Category Archives: Projects
If you’re a freelance writer like me, chances are you’ve heard of Jenn Mattern, the brains behind All Freelance Writing (and about a billion other websites). Some of us who are lucky enough to know Jenn outside of her professional milieu have discovered her creativity knows no bounds. Whenever and wherever she sees a problem she always seems to find a solution.
A couple months ago she wanted a pen holder and decided to make one from found objects around her home. I broadly hinted that it might make a good guest post for Create From Scratch. Thankfully she agreed. Here it is. Thanks, Jenn!
Create a Custom DIY Pen Holder
When I decided to get back into writing poetry, I wanted to go “old school.” So I bought myself a new poetry journal, pen, and ink, and I looked for a pen holder that appealed to me.
The closest pen holder I found to what I wanted was about $50 and a bit too small. I got fed up with the fruitless search before long. Then I was poking around my tools looking for something for a home repair project I needed to knock out, and a light bulb turned on.
I could make a pen holder.
After all, the simple wooden style I was after didn’t look too difficult to replicate. So I dug around the house a bit and found everything I’d need to whip up a custom pen holder. And I’ll show you that near the end of this post. But first…
When Paula saw my original pen holder, she asked if I’d be interested in a guest post to teach you how to make one. So I popped over to the craft store and picked up a few things (it’s super cheap, I swear), and I made a second one so I could take some photos and show you the basic process.
Here’s the gist of how to make your own inexpensive wood pen holder. You can swap out the two wood pieces with pretty much any material you’d like as long as you have a base and a ring of some sort to support your pen. I bet you can come up with even more creative ideas.
What You’ll Need
- Wooden base
- Wooden ring (Both wooden pieces are less than $1 each at a craft store like A.C. Moore or Michaels.)
- 1 sheet of felt (or leftover pieces are probably plenty – about $.30 at the craft store)
- Wood stain or paint of your choice (won’t need much, so whatever you have on-hand is probably enough)
- 1 sponge applicator or brush for the stain
- Glue (super glue, wood glue – anything strong enough to hold two wood pieces together)
- Newspaper or paper towel to protect your work area
What to Do
Step 1: Set up your work space.
I laid out some paper towel because I keep some around this desk when I’m painting anyway. But you can use newspaper, a rag, or whatever you have on-hand. You don’t need a large work space protected for this – just somewhere to stain the wood and let it sit until it dries.
Step 2: Prep the wood.
My mistake with this new pen holder was that I didn’t realize how rough the edges of the base looked until it was stained. I highly recommend sanding both pieces lightly to get a consistent surface.
Step 3: Stain the wood.
Apply your choice of stain (or paint if you prefer) to both pieces of wood. You don’t need to do the inside of the ring, as that will be covered with your felt later, but do make sure you stain the entire upper edge of the ring. Set both pieces aside to dry.
Step 4: Glue the ring to the base.
Apply a thin line of super glue (or wood glue, or whatever strong adhesive you have around) to the bottom of your wooden ring. Carefully place it where you want it on the base, and apply gentle pressure. You don’t want to add so much glue that it seeps out onto your wood base when you press down.
Step 5: Cut and apply your felt pieces.
Start with your base. In my case, this was simply a small felt circle. It’s okay if your base is slightly smaller, as your wall piece will cover any small gaps around the bottom. Push it to the bottom of the ring. No need for glue. It’ll actually go through the felt and make a mess anyway.
For the wall of your ring, simply cut a strip of felt as wide as your ring is tall. Leave it a bit longer than you think you’ll need. Then roll that felt strip tightly and insert it into the ring. Let it open, and gently press it against the walls.
If your felt ends overlap, pull the strip out and trim a little at a time until the two ends meet perfectly. If you do this, you won’t need an adhesive at all. You can use glue if you’d like, but I preferred to avoid the risk of any seeping through and making contact with my pen.
There you have it – your new pen holder!
What I’d Do Differently
If I were to start over with this project, I’d have done a few things differently:
- I would have chosen a slightly larger base.
- I would have sanded the wood first.
- I would have sealed it with a clear coating to give it a smoother finish and some shine.
