Monday, December 31, 2012

Wrapping Paper You Won't Want to Rip

Hand Painted Wrapping Paper
My eldest son tried his hand at making wrapping paper this holiday season.  We tried several methods and decided that the best paper (quick, simple and most beautiful) was stamped with sponges cut into different shapes.  We started with a roll of white butcher’s paper.  First we cut it to fit the package we were wrapping and wrote the name of the person it was going to lightly in pencil.  We flipped the paper over onto a table, protected by a layer of newspaper, and taped the edges and corners of the butcher paper to the newspaper with a small amount of painter’s tape, so it could be easily removed later on.  Then we decorated the paper with layers of stamping.  Below is a list of materials, some tips for stamping with sponges and directions for making the three designs that were our favorites.
Roll of White Butcher Paper
Painter’s Tape
Paper Plates
Kitchen Sponges
Small Cardboard Boxes
Foam Stickers
Wet Wipes (handy for any painting/messy project with your child)
  1. If your child has a hard time getting an appropriate amount of paint onto the sponge stamp make a stamping pad by dampening a rag or inexpensive washcloth.  Place the damp rag onto a paper or plastic disposable plate.  Squeeze some paint onto the rag and fold to distribute the paint.  This helps keeps globs and drips to a minimum. 
  2. Have your child practice stamping on scrap paper or newspaper first to get the feel for it.  The trick is to stamp straight down and pick it straight back up without sliding the sponge or stamp.
  3. Start from the furthest edge away from your child and work towards your child so they don’t lean over wet paint reaching for a blank spot. 
  4. Always use washable paints and markers when working with small children and keep wet wipes within arms reach.
Snowy Paper
Stamp circles in a random fashion starting with a medium blue.  Add some white to the blue and do another layer.  Repeat this process adding more white paint to the paint mixture  each time.  We also made a stamp with a small cardboard jell-o box and a foam snow flake sticker.  We finished the design by stamping blue snowflakes on the white spaces and light colored circles and white snowflakes on the blue circles.   
Christmas Tree Paper
Stamp green triangles onto the paper and then decorate with colored ornaments made by stamping a q-tip in a variety of colors.  A star shaped stamp made with a star foam sticker would have been nice for a tree topper (as shown in the snowy paper design).
Strings of Lights Paper
Draw some curly stripes in dark green or black leaving space in between for the lights to make the cord.  We used a marker for this but paint and a brush would work too.  If using paint you may want to let the paint dry before moving onto stamps.  Stamp with tear drop shaped sponges.  Utilize your child’s early math skills by having them make up a pattern to repeat so the colors are evenly disbursed.   Once the paint has dried add a squiggle to attach the bulb to the cord.

It took much longer to wrap the gifts since you have to wait for the paint to dry in between and took up quite a bit of table space.  (Every time it was time for a meal we had to check to see if the paint was dry!)  But it was a lot of fun and the few special people who received gifts wrapped in hand painted paper appreciated it.

Handmade Paper Curls

My son loves to swipe any scraps of paper I have leftover (especially long strips trimmed on the paper cutter).  His favorite thing to do with them is wrap them around a pencil to make what he calls a “paper curl”.  He even wanted to open his own Etsy shop like mine called “Handmade Paper Curls”.  I decided that he would love to learn how to put these curls together in an art-form called “paper quilling” or “paper filigree”. 

I didn’t have an actual paper quilling tool so I cut a piece of 4“ length of 1/8“wooden dowel.  Using a fine saw for cutting balsa wood I carefully cut a ¼ inch deep slit in one end of the dowel.  The end of the strip of paper easily slid into the dowel slot and then he spun the dowel to coil the paper around itself.  Once it is tightly curled let it loosen up and slide it off the dowel.  We used red and green copy paper cut into quarter inch strips and then pinched the opposite sides to make a leaf shape that we glued together to make a poinsettia ornament.  I added some gold beads and it made a great decoration on the top of a Christmas gift!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tutorial: Design Your Own Personalized Postcards

