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Summer Slump

Ah, summer. My least-favorite season. (Sorry, summer lovers, but sweating while standing still is not my idea of fun.)

My desire to knit and crochet anything more than cotton dishcloths is virtually non-existant in hot weather. And remember the knitting machine a friend gave me? I still haven’t read the books that came with it. One detail I gleaned from a quick glance at the books is that the knitting machine needs to be clamped to a strong table.

The only option here would be the heavy-duty formica-topped drop-leaf table Grandma bought when she moved from her house to an apartment. But that’s where the sewing machine is currently set up for making throw pillow covers for my sister. I’ve even left the ironing board up since the loud squeak it makes each time it’s set up or taken down freaks out Doggie Sadie.

Perspectives can be deceiving. This pillow is a whopping 27″ x 27″.

The sad part? I’ve only made two pillows so far. The first cover I made was for a huge 27″ pillow form. It was very frustrating because my sewing machine kept jamming. I thought I’d loaded the bobbin wrong. Nope. The machine was threaded properly, too. Then I realized the thread was too thick for the needle. I switched to a standard weight thread and all was well.

My sister bought two large pieces of that particular remnant, so I had more than enough to make a removable cover: a square front, and two rectangular pieces that overlap a few inches in the back.

This pillow is 12″ x 18″.

The second pillow is striped, and I wanted the stripes to run horizontally. While I had enough fabric to make it removable, I knew the reverse side would look really bad if I couldn’t align the stripes perfectly….so this cover isn’t removable.

The pillow form is machine washable, so if my sister washes the entire thing and the fabric shrinks or looks wrinkled, I can always make another cover.

A big reason I consider sewing a summer project: The only air conditioner in the house is in the dining room. (It’s an addition. The original house has large, beautiful casement windows that open like doors, but the addition has ugly canopy windows, so I had a canopy window removed and a window unit built in. And yes, I saved the old window in case anyone ever wants to put it back in.)

Once I finish some more pillows I’ll put the sewing machine away and start reading the knitting machine books. Then I’ll try setting up the knitting machine. From what I’ve learned so far, it will probably need a sponge bar, and I’ll also have to see what types of yarn I can use in it.

In the meantime, a friend who makes hats for the homeless gave me a grocery bag full of brand new cotton yarn. She couldn’t use the cotton yarn for winter hats, but knew I like working with cotton yarn in the summer.

In the last week I knitted eight classic dishcloths (with another already on the needles) and crocheted several Paddlewheel Hexagons for what I hope will one day be a summer bedspread.

All that and I’ve barely made a dent in the new yarn supply.

My siblings both got creative this summer too. My brother did a woodworking project,

and my sister did an art project. I’ve asked if they’d do guest posts about their projects, and neither said no. But it will probably boil down to if either of them remembered to take photos while making their projects.

What summer crafts have you been working on? 

Guest Post: How to Make a Cheap & Easy Custom Pen Holder

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.

No luck.

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
  • Scissors

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.

 

Word Play

I love cooking, but never wanted to be a chef or baker because having to cook isn’t the same as wanting to cook.

As a full-time writer, I keep things interesting by covering different subjects. Learning something new with each project prevents me from getting bored. But over time, spending 40+ hours per week at the keyboard writing for fun became a foreign concept.

Until recently.

About a year ago, one of my best friends entered the first ever Rockford New Play Festival, and her play was one of the short plays chosen to be read by actors. Watching her play, and the others, read aloud before an overflowing crowd really inspired me – on multiple levels.

  • The plays were really good. The actors reading them were good, too. And the audience was enthusiastic. I was inspired as a writer.
  • It was impressive that a new and relatively unknown playwriting event in Rockford could draw such a large and diverse audience. I was inspired by the local arts community.
  • I was inspired that a relatively small group of people pulled it off.

Upon hearing entries were being accepted for the second annual Rockford New Play Festival, I thought it would be fun to enter, even if playwriting isn’t my forte. Encouraged by the friend who participated last year, I decided to give it a try and soon a rough idea that had been percolating in my brain for a while became a 10-minute play, The Grove.

