Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
CC has always been an inquisitive child, but lately his curiosity has really taken off. He inspects everything with such scrutiny. When he discovers anything resembling a switch, button, or dial he becomes obsessed. Scott and I decided to create a little busy board for him so that he could push, pull, turn, and jingle to his heart's content. We bought a large circular hunk of wood to use as the base, then filled it up with odds and ends from the hardware store.
The hardest part was probably drilling out hollows for the light switches to sit into. Otherwise it was just a matter of drilling small holes and screwing in screws. We cut small pieces of wood to create little doors complete with tiny hinges, knobs, and fasteners. I hid stickers behind the doors to make opening them up a bit more fun.
All in all we probably spent too much on the project - around forty dollars. In hindsight, we could have saved a bit of cash by using a plain piece of plywood for the backing or picking up more of the hardware at a dollar store. We did get one portion of the project for free though. It turns out that the key-making station at Lowes has a whole box full of dud keys that are free for the taking! We picked out four keys from the little collection of misfits and added a forgotten spare from a former car that we had lying around to give CC his very own keychain.
Did he like it? You bet he did. He liked it so much that he had to check out every inch, including the underside. After flipping it over he began dragging it around the room to use as a wobbly surfboard-step stool combo. He's crafty alright. Our next step will be attaching this sucker to the wall.
Would you like to make your own busy board? This is a great project because you can really go any direction you like with it. You can include the gizmos that your kiddo would like best and keep the rest as fancy or as simple as you like. Here are some links to help get you started. You can also check out my Busy Board Pinboard on Pinterest for more ideas.
Scott and I picked up an unfinished dresser from Ikea for the nursery recently and decided to dress it up with a little paint and fabric. This project was pretty easy, taking just a few extra tools and materials to transform a plain piece of furniture into something more unique. Here's how we did it.
Upholstered Ikea Tarva Dresser
1 Ikea Tarva Dresser (with hardware and necessary tools)
2 sample size tubs of paint (We had ours mixed at Lowes)
Rags for whitewashing
About 3 yards of fabric
A staple gun (with plenty of heavy duty staples)
Fancy knobs (optional)
A few notes on the materials:
When you pick out a fabric, try to choose something fairly thin. The fabric we used was a little too heavy, which caused the drawers to stick together. Then again, you don't want to use fabric that is too flimsy, or it could rip and tear during use. I'd recommend a light canvas or thin upholstery fabric.
You can pick out almost any paint color you want at a home improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot, and order it in a sample size. One sample tub is enough to coat one three-drawer dresser, but it is good to have an extra tub on hand, just in case. You can always return it if you don't end up using it.
I think adding fancy knobs did a lot to enhance our dresser, but it was the most costly part of the addition for us. Knobs range from $3 to $10 a piece, so getting six can add up quickly. The original dresser comes with unfinished wooden knobs. If you are on a tight budget, I would recommend just painting those to match. By the way, we got our knobs at World Market for about $6 each (before a coupon).
Lay out the pieces of the dresser on a large tarp or piece of cardboard. (We used the packaging from Ikea as a work surface.)
Mix one tub of paint with an equal amount of water, then use a rag to rub the color onto the bare wood. This technique is called white-washing, and you can learn more about it here. Paint all of the wooden parts of the dresser, then let them dry. To darken the color, repeat with a second or third coat of paint.
When the paint is completely dry, lay the fabric beneath one of the drawer fronts. Lay the fabric right-side down, and the drawer front inside-up. Use a pencil to trace the shape of the drawer front onto the back of the fabric, and mark the knob-holes with the pencil as well.
Set the drawer front aside, then cut the fabric about 3 inches outside of the lines traced from the drawer front. Repeat this with the rest of the fabric, cutting one panel for each drawer. Punch small holes into the fabric for each knob hole.
Set the drawer front back onto one of the panels of fabric, then use the staple gun to adhere the fabric onto the drawer. Fold the fabric under before stapling to avoid fraying. Be careful not to cover any of the grooves or holes in the drawer piece. You'll need those to be accessible during assembly.
