DIY cupcake stand

There was an excellent party over the weekend, and I’ll tell you all about it soon.  For now, I wanted to share a quickie DIY project.  There was going to be some delicious homemade cupcakes at this party, and they needed a proper stand for display.  I’d seen a bunch of DIY cupcake stands on blogs over the years, and as I recalled you just stack some platters with glasses or whatever you want to make the tiers and glue it all together.

I stopped by Goodwill and got 3 white ceramic plates of different sizes that were fairly flat and semi-matching, plus two plain white coffee mugs with a nice shape.  Others have gone a more colorful route, or used glass stemware, or even painted the whole thing, but I liked the all-white look.  The supplies all together cost less than $5.

I did some measuring to locate the center of each plate, sanded the surfaces (in the places that would be touching) a little to give the glue something to grab onto, and used the mugs to trace in pencil exactly where they would be attached.  Then I put some blue painter’s tape about 1/8” outside of that outline and erased the pencil.  That way I would be able to glue everything in the right place without making a mess and no visible pencil marks.

I used some Gorilla super glue I already had on hand.  After I glued each piece together (in a well ventilated location), I put a gallon of paint on top to act as a clamp and let it set for a while (maybe 10-30 minutes) before doing the next part.  Once everything was glued, I left it alone for at least an hour just to be sure the glue was cured.  I removed the tape, used a razor blade to scrape off the little bit of excess glue on the visible parts, and washed it.  That’s it.  Pretty easy.

The best part was the cupcakes!  Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, one of my favorites, made by a good friend for a special day.  Mmm, so good!


DIY Valentine’s Day

Last week one of my crafty friends held the traditional holiday card making party.  This one was Valentine themed, obviously.  Mostly the various craft parties are a nice excuse to get together with some fun ladies, eat some food, and be a little creative.  I didn’t have any goal in mind other than socializing, so I didn’t make a huge batch of cards, but I did end up with a few cards to send to a select few people.  Nothing too involved, just cut out some cute pictures from magazines and glued them onto cards with some Valentiney messages.  Thanks for hosting, Amanda!

Matt and I don’t get too excited about holidays.  We usually don’t exchange gifts or go out to dinner on February 14 or our anniversary, and that’s perfectly fine with us.  It sounds sappy, but we are happy together every day, and we like to celebrate in our own way whenever the mood strikes us.  Like the other day, we spontaneously stopped for sushi (only cooked fish for me) on the way home from our first childbirth class, and that was a fun little treat for us.  Sometimes we treat ourselves to cake (same kind as our wedding) on our anniversary.

This morning I gave Matt two of the cards I made - one from me, and one from the pups.  He apologized for not having anything for me.  I told him I didn’t expect or want anything; my best Valentine’s Day gift is just him being the wonderful husband he is.  Matt has been hard at work every spare minute for the past few days patching drywall around windows, putting trim on windows, rearranging furniture, putting foam blocks in our register openings (since we are not currently using our heating ducts and would prefer not to have cold air coming in through them), and generally making progress on Operation Get House Ready for Baby.  Today while I’m at work, he’s cutting and nailing trim.  

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Anyone else out there DIYing it, either with homemade cards or treats/dinner, or by doing non-Valentine-related DIY projects that make you just as happy as sharing a bottle of bubbly with your sweetie?


image from here

Bobbin trouble

I have been doing some sewing recently and it seemed like every other project I did went terribly, with the bobbin thread repeatedly getting all bunched up on the back of whatever I was sewing.  And then other times I would sew something and it was completely fine with no issues.  I had tried adjusting the tension and every other potential fix I could find in my manual and online, but nothing helped.  I noticed that when I was sewing with red thread, I didn’t have the issue, but with white it was one tangle after another.  I wondered if there was something different about the thread.  But then I remembered that Sherry from YHL had issues using her new sewing machine and her problem turned out to be that she was using the wrong bobbin.  Could it be?  Have I had a set of bobbin saboteurs lurking in my sewing box all these years?

I compared my bobbins.  It’s hard to tell unless you look closely, but the offending bobbin is just slightly smaller than the good one.

See it now?  It reminds me of the old days of computer programming when I didn’t have a code editor and would spend hours trying to figure out why my code didn’t work, only to discover a single missing comma.  Anyway, it turns out I have six good bobbins that came with my machine, and somewhere along the way I bought some new bobbins that have been intermittently making my life difficult ever since.  On my latest trip to the fabric store (4th of July sale) I found this pack of bobbins on the super-sale rack, and it lists Kenmore, so I was hoping that meant it would work.