Those are just things to keep in mind that you can tweak to make your own pen holder a bit nicer than this one. But this isn’t the one I’m actually using, so I wasn’t too worried about it. You see, my first was made from “found items” instead – I had everything around the house already. Here it is:
For this one, the base was a rosewood flooring sample I had lying around from when we were looking into replacing flooring around the house. And the ring is the decorative ring from a WoodWick scented oil dispenser (there’s a logo on the back end that no one’s going to see from my desk). The wood of both just happened to match perfectly.
I glued the ring to the flooring tile and use self-adhesive felt pads, cut to fit (the little felt pieces you stick to the bottom of furniture legs to make them slide easier).
The only problem I had left was the ridge in the front of the flooring sample. I happened to have some insulation tubing that fit perfectly. It was white, so I pulled out a Sharpie to make it look like a simple black rubber accent.
It was a project done on-a-whim, made from things that would have otherwise been thrown away. So, even though the craft store version is cheap (I spent less than $2.00 because I already had stain, a foam brush, the felt pads, and glue), you very well might be able to whip one up for free!
To check out another one of Jenn’s recent creative inspirations—a way to make her regular desk transform into a standing desk and back again—check out her recent blog post at All Freelance Writing.
While my year-long effort to reduce my yarn stash was placed on pause to finish the Sheep Dreams Baby Blanket for my cousin—which was a really fun project!—a brief reprise from the summer heat has me knitting again.
I wanted a quick project, so I turned to the Knit Knack Kit my sister and I picked up at one of her favorite resale stores.
Kris Percival’s simple, old-fashioned “Warmest Mittens” pattern leapt out at me. First, because they look warm and cozy, but also because I haven’t tried making mittens in several years. It didn’t hurt that there was enough stash yarn to make a matching hat and maybe a scarf or cowl, too.
The yarn I chose was leftover from a felted knitting project I made back when I was one of the rotating bloggers for Patons Yarn’s former blog. The mitten pattern included directions for three-color striped mittens so I chose three of the five Patons Classic Wool colors that I had the most of: Yellow, Pumpkin, and Orchid.
Time to cast on. The pattern suggests size 4 and 5 double-pointed needles, but I don’t have any 4s. (I know. I can’t believe it either.) So I chose size 5 for the cuffs and 6 for the rest of the mittens. Going up or down a needle size or two will alter the size of the mittens slightly.
The pattern works up fairly quickly, and the stripes allow you to see your progress. (If there’s one thing I don’t care for, it’s knitting the same color and stitch over and over and over. It’s monotonous and makes it hard to see how much you’ve knitted.)
I opted to start the second color after the cuffs and work 10 rows of each color.
Once the gusset increases are done it’s time to slip stitches from that needle onto a stitch holder.
Continue knitting the hand. The thumb stitches will wait for their turn.
When I got to the final few rows, I decided to work the last 12 or so rows in the final color since switching to a new color for just a couple of rows would have looked silly.
Then it was finally time to make the thumb.
The thumbs work up quickly. I could have worked 10 rows and changed colors, but the photo on the pattern had solid color thumbs, which looked nice.
Before you know it, it’s time to weave in the ends. Each color change leaves two “tails” of yarn that need to be worked in so they’re unseen and secure.
Luckily the pattern said to leave tails that are long enough to thread through a tapestry needle, making it a bit easier to weave in the ends.
I’m glad I didn’t have size 4 DPNs since these beauties fit my hands really well. I will definitely be making this pattern again.
Do you have a go-to mitten pattern? If so, what do you like most about it?
One of the first things my sister and I did after she gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2015 was hit the fabric store.
The first place I like to stop in any fabric shop is the remnants area. You can find small amounts of expensive fabric for a fraction of the price. On that trip we found a lot of remnants to turn into throw pillows. We both loved a silky muted blue-green fabric with copper-colored French knots.
I thought it would be perfect to replace the faded fabric inserts in the shutters in the back bedroom. Fortunately there were two pieces of that fabric so we didn’t have to fight.
To underscore the cost-savings of buying remnants: this “designer” fabric was originally priced at a ridiculous $29.99 per yard, but was only $5 per yard as a remnant. The $5.63 piece was 1.125 yards (just enough for this project), and the $9.76 piece was 1.952 yards. I should be able to cover a couple pillow forms with the larger piece.
