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.
Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyWayToVeg #CollectiveBias
Looking for a way to stand out in the lunchroom crowd? I've been seeing a lot of blog posts lately featuring bento bags, cute little lunch sacks that tie shut from the top. Bento bags are Japanese in origin, inspired by the fascinating art of Furoshiki. Similar projects are used to wrap gifts and to hold or transport things in and around the home - in the most beautiful way possible!
Believe it or not, these ethereal clusters of amethyst are actually made from soap! The first time I saw this technique being used was in a DIY video on Youtube. I was totally mesmerized, and knew that I was going to have to try it out.
By the way, these soaps have been a big hit with everyone I have gifted them to. They make excellent holiday or birthday presents, and making them in six bar batches makes them super easy to stock up on.
While this project can be a tad time consuming, the method is surprisingly easy, and very forgiving! The crystals actually look better when they are cut a little differently every time so you don't have to worry too much about keeping your technique consistent. You can just slice away - happily embracing any imperfections.
If you are able to work with a double-boiler instead of the microwave, that inexpensive piece of equipment will make this project a whole lot easier. Because this is a layered soap, the melted soap you are working with may harden between steps. The double boiler makes keeping the melted soap warm a breeze, and allows you to reheat it gently. Microwaves can also make soap feel dry and brittle - especially when the same base is melted over and over.
Dice 1 1/2 pounds soap base and melt in double boiler on stove top or in microwave using short, 30-second bursts.
Remove soap from heat, let stand 30 seconds, then add essential oil. Stir slowly until oil has combined.
Fill six soap molds about 1/3 of the way up with soap. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Pour about 1/2 the remaining melted soap base in a heatproof measuring cup. Add small pinch of purple mica and small pinch silver mica. Stir well to blend. Pour the mixture between the soap molds - leaving about 1/3 of space. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Add about 1/8 teaspoon purple mica and 1/8 teaspoon silver mica to remaining melted soap base. Stir well, then pour into molds - topping them off. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin. Transfer to refrigerator and chill soap for 30 minutes or until completely hardened.
Turn hardened soaps out onto a clean cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 1/2 to 1 inch rectangles. Make sure to cut so that each rectangle shows 3 layers of color.
Slice the tops of each rectangle at random angles to give them a faceted and pointed shape. This forms the crystals. Reserve the shreds of soap cut from the and mince them into gem dust.
Clean out the double boiler, chop remaining soap base and add it to the pot to melt. Once melted, add the remaining essential oil and silver mica and stir well.
Pour melted soap base into six soap molds. Spritz with alcohol, then immediately begin stuffing the molds with soap crystals and gem dust. Fill each mold as much as you can. The more crystals each soap contains the more sturdy the finished soap will be.
Allow the soaps to cool and harden completely before removing them from their molds. After they are removed, wrap them in airtight cello bags or saran wrap to keep them from sweating.
I've never been one for following directions. I love to sew, but patterns make me snore. When I'm getting my creativity on, it's freedom I crave, so it might seem strange that quilting has become my favorite fiber art. Most quilters are all about precision. My favorite quilt gurus, The Sometimes Crafter and The Happy Zombie, seem to thrive on carefully trimmed angles, methodical planning, and flawless stitchwork. What they do is amazing, especially to someone like me, who never quite got the knack of coloring inside the lines.
When I quilt, there is little to no planning whatsoever. I find a few piles of fabric that look pretty, then I start chopping them up. I try to chop in uniform pieces, like rectangular strips, or mostly square patches, but really, I'm just going for it. Once I have cut up a decent sized pile of fabric, I start thinking about how I'd like to piece it all together. I imagine how the pieces might fit together in order to create a big square or rectangle. Sometimes, I even pull out a piece of paper, and scribble down my thoughts.
Then, I start shuffling the pieces to randomize the pattern that I will sew them in. Usually, I've ended up with an uneven amount of pieces in each color, so shuffling is the only way to go. I don't let myself get hung up on the order. Instead, I embrace the chaos, and keep my eye out for too many obvious repeats.
