HANGING CUBE LAMP

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Here’s another project using mostly stuff I already had that was a cheap and easy way to give a different look to a hanging light. Previously the light had a woven basket type of shade that was a little 70s for the room and I wanted to try something more geometric and modern.

The frame of the cube is made from black foam core so it’s very lightweight, which is perfect for a hanging lamp suspended from a thin, weak ceiling. First I cut it into equal length strips, about 10 1/2 inches long. I used masking tape to connect the foam core strips and form the cube frame. It actually came out feeling pretty sturdy, and I used plenty of tape to reinforce the corners.

Next I covered the entire frame in torn bits of masking tape. It took quite a while and lots of tape, but who cares when supplies are super cheap? Once the frame was totally covered with tape, I gave the whole thing 3 coats of watered down black acrylic paint. The torn edges of the masking tape absorbed the paint which gave it a cool random texture. Once I finished the third thin coat of paint I was happy with the look, which came out sort of looking like it’s made from steel or some other metal. A coat of Mod Podge gave it a slight sheen, which enhanced the metallic look.

Then it was time to make opaque panels for inside the frame that would hopefully make the lamp cast a nice light. I pulled out some wax paper, wrinkled it up well and held inside to have a look. It muted the light nicely but was a little too plain, so I decided to see how it would look with some sewn lines or patterns in it. I pulled out a sheet long enough to cover the five 10-inch squares in the cube frame. The width of the wax paper on the roll was about perfect as it was. (The top didn’t need any since it would remain open.) Sewing into the wax paper with a plain stitch made the paper pucker and gather, so I switched to zigzag stitches and it worked really well. I used a loose zigzag stitch at first then added another smaller, tighter zigzag stitch for you little variety.

Once I was satisfied with the sewn pattern in the long sheet, I cut it into squares and taped them to the inside of the frame. Then I poked holes in the top corners of the cube frame, threaded through some fishing line connecting opposite corners. Then I used 2 binder clips on either side of the hanging fixture to hold the fishing line, and the clips rested on top of the fixture to place the light bulb in the middle of the cube.

Overall I really like how it came out. It might also be nice with parchment panels in place of the wax paper, maybe with silhouettes of some kind. I’ll probably give that a try at some point and will update this post with pictures.


QUICK & EASY HANGING DOUBLE SHELF

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This was a really simple project that I made in order to suspend a plant that was long and needed a way to hang from up high. I used only supplies I had on hand: scrap pegboard, tissue paper, rope, paint, a drill, a hand saw, and Mod Podge.

I sawed the pegboard into two shelves, one slightly narrower than the other but with the same depth. Next I coated each board on all sides with Mod Podge, wrapped them in tissue paper, and coated the covered boards with more Mod Podge. Once they were good and dry, I drilled a hole in each corner big enough to thread the rope through. Then I mixed up a medium brown with acrylic paints and covered the boards.

While the paint was drying, I cut four equal lengths of the rope and tied a simple knot in one end of each one. I threaded one rope through each corner of the larger board, which would be the lower shelf. Then I decided what distance I wanted between the shelves and tied knots on each rope to support the top shelf. Next I threaded the rope through the second shelf and adjusted the knots so the shelf would lay parallel to the bottom shelf. Once it was all together and looked even and level, I gathered the rope ends, fashioned a simple loop for hanging, and wrapped the bottom of the loop with cotton string.

It all seemed sturdy enough to hang, so I installed a rotating ceiling hook in the right spot for the plant to get some nice light. (The hook was the only thing I had to buy for this project, and I love making things for cheap or free!) I knew the hook would support up to 40 pounds, but since the ceiling is thin drywall I used a sinker so it wouldn’t pull right out of the ceiling. Then the plant was put in place and a Buddha statue that seemed to be the perfect size found its home on the top shelf.

One nice thing about this design is its flexibility. The ropes could be any length to make it hang high or low, or even add additional shelves (making sure that the hook, ceiling and rope could all support additional weight).

