Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home Decor Crafts for the Discriminating Geek

While my office is plastered with painted Ninja Turtles and Disney paintings and Stay Pufts and other brightly colored geekery, John and I keep the rest of the house a more sedate, warm-toned, kinda Pottery-Barn-ish vibe. Granted, a lot of steampunk touches are creeping their way in, but it turns out steampunk is now the height of home decor fashion; interior designers just know it as "industrial chic." (Have you seen the past few Restoration Hardware catalogs? It's steampunk heaven!)

I love this look because you can recycle and upcycle cheap old junk and make it look like a million bucks. Or at least a few hundred. ;) It's also unbelievably DIY-friendly; just beat the heck out of something, cover it in glaze, wipe it off, and voilĂ ! It's "custom-finished!"

Another example:

Hilary P., the same artist behind that epic "Team Epbot" art, snagged a fabulous white seahorse statue from Michael's for only $10 - which would make me jealous enough -  but then she used my Copper Patine Tutorial to turn it into THIS:


Hilary also made the twig jar & message-in-a-bottle (love the copper curley-Q)! I'm loving the whole look here - and I bet her whole house is this fabulous. Hey, Hilary! SEND MORE PICTURES.

And if you can't find a great seahorse statue, just head over to your local dollar store:

Hyla W. transformed these little plastic toys into fun wall accents! Click over to her blog to see them hung with a pretty mermaid print.

I'll never get tired of old apothecary jars and vintage labels, and happily it looks like Andrea H. agrees:

She writes, "I just wanted to share the candle label I made following your tutorial and links! 
 This is the first thing I have ever made, but it won't be the last. You guys are like crack cocaine...if crack cocaine was highly addictive but also highly motivating and inspirational. Does that feel like a compliment?  Because, that was supposed to be a compliment."

Granted, I didn't have to include her whole e-mail, but then again, I kind of had to, you know? ;)

I think Kithplana is the first reader to use my leather curtain tutorial - and, check it out! She modified it for a valance!

Look at those box pleats! Genius. And the penny buttons look amazing with it. Gorgeous work, Kithplana!

Of course, no post of mine would be complete without something geeky, so here's how you "class up" your favorite wand display:

Cassandra W. writes,"I wanted to share a photo of a wand display that I made for my niece's 11th birthday last fall.  She was so excited about it, and it is now hanging in my sister's hallway.  I followed your instructions exactly, except that I decided to stain it rather than paint it."

And what a gorgeous stain it is, too! (I'm thinking Cassandra used a slightly better quality of wood than my cheap plywood version.) Of course, the real beauty of this is that it's both subtle and elegant enough for even your most "non-geeky" rooms.

And finally, since Canada stopped minting pennies last May (it did??), Jennifer W. of Knit Wit on the Prairies decided to immortalize the humble coin with her very own penny side table:
I just love the copper glow from the lamp light!  Hit the link to Jennifer's blog up there for links to the paint, glue, and bar-top epoxy she used.

And while we're talking Home Decor goodness, allow me to plug Better After, an addictive little blog featuring nothing but home decor and furniture makeovers. I like it so well that I roped the writer, Lindsey, into writing Sunday Sweets for me over on CW about twice a month. :) And of course the archives of The Steampunk Home remain one of my happy places, even though the blog is no longer updated.

If you have any favorite home decor blogs or projects, please, share in the comments!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cowabunga, Dudes! I Painted My Action Figure!

I'm not much of an action figure girl, but the moment I saw the designs for the new Ninja Turtle figures, I was head-over-heels:

In fact, they were my very first pin on my Toy Wish List over on Pinterest. I used to watch the show every day after school, and I remember going to see the first movie with my mother. (We both still have a penchant for cheesy kids' movies.)

Then I stumbled across these mind-blowing re-paints of the figures by John Harmon of Mint Condition Custom, and I fell in love so hard it hurt:

LOOK AT THAT DETAILING. Now go look at the original figure. It's like going from a stereoscope to hi-def!

So on Friday when I spotted an end cap of TMNT toys at Target, I decided it was finally time to unleash my inner hero in a half shell. I grabbed Donatello first for The Great Painting Experiment:

As Harmon points out, these figures have tons of fabulous detail that you just can't see very well with the factory paint job. The idea is to add enough shading so all that detail really pops.

I've never tried painting an action figure before, so I was both surprised & pleased by how well regular acrylic paint sticks - no primer needed. In fact, it sticks SO well I had a hard time getting it off the areas where I got a bit sloppy. Then John, the wise and all-knowing former painter, told me to use alcohol. A-HA! That worked like a charm.

