Leaf Skeletons

Leaf Skeletons Final 2

A little while ago you may recall that we did some MAD SCIENCE in the kitchen and created our own washing soda.  Well, today, I’m gonna tell you what I made it for: skeletonizing leaves.  I found some ancient leaves while walking in the park a few months ago, and they had been rotting for so long that only the skeleton of the veins remained.  Two of them were complete enough that I took them home and stuck them in a book to keep.

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Then I reasoned that, if you could buy leaf skeletons in craft stores (dyed all sorts of colours), that it must be relatively simple to speed up the natural decomposition process, right?  Well, yes.  And the internet came through.  The easiest instructions I got came from The Idea Room, though I didn’t end up cooking my leaves for as long (because mine were much thinner, I think).

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So anyway, here’s what you do.  Step one: go outside (it’s okay, you can do it).  Step two: pick up some leaves that you like.  Greener ones are better the ones that have already changed colour, just because they’re less brittle and usually more complete.  You will likely have some that you think will work perfectly and they fail in a spectacular manner.  I tried this with some smoke bush leaves, a large hosta, and some grasses and they did not work at all.  Elms, ashes, oaks and maples seemed to work out best for me, but those are the sorts of trees that grow in my area.  If you’ve got some different climate going on in your neck of the woods, then feel free to experiment!

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Take a large pot, and dump a handful of your leaves in the pot, so that they’re all lying flat (they can lie on top of each other, just not crumpled up).

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Dump 3/4 cup of our handy dandy washing soda on top of that.

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Dump 4 cups water on top of that. You’ll likely need more water as it evaporates, but if you’ve got a glass lid for your pot you can peek in and minimize steam loss that way.

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Bring that pot to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer and just let ‘er rip for a while. Your leaves will undergo quite the transformation, from something like this:

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through this sort of “tea-like” stage:

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to this icky stage:

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That’s about when you can consider most of your leaves as being done. For my leaves, with their relative thicknesses, it was between 45 minutes and 75 minutes. Use a large flat spatula or slotted spoon to carefully transfer your leaves, one at a time, into a flat dish filled with warm fresh water. You can see that this leaf has already started to come apart.

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Be very careful as you transfer them because they are fragile and will do everything they can to tear on you.

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Using a soft toothbrush or a very soft small paintbrush, give your leaf a little scrub to gently wipe away the leaf material from the skeleton. On some leaves, you’ll find this easier if the leaf’s surface is face up; on others, it will be easier when the leaf is upside down. Sometimes you’ll want to go with the “grain” of the veins, and other times you’ll want to do something different. There’s definitely a process of trial and error.

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If you are doing more than one leaf, make sure you are comfy — this takes a while.

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When your leaves are skeletonized to your preference (just remember that the longer you boil them the more fragile they will get), transfer them to a paper towel to dry. I would recommend weighting them as they dry as well. I didn’t do it for this one and you can see that it wrinkled when it dried out.  It’s a simple matter, however, to re-wet them and bung them in a book for later.

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So this is the large maple leaf I did with the washing soda. You can see that it’s not as complete a skeleton (there’s still some tissue remaining) as the one I picked up in the woods in our opening shot at top here.

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Here’s the two next to each other:

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This one, despite some tearing, turned out really neat, as I only brushed out one half of the leaf:

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You can do whatever you want with your skeleton leaves. I saw a bunch of projects where artists had dried them into the shapes of bowls and other things, but I ran out of sucessful leaves before I had enough to make a bowl, so I decided to do the simple thing and just frame them. I got these floating frames from Michaels and DeSerres.

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They make a great housewarming or host/hostess gift, or feel free to keep them for your own personal use.

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Leaf Skeletons Final 10You can also bleach the leaves if you want them to be whiter, or you can dye them using food colouring.  Really, the possibilities are endless.  I’ve also seen them pasted to the outside of hurricane lanterns to act as luminaries, and used in scrapbooks.  What would you do with them?

The things we do for love: Learning to Silk Screen at Home

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Beware: this is a very long post!

Because I love my husband and because I support his weird video game addiction (I did make him a cake after all), I agreed to make up some t-shirts for an upcoming tournament in my hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in May.

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Screen printing in a studio is awesome and you can do all sorts of fun stuff.  And fortunately nowadays (unlike when my mother was an arts student), the materials you use won’t kill you.  Which means you can do this stuff at home, too!

DESIGN

First you need a design.  For our first attempts, we decided to work with something simple: a giant squid for myself.  Because I love giant squid.

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After several attempts, I had something I liked.  I didn’t notice, however, that I’d put an extra tentacle on the thing.