Really the only purpose for covering the pegboard in tissue was to disguise the cheap material and to give it a texture, which was enhanced by the paint and the gloss of the Mod Podge (which is also available in matte finish). It’s not a fancy shelf by any means but has gotten quite a few compliments!


PORTRAIT OF ELLA

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Ella is a dear friend’s cat who stayed with me for a year while her person was in Scotland for grad school. It took some time for Ella to relax and warm up to me, but eventually we bonded and she became comfortable with me taking photos of her to send to her “mom” abroad. I really like this photo because she looks so relaxed and lovey, so I decided to do a photo transfer of it onto a piece of wood I had.

The first image is the photo on the raw wood, which came out surprisingly well on the first try, especially considering that I hadn’t done a transfer in a while! I like how the edges get sort of tattered. After it dried I went over the exposed wood and part of the image with brown and yellow watercolors, which went well with the colors in the photo.

Then I just coated it all a couple times with Mod Podge to seal it and drilled a couple holes for the string. I was out of the hemp twine I wanted to use, so I just dyed some cotton string I had using the same brown watercolor paint I used on the wood. A couple of quick knots and it was done! When I gave it to Ella’s mom, she was really moved. It’s great to be able to make something so simple for a random gift that I know meant a lot to her.


THE SUCCULENT CHAIR

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Here’s a really charming project that didn’t cost much and really adds a sweet touch to out little porch!

I had a second little chair that I found along with the other one that I converted into Xena’s Little Throne. This chair wasn’t as stable frame-wise so I knew it wouldn’t function as a child’s chair. It also had some really stubborn stickers on it that took some serious sanding to remove.

After it was painted white to prime it, I realized I didn’t have the right saw to cut a hole in the seat, so I had to come up with a workaround. I used a drill to make a ring of holes around the seat and kept making more and more until I could cut between them with a small hand saw. Eventually I connected enough holes to push out the center. Talk about doing things the hard way! But it worked, and I didn’t have to go buy a jigsaw so I was fine using elbow grease to save the money. Then I used the hand saw to try and smooth the edges of the hole as best I could and sanded the roughness. I wasn’t too concerned that it looked ragged since I knew it wouldn’t show once there were plants in it.

Then I just cut a piece of screen from an old window screen, folded it to double the mesh, and stapled it to the underside of the seat. I also hot-glued over the sharp edges of the screen to prevent hand and finger cuts when lifting or moving the chair. A couple coats of bright yellow spray paint and the chair was ready for planting.

Succulents were the perfect choice for this because it’s a pretty shallow space, and succulents don’t need very deep potting to do well. In time they will also spread and spill over the sides of the chair, which I think will look cool. I chose the bright yellow because I thought the succulents would look nice in it, with shades of green and some purple-ish stuff mixed in.

The little chair sits in the corner of the porch so it’s the first thing I see when I open the door. To prevent someone from stealing it (which is unfortunately a concern since flowers have been stolen from there before), I zip-tied the chair to the porch railings. Done! A pretty sweet project using a little chair that was destined for a landfill.


LEAF SKELETON UPDATE

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This is a follow-up to an earlier post where I attempted to make leaf skeletons using instructions I found on the internet, but this attempt worked out a lot better. I used a slightly different recipe from this tutorial. I also realized that I hadn’t really simmered the leaves as I was supposed to, but the new recipe was clearer about the process and had more photos, and that made a big difference. As you can see I was able to remove much more of the leaf flesh than before, so the remaining structure is mainly just the stem spine and the veins.

They look really cool with light coming through as you can see in the top center picture, so I wanted to find a way to display them so they are backlit. Then I remembered I have this cool woody/branchy frame that I was never sure what to use for. It’s so unique that I couldn’t find the right picture for it, but I kept it anyway knowing that someday I would find the right use for it. And this was it!

The frame only had glass in it and no backing so it was ready to go. I glued the leaves to a piece of parchment paper…the kind that comes in a roll that you use for baking. A couple dots of Elmer’s glue was all it took for each leaf. Once the glue was dry I just stapled the parchment to the back of the frame, added a couple small nails to attach fishing line, and hung it from the window latch in my stairway window. Done! The skeleton silhouettes look pretty cool when light comes through, and I like that it doesn’t darken the stairway too.

