Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vacay - finally!

Oh man, you guys, I have been looking forward to this day for a long time. I'm not rushing around trying to get my coffee into the travel mug and stuff my feet into my boots. Nope, I'm here at home, in my jammies, just about to cuddle up with a ceramic mug full of coffee while I watch House of Cards and eat breakfast. Why? It's time for vacation! Yay!

Several months ago, I met up with Ginny, Daisy, Clover and Magnolia and we started making a plan. This school year, each of us will have our 30th birthday. (Everyone else's has already come and gone - mine isn't until April.) We decided to mark the occasion by taking a trip. Yay! You might be thinking "all-inclusive in Mexico, right?" Yeah, no. When the realities about money, and about taking vacation days, or time away from life as a stay-at-home mom, set in, a trip across the country was quickly ruled out.
This afternoon, we are headed to Duluth! We were able to rent a house for the weekend! I'm pretty sure we never would've been able to rent this place during the high season - it's on Park Point, and it sounds like you can literally walk to Lake Superior from the yard. That's not going to be super helpful right now, since the very warmest temperature we're likely to see there is 38 degrees. (The following day, it's expected to fall below zero at night). The house has a fireplace, and hopefully it's well insulated, so we'll be cozy! I know it won't look anything like it did when I snapped this photo two summers ago, but hopefully it will be beautiful in a different way.

The last time I went on vacation was in July, 2012. I literally haven't been anywhere since. The destination then was also Duluth - which makes me smile. I'm excited that the day has come when I can take time off work for a break. And I can't wait to go hang out with my friends. I wish I could tell you that I've got some exciting stuff scheduled for the blog while I'm off to relax. Unfortunately, I don't. And I know that when we get back on Sunday, I'll be exhausted and I've got a strong hunch that feeling will stick with me all of next week. That's the mark of a good vacation, isn't it? So, just to be safe, I guess I'll say: See you in March!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ginny's Birthday Book

I posted last week about hosting Ginny's birthday party earlier this month. It was exciting, and it spawned some DIY. Woo hoo! I decided that we should make Ginny a book in honor of her 30th birthday. I asked the guests at the party to each make a page expressing their well-wishes for Ginny - I thought this would be particularly nice for her kids to do for their mom.

I picked up this 8x8 scrapbook with expansion pack at Michaels. I was hoping to find an 8x8 paper pad, so we'd have a nice variety of coordinating papers. I couldn't find one that was really the right style, but it worked out just fine. I picked up three packs of perfect 12x12 papers in Target's dollar spot. I then used a paper slicer to trim them down to size. It worked out great! I put the papers out with some interesting accompaniments for everyone to work on during the party.

Afterwards, I edited and printed a ton of photos.
I spent a couple of hours making a ton of pages - with these banner papers, with the pictures, and with other weird stuff.

I even found a birthday card, which I cut in half and made the last page of the scrapbook. The inside message says, "You sparkle from the inside out - Happy Birthday"

I also got the chance to bust out my new glue gun to add these mardi gras beads to the page. My control of the heated glue could use some work, but still - very excited!

I put the pages into the book and even got to make a decoration for the cover, which reads "Happy Birthday Ginny" (but substitutes her real name).

Scrapbooks that are so thick they'll only barely close are my very favorite!

 The banner page reads, "Happy Birthday Dear Ginny"...

 And here's the bead page, along with the pictures of Little Miss M playing with the beads!

We ate Dove Chocolates during the party and made fun of some of the fortunes, so I saved a few for posterity. And, after Ginny jokingly said, "I hope 30 sucks as much as you do" during the party, I knew it would have to be part of our memories of the evening!

When it was all said and done, I printed about 60 pictures. And I couldn't fit quite all of them into the 40 pages of the book! Easy peasy - I tucked them into this envelope and taped it to the inside of the back cover. I hope the book and the extra photos will help Ginny keep happy memories close at hand for a long time to come!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Christmas came late!

I've written a lot about Christmas - and now I'm going to write about it just a little more. On Monday of this week, out of the blue, I received Christmas gifts from two friends. And since I'm really excited about them, I just had to share.