When my piles are sufficiently shuffled, I start to sew. The trick to sewing together a bunch of badly cut pieces is to keep one side of the panel straight at all times. The other end of the panel will be jagged and uneven, but that won't matter in the long run. You see, once my panel is finished, I'll just cut all of that uneven fabric off. Once I've created all the panels I need to create the quilt top, I sew them together, then trim the edges of the top again, making sure that all four edges are fairly straight and smooth.
So that's pretty much how I tackle the patchwork. Since this method sometimes results in quilt that is not quite standard-sized, I may have to do a little more patchwork for the quilt bottom. Oh well, such is life. Pinning the top, batting, and quilt all together is a real "B" too, but I suspect even the most fastidious quilters hate that part of the process.
One technique that really lends itself to my flexible approach is applique. I have a monstrous stash of fabric scraps that I keep on hand for this. I have no idea how applique is meant to be done. I have a feeling that my method is again, pretty weird. I start by ironing double-sided interfacing onto the wrong side of a whole panel of the fabric I've chosen to work with. I use a pencil to sketch out shapes on the paper backing, (keeping in mind that I'm drawing backwards) then I cut them out, and iron them onto my quilt.
I stitch the edges of the ironed-on fabric either by hand or machine depending on how I want it to look, and how much detail there is. Hand stitching lets you work in much finer detail than the machine, but it also takes forever. For mult-fabric images, like the fox quilt I made for my sister, I use the cut pieces like stencils, creating a big, puzzle-pieced picture before ironing anything onto the actual quilt.
As for the actual quilting, (the process of sewing all three layers together) I prefer to do this freehand whenever I can. I've sewn a few quilts that were just too big for that, and in those cases, I like to use a free-motion presserfoot while machine sewing.
I always, always, always sew the binding on by hand. Since my edges tend to be a bit wonky, this gives me the chance to hide those imperfections with slow, careful stitching. It takes a long time, but then that is sort of the nature of a quilt, isn't it?
Love my posts? Help me out by sharing them with your friends!
These pretty little handmade notebooks are made with collage paper, newsprint, embroidery floss, and greeting cards. You can use blank greeting cards or used cards to make your notebook covers, giving you a great way to re-use your latest pile of birthday or holiday greetings. First, take your greeting card and your collage paper and plot out how you'd like to arrange the paper. Try to cover every bit of the card. If you're using a used greeting card as your base, make sure that the paper you are using to cover the card is thick enough to hide any pictures or text. They will look fugly when they show through.
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:
Apparently, I can't get enough of Amy Butler crafting paper. After finishing off a tin of Green Tea the other day I got the bright idea to redecorate the can and give it a second life.
Find a canister you'd like to remodel. You can probably find some likely candidates in your pantry. Tea tins, tobacco canisters, coffee cans, and powdered drink containers are just a few examples.
Remove any problematic packaging from the container. If it has a paper label, you may want to leave it on. As long as it is smooth and well adhered, it will actually help to keep the decorative paper attached. Things you may want to remove include stickers, pamphlets, or oddly places labels. The best thing to use to remove them is a adhesive remover solution, but if you don't have one handy, you can try mayonnaise, hot water, nail polish remover, or even vegetable oil.
Carefully cut a piece of decorative paper to fit around the container. It is best to use thick papers like card stock or scrapbook paper, otherwise you may be able to see the original packaging underneath.
Using School Glue or Elmer's Glue, spread a thin layer of glue evenly across the wrong side of your paper. I like to spread thin circles instead of spreading it flat, but the choice is up to you.
Carefully attach your paper to the container and hold it firmly until it has dried enough to hold its own shape.
You can add a line of ribbon in a corresponding color to the paper's edges to give the container a more finished look. Just measure it out and attach it with a very thin coat of glue.
Your finished canisters can be used for about a million things. Try using them to hold any number of little doo-dads. Take the lids off and they can hold paint brushes, pencils & pens, silverware, or faux floral arrangements.