I guess the lesson here is that sometimes it pays off to save something cool without knowing how you’ll eventually use it. If you like it enough, its purpose will reveal itself in time. And I also learned that trying again with a project that didn’t work so well the first time pays off too!


THE NEWSPRINT DRESSER

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Here’s another project that in retrospect I can’t believe I attempted, sort of like the painted couch. It just took up a lot more time, space and effort than I imagined it would. When your living room is your workshop, it can be quite a pain to have it filled with a mess of supplies for a long period while you try to finish a project you’re not sure you should have ever started. But I really love how this one came out, so no regrets!

I found this dresser on the street, and I wish I had a “before” picture of it. It was painted black, and most of the paint on the top was worn off and just the bare wood showed. The gold molding “frames” on the drawers looked just as they do now, and they really stood out against the black. The dresser had no drawer handles, so I guess you were just supposed to use the molding to open the drawers (which was fine for the top and bottom drawers but a bit awkward for the middle ones). It really would’ve just taken a good sanding and a fresh coat of paint to restore this dresser to an acceptable condition, but luckily for me, the owner preferred to abandon it on the street.

I lived with this dresser as I found it, wrecked paint and all, while deciding how to make it over into something more fun and interesting. The original idea was to cover it in random panels from comic strips, but I quickly realized that it would take a ton of newspapers to find enough panels to cover this whole dresser. Plus I wanted them all to be different so I couldn’t just take a stack of free papers and cut out the same panels over and over. I also wanted the makeover to be as close to free as possible, so buying newspapers and comic books was out of the question. I needed to change the plan. As luck would have it, a stack of useless, unwanted phone books were delivered to my apartment building, and they were promptly dumped in the recycle bin by tenants who (of course) use the internet or cell phones when they need to look up a number. I figured since they were made of newsprint and the columns of names and numbers would make a nice background pattern, I could start by covering the whole dresser in cut up pages. That alone took quite a while. I wasn’t using entire pages from the phone books, but slicing columns out of each page (before I owned this awesome paper cutter), and this step alone took a long time. I was using watered-down Elmer’s glue to attach the paper to the dresser in an overlapping, perpendicular pattern.

The next step was collecting comic strip panels, ad images, crossword puzzles, jumbles, phrases, horoscopes and just random little pictures, all in black-and-white, and mostly from free local independent newspaper the Stranger. While it was fun to search for cool, weird and funny things to include, it was also really time-consuming and had my living room strewn with paper and scraps for weeks and weeks. Plus my hands were constantly covered in newsprint, but whatever. Once I had a big stack of stuff to use, I started gluing them over the phone book column-covered dresser and the whole thing really began to take shape.

I hadn’t planned how I would finish the whole piece once I was done covering it with cut-up newspaper stuff, but I realized it was a little too black-and-white contrast-y for my taste. I had sort of pictured it in my mind as having a yellowed kind of antique look, but I wasn’t sure how to make that happen. I decided to try and stain it with tea, but that was too subtle. I settled on staining it with coffee…just spreading over the whole piece with a paint brush. It had just the effect I wanted, and smelled delicious! 

I didn’t know what I would do with the gold molding frames on the drawers, but in the end I decided I liked how the gold looked with the warm tone of the coffee-stained paper. Finally I varnished the entire piece several times to give it a nice shine that would also protect all the newspaper. The finishing touch came when I saw another abandoned dresser in an alley with only 2 handles left on the drawers. (Did other scavengers take the rest of the handles? I’ll never know.) They seemed sort of perfect for the dresser, so I came back with my screwdriver and helped myself to them. I think they look pretty good on the made-over dresser, and I thanked the Universe for delivering the right handles for my dresser. The whole makeover was really close to costing nothing. I bought varnish, Elmer’s glue, and a coffee, but that was about it!