I submitted it in May and forgot about it. But the creative writing bug had bitten again. Suddenly I wanted to test myself with different types of writing.

When I read about a 24-hour short story competition, I registered right away and counted down the days until they assigned the length and a general theme (they encourage writers to stretch and play with the theme) I would never have thought to write about.

Guess what? The contest’s prompts spurred my creativity and the ideas poured out.

In a weird way, having a tight deadline helped focus my efforts. By removing the luxury of obsessing over every comma, the 24-hour deadline made the writing process more visceral and less precious. I loved every minute of it!

Entering these contests was something I did for fun, and to stretch my creative writing muscles. The winners of the 24-hour Short Story contest won’t be announced for a few weeks yet, and I don’t hope to be among them.

Then again, I didn’t expect The Grove would be one of six 10-minute plays — out of 520 entries from across the country — selected to be read at the second annual Rockford New Play Festival. But it was.

[Date, time and other details for the event can be found here: 2015 RNPF.]

Accepting a creative challenge is never a mistake, but letting one slip past you is.

What creative challenges have you taken on lately, and what did you learn from them?

 

Want-To-Do Lists

With the season finale of Orphan Black airing tonight, it seems somehow appropriate to say there are some days – make that many days – I wish I had a clone.

The past month or so I’ve happily been very busy with work (including a rush article this week that went from pitch to final copy in seven hours, and the interviewee wasn’t available for the first three of those hours). During weeks like this what little free time I do have is typically spent catching up on not-so-fun stuff like cleaning – and yard work whenever the weather permits.

Ever notice how the busier you are the more craft/DIY projects you suddenly want to do?

It’s probably a form of escapism to picture ourselves working on creative endeavors. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to spend two hours focused on a fun project than toiling away at their day job?

Here are a few projects on my want-to-do list. Stay tuned to see if I actually get around to any of them:

  • Turn old pop cans into tags for my hostas and heirloom tomatoes
  • Take pile of old t-shirts and turn them into t-shirt yarn
  • Make something from said t-shirt yarn
  • Crochet more hexagons for the would-be bedspread while berating myself for choosing to make the pieces so small that I’ll hate piecing them together one day
  • Piece together these odd-sized bits I made as a kid when learning to knit, and turn them into the knitted version of a crazy quilt
The evolution of my knitting

The evolution of my knitting

I can’t be the only person who dreams up new project ideas at the opportune times. So what’s on your Want-To-Do List?

Micro-budget Filmmaking

Talk about being creative. Not only does my super-talented brother-in-law Daniel Nearing write and direct indie films, he manages to produce them on micro-budgets. (And his idea of a micro-budget is a fraction of what Hollywood considers a micro-budget.)

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The poster (designed by my sister) for Dan’s latest film, Hogtown.

When I told the editor of the newly revamped Creative Screenwriting how Dan’s film Chicago Heights (later re-named Last Soul on a Summer Night) was named as one of the late Roger Ebert’s top art films of 2010, he asked me to write an article on Dan’s writing process and another on how he actually gets his films made. The first article was just published and you can read it here.

It includes a link to a YouTube video about the making of the film, so be sure to watch that, too!

Handmade Doll Beds

I’ve mentioned before how creative and talented my relatives are, but sometimes they really out-do themselves. My cousin, Mark (the one with the great old pool table and who built my new porch railings) made the coolest gift for my 8-year old niece, and I asked him to write a guest post about what’s got to be the girliest woodworking project he’s ever done. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog, too: http://www.blackbearjournal.blogspot.com/

THE DOLL BED MADE FOR TWO

by Mark Hendrickson

I believe it may have been last Thanksgiving that my God daughter Reese approached me, with her dad, and asked if I might be able to build her a doll bed sometime. With Christmas just a few weeks away, it seemed like the natural thing to do.