Assemble the dresser according to the directions from Ikea. If you are using fancy knobs, simply install those instead of the wood ones when the time comes.
If you end up with drawers that are too thickly covered, they will stick. You can fix this, but it's kind of a pain in the butt. You'll need to remove the fabric from the bottom of each drawer front, then sand down the bottom edge of the drawer by 1/4 inch or more. Then, re-attach the fabric and try fitting them in again.
As our budget gets pulled tighter and tighter, and Babeleo's arrival creeps closer, I'm being forced to rethink a few things when it comes to decorating our nursery. I had a truly lovely list of gorgeous handmade decorations going on Etsy. Several months ago, purchasing those pretty things seemed totally reasonable. Now, however, reality has reared her obnoxious head, and is making me realize that we just can't afford to blow a bunch of money on prettying up a baby room.
I had a "waaaaaah" moment there, but soon remembered that I am a very crafty person. Why on Earth would I need (or even want) to buy those things from other artists when I could make similar versions myself? Most of the things I had my eye on were very simple, after all. Beautiful, no doubt, but also totally re-creatable.
The first thing I decided to tackle was prayer flags. I'd had my eye on these, and these. So pretty! But how would I add words or pictures to my flags? Screen printing? Hand painting? Fabric stamps? After a quick look through my crafting stash I discovered three sheets of printable fabric. Hallelujah! This stuff is PERFECT for this kind of a project.
I hopped on InDesign and whipped up six little flags to print out on the three sheets of paper. I "borrowed" some illustrations from the internet, then downloaded two pretty handwritten fonts from Dafont.com (I used Dawning of a New Day and Sunshine in My Soul.) If you are looking for a good resource of Buddhist artwork, check out the Buddhist eLibrary.
I combined each picture with one of my favorite Buddhist prayers and quotes from the Dalai Lama. You could easily customize this project to suit any kind of sentiment or spiritual belief you like though. Bible verses, song lyrics, or famous quotes would all work nicely on prayer flags.
Next, I rummaged through my fabric stash to find six small pieces that looked nice together. I picked a few different quilter's cottons, and one random green knit. I also used some satin ribbon, a handful of jingle bells, and a little bit of embroidery floss.
I started by printing out my fabric. I used InDesign to make printable PDFs, but you could use any kind of Word or document program that you are comfortable with. Just make sure your page is formatted in a landscape position so that you'll have enough room to make two flags on each sheet. You can download a copy of the PDF I used here: Download Prayer Flags
After you print the fabric, cut out each flag individually. Try to make sure each one is well centered on its little rectangle.
Now it's time to cut the fabric for the back of the flags. Each flag needs two layers of fabric. I cut each flag at about the same size, a few inches wider and longer than the flags I had printed. Give each flag an extra two inches on the top so that it can be folded over later. I cut each of my flags into 8" x 11" rectangles.
Use an iron to adhere the printable fabric to the top panel of your cut fabric (according to the instructions that come with your fabric). I used the cotton setting with no steam to attach my printed fabric. After they cool, run a zig-zag stitch around the printed fabric to make sure it's totally secure. Using a contrasting colored thread also makes the flags extra pretty.
Lay the top and bottom panels of fabric for each flag together, wrong sides in, right sides out. Use the zig-zag stitch (or a serger, if you are so lucky as to have one) to bind them together. Again, I like using a contrasting thread for this part. Stitch all the way around all of the outer edges.
Fold the top edge over by about an inch, with the folded fabric on the back of the flag, the straight stitch across the bottom edge of the fold, leaving a good sized hold for you to thread a ribbon or cord through the top.
Get yourself a nice long piece of ribbon or flat cord, then thread it through the top of the flags. Run an inch or so of straight stitch over where to ribbon sits inside each flag. This will help stop them from moving around on the ribbon. Leave at least few inches between each flag, and be careful not to let the ribbon twist.
It would be even prettier with more rustic bells. Of course, these were all I had in my craft stash at the time.
