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My Steampunk Christmas Wreath!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I hope you aren't tired of my Christmas decorations yet, because I still have one or two surprises left! I'd hoped to show you my entire dining room today, but yesterday was pretty emotionally exhausting (if you read CW and/or the news then you know what I mean), so I'm afraid I didn't take the wide-angle shots last night like I planned. Instead I planted flowers by our front door and held onto John and tried to remind myself what real life feels like.

Fingers crossed I'll have pics ready by tonight, though - and also that my new flowers last more than a week, because I got real ones and I am reeeeally bad at gardening. Heh. (It's still 80 degrees here, btw, which is why I can plant flowers in December.)

Ok, so in the mean time, here's the crown jewel of my dining room:
 
I did it! I made my steampunk wreath!

There were a lot of different directions I could have gone for this wreath, and at one point I was planning to make two, because - as you know - Christmas makes me go a little crazy. Anyway, reality intervened, so I didn't get to the second one, which would have been copper and purple and hot-air-balloon themed. I still have plans for a more casual, hardware-store version, though, for every-day use next year.

Anyway, for this one I started with a strand of garland and a wire wreath form, since I couldn't find a plain wreath I liked. (They all looked so cheap and fake.) My strand of garland made for a pretty sparse wreath, though, and it was three pains and a half to wire down, so in the future I'm definitely going with the pre-made ones.

And here's my "process:"

Anyone with cats knows this is how all crafting gets done.

I collected all the items I thought I might possibly want to use - goggles, keys, clocks, ornaments, etc. - and began laying them out. Originally I wanted to use my copper nutcracker, but later decided an all-brass theme would be sparklier. I'm sure a lot of you recognize most of the big stuff I used, too, from John's goggles to the oversized key we made for our steampunk newborn shoot.

The nutcracker side of the wreath is my favorite:

I love my little refurbished clock up there, and I'm sure you don't have to ask if that hidden Mickey is intentional. (I made that, too, from a big jingle bell and two mini-tree ornaments.)

The hardest lesson I learned with wreath-making is that you can't decorate it flat on a table, because when you pick it up everything will shift and move and generally not hang at ALL like you pictured. I had to re-wire almost everything when I picked mine up, since so many things moved or slipped. (URG.) In the future I'll hang it on the wall first and work on it vertically.
 
After working all night on the wreath I stood back, looked it over, and hated it. It just seemed so clunky and disjointed. In despair I made up a bunch of brass wire curly sprigs (just bending wire around a chopstick) and also tucked in a few more of those die-cut gears I love so much. Somehow those two finishing touches brought the whole wreath together for me, and now I love it.


The bow is the most rigged thing I've ever done, and you'd laugh if you could see the back side of it. Staples and wire GALORE. The bow center is something I made a while ago to become another steampunk medal, but I've yet to find a good ribbon for it. I think it makes a nice centerpiece for the wreath, though, don't you?


K, that's my wreath! I hope you guys like it, and that you have an awesome weekend!

Posted by Jen at 10:00 AM   |  12 comments  |   Labels: , ,

My "Not Mom" Interview

Friday, December 14, 2012

I've reached the point in my career where I turn down more interview requests than I accept, both because I'm tired of answering the same questions all the time ("What's your favorite wreck?") and I am a terrible, terrible marketer. (Buy my books? Please?) And I think it goes without saying that all radio and TV requests are politely declined*.

That's why it's so refreshing to do an interview that focuses on something other than Cake Wrecks, and this recent one with Laura of The Not Mom was an absolute pleasure to write. She's doing a series focusing on child-free women online, but in a lovely, supportive manner that I think celebrates everyone's life choices, with none of the holier-than-thou attitudes that can sometimes invade both sides of the parenthood issue.



Head over to Laura's article to read my responses on things like how I'm treated as a child-free woman, my thoughts on what defines me, and the role blogging plays in my social life. It's not a long article, and I think it could help spark some deeper discussions on parenthood, life choices, and how we perceive others.

And thank you, Laura, for the great interview!