Yes. I know. I sure took my time before using any of those remnants. Probably because I didn’t realize how badly faded the old fabric was until I removed all eight inserts from the shutters. They’ve been getting the afternoon sun for the better part of a decade, so I’d say the plain cotton quilting fabric held up very well, despite the sun bleaching.
The first thing I did was measure the old inserts and the new remnants. Having replaced these inserts before, I knew the upper and lower shutters were different lengths, and the old inserts were each about eight inches wide, roughly double the width of each shutter. While the front of the fabric doesn’t appear to have an up-and-down direction to it, the back does, so I wanted to cut all eight panels in the same direction.
Of course, it was only after cutting the shorter panels that I realized I forgot to allow the extra two inches needed to form pockets for the small tension rods that hold the top and bottom of each panel in place.
Luckily I had the second remnant. No worries, either. The four mis-cut panels should still work well for the pillow covers.
After all the pieces were properly cut, it was pretty much an assembly line process:
- Press a quarter-inch fold, towards the back, on all of the long edges. (On the old inserts, I folded the fabric twice for a clean, finished edge, but the French knots in this fabric create more bulk, and would be difficult to sew over when sandwiched between two layers of cloth.)
- Sew the side hems.
- Form pockets for the tension rods on one end of each panel, starting with a quarter-inch fold for a clean edge, then fold again, approximately one inch. Press and pin.
- Sew the pockets.
- Next is the only fussy part: figuring out the right length for the second pocket. I knew the four upper panels needed to be 24-1/2″ and the lower ones 27-1/2″. I folded, and measured carefully before pressing, pinning, and sewing.
Once all of the panels were sewn, it was time to slip them on the tension rods and into the shutters. How cool that the copper rods coordinate so well with the fabric!
Uh-oh. Time for the embarrassing photo. But I need it to show you how the panels fit into the shutters, so try really hard to ignore the fact that I never painted the back side of the shutters.
Only two of the panels were a little tight. But my dad made these shutters long ago, so the spaces for the little rods are no more precise than the lengths of the new inserts. I just tried the tight ones in different openings and they all fit without needing any of the pockets to be ripped out and re-sewn.
Once all eight panels were in, I noticed a happy accident: Shadows of those cool ribbons I love show through in daylight, creating a whole new look.
It’s like getting two looks from one project.
In a few years, once the sun has done its damage, I wonder what kind of patterns those ribbons on the back will have created.
What d-i-y projects have you done lately?
As soon as I knew my cousin Dano’s due date was July 4th, I started looking for baby items I could knit. On Christmas, I overheard Dano’s mom mention something about a soft neutral gray pallet for the nursery instead of typical baby colors.
On Pinterest I spotted a gray baby blanket with a row of white sheep, but that wasn’t a knitting pattern, it was a finished item ready for purchase. So I searched Ravelry for “sheep baby blankets” and found several options. Of course the one I liked the most—”Sheep Dreams”—was out of print.
It was originally published in a book called Knit Baby Blankets! and I was able to track down a copy of that book on Amazon.com.
As soon as the book arrived, I ordered several skeins of Cascade Yarns Sateen Worsted—a soft, light, worsted-weight yarn I thought would be better for summer than wool—in Gunmetal Gray for the body of the blanket. Because I was substituting yarns, I bought extra skeins in case it wasn’t enough. (That turned out to be a wise move because I believe the color was discontinued.) I also bought a skein of the fluffy, chenille-like Brown Sheep Berrocco Plush in Cream, and a skein of Sateen Worsted in Black for the details, but it didn’t show up well enough against the Plush, so I used a slightly heavier weight black yarn from my stash.
I was so excited to finally cast on. The textured border was really interesting to do. It’s called a ribbed stitch, but it’s more than that. You double the number of stitches of one row by knitting in the front and back of each stitch, then reduce it back to the original number of stitches by knitting two together then purling two together and repeating that across the next row. The process results in a thicker border.
Then the real challenge began.
The pattern was challenging enough to be interesting, but it also contained a lot of errors. Luckily the structure is pretty logical and there were several photos to reference, so I could see where the problems were and how to fix them—like when the pattern said to continue the Double Bind Stitch from border to border I could see that would interfere with the Checker Board Stitch in the center field.
Before long it was time to start putting the sheep in their pens.