STITCHED POSTCARD
Things like old postcards and different colors of thread are great to have on hand because they can easily turn into a fun rainy day project. This image immediately suggested colorful “music” coming out of the child’s instrument. Stitching geometric patterns over landscape postcards can also look really cool, and it’s so easy that almost anyone can do it. Yarn might also be a good thing to try, or combinations of different threads and strings. I will definitely be trying more of this type of project and will post more as I make them!

STITCHED POSTCARD

Things like old postcards and different colors of thread are great to have on hand because they can easily turn into a fun rainy day project. This image immediately suggested colorful “music” coming out of the child’s instrument. Stitching geometric patterns over landscape postcards can also look really cool, and it’s so easy that almost anyone can do it. Yarn might also be a good thing to try, or combinations of different threads and strings. I will definitely be trying more of this type of project and will post more as I make them!


LEAF SKELETON EXPERIMENT
I’ve always thought leaf skeletons were pretty amazing. They can be found in nature if you’re lucky, but I was excited to find some online tutorials about how to actually make them yourself. It sounded easy enough, since all you need is water, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, a stove, rubber gloves, a toothbrush or other soft brush, and some patience. There’s a few different recipes for the process online and I just picked one to see if I could get it to work. The tutorial I followed is this one.
As you can see, my results didn’t end up at all like the pristine example in the tutorial, but I still think it’s kind of cool. The original leaf was very green and healthy, and some of the leaves I tried this on turned pure black. I didn’t try the bleaching step because this was really just an experiment. The tutorials I saw all said it takes some trial and error, and different leaves and simmer times are variables that will make it easier or harder to get to the vein skeletons. I’ll try this again with different leaves and maybe a different mixture of the washing soda and water to see if I can get better skeletons. If they come out better I will add photos here!

LEAF SKELETON EXPERIMENT

I’ve always thought leaf skeletons were pretty amazing. They can be found in nature if you’re lucky, but I was excited to find some online tutorials about how to actually make them yourself. It sounded easy enough, since all you need is water, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, a stove, rubber gloves, a toothbrush or other soft brush, and some patience. There’s a few different recipes for the process online and I just picked one to see if I could get it to work. The tutorial I followed is this one.

As you can see, my results didn’t end up at all like the pristine example in the tutorial, but I still think it’s kind of cool. The original leaf was very green and healthy, and some of the leaves I tried this on turned pure black. I didn’t try the bleaching step because this was really just an experiment. The tutorials I saw all said it takes some trial and error, and different leaves and simmer times are variables that will make it easier or harder to get to the vein skeletons. I’ll try this again with different leaves and maybe a different mixture of the washing soda and water to see if I can get better skeletons. If they come out better I will add photos here!


PHOTO BOOK

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Having taken nothing but digital photos for years now, I decided I needed a way to organize and store all the old photo prints I had stuffed into a box. I was never a fan of traditional old-school photo albums…it always seemed like they ran out of pages too fast and I would soon need another one. And another one. Next thing you know I had quite a few random mismatched albums that I dreaded having to fill and re-sort. Eventually I abandoned them completely and put all the old pictures into boxes.

Then I came up with this solution while making the Shakespeare lamp. The big old book of Shakespeare plays I had cut so many pages out of now had plenty of space between the stained covers, so I decided to make it over into a photo storage book.

This is a really simple project. All it took was the book, an Xacto Knife, Elmer’s spray adhesive, an old shirt or some sort of fabric (in this case an old hardly-worn shirt), Mod Podge, and the old photos.

The first step was to cut clumps of pages out, at random points in the book. I didn’t cut them all out right in a row so the binding would stay together. Plus since the pages were such thin paper I wanted to bind a couple pages together with spray adhesive to give each page more strength to hold the photos.

After sorting the photos into (roughly) chronological order, I started a few pages in and arranged them on the right-side pages. Using the X-acto knife I cut four diagonal slits for the corners of the photos and slipped them in. Then I sprayed the back with adhesive and pressed it to the page behind, binding them together. Then I just continued that way with all the photos, cutting out more pages as necessary…the book got thicker pretty quickly as the old photo paper was much thicker than the pages.