Here's my first tentative try at aging Donatello's foot wrappings:

Mine's on the left. See the difference? As I gained more confidence, I went back and darkened this up a lot more.

Here he is roughly half-finished:

His shell and legs are aged - arms and head are still as-is from the package.

And finally, here are my finished beauty shots, along with pics of the figure straight from the package for comparison:

I've learned some things that I'll do differently for the next three, but even so...what do you think? Did I get anywhere near Hamon's greatness?

Personally, I'm really happy with this for my first try, and I'm pretty much hooked on painting toys now. I've since done a slightly larger project which I just finished last night (look for those pics in another day or two) and I can't wait to go buy the next three Turtles!

If you want to try painting some action figures yourself, here's the general technique:

- Paint on a darker version of whatever color you're covering on the figure
- Wipe it off.

You'd think a two-step process like that wouldn't take me a solid three or four hours, but it did - and I'm not even done with his weapons yet. There are a lot of small areas, and you really need to work in tiny sections since the paint dries so quickly. Have tons of q-tips and paper towels on hand, and use a tiny brush dipped in alcohol for touch-ups.

For the belt I applied several layers of a black-brown, rubbing it off with a Q-tip in-between, and then I used a light tan on the tiny X stitches and a brighter liquid gold leaf on the front ring.

The part I messed up is that I used brown to cover D's skin instead of a darker green. It still works, but for the rest of the Turtles I plan to use shades of green, so they won't look quite so grungy.

The weapons that come with the figure are made from a different plastic that paint won't stick to at all, so I'm having to prime those first. You can expect another photo shoot once I've finished them all, and the difference should be really dramatic, since they're just a solid reddish-brown right now.

Well, even if you never plan to paint your action figures, I hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent my Friday night! :) Stay tuned for something I think more of you will find squee-worthy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DIY Light-Up Copper Cane

I've wanted to make a copper cane ever since I spotted this easy tutorial over on Frenzy Universe, so my Lady Vadore costume was the perfect opportunity. My cane has the added feature of interior lights, but the overall structure is still the same:


This cane is perfect for any steampunk out on the town, and the interior LEDs give the illusion of fiber optics in low light, which is always a bonus in my book.

Here's what you'll need for the cane itself:

- a length of 3/4" copper pipe (available in the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store)
- a copper coupler, which is the smaller pipe piece (optional)
- a pipe cutter (a small tool that looks like this and costs less than $10)
- a decorative antique doorknob - metal or crystal (check ebay- mine cost about $8 with shipping)
- a rubber leg tip or metal pipe cap for the bottom of your cane

Copper plumbing pipe comes with a lot of ink on it; you can see all the red in my photo above. To get the ink off you *could* scrub it with acetone or a Magic Eraser, but we found the easiest method was sanding it with a medium grit sandpaper.

As a bonus, the direction you sand your pipe will give you one of two very pretty finishes:

The brushed-looking side on the left was achieved by sanding the pipe vertically. For the shinier side on the right, we sanded horizontally by holding the sandpaper in our palm and twisting the pipe inside it. Pick the finish you like best and sand accordingly.

[NOTE: If you're planning on adding lights to your cane, you don't need to sand your pipe yet. Wait 'til the end.]

Determining your cane height: The top of your cane should reach the inside crease of your wrist, which is usually about half your height. My cane is exactly 30 inches, because I'm only five feet tall. Odds are yours should be between 32 and 36 inches, so measure yourself first, and then go ahead and cut your pipe to the proper length.

Depending on the size of the shaft of your doorknob, you may need some epoxy adhesive to glue it inside the top of your copper pipe. The knob I found, though, had a slightly graduated base, which allowed John to wedge it into the pipe so securely that I couldn't remove it no matter how hard I tugged:

John's able to pop the knob on and off, though, which gives us access to the inside of the pipe.

See how there's still a sliver of brass showing at the top there, where the doorknob base can't go down the pipe any farther? That's what the copper coupler is for:
In addition to covering that little gap, the coupler also adds a pretty decorative element to the top of the cane. Just slide it up; it should be snug enough to stay in place on its own, no adhesive needed.

Here's a better look at the base of my doorknob, after I'd sanded off all the corrosion and paint:

To complement the brass lip on the knob, I carefully rounded a bit of brass filigree with pliers and then glued it to the copper coupler:

Now, if you're not adding lights to your cane, all that's left to do is pop on a rubber tip to the end, and you're ready for a steamy song-and-dance routine! (You can also use a metal cap for the bottom, but since I sometimes lean on my cane I prefer the rubber end. A metal tip would no doubt slide out from under me, sending me sprawling in a most undignified manner.)