*To be fair, it's not like interviewers are beating down my door, but I do still get a few requests a month. And it's always nice to be asked. ;)

Posted by Jen at 11:31 AM   |  64 comments  |   Labels: , ,

My Halls Are Officially Decked

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing up, my family didn't have any traditions for Christmas - no special cookie recipes, no annual readings of The Night Before Christmas, not even any sentimental childhood ornaments for the tree.
When I hit my pre-teen years there was talk of skipping the tree all together, until it became clear that I would spiral into some serious teenage angst without one. My parents and older brother humored me after that, but I was the only one who really relished decorating the tree - which had to be done just so - and I would hoard Christmas trinkets from the dollar store and spend hours decorating my bedroom, too. To me, there was simply nothing more magical than sparkly tinsel, strands of colored lights, and glitter-drenched ornaments.

 
 Our living room tree. How do you like my poofy Deco mesh garland &topper?

One year, when money was especially scarce, my mother walked out onto our property (we had five acres in a tiny backwoods patch of Florida) and chopped down a scraggly little sprig of a pine to use for our Christmas tree. It was the most pathetic, Charlie-Brown-tree you can imagine, barely my height and with giant bald patches, and when I saw it I'm ashamed to say I actually broke down in tears. (I later did my best with it, though, finding stuffed animals to sit in the bald spots and making a reindeer out of paper towel rolls and cardboard to sit underneath.) There was just something so crushingly depressing about that little tree, and to this day the memory of it pushes me on to create something beautiful and warm and happy at this time of year.

The top of our entertainment center.

Looking in to the living room from behind the sofa.

So, once a year I spend every spare moment I have for a good two to three weeks decorating the whole house for Christmas. It's the only holiday I decorate for, and I freely admit I go overboard, but it makes me happy - in a neurotic, perfectionistic, "cannot-rest-until-the-garland-is-completely-symmetrical-on-ALL-sides" kind of way.

I like creating little vignettes on all the table tops, and scouring the house for things to use.

That "floral arrangement" is a $5 mini tree with a few feathers, flowers, and ornaments tucked into the branches. John told me it didn't look too ridiculous, so I went with it.


Yes, this is HDR. Told you I was hooked. Can you spot the other 2 HDR pics in this post? They're not quite so obvious.

 The top of our radio cabinet.



I'm the world's slowest decorator, which is why it takes me those two to three weeks. For every minute I spend hanging something up I spend ten staring at the blank wall, debating what to do with it. I'm in awe of all the crafty home decor bloggers out there who make it seem so effortless, because putting that stuff up there all together? SO HARD. Next year I'm just copying all these pictures.


I made the two wall swags, btw, wiring on everything from the pine cones on up, and of course you remember the steampunk cone trees. I wish I could take credit for the big floral arrangement, but that's from Old Time Pottery. (I spent $60 on it three or four years ago, and to this day I feel slightly guilty for not just making one myself - but floral arrangements are really freaking hard! Major props to those of you who can do 'em, because I barely managed those swags.)
 
My steampunk tree hasn't changed much from last year, although John and I did make a better topper for it:


We actually made several large gears like that last year, cutting them out of MDF with a scroll saw, but the project we made them for never got done. So I dusted this one off and roughly applied faux gold leaf to give it a mirror-like shine. Then John attached an L-bracket to hold the Edison bulb in place:

I debated adding peacock feathers or copper wire sprigs around the topper, but they seemed kind of busy. Let me know if you guys think it's too plain as-is, though.

Now, ornaments!


Peacock feathers, jewel tones, birds, keys, copper spirals, and gears:



The only new additions were a few mercury-glass balls, which you can see on the left. And on the right, wave hello to your photographer!

That's all I have ready to show for now, but I am *SO* close to being done with everything. Just a few more bits in the steampunk dining room, and then I'll get some wide-angle shots up for you, so you can feel like you're actually here. :)


 
Happy holidays, everyone!

Posted by Jen at 1:53 AM   |  60 comments  |   Labels: , ,

I *Think* I May Have Figured This HDR Thing Out...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Last week John and I met up with a reader out at Epcot (Hi, Amy!!), so of course I couldn't resist bringing the camera and tripod along for a few more attempts at HDR nighttime shots.

