Fast Tip Friday: Fancy in a Pinch

Cake Stands 13This has definitely been done out there on the internetz. But I needed some tiered cake stands for this upcoming shindig and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money so I made them myself. I think my grand total on four sets was $25, which is the usual price of just one. Cake Stands 3

Make sure you clean everything well before you start. You’ll need some plates and some vases or glasses.

Cake Stands 1I have this silicone adhesive that’s leftover from my failed Kintsurokoi experiment and some carbon-silicate sandpaper from my glass-cutting exploits (I never throw anything away). Cake Stands 4

I used the sandpaper to rough up the areas on the plates and glasses to which I’d be applying adhesive.

Cake Stands 5Then I carefully applied large amounts of silicone adhesive to the rims of the glasses I was sticking down. Cake Stands 6

And ever-so-carefully plopped them on the plates. You might want to measure where the centre is. I eyeballed it. But that’s my style.

Cake Stands 7And added more plates. Cake Stands 8

I followed the instructions on the adhesive (you should always do that) and let it cure for 24 hours.

Cake Stands 9They’re going to make great little treat stands! Cake Stands 12


Slouchy Bowl

Check out this bowl I made. It’s got a definite slouch to it.

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Full slouch.

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My mother had given me a wad of the squishy rope you put inside piping when you are upholstering things. It’s essentially a wad of unbleached cotton loosely held together with a bit of white thread. I didn’t know what to do with it (me? upholster? you gotta be kidding.), so I made this bowl. You could also make this out of any form of cable or rope. You just need a needle, thread, and a pair of scissors to cut the thread (or your teeth if you’re hardcore).

Slouchy Bowl 1

All I did was coil the rope around itself and start sewing it together. You can use any stitch you want, any kind of thread. I used green so you could see it but it wasn’t too flashy.

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You can change the width of the bowl by sewing the rope together at different angles. It’s hard to explain but you would see what I mean if you were doing it. It just kind of comes naturally. I made this little divot to come up through the centre to provide stability for the bowl.

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When you flip it right side up at the early stages you have a wee sombrero.

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Then I just kept going until I was happy with it and I ran out of rope. You can store whatever you want in it, provided it’s not liquid (it’s not that kind of bowl). Y’know, if you need a place for your copper-coloured pine cones.

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Or your sunglasses.  It’s up to you!

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Clay Leaf Bowls

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My mother is an artist and as such has a lot of artist friends. When I was a kid, a couple of them ran various art schools and camps and to show support, my mother sent me. I have very little artistic skill, but I loved the camps, because I got to learn new techniques and work with my hands. I especially loved working with clay. I once made a beautiful pistol replica (I was a weird kid) but it blew up in the kiln so I never saw the fruits of my effort. My lack of skill hasn’t stopped me in the years since, and when I saw these beautiful dishes from Urban Comfort, I thought, “I can do that!” So I did.

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First, you need to gather yourself some leaves. Go for the fresh ones, as they’ll be the most flexible. In these sorts of projects everyone seems to go for the beautiful fig leaves and things like that. Well, figs don’t grow in this Arctic wasteland. So I went with what was available: various forms of maple (it is Canada, after all), some ornamental grapes, random roadside vegetation … What ended up working the best, however, in terms of creating easy dishes, was from my own backyard: hostas, nasturtiums, and the gorgeous morning glory that has been tumbling over my fence all summer.

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Then grab yourself some air-dry clay (this means you don’t have to shove it in a kiln, though if you have access to a kiln, you should probably use it for these as it will make them much more durable). I picked up a 5kg block of it for $17.49 at DeSerres (actually, I had a gift card, so it was FREE).

Clay Leaves 1

Grab a hunk of it and roll it out to your desired thickness. I used a fondant roller to get a smooth surface. The leaves look better in clay about 2mm (~1/8″) thick, but that makes it much more fragile to handle, so you probably want to aim for around 5-7mm (~1/4″). I use this Kitchenaid silicone mat as a work surface for anything non-toxic, including pies. It’s amazing and portable and easy to clean.

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Now, I did find that if I went straight to leaf pressing and cutting from this stage, my clay was too firmly stuck to the surface to get a good result.

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Accordingly, I carefully peeled the clay sheet off the mat and flipped it onto a piece of parchment paper and went from there. It was just easier and made sure both sides of the sheet of clay were smooth.

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Then you grab your leaves and flatten them into your clay. I used the fondant roller again to get them in there nice and good.

