Thursday, June 30, 2011

With Apologies to Canada

John and I have been sitting in the office all day, trying to figure out how to write a Sunday Sweets post honoring Canada that won't offend Canadians.

Not that Canadians as a whole are easily offended. It's just that over the course of several blog posts on CW my good-natured teasing managed to irritate a few. The worst instance was a misunderstanding: I posted some "improvised" lyrics to the Canada song that plays at Epcot ("Canadaaa! CanadAAAA! Oh, Caaanada!" you know, that one) and a few people thought I was making fun of the Canadian national anthem. Not many, but enough to warrant an apology and make us lay off most of the Canada humor since. (And place it on Texas, instead. Which also got us in trouble. But that's another post.)
Anyway, since July 1st is Canada Day, we thought we might switch things up a bit and feature that instead of July 4th Sweets on this weekend's Sunday Sweets. You know, a kind of peace offering.

The only problem is that Canada isn't all that different from the U.S., so finding uniquely Canadian things to spotlight via fabulous cakes isn't as easy as you might think.

We started with a list:

Black bears
Royal Mounties
Maple Leaves

John was worried. "It's all so...stereotypical. We can't let anyone think we're making fun of Canada."

So he did some research, and then wrote a painfully polite intro extolling Canada's great and various virtues, which he asked me to look over.

"Um...well, I think you're going so far the other way that people might think you're being sarcastic."


"You're talking about Justin Bieber and the guy who invented the microscope."

"Darn. What should I do?"

" know, write it like you're NOT trying to run for Canadian public office."

---a few hours later---

John: "I got 'nuthin. Besides, the cutest thing in here is the beaver cake."

Me: "Maybe we should just do all beaver cakes. You know, 'Here's a beaver, here's another beaver, here's a mountain cake that probably has beavers in it... Oh! and here's Justin Bieber...


"...and here's some more beavers..."


"Now look at this dam cake. Beavers built it. Booya."

"You're. Not. Helping."

John was also completely unreasonable when I suggested Dudley Do-Right ("He's a Mountie!") and Rocky & Bullwinkle ("He's a moose!") so I gave up and wrote this post instead.

So, whatever goes up on Sunday, let me apologize, Canada. We tried.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jen Yates and the Quest for the World's Best Book Purse

Sometimes on my tutorial posts I'll get a sweet comment that goes something like, "You make me sick. Don't ANY of your projects turn out less than perfect?!?"

The answer, of course, is a hearty "BWAHAHAHA!!!"

Which is to say yes. Ohhhh yes.

That said, I believe that failure is really only failure when you give up. 'Til then, it's just a work-in-progress.

Uh, I have a LOT of works-in-progress, guys.

So today, I want to share one with you. This is not a tutorial, because I haven't worked all the kinks out yet. However, I'm almost there, and I think you guys might be able to give me some advice/suggestions, while hopefully still getting some fun DIY inspiration out of it.

So, let's get to it!

First, here's what we're talking about:

Most of you have seen these before: books made into purses. You can find them all over online, and they look almost exactly like this one. However, I set out to make The World's Best Book Purse, meaning:

- The width would not be limited by the size of the book spine, like other book purses

- It would be much more durable

- It would be made from prettier books, with more decorative details

- It would be practical enough to actually use as a functioning purse

Quite a tall order, huh? I guess that's why I'm still working on it. :)

My main motivation in this project was to find a useful way to recycle thrift-store children's books, since I always swoon over the great cover illustrations. (And before you book lovers form a lynch mob, allow me to say I keep all the interior pages for future art projects, and I'm not destroying anything of great value.)

Because every other book purse is essentially a gutted book with handles on it, they have to be made from relatively fat books. The problem? Fat book covers are BORING. (Encyclopedias, anyone?) And if you use regular sized books, like a Nancy Drew, then your purse has a maximum girth of maybe two inches - not very practical. The prettiest cover options (in my opinion) are kids' books, but those are the skinniest of them all.

So, to use children's books (or something otherwise too skinny), you have to first construct a new book spine. I made mine from Masonite, and then covered them in the same fabric I used to line the book interior:

Attaching the new spine to the book is tricky, because you don't want to cover up too much of the front cover. After a lot of trial and error, my solution was to first use flexible clear plastic (think report covers) on the interior, creased to form a fat new spine and glued securely to the interior of the cover pieces. The Masonite panel is then glued to the inside of the plastic spine to give it structure. (So, in the photo above, the order from the outside is fabric, plastic, Masonite panel, and then the fabric lining.)

With my solution, the plastic is holding the entire weight of whatever you put in your purse, so it's important that you have a lot of plastic overlap glued to each book side.