Before using them, I carefully compared them to my good bobbins.  They seem to be the exact same dimensions, but I’ll be watching out for trouble just in case.  I’ve tried one so far and didn’t have any tangles.  What a relief!

I have to give a shout out to Sherry.  Had she not 1) persevered through a very frustrating series of attempts at sewing long enough to finally figure out what the core problem was, 2) blogged about it, and 3) generally kept up a blog that I find so informative and entertaining that I read pretty much every post every day, then I probably wouldn’t have thought to look at the bobbin as the potential source of my problems.  Blogging saves the day again!


Quick dog crate spruce-up

Collapsible wire dog crates work really well for us.  They are easy to bring with us when we travel.  Folded flat, they don’t take up much room in the car.  If we have them set up in the car so the boys can ride in them, they don’t block the view out the back.  We do crate the dogs when we’re not home, but we’re getting pretty close to letting them stay home alone uncrated.  We’ll still keep them set up though, as they’re really helpful when we need to make sure the dogs are out of trouble and harm’s way.  Max actually loves his crate, and frequently chooses to spend time in there. 

We have some ideas to incorporate the crates into the room’s furniture (someday when we completely reconfigure the room around the new fireplace) - either by building frames around them to turn them into side tables (as in the photo), or by building some kind of console, credenza, or shelving unit with built in space for them underneath.  Either way, the crates themselves would be easily removable so we can take them with us, but when they’re in use at home, they’ll blend in to the decor.

Once we found the right size for our boys and scored two semi-matching ones (one was cheap on Craigslist, the other on sale from, I felt like that was a pretty good stopping point in the overall plan, since we haven’t yet settled on exactly what we want to do.  For now, the crates are just off to the side of the living room, and I often sort of use them as tables by just setting things on top of them.  But one thing was bothering me.  These crates come with a metal rectangle on the door with a sticker showing the the brand.  I have a bit of an aversion to brands being displayed on anything I own and tend to remove such stickers, tags, etc.  Anyway, I compulsively ripped those stickers off as soon as I got the crates.  Only they were that annoying kind of sticker that rip instead of peeling off, and then they looked even worse. 

I figured I’d put something else over them.  I considered making name tags, but it seemed unnecessary and a little too cutesy, and besides, I have a collection of stickers just sitting in a box waiting to be used.  Matt prefers that we don’t put any bumper stickers on our car because “it makes the car easy to follow,” which is problematic in an alternate universe where we’re either government operatives or criminals.  Nevertheless, I hang on to these things because I’m secretly a hoarder they might come in handy sometime - like now, see keeping them all these years is totally justified and not crazy!  Here’s a selection of stickers I considered for this little project:

I thought about going with something abstract, like combining a couple the green stickers with leaves, or going with an all-animal theme (dolphins, turtles, cows), Hawaiian theme (for some reason I bought a bunch of stickers on a trip there), or maybe cutting up the Mauna Kea invisible cows bumper sticker to create a quirky set.  In the end, I thought the simple cow on a red background and a Mates of State (my favorite band) sticker just worked somehow.  I just trimmed them down to size and stuck ‘em on. 

What do you think?


Stuffed animal toy for a baby

Last weekend was the first birthday of our friends’ daughter, a sweet girl whom I’ve watched grow up this last year.  I knew I wanted to make something for her, but what?  I had a lot of different fabric, but I didn’t want to get too crazy.  Years ago I started a baby quilt and never finished it.  The kid is 6 years old now.  So my lesson learned is keep it simple and doable. 

After raiding my box of fabric, I decided to to make a patchwork stuffed animal.  The idea is that the different colors and textures of the fabric will be stimulating, but still soft and cuddly all over.  The first step was to cut pieces, pin and sew them together in strips, and then sew the strips together. 

When that was done, I had two new pieces of fabric to work with - front and back.  I drew an outline of a dog (what else?) on a piece of paper and cut it out.  That was the shape I wanted, but I knew to leave extra room around it not only for seam allowances, but also to accommodate the stuffing making it a three-dimensional object.  So I guestimated the outline around my cutout and traced that onto the wrong side of one of my pieces of patchwork.  I pinned the other piece to it, right sides together, and cut them out.  Then I machine sewed all the way around except the belly.  I also did a zigzag stitch around some of the edges I thought might fray.  Finally, I turned it inside out and stuffed one-inch squares of fleece from my scrap pile in it as the stuffing.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of polyester stuffing in toys for dogs, and that goes for humans too.  I sewed the belly closed by hand, and it was done.

I hope she likes it!