The sheep are done with a Duplicate Stitch—sort of like embroidering new stitches directly on top of existing stitches. Centering them was a bit fussy. You have to count stitches from the sides, top, and bottom to find the starting points, but the charts—one with a sheep facing left, the other right—were very clear.
Yes, I know you’re supposed to work the Duplicate Stitch bottom-to-top, right-to-left, but for me it was easier to start with the right foot and work up, and then to the right before working to the left because the Plush is so fluffy it hid the stitches I needed to work on.
Close-ups of a left-facing sheep and a right-facing sheep.
Hoping the process would get easier with each sheep, I opted to do one corner, then the opposite corner, one side, then the opposite side so you wouldn’t be able to see if my abilities improved with each sheep. (They didn’t. For some reason the final two took the longest to do.)
Initially I was frustrated if I saw gray come through, or if stitches weren’t even or looked misaligned. But once six or eight were completed I realized those little inconsistencies give each sheep its own personality.
Funny how those sheep kept multiplying…
Several of the Sheep Dreams projects on Ravelry didn’t have all 14 sheep. Now I understand why some people stopped short. Each one took me about an hour to complete! Once the final sheep was in its pen and all of the ends were woven in, the only thing left to do was to block the blanket to size. The Plush yarn creates a subtle 3-D effect, which in turn slightly distorts the grid pattern of the blanket, so blocking is a must.
A different perspective of the sheep:
I loved the final result so much I found a pattern for a similar baby hat and made that, too!
I hope the little baby-to-be will have plenty of sweet dreams under this blanket.
Although I haven’t posted in a long time, I assure you I’ve been steadily chiseling away at my yarn stash. But it’s slow going. One of the first things I did was start filling a big bag with yarn earmarked for a garage sale, on the off chance anyone I know decides to have a sale this year.
In February I finished a pair of socks for my brother-in-law, who immediately put them to good use.
Clearly, I need to invest in a set of sock forms to block any future socks I make:
At roughly the same time, a friend said she was about to buy yarn to make baby hats for a local hospital. I told her to stop over before buying yarn, since I had plenty of yarn in baby-friendly fibers and colors she could have. That got rid of another grocery bag or so of yarn.
Not long after that a neighbor, who was clearing out her father’s home so he can sell it, brought over three large trash bags full of yarn that had been her mom’s. I had no intention of keeping any of it, and I’m happy to report I didn’t keep a single skein. I sorted out the good from bad, and thankfully the same baby-hat-making friend was able to take it all. The other day she told me she’d already made 40 hats.
Before I can start working on any projects to wheedle down my yarn stash I needed to cast on a special top-secret project that required soft new yarn. All I can reveal right now is what the project looked like after the first few rows.
It’s been a fun knit, but the project has been made slightly more challenging due to a poorly-written pattern. Luckily, it was easy to spot most of the pattern errors as I went along. This is a gift, and I’m not quite done yet, so it will be a few weeks before I can reveal the finished product. Because I substituted a different type of yarn, I bought a few extra skeins to ensure I had enough—and I already have plans for some of that spare yarn.
Then last weekend my sister bought a nice classic Granny Square afghan for six dollars. I pointed out an obvious hole and she said, “You can fix that right?”
We brought it home and promptly found several more holes starting to form. (Instead of weaving in the ends with each color change, it seems the original crocheter knotted the yarns and snipped the ends as close to the knots as possible, and the knots are starting to come loose.) I hauled out a couple bags of scrap yarn, knowing I had a bit of lavender yarn that would closely match to one spot, then realized it was with the yarn I’d given to my friend.
At one point, I sent my sister into the yarn room to get some gold yarn, and told her exactly where it was. I hadn’t even dragged all of the yarn out, but when my sister saw what was out she said, “You have a LOT of yarn.”
Good thing, too, or the mends on her new afghan would be really obvious.
Hey, you never know when you might have a crafting emergency!
As some of you know, my family really likes making our own Christmas wreaths. This year was no exception. I think six or seven wreaths were made during our annual Thanksgiving Family Retreat and Wreath-making Extravaganza.
In prior years, we’ve roamed our cousins’ property cutting boughs from a wide variety of pine and fir trees. This year we used the scraggly lower branches of a couple freshly cut balsam fir Christmas trees and some showier white pine for accents.