At work, one of my officemates returned from maternity leave. And she brought me a Christmas gift - woo hoo!
 Maybe she thinks I smell bad... or maybe she thinks that I love things that smell really good. Check! (Also, sometimes my apartment does smell bad, mostly because its an apartment with no real ventilation system. Score!)

 She got me some wax cubes to go along with it - these are, of course, essential to the wax warmer. The "golden butterscotch pear" sounds a little weird, but it smells really good!

 Each of the boxes above contains 6 little cubes of wax. You can just break one off using your hands, so I did it. I wanted you guys to see! The lid of the warmer has a little rubber seal around it, so you can push and pull the top of the warmer off easily.

I was worried the lid wouldn't fit over the top, since I broke the cube off a little unevenly. But, it fit right on, and I flipped the switch. We're in business!

She told me she knows that turquoise is one of my favorite colors, so I just had to show you guys this. I think it looks like it has been here all along!

On Monday, I was very excited to come home and set up the wax warmer. I got a little delayed setting it up, though, because I discovered a package at my door when I got home! It was mailed from Bluebell, in Michigan, and I couldn't wait to look inside.

She sent these sweet notecards! (Handy for writing my after-Christmas thank you notes, right?)

The presents were wrapped in this super cute paper. Love!

She also sent this glue gun. Woo hoo! This picture might actually be larger than life size, but that's how excited I am about it. For a while, I've wanted a glue gun. I know, it might be hard to believe that I've not had a glue gun before this. I make crafts all the time, but I've never actually gone for it. I was actually at JoAnn's within the last week or two, looking to make the leap. Now, I'm all set!

Monday was awesome - Christmas came late! It was such a fun reminder of how blessed I am to have such great friends in my life. They know me SO well!!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Felted Tote

This post has been a LONG time coming. Seriously. About a year ago, shortly after I finished making the Get Well Soon Blanket, I decided I wanted to make and felt a knitted tote bag. I had seen this pattern several times, and I was definitely inspired by it. The pattern suggests that you construct the bag by knitting one long, straight piece and then folding it essentially in half - sewing up the side seams. I wasn't very excited by that approach. Sewing up seams is annoying. Plus, I knew there wouldn't be a "bottom" using this technique. I was going to end up with a bag shaped more like a baggie than like a paper bag. I knew this would also give me the chance to change the shape of the bag. Personally, I prefer totes that are taller than they are wide, in general. The pattern gives instructions to make a bag that has the reverse proportions. I sort of guessed at the width, and then just kept knitting until the length was more than the width. Easy!

I decided to do something a little bit different: I busted out the round knitting needle, which had been busy working on the Blanket, and knit the bag in a circle.
This worked out really well. I knew I'd have to stitch up the bottom still - boooooo - but I knew that would give me a chance to make a bit of a gusset, which would hopefully give it some shape.

This is the body of the bag - the knitting is done. Felting shrinks the size of an object, which is why the body of this tote bag is 26 inches long.

Oh yeah, and its 16 inches wide. On each side.

I turned the bag inside out just so you guys could get an idea of what the inside would look like. Changing colors when making stripes in knitting isn't very difficult, but it can leave a little bit of a mess behind, depending on the stitch pattern. Here, there's a bit of a mess, but its all on the inside of the bag. Score! After I took this photo, I had to "weave in" each of these strands of yarn. I busted out the yarn needle and sewed them into the knit stitches around as securely as I could. This step is often stressful in a knitting project, because there is always a worry that the strands will come out later. But, felting helps prevent that from happening, so I was less worried about making that step perfect here.

As I mentioned above, I was hoping the bag would wind up having the same basic shape as a paper bag, with a flat bottom. So, I used none other than a grocery bag when it was time to make gussets and stitch it up. The paper bag was less helpful than I'd hoped it would be in terms of holding the bag in shape. But, it was nice to have it right near by so that I could copy the shape.
I also had to knit and then sew on the handles. This was a pretty simple step, and once I finished that and had stitched up the bag, I had a product that was ready for felting - the last step!