It turns out that last time I completely forgot to set the ISO properly (whoopsie), so with that corrected I had more success this round. Heh.

Anyway, here's my favorite shot of the night:

I seriously cannot believe I took this picture, you guys. 

Ok, HDR, I'll admit it: I'm hooked!


For those unfamiliar: HDR is a process where you take multiple bracketed photos and then merge them together. I took three photos for this shot:


Then I used Photomatrix to merge and adjust them. If you want a visual feast, just head over to Flickr & search for HDR photography. It's amaaaaazing.

UPDATE: For those who've requested it, my pic is available on DeviantArt here.

Posted by Jen at 10:30 AM   |  40 comments  |   Labels: ,

DIY Steampunk Cone Trees

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I've seen a bunch of DIY cone trees on various crafting blogs, covered with everything from feathers to pine cones, so I decided to try some out myself! Of course, mine would have to have a steampunk twist:

These cone trees have limitless decorating possibilities, are easy to make, and make gorgeous centerpieces when grouped together. They're also cheap, since odds are you already have everything you need to make them. (The only thing I purchased for these were the rhinestone decals, so all three only cost me $8 to make.)

I hear craft stores actually sell plain cones, but they're simple enough to DIY from old cereal boxes:

Just twist 'til you like the shape, tape the edge down with strong packing tape, and then trim the bottom to make it level. (That part's the hardest - most of my trees sit a little wonky.)

I made four cones from two cereal boxes, and half accidentally ended up with a nicely graduated set of three:


I initially planned to paint them, but quickly realized that wrapping paper is smoother, easier, and shinier. I wrapped the largest cone in a swirly metallic paper with lots of golds and silvers in it, and then proceeded to layer on those thin metal gears I love so much:

My friend (& now fellow CW writer!) Sharyn makes these gears for me using Spellbinders Gear Dies. They're thin, lightweight metal, and bend easily. It took FOREVER to glue them on the cone, though; the superglue kept letting go, and the E-6000 takes a long time to dry. Eventually John suggested I use blue tape to hold the gears in place while the glue dried, which was a real sanity-saver.

My little tree toppers are 3D stickers from the drool-worthy Jolee's Boutique steampunk line:

 
I've been saving this one pack for half a year now, waiting for the right project to showcase them properly. I seriously, SERIOUSLY love these stickers. I hope they never stop making them!

I curled thin brass wire around a chopstick to make curly sprigs to set behind the owl:


And for a final touch, I hung a vintage key on the front of the cone using two straight pins:

 All the metal and foil paper really gleams in low light, and doesn't it look perfect with the owl?

Next up, I dug through my fabric scraps and found a square of raw silk that was *just* large enough to cover my smallest cone:
(Note Jabba the Cat [aka Tonks] back there. My craft table = the cats' daytime bed.)

I used spray adhesive to attach the fabric, which I highly recommend. No mess, no bumps or dark spots on the fabric, *and* it's easy to peel the fabric off and re-position it if you get a wrinkle. Great stuff.

Last Christmas my dad, who repairs antique clocks and watches for fun, gave me a small box of rusty old pocket watch guts. (I KNOW. I was jumping up and down with glee!) I've yet to do anything fun with them, though, so I decided to showcase one on the cone:

Most of the rust dust wiped off with a damp cloth, so the face is shiny white again now.

I added several more curled wire sprigs all around the watch face, taping them down in the back, and then rigged a wire hanger with even more packing tape. (It isn't pretty back there, trust me.) Another sewing pin acted as a nail to hang the whole shebang up:



And for my final tree, I first covered it in several layers of shiny chrome wrapping paper. (The foil paper is so thin that I had to roll it several times to get a non-crinkly layer.)


After staring at it for a while, I headed off to Micheal's for some inspiration. There I found some lovely - albeit expensive - rhinestone decals:

They're $4 a pack, so that's a dollar a sticker. Like I said: pricey. They're reeeally hard to apply, too, because the swirls flop all over the place once you peel them up, and then they stretch and move while you're sticking them down, and occasionally a stone will pop off if you flex it too much. Urg.