For some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to go with a white and gold color scheme for my wreath:
My bow is a little small, but that’s what you get for buying a new, unmarked roll of wired ribbon at Goodwill. I still like it, but I’ll probably keep adjusting the bow all season.
Once I get my gold Christmas lights up outside, it should look even better. This may be my favorite wreath so far.
Making wreaths is one of my favorite family traditions. What are your favorite creative holiday traditions?
Puppies can be obsessive. Sadie is no exception. One of her favorite things to do is “lose” toys under the furniture. Even better? Hiding them in the torn underlining of upholstered furniture.
The good news is it’s easy to replace the thin-but-durable fabric under chairs and sofas. The hard part—for me, anyway—was figuring out what the fabric was called. When I first got the idea to replace it, I wandered around a fabric store hoping to see it so I wouldn’t have to ask where it was. I could see myself saying, “You know, that black fabric that goes under chairs. Usually stapled in. Keeps the dust under control. Sometimes it’s gray. Maybe even white. It’s fabric, but not exactly fabric-fabric.”
I decided to do an internet search for it at home so I could enter all of the possible word combinations without having a store employee laughing at my ignorance.
Turns out the stuff falls under the category of utility fabric, and is simply called upholstery underlining.
It’s cheap, too. I think the stuff I bought was about two dollars per yard.
I knew I had to recover the underside of at least one chair and one section of the sofa, so I bought a few yards.
Forgive me for forgetting to take a before photo, but here’s what the bottom of Sadie’s favorite chair looked like after I’d torn off 95% of the old lining (there was a separate piece toward the back of the chair that was intact, so I left that) and stapled on new upholstery underlining.
I folded the edges under for a cleaner line, and did my best to fit it under and around the front legs of the chair. It’s not as taut as I would have liked—you can see it hangs down a little on the left—but not enough to make me pull the staples and re-do it.
This is what it looks like from Sadie’s point-of-view:
When the underlining was torn, I cringed every time I had to reach under the chair—and often into the torn underlining—to retrieve Sadie’s toys (which seriously, is about three times per day with this chair alone). Now I can see where the toy is, grab it, and marvel at my handiwork all at the same time.
Aunt Jean and Uncle Gale re-upholstered this chair for my dad back in the mid-80s, if I recall, and it still looks sharp. This has always been the most-used chair in the house, but it’s in far better shape than the sofa, which was re-upholstered at the same time.
Dad’s fabric choice for the sofa didn’t prove nearly as durable, so I always have a slip cover or throws on that. That needs to be totally re-upholstered, but that’s way out of my budget. Replacing the torn underlining of the sofa will be my next furniture-related project–and I’ll make sure to get a before photo.
Remember when I went crazy and made all that t-shirt yarn—aka “tarn“— last summer?
This weekend I turned several balls of tarn into this funky, textured bathmat:
The colors aren’t quite true, since this in an interior bathroom lit only by two wall sconces with “warm” LED bulbs. (The tile and tub are actually white.) But this is scrap art, made from several random old t-shirts, so it’s not like the colors actually matter. Your own mat will vary depending on the colors of any old t-shirts you have on hand.
You can knit or crochet tarn, but the knitted swatches I made last year all curled under on the edges. Since I wanted my finished product to lie flat, I broke out my massive crochet hook (the size isn’t even marked, but it’s roughly 1/2″ in diameter) and chained 26 so I’d wind up with 25 stitches per row. Next time, maybe 30 stitches.
I also wanted my mat to have some texture, so instead of working the mat in single crochet, I decided to crochet in the back loops only. That’s as simple as it sounds.
Now that you’ve seen how I worked the rows, let’s jump back to where I decided to change colors. I joined new colors using the same technique succinctly demonstrated in this brief You Tube video I ran across. Initially I wanted to start new colors at the end of each row, creating true stripes. But it took several attempts to get the second color to start at the end of the first row, and by the time I switched to a third color I gave up and went with random lengths of tarn.
Knitting or crocheting with random colors can be tricky, since you still want the colors to be evenly distributed—unless you want a lopsided look—so instead of creating a giant ball of tarn scraps, I decided which color to add as I went along. I kept going until I ran out of tarn, but always planned to end with a row of the same color I started with. Here’s what I had after one evening of crocheting:
The best part of a project like this is you’re upcycling old t-shirts into something fun and practical—and you’ll still have the sleeves to use for dust rags.