And, because the picture above is without any reference points, I wanted to include a shot with the tape measure. Because this sucker is monstrous. From the top of the handle to the bottom of the stitched up base, it's 44 inches long. Why yes, that's right, it's 3 feet, eight inches long. Try hanging that on your shoulder. I did, and even though I'm pretty tall, it hung all the way down to my knees. Sweet.

Next up: felting. I went to Mom and Dad's to use the washing machine. I used clear dish detergent to get the suds. The bag is inside of a mesh bag on the right to make sure that no pieces of it get caught on anything. On the left? An old pair of jeans that are simply being used to ensure enough agitation. Felting was pretty cool - I was neat to pull it out every 5-10 minutes and see it shrinking and the fabric taking on a more rigid texture. The only uncool part was the smell. Seriously! A wet sheep in the laundry room - ick.

 So, after felting and a chance to dry, this is what I was left with. I think it looks pretty good. I suppose I should have included the tape measure in this photo, though, because size presents a bit of a problem. The straps shrunk down a little as a result of felting, but not enough. Its a little ironic, because I'm one of those people who always worries the straps of a particular bag are too short. I guess I went overboard trying to make sure the straps were long enough. Oops!

 It was okay, though, because I developed a plan pretty quickly. I figured I could get away with sewing down some of the extra strap length. I knew it wouldn't look perfect, but the other choice was to scrap the entire project. Given the money and time I'd already sunk in, I was going to try every available option before abandoning ship.

I busted out the yarn needle once again and got to sewing. It's not so fun to sew into knit fabric that has already been felted. It had gotten tough, just as I had hoped it would, so sewing into it wasn't very fun. But, again, it wasn't time to quit yet!

This is a side view - it's pretty obvious the fabric is doubled if you know what you're looking at. I had some vain hope that it would all felt together and you wouldn't be able to tell there was more than one layer. That probably would have worked better if the material hadn't already been partly felted...

I did give the bag another shot at felting, though, because I wanted to do everything I could to secure the stitching I did on the straps. It was nice to do this at Mom and Dad's, where you don't have to use quarters to operate the washing machine. And Mom has this awesome drying rack, where the bag could lay flat!
This is what the extra strap length looked like after felting. It wasn't exactly a dream come true, though it was an improvement. The second round of felting was worth it.

With the felting all complete, this is the inside of the bag.

And now, after the knitting and the felting and the sewing and the re-felting, here is the finished product. All that was left was to wrap it up - I gave it as a Christmas gift to Marigold. Yay! It was a fun project, with a little bit of added mystery: you just never quite know what the felting process is going to do. I've got some wool yarn left over, so I expect there will be some other felted project in my future!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Great Things

You guys know my place has white walls. This apartment and the one before it and the dorm rooms before that have all had white walls. I know that, when I buy a place of my own, I'm going to be excited to paint. When you have white walls, I think you've got to be careful about other objects in your place that are also white, or cream - especially stuff you're intending to hang on the wall. You can avoid buying the stuff, which is what I often do. But there was one thing I had that used to decorate my office in grad school.
Sorry for the blurriness in this photo - I hope you can still read the words okay. I mean, who doesn't love this message? I think its a little inspirational, especially to move you from the "I was reading blogs and thinking about how beautiful my house will be one day..." to the "I'm writing on my blog and actually picking up messes and doing projects!" It's good. Also, Anatole France is a historical figure who is somewhat familiar to me. When I studied abroad in France, my friends and I often went to a cafe after school that was located near a metro stop named in his honor. The cafe has since gone out of business, and the metro line is thousands of miles away, but I think of him. He's like a French F. Scott Fitzgerald.

With the cream colored metal sign a part of the permanent collection around here, the next step was to figure out how to display it.
I stumbled upon this guy - on clearance no less!

I don't have anything to hide: here's the label. Yes, in case you were wondering, this is from the teenager home collection marketed as Xhilaration at Target. Yeah, I went there. And yes, I was inspired to walk down the bulletin board aisle in the first place after I saw Jackie's post about her recent find.

I was originally thinking I would cover the cork with patterned burlap. I really wanted a blue polka dotted pattern.