Christmas cards, party invitations, thank you notes,
birth announcements, moving announcements and more!
sample postcard layouts for every occasion
 I’ve been making my own postcards since my first son was born.  I remember designing it during my last months of pregnancy.  I had a blue version and a pink one since we didn’t know the gender of our babies before they were born.   I plugged in the picture and information on my husband’s laptop from my hospital room and was sticking stamps and address labels on them when the pediatrician walked in to examine our baby.  He was surprised when I handed him the announcement.  He’d never had anyone do that before!
I enjoy designing my own cards and printing them as a 4” x 6” print is so cheap and easy.  I can print as many as I want and if I realize last minute that I need a few more it’s no problem, in an hour I have whatever additional amount I need.  I don’t have to pay a designer since I’m designing it.  It’s versatile, I can choose to send it as a postcard with a postcard stamp on the back or put it in an invitation sized envelope if I want it to be a little fancier, at Christmas I put it in a business sized envelope with a yearly letter. 
Here’s how I make my postcards and a few design tips to help make your cards look unified and professional.
Design Tips
  • One of the things I use all the time from art school is something called visual hierarchy.  Make the most important thing(s) stand out by using contrast (size, color, font). 
  • Keep it simple!  Using too many fonts makes the elements compete with each other.  The viewer’s eye can’t decide what to look at first and the design gets too busy.  You’ll break down the visual hierarchy!
  • Unify your design by pulling colors out of your photo and use them for the background, border on your photos and/or text. Unify a group of photos by changing them to black and white or sepia (changing a photo to grayscale can be done right in Publisher, to change a photo to sepia I use IrfanView – click on “image”, scroll down the drop menu to “effects” and choose “sepia”)
  • Rule of odds: the most interesting and dynamic designs use an odd number of elements.
1. Start with a canvas size or document size of 4” x 6” (that’s 1000 x 1500 pixels) 
I usually lay my designs out in Microsoft Publisher.
2. Choose a photo for your postcard. 
3. Type in the information and play with the color, size, font and font style (bold/italic etc)Decide if the text should be right justified, centered or left justified or some combination.  (This can be tweaked later on.)
4. Pull a background color from your photo to unify the design.  I also added a border on my photo with another color pulled from the photo.  (in Publisher this is very easy, just right click your picture choose "format picture..." on the pop up menu and click the first tab in the pop up window "colors and lines"choose your line color and weight.) This will help the photo stand out from the background.
5. Pull out elements from the photo, like colors or patterns.  For example this year our Christmas card has an argyle pattern on the background that I made to match my son’s sweater.  Check out for photos that can be used for background, textures and fabric patterns make nice backgrounds.  Be sure to choose to search “creative commons” in the advanced search section for images that you are allowed to use or adapt.
6. Add clip art if you have dead space and are uncomfortable designing your own element.  Choose wisely, poorly chosen clipart will cheapen the look of your design very quickly!  And keep it simple by limiting the number of pieces of clipart you use.
7. Change the background of your text box to add bands of color behind your text to make it stand out or make it easier to read.  Drag the edges of the text box to the edge of your document so the color runs from edge to edge if you want it to be a band of color rather than a box.  Right click the text box and choose “Format Text Box…”  choose the first tab “colors and lines” on the window that pops up.  Choose a color and drag the bar labeled “transparency” to allow some color to show through from the background.
8. Make sure you leave enough of a margin so that nothing important gets clipped off since it’s hard to tell exactly where the edge of the print will be. 
9. Save your work as a publisher document so you can tweak things later if necessary.
10. Save your image as a Jpeg and increase the quality to printing quality (300dpi)
11. For the first few cards I designed I would print one proof to check that everything was just how I wanted it.  Then I could tweak anything that needed it and print my big order after that.  I print my cards at Sam’s Club.  I upload them online and when I check out I always check the box near the top of the cart that says “Turn off in-Club color correction for all prints and posters in your order.”
For some reason when I don’t check this box there is a weird fuzziness around my text.
I’ve found this to be a fun, cost effective way to make personalized photo cards for lots of occasions and hope this tutorial will give you some help in making your own designs for your little ones.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Autumn leaves that are hard to resist

Materials needed:
heavy watercolor paper
watercolor paint
a variety of autumn leaves

