Tag Archives: crafts

Wonderful Wool – A Quick Yarn Guide for Beginners

Malabrigo twist yarn, image courtesy Malabrigo Yarn

For the last couple of years I’ve been making an effort to make some of my holiday gifts. During my first attempt, I blindly chose yarn based on color and price. However, after going through a few local yarn stores in my area and having conversations with more experience knitters and crocheters, I was able to slowly learn the subtle differences in yarn types and how the material affects the quality of your work.

I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite yarns for those who might consider starting something up this holiday (whether for gifting or leisure). Most of the time I still select yarn based on color and thickness (also known as weight) but now I take the time to make sure the feel of the yarn is something I wouldn’t mind running my fingers through over a possibly extended period of time.

Worsted Yarn

Image from Malabrigo Yarn

Worsted yarn is probably the most common weight you can find on the market. Most projects that have a relatively tight knit or stitch pattern with smaller stitches will use this type of yarn. Usually for a scarf knit with this type of yarn you’ll need to use around 4 skeins, and more if you’re doing a bigger project.

The yarn company Malabrigo has a great selection of yarns in all weights, and is reasonably priced considering the quality of the fibers they use. All their yarn uses pure merino wool from Uruguay and hand dyed so there are slight variations in the color which make projects look really special. Their worsted yarn is a basic I like going back to.

Image from brooklyntweed.net

Another company that has great yarn is Brooklyn Tweed. All their yarn comes from their own farms in the North Eastern United States and is dyed in batches to maintain quality and uniqueness. They also have great contemporary patterns of projects to make with their yarn.

Chunky Yarn

Original image by Renee Alfonso

Chunky yarn is my go-to for last minute gifts or if I’m looking to make something extra-comfortable and warm. Chunky yarn is probably the thickest type you can find that is readily available in stores. The only down side of chunky yarn is that one skein has less length than worsted weight yarn, and is sometimes more expensive.

The photo above is a scarf knit in Cascade Yarns Magnum, and can be made in around one week if you knit a few hours a day. I recommend using pure wool when choosing a chunky yarn, or something infused with a softer fiber like cashmere, so your process feels as good as finishing the project quickly!

Malabrigo also has this amazing chunky yarn called Rasta, which I find unmatched in terms of color.

Image from Fabulous Yarn

Yarn Kits

Image from Wool and the Gang

Since the revival of handmade crafts and fiber arts in recent years, yarn is slowly beginning to shed its homely image and has become part of a new crafting revolution. Contemporary designers and entrepreneurs have begun to come up with ways of presenting yarn crafts to a younger audience and to get people clicking those needles.

Wool and the Gang is one such company – their marketing is definitely aimed for the younger generation of crafters. To help get them started, they have a selection of project kits that include materials for items such as hats, scarves and basic sweaters, but with a contemporary twist, like their Zion Lion hat.

Yarn kits are pretty convenient and a great way to get started without having to do much guesswork on material and quality. They can make great gifts too!

There is certainly a lot to discover in the wonderful world of yarn and crafts, especially with technology making it easier for yarn makers and designers to market their wares. With the right amount of time and material, handmade gifts are something anyone can enjoy – to make or receive!



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Back to School: The Case for Crayons

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.
– Mark Twain

A person is composed of mind and body — emotions and senses, muscle, bone, and brain with analytical and creative sides. Clearly, a person is a complex being to grow up to be, and becoming one takes more than just learning letters and numbers. If we are to take the advice of Mr. Clemens, there’s more to education than what schools teach.

To nudge the young ones towards the lofty goals of holistic personhood, how about showing the right side of the brain some love? You can nurture creative instincts by handing over a box of crayons — it’s very handy and fabulously versatile. You’ll  marvel at what can be done with these schoolbag staple.

Here's something that can be done with an interesting water-soluble type of crayons.

Crayons can be melted and cut out in these adorable butterfly shapes. Image from Butterfly Dreams. Click on the it for directions.

Another way to melt crayons. By Etsy user JKCreate.

Out-of-the-box thinking by Ryan Peter Miller -- using individual crayons as a pixel. Awesome!

Or you can just carve them, like Vietnamese-American artist Diem Chau does.

So stash some crayons in your child’s bag, and put a box in your own purse too. Here are a bunch of other little nifty things aside from crayons that you can pack in a backpack that’ll bring out the artist and creative thinker in anybody, whether child or adult.

Brushes Leveled Up

This is what talent can make out of the most basic materials, if it is nurtured and developed. Image created by Roz Wound Up.

