Showin' some love to the sheer awesomeness of homemade gifts

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Polymer Clay Knitting Needle Pens

There's tons of Christmas crafting going on in these parts right now, but with projects needing to stay on the down-low, I haven't been able to share them here.  Luckily my knitting group's second annual potluck was a week ago, so one project is no longer secret. There were a lot of fantastic stocking stuffers at the potluck, some hand made and some pre-assembled.  These were my contribution:

They may look like Boye knitting needles, but they are actually pens. 
These would have been a quick and easy project for someone who was experienced with polymer clay, but I'm not so it was a long road.  Here's what it took:
  • Polymer clay (I used Femo and Sculpey mixtures for the bodies, Sculpey III for the knobs, and Promat for the cap mold)
  • Large knitting needles - US 15 looked large but turned out to be a good size
  • Oven safe pens - Bic sticks worked great, but I also tested Paper Mate Eagle in the oven and they did not melt either
  • Silver acrylic paint
  • A little bit of blue painter's tape to keep the paint tidy
The first step was to make cap molds.  I found a large knitting needle and stuck it into a wad of clay to make a mold, and then baked that according to the package directions. 
I originally started with a US size 10 needle, since that seemed large enough in relation to the pen.  However, the end caps lost some size due to my wiggling and compressing the clay to get it out of the mold.  So I made a second mold from a size 15 needle, and that worked much better.  I then made replica end caps by putting small balls of clay into the mold and pulling them out to bake.

Luckily the clay can be rebaked, so I had nice solid pieces to attach to the pens after they were rolled in the clay.  The needle caps may have worked better if I had made them in Femo.  With the Sculpey III being softer, it was pretty difficult to wiggle the clay back out of the mold without distorting the image.

After setting the baked needle caps aside, it was time to remove the pen innards.   It's easy to do with a pair of small pliars; just rotate and pull the plastic portion of the tip (not the metal point), along with the ink chamber, out of the barrel.

The next step was to roll out the clay.  I used a mixture of Femo and Sculpey III.  The Sculpey was a lot softer the Femo, which flaked like crazy through the pasta machine. 

After conditioning the clay for what seemed like hours, I rolled it out in sheets and cut it in rectangles to fit around the pens, just short of overlapping at the seam.  Setting the pasta machine at 5 produced a nice thin layer of clay that seemed to have a neater appearance at first.  Unfortunately clay that thin was not very forgiving because there was just not a lot of clay on the pen.  So I went up to setting 4, and the clay was then thick enough that I could lay the pen on top of it, roll it a few times, and the seam would virtually disappear.  The next step was to pop a pre-baked end cap at the end and set it in a manilla folder folded accordian-style to bake.  This is how they turned out:

The white caps just weren't right, of course.  So I took a little bit of blue painter's tape and wrapped it around each pen to create a sharp line.

Then I brushed on some silver acrylic paint and pulled off the blue tape.  Voila!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pillow buddies, even cuter than the original

So every time we walk through the mall, my son drags me over to the pillow pets display to ooh and aah over the animals.  They seem a little silly to buy.  But make one?  I'm totally down with  that.   There's a 2-part tutorial over at Twelve Crafts Till Christmas, just adjust the details for the animal of your choosing.  Here's a look-see, head on over to check out the details:
And, oh happy day, this means I finally have something to make with those yards and yards of flannel I bought at the JoAnn Black Friday sale!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Win a Silhouette machine!

I've been hand cutting all of my craft projects, but that will come to an end if I'm the lucky winner of a Silhouette machine.  Several craft bloggers are giving away machines, but the contests end this weekend so hurry up and enter.  Check out Infarrantly Creative - she is hosting one of the giveaways and her projects do a great job showing off some of the crafty possibilities.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Make a cornhole set

It can be pretty tricky to find a homemade gift that even the men will love.  But here's an idea: cornhole!  The pre-made sets can be pricey, but some craft store sells blank boards at a fraction of the price, just add paint and beanbags.  Even the board blanks look rather simple, and even they can be made from scratch.

Believe it or not, there's an American Cornhole Association.  The ACA has adopted equipment standards.  That means if you want to make a regulation cornhole set, plan on two boards made of 48"x24" plywood.  Each board will need a hole, six inches in diameter, placed 9" from the top and 12" from each side of the platform.  The back of the platform is to be placed at a 90 degree angle to the face of the board, and the back needs to be elevated 12".  The surface of the board should be sanded smooth and painted in a high gloss latex paint for that optimal slid-ability.  You will also need beanbags made from duck canvas and measuring 6"x6".  It should be filled with 2 cups of corn feed and weigh 14-16 oz.   

There is a page over at the Fun Times Guide with links to tutorials and videos to guide you through every step.  Looking to jazz up the bags a little?  Here's a tutorial over at Infarrantly Creative, with a way to make photo bean bags without photo transfer paper.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Custom Vintage Gift Tags

There's no better way to top off a homemade gift than by creating a personalized gift tag.  The Graphics Fairy is an amazing blog, posting new vintage images every day.  There is tons of gift tag potential in her labels posts, and in some cases Karen offers both the original image and also an edited version to allow you to insert your own text or graphics. 
To test it out, I added some text to the mermaid card.  I saved the image, opened it in Microsoft Paint, and then selected the text option with a transparent text box.  Pretty sweet!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sweet Broderie Giveaway over at RetroMummy

RetroMummy is hosting a giveaway of fat quarters of Sweet Broderie fabrics over at her blog.  She also has a nice assortments of recipes and crochet patterns.  In fact, here's a quick gift - a crochet facecloth, completed in two hours.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who doesn't love a hobby horse?

There are some logistical problems with posting any gifts intended for this year, so here is one of my favorites to make from last year - knitted hobby horses.  The pattern is from Knitted Gifts by Ann Budd.  But I knitted two at one time using one circular needle, following the method in Two at a Time Socks by Melissa Morgan Oakes.  For some reason, two socks at once hardly take much longer than one single sock.

The pattern was easy to follow.  It is basically just a large sock, with some nice textures added in.  Seriously, the next time someone I know breaks a foot, they will be getting some of these socks to cover the cast.

The bridle is a knit icord, which would have taken longer to knit than the socks themselves.  But the lighter weight Patons wool went through a Bond Embellishnet without too much problem, and I was able to knit up the many yards of icord in about 25 minutes per horse. 

Some knitters found that the horse head tends to pull off of the dowl.  I added a second ball knob to the top of the dowel, so the head stays anchored in place.  For a quick and easy finish, a little watered down brown acrylic paint gave the stick an almost stained look without the smell or hassle.

The horses are slightly felted, making them more durable.  Plus, they're super cute.   A year later and the kids are still playing with them!

I really like the patterns in Knitted Gifts.  There is a nice variety, from the standard scarves and hats to felted oven mitts and pretty embroidered slippers.  My only complaint is that the only quick knits are small items like headbands and coffee cozies.  This book is a keeper.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So where's the plastic canvas?

Popsicle sticks, macaroni, plastic canvas, crunchy scratchy orange Phentex yarn. Yep. That's what people assume when they hear I'm making gifts for my family for Christmas. But we gave it a try last year and it was pretty fantastic. Here's a sampling of some of the fun things we made last year - leaded glass terrarium, hand painted bar rug, hand knit hobby horses, and stained glass recipe boxes, filled with family recipes. And there's so much more to come this year!

What I learned last year was to start earlier and not choose so many knitted projects - they are fun to make but take way too long to complete for everyone on the list. In my quest for fresh ideas for unique handmade gifts, I've come across a lot of great ideas and look forward to sharing some of them here. Stay tuned!