Fun with Science! Bouncy Balls!

Good morning!  Today we are introducing a new category to Ali Does It: MAD SCIENCE.

Cait and I did a lot of science together in high school, and we quite enjoyed ourselves.  So we decided, while I was home in Ottawa for a WHOLE MONTH, to do some more science to keep ourselves occupied and out of the Pie’s hair.

For our first attempt at science, we decided to create polymer bouncy balls.  Seemed simple enough.  We got all the necessary supplies at the dollar store, including these sparkly plastic Christmas balls that held chocolate.  We threw out the chocolate but kept the spheres to serve as moulds.

Rum and Glue Balls

So what you need to do this is borax; corn starch; white, clear, or blue school glue; warm water;  measuring spoons; two small plastic containers for mixing, as well as a stick or spoon for stirring; and optional glitter or food colouring.

Rum and Glue Balls

Pour 2 tablespoons warm water and 1/2 teaspoon borax into one of the containers and stir or shake it to dissolve the borax. If you want to add food colouring, now’s your chance.

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In the other container, pour 1 tablespoon glue.

Rum and Glue Balls

Add in 1 tablespoon of corn starch and 1 tablespoon of the borax solution that you just made. DO NOT STIR. Let this all mellow and mix together on its own for 15 seconds. I think maybe our container was too big because there wasn’t really any interaction going on.

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After fifteen seconds, whip out your spoon and start stirring. Stir until the mixture becomes too stiff to pull the spoon through.

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Then empty the contents of your container into your hands and start kneading. It will begin as super messy.

Rum and Glue Balls

But then it will start to come together.

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And eventually form a ball.

Rum and Glue Balls

However, we couldn’t really get our ball to fully solidify, and it never bounced, so we thought we’d try again.

This time we used clear glitter glue.

Rum and Glue Balls

This stuff ended up forming an odd sort of non-Newtonian fluid and never solidified at all. Not to mention it didn’t turn out translucent as promised.  I blame the weird dollar store glue.

Rum and Glue Balls

And of course the amounts we used were way too small to fit in our clever little moulds.

Rum and Glue Balls

Never mind. We’ll try again some time.

Rustic Pencil Holder and Homemade Pencils

Rustic Pencil Holder

I saw this about a year ago, and I remember thinking at the time that it was such a simple yet elegantly nifty project I would have to make it sometime.  What better time than the present?

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I wrangled a log out of the mildewed pile in our dilapidated excuse for a shed and got to work.  You can of course use any form of windfall or anything you find lying around.  I’d love to try this with driftwood, if I still had my beach handy.  As it was a pretty long chunk of wood, I figured I’d make three pencil holders, just to spread the love amongst my Christmas gift recipients.

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I also thought I might make them slightly angled, so that all the pencils or pens could be viewed from one side, instead of them all being on the same level. So I sawed them accordingly, in varying thicknesses.  Actually, the Pie did most of this because I took too long.  But we didn’t really try too hard to get things level or straight — the crooked adds to the charm, and I swear we did this on purpose.

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And then the bark, which had been sitting and drying out over our kitchen heater for two months, just peeled right off so easily.

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I used a butter knife to get the thinner inner bark off.

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Now you drill your holes.  I used 3/8″ and 1/2″ drill bits, to accommodate skinny and fat pens and pencils. You know, like the fat ones you pick up from the bank or that you get in swag bags at conferences and stuff.

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You can space them out evenly or put them in randomly, whichever floats your boat.

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To make sure that all your holes are uniform in depth, use a bit of tape around your drill bit to mark how deep you want it to go.  When the line of the tape touches the wood, you’ve gone far enough.

Rustic Pencil Holder

In addition, if you are pursuing an angled approach, make sure that your drill is going in perpendicular to the surface upon which the wood is sitting, not perpendicular to the surface of the top of the disk.  Although I suppose you could do that, too, if you wanted your pencils to stick out at an angle.

Rustic Pencil Holder

Then I sanded, to smooth out the edges and to make the top nice and even.  You don’t want splinters in something you’re going to be touching all the time.

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I stained one of them as well, again for kicks.

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To go with the pencil holders, I thought I would include some pencils I made myself.

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I got the idea from here, but modified it so it was easier for me (because I found this actually quite difficult).  You need some 2mm pencil leads, the kind that go into architectural drafting pencils (also known as clutch pencils).  They tend to come in small plastic boxes of 10, and you can find them at art supply stores or on the internet.

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Then you need some thin paper.  I used a combination of newspaper flyers and origami paper for this, with the cheap newspaper on the inside and the nice origami pattern on the outside.  Cut the paper into squares that are the same length as the leads, which is usually about 5″.

