A Magic Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas Eve everyone! I wish you all the best and the happiest of the holiday season.

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Everybody knows one. There’s at least one in every family. Sometimes there are several.

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I’m talking about Harry Potter fans. Yes, those people.

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I found this amazing tutorial on DeviantArt to make Harry Potter-inspired wands a couple years ago and I’ve been saving it for that special someone in my family.

Items you will most def need: chopsticks. I have six of the normal kind you get in fast food restaurants, and then a set of cooking chopsticks, because some wands are longer than others, after all.

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You will also need a hot glue gun and appropriate hot glue sticks. Kind of key. You’re going to use a lot of glue for these so be prepared!

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Optional are beads. Plastic, wooden, whatever. Doesn’t matter what colour. I also added some string. Because I like string.

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Then I sat myself down with one of her favourite television shows to inspire me and I got to work (I probably should have watched Harry Potter but I’m on season two on Netflix and things are really starting to get good!).

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From here what you do is pretty much up to you. I glued on some of the larger beads at the butt end of the wand as kind of a backstop.

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And one on the tip as sort of an extender.

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Then I added some texture and filler with glue.

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Twirly whirly.

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On this one I went with some string and some small beads.

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Here I let the glue and gravity do their thing. If you use the high setting on your glue gun the glue will stay liquid for longer.

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You can roll almost-cold glue between your hands to shape it but I tend to burn myself so I didn’t do that. I just let the glue cool unadulterated.

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Now you can paint! I used craft paint, in a few different shades of brown. I painted the tips of the wands a darker brown, almost black, because I figure if they’re shooting sparks all the time they might get a little singed, right? I also added bits of silver here and there.

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After the paint dried I coated each with a liberal layer of gloss Mod Podge and let that dry overnight. Any other form of sealant would work well – but you should definitely seal them with something because craft paint will just scratch right off hot glue.

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Pretty fancy, no?

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I’m not sure what she’s going to do with EIGHT MAGIC WANDS but that’s really not the point of this whole exercise, is it?

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Yet another gel transfer. But different.

There’s a story behind this one. My dad, in his office, has a massive collection of pictures of various RCN ships he was involved with, ships’ crests, together with some sketches my grandfather did during the war. It’s a very nautical room. For his birthday yesterday, I wanted to give him another nautical trinket, using that nifty new technique I learned of gel transfers … but on wood.

The two most important ships in his history (that I can remember at least) are the HMCS Miramichi, which was his first command, and the HMCS Regina, which he commissioned as Executive Officer and which was the last ship he was on before we moved to Ottawa and he eventually retired.

In debating which ship to use, I was having trouble finding a good one of the Miramichi. It’s no longer at sea so there aren’t too many shots of it on the internet (if you do a Google image search you come up with only a handful of pictures of the exact Miramichi – 163 – I’m looking for). Except perhaps this one, which looked really familiar to me:

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You see those two people standing in the foreground? That’s my mother on the left, and the short one is me. I have my hands behind my back because I used to like to stand like a weirdo, and my mother is taking a picture with her camera, which is why her elbows are up. There weren’t many other little girls living on that particular base at that particular time, so it is definitely me and my mum. Whenever my dad went off to sea we would go down to Duntze Head (which is where those cannons are) to wave goodbye. When he came back, and he sailed past our house (yes, I was that lucky), he would have someone signal us in gibberish Morse code. It became a sort of tradition.

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So anyway, because I’m actually IN that photo, that’s the one I have to use, naturally. It’s not a terribly high-quality shot – taken before digital photography became really popular, this was clearly developed from film and then scanned on some terrible early digital-era scanner (I am that old), so when you blow it up it doesn’t look perfect. But the nice thing about these gel transfers is that the lack of detail actually improves the result. So I cropped it to fit on my work surface, boosted the contrast, and desaturated it. Remember when you do this to print the image with a laser printer or photocopier, as inkjet images are too heavily sunk into too many layers of the paper to work properly. Also remember to print it in reverse!

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My supplies: 8″ x 10″ artists’ board canvas ($3 at Dollarama, bonus!); reversed laser printout on regular printer paper; sponge brush, gel medium, and a squeegee.

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We’ve done this twice before. You’ve probably got it down pat. But I’ll do it for you again, just so you can be confident. Use the sponge brush to smooth a generous amount of gel medium evenly across the surface of the board. Pay close attention to the edges, as they will tend to accumulate less medium (though it enhances the effect in the end if you aren’t looking for perfection).

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Make sure there aren’t too many big brush marks on the surface. These are fine; you just don’t want huge peaks and valleys of the stuff.

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Use your squeegee to flatten the image face-down on top of the gel medium. Set that sucker aside to dry for a couple hours.

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To rest for readiness, peel up one of the corners a bit and see how much toner stayed stuck to the surface. If it’s all still stuck to the paper, you either didn’t use enough gel medium, you used the wrong type of printout, or it’s not dry yet.

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Spray the surface of the board with water and let it sink into the paper.

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Use your fingers or a soft cloth to rub off the bits of wet paper. You will likely have to let it dry and wet-rub it again a couple times before you get all the white paper off that you want.

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Finally the surface was as smooth as I could get it.

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The yellowish tint of the wood underneath added an antique cast to the picture that I quite liked, despite the pixellated nature of the shot.

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I painted the sides of the board frame a mixed turquoise with craft paint, then sprayed the whole thing once with a satin-finish sealant.