You can make a rug or bathmat any shape or size you want, as long as you have enough tarn.
What would you like to make from tarn?
While it’s still tricky to do any knitting with Puppy Sadie trying to get my double-pointed needles, I’m hoping the sound of the sewing machine will keep her at a safe distance from my next project: Throw pillow covers.
I haven’t sewn in a couple years because my beloved Old Reliable is no longer so reliable. The power cord has an unusual three-pronged connection where it meets the base of the machine, so of course the wires frayed and created a shock hazard. The folks at the local sewing machine repair shop said the manufacturer only used those particular cords for a few years, making it difficult to find replacements. The repairman hoped he could find one through one of their online resources for old sewing machine parts, but after a year passed without any cords turning up I decided it was time to turn Old Reliable into a very sturdy door stop.
My sister gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas, and a few days later we spotted some great remnant fabrics. Since we both have puppies who love tearing up throw pillows, we knew one day the fabric would be perfect for new throw pillows.
Years ago I bought some gold fabric to make a duvet cover, but bought a comforter instead. I plan to turn that into a new and much-needed slip cover for the sofa (you’ll understand the “much-needed” part when you see the photo below). I loved seeing how well it picks up the gold tones in the geometric pattern in one of the new fabrics. Some of the silky cloth on the top of the pile may also be used to replace the shutter inserts in one of the bedrooms.
I may have gone overboard buying pillow forms when my favorite fabric store in town had a going-out-of-business sale. In total I now have four 27-inch, two 18-inch, one 14-inch, one 12×16-inch, and two 12-inch forms. My sister wanted several of the largest pillows, but we’ll figure out how to divvy them up once we see how far our fabrics will go.
I’ll have to wash and press most of the fabrics before I sew a stitch. Why? Because I plan to make removable, washable pillow covers. If the fabric shrinks, the covers will still fit the pillow forms. The only one escaping the laundry? Lisa’s grayish-blue velvet.
Of course, before any pillow-making commences, I’ll need to learn how to use the newfangled sewing machine.
I’m usually up for a creative project, so when a friend asked if I’d help her make something for her dad’s birthday, I asked “When?”
Julie’s dad is a big Milwaukee Brewer’s fan, so she bought three yards of official Brewer’s fleece to make a fleece throw. After deciding she preferred a contrasting color for the back, she bought a couple yards of a solid neutral, too.
We finally carved out time in both of our busy work schedules and got crafty earlier this week.
First, we lined up both fabrics on her kitchen floor and cut them to roughly the same length, about seven feet; she wanted it extra long since her dad is tall. Next we smoothed the wrinkles out. Fleece-on-fleece doesn’t shift too much, but since the floor space was limited I knew we’d be moving this around a lot to make the cuts and tie all the knots, so I used a needle and thread to loosely baste a giant X to hold everything in place. (After we finished, we pulled the basting threads right out.)
Once we trimmed off the selvage edges we were ready to start cutting.
There are tons of patterns and instructions online for making tied fleece blankets. Measurements may vary, but it’s a pretty basic process. In our case, the directions said to start by cutting 8-inch squares out of each corner.
Next, it said to make 8-inch long cuts every two inches along all four edges of the fabric.
My rotary cutter and cutting mat with its handy-dandy measuring grid really sped up the process.
Once I had several strips cut, Julie started knotting. After I finished cutting I knotted, too. Instead of tying the two strips together like shoe laces, we held both layers together and tied it as if making a knot at the end of a single piece of thread.
We soon realized two things:
- Tension matters. Tight knots can cause the fabric to bunch up. But if knots are too loose, they might come untied. Aim for uniform tension.
- The pattern we were following wasn’t clear on what to do at the corners. Do you make two knots right on top of each other? Or do you tie the abutting knots together? It’s a subjective decision, so just make sure you use the same process for all four corners.
I wasn’t watching the clock, but I’m pretty sure it took the two of us less than three hours to make the extra-long blanket. Neither of us had made one of these before, but I imagine the work goes faster with each one you make.
Julie (who’s standing somewhere behind the blanket in the photo below) said she and her husband will go over the blanket to make sure all knots are tied with a similar tension before giving it to her dad this weekend. I hope he likes it!