They had a lot of choices at JoAnn's... seriously! I was imagining something sort of like the gold dotted fabric in the middle - but I couldn't do gold polka dots. I don't know where I got the idea that I wanted burlap. It was a little strange, though, because the burlap is the same color as the cork.

Then, inspiration struck. If the backgrounds are the same color, then maybe the answer is simple. Painted polka dots!
I've free-handed polka dots too many times before, and I'm just never happy with the result. So, I broke out the ruler and pencil, bound and determined to measure the distance between dots. I hadn't realized it before, but the pencil is definitely the wrong tool for marking cork. I decided to use the blue pen pictured above, which is actually a washable pen that I typically use for marking embroidery patterns. It's washable, so I figured that was a good sign. And, more importantly, I knew the color of the pen would be close to the color of the paint, so I felt confident it would blend right in.

I used the sponge tool on the left to make the dots, basically. I used the brush to perfect the dots. There were times the sponge did coverage that was good but not great, so I used the brush to add a little here, and remove a little there.

All done!

I tried it out in its new home. I was pretty happy.

The more I thought about it, though, I began to realize it was just a little too plain.

I found these little crocheted flowers in the dollar spot at Michaels. I tried a couple of different layouts, as you can see above. I thought I had my mind made up, but I was busy with other things, so I wound up putting the board back to display and putting the flowers away to keep thinking about it.

Once things calmed down again, it was time to get down to business.
I grabbed my Elmer's All Purpose glue and got to work. It didn't take more than a moment to glue all of these down. I also wasn't super careful about applying the glue, because I knew it would dry clear.

After giving the glue just a moment to dry, I slipped the whole thing back into position. Since I'd spent so much time dreaming about this one, I knew it was time to move on and act on my next project!

The flowers just add... something. I can't put my finger on the word, but, even though they were an extra step, they were definitely worth it. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The gallery grows...

It's not the first time it has happened, but my gallery wall got a new addition recently!

I received this plate as a Christmas gift - sort of. I was at the St. Olaf bookstore just before Christmas and I picked it out and handed it to my mom so she could wrap it up and put it under the tree. It caught my eye in the bookstore because I had never seen anything like it before.

This is the box it came in. I was drawn to this item for a couple of reasons. I love Porsgrund pottery - made in Norway! While I was studying abroad in Norway, I actually went and visited their factory. It was so cool! (I was also reliving that story this week, because I had to admit that was the first time I had ever skipped school. To go to what was essentially a museum about the history of Norwegian pottery. I bet you never knew I was this cool.)

I was also drawn to this plate because Porsgrund actually manufactures Christmas Plates. For an idea of what they look like, click here. I'm really not a collector of those plates, but I know they're a "thing" in Norway. And I love the cobalt color. So, when the chance came up to buy one that was reminiscent but more special to me than any Christmas plate could ever be, I was totally sold.

I also wanted to show you the box because I have a theory, supported by the box. Doesn't it look like that sucker has been chilling in Grandma's basement for a while? Like, really, a long while? I'm pretty sure it has been in a basement somewhere. I think that the plate was actually produced in about 1974, when the college was celebrating the centennial it commemorates. I think this listing on Ebay suggests as much. But at the bookstore, it was marked $9.95! I bought it like the bandit I really am.

So, now, with Christmas in the rearview mirror by nearly a month, I finally have gotten around to hanging it up!

I bought a plate holder, which came with this hanging hardware. At first, I figured this was normal. And then I tried to hang it up, and encountered no success at all.

I began to wonder if this was a two person job, but decided to try masking tape before surrendering completely. When my hammering merely ripped the masking tape and smacked my thumb, I got serious.

I marched over to my tool bin, where I promptly dug out what was apparently a properly sized nail. Duh.

Oh, look, when I discarded their stupid nail, the hook worked like a charm!

 So, 30 seconds later, the plate was in position for all to see!

When I found the plate, I gave no thought at all to where I might display it. But, once I brought it home and started thinking about it, I realized that it would really well with the other blue tones on the gallery wall. Sold!