Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Decorating

In addition to cleaning and organizing, I've done a bit of holiday decorating recently.  It was time to swap out the fall centerpiece - which was a store-bought wreath of twigs and berries that I placed around a candle - and after a bit of rummaging around to see what I had available to use, this is what I came up with...

I kept the pillar candle and the faceted candle holder form the fall arrangement and surrounded it with a bunch of pinecones.  The ones I used came from Walmart and were cinnamon scented.  Some of the bigger ones have glitter and the little ones are all painted gold.  Then, because I thought it needed a little something extra, I added a pair of crystal candle holders - ours are Mikasa - and pretty silvery tapers.  And that's it!  It  only took a few minutes and I didn't spend a dime (unless you count the pinecones, but I already had them on hand).  So if you don't have a lot of spare cash to spend on decorations, take a look at what you already have and try to think outside the box.

You never know - an act of penniless desperation might just become a holiday tradition.  The first Christmas we spent together was wonderful, but there was one thing missing - a tree.  We just didn't have the extra money to go and buy one.  But I was determined that we would have something to put our gifts under.  So I picked up the prettiest stick I could find in our yard, brought it in, and positioned it in a basket of pinecones.  We still have that stick, and every year, we put it up as faithfully as anyone else puts up any other tree.  

This year, I decided to put it in the sunny windowsill upstairs in what is soon to be my craft room.  I stuck a bit of Sculpy on the end to help hold it in place and put it in a small glass candleholder.  Then I added a bunch of faux pearls in shades of white, cream, and gold.  I arranged my little "tree" with some pretty white and gold candles atop some pretty, wintery fabric that I draped over the windowsill.  Today, I was gifted with my very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree, which I happily added to my little windowsill arrangement.  I think the whole thing looks quite festive.

Our holiday decor is far from tradition, but it certainly suits us.  What about you?  What sort of outside-of-the-box decorating have you done this year?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Crafts

Well, folks.  The holidays are upon us once again, and I don't know about you, but for me, this time of year is intrinsically linked with crafting.  I loved cutting out paper snowflakes, and a good portion of the ornaments on our tree were handmade - if not by me then by some friend or family member.  I made popcorn garlands with my grandma and helped Mom wrap presents, which is an art form all its own, I think.

As I grew older and craftier, I started making gifts.  One year I handmade all of my gifts - which was quite labor intensive and a bit stressful, but also very rewarding.

This year, we're making Secret Santa gifts.  After some consideration, we decided on ornaments.  One thing we always have on hand is polymer clay, so that's what we'll be using.  The recipient is fond of snowmen, so we'll be making one of those.  And because we love to pass along the fun, we'll also be making a Christmas pickle.

Like this one that I made last year:

Now, I know what you're thinking.  What on earth does a pickle have to do with Christmas?  

Honestly?  I don't know.  And neither does anyone else, it seems.  It's a bit of a mystery.  The story is that the tradition originated in Germany of hiding a pickle order somewhere amidst the branches of the Christmas tree.  On Christmas Eve, everyone would hunt for the pickle and whoever found it first would have especially good luck throughout the following year - or in some versions of the story, they would get a special gift.  

But apparently, according to a lot of actual Germans, there is no such tradition.  The whole thing may very well have been made up by some kookie person trying to sell glass pickles, for some reason.  

However it originated, hunting the pickle has been a tradition in my family since I first learned about it - and made my first pickle ornament - in the fifth grade.  Having the pickle hunt to look forward to made Christmas Eve that much more fun.  

Long story short, I love the pickle.  It's very special to me, and I look forward to passing on the fun to another family this year.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mission Complete: Planner Modification

First off, I apologize for my absence last week, and I feel I should warn you that November is likely to be a rather quiet month.  I'll be participating in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.  The challenge?  To write an entire 50,000-word novel in thirty days.  I was successful last year, and I'm feeling even better about this year.

That's why I didn't post anything last week.  I was busy outlining and planning and writing up character sketches and so on.  I literally could not tear myself away.  I've got everything under control now, though, and I'm trying to relax until November 1st, when all hell is going to break loose.

Of course, I have been doing some crafting.  When I needed a break from outlining, I turned my attention to a simple but fun - and quite useful - little project.

It all started with this nice but somewhat boring planner I had lying around - your typical faux leather binder-type thing.  I  used it off and on for its intended purpose until I ran out of pages.  I  had always intended to print my own refills, but it has since langoured, unused.

Meanwhile, something I've been meaning to put together for some time is some sort of repository for all of my writing ideas.  I wanted something shuffle around and reorganize as necessary, something with pockets for stashing clippings perhaps, something small enough to be easily portable... In short, I wanted a small binder.  Like my planner.  Like the planner that was sitting unused.