Needle felting is all the rage

I can see why needle felting is gaining popularity.  It’s easy to get started, it’s fun to do, and the possibilities are just about endless.  I wasn’t going to start another craft, but my pal Sarah had another one of her awesome crafting parties and I just couldn’t say no.  I managed to stay under a budget of $20 for tools and supplies, which was worth it to have some fun with friends and make a couple of small gifts.  I got this starter kit including a set of the special barbed needles and a foam block for $10, plus some loose wool and yarn.  I also tried using a little bit of woven wool that I had gotten via freecycle a while back.

At the party, I made this little sheep (with string to be a Christmas tree ornament), and later at home I made the hedgehog. 

Not fantastic by any means, but decent first tries I think.  The picture is not very good; sorry about that.  When I gave them to my parents and my sister as gifts, they asked how I made them.  I told them you take a blob of loose wool and stab it with a barbed needle over and over until the wool fibers are so tangled that it becomes a solid object.  What about the eyes?  Same thing, but with a tiny blob of wool, and then when it’s formed, place it onto the larger blob and stab repeatedly to attach.  This site gives a good introduction and demo of how to do it.  Other than that, you can just play around with it to figure out good technique, and try not to stab yourself with the sharp needle.

Check out these gnomes and veggies Sarah made!  Aren’t they amazing?  I love them.

Quite a few people are selling their needle felted creations online, and some of them are very impressive.  I recently came across Bossy’s Feltworks through a friend (ooh, their sheep are leaps above mine), Bear Creek, and so many others on Etsy.  In addition to making wool sculptures, you can use this technique to create hats, bags, you name it.  And that’s just with loose wool, not even getting into what can be done with knitted wool, recycled wool sweaters, and similar materials.


DIY dog stuff (cont’d): old dog collar altered to fit new dog

I started using a martingale collar with our first dog and I’ve been a fan ever since.  These collars offer the best of all worlds, at least in my (limited) experience.  They are easy to slip over a dog’s head, but cannot be slipped off by the dog when on leash.  The collar hangs loose around the dog’s neck when there is no tension on the leash, and then when the dog (or handler) pulls on the leash, the collar tightens but only a limited amount.  I always adjust the size carefully so that when the collar tightens it is snug but won’t hurt the dog’s neck.  This helps the dog feel when there is tension on the leash and when there is not.  And unlike many flat nylon collars, there is no plastic buckle that could break. 

We are using Wonder Walker body halters for walks, as mentioned in the last post.  The harnesses do close with the plastic buckles, which run a small yet potentially devastating risk of breaking.  Wonder Walker recommends clipping the leash to a martingale collar in addition to the front ring of the harness, providing some security just in case the harness somehow comes off.  The collars also have the dogs’ tags on them, which are good to have when out and about. 

I bought a Spindrift (made in Bend, Oregon - what can I say, I’m a sucker for local goods and our nearest pet supply store Mud Bay carries them) “cozy martingale collar” for Sonny.  Spindrift describes this collar as “a great training collar for ‘spirited’ short haired dogs” - ha ha!  I had a larger version of the same collar that I had gotten for Wilbur, who put pretty low mileage on it.  I was way too big for Max, but I hate to buy something new when I can modify something I already have at home.  Here is the ‘before’ (the brown one tightened all the way is still huge compared to the orange one which is let out most of the way):

It was easy to resize this collar - the only thing making it too big was the fleece padding.  I used my seam ripper to take out some stitches, cut the fleece to the right length, and sewed the end to the nylon.  It took about 15 minutes.


Looking good, boys!


DIY dog stuff for safety and to save money

1.  Toys

If you have dogs, you have probably noticed that most conventional dog toys are filled with that horrible white polyester stuffing and often a plastic squeaker.  You may have also heard horror stories (or experienced them) about dogs eating those squeakers and needing some medical intervention.  The polyester stuffing can also be irritating if eaten, which is more of an annoyance, but still… avoiding doggie stomach upsets is always preferable.  I have two solutions to this problem:

1a.  Make dog toys out of scrap materials in the house

You could sew something if you really wanted to, but let’s face it: dogs don’t know that their toys are a duck, an elephant, and a frog. 

That is for the humans, and we do enjoy watching them fetch Duck, squeak Frog, or carry Pinky around.  The dogs just know it’s a soft thing to chew on.  My very most basic dog toy can be made in under a minute.  Take your bag o’ used-up socks (what, don’t you save all your retired socks to use as cleaning rags, disposable cloths for painting, and dog toys?), choose a good one, and stuff a bunch of other socks into it.  I used whole socks for the stuffing, and I can’t decide whether cutting them up into smallish pieces would be better or worse in terms of potential eatability.  Tie the end in a knot and you’re done.  They love it!  You can also put in a squeaker, but I didn’t in this case because I wanted to give the dogs a toy they could have in their crates without worrying about whether they’d eat or choke on the squeaker.