The project began with Reese providing me with the height of one of her dolls so I knew how long to make the bed. She actually has two special dolls — Kit and Ruthie — so it was not to be a single bed but a bunk-style doll bed.

photo 3

What little girl wouldn’t love to have this for her American Girl dolls?

As I planned the project, I thought that the bed should be convertible. That is, the beds could be stacked in typical bunk-bed fashion, or, one half could be lifted from the other and they could be placed side by side.

I looked online to get a few ideas and then drew plans for the corner posts, head- and footboards, bed frames and the simple cleats glued to each post to enable the top bed to set securely on the bottom. When stacked, the beds are 19″ high, 23″ long and 16.5″ wide.

photo 2

Here you can see how the beds stack – and the adorable details Mary added that match the bedding beneath the comforters.

The beds are made of solid pine. The typical pine you buy is ¾” thick, much too bulky for a doll bed. So one of the first steps was to plane down these boards to ½” thickness which seemed to be a better size. I cut and assembled them and then completed the purple painting of all surfaces. [Paula’s note: A master of understatement, Mark makes the process sound a lot simpler than it was!]

In addition, my wife Mary and I enjoy projects where we can combine our skills: mine in the furniture-making arena and hers in the artistic touches once the construction and painting is completed. Mary then stepped in and added the wonderful painted highlights that you can see in the images.

I think Reese loves the bunk beds as much, if not more, than Kit and Ruthie!

I think Reese loves the bunk beds as much, if not more, than Kit and Ruthie!

Paula’s note: As cool as the beds look in photos, they’re even more impressive up close. On Christmas we were all inspecting the work and every little detail Mark & Mary put into making Reese one of the best gifts she’ll ever receive.

Creative response to miserable publicity

A few weeks ago, Forbes named Rockford, Illinois the 3rd Most Miserable City in the United States. Chicago came in a close 4th.

Some very creative local marketing pros quickly responded. Within days they turned the unflattering notoriety into a tourism campaign promoting many things Forbes‘ formula didn’t take into consideration:

The campaign has sparked a lot of local discussions. Naysayers say it’s a shallow attempt to gloss over the very real problems Rockford faces. Area cheerleaders argue that it showcases the area’s best features.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Like many cities, Rockford was hard hit by the Recession. Poverty is high, crime is worse than ever, and property taxes have gone up as property values have gone down. Yet all of those negatives don’t mean there aren’t good things, too. To me, this is an ad campaign designed to highlight positive things that actually exist in a city still struggling with many serious issues.

I also see it as a really creative response to harsh criticism. What are some memorable ways you’ve seen people, organizations or cities deal with negative press?

Some holiday obsessions are hereditary

My family had an elf on the shelf long before the Elf on the Shelf book was first published.

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Since the elves came before the book, it means the story about them has to be true, right? Christmas magic is real.

Also real? Christmas obsessions.

My brother and I both veer perilously close to the “obsessive” side of Christmas, but our sister isn’t quite as extreme as either of us. (That said,  you know it’s the holiday season when Lisa starts “glinging” Christmas tunes. Glinging is ideal if you can’t remember the lyrics – just sing “gling.” Repeatedly.) But it’s really not our fault. It’s hereditary. And according to family stories from Grandma Bussey, we can trace it back to our grandfather.

Grandpa Bussey died way before any of us were born, but left a wonderful legacy. I have tons of Grandma and Grandpa’s old ornaments on my tree, even if you can’t see them all here:

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Grandma loved bells, and pretty much every bell on my tree used to be on hers.

In the basement I have a heavy, old, battered tree stand. It only holds about a cup of water (that’s before the tree is added), so it’s not exactly practical. Grandma said she hit the roof the year Grandpa bought that stand – which at the time had poinsettia lights on its decorative base. It was expensive even by today’s standards. One day I’d love to see it restored, but poinsettia bulbs aren’t easy to find.

Grandpa Bussey didn’t just buy things, he made things too. I’m told he made this wooden Santa that’s so cool I leave him standing in the stairwell year round. It makes me smile to see Santa waving at me when I go up or down the steps.