If you *do* want to add lights to your cane, though, next you'll need the following:

- A dremel
- A dremel drill press
- A long length of string or ribbon
- one strand of battery-operated LED lights

To get the criss-cross pattern on my cane, I first wrapped it with ribbon like a candy cane:

I used a ruler to make sure each section was the same distance apart, and then used a marker (you can use a permanent marker, since you'll be sanding the cane again anyway) to place dots all along the ribbon. I just eyeballed the spacing of the dots, but try to get them less than a quarter of an inch apart:


This was my first big project using the drill press, and WHEEE!! So fun! It was a breeze to use, and I zipped through the whole pipe in no time. (Well, ok, maybe ten or fifteen minutes - but that's not bad at all!)

A few safety precautions: WEAR EYE PROTECTION. (Ideally better than my little glasses.) Put down a large board or paper on your work surface to catch all the copper shavings and dust, because it gets everywhere. You'll also need to wear a heavy glove on your left hand - something I discovered just a few moments after John took that photo. Here's why:

Those curly metal shavings sticking out of the holes are extremely sharp and snaggy. Once you're done drilling you can sand them all off, but 'til then, you'll need a glove to hold the pipe as you go.

You might notice that in that photo I'm re-drilling all the holes to make them larger. Learn from my mistakes: start with an 1/8 inch drill bit. It will seem kind of big, but trust me, it'll look MUCH better than my first teensy-tiny holes.

Once you finish drilling your first spiral of holes, sand off all the snaggy bits and then go back and repeat that whole process for the second spiral:

When you're done you'll have a lovely diamond spiral pattern of holes down your cane. Now all that's left is a final sanding and adding your lights!

Originally I planned to drop in a "warm white" LED strand I found at JoAnn's for less than $8. I couldn't find it on their website, but this one from Amazon looks to be the same thing, and also only costs $8.

Here's the LED strand inside the cane:

The only problem with these lights is that the switch and batteries are just slightly too big to fit inside the copper pipe. That doesn't have to be a deal breaker, though; you could glue the switch to the outside of the pipe right under the knob, and if you paint the housing copper, odds are no one will ever notice it. (Note that you'll need to feed the wire through one of the holes, and then reattach it to the battery casing on the outside.) I planned to do exactly that, but then John decided to wire his own LED strand from scratch.

John's version is much more expensive (I think he spent $30 on all the supplies), but also packs a lot more LEDs into the pipe, making it brighter:

(Here's he's using a heat gun & heat-shrink to attach each LED to the wiring.)(And yes, he's wearing a Boba Fetch shirt. The boy likes cute geek tees almost as much as I do!)

Even so, I'd recommend going with a pre-made LED strand. It's just easier. And cheaper. Plus they come in several different colors - although sadly we couldn't find one in green.

To make our clear LEDs green, we wrapped the strand John wired in a single layer of green cellophane before shoving the whole thing inside the pipe. (The cellophane had the added benefit of padding the LEDs so they didn't rattle around while I walked.) The lights are powered by two AAA batteries, which are also shoved in the cane bottom.

Here's a shot of my cane before I enlarged all my drill holes. You can see it was still somewhat dim:

And here's a no-flash pic from Dragon*Con, where you can really see how much brighter the larger holes made the whole cane:

And that's it! I hope this helps some of you dapper steampunks out there, or anyone else looking for a snazzy cane!


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!

Friday, September 21, 2012

John's New Blue Suit

Every year Disney hosts a special Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom called Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. It's the polar opposite of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, with kid-friendly costumed characters, a parade, special shows, and enough trick-or-treating stations to send everyone home with a five pound bag of sugar.

Needless to say, I love it.

John and I have been to MNSSHP (which really needs an easier name) three or four times over the years. The first time we went we threw together some last-minute pirate costumes, which was fun. The next year we dragged a friend along, and he and John went as playing cards, while I went as the Queen of Hearts. Those costumes took a few weeks to make; we made mine from an old prom dress, the cards completely from scratch, and I turned a plush hedgehog into a purse.

It poured the entire night we were there - we're completely soaked in this picture. (Those light spots are raindrops.) The card costumes were ruined, we were wet and cold all night, and we had so much fun.

That year marked the first time we ever had strangers ask for our picture, and all three of us were delighted -  so much so, that the next year, 2008, John and I pressed several more friends into service, and we had a nice-sized Wonderland group:

Since John and I made all the card costumes, we were especially delighted to see that *our* versions were a lot nicer than the official park costumes:
A straight! 
(Chad, Chris, & Glenn, you guys have fun with that.)