There was just one problem.  In it's original state, the binder was rather uninspiring...

It didn't even have those pretty gold corners to start with - I just forgot to take a picture before I started experimenting.  The first thing I tried was plain ol' acrylic craft paint.  That's the gold you see here.  I had already decided I wanted to go for a sort of steampunk look, so I painted the main portion a nice, dark brown.  Which looked nice, but dried with a somewhat unpleasant texture.

So I whipped out the Rub-n-Buff - which I'd have used from the start had it occurred to me.  If you're not familiar with this magical substance, you really should be.  It's a metallic wax finish, which comes in a little tube, and works just as the name proclaims.  You squeeze a bit out and rub it onto the surface you want to cover.  Then you can buff it to a nice, muted sheen.  I used Spanish Copper on the bulk of the binder and Antique Gold  for the details.

I gave the inside a similar treatment, though I skipped the initial painting and used the Rub-n-Buff alone.  There isn't much of a visible difference, but I suppose we'll see how things wear.

All in all, I'm quite happy.  I may add a few embellishments, but I think it's already quite an improvement.  Now I just need to work on innards.  I've got some new stamps to play with, so I think I'm going to put them to use on decorating some dividers.  But of course, there'll be more on that later.

In the meantime, I'm off to try and get some housework done before November arrives...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Humpday Home Decor: Decoupaged Bookcases [WIP]

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you may have heard that we've been working on decorating bookcases.  We spent the better part of a day painting and decoupaging, and they already look pretty great.  They just need a few finishing touches (and to be moved to their permanent homes where I can get some good pictures of them that do not feature stacks of boxes in the background).  So they're still a work-in-progress.  But here's a preview!

Bookcase #1 got a light coat of matte brown spray paint.  We didn't worry too much about coverage, so the wood grain shows through a bit in places, as you can see here.  Also, we didn't sand or prime this one at all - just painted.  And aside from some funky texture on the edges - which was probably caused by the furniture polish we used to clean it before hand - it worked out just fine.  And we thought the texture was pretty cool.  If you're making a major color change, though, or you just want to make damn sure things turn out right, sanding and priming certainly never hurts.

The medallions here are cut from sheets of scrapbook paper.  If you're going to be cutting out little detailed things like this, do yourself a favor and get a pair of nice, small, pointy-ended scissors.  They are a life-saver!  Or at least, a hand-saver.

And of course, we used Mod Podge to decoupage the cut-outs onto the top and sides.  If you have never worked with Mod Podge, you are missing out.  Go get some now.  Get the big bottle.  Trust me, you'll want it.  This was Anna's first decoupaging venture, and now she wants to cover everything with paper.  I expect to wake up one morning and find her decoupaging the toaster.

But I digress.  Bookcase #2 received a similar treatment. This time we did sand and prime it, and I do think the primer made the painting easier.  Since the sides were black, I imagine it would have taken more coats to cover without the primer.

We decided to go with a steampunk theme for this one, as it's going in my soon-to-be-steampunk'd craft room.  So we painted it with that awesome hammered metal stuff that Rustoleum makes, in copper, of course.  Then we decoupaged it with cutouts of clock faces and gauges.

Yesterday I painted all of the front edges a nice antique gold, just for a little extra contrast.  Now I'm trying to decide what I want to paint on the sides to fill in those extra spaces.  I'm debating between random numbers - in keeping with the clock/gauge theme - and stenciling some fancy little swirly things.

I'm also experimenting with an edging for the cutouts that will hopefully make them look more "welded metal" than "glued paper."  And finally, once I pick up the necessary materials, I'll be making a stencil to add text to the top.  I was going to freehand it, but I'm too chicken.

So.  You'll be seeing these babies again once they're all finished.  And they are not the last of their kind.  We intend to do this with all of our bookcases.  So we should be experts by the time we're done.

In the meantime, we'd love to hear from you.  Have you tried anything like this before?  Revamped some boring old furniture?  Decoupaged anything interesting?  Leave us a comment!

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Giveaway Winner


All right, folks.  We've chosen a winner - by random number - for our My Memories Suite giveaway!  Congratulations to Eli Carver of Penny Minding Mom!  Keep an eye on your inbox.  I'll be emailing you soon with the download code for your free copy of the software.

Those of you who didn't win, fret not.  You can still get $10 off if you purchase the software with this coupon code:  STMMMS66141

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Giveaway Extended

All right, folks.  We only have two entrants so far in the My Memories Suite Giveaway, so we're going to extend the deadline to Monday, October 3.  Now what are you waiting for?  Get over there and enter!

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Memories Suite - Review + Giveaway!

I received a delightful surprise in my inbox a few weeks ago - an email asking if I would like to review a piece of digital scrapbooking software.  I immediately said yes, not because I'm a big scrapbooker, but because I am hugely fond of digital art and thought it would be lots of fun to play with.  