Here's the very first book purse I made:

For the handle I used a recycled chain belt, which looks pretty, but is heavy and rather clanky when you put the purse down.

I've also saved all the book spines, which I plan to make into bracelets some day. (That's for when I start experimenting with resin jewelry!)

As you can see, there's a nice, roomy interior thanks to the larger book spine:

You can also see my pocket goof. Heh. Sewing skills have always eluded me (most of this was done using hem tape), but I thought I'd be clever and add a pocket to the lining. It wasn't until I glued the lining down that I realized the fabric wouldn't be able to flex, so the pocket was useless. Oops.

After figuring out the spine, my next challenge was the fabric edges on the side, which need to expand when the purse opens. I considered elastic, but I've yet to find a glue strong enough to handle that kind of strain.

My best solution so far is to use more of the clear plastic. I cut a thin, long strip, creased in the middle, and then slipped it into the top edge of the fabric side panels. The plastic lends strength to the top edge, and the crease makes the fabric fold inwards as the book closes:

I also used the clear plastic in the fold over strap with the magnetic snap on it, for strength - but you could also use interfacing.

To make my book purses more durable, I first cleaned and spray lacquered each book cover, making them water resistant and easy to wipe down. The fabrics were all coated in Scotch guard. I experimented with as many glues as I could find to get the strongest hold between fabric and book board - but so far, the best I've found is a combination of fabric glue and Gorilla super glue. (Any suggestions on that?)

For additional detail (and added durability) I began adding brass book corners:

These also help preserve bumped and peeling corners.

You can also buy metal purse feet, but I prefer rubber cabinet bumpers. They're softer, lower profile, and you can just glue them on instead of drilling through the bottom of the spine:

See that line of stitches along the edge of the fabric there? That edge remains one of my biggest hurdles: I need a way to attach the fabric to the book cover that won't lift over time. Because it's on a crease, all of my glues eventually give out, so I thought I'd try stitching. This had to be done by hand, through the layers of plastic, fabric, and paper board, and was a huge pain. You guys have any other suggestions?

With the body of the book purse mostly figured out, I next set about finding the perfect book purse handles.

This isn't it.

Store-bought handles like these look cute:

...but they just aren't practical. If I can't comfortably carry it on my arm or my shoulder, it's not leaving the house with me.

So far, this is both my favorite handle and favorite book purse:

When I found this old textbook it was covered in flaky plastic laminate, and filthy. By the time I cleaned it (Magic Eraser, I think I love you) and lacquered it with a flat lacquer, it looked like a new book:

The handle is a recycled soft leather belt:

(Isn't the back cover awesome?)

Of course, the problem with a single strap (which I prefer) is figuring out how to attach it, since you can't have one side of the book flopping open. I think this design was fairly successful, with the strap attached on the right of one side, and the left of the other, but it does look a little odd. I'd love to find a way to attach a single strap to the fabric sides of the purse somehow. (Um...any suggestions?)

At least the strap doesn't interfere with the purse opening:

Here you can see the fabric lining lifting on the inner corners and around the fold over clasp. Again, I've yet to find a glue that will hold long-term (I've used this purse a few times over the past few years), and I'm loathe to put rivets or grommets through the actual cover.

Although I did have to try it, at least once:

I actually like the look of the grommets through the cover, although this is my least favorite purse. I think I messed up on the fabric selection, and the handle chain is heavy and hideous:

I should go back and take that chain off, and just use the leather handles. Which, by the way, are super easy to make: just cut a thrift store belt in half, thread the ends through metal rings, and hammer in a rivet to hold them shut. Beats paying $6 for store-bought ones, right?

I'll leave you with a few more shots:

After cleaning up the old book covers, my favorite part of the process was choosing the fabric. I love finding a pattern that seems to be an extension of the book itself:

And finally, allow me to preface this photo by saying it was John's idea:

Apparently the flexing makes it more manly.

So, my fellow crafty types, here are my questions:

1) Is there some miracle glue out there that can permanently hold fabric to book covers?

2) In the same vein, do you have any suggestions for stitching/riveting through the covers?

3) Can you think of any way to make a book purse actually close, so that your things won't fall out when it tips over? I've debated attaching a zipper or even a metal snap clasp to either side, keeping the fabric edges free, but I'm again stuck on how to attach something to the book edges.

I suppose the alternative would be to build a zippered bag separate from the book and then attach it inside, but I'm not sure how that would work, exactly.

Frankly, any suggestions/advice you guys might have would be welcome. I've poured more hours than I'd care to count into these, and I'd love to make more - but not until I perfect the design further.