After all of the flags are attached, cut four six-inch lengths of embroidery thread. Use the thread to tie the jingle bells in the spaces between the flags.
Now hang your flags somewhere lovely! Here they are in Babeleo's room. (...which is coming along nicely. Don't you think?)
I've had this old guitar kicking around my garage for a while now. It belonged to a friend of mine that had asked Scott to check it out and see if there was any chance of salvaging it. Unfortunately, the neck was warped beyond repair, so I asked her if she'd mind my using it for an art project. She agreed, but it was still a while before I decided how to use it.
Tonight, I felt an urge to get crafty, so I pulled it out, drilled some holes in it, sanded it down, then gave it a quick paint job. I drilled a big hole in the back, then fed a rope light into the body. I cut a disk of silver glitter paper out, and fastened it over the center. Tomorrow, we'll find a home for it somewhere on one of our walls.
Update: I've received a lot of requests for more detailed directions on this project. I've been hoping to get my hands on a second guitar so that I can create a tutorial. For now, I'll try to sum things up as best I can without photos.
Upcycled Guitar Lamp Tutorial
You could use these directions to create a night sky scene like I did, or get creative and give it a totally different paint/light job. You could use the same method to create a city skyline, a map of constellations, an outer space scene, or something totally abstract.
An old guitar
A power drill with multiple size bits
A string of fairy (Christmas) lights (I used a rope light, but regular lights would also do)
Sponges or brushes to paint with
Glittered cardstock for the moon (optional)
I started by sanding down all the surfaces of the guitar that I planned to paint. For my project, that was the whole front of the guitar and the front of the neck. I didn't paint or sand the sides or back, though you certainly could, depending on the look you are going for.
Once I was done sanding, I took a power drill and started drilling tiny circles all over it. I used different drill bits to give the "stars" a random kind of appearance. On the back of the guitar, I drilled out a much larger hole, just big enough for the tube of lights to fit through.
After drilling, I gave the guitar another quick sanding to make sure the edges on the holes were nice and smooth. After that, I used a sponge to paint a blue sky out of light blue, dark blue, black, and white. I did a couple of layers of sky, let them dry, then added clouds using the sponge again, with white and grey paint.
You could stop there, but I decided to cover the hole in the guitar. I cut out a circle of thick, silver glittered cardstock that was just about the same size as the hole in the guitar (maybe a little larger). I slid the cardstock through the guitar strings to keep it there, and off-set it just a little to let some light through around the edges.
Feed the lights through the hole in the back of the guitar, doing your best to help them distribute evenly inside. The rope light does a great job of this, being large and kind of stiff. It might be harder with regular fairy lights. Obviously, leave enough of the cord out at the end to plug them in. If you want, you can secure the cord in the hole with a little duct tape or glue.
That's it! I hope these directions help. Good luck with your project. I'd love to see it when you are finished.
During a move a couple of years back I found myself packing up hundreds and hundreds of CD cases. The numbers were staggering, but their sheer volume, once in front of my face, was hard to handle. After I'd filled a box (or three) I started to doubt the sanity of packing and moving the insane collection into my new home. So, I decided to toss the cases. One by one, I packed my discs into humongous CD binders. In no time I had condensed the size of my music collection by 3/4. Though I was relieved to see my burden shrunk, I felt a pang of sadness at letting go of the cases for all of my favorite albums. How many countless hours had I spent pouring over each and every one of those liner notes? I knew and loved each one. How could I just chuck them into the garbage bin?
Being crafty, my mind fashioned a strange compromise. I pulled the liner notes from the CD cases and stashed them away in a plastic bag in anticipation for the day that I figured out how to make something creative with them. I used the stash as a sort of paper buffet for some time. I used the pictures and text inside the liner notes to make buttons, magnets, and collages, but it wasn't until much later that I came up with the greatest use for my old CD books ever, the Album Bouquet! One day I got my hands on a flower shaped paper punch, some beads, and a spool of floral wire and it all came together. Here's what I made: