nothing screams “holiday!” like the razzle dazzle of twinkling lights. Problem is most people try to photograph them when it is way too dark. The best time to photograph twinkle lights is the 30 minute window following sundown, when there is still some light in the sky. If the lights are indoors, turn off all overhead lights and turn on any other task lights around the room. Try having some fun by photographing the lights from a few feet away, or while swinging your camera around; the results will be blurry and gorgeous!
5. Move Off-Center
Move away from taking photos in tired and conventional ways. Center-weighted photos can be boring. Try looking at your camera in thirds, lining up your subject in the mid-margins of your camera field, not the dead center. The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the fundamental lessons in photography (learn more). You can also get creative with your cropping later on down the road.
And finally, remember to have some fun! Christmas photos, at their best, are more than snapshots of people smiling in reindeer sweaters–they are about capturing memories. Don’t worry if you have spinach dip in your teeth or the wreath is crooked, that’s part of the fun!!
My felt flower bug is back in town. It started with that tutorial a few weeks ago and hasn’t simmered down since! The living room is now overrun with little nests of felt flower tuffets looking for good homes. Yesterday I went to sip my diet coke and there was a wool fuzz bunny sitting on the lip.
Now aren’t you glad you aren’t my vacuum cleaner?
These hats are just one of the ways I am using up my felt stash (just wait until you see next week). They are too easy to justify a full length tutorial. Honest, not counting the felting process, I spent less than an hour on each hat. They were so easy to make, you have got to try it for yourself. You need a cute new hat, don’t you? Of course you do.
And because we all know little kids tend to pick at things (and not so little kids too!) I used pick-friendly upholstery thread, exposed stitches, and bookbinders knots. I sort of like the little furry thread bits –they add such character.
As you can see here, I used a lot of different colors (remember I’m stash busting)…but this would also be so fetching with just one or two colors. Can you imagine a red hat with tiny little white blossoms all over? Or a green cap with yellow and orange blooms? Or what about monochromatic—like making the hat and blossoms out of the same old wool sweater? Yeah, that’s the ticket!
PS: Special thanks Brendan and Stephanie for supplying the models. It’s nice to have friends with ridiculously beautiful children, isn’t it?
There are plenty of great tutorials already out there that use inexpensive, old reliable store-bought craft felt. Problem is, I avoid using craft felt whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great material to have around the house, but making your own felt from old sweaters has mucho advantages.
Felt made from wool sweaters is:
- More colorful (and if you can’t buy it – dye it!)
*Important note on felt in general: Anyone who has cut or sewn any sort of felt knows that it generates fiber dust faster than most fabrics. Problem is, unless you are working outside, those fibers get into the air we breathe. Dust from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, etc, are pretty easy for our respiratory systems to filter, but dust from synthetic fibers, like the acrylic used in most craft felt, can cause serious respiratory irritation. Personally, it doesn’t make me cough or sneeze but it does give me a headache after 30 minutes messing with it. This leads me to believe it is something to avoid, or at very least, avoid messing with indoors (Update: Sara had a great suggestion when it comes to cutting acrylic wool “why not buy some little doctor’s masks from the pharmacy?”…good idea Sara!) Y’all feel free to compare and draw your own conclusions. If you are working on a project where you need multiple yards of felt, consider looking into something made from cotton or wool. Chances are it will cost 4 times as much as the fake stuff, and it will not come in nifty colors, but it’s a fair trade for keeping your home and family healthy.
Man, that was a downer.
Now back to the fun stuff!
The Magic Bag: Making Felt the Easy Way
Anyone who has accidentally thrown a wool sweater in the dryer knows how easy it is to turn knit fibers into felt. There are lots of ways to approach it, but I like to use the Magic Bag method because it means I can felt while I do my other laundry. This saves water, energy, and money (major bonus when you live in a city apartment with giant coin operated machines!)
- Wool. Take yucky old thrift store sweater and cut away any seams, cuffs, collars or fancy edges (save them though—they could come in handy on future projects. More on that next week!)
- 1 teaspoon of soap shavings. I like to scrape them from a bar of old fashioned ivory soap, but most any soap will work, just be sure it isn’t “moisturizing” or “with conditioners” or stuff like that.
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda. This helps the detergent really scrub and fluff up those fibers.
- 1 large old towel or pair of jeans, or both. Most anything with a scrubby surface.