Pocket-sized Music

No, we’re not talking about digital music players. But musical instruments to compose and create music with.

Image from Harmonica Songs

Young ‘uns can channel Bob Dylan or Alanis and put out some mind-blowing melodies with a harmonica in their back pockets. Or they can just take out their iPhones — if they’ve got music apps installed, like GuitarStudio or TableDrum.

TableDrum for iPhone turns tapping into drum beats.

DIY Lamps and Lights Round-Up

DIY Pendant Light via Made by Girl

Flipping on a light switch only to illuminate a boring light fixture will deaden even the most beautifully styled room, whereas an eye catching light can bring a room to life. Finding inspiring and beautiful lights for every room in your house can not only be time consuming, it is also often wallet draining as well. That’s why today’s how-to post is dedicated to lamps and lights that you can make yourself, many using surprising materials.

clothespin light via Young House Love

We’ve featured a few lighting fixtures before here on the blog, and there are numerous creative and doable projects out there, like this clothespin light from Young House Love.  This lampshade is made out of 320 clothespins and brings a soft warm glow to a space-efficient laundry room. I really enjoy the tutorials that Sherry and John put together because they document all aspects of the process, including their mistakes and missteps. If you want to create a clothespin light of your own head over here.

letter light via design sponge

This amazing wall lamp is reminiscent of marquee lights. Compared to some of the other projects we’ll be looking at, this one might take a bit more effort and time to complete (there are power tools involved), but the end result is totally worth it.

Stacked Books Lamp via HGTV

I have a conflicted response when I see projects made out of old books. On one hand, I love the quirky library look,  but on the other hand the idea of destroying books breaks my heart. Nonetheless, I see plenty of potential in this stacked book lamp. I keep seeing these cage lampshades everywhere and I really like how well this type of shade suits this particular lamp.

music stand tripod lamp via the painted hive

I adore tripod lamps but I‘ve yet to find one in my budget, so imagine my excitement when I found this tutorial for a tripod lamp made out of an old music stand. What a fabulous idea, and now I have yet another reason to head to the flea market.

beaded chandelier  via dollar store crafts

You’ll never guess what this chandelier is made of (or maybe you will). One hanging planter and some strands of spray painted mardi-gras beads is all it takes to make this stylish chandelier. If you want a light that packs more of a punch, just change up the colour of spray paint, or try a multi-coloured approach. A couple of these chandeliers would make outstanding party decor, don’t you think?

That’s all for today’s roundup, but I’ve only scratched the surface of lighting ideas. There are countless handmade options out there to help you banish boring lights forever.

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The Modern Art of Papercutting

Via famillesummerbelle, this is the artist’s paper cut creation for a recent art exhibition and fundraiser to support rescue and rebuilding efforts in Japan.

Papercutting is an art that’s got quite the history, one that’s evolved uniquely in places all over the world.  From jian zhi in China and kirigami in Japan, to papel picado in Mexico and the Jewish art form that dates back to the middle ages, the art is imbued with its geographical and cultural roots.

There’s been a renaissance of late too.  Artists and artisans are breathing new life in this tradition perhaps as a response to the increasing digitization of our world. Take a look at these creations.

Tiny But Mighty

Helen Musselwhite papercut terrariums via Oh So Beautiful Paper

I am always in awe of how paper can be transformed.  From the ideas and worlds in books to the art created through folds and cuts.  These miniature scenes are fairytale-eque for sure.  Exquisite detail and craftsmanship.

Above two pictures of work by Hina Aoyama via Design Related

Hina Aoyama, a Japanese artist living is France creates her super fine lacy artwork by hand with scissors and paper alone. Her pieces are known for their meticulous detail that resemble fine embroidery. Each piece takes about 1 month to produce. Breathtaking.  For more images, visit her photostream, it’s absolutely dazzling.

Large Scale Installations

From tiny to massive, these two art installations are cut by hand from paper. Delicate paper is transformed into something majestic and ethereal.

Papercut cloud installation by Mia Pearlman. Image via Picocool.

Installation by Chris Natrop, image via Red Bubble

Your Turn

Lego Kirigami by Zakka Life

Want to try your hand at papercutting? Gather the Lego lovers in your home and start small with this sweet take on paper dolls by Zakka Life.  Hop on over to their site for the template and full how-to!

And if you want to learn more Chronicle Books has released Paper Cutting, edited by Laura Heyenga.  This book is a gorgeous compilation of some of the most beautiful modern works.  You can oder the book through their website here.  Read their write up and preview some of the artwork on their blog.  It would make an incredible coffee table book.

