Wee Clay Pot City

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When I saw these wee things over at Say Yes to Hoboken I knew immediately who I had to make them for (but I’m not telling you: it’s a surprise).  Perfect for small plants, especially succulents, I could see these forming a little town on someone’s coffee table.

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I decided to make my own template for my wee town, so that I could get some variety in the buildings I created.  Just make sure, when you are creating your pattern, that you account for the width of the base and the thickness of your sculpting medium.  It’s all about the math, b’ys.

Wee Clay Pots

For this little jobbie you need some Sculpey, a cutting tool (I used a paring knife), a smoothing tool (I used some old manicure tools), and something for rolling out the clay (I used an empty Screech bottle).  You will also need a glass dish for baking your clay, and a work surface that doesn’t stain easily.  Raw Sculpey is pretty toxic, so it’s best to work on waxed paper, parchment, or a silicone mat that you can easily wash.

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It’s a simple thing to do, but it takes some time.  First you need to condition your Sculpey by squishing it a bunch with your hands.  Then you roll it out, and cut out your shapes.

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When you press them together, make a little snake out of extra clay and use it to seal the edges — you want the wee pot to be water tight after all.

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Wee Clay Pots

My first go-round, I made my templates too big and so my little houses weren’t really all that little. You can see in the photo below how it sagged under its own weight.  Fortunate thing about Sculpey is you can just squish it all up and start again, which I did.  My new templates work on a 2″ square, and so I can make about four structures out of one pound of clay.

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I wanted a bit of variety to my city, so with the white Sculpy I made two regular houses, one house with a slanty roof, and a factory.

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Do you see how I raised the floor of the factory on the inside so that the plant would still come out the top?  I know: clever me.

Wee Clay Pots

And the basic house:

Wee Clay Pots

With the terra cotta coloured Sculpey I made a mansion (or row housing), a city hall and a church.  The church is just the small house with a cross instead of a chimney (which baked a bit wonky), and the city hall is just a big house with a circle cut out of the taller roof to signify a town clock.

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Use a smoothing tool to smooth out the edges on the outside, too, and the bottom.

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The next part is easy.  You preheat your oven to 275°F and pop your little structures into your glass dish (I lined mine with parchment, just because I find if the clay is right on the glass surface it tends to cook with a glossy flat edge that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the piece).  Bake for 15 minutes per every 1/4″ thickness of Sculpey.  You don’t want to overbake, but as some of my pieces were obviously thicker or thinner than that (yes, we’ve already gone over how much I suck at Sculpey), I go for a round 20 minutes and that seems to work out just fine.

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Haul those out of the oven and don’t touch them until they’re cool.  Sculpey is designed to shrink less than 2% while baking so you shouldn’t have much trouble with your watertight seal, but you should check anyway.  If it’s not sealed, just add a touch more Sculpey to the hole and bake it for a few minutes.

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I didn’t have enough Sculpey left to make a whole other building, so I made this little round pot.

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And then a wee man.  He’s a magician (hence the top hat and cape) and he’s sitting staring at this wee box, thinking.  So I call it Thinking, Outside the Box.  I gave him to the Pie.

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And there you have it.  I don’t have any succulents on hand, so you’ll have to imagine them in these shots.  But it’s a cute little town, no?

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Have you tried Finger Knitting?

Finger Knit

Seriously, have you?  It’s fun and super easy and you get some really quick results.  Definitely something you can do with kids.  It produces a long chain of stockinette-like loose stitches that remind me of what used to come out of that weird plastic crochet-tube thing we were given as kids.  Remember?  Maybe not.

Finger Knit

Anyway, if you’d like to try it, get yourself some yarn.  A huge chunky knit will give you the best results, but I am planning on felting my strings so I’m going with some merino wool.

Finger Knit

Find the end and drape it over the space between your thumb and forefinger.  You may need your thumb to hold that tail in place for the first few rows, but you can let it go after that.

Finger Knit

Take the yarn and bring it in front of your index finger, behind your middle finger, in front of your ring finger, and around behind your little finger.

Finger Knit

Then bring it in front of your little finger, behind your ring finger, and so on, until you’ve woven it back to the beginning.

Finger Knit

Then pull it around your index finger and do that again, so you end up with two loops of yarn on each finger.

Finger Knit

Now take the lower loop on your little finger and pull it up and over the upper loop.

Finger Knit

Repeat that with all your other fingers until you’re left with one loop on each one.