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But after photoshopping it looked pretty good.  Pick something simple with high contrast.

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Then copy it onto a transparency — this way you won’t have to cut it out.  If you have a strongly black and white design you could just print it out in black on white paper and cut it out.

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Now, the first time we tried this it didn’t work (I will show you that later), because the transparency printings weren’t as opaque as they should have been.

Having learned from that, we printed our images in triplicate, and lined them up.  You can see in the photos below how the opacity increases with each layer.

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After carefully lining them up, tape them together with a bit of clear tape.

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PREPARING YOUR SCREENS

And now for your screen.  We ended up buying a kit from Urchin downtown to get us started, but we also made a few of our own screens.

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This is the Speedball screen that came with the kit.  This is the squeegee side, where you will burn your image and spread your ink.

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Here is the print side, which will be going flush against your fabric.

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To make your own screen, you need frames and screening.  Here I have some sheer polyester that I picked up from Value Village.  It’s denser than, say, pantyhose, which means that the details will come out much more finely, but it’s also hole-y enough that you can squeegee paint through it, which is kind of key.

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And I have these picture frames, also from Value Village.  Take out the glass and the picture and everything and you can staple your fabric onto your frame using a staple gun.

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Pull it relatively tight — not so much that it buckles or tears around the staples, but tight enough that there are no wrinkles and you could run a squeegee up and down it with no worries.

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Give your finished screen a scrub with warm water and a bit of dish soap and leave it to dry.

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Use tape to line around the outside of the frame on the screen so paint won’t go all over everything and make a mess.  I used hockey tape because it’s pretty waterproof and sticks well to fabric, but I’m sure there’s some specific tape you should really be using.

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Do it again on the inside of the frame as well.

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Oh yeah, and you need a squeegee.  If you don’t have one, you can get away with using a piece of stiff cardboard.  Who came up with the word SQUEEGEE anyway?  It’s fantastic.

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Okay so we’re almost set here.  Do you have photoemulsion?  You should get some — it’s kind of key.  It’s a weird greenish stuff that will turn hard and waterproof under UV light.  I got the Speedball stuff that comes with the kit.  Make sure you follow the instructions on the back, as they’re all different.  Normally it comes in two parts: the dark green Diazo sensitizer, which comes in a wee bottle and you add water to it:

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And the blue photo emulsion base, to which you add the Diazo sensitizer.  Once this is mixed, you can keep it in your fridge for several months.  So you see here that it is green, indicating its mixedness.

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Spread the emulsion carefully and in a thin, even layer all over your screen, on the FRONT side, and the back side.  Use the squeegee to get a nice thin layer all over.  The first time we did it we spread it on too thick and as it dried it dripped.  Gross.

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Quickly place the emulsified frame in a completely dark room.  Lay it horizontally to dry for a few hours.  Don’t let any light touch it.  A nice big closet or a well-sealed box is a good place.  Ideally you should set the screen bottom side down while you dry (not what is shown in this picture, because we did it wrong the first time), so you will need to prop the screen up so the wet side doesn’t touch your closet.

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EXPOSING YOUR IMAGE

When you’re ready to burn the image onto your screen, you have to work quickly.  Some people like to expose their images inside, under high-wattage light bulbs, but we did ours on the cheap and exposed them outside on a sunny day.  Worked like a charm.

You’ll need your image (cut out from opaque paper or printed on transparency) and a sheet of glass that will fit inside the confines of your screen.  And a dark towel or thick piece of dark fabric for wrapping your frame in while in transport.

In the dark (we shut the curtains to our bedroom and I stood almost IN the closet while the Pie held the door mostly shut), lay your image on the inside of your frame (on the squeegee side, and orient it the way you want it to look when it’s printed (as in, you don’t need to mirror this).  Lay the sheet of glass on top so the image is fully covered and flattened down.

Now wrap the frame up in your dark towel so that the print side of the screen is resting on the towel, face down, and the rest is wrapped up around it.  Take it out in the sun and lay it in a flat, sunny spot.  Unwrap the towel so that the frame is resting completely on the dark surface (you want it flush so that there’s no chance of any reflection hitting the photo emulsion on the bottom and exposing it by accident).  You can see that the dried photo emulsion starts out green.

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And then in a few minutes turns a nice bluish.  We left ours out for about ten minutes.  Then you need to wrap it back up in the towel like a burrito and take it back inside.

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Now you need a source of high pressure warm water, like a sink sprayer or a shower head, and a nylon scrubbing brush (like a dish brush).