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He’s a little hard to see by the tree, so here he is in broad daylight….

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And check out the log fence Grandpa made for beneath the tree (hey – one of Grandma’s bells got in the shot):

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Grandma said Grandpa collected all of those branches on their property (which she referred to as a “farmette”), cut them to size and assembled the fence. It even folds up for easy storage. The fence is made of ten 12″ sections that are hinged and can be positioned however you like. It still has faint remnants of “snow” on the top of each rail, too.

I never got to meet my Grandpa, but his love of Christmas lives on through us – and the cool things he made.

What are some of your family’s special holiday keepsakes or traditions?

Give some personal flare

Most of us are on pretty tight budgets these days, which has more people than ever looking for inexpensive gift ideas. Instead of going cheap and buying someone another five-dollar fleece throw (as warm as they are, they are sort of impersonal), try putting your own skills to use.

Not everyone has the talent of my woodworking cousin, who has made things like table trays, mantel clocks and cutting boards all of us over the years, but everyone has at least one thing they’re good at.

Here are some other memorable gifts I’ve received in recent years:

  • Homemade Pumpkin Chili from another cousin, complete with the recipe. It was frozen, easily transportable, and so delicious that I’m looking forward to making it again very soon.
  • My niece and nephew’s framed artworks.
  • The cool yarn Christmas wreath my sister-in-law made me that I’ve been dying to put up this season.
  • Personalized ornaments.
  • Glass coasters (the ones you’d put photos in) with individual pastel drawings instead of photos, from my sister.
  • Handmade jewelry from another cousin.
  • The hat a non-knitting friend made for me on a knitting loom.
  • Framed scrapbook page with photo of my newborn nephew and me.
  • Kitchen task lights installed by (and from) my brother.
  • Framed felted piece made by my sister.

Still not sure you can make a great gift? Worried you won’t have time to make gifts? How about these ideas:

  • Duplicate a favorite photo – Copy the photo, pop it into a simple frame and give it to someone who can appreciate the memories. One year I copied photos of my paternal grandparents at their jobs — he was a train engineer, she was a telephone operator – and put them double frames for my sister, brother and cousin. (Perfect photos for a home office.) Another year I found an old photo booth strip of my sister and me as little kids, put it in a simple landscape frame that could be turned on end and gave it to her.
  • Make a favorite recipe – Cookies are great, but change it up like my cousin did with the pumpkin chili. That froze well, but unfrozen perishable foods can be “wrapped” in insulated lunch bags. Look for a large recipe you can split among several people. Spiced nuts, chai latte and peanut brittle are a few edible gifts I’ve enjoyed in years past.
  • Offer your time – If you’re good at DIY projects, offer your time and skill with things you’re good at. It might be painting a room, planting a garden, moving heavy furniture, shoveling snow – anything you think the recipient might like a little help with.
  • Print some coupons – A friend who doesn’t cook much loved my homemade veggie burgers, so I gave her a coupon to redeem at a later date. My sister loves  Fudgy Bonbons, but they’re best fresh, so when she visits her in-laws for Christmas, I usually give her a coupon to redeem for a fresh batch.
  • Make plans – My grandma was always hard to shop for – by age 90 there wasn’t much she didn’t already have. One year my aunt & uncle and dad decided to take her out to lunch on alternating months throughout the entire new year. Grandma always loved going out for lunch, so I’m sure she enjoyed that more than a more traditional gift.

I try to give some homemade or handmade gifts every year. Sometimes they might not quite hit the mark, but when they do it’s a great feeling, like hearing how much some folks look forward to my chocolate almond toffee each year, or arriving at my cousin’s house on Thanksgiving and seeing he’s wearing the socks I made him last Christmas.

Even better? When you start getting special requests for handmade items.

What are some fun homemade gifts you’ve given or received over the years? Why are they so special to you?

Pumpkin Obsession: Extreme Edition

In honor of the season, I thought it would be nice to revisit a popular post from the past:

 

My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

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