Finger Knit

Take another full pass with your yarn, in, out, in, alternating on the way back.

Finger Knit

Then pull the lower loop over the upper loop again on each finger. Keep going. Eventually something like this will start coming off the back of your hand. It will look a bit different depending on the size of your fingers, the tension and thickness of the yarn, and all that jazz.

Finger Knit

If you get tired or bored while you’re doing this or you need to do something else, just jab a pencil through your loops and put it down. Come back to it later.

Finger Knit

Finger Knit

When you’ve got a chain as long as you want it to be, you can cast off. After doing your last row of loops, leaving you with one row only of loops on each finger, take the loop on your little finger and put it above the loop on your ring finger.

Finger Knit

Pull the lower loop on your ring finger up and over the one you just added.

Finger Knit

Take the loop that is left and put that onto your middle finger.

Finger Knit

Hook the lower one up and over, and put the remaining loop onto your index finger.

Finger Knit

Hook the lower one up and over and then you’re left with one loop!

Finger Knit

Then it’s a simple matter to thread the end of your yarn through and tie a knot.

Finger Knit

This is a finished chain. You’ll note I’ve reinforced the knots at both the beginning and end. Next to it is one that I felted by running through the wash and then the dryer.

Finger Knit

Here’s a closeup of the loose weave of the chain I made versus the tight string after it’s felted.  Dog hair may or may not be included.

Finger Knit

Here’s a very long chain I made as well. You can see how easy it would be, especially with a chunkier yarn, to sew the chain together to form a block, a blanket, or a rug. Or whatever. I’m still debating what I am going to do with mine, but I’ll keep you posted.

Finger Knit

Autumn Leaves Bouquet

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When I saw this post on Design*Sponge last fall I absolutely itched to try it out.  I love autumn, and having grown up near Gatineau Park, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of watching a large forest slowly turn from green to a million shades of yellow, orange, and red.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen in St. John’s.  In the autumn here, we have green leaves on the trees, and then we get storms like Leslie, and all the leaves fall to the ground and go dry and crunchy and brown almost immediately.

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So when I knew I was flying back to Ottawa for a weekend in September, I came determined to carry out this simple project.  The problem is that even in Ontario it’s too early for most of the trees to have made the change.  Cait kept me updated with leaf reports leading up to my flight, and her reports all said the same thing: the leaves are all green, dude, it’s not going to work out for you.  As I flew into town, however, I could see a few orange and yellow trees dotting the Greenbelt, so I knew that with a bit of searching, this thing could happen, despite Cait’s protests.

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So one afternoon, after Teedz and Tego had made it to town, Tego and I took a stroll in the nearby park to see what we could come  up with.  Lo and behold, there were two big old maple trees whose leaves had just started to turn and fall to the ground.  They weren’t totally orange or red, but the splashes of green I think added to the character of the thing.

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We started gathering, picking up maple leaves of different sizes and shapes.  You need probably 10-12 maple leaves with stems for each flower, plus a variety of thin, relatively straight sticks to use as stems.  And floral tape, which you can buy at any craft store.

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You start with smaller leaves at the centre and get bigger as you move outwards.  Take a relatively small leaf and fold down the centre and two outside points towards the middle of the leaf.

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This gives you the basic shape for a petal.

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Roll that tightly up to form your “bud”.

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Now take another leaf, fold down the points, and wrap it around your bud.

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Keep repeating that, rotating the flower the whole time so it looks natural, until you get something that is a size you like.

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Tego and I found that if we weren’t careful our buds started to stick out past the reaches of the other petals, so you want to make sure to keep that sucker tamped down inside.

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When you get something you like, pinch the bottom of the leaf where the stems are and start wrapping it up with floral tape.  Take one of your sticks and lay it at the base of the flower and keep wrapping, taping the stems to the stick.

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We learned that floral tape is not actually sticky.  It sort of relies on tension to stay stuck to stuff, so make sure that you pull it tight.  We found that once we got to the end, if we wrapped the tape several times around itself tightly enough it wouldn’t unravel on us.

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We kept on until we had a full dozen, then Tego trimmed the sticks so they were approximately the same length — you don’t want them exactly the same or the bouquet will look weird, but you don’t want them to be radically different either.

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Then we tied it up with ribbon and gave it to our cousin as a hostess gift.  Everyone thought we had bought them at some fancy craft fair, and were super astonished when they found out that we’d made them ourselves during a walk in the park!

