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Archive for the ‘Crafty’ Category

This method/kit just struck me as a really genius way to make a difficult task very easy. Three difficult tasks, in fact, because

— Stretching canvas evenly is hard — it puckers

— Wrapping canvas around corners is hard — you get those annoying thick wodgy triangles of fabric, and your nice neat corners suddenly look like hell

— And mitering corners — cutting a 45-degree angle at the ends of two pieces of wood so that when you join them together, they make a nice neat corner — is the devil himself.

So what did they do? They deconstructed the frame, created a clever reusable gadget, and simplified each step to the point that the hardest thing you have to do is cut a straight line.

The kit appears to be kind of expensive, but I’m not suggesting we all go buy ’em — I’m just appreciating it for the beauty of the idea. It takes all the frustration out of the process while also yielding much better results. Clever.

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Ladies like me who don’t have pierced ears but occasionally like to wear big sparkly earrings, I am about to share something I wish I’d known 20 years ago.

Look at the earrings you’re thinking of buying. If the main part of the earring dangles from a small ring, you’re in business. Like these dime-store lovelies:

When you are sure your earrings can be altered, buy them. Then hie yourself down to the craft store and buy, for a few dollars:

  • A cheap pair of round-nose jewelry pliers
  • A packet of cheap earring clip-backs in gold or silver-toned base metal (see note at bottom for real gold and silver)
  • A packet of open jump rings, medium-size, say 3.5 mm, in the same metal color

You might not need the jump rings, if the clip-backs you find have an open ring, like the one below. You need jump rings only if you’re hooking together two solid rings, or if you need an extra ring to make the front side of the earring dangle in the right direction (think of how a chain’s links alternate — straight, sideways, straight, sideways). But jump rings are cheap, so you might grab them anyway.

This is an open ring that is very conveniently integrated into the clip-back:

Use the pliers to get rid of the pierced part of your earrings. Here, I just had to open a ring on the French wire:

Next, attach the earring to the back. The metal is pretty easy to break with pliers, so be gentle. Here, all I had to do was hook the solid ring onto the open ring. Make sure the dangly part of your dime-store earring faces forward before you close the open ring with pliers.

You are done! Behold your new clip earrings.

Tools: Read about the different kinds of jewelry pliers here. If you’re gonna make jewelry, you might need expensive ones or several kinds. But if all you’re going to do is repair or alter a few earrings, I think a cheap pair of roundies will do you fine.

Real gold or silver: There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do this with real gold and silver jewelry. (Except that, as you already know, clip earrings fall off your ears much more easily than pierced.) The same pliers will work fine, and the craft store might have gold-filled or sterling parts right there in the beading section. But clip-backs in precious metals are much harder to find than that, usually.

Try sources such as Monsterslayer.com (the name’s a reference to a Navajo origin myth), Artbeads.com and Jewelrysupply.com. Shipping is often free. The parts will cost several dollars more — I find that a single sterling clip-back can cost $8 — and be careful when ordering because these expensive items are in fact sometimes sold singly, not in pairs. Ya don’t want to eagerly rip open your package to find you only have one earring back.

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When I went loopy and redid our two front rooms, I foolishly did all the chair rail part by myself.  The real problem was trying to miter the joints with a cheap plastic miter box and a hand saw — I thought going slowly would allow me more precision, but it didn’t work like that. Precisely joining 45-degree angles ain’t easy; I made gaps so big I literally had to spackle them. Most aren’t too noticeable, and the overall effect of the new paint colors and the molding makes the rooms look nice, but a few of those joints are right out in the open, and I cringe.

Corner joint shows the gap before I spackled and painted it. Small planks temporarily taped to the wall -- my "extra hands" -- hold the trim piece level while I nail it in place.

So my first bit of advice is to pay someone to do this for you. If you’re still reading, my second piece of advice is to rent a power miter saw for this project, which I assume would give you more precise joints. No pre-cutting at the store is going to work, because you have to fit these lengths as you go along — walls aren’t perfect, and all sorts of variables will throw you off. (Usual advice is to start in a corner and work outward from there.)

My third piece of advice is to not mess with laser levels or chalk lines or however you were going to mark the straight line on the wall. Just take a yardstick and mark the same height all around the wall. Fast; and no futzing with tape measure error. And if you somehow marked a line that was perfectly sea-level true, but wasn’t parallel to the floor, it would look wrong anyway. Right?

Standard advice on placing chair rail is about 32 inches from the floor, or alternately 1/3 the height of the wall. You could also go old-school and put it where your chairs’ backs actually strike the wall.

My fourth big tip: Tape a line on the wall first and eyeball it. If the height you’ve chosen looks strange, it’s easier to move tape than to repaint.

Sneakiest of all, though, was how I got around only having two hands. I bought little poplar planks and sawed them off at uniform height. Then I taped them to the wall I was working on (see above). Apply a little glue to the rail and hoist it up onto the slats; the slats prop it up level long enough for you to smack in the first few nails. Voila, spare hands!

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Sewing is, by some estimates, 45,000 years old. Sewing is older than cloth, but not as old as clothes: First we wrapped ourselves in hides, then we tied the hides around ourselves with cords or sinews, and eventually we poked holes in the hides and started running cords through to hold the pieces together.

After another 5,000 years or so, we came up with needles. Another 10,000 years, and we started rolling fiber together in our fingers to make string. That gave us the basis for cloth, which we began weaving on looms about 27,000 years ago. We’ve had scissors for a couple thousand years.

IPads are about six minutes old. You can point an iPad at the night sky and it will recognize the stars and planets from your location and tell you which ones they are. Wouldn’t the cave people have loved it?