Put them all together in the pillow case, making sure there is enough room to wiggle around. Tie it off with a sturdy rubber band and throw it in the washing machine with your other hot water laundry, same as always. Adding detergent is fine but no fabric softener. Wash on the hottest setting possible.
The combination of hot water, abrasive detergent and constant agitation, will make the yarn FREAK OUT and turn to felt in no time. When the wash cycle is finished, pull your items out of the bag and inspect. Pull a scrap piece of wool from side to side. It should be reasonably stretchy.
Can you still see the individual strands of yarn?
If the answer is no, then you have felt!
If the answer is yes, then put it back in again for another wash cycle and try adding another towel. If you can set your machine to repeat the “wash” cycle more than once (turn back the dial) then just repeat that process over and over til you get what you want.
Once the wool is felted in the wash, you are ready to cut it. I like to cut mine while it’s still damp from the washer (keeps the fiber dust down) but you can also dry it at this stage to encourage the fibers to puff up. Either way is fine.
Get a big old pot and boil the wool on your stove. No agitation required in this method, but it could take up to an hour and will make your kitchen smell like sheep.
No. Generally, natural fibers work best. After enough of these, you will be able to feel a sweater and know if it will felt, but you’ll have to read labels until you get the hang of it. Here is a quick-n-dirty list of popular fibers and their success rate:
Lambs Wool: Excellent
Wool with 10% Something Else (spandex, rayon, cotton, polyester, etc): Fine, but anything more than 10% is risky
Alpaca: OK in the washer, but the boiling method works better
Camel: Fine, but it smells horrendous when hot
Cashmere: Sorta…it felts but remains thin and never puffs up nice and thick
Angora: Mixed results…100% angora is no good, but vintage sweaters made from angora AND wool are like the Holy Grail; they come out big and pillowy and soft. I wish I had a sample but I gave them all away and more sweaters are hard to find.
And don’t limit yourself to sweaters! Coats, hats, gloves, scarves, blankets work great too.
And don’t limit yourself to solid colors! Use the stripes and patterns to your advantage.
3. Make incisions around the outer edge of the spiral every 1/2″ or so, making sure to leave at least 1/4″ remaining at the bottom.
4. Snip the corners of the individual petals. Note: Some thicker weaves and fibers will puff up so much with step 5 that you can even skip step 4.
5. Throw the spiral in a hot dryer. This will puff it up and suck the loose fibers into your lint trap.
6. Optional: If the drier puffed it up too much for your taste (top), you can flatten it out with an iron (bottom). I happen to like it puffy, but some fibers will create curly/twisty petals that will be easier to work with after ironing.
7. Starting rolling at the center of the spiral (if you can still recognize the center!) making sure to keep the bottom edge lined up. this process is easier if you give yourself a base after 2 or three rolls around, but you decide for yourself.
8. Once you finish rolling, your flower should look like a cinnamon bun. Stab the needle and thread straight across the back of the flower and repeat several times over in multiple directions.
Note: You will want to use a thick sturdy needle and thread. Thin cotton thread will break. If you don’t have button thread or upholstery thread on hand, try dental floss.
Another Note: I know you are thinking you can skip the sewing and go for a glue gun. You would be right, although the results never come out quite as nice; the glue bulks up the back and the excess globs are hard to conceal, but if you think you can get around it, then go for it.
Experiment! Expect your first attempt to come out a little wonky, but you will improve quickly. Once you make a few of these, you will find them very addictive and easy to do. These pins make great gifts but you can also do plenty of stuff with other parts of the sweater, then embellish with the flowers…think vests, hats, capes, cuffs! More on this in the weeks ahead!
Or don’t even bother making the flowers; look at the felt as a special something you can add to other projects.Imagine a pillow edged in ric-rac or pom-pom trim…now imagine it edged in sweater felt trim. Cool huh?
Since you can make 6-12 flowers out of a single sweater, I tend to make them in batches. Pick up a few sweaters and you can start mixing and matching colors and consistencies. Its always good to have at least one green sweater for making leaves. A few years ago I was REALLY into making stuff out of sweater felt. I gave felt goodies to everyone I knew and sold them at a couple of craft fairs. Eventually the fun fizzled out and I haven’t touched the stuff in two years. This morning I opened up the giant Tupperware bin full of spirals I cut years ago, just waiting to made into flowers and scarves and caps and capes and cuffs and stockings and ornaments and …..what’s that? What is that I hear? Why, that’s the sound of something fabulous coming down the pipeline!
Happy Friday Y’all!