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As they are, I think the leaf bouquet will last about a week or two, depending on the freshness of the leaves themselves.  If you want them to last longer (if, as Cait suggests, you have an autumn wedding coming up and you need time to make a large quantity of these suckers), then you can dip each flower individually in gel medium (which you can get at art or craft stores) or even spray the bejeezus out of them with hair spray or another form of lacquer and they should last you several months.

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I’m also interested to try this with non-maple leaves to see if I come up with a different shape.  I will let you know if anything comes of that.

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***EDIT, 30 January 2013***

The florist who supplies the flowers at work did this to dress up a bouquet. Very nice, don’t you think?

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Wee Origami Dishes

Origami Dishes

I made these little dishes out of Super Sculpey and baked them according to the directions.  I know.  I suck at sculpting.  But this was my first time using Sculpey in well over twenty years.

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BUT THEN.  I thought I would use découpage techniques (which I’ve never done before) and experiment with Mod Podge (which I have never used before) and paste some torn up bits of origami paper over top, make ’em look like they’re papier mâché or something.

Origami Dishes

So it was pretty simple.  I started with laying one untorn sheet on the bottom of the dish, as a base, and then I tore up other sheets in colours I liked for the rest of it.

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Some Mod Podge and a brush later, I’m sticking away.

Origami Dishes

On this one I put a cutout of a key, to imply that perhaps you could keep your keys in this dish.

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Then I just coated it all with a layer of Mod Podge and let it all dry.

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Tada.

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Simple but fun.

Origami Dishes

Doodle’s Afghan, Completed

Doodle's Afghan

And about time, too!

Doodle's Afghan

My sewing machine actually broke during the final stages of putting this together.  I found the one sewing machine repair guy in the whole city and took it in to get it fixed post-haste. It was a good thing I did, as the repair guy went on a two-month vacation the day after I picked it up.  Phew!

Doodle's Afghan

After I had everything in nice discrete blocks I had to start sewing them together, which meant that I started to get things with weird corners and strange protuberances — more of a challenge to sew, but I got it done.

Doodle's Afghan

It’s amazing how much smaller the finished top is when you take seam allowances into account.  This used to be the exact size of the box spring and now it’s shrunk significantly.  but it’s nice and thick and cozy.

Doodle's Afghan

The Pie and I decided that two sides of wool pieces would be a little bulky for this blanket, and that all the seams would mean the blanket wouldn’t lie flat.  Not to mention that it would probably be itchy against your skin.  So we went with just a cotton backing, just like we did with the wool patchwork quilts a few years ago, but without the flannel lining.  Because the blanket is large, we decided to do the back in three separate panels of different colours, just for visual interest.  The Pie did the colour picking. It’s definitely funny to watch us wander through fabric stores because we are both so out of our element.

Doodle's Afghan

Doodle's Afghan

Now you see this particular square, with its row of buttons?  Not only does that add a bit of visual interest, but it’s a strategic choice.  I can undo those buttons and then pull the blanket inside-out through it and do them back up.  That way when I sew the lining and backing onto the top piece I can just do all the sides at the same time, and not worry about seams showing later on.  I know.  You can say it.  I am a bit of a genius.

Doodle's Afghan

So I sewed the back onto the front, which took quite a bit of effort and some muscle, too.

Doodle's Afghan

Then I opened up that little buttoned up section and carefully pulled the whole thing through.

Doodle's Afghan

Button it back up and no one’s the wiser.

Doodle's Afghan

Phew. That is one hefty blanket.

Doodle's Afghan

I can’t wait to see if it will fit in my luggage, together with my bridesmaid dress and a million pairs of shoes. Because that’s all I’m bringing to Oregon.  I can’t see anything else fitting in my suitcase.

Doodle's Afghan

Doodle’s Afghan, Stage 3

Doodle's Afghan

Doodle’s wedding is coming up in just a few weeks (almost exactly a month from the date on which I am actually writing this post), so it’s crunch time in terms of getting her and the Cyclist’s afghan put together and sent off in the mail (I am not hefting a giant blanket all the way to Portland in my luggage).

Doodle's Afghan

We have our old box spring set up in my office, and, when our new mattress arrives (hopefully any day now), we will be adding the mattress on top and our guest room will be ready to go.  For now, however, it serves as a handy surface to work on that is safe from corgi incursions.  So here are all the piles of cut-out squares and rectangles, all in the basic order in which I want them to be.  The piece in the middle is my “keystone”, and has many of the colours of the rest of the blanket in one small square.