My kids and I love to walk in our neighborhood.  This time of year the crunchy fallen leaves are all the rage.  We come home with fists and pockets full of colorful leaves of all shapes and sizes.  I gave my son some heavy watercolor paper and taught him a fun watercolor painting technique called: wet on wet. 
First we traced the leaves with a pencil to get the right shape and size, and then using a crayon we added the stem and veins.   We made observations as we went noticing that some yellow leaves have red or orange veins and some visa versa.  Once the veins are drawn in we put a coat of clean water within the shape of the leaf then drop color by the brush full into the pool of water.  (Note: don’t worry if the color strays outside the outline, you can always cut out your leaf at the end.)  A heavy watercolor pad is perfect for this project because it prevents the paper from curling, if you don’t have a pad of watercolor paper try taping down the edges to the table or a drawing board with painter’s tape that can easily be removed.  This technique allows the colors to swirl and mix on their own as you guide them around the wet paper with your brush.  We noticed that some leaves also have spots and speckled textures.  Once you have the colors the way you like them sprinkle a little salt on the wet watercolors to achieve a similar effect. 
Once the leaves are dried they can be cut out on the line you traced and the salt can be scraped off over a garbage can.  Write a note on the back, glue it to a collage or sprinkle them on your Thanksgiving table for a festive fall decoration!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Literary Lunch: Jack-o-Lantern Bagels

The Legend of Spookley
the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano

We found Pumpkin spice cream cheese in the grocery store this week.  To get in the Autumn/Halloween mode we spread some on mini bagels and used a small pretzel stick for the stem and added facial features with mini letter shaped pretzels.  We also tried to make a “Spookley the Square Pumpkin”  by Joe Troiano by cutting whole wheat bread into a square .  To make them look more like they are in the pumpkin patch we added some lettuce leaves and parsley for a garnish.  Pair these simple pumpkin bagels with some apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon and enjoy with your favorite Halloween book!    

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
by Charles M. Schulz

The Biggest Pumpkin Ever
by Steven Kroll

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creating a Bedroom for Creative Little Hearts

This summer we transitioned our two boys into a new room that they share.  I tried to think about how to maximize the space we have and how to incorporate things that the boys love in order to make their space truly their own.  I started by defining how we use the space before moving everything in.  I want each of our bedrooms to be places of rest without the distraction of electronics or flashy toys, so the television and most toys and devices live downstairs in the living room and toy room.  A cozy corner to wind down with some books at the end of the day is a must for their bedroom.  This area can also double as a place for our youngest to have some afternoon quiet time to rest and nap.   Mostly we need a place for sleeping, and storage for clothing and books. 
The first thing we were looking for was a set of sturdy bunk beds that could be set up as two twin beds until our youngest is old enough to climb without falling.  We lucked out and bought a used set from friends down our street!  My husband convinced me to look at some used furniture and we have been able to outfit each of the boys with a dresser of their own.  Both are better built and less expensive than a lot of new dressers on the market. 
For bedding I searched for denim comforters that serve as a neutral anchor that can be changed and updated with other elements in the room and I hope these will be used right through to college!  I sewed some patchwork pillow shams and a throw pillow that ties together their themes of airplanes and tractors.  Hanging over each bed is their name which I decorated with scrapbooking paper using a decoupage technique.  There are lots of tutorials out there on how to make these. 
decoupage wooden letters with scrapbooking paper
click here for to link to a tutorial on how to make this
Under each bed I have some storage space.  Under one bed I store sheet sets and under the other I placed red canvas bins store small quiet time toys.  Above each bed and in the quiet corner I painted murals that are painted on lauan (thin plywood) and attached to the wall.  These are perfect for homes that have textured walls or for families that may move to a new house in the future.  We moved when our oldest was three and by the end of move-in-day his new room looked and felt a lot like his room, helping with the transition. 
mural on thin lauan plywood
click here for my tutorial
We completed the room with room darkening curtains and glow in the dark stars on the ceiling over each bed of course!  In the end we all love how the room came out.  My two-year-old often tells me how much he loves his “nice airplane”.

cozy corner with pillows and a basket of our favorite books of the moment

Lauan Mural Tutorial

I learned about this process from working on exhibits at a children’s museum and it is a great method for making a moveable mural or to put a mural on a heavily textured wall.  I will never have to paint over my kids murals, just pass them on to someone younger when they out grow them.  That is much less emotional than having to paint high hiding primer over them!
·         Sketch or a printout of your image on paper
·         Pencil or chalk
·         Drill with large drill bit
·         Saw horses
·         Jigsaw with fine finish blade
·         Latex Primer
·         Lauan
·         Sand paper or electric handheld sander

1.       Prepare your lauan board with a coat of primer.
      2.       Draw your image onto your primed board.

3.       Drill a hole in each corner where you will have to change directions with your saw blade.  Be sure that your blade is smaller than the diameter of the holes you drill.  Imagine that you are creating a dot to dot picture.