This week, an idea that’s at least a few centuries old helped me hand-sew a simple iPad sleeve. Saddlers and other leather-workers use a device called a stitching horse to clamp thick layers of leather together and hold them steady while they poke holes and stitch the leather. I wanted to make my iPad sleeve from 5mm neoprene, which is thick enough to mess up my sewing machine, and I foolishly decided to use a pretty, contrasting thread, which would really show my usually sloppy hand sewing.

It came out fairly even, though:

What I did was clamp on a couple slim pieces of wood, which held the thick fabric in place but also gave a straight edge to guide my needle. This is basically the clamp idea from the top of a stitching horse. (The stitching horse includes a stool or bench to sit on; a stitching pony is the same thing but without a place to sit; so I dub this … a stitching jenny!)

Basically, I cut a 10.5″ by 16″ piece of black neoprene, folded it in half to make a 10.5″ by 8″ rectangle and then sewed the two short ends closed.  (I learned, too late, the cheapest way to get a small piece of neoprene is probably to find and cut up an old laptop sleeve or wetsuit.)

I made my seams about a quarter-inch from the edge. Neoprene is stretchy, which gives you some margin for error in fitting around the device, but still, measure carefully. Another great thing about neoprene is you don’t have to finish or hem the edges, which makes this project real easy.

You can see there, the wood is thick enough you can kind of lay the needle flat along it. This means you’re coming in at the same angle, along the same line, every time, which helps a lot. I did a simple running stitch all along one side (like this: —   —   —   —   –) and then took off the clamps and sewed back the other direction to fill in the gaps (–––––––).

Gave this one to my buddy @omarg for his wife! They’re sweet folks — who let me play with their brand new iPad. Thank you both!

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When I was a kid, we had plastic items called Decoreggers that held an Easter egg securely while you painted or drew on it. Last year, my family went on a major hunt for Decoreggers and couldn’t find any in local stores. This year, I got out my saw and improvised.

With a saw, a drill and some scrap lumber, you can make this very quickly. Compression springs (as opposed to expansion springs) run about $3 a pair at hardware stores, and dowels are even cheaper. You’ll need both wood glue and a super-glue.

I made the egg cups from Fimo polymer clay, about $2 at hobby stores.  (Cover a wooden endpiece in plastic wrap and mold the square bases on that. For the cups, press a flat circle of clay onto a plastic egg, also covered in plastic wrap.)  Polymer clay bakes up at home oven temperatures. It’s mighty stuff.

The springs I found were a little bigger than I needed, so I used a pretty big dowel and uprights. Assemble these upright parts first and then judge carefully how far apart you need to place them on the base.  Too close together = too much pressure on the egg. Too far apart = not enough tension to hold the egg. This totally depends on your individual springs.  When you get it right, glue them to the base.

I glued foam into the cups to help compensate for natural variation in the spheroid form 🙂  Just scavenged packing foam, cut into circles. (Ever wonder why chicken eggs are pointier at one end than the other? Ask a lady chicken. Or an Aussie scientist)

In the top photo you’ll see little wire collars at the ends, holding the dowels level. That’s a last-minute fix — I’d planned for the holes in the uprights to be only a tiny bit larger than the dowels, figuring the close fit would keep them level. But my biggest drill bit was the same size as my dowel, and I drilled the holes first. The fit was too tight; dowels wouldn’t slide. I tried sanding them down but had to switch to a smaller dowel, which flopped all over the place. Wire collars to the rescue.

Happy Easter egg decorating!

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Hallway at former Sparks home on West Avenue in Austin. Photo by Trey Hunter

If I ever get to design a house for myself, or just remodel a hallway, I’m totally doing this: Brilliant use of space in this very wide hall gave the owners their own mini-library.  It even has a sliding-ladder contraption, a thing I have coveted for years, as I am teensy.

Big bookcases can really fill up wall space and make a room look dark and crowded; ditto for all the photos and souvenirs that bring a smile to your face but are packed away because you don’t really have a place for them. And a hallway is nothing but wall space. Think, too, of the fun moments that could happen if this hallway linked all the bedrooms: Pajama-clad family members chatting as they pick out their books for the night. Kids choosing their bedtime storybooks. Houseguests pausing to study your unfortunate hairdo choices through the years.

This could really be the heart of a house. When we win the lottery (yes, the one we don’t play), we’re building this. Also the secret room. We completely agree on the need for a secret room.  Maybe one you enter through part of this bookcase!  How Scooby-Doo.

The enticing photo above was taken by Trey Hunter, and I use it here with his kind permission; I first saw it when I read this story, which describes the home at 1510 West Ave. in Austin — on the market for just $2.195 million. (Photo gallery here)  It was built in 1927 by former state treasurer Sam Sparks. A recent remodel brought the wiring up to date but kept a lot of the history; I’m not sure whether this feature is old or new. But I’m sure you need a pretty dang wide hallway to pull it off.  Else you’d be bumping into the ladder all the time. Ouch.

And because I’m grateful to him and I like supporting photographers, here’s a little more about Hunter: Based in Austin, Trey Hunter offers photo editing and tutorial DVDs (learn how best to photograph homes) in addition to his residential and commercial photography services. Learn more at www.treyhunterphoto.com.

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This was my pre-Christmas tip on Twitter: Tin snips, which will only run you about $14, are the answer you have been searching for to annoying plastic packaging.  They cut through that stuff the way scissors slice through paper.  It’s very satisfying.  Also, grab these when you have to cut up credit cards.  Snip!  You’re done.

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