Archive for the 'handmade' Category

Pregaming for the Holidays: Cards

People say Thanksgiving isn’t respected as a holiday anymore- what with the inflatable penguins in the stores from September these days- but I think it’s what you make of it.  And I’m making my Thanksgiving a time to write Christmas cards, to practice my eating and sitting around, and to make  presents.

I’m not writing a gift guide this year, because I’ve done it the past two and all that still applies.  Plus, I’m planning on making many of the presents I give this year, and that won’t be helpful for folks who can’t knit.  (For those who can, mittens!)  My only recommendation this year is, if you’re going to buy anything, shop at small businesses.  Local, if you have the time.  Check out etsy.com, if you don’t have time to browse in person.  Shop handmade, shop sustainable products- but whatever you’re looking for, put your Christmas money into supporting the small businesses that create ideas and jobs and support families.  I know regular jobs do too, but it’s a rough economy out there right now, and if you want to keep innovative artists and growing companies around, then support them with your dollars.

For now, though, I’ve been looking for Christmas cards, and I’ve got some recommendations if you’re looking as well.  Ten Thousand Villages carries cards and stationery made in Fair Trade agreements, and often from recycled or quickly renewable materials.   You can buy them online, if you don’t have a local shopThe Spotted Sparrow uses FSC certified and recycled papers to make neat cards- there are a series done on old book pages.  Smockpaper and byvik ink make beautiful letterpress cards, and use recycled papers to print on.  Etsy has a great search function, so find any other kinds of cards you like at their Paper Goods section.

Or, grab a potato and make your own?  It’s still cool if you’re not five anymore, I promise.

‘Tis the Season

It’s already the end of November?  When did that happen?  I would feel lazy if I remembered October at all, really, but this comes as a surprise. So, here you are:

Giving in 2008

It’s a good year for solemn gift guides.  Glitz and extravagance seem tasteless beside rising foreclosures and hunger in the US, plus who has the money to spare these days anyway?  But all this crisis makes it a great year to focus on the purpose and meaning of gifts-another silver lining in the garbage bag containing the international economy.  Basically, making it about money and stuff this year is finally tacky!  Gauche!  Passe! Sooo 2007!  Thoughtful is so In right now.

FIrst, the general approaches:

1.  How you buy it is as important as what you buy.  Start your shopping at thrift and consignment stores, handmade fairs or websites, and fair trade shops.   Etsy is an incredible handmade resource for items beautiful and practical- browse it, support small businesses, and I bet you’ll find something suited for every taste, from bizzaro to cutsy to classic.  You know the arguments for buying fair trade and used already.

2. Do you have friends with skills?  Commission them (the earlier the better) to make your relatives pottery or jewelry or scarves or whatever their specialty is.  Do you have skills?  Give your dad a year of cheerful IT help.

3.  Give time and attention, even if you don’t have giftable skills (or skills you want to gift…).  A year of monthly dinners together.  A year of regular phone calls to relatives far away (ones that actually care to hear from you, for sure).

4.  Do they already have everything?  Give to a charity they (and you) support in their name.  CharityNavigator.org sells gift cards that recipients can give to a charity of their choice on the site (they can research the efficiency and work of the charity at the same site, too).

5. Are you one of those aunts who always give the nieces scented candles/bodywash/bath froofy-do?  I am not here to judge you, but make the candles beeswax or soy wax and the bath gunk biodegradable, if you must continue in this vein.

Ahh.  Enough generalities, now specifically awesome gifts:

1.  Fair Trade Piggy Banks! Saving is cool again.  From Ten Thousand Villages, piggys and elephants and cats. From One World Projects, various pigs and owls. You can search for more online also, but check the creds of the Fair Trade projects you buy from.  In the same vein, with less adorableness, Elders: your young’uns may not understand what a 401K is if you start them one this year, but they’ll thank you with genuine feeling later.

2.  Coffee.  Specifically, coffee from Mesa de Los Santos, a Colombian farm that helped pioneer organic, shade grown, fairly traded coffee.  They’ve grown organic for over 100 years, built a school for their worker’s kids, and reforested their fields, earning a Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian, USDA Organic certification, and a BioLatina badge.  There’s a personal connection, too: my GF is from a branch of the family that’s owned the farm for four generations.  As to the taste, I do not actually drink coffee- but I still enjoy this stuff black.  Still, don’t take my word for it:  reviews (and online ordering forms) are here and here and here.

3.  Gift certificates to local, organic restaurants.  Self-explanatory, no?  Give the gift of a night far away from your loved ones.

4. Potted plants or Garden Tools/Seeds/Composters.  Scale this one to the gardening level of the giftee.  Apartment-dweller or college kid?  Potted plant(s) (or tree!) with very specific instructions.  Do they have a few flower beds?  Vegetable seeds and maybe some books on growing your own food.  Do they always bring up how they grow their own tomatoes?  Up their ante with a compost bin and a thoughtful little charcoal-filtered kitchen bucket for food scraps.