I was given a coupon code so I could download a free copy of the program, which was a super easy process.  It wasn't long before I had the program downloaded and installed and was ready to start playing.  And that was precisely what I did.  I played.  And it was fun.  There was no steep learning curve.  I didn't have to go consult some huge user guide to figure out how to do things.  Everything is so simple and intuitive that absolutely anyone could use this program and create something awesome.  And that's... well, pretty awesome.

Let's take a closer looks, shall we?  

When you first start the program, this is what you'll see.  Using the designer templates is the quickest and easiest option as they're already filled in with background papers and various decorative elements.  All you need to do is add your photos and any additional decorations you may want, and voila!  Instant album.  Choosing "Design Your Own" will give you a boatload of basic layouts to choose from that suggest various positions for photos and other elements, but are totally blank - you have to fill in everything on your own.  You can also browse for more content online - and you totally should!  There are oodles of packages that you can purchase at perfectly reasonable prices, and there are a lot more goodies that are totally free.

For the purposes of our little tour, let's try out one of those designer templates...

Here you're presented with a list of available templates. Click on one and you get a thumbnail preview.  Some of the templates include a link to the shop that will show you all of the templates available from that particular artist.  It's getting to be that time of year, so I'm going to go with the "Funky Fall" template.  When you click "next" you're given the option to rearrange the album's pages if you want.  The default is fine by me, but it's nice to have the option.  As you'll soon notice, even when using the premade templates, everything is really up to you.  If you don't like something, chances are you can change it or get rid of it.  There aren't many programs like this that offer that sort of flexibility.

Now, if you're really lazy in a hurry, you can choose the FastFill option in the next step, which will take the photos you choose and automatically insert them in the layout.  How cool is that?  You could literally create not just a page, but an entire scrapbook album in a matter of minutes.  But I'm going to go with the Pick and Click  option, cause I'm a control freak like that.

Finally, slap a name on that baby and choose where you want to save it, and bam!  You've got your album all set up.  Now you can take a coffee break or go tweet about your technological achievement or whatever you do when you've got a few minute to kill because it'll take a minute or two for everything to load, depending on how many pages are in your album and how complex it is.

Once it's loaded, this is what you'll see:

Lovely, no?  You've got the page you're working on in the center, the other pages in the album down below, your resource gallery - which is where you'll find your photos, embelishments, backgrounds, etc. - on the left, and your control panel - which offers another way to add embelishments and backgrounds and such, as well as extras like video and music - on the right.  It may look a complicated, but there's really just a few controls presented in a few different places, so you can work in whatever way seems best for you.  Me, I mostly use the resource gallery.  

To add your photos with the resource gallery, you just click on the little camera icon and you're presented with thumbnails from your "Pictures" folder.  If that's where the photo you want to use is located, great.  If not, you'll have to click on "Select Folder" and find it your own damn self.  Once you've got the photo you want to use, it's a simple matter of dragging the thumbnail to whichever little grey box you want to put it in.  The program automatically sizes it to fit - though of course, you can crop and resize manually, if you please.  But it does a darn good job all by itself.

You can even add cool effects to your photos.  Click on "Photos" in the control panel and you'll find a bunch of handy tools.  Click on "Effect" and a nice little box will pop up where you can try different effects, pick the one you like, and fine tune it.  I decided to brighten my photo just a bit.

Fill in the rest of those empty photo boxes, and...

Hey!  That's a pretty nice looking page, huh?  But let's dress it up a little more...

Adding embellishments works just like adding photos.  Once you find one you like, just drag the thumbnail onto the page. Then you can reposition it, resize it, flip, rotate, even add a shadow to it if you want.  And if you decide you don't like it, you can remove.  Or if you liked it better before you rotated it, clicking "Edit" and "Undo" will reverse whatever you did last.  Handy.

I decided to add this pretty little leaf, just to dress things up a bit more.  And now, I'll add some text so I can remember where the heck I took these pictures.

To do so, I can click on "Word Art" if I want to add fancy, decorative text or "Text" (which you'll find in the control panel) if I just want plain ol' text.  That's the route I'm going to take here, since there's already a lot going on with this page.  When you click "add," you'll see a little grey box.  Double click inside the box to type, then you can use the options under "Text" in the control panel to change the font, size, and various other aspects of your text.  But you'll have to highlight what you want to change first, just like you would if you were typing in Word.

Once you're done with that, you can click and drag the text wherever you want it.  And if you want to get really fiddly and precise about your placement, you can use the arrow keys to nudge and skootch to your heart's content.  And there ya go!

Really, that couldn't have been easier.  But that's certainly not all you can do.  Even if you have absolutely no interest in scrapbooking, you could still make use of this program.  In fact, my very first project didn't have any photos in at all.  I used just the papers and embelishments that came with the program - and one extra free set that I downloaded - to make this calendar.