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These ones I am not turning into dishes – I just wanted to see what effect they would create.

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It’s neat.

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Use tweezers to get tricky ones out of the clay and pick out any stray bits of debris.

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You will have some folds and wrinkles in your leaf, just because it’s hard to press something flat that isn’t naturally flat. But don’t freak out – it just adds to the texture.

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Once you’ve gotten your leaf carefully removed you end up with this lovely impression, veins and blemishes and all.

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Use the tip of a small sharp knife (Xacto, paring, whatever) to cut along the edge of the leaf and carefully peel away the excess clay.

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This was way easier to do with round leaves than with the pointy ones, as you can see, and the round ones made better dishes anyway.

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Make a little ring out of aluminum foil and pick up your clay leaf. Bend the leaf into a more natural shape (which it will want to do anyway) and set it inside the ring to dry. Feel free to play with curling the edges up and down, in the way that the leaf would do in nature. I left mine to dry overnight, then I flipped them over (with support) to dry on the bottom for another night.

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Now you’re done! It’s up to you what you do with them next. They’re pretty fragile still, so nothing hardcore. My biggest morning glory ones broke along their vein fault lines just from picking them up wrong.

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But they make pretty neat little dishes for small items, such as jewelry.

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This leaf with a stem makes a nice holder for rings.

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The larger nasturtiums make neat bowls for pocket change. In Canada we recently got rid of our penny, but with both our $1 and $2 denominations in coin, we still have plenty of change kicking around!

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And these grape leaves make a good place to keep your spectacles, if you’re the type of person who forgets where you put them.

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Because the clay is uncured, it tends to scrape off and leave a residue, so I wanted to finish them off a bit. I used an ultra-fine sandpaper to smooth off the edges of each dish. Make sure you do this outside in a well-ventilated area. Not only does the clay dust get everywhere, but you’re also likely to inhale a bunch of it if you’re not careful. Dust off each piece completely before you do anything else. Compressed air is handy for this, but make sure to do it outside.

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I then painted each piece with an outdoor satin sealer that adhered pretty well to the clay surface. I like the soft shininess of it and the fact that it didn’t sink into the porous clay and discolour it.

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Some of the finished dishes. The one on the left is my favourite, because it’s so thin and delicate. I’m betting good money that whomever I give it to will break it within a week, and it won’t even be that person’s fault.

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And some of the bigger ones. I made so many that pretty much everyone on my gift list is getting at least one. And because of that handy gift certificate, this cost me nothing but time!

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Moving Tips: Packing Your Delicate Items

Box Wall 2

I am ever-so-slowly building a wall of boxes in our living room.  In fact, I’d say that would be the most important moving tip I have for you, my dear readers, and that is to start early.  You may think you can pack up your entire house in the course of the week right before you move, and maybe you can, but you won’t be happy while you do it, and you’re probably going to make mistakes.  If you take your time and approach packing systematically, then you are less likely to end up with broken or lost items when you reach your final destination.

Careful planning comes into play especially when packing your more fragile items.  I recommend that you get your fragile items squared away at the beginning of your packing endeavour.  When you start packing, you’ll want to work on all the stuff you use less often, and I can guarantee that I will not be using my crystal stemware or vase collection at any time in the next eight weeks.  Getting the really delicate stuff out of the way first is also a good way to protect these items while you rummage through and shift around your other possessions in preparation for moving. Also, if you can dedicate a wall or a low-traffic corner of a room to initial box storage, you won’t find yourself dodging the things while packing other stuff away.

Packing Delicates 7

So.  Get on with it, Ali.  For my credentials here, I’ll have you know I used to work for a domestic and international shipping company (which no longer exists but you’ve probably heard of it), and I have never had anything break that I have packed myself.  Like, never.  I was really good at my job.

First of all, give all your stuff a wash or a wipe. I’m always amazed at how dusty something can get when it’s been shut away in a cupboard for a while.

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I think that’s a plaster chunk in the closest glass. Don’t want to imagine what it is if it isn’t.

I find the best way to shine up glass and crystal is to pour a cup of white vinegar into your soapy water. Works brilliantly.

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Newsprint here is your best friend.  I’m not a huge fan of purchasing brand new packing materials, but in this case, your best bet is to get a giant bundle of blank newsprint in which to pack your glassware and ceramics.  Using old newspapers is all well and good, and you can do that if you wish, but I find that the biodegradable inks they use on newspapers in Canada tend to come off on pretty much everything, and the last thing I want to be doing when I move into my new place is scrub black smudges off all my crystal.  So blank it is.  And these bundles are super cheap.  Definitely worth getting one or two.