5. Classes.  Vouchers or promises for fencing lessons, sewing classes, cooking classes, metalworking lessons, language tutoring, and basically any other skill you can think of are useful, and not just for delighting your curious and adventurous loved ones.  Sign them up alone or do it with them, for some quality time.  Added benefits: surely a trained cook will make you meals in gratitude?  Worth a shot (fencing lessons are less useful for this reciprocity principle).

Anyway, now you know what my family’s getting for Christmas.  I wish you a stressless holiday full of delicious smells and guilt-free giving.

PS. If none of this does it for you, check out these ideas from CNN/Oprah and HuffPo.

Tracking Spending

I finally got a day planner to go back to school, and now I’m using it to write down what I spend every day, and what I spend it on.  According to the internet, this is how one should begin to develop a monthly budget.  CNN Money has a series of articles on personal finance basics, and if you ignore the “stop buying expensive coffee” pap, they’re not so bad.  Since I do my banking online and paying with a debit card, I also have a record of monthly spending that I can divide up by pertinent category (fun, food, bills, totally unnecessary, gifts).

But really I just wanted to show you my day planner.  Isn’t it great?  I got it from oh pangaea books at etsy, and life is a lot simpler now- all those lists I make in my head then forget?  Now I write them down.  lmoss, the bookmaker at oh pangaea, used a pretty sweet shiny binding paper too- not sure if you can see it shine in the photo- but it’s lovely.

Anyway.  Simple pleasures.

You can also see the chair I’m reupholstering in the background there.  Photos of all that and a discussion of craigslist fiascos later.

My Laptop Case, Begun

As soon as I finished posting about the laptop cases I was coveting the other day, I had a vision of exactly the kind o laptop bag I’d like to make for myself.  I sketched out a design with a padded internal section, various extra pockets, and a pair of shoulder straps that each encircle the pouch and must be clipped closed, in order to complete the strap and close the pouch flap.

Now, I am not a great seamstress.  I don’t follow patterns well, and I know very little about the intricacies of sewing.  I only figured out how to automatically wind my bobbins Friday- before, I thought I was just doomed to poorly tensioned seams.  But this weekend, I had time, good bobbins, a vision, and a hearty confidence in my ability to reduce a theoretical bag structure to straight lines.  Finally put that engineering degree to work and all.  Incidentally, that’s always the mindset before I tackle a freehand sewing projects, and most of them haven’t turned out so well.

Laptop case internal structure

I made the case out of a gray denim material left over from another project I’ve been working on, with a double layer of fleece to pad the laptop compartment.  It’s lined with a portion of a very unfortunate-looking velvet skirt that I thrifted, and some shiny white fabric from a remnant bag I was given lined the other compartment, and made a few pockets.  I made a second case out the grey denim to put the first, rough case in, to both conceal the seams easily and give it more strength.  Voila!

Case with Lining

I’m rethinking the strap ideas, but I need to add those, bunches more pockets, and dig up some sort of something from my fabric pile to use as a bias tape to even out the rough edges.

I’ve signed up for a for-real sewing class this weekend, so ideally that will lend some polish to my enthusiasm.  Photos will ensue, if I like how it turns out.

More photos of the construction are here.

Window Shopping

My laptop has been sitting around, naked and unprotected from the dangers of her surroundings.  Alone most of the day, completely exposed to the ravages of…well, wayward photons.  I guess.   You see, I’m trying to rationalize my desire to buy an awesome laptop case.  I do need one.  One day, I’d like to be able to leave the house with her.

I’m hoping that my need to protect my investment justifies the amount of time I spent looking for laptop cases today.  Recycled material, fair trade, sustainable fibers, and proper laptop padding are apparently all quite compatible.  I have at least four favorites.  There’s a vertical bag made from recycled mosquito netting at Peaceful Valley, in green and red.  It’s big enough for a 15.4 laptop, but it doesn’t say how the laptop pocket is padded.  But hey, if it’s not padded, maybe I could put it in this slim red leather case with fake purple fur lining from bronwenhandcrafted, at etsy.  Man, with that wrapping, I could stick her in anything and she’d be safe! Or at least fabulous.

But if it’s not a red leather and purple fur day, I could use this inexpensive, recycled plastic bag from Verdant Computing.  It comes in black, sky blue and orangish, and it looks way useful and unassuming.  Like, if useful and unassuming is your thing.  And one I keep going back to is this reclaimed plastic case that’s made from fused waste materials in India, and fairly traded.  The company that makes them, Conserve, has some really gorgeous bags, but the laptop cases come in less exciting color combinations right now.