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Take a paint brush and some glue and paint some onto the edge of one of the pieces of paper.

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Lay your lead onto the glued surface, just a little bit from the edge.  Fold that extra part over the lead and tuck it in.

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Now start rolling, carefully, putting even pressure on both ends of the lead.  You want the paper to be tight around the lead but you don’t want to put too much pressure on it that the lead breaks.  I definitely broke a few.  And go slowly, so you can make sure that the lead rolls straight in the paper.  Many of my pencils came out crooked and had to be trimmed later.

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When you reach the end of the paper, add some more glue and fasten the edge securely on your roll.  Repeat with more paper until you get to the thickness you like, with some nice patterned stuff on the outside.

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Put some glue on the outside, just to seal it all in.

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Allow your pencil to dry, then trim the pointy end of the pencil with a knife or a pencil sharpener, and you’re all set.

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Rustic Pencil Holder

Rustic Pencil Holder

New Found Ornaments

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I saw something like this at a craft fair in St. John’s and thought that I could easily make my own with some found objects and some hot glue.  The “jellybean row” is an iconic element of St. John’s architecture: a series of brightly coloured and quaintly crooked wooden row houses that line most of the downtown streets.  So every craft fair and gift shop in the area sells some version of this, painted on mailboxes, pieces of wood, in stained glass (similar to the disaster I made last spring), and on pieces of shale, which conveniently break on a rectangular plane.

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So I found some pieces of this shale, relatively thin pieces that wouldn’t weigh down a tree branch.

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And I painted them to look like the crooked, shambling houses around here.

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And then I glued string on the back for hanging, with hot glue.

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An extra dab, for security.

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And that’s it!

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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.

Button Mosaic 1

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

Button Mosaic 2

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.

Stir Stick Art

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.

Stir Stick Art

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.

Stir Stick Art

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).

Stir Stick Art

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.

Stir Stick Art

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

Stir Stick Art

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

Stir Stick Art

Then you start gluing.  And gluing.  And gluing …

Stir Stick Art

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.

Stir Stick Art

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.

Stir Stick Art

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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Jelly Bean Row

Jelly Bean Row

I love Quality Street chocolates. They remind me of everything good. And I love the colourful wrappers they come in. I’ve wanted to make something out of them for years. This year at Christmas I made sure to save all the wrappers so I’d have lots to work with.

Jelly Bean Row

Quality Street also appeals to my environmentalist side. You can re-use the tins for anything you like. You can recycle the foil wrappers that go under the clear ones, and recently, the company started making the clear wrappers out of vegetable products, so you can actually COMPOST them. How cool is that?

Jelly Bean Row

So what am I making with these?  I’m glad you asked.  St. John’s is famous for its colourfully-painted and artfully crooked row houses.  They’re often likened to a line of jelly beans, stacked on their ends — Jelly Bean Row.

Jelly Bean Row

If you watch any of those ever-popular tourism Newfoundland and Labrador commercials, you’ll see a few of them (though in real life they’re not quite so quaint — or clean).

Jelly Bean Row

So I thought I would make a few out of Quality Street wrappers, something to send people to paste in their windows, or to hang on their Christmas trees as ornaments, something that will catch the light and give them a taste of St. John’s at home.

Jelly Bean Row

Jelly Bean Row

The house construction is pretty simple.  I used black construction paper, folded in half, as a frame.  Then I cut out the frame using a craft knife and inserted and glued down the wrappers in the appropriate spaces.  Then I cut out windows and doors from the black paper as well, making sure to glue them to both sides so the ornament is reversible.

Jelly Bean Row

The problem with this particular material is that the wrappers always want to go back to their wrinkled state, and the construction paper doesn’t do a lot to prevent it.

Jelly Bean Row

A heavier-grade card would probably work better in keeping the stuff rigid, but at the same time, it would be harder to manipulate.  I wanted to make several of these hanging ornaments and create a sort of mobile for Doodle for her birthday, but the physics of it continued to defeat me — the ornaments were simply too light to be able to balance everything properly.  And I had it all planned so the houses went up on a slant, too!

Jelly Bean Row

Alas. In any case, they are pretty enough placed in a window or on your tree.

Jelly Bean Row

Piñata-Copter, or, How I Didn’t Eat Enough Paste As A Child

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The Pie and il Principe share a birthday.  Sure, the Pie is now 29 and IP is only 2, but they can still enjoy the festive atmosphere of a birthday party.

And what’s a children’s birthday party without a piñata?  It’s — well, it’s pretty much just a party without a piñata.  But that’s besides the point.