I also made a simple toy out of a scrap of fleece fabric.  I had made a fleece sheath for Max’s harness (more on that later).  A couple of times, Sonny found Max’s harness and wanted to play with it.  Harnesses should not be chewed, so I decided to give him a better alternative.  I took an extra piece of fleece about 1.5’ long and several inches wide, rolled it lengthwise, and tied three knots in it.  Sonny likes it.

Even dogs like to make their own toys out of household items!  Fortunately, this pillow was on my list for replacement long before Sonny found it.

1b.  Modify store-bought dog toys

I wait until a dog rips the toy open.  They’re supervised enough with such toys that I can take away any ripped toys before they have a chance to eat the innards.  Then I pull out all the polyester stuffing and the squeaker.  This is a good time to throw the toy into the washing machine, because it’s probably been soaked in slobber several times over by now.  Stuff with sock pieces (see above).  Putting the squeaker back in is optional - if you leave it out the toy may not be as fun for your dog, but on the plus side it may last longer before getting torn open again and when it does there is less danger.  Either way, sew it closed and return the clean toy to the mouth of a happy dog.  Charlotte’s favorite toy was named Bear (did you notice our tendency to give dog toys the most uninspired of names) and I had to patch and sew that thing a couple dozen times.

2.  Treats

Dog treats are crazy expensive!  I buy kibble in a different flavor than the dogs eat for their meals and use it as treats for training.  You’ll likely need higher value treats when you’re training outside the house or with distractions, but it works well for me when we’re working in the living room.  I use Natural Balance original dry food.  Economical high value treats are Natural Balance food rolls, cheese, or cook some meat (any of these will require extra work to cut up into morsels).

3.  Random things

Both dogs wear Wonder Walker front-clip body halters, a local Seattle product that helps dogs walk nicely on leash instead of pulling.  It worked almost like a miracle for Sonny.  The first day we brought him home, he pulled so hard that it was very unpleasant to walk him, and cannot have been good for his poor neck.  The next day I bought him a Wonder Walker.  Within a couple days of training (stop and/or change directions the moment he pulls), he was walking very nicely.  Last week I took him for a short 2 mile run around the neighborhood, and he stayed right next to me the whole time.  It was like a dream.  Max requires a lot more work.  I’m trying to clicker train him to walk on a loose leash, and I really hope it will pay off.  So far we are successful in the living room, the yard is our next goal, and the street seems like a pipe dream right now.  We’ll get there.  Matt is using a non-treat method to teach Max to heel by doing a lot of unpredictable turns in both directions.  So far, Matt is doing a lot better than I am. 

Anyway, I made this quick fleece cover for Max’s harness.  I used an old fleece scarf I haven’t worn in a while.  I threw it together in a hurry, and it is not pretty, but it serves its utilitarian purpose.  Between his sensitive skin, his fur having been recently clipped short, and his rambunctious leash pulling on walks, we were concerned the harness was rubbing his skin too much.  I cut fleece triangles and sewed their points together over the triangle rings in the harness.  Around the straps, it was simple fleece rectangles, folded over and sewn to make tubes, but I left some gaps in the tubes so we can still access the rings to attach a leash or make sizing adjustments as needed.

They do make neoprene padding for the Wonder Walkers, but I 1) needed something right away, 2) didn’t want to pay for it (my solution was free since I used fabric I already had), and 3) think Max’s fur will grow out and then he won’t need the padding anymore.  Here’s a shot of Sonny in his au naturale harness and Max in his fleece encased one.

For our late Belgian Shepherd, Charlotte, I made several random things (and please note these were all to serve a utilitarian purpose) including:

  • a rain jacket/poncho type thing - she did not care if she got wet, but it was easier for us humans if her long fur didn’t get soaked on walks and then need extensive toweling off (we live in Seattle and we go for our daily walks rain or shine or any weather in which the postal service delivers)

  • modified some of my old tank tops into shirts for Char when her fur got really thin due to Cushing’s disease (and it didn’t help when the vet had to shave her entire belly for an ultrasound… and it was winter… and she was sick)
  • modified a couple of other old t-shirts into shorts-like-articles to keep her from licking her back when she had another skin problem - this was enough of a deterrent so she didn’t have to wear the dreaded cone collar [no photo]

4.  Leashes

Wonder Walker also sells coupling leashes, seat belt leashes for car safety, and long leashes for training.  They’re not unreasonably priced, but since I have a sewing machine, I can make all of these for much cheaper without spending a lot of time.  I’m planning to buy the nylon webbing and clips this weekend or next, and whenever I get around to making the leashes I’ll write about it.