And, regardless of whether you have any suggestions or not, I hope you enjoyed seeing the kinds of things I obsess over. :D


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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saturday Afternoon at the Wild Kingdom

Yesterday we went to a new vet, since our old vet - who we dearly loved - moved out of state. The new vet came recommended by friends, so we packed up the cat, got a grip, came equipped, grabbed our proton packs off our backs...

No, sorry, that's the Ghostbusters rap.

Um, so we brought our cat Lily to the new vet.

Inside the little building we were hit with a wall of stinky animal smell, and greeted by various fish tanks and cages and dilapidated furniture. It was a very...lived in...look. The ladies greeting us were sweet, though, and quickly dispensed with paperwork and ushered us into an examination room.

Here the smell was so overwhelming we nearly turned around and left. Only a concern for Lily's health (she's been losing weight recently) kept us waiting and breathing through our mouths. In the room was a large tank, half-filled with water, with several turtles in it. You could barely see the rest of the counter for the clutter of bottles, cleaning supplies, ads for flea medication, plastic heart models, and assorted flotsam. It looked like someone was planning a garage sale in there, right down to the old antique couch shoved up against one wall.

While I paced the three square feet we were afforded between the exam table and couch, John peeked through the window of the door we'd just come through.

"Jen," he said, "You've got to see this."


"Just look through here."

Craning my neck to see through the high window, all I could see were stacks of wire cages in the hallway outside.

"What am I looking at?"

"Look down."

Now on tiptoes, I craned further.

"Is that a...raccoon?"


"Snuggling with a rabbit?"


At this point the doctor arrived. He had the congenial look of a brilliant yet absent-minded professor, right down to the neat white beard and tiny spectacles. His hands bore several livid scratches, and there were at least two obvious blood stains on his button-down dress shirt.

He went straight to Lily, exclaiming over how pretty she was, and it was immediately apparent that this was a man who, quite simply, loves animals. I've never seen my cat so at ease with a vet before, and she readily sat through his gentle prodding and poking and checking her teeth and eyes. When he was done, he continued petting her while he talked with us.

After going over her case pretty thoroughly, the doctor shoved over some of the flotsam on the counter, hopped up to take a seat, and chatted with us about the animals in the building. Some are being boarded, but the rest are rescues that he hasn't the heart to turn away.

John brought up the raccoon.

"She was dropped off on the doorstep in a Cheerios box when she was only a few days old," the vet said.

"And she likes...rabbits?"

"Oh, well, she kept crawling away from the heating element, and she needed to stay warm, so I said, well, just throw her in with the bunny!"

(This is the statement that cracked us up. "Hey, just throw her in with the bunny!" Ok, so maybe you had to be there.)

The cage with the rabbit and raccoon was just a few feet away from the check-out counter, so as we were walking out with the vet John asked - rather incredulously - something like, "Can you pet her?"

"Oh, yeah!" was the reply, and the next thing I knew I had a baby raccoon thrust in my face, all questing fingers and beady little eyes and adorable little ears and...

Ok. So maybe I fell a *little* in love. You can't prove it.

The little thing immediately grabbed first my hand, and then my sunglasses. As John would later remark, it's really strange to interact with an animal who has hands. After we wrested my sunglasses out of her grasp, she seized my arm in both paws and began licking it enthusiastically while I scratched behind her ears. I'm not sure how old she was, but she was about the same size as Lily, so...8 or 10 pounds? She wasn't soft - more bristly like a dog - but her little hands! And her wriggly little nose! Ack! So cute.

So, enter my dilemma: we need to keep an eye on Lily's weight, which means monthly check-ins. So, do we go back to a vet who clearly loves animals, comes highly recommended, seems to know his job well, but has an office building that would make Niecy Nash run screaming?

Or do we cave and go to some big impersonal chain store clinic? (Ug.)

And if we do go back, how will I know I'm not just there to visit the raccoon?

(In the car later I bemoaned the fact that I didn't have John take a picture. Why do I never think of these things at the time?! Well, if we do go back, I promise I'll get one.)

Since I don't have a picture of me being mauled by a baby raccoon (wouldn't that be a fun photo series? "Jen being mauled by exotic animals." Hey, I've already got the flamingo!), here's one of Lily and Tonks:

If looks could kill, right? And at this rate we'll have to rename Tonks Jabba. Heh. How *do* you feed two cats when one's too fat and one's too thin, anyway?

Oh, and for my fellow animal lovers who might be concerned: as far as we know, Lily is fine. Her blood work looks good, and apparently her losing two pounds has put her at her ideal healthy weight - although eight pounds seems insanely thin to us, what with Tonks clocking in at a chunky fourteen pounds. If Lily loses any more, though, we'll have to do more tests.