And this is all just the tip of the iceberg, really.  This program is just oozing potential, and if you're as excited about seeing what it can do as I am, you're in luck.  Because I have a free copy to give away.  Aw, yeah.  Here's what you need to do to enter:

  • Go visit My Memories, peruse the packages and comment here with your fave.  Don't forget to leave your contact info so I can get ahold of you if you win!

BONUS ENTRIES (one extra entry for each; make sure to leave a separate comment for each bonus task and a link to your Twitter/Facebook)

SUPER-BONUS ENTRY (Counts s 5 extra entries!)
  • Write a blog post about the giveaway - leave a comment with a link to your post!
So there you have it - lots of chances to win.  But if you're not feelin' lucky or you just don't wanna wait, you can get $10 off your purchase of My Memories Suite v2.0 AND a $10 coupon for the MyMemories.com Store, which you can use to purchase additional packages, papers, and various goodies.  How?  

1. Go to http://www.mymemories.com/digital_scrapbooking_software
2. Click on Add to Cart.
3. Enter the following code in the Promotional Code field on the shopping cart page:  STMMMS66141
4. Finish the checkout. You should not be asked for any credit card information, and the total for the order should be FREE.
5. To download the software, go to http://www.mymemories.com/my_accounts/downloads and click on the link to download the software. Your product key will also be displayed on that page, which you'll need, so make sure you hang on to it.

And there ya go!  Instant discount.  Still not convinced? Waiting for payday?  No worries.  This offer doesn't expire!  You can come back any time and snag the code from the sidebar.  

The giveaway, however, is for a limited time.  You've only got until Wednesday, Sept. 28 to get your enter, so hop to it!  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Inaugural Post: Who, What, Why

Greetings and salutations, Dear Readers!  We'd like to introduce you to our little blog by answering a few simple questions...

Who the heck are we?
No one you've ever heard of.  Which sucks, 'cuz we're pretty awesome people - definitely the kind you want to know.  We're a pair of super-creative ladyfolk who basically live for making stuff.  We are geeks, goths, steampunk aficionados, Japanese fashion enthusiasts, foodies, anachronists, DIY-ers, bookworms, etc.  We love shopping - perusing antique stores, wiling away hours in bookstores, digging through piles of cool junk at flea markets.  We enjoy cooking - Asian food especially - and baking.  We collect dolls, art, vintage gloves, teacups, and books (our library counts as a collection, right?).  Basically, we were born at the wrong time, in the wrong country, and we're just doing our best to cope.

What are we doing here?
Short answer:  makin' stuff.  When we're not trapped by the necessary drudgery of things like work, there's a good chance you'll find us creating something.  What sort of something is hard to say.  We write, we make jewelry, we design graphics, we knit and crochet, we sew, we make costumes, we paint and draw and play with clay...  There is a veritable smorgasbord of creative materials and techniques, and we like to load our plate with a little bit of everything and go back for seconds.  And thirds.

Which is why we call this thing a "collective."  After a few attempts to compartmentalize our creativity into separate blogs and social networking accounts and such, we decided that was far too much like trying to juggle a dozen balls of yarn without getting tangled up and that it was time to simplify matters.  So here we are, smooshing everything into one big, crafty, creative blog, reveling in variety rather than catering to a single segment of the craft pie.

More specifically, we'll be sharing our various projects, including tutorials for the really cool stuff.  We'll share things that inspire us.  We'll review crafty books.  We might even share the occasional recipe.  And in addition to all of the general crafty goodness, you can expect a big helping of home decorating too.  We've just moved into an adorable little A-frame in the woods, and once we've got all these boxes out of the way, we've got some major decorating and organizing to do.  And of course, we'll be sharing the whole thing right here.

Why are we doing this?
Why not?  It's fun for us.  It's fun for you (we hope).  Everyone wins!

But also because the whole point of making stuff is to share it with other people.  Sure, we do it for ourselves because we enjoy it, but the real fun comes when we share the finished product with someone else.  What good would a painting be if there was no one to look at it and appreciate it?

Our aim is not to impress, but to inspire.  We are firm believers that creativity is a trait we all possess - that you really can do anything you set your mind to, whether it's making a necklace or building a bookcase.  You just have to be willing to jump in and try.  We're hoping that looking at our projects will inspire you to go out and try your own.  We get so much inspiration from the crafting community, and we want to give a little back.  Like the Circle of... Craft.  Or something.

Posting will probably be a bit sporadic for a bit while we work on unpacking, be we hope you'll follow us, add us to your reader of choice, sign up for email notifications or keep up with us by whatever method you prefer and stick around for all the fun that's to come!

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