Doodle's Afghan

So we started at the keystone, laying things out so they spread from the middle out towards the edges.

Doodle's Afghan

Doodle's Afghan

The Pie did most of this layout on his own, because he’s better at Tetris than I am and his arms are longer.

Doodle's Afghan

Although the corgi did help a bit.  By keeping our pieces of wool warm until we needed them. Honestly, no matter how small a piece of fabric is, be it a sock or a giant duvet, this dog will find it and lie on it.

Doodle's Afghan

And here it is in all its glory, almost exactly the size of the bed itself.  It will of course be significantly smaller once we take the seam allowances into account.

Doodle's Afghan

So now all that remains is to sew it all together, which is what I’m working on now.

Doodle's Afghan

I’ve been removing the sections of it that form discrete blocks on their own — that is, in these sections there are no pieces sticking out, and they form their own squares or rectangles when put together.

Doodle's Afghan

I figure it will make it easier to sew the larger blocks to each other when it’s ready to go.

Doodle's Afghan

I used a zigzag stitch on the machine, just to ensure that if there were any gaps in the wool the thread would still catch on somewhere.

Doodle's Afghan

So that’s the back of one block.

Doodle's Afghan

And the front.

Doodle's Afghan

And then that block can be sewn to another block.

Doodle's Afghan

Like so.

Doodle's Afghan

And so on, and so forth.  The sewing is actually coming along really quickly, despite the challenges of sewing different thicknesses of fabric together.  I started yesterday (which is the 13th for me), and I’m over half done just sewing different blocks together.  I’m starting to run out of discrete oblongs and I’m going to have to venture into the more complex polygons at some point shortly.  Then it will be a simple matter of putting them all together.

Doodle's Afghan

I have plenty of pieces left over from the original cutting-out of shapes, and because this sewing is going so well, I think I will end up making the backing out of a random assortment of the same.  Stay tuned!

The Atlas Blanket

Happy Leap Day!

The Atlas Blanket

As I said last week, I’m working on two blankets for two weddings this summer.  This one is for my eldest brother Krystopf and Atlas, his wife-to-be.  Depending on how you look at it, it’s going to be both easier and more of a challenge than the one I’m making for Doodle.  Easier, because it just involves knitting, and more of a challenge because I really hate/suck at knitting.

But there you go.

I bought these beautiful hand-dyed, Canadian-made wools at A Good Yarn downtown.  I had jewel tones in mind for this blanket (Atlas likes purple and blue), and Tanis Fiber Arts had exactly what I was looking for.  They’re just gorgeous, and totally worth the price.

The Atlas Blanket

Now, those are skeins, which means that I had to wind them all into balls before I could start knitting.  There is an art to winding wool by hand, but I haven’t yet perfected it.  Mostly I swear a lot as I constantly drop my misshapen ball-in-progress and it goes skittering off across the floor.  Anyway, these ones aren’t bad.

The Atlas Blanket

When you’re knitting with balls of wool, it helps to put the ball in a bowl while you knit.  This keeps it in one place, and not rolling all over the place and getting tangled.  You can even get special bowls designed for knitting, but I haven’t yet reached the apex of ability that means I deserve such a thing.

The Atlas Blanket

I know my limitations when it comes to knitting, so I’m keeping this as simple as possible, and hoping that the simplicity ends up equalling elegance when I’m through.  So I’ve got four colours, and I’m just doing two columns of alternating colours.  This one is green and turquoise, and the other one will be purple and navy.  Then I will stitch the columns together to form the blanket. (FYI, those panels are each 30 stitches long and about 36 rows tall.)

The Atlas Blanket

And I will offset my knit sides and purled sides so that it forms a patchwork when I’m done.

The Atlas Blanket

I will of course need to figure out something to do around the edges.  I’m open to easy suggestions (please no i-cord or anything like that).

The Atlas Blanket
But that’s what I got so far!