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It doesn’t suit my gray walls but I think it will look great on my dad’s wall!

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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).

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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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Tray Cool

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Happy Independence Day to those of you in the good ol’ You Ess of Eh.  On this auspicious day I thought I’d share with you something I did while hiding from the heat on Canada Day.

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I buy a lot of things from thrift stores with a specific project in mind; however, lacking the time or a certain ingredient, these projects sometimes fall to the wayside.  Case in point: that mirror I used for Cait’s Victorian Toilet Paper mirror was supposed to go into something else.  I bought this serving tray with the idea of putting cork on the bottom and painting it with gold leaf stencils (back when that sort of thing was trendy).

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I didn’t do it and so the tray has been sitting with my crafty crap for years.  But the Pie and I were talking about how awesome those Coffee Stirrer Wall Art doo-dads turned out and, having several coffee stirrers leftover still, I put two and two together and came up with this.

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I wiped down the tray and gave it a quick once-over with black craft paint.

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While it was drying I grabbed several handfuls of coffee stirrers and started painting them, too.  I wanted to work with a palette of various greens, mixed together a bit.

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Then, with a bottle of Tacky glue and my trusty poultry shears, I started cutting the stirrers and gluing them to the surface of the tray.

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This takes a while.  This takes a good long while.

I left it to completely dry overnight and then the next day gave it two coats of spray sealant in a satin finish (which will make the tray, if not washable, at least wipe-able). You’ll note I actually did the spraying outside, in a well-ventilated area, and not in my tightly sealed kitchen like I used to. There are benefits to having a backyard …

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And that, as they say, is that.

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I originally planned to give this to someone for Christmas, but the Pie seems to want to keep it, so I guess it will be his …

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Alphabet Trays

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The only problem I have about hand crafting all my Christmas gifts and then putting them on the blog is that my whole darned family reads it. So it’s kind of hard to keep things under wraps. I try my best, but in this particular case it’s pretty obvious who these are for (because they’re monogrammed, geez).

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Anyway, I picked up some air dry clay at DeSerres and thought I’d have a little fun with it.  These little trays are easy to make and a nice little element of home-made personalization for any home.  They’re great gifts for teachers, too, and your kids can make them all by themselves.  They can be hung on the wall or, depending on the size, used as actual trays for non-food items.

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Start by working the clay with your hands and rolling it out to be about 1/4″ thick.  With a knife, cut the base of your initial out.  I freehanded this, but measuring with rulers and such would probably help.

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Then work on cutting out your sides, making sure they fit the dimensions of your little tray.

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You may need to use little snakes of clay, etc., to get the sides to stick on properly.

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Use a spoon or a clay smoothing tool to flatten out any cracks at the seams.

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Then leave your clay dishes to dry for a while.  These took about three days to dry completely.

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There was a little bit of shrinkage at the seams on parts of mine so I just reinforced them with some white glue.

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Then I painted them with regular craft paint, and I went with a lighter colour on the inside with the outside edges being a darker version.

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The bottoms I painted black with a giant red heart in the middle, because Mags and the Flying Dutchman are such lovebirds.  These are also coated with a spray sealant for longevity. I think it’s pretty cute.

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Guest Post: Renovating a TE Stick

Hooray, it’s our first guest post!  I helped the Pie re-do his MadCatz gaming stick back before Christmas and I’ve finally gotten him to agree to do a post about it.  Enjoy the geekery! – Ali

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Hakan is my favourite character from Super Street Fighter 4, and I thought it would be fun to modify the artwork on my fight stick. Here is what it looked like before:

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First you have to take it apart. I unscrewed the top and this is what the insides look like:

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You have to remove the buttons and the stick in order to replace the artwork on the top. It’s a good idea to take a (blurry) picture of the buttons or write down the colour-coding of the wiring so that you can put it all back together in the proper order.

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Blurry button removal:

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This is the old art that I have removed and will be replacing.

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I used a template, which I found on the Shoryuken Forums, to create my Hakan art. I printed it out in colour. Cutting out the circles with an exacto knife was the hard part.

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To make cutting out the negative space easier I traced it on the old art.

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All cut out. You don’t have to worry about those rough edges too much, as the button will cover those up.

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Because the old art was printed on a piece of plastic, I had to print the new art on paper and then purchase a clear plexiglass cover from Canadian Joysticks to go on top. You can see that it is held in place with the buttons and stick. If you wish to get new buttons, this would be the time to replace them all. You can get new buttons and sticks from Akihabara and/or Canadian Joysticks.

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This is where your earlier photo of where the wires go comes in handy.

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Now for the ball top.  I followed this tutorial on the Shoryuken Forums for proper technique.

The first thing you need to do is sand your ball top to rough it up. Use a fine grade sandpaper for this, because you don’t want it TOO rough, just rough enough that the paint sticks.

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I used Ali’s stale beer bread and a skewer as a prop to hold it up.

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Next, you need to prime the ball. I used two coats of Citadel Imperial Primer in Skull White.  These are acrylic paints designed to be used for painting miniatures, and hold up well to handling.

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Then I used painter’s tape to mask off the parts of the design I wanted to stay white (at least at first).

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One million coats of red paint later, and Hakan’s skin was filled in.

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Peel off the tape.

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Hakan has turquoise hair. Because he’s awesome.

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I used a permanent marker to add in eyebrows and a nose.

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Then I coated the ball top in a clear sealant and put it back on the fight stick.

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Hakan is awesome.

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