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You’ll want to make sure that the boxes you use for your breakables are among your sturdiest.  If you can squish the box with your hand, imagine what that will be like when it’s on the bottom with a bunch of other heavy boxes of books on top.  Bad idea.  If you can find a double-walled box, then all the better.  Boxes from liquor stores are also handy in these situations, because they have those handy cardboard separators inside to keep things from banging into each other.

Box Wall 1

When wrapping up your items, remember, this ain’t no Christmas gift.  Be messy with your wrapping job.  The more wrinkles in the paper, the more space between this item and something else.  Feel free to wrap something up and then wrap it all over again, just to give it an extra cushion.

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When wrapping plates, you’ll probably end up with one side of the plate being cushioned with a lot of extra paper, and the other side having relatively little (for me that’s generally the bottom of the plate).  That’s fine — just make sure that you then put the more vulnerable side of the plate up against the more cushioned side of another plate.

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The vulnerable side.

Another important note about packing plates: pack the plates in the box on their sides, not stacked one on top of the other.  Why?  Because if there is a shock to the box (say, someone drops it a little more roughly than intended), then there will be less pressure to the edge of a plate with only its own weight to bear than one on the bottom of a box with fourteen others nestled on top of it.  IF you get a breakage with plates on their sides, then it will be restricted likely to chips one or two plates, and not smashes to the whole box, which is more likely if you stack them on top of each other.

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For stemware, you have to be really careful.  If you have those cardboard separators or a special stemware box, that’s fantastic.  All our stemware is different sizes and shapes so I prefer to pack them each individually.  And if I can, I like to ease them snugly into my vases, for added protection.

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When wrapping stemware, concentrate a goodly amount of your paper at the stem, which is the most fragile part.

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You can see the little extra ring of stiffer paper around the bottom of this glass.

Once you’ve got it wrapped, slide it into another container — vase, jar, doesn’t matter.  You want a snug fit, but don’t force it: remember that if you have trouble getting it into wherever you’re stuffing it, it will be even more difficult to get it out, and you don’t want to break it after having already safely moved it.

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Padding is extra important, obviously.  I have used a fleece blanket in the bottom of my box.  When putting your vases and larger/heavy fragile items into your boxes, think a little about the physics of the things first.  Is your vase heavier on the top than on the bottom?  Maybe you should put it in the box upside down, then.  With fragile stuff, it’s also a good idea to put them in the box as they would be stored in your house, on the pressure points upon which they were constructed to sit.  This means that your vases should be put in the box either upright or upside-down (in the case of those gravity-defying ones), and not sideways or on an angle.

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Don’t be afraid to use crumpled newsprint or other padding between your items so they don’t clink into each other.  Remember these lovely coffee-filter peonies?  Turns out they crush up nicely into little buffers between my big-ticket items.  That was Mrs. Nice’s idea.

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With breakables, you don’t want them butting right against the lid of the box.  This is not to say you’re not packing your box to the fullest, but you’re using padding instead.  So leave a bit of space between the tops of your items and the lid of the box, and fill that instead with lots of crumpled newsprint (packed tight) or another blanket.  Once the box is sealed, you can do the same “shake test” you did with your non-fragile items, and you should be good to go.  Remember, if you hear things moving around in the box, you’ll need to add some extra stuffing.  You don’t want those precious breakables shaking, rattling, and rolling around all the way down the highway, do you?

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Leave an inch or two of space at the top.
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Fill that space with something soft and solid.

One of the most important things to remember here, in the end, is that the stuff you’re packing is just stuff, after all.  Sure, it may have sentimental value, but it’s just a thing.  If it breaks, it’s not the end of the world.  If it’s worth fixing, it can be fixed.  If it’s not, then that’s one less item cluttering up your life.  If you’re really worried about your great-grandmother’s wedding crystal and you don’t trust yourself to do it right, then pay the extra bucks to get a professional to do it for you, and make sure it’s insured.  Just keep in mind when I say extra bucks I mean EXTRA.  When I was doing this for a living about a dozen years ago, packing a china service for four would run you about $300.  Is it worth it?  That’s up to you!

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.

Origami Dishes

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.

Origami Dishes

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

Origami Dishes


Origami Dishes

Simple but fun.

Origami Dishes

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