And see those paint buckets? We had the cards use them for candy pails, and each had red paint slopped around the edge & a half-painted white silk rose twisted around the handle.

Here's the before-and-after on my dress:

I'll give you two guesses who did all the sewing on my skirt. [hint: it wasn't me.] I did all the hand-sewing on the trim and heart, though!

And here's my hedgehog purse:

I emptied his stuffing out & added a zipper to his back, and then made the strap so it looked like he was sitting on a swing.

Sorry for the unnecessarily long intro, but this was all back before I had a blog, so I got a little caught up on memory lane just now. :)

Ok, so, getting back to present day, last week we were talking with some Disney friends about how we want to go to MNSSHP again this year, but it just doesn't seem right going without a costume. That night, lying awake with my usual insomnia, I had a flash of inspiration that kept me awake for the rest of the night, only this time with excitement.

A lot of you asked about John's costume for Star Wars Celebration and Dragon*Con, and I felt kind of bad admitting he didn't have one. He claims he was perfectly happy just being my guide and handler, but I know he'd like to have an epic costume himself some day. So this idea was just for him - although I'm pretty sure it makes ME happier, if that makes any sense.

Despite the fact that John has never even seen this character in real life, he was immediately on board. Not only that, he was almost as excited as I was! That very night he was at the sewing machine, working away (I cut out the pieces, though! I helped!), and within two days he'd sewn the most amazing thing he's ever sewn. Seriously, I think we were both a little awed. He used no pattern; just an old thrift-store jacket we cut apart for reference.

Wanna see?

Let's see if you Dizgeeks can guess what his costume will be, just from this:

Look at that face! Yeah, he knows he's all that. ;)

Since this was taken John's also made a full vest (with button holes! And buttons!) and he's wrapping up the pants as I type this. My husband is a wizard!! Who knew?

The best part, though, is how much fun John seems to be having. Every time he'd finish a section we'd both do a little happy dance, and can we talk about how he's showing this picture off to all the women who work at JoAnn's now? Please? Because it's ADORABLE. We're there so often that most of them know us on sight, but John's the star. He never gets out of there without double or triple discounts (shh, don't tell), and everyone there just seems to brighten up the moment he walks in.

A few days ago John went back to the store by himself for more fabric, and apparently he managed to acquire some octogenarian groupies. "It was kind of traumatizing," he told me later, "They were all over me! One lady kept hugging me! Another had her arm around my waist the whole time!"

Don't let his protests fool you, though; he was "complaining" with a big grin on his face. (And the same thing happened thirteen years ago, when John went to the local sewing studio for help making my wedding veil. I'm surprised I didn't hear the shrieks of delight from ten miles away.)

I told him this is why he always needs me there: for protection from the little old ladies.

Oh, and John's real mark of dedication? Borderlands 2 came out this week, the sequel to John's most favorite game ever, and instead of playing it right now he's sewing pants. But don't worry; he's still shooting up demon dogs and whatnot a few hours each night.

John came in here just now to show me the little pile of belt loops he's made. At this rate, he'll be done tonight! So stay tuned for more, and let me know if you guessed his character in the comments!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This Slow Loris Slowly Killed Me WIth Cute

I think I'm going to watch the four videos in this playlist on repeat forever.  Kthxbai. 

(Keep watching; the next vid is possibly even better than this one!)[If the auto-play doesn't work, you can click the next video from the playlist at the bottom.]

Seriously, I'm pretty sure I could be in a murderous rage, turn this on, and have a big dopey grin on my face in about 10 seconds flat. They should prescribe this stuff. Even if slow lorises DO look a lot like this creepy doll I found at an antique fair:

Oh, and I've heard a lot of negative things about the slow loris pet trade, but the video poster mentions the little guy *does* still have his teeth (apparently there's a practice of removing or filing them, since they're venomous). Good to know.

[Correction: Ok, their teeth are not venomous, but their saliva can be if they eat venomous insects. Also, several commenters have pointed out how we should never ever ever have a slow loris for a pet. EVER. So, uh, keep that in mind, k?]

Now I'm off to watch him eat that rice ball again. (CANNOT. HANDLE. THE CUTE!!)

And thanks to Kiala for sharing the extreme adorbz.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Floating" Cross Stitch Jewelry

I've been waiting to share this tutorial for a while now, because I was hoping to have a perfect end product for the big reveal.