Knitting on Four Needles, the Fourth

Last time we ended with knitting up to the top of the thumb.Now we are going to start decreasing our stitches in order to taper over the fingers.  First, count the number of stitches you have.In this case I had 34 stitches.  You will of course have more if you are making larger mittens, or less if you are making smaller mittens.  You will want to decrease your stitches at 5 different points in your row, as evenly spaced out as possible.  Thirty-four is not evenly divisible by five, so I fudged it a bit.  Here I knit two together at every 7th stitch, with the last going at the 6th.Now knit one row plain.In the next row, decrease again, knitting two together in the same places you did it last time.  Remember that you now have four less stitches, so adjust your count accordingly.  Keep going until you reach the top of your hand.So you have stitches here on 3 needles.We want all the stitches on 2 needles only now, divided evenly, so start sliding stitches from your middle needle onto the other two until it’s empty and stitches on both sides are equal.Like this:Now we start the grafting process. For this you will need a darning needle or blunt tapestry needle.I’m not sure I can explain this properly, so I’m not going to bother.  But here is a pretty clear explanation.  Essentially you use the needle as a knitting needle and alternately purl and knit your stitches off the needle, pulling off every second one.For my first try I didn’t do a very good job.  I think I forgot to stick the needle in knitways and purlways, only doing it purlways, and so my edge is not as good as it could be.Now turn the mitten inside out and stick your needle through.Finish it off with a few hidden stitches and tie a knot.In our final lesson we will learn how to finish off the thumb.  Stay tuned!

Baby Boy Blue Blanket

Here is yet another project courtesy of the felted wool sweater.  It’s a present for the newest addition to Kª and Kº’s family.  We shall have to see what young Il Principe thinks of this.  Being an only child is pretty sweet.

Il Principe, in the flesh.

Here I took four sweaters, two gray, one navy, and one black.  These sweaters were of the softer, thinner natural fabrics, such as cashmere and merino.  They felt a bit differently than regular sheep’s wool, with less fuzz.  I cut those suckers up into tons of 3″ squares.

Then I laid them out into a pattern and, like in our other wool patchwork quilt, started sewing them together in long strips.

Because of the nature of the wool I had to do it all by hand, with a needle and thread, using the blanket stitch.

Then I sewed the strips together. 

It looks rather nice, don’t you think?

This is the back of it.  It’s kind of cool, too, but it will be hidden from view.This is the soft cotton I am going to use as the backing.  The blue and the gray match perfectly with the colours of the wool.

Then with great care I pinned the top to the backing.  

The backing is a grid pattern so I was careful to line things up properly. 

I folded over the edges of the cotton to guard against fraying.

Then, with great difficulty owing to the stretchiness of the wool, I machine-basted the two pieces together.  Next time I would probably do this by hand, just because of the way the wool bunched and stretched.

To bind it, I used blanket binding, which I folded in on itself to make smaller.  Shockingly, I had to actually PURCHASE the blanket binding from Fabricland.

It was a simple matter to fold it towards its own centre …

… and then iron a new crease.

My mother was kind enough to sew the binding onto the blanket for me, in exchange for my making of kumquat marmalade.  She has more patience for such things.

The corners are a bit tricky.  You can see here how Mum pins flush across the corner.

Then folds the fabric over the pin as a guide.

Then pins it in place before sewing it down.

Its pretty slick.

You can see at the end she just folded it under itself again before sewing it down.

Embellishments are always important when it comes to babies, but you have to be careful.  No buttons, or anything that babies can eat.  Colourful yarn is a good option.  I thought the orange would look great next to the gray and blue.

The yarn here also serves to anchor the top of the quilt to the bottom so it doesn’t shift around.

I threaded a tapestry needle with the yarn.

Poked it through and back out again.

Here it is back through.

And tied a double knot.

This is what it looks like on the back.

I did that at random points all through.

Here is the finished product.

All ready to be gifted away!

Twig Trivet

Here is another nifty gift idea from Martha Stewart.  Next time you’re in the park on a nice day, pick up some straight, strong twigs and take them home with you.Once you’ve got them home, saw them or cut them to the desired length (a trivet is generally between 6″ and 9″ square, but go with what you prefer.

Grab yourself some waxed thread, like sail thread or whipping twine.  We had some old stuff lying around but you can pick it up from a marine supply store.  Waxed string is handy for all sorts of things because once you tie a knot it won’t slip or loosen and will stay pretty much wherever you put it.

Take a length of the twine and fold it in half, slipping your first twig into the loop in the middle.  Double-knot the twine and attach another stick.  Knot again and so on.I reinforced mine by winding the twine around the twigs a few more times.  Then knot the twine so that the knot will be on the bottom of the finished trivet.

Wrap and tie the twine on the other side as well.Cut a piece of felt or wool cloth to fit the trivet and glue it firmly to the bottom to protect whatever surface you put it on.Let the glue dry and then that’s it.  You have it made!