4.       Use a jigsaw to cut out your image.

5.       Sand the edges working on the corners to remove any evidence of the drilled hole.

6.       Paint your image with latex or acrylic paint.

7.       Using drywall screws attach your wood cut-out mural to the wall.  Be sure that at least one screw is securely fastened to a stud in the wall.

Patchwork Pillow Sham Tutorial

My mother in law made me a set of placemats like this and I thought it would be perfect for pillow shams for the boy’s beds.  It would add a splash of color without being too frilly.    
Materials (makes 2 pillow shams for standard pillows):
·         1/3 yd each of 3 printed fabrics
·         2 yds solid fabric for backing, I used inexpensive white muslin
·         thread
·         quilter’s batting
·         metal ruler
·         scissors
·         rotary cutter
·         cutting mat
·         straight pins
·         sewing machine
1.       Cut printed fabric into 5 inch squares (16 squares of each fabric)
2.       Cut muslin into 5 inch squares (48 total)
3.       Cut batting into 4 inch squares (48 total) (you may find that scissors work better than the rotary cutter for cutting the batting since it stretches a bit)

4.       Sandwich one square of batting between one square of printed fabric and one square of plain fabric or muslin centering the batting to give yourself a half inch seam allowance around the outside edge.  Pin in place. 

5.     Sew a diagonal seam from corner to corner.  (I sew them all one after the other and then snip all the thread connecting them.)  Then sew a diagonal from the opposite corners forming an “X”.

6.       Once you have all the sandwiched squares stitched lay them out to create the pattern you want.  I made diagonal stripes with the three colors repeating across the pillow.  I worked from right to left from the top row down pinning and sewing the squares into horizontal strips.  Be sure to pin back sides together so the seam allowance is actually on the outside of the quilted pillow. 

7.       Once you have all the strips assembled begin sewing the rows together horizontally.  Try to match the corners of the seams as best you can.  (When you cut the fringe it will hide little discrepancies which make this a great project for less experienced quilters!) 

8.       To make the fringe, cut the seam allowance between each square at roughly every half inch or so with your scissors.  (This repetitive action will make your forearm sore so you may want to do this as you go along rather than doing it all at the end.)

9.       Cut a two pieces of your backing fabric or muslin that are roughly 2/3rds of the width of your pillow case.  Hem the center edges (the two pieces will overlap to give a finished look.  Pin in place wrong sides together (right sides out) and sew a half inch seam around the outside edge.

10.   Cut fringe at about every half inch or so around the outside edge. 
11.   Wash with some towels to get the fringe to unravel some and give it a rustic fun finish.  (note whatever is in the wash will get fuzzies and small pieces of thread on them so choose what gets washed in this load wisely.)

Freezer Paper Stencil Throw Pillow Tutorial

When I learned of the magic of freezer paper I was instantly in awe!  This is a fun project and can be done as simple or as complex as you choose!  If you are good with scissors or an exacto knife this is the project for you.  Pillows, clothing, curtains, napkins…the possibilities are endless.

·         Freezer Paper (can be found at the grocery store next to aluminum foil and plastic wraps)
·         scissors or exacto knife
·         fabric (sewn to desired pillow size with a descent sized opening to get materials in and out from)
·         waxed paper
·         fabric paint
·         iron
·         ironing board
·         magazines or cutting mat
·         image for tracing

1.       Find an appropriately sized image you would like to use.  Be sure that it is simple but has enough detail that it can be identified when depicted as a silhouette.
2.       Trace your image onto the matte side of the freezer paper – the shiny plastic coated side will be ironed against the fabric so your image will be oriented as you see it traced on the matte side.
3.       Cut out your image being sure to leave the outside edge in tact to become your stencil.
4.       Iron your freezer paper onto your fabric.
5.       Place waxed paper inside your pillow to prevent the paint from bleeding through onto the other side.
6.       Carefully and gently paint your silhouette using brushstrokes from the outside towards the middle to prevent the paint from getting worked underneath the edge of your stencil.
7.       Leave it to dry.

8.       Gently peel your stencil off the fabric – if you do this successfully without tearing your stencil you can reuse it.
9.       Remove the waxed paper, stuff your pillow and sew the seam opening closed or place a pillow form into your pillow case.

Below are photos of the airplane pillow in progress.