Then I needed to figure out what to do about the stained cover of the old book. (It probably would have been smart to do this first, but I wanted to deal with all those pictures I’d ignored for so long since I finally found the motivation!) Anyway I considered covering it with paper or painting it, but then I thought if I could find an interesting fabric that it might be a good solution. In the back of my closet was a shirt I bought in Amsterdam many years ago that I never really wore…the pattern was just too much and the size was a little too small (one of those purchases you make on a whim while traveling that you get home and go “What could I have been thinking?!”). But I do like the colors and the faint layer of paisley over the stripes and I’m glad I had saved it all those years.

So I cut out the back panel of the shirt since it was the largest piece with no seams. From there it was just a matter of making a book cover like in grade school, only I sprayed the book with adhesive first (which worked great with the fabric). I just folded the corners inside the covers like when you wrap a present and used extra glue to make sure the fabric would stay put. I used a left over piece to cover the binding vertically and wrapped it around to the front and back covers.

I really liked how the fabric felt on the cover but realized it would probably get dirty over time and would be difficult to clean, so I coated the whole thing with a couple coats of Mod Podge to seal and protect it. It gave the surface some shine as well. Now all those pictures are in one thick book, and the actual text doesn’t matter…you don’t even notice it as you flip through because the focus is on the pictures. Plus there’s room at the end to add more if it turns out that I missed a box in storage.


TEST TUBE TERRARIUMS

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This is another project that began with the random purchase of an item that I wanted just because I thought it was a cool object that I could one day use for…well, something. I found this set of 10 test tubes in a rack at a thrift/junk shop, and just had to have it. It was intended to be a spice rack, since there were labels in some of them (such as the misspelled “Cinnamin” you might be able to see in the first photo). You can find the identical Test Tube Spice Rack on Amazon.

So one day my project pal (and awesome photographer) Laurie and I were trying to come up with what our next project would be when I remembered that I had bought the test tubes. She had a burst of inspiration and said that we could make them into cool tiny terrariums! Together we agreed they would look cool hanging from copper wire or twine on sticks or branches. We planned to get together to do this project after I returned from a vacation in Maui.

Since I’m always on the lookout for supplies for crafty projects, while in Maui I collected some beach sand and a couple of sticks found washed up on the beach. They seemed like great things to add to this project that would incorporate memories of an awesome vacation, and they fit in with the nature aspect of the project. Laurie came over with supplies she had already…gravel, potting soil, charcoal, twine, and some tiny succulent plants and moss pieces from her yard and garden.

The assembly was pretty easy, even though I had never made a terrarium before. We added layers of sand, crushed gravel, charcoal and soil as the foundation for the plants. Then we just chose bits of the tiny succulents, mosses, and other stuff like small sticks or twists of copper wire, and arranged them carefully using bamboo skewers and extra long tweezers like these to position things and press them gently into place. Before we knew it, we’d created 10 tiny landscapes in the test tubes…each one different and special in their own way.

The next part went even faster. We hung the found wood pieces by wrapping twine around the ends. Then we hung each test tube with a piece of copper wire, which I found in a drawer and stripped of its plastic coating. I wanted to use copper because it oxidizes over time and changes color, and I like the combination of the industrial-looking metal with the natural elements of the wood, twine and live plants. Based on the sizes of the wood, it seemed perfect to hang three test tubes from one and two from the other. Once they were all put together, we just hung them on the wall at different heights in a place that gets partial sun. The sticks also turned out to be perfect shelves for the corks, which I remove when the tiny landscapes get steamed up with moisture, then replace once they’ve had some time to breathe. We also tried to clean any soil and debris from the inside of the finished terrariums with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs, and it was challenging to do without ruining the mini landscapes. 

This was such a fun, simple project that was very inexpensive and used mostly materials we already had or collected for free. A very satisfying Sunday afternoon that resulted in a unique miniature indoor nature display!