Still, the topaz gems on the shiny silver gives the tree a really glamorous look, like old jewelry:

 
To make the swirl design I started with two full stickers in the middle, and then worked out from the center, cutting the stickers to make different shapes as needed. I think I used six stickers for this design, so at least I have two left over for later use. (Also note that you could easily do this with nail gems or other stick-on stones; just free hand your swirls, or stick the gems on randomly.)

Oh, and I also replaced the owls' blue gem eyes with smaller gold ones, to match.

And there you have it! The cones are on our front buffet, which isn't quite finished yet, but here's a crummy photo to give you the general idea:

 I'm off to finish the greenery swags next to the picture now, so I should have better pics soon.

And now, your moment of Pin:

 PIN ME!

Hey, since I keep finding so many holiday craft ideas on Pinterest, it only seems fair to send mine out into the mix, too, right? ;)

Hope you guys enjoyed, and that the holiday madness hasn't taken too many of you just yet. (I find eggnog helps. Lots...and lots...of eggnog. *hic*)

Posted by Jen at 11:49 PM   |  28 comments  |   Labels: , ,

My New & Nutty Copper Patina!

Monday, December 10, 2012

I've been spending every spare moment Christmas crafting over here for the past week or two, so brace yourselves for a minor deluge of craft posts doused in glitter, fake greenery and PURE JOY. (Or possibly frustration, if you're like me and not so good with wiring things onto fake greenery. [Why is everything so slippery, and why do I keep poking myself?! ARG!] But that's for another post.)

First up, lots of you suggested that I patina my last nutcracker - the one that looked so terrible after I tried painting it white - so I decided to give that a go. I haven't tried this finish since my seahorse tutorial, so this time I went with a slightly more colorful approach:

I also steampunked him out a bit by adding goggles, a gear emblem, and faux rivets.

The goggles are made from two thin slices of a pencil (I used my Dremel to cut them off) and a thin strip of leather:


I glued these to his hat, and then used a paint product called "Beads In A Bottle" to make the rivets. I think it worked pretty well, and the four-pack with gold, silver, copper, and black was only about $9 at JoAnn's. (Link goes to Amazon, where it's cheaper.) I'm sure I'll be using this stuff a lot more in the future!


This actually isn't a bad look with the white and silver, but my paint job was still beyond salvaging, so on to the copper spray paint!

I didn't take process photos of the patina, but I did everything essentially the same as my seahorse statue, with one major change: after the copper base coat, instead of spraying the statue black and then rubbing it down with mineral spirits, I just used a wine red acrylic paint, painting it on and wiping it off again with a rag - no spirits needed. This gave the statue a more iron-rusted look under the teal patina streaks, and also makes it more colorful and less grungy-looking:

I used less of the teal wash, too, since I wanted more of the red-washed copper to show. I know it's not terrible realistic, but I still think it's a pretty convincing metal illusion. What do you guys think?

Aaand one last beauty shot:


I'm off to take pictures of more of my finished crafts, so stay tuned!

Oh! And while I'm talking nutcrackers, can I just say how fun it is to see all YOUR versions? Here are just a few that you guys have sent in:


Nadia used glitter, star gems, and rhinestones to accent her gold and silver nutcrackers:



And Amanda A. found some extra tiny nutcracker ornaments from Walmart, which she decked out with glitter, keys, and *wings*!


Those wings are brilliant. I wish I had some big ones to stick on my guys!

And finally, my friend Darla of Bakingdom painted her nutcrackers in dreamy pastels, and then turned them into art pieces to hang on her wall!

Go here to see her full tutorial, and also to see the rest of Darla's decorations, which you must - MUST - see. Everything's so bright and sweet and glittery that it makes me despair of ever having decorating chops even half as good. I love/hate you, Darla, seriously. Come decorate my house next year? [Bambi eyes]

Hope you all had a great weekend! And please keep sharing your holiday crafts and decorations over on the Epbot FB page - it really brightens my day, seeing what my geek peeps are up to!

Posted by Jen at 5:04 PM   |  7 comments  |   Labels: , ,

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