UPDATE: Part 2 with baby raccoon pics here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hobbit & Pottermore: First Looks

This is a red letter day to be a geek, guys!

First, check out the first sneak peek of Martin Freeman as Bilbo from The Hobbit, just released by Peter Jackson through Entertainment Weekly!

Hit the link for a few more pics, or pick up this week's copy (on stands tomorrow) for the whole story.

WOOHOOO!! And I know we've all said it from the beginning, but Martin really is perfect as Bilbo. (Is it 2012 yet??)

And next, fellow Harry Potter fans, have you heard about Pottermore? Here's J.K. Rowling's big announcement, which just released today:

And since that's a bit vague, here are a few details courtesy of the Leaky Cauldron:

- Pottermore is an interactive new Web site and reading experience with more than 18,000 new words from J.K. Rowling.

- One million fans will get access to a beta on July 31, Harry's birthday. It will be open for all in October 2011.

- You will follow the story, get sorted into a house and get a wand (one of 33,000 possible combinations) - all crafted by JKR.

And from the official press release:

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books.

Here's a screen shot:

More screen shots here, and lots more information here.

I've never been much of on online gamer, but darned if THIS wouldn't get me hooked. Granted, this will probably be more like an interactive story book than an actual game, but allow me a moment to imagine WoW-esque gaming in the Harry Potter world, won't you?

[imagining] Mmmm. Yeah. That's the stuff.

So, anyone else excited by today's news?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Quick" Craft - Small Clock Makeover

Since I'm waiting on parts (and a little inspiration) to finish up our radio cabinet makeover, I spent a few hours fixing up the little alarm clock I got the other week:

The case's finish was mostly rubbed off, so it was dull and grungy, and the plastic face plate was scuffed.

The face itself was gorgeous, with the glaring exception of those pale green glow-in-the-dark dots around the numbers and on the hands:

The maker name, Linder or Linden, is actually hand written on the face in ink. Pretty. (I don't know how old it is - although it's stamped West Germany, so that's at least pre-1990. Heh.)

I scraped out the green dots & popped out the green sections on the hands with the point of a craft knife:

Already lookin' better!

You can also see in that photo the little holes above the numbers. John drilled these by hand with a tiny bit, to make way for...

...some bling!

The crystals were scavenged from a ring that had already lost a few over the years. However, when I pried the stones out they lost their reflective backing, which is what gives them their sparkle. So - and here's where you'll start questioning my sanity - I applied silver leaf in each of the tiny holes before gluing in the crystals. Considering that the crystals are smaller than a bread crumb, this was a real pain in the rear. (Toothpicks. Gotta love 'em.)

However, in the end I think it was worth it:

The gems really sparkle in the light - far more than their plastic rhinestone counterparts.

For the body of the clock, I polished the inner housing and refinished the feet, handle and lattice side wrap with this:

We were faux finishers for years, so trust me when I tell you Montana's Goldchrome spray paint is one of the closest you'll ever get to "brass in a can." Of course, it's most convincing on small pieces, so don't expect to fool anyone on large bed frames or anything.

Here you can compare the original brass finish (the inner metal seen through the lattice) with the painted feet, handle, and lattice. Not a bad match, right?

I left off the scuffed plastic cover, so now you can see the face clearly:

Oh, and lest you think I sacrificed a perfectly good ring, that's it there. As you can (kind of) see, I removed the crystals in a flower pattern, so I think it actually looks better now than it did when I first bought it. A win-win!

The clock is sitting, ticking, beside my keyboard as I type this. I find the ticking kind of soothing, but it drives John bonkers. (A win-win-win?) :D

Important Safety Update: Thanks to dmontag in the comments, I was reminded that old clocks often made use of radium paint on their dials, which is harmful. We didn't *think* this one was old enough, but just to be sure we opened it up and found it was made in the early 70s. (From what I can tell, radium dials tapered out in the '50s.) If you have an old clock or watch with glow-in-the dark detailing on it, go here to learn more about the dangers of radium paint - and PLEASE don't go scratching it off like I did on this one. o.0

Shopping Blasts from the Past

I actually used to hate antique stores, and antiques by association. There was just something about all that musty, uncomfortable furniture, the shelves and shelves of don't-touch crystal, the creepy toys... and why the heck was everything covered in doilies?

Actually, come to think of it, I still hate most of that stuff.