Working quickly, remove the wrapping, glass, and image from your frame and put it under the spray.  Use the scrub brush on the parts where your image is to get the unexposed photo emulsion off.  Scrub both sides vigorously until it comes clean.

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If you exposed it correctly, the contrast between the blue exposed photo emulsion and the stuff you hid under your image will be quite good and the unexposed stuff will come right off. If you didn’t have an opaque enough image, then the contrast will not be good and the photo emulsion will not come off, and will in fact continue to expose as you work.

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You can see this failed attempt only had a few spots that were truly opaque and so that was all that came off.

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But this one worked pretty well, save for a bit around one tentacle that didn’t expose properly.  But I can live with that.

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After you’ve gotten all the unexposed photo emulsion off, let the screen dry in the sun for a bit (this will also cure the remaining photo emulsion).

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And here’s one that the Pie did for his video games.  He is using drawing fluid to fill in some pinholes in his exposed screen.

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PRINTING

Make sure that you’ve washed and dried any fabric you are planning to print on first, to get rid of sizing and make sure that it has shrunk all it’s going to shrink.  I picked up this handful of t-shirts at Old Navy and Michaels for cheap.

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Protect your work surface and wear an apron — fabric ink is permanent, after all.  If you’re printing clothing, put a piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt so that if ink comes through the fabric it won’t stain the other side.

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Lay out your shirt flat and place the screen where you want it to go.  For our initial test we used a piece of scrap cotton.  Pour a line of ink on one side of the screen, on top of the emulsion.

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Hold your squeegee at a 45° angle and using even pressure, pull the ink across the surface of your screen.  It helps if you have another pair of hands holding down the screen frame while you do this.  Do a second pass in the other direction.  Experiment with the pressure you put on and the number of passes you do until you are satisfied with how the ink looks on your fabric.

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Ease the frame off the fabric on an angle (so that one side is still touching the surface if you need to put it back down) and set the fabric to dry.

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On our second pass I tried a blend of two different colours.

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I tried to repaint the missing tentacle. It didn’t go well.

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My two shirts, one in greenish-gray and the other in silver.

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The silver wasn’t as opaque as I’d like it, but it’s still nice.

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And the Pie’s two shirts.

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When we did the yellow one we forgot to re-fill the pinholes and you can see they came out onto the fabric.

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When the paint is fully dry (give it an hour or two), place your shirt on an ironing board and, with a sheet of paper between your design and the iron (no steam!), run the iron on hot over the design for a few minutes.  This will “fix” the image and protect it from frequent washings.

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Modeling.  Sorry for the selfies.

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Silver on blue …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gray on orange …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tada!

SCREEN CLEANUP

Unless you want to use those screens again, you’ll need to get the photo emulsion off as soon as possible.  I used the ScreenClean stuff that came with my kit, but you can also use 1 cup of washing soda dissolved in a gallon of warm water.

Use a paint brush to apply the cleaner to both sides of the screen and scrub briskly with a nylon brush.

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Apply the cleaner again with the paintbrush to both sides and leave it to sit for about 5 minutes.

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Run under a forceful stream of hot water and scrub again until all the emulsion and cleaner has washed away.

Wow, that was a lot to take in.  I hope it was easy enough to follow.  If not, please let me know!

PEOPLE WHO DID IT DIFFERENTLY:

Here are some of the links to the other sites I checked out to learn how do this stuff:

How to Screen Print! Silkscreening at home – The Art of Doing Stuff

Screen Printing: Cheap, Dirty, and at Home Instructables

Top Ten Worst Screen Printing Mistakes Adventures in DIY Screen Printing

DIY Screen Printing – I Love to Create

Cheap screenprinting tutorial – Craftgrrl

How to Silk Screen Posters and Shirts – No Media Kings

Button Mosaic

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If you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea for the person who has everything, the person who appreciates all things quirky and vintage, or the person who has a strong addiction to sewing notions (trust me, there are more of them out there than you think), then look no further than right.  Here.

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I have a large collection of vintage sewing buttons, but my favourites are the ones with the pearlescent sheen — so I have extra of those.

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I picked up this mini wood frame at Michaels back when I was doing the coffee stirrer wall art.

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At the time I figured I would make another, smaller version of the same, but it was not to be.  Instead, I painted it purple and started sticking buttons on with Mod Podge (though any white glue — or non-white glue — would work here).

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I kind of went with an ombre sort of pattern from purple to red to white.

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These buttons attach with that little sticky-outie thing and won’t lie flat, so I glued them into small spaces between other buttons, where the other buttons would hold them up.

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Don’t forget to stick some hanging hardware on the back.

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The finished product.  Easy peasy blamo kablam.