The Pie and I thought that we would combine il Principe’s love of vehicles with his destructive tendencies, and a piñata filled with toys (because this 2-year-old has enough extra energy) was the perfect gift.

First, I spent a peaceful evening with the dog when the Pie was out tearing strips of newspaper.  These are old copies of a certain legal newspaper popular in these parts.  While it’s a very good newspaper, I must admit to a certain satisfaction in tearing up all that legal verbiage.

I also prepared my helicopter rotor blades (I decided that this particular helicopter has six blades, so there), as well as the tail and all the other bits.  I pulled old cereal boxes and such out of the recycling for this.

And I cut up some clear plastic out of the recycling to use as windows.  This is going to be one classy chopper.

So now that you’ve got everything ready, you need to make your paste.  In a bowl, mix together 2 cups flour with 3 cups water.

I like to use a spurtle to stir my paste.  That’s right.  A spurtle.

Mmm, pasty.  Everyone always makes jokes about “that kid who ate paste” in kindergarten, but we didn’t have that.  We did, however, have the girl who, when asked, DRANK (like I’m talking glug-glug-glug) Elmer’s School Glue.  Bleugh.

And now we need ourselves a balloon, which forms the basis for many, many papier-mâché projects.  The last time I did papier-mâché I made an enormous head with a huge nose, cut out holes for eyes, borrowed one of my dad’s fedoras (he also has a large head), stuck a Press Pass in the brim and went around for Hallowe’en as a reporter.  It was a good costume.  I swear.

I attached the tail to the balloon with tape.

Now we paste strips!  Run one side of your strip through the bowl of paste.

Use your fingers to squeegee off the majority of the paste.

Slap that baby on your structure and smooth it down.

Continue with more strips, being careful to slightly overlap each one.

If you need help with balancing your project as you work, why not try propping it up in a bowl for stability?

Once you have finished a complete layer, use your fingers to smooth on some extra paste.

Let that set for a bit to become tacky and sticky.  While you’re waiting you can put paper on your other bits.

For the wheels, for example, I wanted a little bulk, so I dipped a few strips, crumpled them up, and stuck them to the wheel template before wrapping the whole thing in other strips.

Set those aside somewhere to dry.

Repeat the layering steps a few more times, creating three or four layers of paper on your main structure.  The focus should be on creating what will be a hard shell around your balloon.  I tried to add a bit more paper at the bottom of the chopper-balloon to help compensate, balance-wise, for the weight of the tail.

When you have enough paper on your structure, put it somewhere out of the way to dry overnight.  The top of our fridge is as good a place as any.  Plus it’s nice and warm there (our fridge is ANCIENT) and with the current humidity I’m hoping it will give the paste a boost in drying.  

I saved the extra paste, just in case.

Now to clean up!

The fortunate thing about flour paste is you just have to wet it again and it comes off anything really easily.

The Next Day …

Actually, this was two days later.  It was so gloomy and humid that the darned thing just would not dry.So now we get to get around to our painting and assembly.We bought this lovely metallic blue paint at the dollar store and thought it would look good on a helicopter.  It did, but the problem was that it was transparent paint, something the made-in-China label didn’t tell us.  Nor did it tell us that the paint fumes were highly objectionable.  But you get what you pay for of course.Onto plan B, then.  I painted the props and the wheels with the silvery-blue stuff and went off to find a more opaque solution to the plane problem.Thus I came up with India ink.  And ink is awesome because it dries really fast.It's a Secret Part 2Of course, you can still see the metallic paint through the ink, but I figured I would just paint over the quick-dry ink with more metallic paint.

It's a Secret Part 2Mercifully, just as I’d finished, the sun came out, so I left everything to dry for a bit.

It's a Secret Part 2So now we need to cut out a wee hatch through which to insert the prizes.  Using a box cutter, carefully pierce your shell and the balloon underneath.  POP!

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Cut a hole only just big enough for your purposes, leaving a little flap so you can close it up again later.

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There’s that shriveled balloon.  You can throw that out.

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My helicopter is going to have a window, so I measured the “glass” to the side of the chopper.

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Cut out a hole.

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I think I may use the piece I cut out to make a fascinator at some later and unrelated date.

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I fixed the window in place with hockey tape, that lovely universal adhesive.

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I used a paper punch awl to poke holes to hang the suspension wires from.

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You can see that balance is going to be an issue here.  I ended up taping a few rocks into the tail of the chopper to balance it out.

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I stuck the props on.  The wheels refused to stick and were therefore scratched.  Bye-bye b’ys.