Still, over the years I've learned to love antique stores. Maybe it's because I'm getting so old that there are toys *I* grew up with in them (well hello, Mr. Glo Worm!), or because I realized they're like museums where you can touch stuff (except that crystal, of course) or - dingdingding! - because I'm now a bit of a steampunk devotee. Oh, and can't forget all the gaudy vintage jewelry! Man, I love that stuff. The more sparkle, the better.

Our favorite stall at the world-famous Renningers: everything from antique keyhole latches to chandeliers. Hardware heaven!

Of course, my favorite kinds of antique shops are the cheap and junky ones. Don't show me beautifully preserved tchotchkes, each displayed in its own spotlight - show me the tables of ancient mishmash I can dig through! I want stuff I can fix up, re-use, and get creative with.

Which isn't to say I don't drool over finds like this, though:

I spotted this cash register crammed in a small stall at Renningers last Saturday. Isn't it gorgeous?

Here's the back:

Hmm. Anyone have a spare $900? :)

Anyway, so last week John and I took some friends to our favorite antique mall, and this is what I came home with:

Check it out: that's a vintage cake decorating icing kit, in the original box, for $5. Suh-weet! And oh yes, I have plans for it. [rubbing hands together] Muah-ha-ha!

The little alarm clock was a splurge - $20! - but it was more than half off because the owner marked it "broken." (It's not.) I just finished working on it tonight, since we're waiting on a few pieces for the radio cabinet in the mail. Before & after pics to follow!

And my third purchase? Why, a $1.50 McDonald's Happy Meal toy from 1986, of course:

Anyone else remember these? I used to play with Kermit and his skateboard on my desk at school. Something reminded me of it a few weeks ago, so when I spotted Fozzie here (unopened!) in a pile of toys at one of the stalls there was much rejoicing. And squeeing.

Of course, now you know I have to find the rest of the Muppet Babies set, right? (And eventually I'll break down and take Fozzie out of the bag, but I'm going to feel really guilty when I do. Heh.)

So, have I convinced anyone to go antiquing? And am I invited when you go?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Radio Romance, Part 1

Remember that old radio cabinet John and I purchased way back when? Well, we finally dragged it out of the garage about two weeks ago, and have been working on both restoring and steampunking it out ever since.

Here's what it looked like, fresh from the antique mall:

Tonks and Lily approve. Or disapprove. Or don't give a flying rip.
Really, it's hard to tell.

The cabinet was in amazing shape, considering it's 81 years old:

Pretty carving on the face and columns.

As you can see, the only real damage was to the speaker grill, where a few pieces of the lattice design were broken off.

The radio itself was long gone, with the guts and knobs removed:

Ick. Verrrry dirty.

After wiping down the inside (again: ick) we removed the center panel:

This would actually make a beautiful shelving unit by itself, but there was no way I wasn't using that gorgeous center panel. So, we set about repairing it.

First, John carefully pried up the center speaker grill, which was nailed in place with tiny pin nails:

The blue tape is to protect the wood from scratches.

Don't worry; the filthy mustard-colored speaker cloth will be getting an upgrade.

Next, the fun part: I got out my epoxy putty.


You slice off a small section of this putty and knead it together to activate it. It is *extremely* sticky, and you have less than five minutes of open time before it hardens to a cement, so it takes a little practice to get used to. (It's better to work in small sections.) However, I eventually managed to get the two missing sections roughed in, plus one small center patch:

The two skinny patches are where the lattice was missing completely.

Next I spent two nights painstakingly carving the detail into those patches using a pumpkin-carving bit on my Dremel:

The Dremel takes off tiny, tiny bits at a time, so it's very dusty and very slow going - but that also gives you a lot of control, which is good.

Here are my patches after carving:

I won't lie to you: I am extremely proud of these patches. I'd only used the epoxy putty this way once before (on a project I'll feature here later), and I've never carved anything before, so this was both a learning experience and a ton of fun.

Next I used acrylic craft paints to apply a dark faux wood grain over the patches:

Though the grill looks (and feels!) like a heavy wrought iron, it's actually made of wood.

Ready to see the finished product?


Of course, the irony here is that I spent two or three days working on something that no one will ever notice - and that's the whole point. Heh.

Next I'll be showing off the fun, electrical, steampunky features we're adding to our radio cabinet, so stay tuned for those!

Oh, and in case you have something that needs patching, here's the epoxy putty I use. It's about $6 from Amazon, or you can find it at your local hardware store. And believe me, once you start using this stuff, you'll be in love. Just be sure to wear gloves, or you'll be picking concrete bits off your skin for a week. (Heed my voice of experience!)

So tell me, guys, what's your favorite crafty secret weapon? Any tools or products I should know about?

{UPDATE: At long last, here's part 2!}