But I'm just too darn excited to wait any longer.

And, look! I even made a fancy-schmancy Pinterest-friendly graphic for it!


I've wanted to try this for ages, and I have to say, it's pretty exciting when a harebrained craft idea actually works. As you can (hopefully) see, the cross-stitched heart really does appear to be floating in mid-air inside the resin. There's no fabric at all here, and no visible means of support for the embroidery floss.

So how did I do it?

The secret is actually quite simple, albeit not the simplest thing to do:

I stitched my patterns on clear plastic sheets. (A page protector, to be exact.)

A few tips:

- Pick the simplest, smallest pattern you can find

- Use a sharp needle to pierce the plastic
- Because the back threads will be visible, use tiny knots to start and end your thread

- Keep the back tidy! No stretching across other stitches.

- Use two strands of floss when stitching. (I used three for the Space Invader, which made the stitches too tight & not as clearly defined.) 

You're probably wondering how I knew where the holes should go while stitching on the plastic sheet. That's the sticking point, I'm afraid; you just have to wing it. I think I did alright on the heart, but for the Space Invader I got a little off on the right side; you can see his arm is a lot lower.

My next hurdle was making sure the plastic sheet remained invisible inside the resin. I tried two different methods:

For the heart I cut the plastic in the shape of the mold I'd be using, and for the Invader I trimmed it as close to the threads as I dared. 

In the end both worked, really, but if you look reeeeally closely at the finished Invader necklace you can just see the edges of the plastic, so I'd say cutting it in the shape of your resin mold is the way to go.

Next I popped both pieces into molds filled with EasyCast resin:

(I'll show you that finished gun & gear pendant there on the bottom soon.)

After a day of curing the pendants popped out beautifully, but since they were clear I decided they needed some kind of backer to help reflect the light. I dug through my small cache of scrapbook paper and found these two options:

I liked the blue woven paper because it looks like fabric, but the combo with the orange looked a little sickly green. Plus the flowered paper was brighter.

Oh, and as you can see this was done before I realized you can't embed sparkly little crystals in resin, because SCIENCE. [Insert refraction explanation here] So my heart now has a shiny circle on it. We'll, uh, call it a sequin.

Speaking of shiny, I used a scrap of leftover mirror paper from my shadowbox display for the Space Invader, which looks pretty nifty:

See the edges of the plastic sheet? It's just barely visible - and the resin bubbles, too - but keep in mind this pic is really zoomed in. Those imperfections aren't visible from even a foot away.

I love how the bright orange floss reflects in the curved edges of the resin:

To attach the paper backings I used another tiny bit of resin, which was...well, a learning experience. I made a huge mess with the heart - resin spilling over the edges everywhere - and then with the Invader I used a much smaller amount and let the resin soak through the paper from behind, instead of creating a resin & paper sandwich. That worked much better. But honestly, I bet you could just Modpodge those paper backings on. (And remember to seal your paper first with clear glue, or else it will be saturated by the resin and turn a bit darker, like mine. Heh.)

Resin is super easy to drill, so a Dremel really isn't necessary (you could use a hand drill) - but using my press kept my angles straight:

I'd never done this before, so next I had to figure out how to hang the two pendants. They're really thick, so O-rings won't fit, and bails are a stretch. After a little research online, I grabbed some straight eye pins, and did this:

Not gonna lie: I'm a lot prouder than I care to admit that I got both loops to match. There may have even been a victory dance involved. Maybe.

Next I found a nice thick chain, and 'twas done!

Another tip: when drilling the holes for your pendant, make sure you drill on a flat surface of the resin, so your pin heads sit flush. You can see mine stick out a bit on the edge.

I did a little better on the Space Invader, if you don't count the fact that my holes don't line up perfectly:

Again, this would be better if I'd used two strands of floss instead of three, so it would be more obvious that the Invader is stitched. But overall, I think it's still kind of cute:

And that's my big resin experiment! I hope this inspires lots of other cross stitch-and-resin projects out there, since to my knowledge no one has ever tried stitching on clear plastic this way before. I plan to do a few more myself, too, since these have their flaws. (Wouldn't it be cool to have a rainbow Invader, with each line of stitching a different color? Or a pretty monogram? Let me know what other ideas you guys have, since I'm still brainstorming!) As always, if you DO try, please send me pictures!

UPDATE: See, this is why I love you readers: I've now learned of a wondrous thing called "waste canvas" that might solve my grid-placement issue! (I've been cross-stitching since I was 14 - how did I not know about this stuff??) Thanks, guys! I will definitely be giving it a try! 


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!