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Clapboard Coffee Stirrer Wall Art

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I saw this little tutorial over at Make and Do Girl and thought I would give it a try.  You can buy fancy versions of this on Etsy for hundreds of dollars, but I thought I could probably produce nearly the same thing for a lot cheaper. And of course, as is usually the case, I was right.

All you need for this is a frame, some paint, a paint brush, a sturdy pair of scissors (despite the wire snips in this picture, I found a set of poultry shears did the trick quite well), glue of some kind (I ended up using Elmer’s School Glue), and a bunch of wee sticks, like coffee stirrers.

Stir Stick Art

While I’m sure, if you are a regular inhabitant of Starbucks or Bridgehead or one of those places, you may amass a large collection of stir sticks over time, I preferred to get mine all at once and bought several packages at Michael’s, which is also where I bought the frame.  You can also use popsicle sticks for this, but then you have to compensate for the rounded edges.

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The first thing I did was paint my frames black, using some acrylic paint.  At first I only did the edges of the frame, but I noticed that the frame showed through the gaps in the stir sticks when I glued them down so I ended up painting the whole frame, even the part that is relatively hidden behind sticks.

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Then you need to pick a colour palette.  I had a set of Crayola watercolours that I was going to use, because I wanted the wood to show through the paint.  You can of course use any paint you want.  I made two pieces, so for the first palette I picked a series of greens and yellows, and then the second I went with oranges, reds, and then purples and grays.  Obviously if your frames are small, you should probably go with a smaller number of colours.  My frames were pretty long so I went with 7 or 8 different colours.

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Now you gotta paint them there sticks.  I laid mine out along the frame just to get an idea of how many I needed (in the end I had a handful of painted ones leftover so this turned out to be a good idea).

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Then you paint.  This took me quite a while as I had to do each stick individually and paint it twice (due to the character of my paint). If you use acrylic or something thicker you could just paint them in a batch, or dip them en masse in ink or a dye … whatever works for you. This is all you.

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Then you start laying them out.  I measured the sticks to fit in the frame and cut them accordingly.

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Then I cut those pieces up so that I could fit them together like patchwork.

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Then you start gluing.  And gluing.  And gluing …

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Despite these sticks all coming in a package together, they weren’t by any stretch of the imagination the same.  Some had slight curves, or were cut on an angle, and that made putting them together a little bit more of a challenge.  Because there were gaps between sticks at some points, I chose to apply glue individually to each stick rather than just put a blanket of it down on the frame.  It took longer, but I think it was a neater job in the end.

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When I got to the end, my final sticks were a little too wide to fit in the frame, so I just took a piece of sandpaper and filed them down a bit until they fit snugly.

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My orange and purple job turned out a little slanty, because some of the sticks I used were really angled, but I kind of like how it messes with your eye that way.

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And these frames came with hanging hardware on both the short and the long sides, so you can hang them either vertically or horizontally.

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I made these originally as gifts, but they look so good on my mantle that I’m thinking of keeping them. They would make a good frame for my giant squid, once I figure out where to hang him …

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Rack’ Em Up!

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This idea comes from Man-Made DIY, who, in turn, took inspiration from another designer. I love how the internet works.  I made a further spin-off of this when I made the jewelry stand for my niece.

This is a hat rack/coat rack/anything kind of rack made from fallen tree branches.  The wooden frame is made from old boards we scrounged out of our tipsy garage.  Don’t tell my landlord.

The branches came from fallen trees on that construction lot near our house.  You might remember that we cut down a bunch of saplings there in order to build our wattle fence (which I still haven’t finished, sorry).  These branches were ones that had already fallen due to hurricane-strength winds, or ones that were part of trees uprooted in the construction process.  So no trees were harmed in the making of this project.  Well, no trees were harmed by US, at least.

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We made two large racks, one for my dad and the other for Mrs. Nice.

First we cut up the planks we found in the garage, into 2 20″ lengths and 2 8″ lengths for each rack.

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With difficulty, we screwed them together.  The wood was pretty warped, so one one of the racks it came out a little crooked.

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Then we sprayed them black, because the wood wasn’t particularly interesting, visually.

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Then we cut lengths of branch to fit inside the rack frame.

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After sorting out what looked good where, we screwed those in as well.

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I later sprayed the top and bottom of the racks again to hide the screw marks.

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A finishing touch was a rusty bolt glued onto my dad’s.

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And some shells for Mrs. Nice.

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We left off hanging hardware because we weren’t sure where they were going to hang them.

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They look pretty good, all things considered.

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Functional, too.

Rack 'Em Up!