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Adventures in Papermaking

I was thrilled when a friend gifted me with a papermaking kit! I had always wanted to try it out but never got to it. I love paper. I love the feel of it, its textures and smells — I love the very idea of it. It represents a blank slate, waiting to be filled words and pictures, with ideas and experiences. Making some of that would be just awesome!

So… here we go.

The way I understand it, papermaking can be reduced to three main processes:

  1. Creating a suspension of pulp and water.
  2. Straining this suspension through a screen, and draining the water from this accumulation of pulp fibers.
  3. Pressing and drying the sheets.

Paper was first made in China as early as the 2nd century B.C., and the principles and techniques have largely remained the same. And it tickles to have this wonderful connection with eras past.

My papermaking kit contained a screen, 2 wooden frames attached by a couple of hinges, and several pieces of felt cloth and some dried pulp.

The dried fibers that came with the papermaking kit: on the left is abaca, also known as manila hemp; on the right is cogon, a species of grass.

The two frames and the screen form the mold and deckle.

Another look at my mold and deckle. This is small, only 4 x 6 inches. I have seen other versions that are bigger, and they aren't hinged together, and the screen attached to the top of one frame, forming the mold. The deckle then is the other frame.

Other equipment required, as per the instruction pamplet, are:

  • 2 pieces of okra (I know, this is kinda strange, but it somehow works out in the end, promise)
  • a blender
  • 3 basins (2-liter basins, and one larger one that the frame can fit into)
  • water
  • a flat surface for drying

To create the pulpy water (which I learned is called the slurry), quite a bit of prep work is required.

  • I first had to soak the pulp overnight, to soften up the fibers. Then in the morning I blitzed this up in the blender. I had to do this in small batches, and with quite a bit of water because the blending expands the fibers three- or four-fold. I filled up the blender 2/3 of the way up with water and added a small handful of rehydrated pulp, then blended until a fine slush is created. But since I figured I wanted some texture on my paper, I varied the blending times. I blended a couple of batches only until they were loose, with bits and strands still visible.
  • Now, the okra. Instructions stated that I had to puree this okra in 2 cups of water. I ended up with this soft, slippery liquid. This is said to help the fibers stick together.

I’m ready now to make paper!

  • I put some water in the large basin and put in a couple of cups of the pulp, and around 1/4 cup of okra “juice”. I agitated this with my hand until it’s all mixed up. That’s the slurry.
  • I placed the screen in between the two frames. This forms a unit called the mold and deckle. I dipped it in the slurry, lifted it, and watched in fascination as the water drained off, and a wet sheet of paper is formed.
  • I removed the screen and pressed it on a piece of felt, and then gently removed it from the wet paper sheet. Another piece of felt is then placed on top of this.
  • Repeated the steps until a pile of alternating layers of wet paper and felt cloth is formed.
  • After a few sheets have been formed, the slurry will feel a little thin. This means that it needs more pulp and okra juice. Add a cupful of slurry and 2 tablespoons of okra juice at a time until the desired consistency is once again achieved.
  • After I ran out of felt cloths, I placed a weight on this pile — a small slab of wood with a rock on top.
  • After half an hour, I took the weight off and separated the sheets, and placed everything on the drying board.
  • I waited a couple of hours for the sheets of paper to dry, and voila! Paper!

The screen gathers the fibers together as it drains the water. A wet sheet is formed.

When the deckle is lifted, the wet sheet of paper is revealed.

The sheet is pressed to a piece of cloth and the screen removed.

After the sheets are pressed to drain out most of the water, they are arranged on a board to dry.

The resulting product was everything I hoped it would be. It was kinda rough with lots of visible fibers. Awesome! The experience was wet and messy but so worth the effort. It was also quite relaxing — once I got going, there arose soothing rhythm in the process. I lost track of time and it seemed to just fade away, and I was left living in the moment — very therapeutic. And I got all that paper to boot.

Anybody can make paper, really. A mold and deckle set is easy enough to make — one just has to find a couple of same-sized wooden frames and cut a screen to size too. One can even do without a blender and just use mortar and pestle.

But what about the materials for the pulp? Not everyone has access to abaca and cogon fibers — even I may not always have access to them. So I tried making pulp out of a book that I hated. I followed the same procedure – soaked the pages overnight and blitzed them up in the morning. Check out these results!

Paper recycled from a book. I still wanted some texture, so I varied the blending times. You can see larger bits of paper with some letters and words still visible.

With this one I finely blended the pages. All you can see of the old print are just some flecks of black.

The three kinds of paper that I made

All images by Nathalie Mariano

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