Clothing alterations & repurposing

When I was in high school and college, I was really into reusing and repurposing clothes.  You may be wondering what repurposing is.  I’ll answer that with an example: I had a sweater that I no longer wore, so I made the main part of it into a bag and the arms into leg warmers.  If sewing was too much of a hassle at the time, like in college when my mom’s sewing machine was 300 miles away, I would just use safety pins.

Maybe I took it a bit farther than I should have.  A large fraction of my wardrobe consisted of items that used to belong to someone else who was not necessarily the same size as I was.  Thus, many articles had to be altered to fit.  At the time, my definition of “fit” was “does not fall off my body.”  For several years, I had two winter coats.  One was my mom’s old coat, and the other was my dad’s old coat (too big), both of which I found in the back of the closet.  They were pretty ratty and my parents were a little embarrassed by my hobo-chic look.  On several occasions, they politely suggested I wear something that didn’t make me look like a runaway: “we’ll buy you a coat.”  I still have the mom coat; it lives at my father-in-law’s house in case I ever need to do some farm chores in the winter. 

Two of my most-treasured pairs of pants from those days were significantly too big but too good not to wear: a pair of men’s Levis with authentic wear and holes in the knees; and a pair of houndstooth chef pants (like these) with a story too long to tell here.  I made each pair of pants fit (see definition above) by folding down the waistband and then overlapping it by a couple of inches in the front.  The fly’s buttons and zippers were thus rendered unusable, but easily replaced by large safety pins.  If pants were too long, I folded up the hem and secured it with - you guessed it - safety pins.  Safety pins are still among my all-time favorite DIY tools, though my look has evolved to one that doesn’t showcase them in almost every outfit.

My look is a bit more polished these days (how could it not be), but I still love a thrift store bargain, one-of-a-kind items, and making alterations.  Waist band alterations are much subtler, used sparingly, and performed by actual sewing.  Hemming pants (again with thread instead of pins) is easy and does wonders.  Replacing buttons can change the look of a top.  And sometimes you can make a slight variation to a garment and change it for the better.

Take this coat I got among other great items on super-sale from Tulle:

$5 is my favorite price for things one would normally expect to cost more than $5, so I was pretty stoked.  I really liked the coat, but it left my neck exposed to the elements.  I know scarves exist and I have several, but it’s just one more thing to deal with and in general I’m too lazy for accessories.  Then it hit me: why couldn’t that nice fuzzy collar keep my neck warm?  I folded up the collar and I thought it looked good and served my purpose, but it wouldn’t stay up.  So I marked the locations with safety pins (duh), tried it on again to be sure (always try on your alteration before sewing), and sewed on one of the extra buttons and a small loop of elastic.  When the collar is folded down you don’t see them.  The lighting isn’t good in these photos, but you get the idea.

What do you think? 

Also, if you live in Seattle, check out Sustainable NE Seattle’s day of Hands On workshops on Feb 12.  Clothes repurposing is one of many DIY educational offerings.  I’m looking forward to learning some new practical skills from neighbors!


Decorating hollowed-out eggs

Sarah invited some friends over last weekend for another fun crafts party.  Sarah’s family has a tradition of decorating hollowed-out eggs, which her 101-year-old great aunt hangs on an Easter egg tree.  Since they’re hollow, the eggs can be saved from year to year, and new ones are added to the collection.  To make your own, wash the eggs with soap and water, use a sterilized needle to carefully poke holes in the tops and bottoms, and gently blow the albumen and yolk into a bowl (you may need to break the yolk with your needle).  Save the egg innards and cook with them.  Sarah made a delicious frittata.  Once your empty egg shells have been rinsed and dried, they’re ready to be decorated.  Use dye, paint, markers, ribbons, sequins, beads, feathers, stickers, and any other accessory you like to decorate the eggs.

Here are some of the finished eggs made at the party:

The Vegas showgirl, feathered-octopus-with-heart-mouth, and plain sequined are among my favorites.

I also really like the one with gold ribbon and googly eyes.  Sarah and her sister didn’t seem to think their great aunt would be hanging it on the tree, but I like the wacky ones.

I experimented by gluing seed beads all over an egg (far left).  It was looking good, but every time I handled it, ting-ting-ting (that’s the sound of beads falling off).  I managed to salvage it by wrapping it carefully in cellophane and using a hot blow dryer to shrink it onto the egg. 

I wonder which ones will make the cut to be showcased on the tree this year.  What a fun tradition.  Thanks for sharing, Sarah!