As much as I liked them all, I don’t like any of them enough to commit right now.  And I’m hoping that, after this weekend, it won’t matter.  I have the sewing machine all set up, and some extra strong canvas and soft fleece, so I could make my own, and that’d be pretty awesome!  Or I could knit a case for it with some of my yarn stash.  Or maybe I should stop looking through etsy and getting ideas about what can be done with my extra fabric and yarn.  But I’m envisioning a canvas case with two shoulder straps and a carrying handle, a medium-sized top flap, an internal divider…

I need a case for real though, so if inspiration hasn’t made my hands swift and seams tight this weekend, I need to buckle down and pick something.  I’m leaning to the mosquito net thing right now.

Hippie Hamlet sums it up:  To buy, or DIY?

Photo Albums: Coral Reefs

For all the pictures I post here, I have many more I’d like to share- so here we go. First up, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef display at the World Financial Center. I got to see it over the weekend. It was tucked beside a staircase, and I wish the WFC people had at least finished painting the drywall before they put it on display. Maybe a decent coat of blue paint to get us in the mood? But the crochet/coral forms were really cool, and that’s what I was there for. Some of them were made of yarn, and some of trash- plastic bags, magnetic tape, fancy pop-tab additions, jelly fish with bubble wrap tentacles, and so on.  Also, I get why they were behind glass to discourage this particular urge, but some of them looked so soft and nice to touch, or play with…

Next time: obsessive documentation of my sprouts growing.

crochet reef

PS:  Back story on the HCCF here.

Progress: By Hand

I started March’s goal with three listed projects. I only finished two things, and I started a bunch more.

Original:knitting

1) Scarf, knit. Progressed ~6 inches, but have succeeded in carrying it around with me, so I’m getting more done these days.

2) Quilt, sewn. No real progress, though I looked up quilt making, and found a new stack of squares.

3) Weighted Companion Cube, wood and fabric. Bought all the fabric, which is now buried under other items in the Gentleman Friend’s apartment.

Added:

4) Flower, sewn. Finished!

5) Nuno-zoris, woven. I’ve marked a stack of teeshirts for dismantling. I’ve also begun debating whether to use a cord base, or try something less bulky, like another teeshirt strip for a base.

6) White Dress, alteration. I’m using the unnecessary waist ties to replace the uncomfortable shoulder straps. I’ve chopped off the straps and the ties, and now I just need to fit it and sew it back on.

7) Lampshades, watercolor. Got some lampshades for practicing from my gentleman friend’s lovely mother.painted plate

8 ) Plate, painted. I had a ratty old plate- glass with a shiny paint showing through- but the paint was chipping. I fixed it up with a dark green underlay. I hope it chips more, or maybe I should chip it more, because I wish the chipped pattern looked cooler. Plus, if it chipped more, I could add a third color. But for now, finished!

Ok, so I started more projects than I had, finished two projects I hadn’t started, and mostly just gathered supplies. But I have been finding more ways to work making things into my day, and it’s been very satisfying to plan out how to remake and refurbish my stuff so it works better. All in all, relaxing and refreshing, and woo.

So, April! I had this one planned out already, and it’s partially started. In April, I’m gardening. Since forever, my parents have gardened, and I tried deck vegetables last year. This year, though, I have a bright, sunny deck, with areas of partial shade, a composter, and a plan. Well, not really a plan, but I have a hydrangea, a kalanchoe, and a rosemary bush somewhere about. I killed a couple of houseplants this winter, and  I’ve got the remnants of the pots from last year’s latent peppers, so I have a few empty planter spaces. Plus, my mother informs me that my father, who shows his love through vegetables, has already got a few tomato plants started for me. She’s packing up some herbs, and there were strong hints at a geranium. I am told that geraniums are difficult to kill. We’ll see!

I want to plant some vegetables and flowers in my garden, with a view to both edible harvests and beauty. I need a bigger planter for the hydrangea, so that I can grow that to a viable bush. I’ll also need to get the composter going again. Biking Person was kind enough to give me two spaghetti jars of dirt, so I can get the cultures started, as soon as I find an outdoor plug for the unit. Because it should probably stay outdoors, to isolate it from the housemates, just in case of smells. I’ll also need to build it a tiny hut, since we have a tiny, curious dog (Ruby), and its lid doesn’t latch shut.

Plenty to do, and I’m psyched by the prospect of veggies and hydrangeas (my favorite flowers) and creating things from dirt, sun, and water all summer! And possibly fall. It is DC, after all, the summer lasts. I am slightly nervous, given my tendency to kill plants, about how this will work, so I’ll probably be calling my mother for advice pretty often. I wish there was some sort of gardening reference for total deck garden beginners. Actually, there probably is. Hm.


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