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Don’t forget to put your prizes in!

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Then the helicopter needed some accents.  On one side of the tail I painted on il Principe‘s initials and the year he was born, to look like some kind of ID code.

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On the other I did his birthdate (21 July) followed by HB – happy birthday.

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Then I added some dots that represent flashing lights, and blacked out the frame parts of the window.  And yes, I just made up where they went.

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And there you have it.  Il Principe can’t wait to destroy it.

It's a Secret Part 2

Office Reno

My parents bought the house they live in now about twelve years ago, and the house is about twenty years old now.  In fact, it’s the first new construction house my parents have ever owned.  So new, in fact, that when we all moved in back in 1997, it wasn’t quite finished yet.  Like it didn’t have a back porch.  That sort of thing.  It also used to be a rooming house, so there were some weird things going on.  The room that is my dad’s office was designed to be a laundry room, and when they bought the house it was actually being used as a kitchen.  As it was pretty low-priority in the scheme of everything else that goes on in my parents’ busy lives, it remained in more or less its original state.

UNTIL NOW.

This is the before shot, when my dad and I were clearing out all the furniture and stuff.

You can see the artful sponge painting that outlines where the laundry sink used to be.  And the place where the faucets come up and out of the wall.

This dryer outlet and vent also needed to go.  As did the b-awful linoleum.  I hate linoleum.

So out came the mouldings and the overhead lighting.

After checking to make sure the fuse was dead, out came the dryer/stove outlet.

Make sure you check it more than once before you start cutting wires.

This rubbish bin was filled and emptied many times before the job was done.

The vent will get cut flush to the wall and filled with expanding spray insulation.

The faucet pipes were capped and sealed with solder and the plastic frame removed. 

We will put a piece of gyp-rock over top and patch that sucker, same with the one on the floor.

Just screw it in place, using shims as a backing, and trim off the excess.  Fill the holes with Durabond-90 or other crack filler and you’re good to go.

All the other holes and cracks got filled as well.

There were plenty.

Now for that ugly awful floor.  This was my especial project and it took me FOREVER. 

Whoever put the lino down GLUED it, which is not something you normally do.  And they didn’t just lay down lines or dots of glue.  No.  It was like they took the can of glue and spilled in on the floor.  But not all over the floor.  This part came up super easy, so we thought it would be more of the same. 

PAH.

I spent about seven hours with a pair of gloves and a putty knife peeling up the rest of it. 

And let’s not forget all the glue that stayed on the floor.

Which my dad spent three days scraping off.

It was a sticky business.

Back to the walls.  On with the primer.  Note you can still see the terrible, terrible sponge painting shining through.  Took a couple of coats of paint to get that hidden.

Next the crown mouldings went on and were lined up.

Nailed and glued in place.

You can use wood filler to artistically cover the spots in the corners where it doesn’t quite line up.

And to cover your nail marks as well.

Now for the floor, which we replaced with a nice floating bamboo one with interlocking pieces.

You can see the grooves here.

Make sure to measure out everything ahead of time.  It helps to label your pieces and to draw yourself a little map.

You will need to cut pieces to fit the vagaries of your room.

Dad glued down the first section.

Make sure to follow the instructions on your glue.  This little grooved applicator enables the glue to spread under pressure.

You want to make sure your pieces are super snug together, so a rubber mallet is very handy.

We noticed that the glued section was making cracking and popping noises, so the next sections were nailed in place as well, with the nails going through those little grooves I just showed you.  It cracked the grooves but kept the things on the floor, so there you go.

The moulding on the floor will cover up that wee gap there.

Then you paint.  Again.  Always a good time.

See?  This is after it got a nice shiny coat of enamel.

You can scrape up your spills by covering a scraping razor with a piece of cloth, and then you won’t scratch the floor.

This is mid-cleanup.

And after everything was moved back in again.  What a difference!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Autumn Leaves Butterflies

On a sunny afternoon back in October my mother and I wandered down to the neighbourhood park to collect some leaves and twigs for some of my various projects.  She was looking for seed pods to draw or whatever it is that artists do.

I found a ladybug.

My mother had a go on the swingset.I got a pretty good haul.  I only picked up leaves from the ground and only twigs that were from broken branches, so no plants were harmed in the making of this DIY.We’ll talk about the twigs in a later post, but today we’re going to focus on the leaves.

I sorted them into piles of similar shapes.And put them between the pages of some of my mother’s art books for pressing.And left them there for a couple of weeks.And then when they were flat I glued them onto pieces of mat board to make butterflies!

You can mat them and frame them or do whatever you like with them!Enjoy your pretty insects!