Fun with BLEACH

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Well, that’s certainly a title that’ll get your attention, eh? This is a quick and easy way to personalize cotton t-shirts just the way you like them – it’s not screenprinting, but the results are just as satisfactory and the whole process is way faster. Plus it’s something that even kids can do (if you trust them to use bleach). And I’m going to show you two ways to do it.

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First, you need some spray bottles that produce a fine mist (the squirty ones won’t do you any good here), and some bleach. Make a solution of about half bleach and half water (or maybe 3/4 bleach and 1/4 water if you trust yourself) and pour that in the bottle.

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Now you need a cotton (or mostly cotton) t-shirt in a dark or bright, saturated colour (you can use pastel colours but the results won’t be as contrasty). Wash and dry the shirt to remove any sizing from the manufacturer that may interfere with the bleach.

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Grab yourself some adhesive vinyl or Con-Tact paper.

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Cut your vinyl into the desired shape you want. You can either use the shapes to mask off an area that you will bleach around, or the vinyl can act as a shield to the rest of the shirt and only your design will be bleachy – that’s up to you.

Make sure to press the vinyl firmly into the fabric of the shirt.

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Slide some waxed paper or plastic inside the shirt to prevent the bleach from leaking through to the other side.

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Spray your design lightly and evenly with bleach.

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Just a light misting.

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Use a rag to dab away any beads of bleach that might drip onto your shirt (unless you want them to drip).

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Wait a few minutes and then carefully peel off your vinyl.

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Watch as the design emerges. When you get the right level of bleachiness that you like, rinse the shirt under cold water to stop the bleach process. Then chuck the shirt in the wash and run it through a cycle with soap to get out all the bleach.

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When your shirt is dry, you will be the coolest person out there.

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Another method, if you don’t have adhesive vinyl on hand is to use paper stencils and a glue stick. So you just cut out your design and slather it with glue from the glue stick. Make sure to go right to the edge.

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Flatten it firmly on your shirt.

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Spritz on your bleach, dab, and remove the paper before it gets too saturated with liquid (because that will soak through). Don’t worry if there’s a bit of paper left – that will come off in the wash. On this design (Serenity!), we added a few extra drops of bleach here and there to make it look like the ship was traveling through a nebula in space.

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Tada.

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On this shirt we did a similar negative image with a Rebel Alliance symbol from Star Wars, and then on the back we did the Galactic Empire symbol, so good on the front and evil on the back!

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Here we did a positive image, where the paper served as a shield for the rest of the shirt. You may recognize the Autobots symbol from Transformers.

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Another positive image, this one of a stylized Joker’s face from the Dark Knight film series.

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Because the pupils were hard to glue in place I used a fabric marker to add them back in. The shininess will go away the first time the shirt is washed.

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On this design the stencil I used was too thin and the bleach soaked around the edges. Not to worry!

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I simply used some more fabric markers to trace the proper outline and I really like the finished result.

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Conversation Bunnies Place Markers

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I saw these on Oh Happy Day a little while back and thought they’d make a neat place marker.  So in the midst of running out apartment hunting (yay, moving again!), I churned out nine of these for our Easter dinner.

I picked up some wee hollow chocolate animals.  Hollow is key.

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Then I cut out conversation bubbles from two pieces of scrap book paper and grabbed a stencil to do the names.

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I also used some foil stars I had leftover from being a professor (no matter the age, all students love a sticker for good work!).

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Then you need some glue and some floral wire.

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Cut the wire so it will fit all the way through your chocolate animal — it will need to stabilize itself at the bottom — and all the way through your conversation bubble.

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Glue your two conversation bubbles together over the wire and jam it into your animal’s head.

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You may need to move the wire around a bit to get it steady but you’ll find the right spot. I stored mine in a plastic container until I was ready to use them as place markers.

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Three-Dimensional Name Plate

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I was perusing Not Martha a while back and she was talking about a company called graypants, which specializes in products made from recycled cardboard.  While that is totally cool and I am behind that all the way (someday I will make/buy these gorgeous scraplights), what struck me about this in particular was graypants’ company sign.  It was the company name, carved out of several sheets of stacked cardboard.  My first thought was that is so nifty.  My second thought was I can do that.

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So I did.  With my nieces’ names.  I get these sheets of cardboard stuffed into some of my book orders at work as packing material, so they were a good (and lightweight and small, thereby mailable) surface to work on.

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First I picked fonts to work with.  They had to be easy enough to cut out of cardboard, but also with enough difference in them to sort of semi-express my nieces’ very different personalities.  Hard to do in a font.

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I printed the names, in their respective fonts, out and from that created a stencil on card stock for each. This was easily done by flipping the name over and tracing it in pencil on the back.

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And then flipping it onto the card stock and tracing it again on the front.

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Which left a faint pencil outline for me to cut.

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Then I got to work.  Tracing the outline of the name twice onto each cardboard sheet, I carefully cut it out with an Xacto knife and some very small scissors.

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This is definitely the most time-consuming part of the whole thing, and is tricky if you’re working with large or dull scissors.  I regretted my choice of that G early in the game, but kept going because it looked good.

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I made each name ten layers thick, and glued the layers of each letter together with Mod Podge, which I think is my new favourite substance.

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Then I took some acrylic craft paint and coloured in the sides of the thing, just for visual interest.

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And then I painted the surface of the letters in a slightly different colour, mostly to hide my accidents when I failed to colour inside the lines.

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Then I glued all the letters to each other, in the way that they best fit in terms of a glue-to-surface ratio. I used hot glue to stick the letters to each other, just for security.

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I left off hanging materials, because I’m not sure what the girls will want to do with them and so I wanted to give them some leeway.

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But I think they turned out rather well. The girls can put them on their bedroom door, their wall, or their desk — whatever they want!

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Have a Drink on Me

Happy New Year!

I’m still catching up on some DIY gift posts here, so I’d like to show you some drinking glasses I made for some special people for Christmas this year.  If you’d like to know more about how to cut glass bottles, or how to etch glass, click on those links back there.

I spent a lot of time with a rotary tool (the most popular brand name of these is a Dremmel), grinding down the edges so they were safe for human mouths.  There was a lot of sparkly dust everywhere after that.

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These ones were for Cait, who has a lovely dachshund named Ruby.  The glass I used came from vinho verde (the pale blue) and riesling (the dark blue).  Out of curiosity (and as a rather lengthy aside), I asked my cousin Lindz, who studied as a sommelier, why certain wines come in different coloured bottles.  I figured she’d know the answer — of course she did.  It’s all about the UV exposure.  Wines that are to be consumed in a short amount of time require no UV protection, hence the whites you pick up at the wine store coming in clear or blue bottles.  Reds need more time to sit around, and so come in the darker green or brown bottles.  Blue bottles, according to Lindz, are not as commonly manufactured, and so are more expensive, but easier to recycle.  I hope to have a bit more on the amazing machinations of Lindz and her very clever team when I’m in Vancouver this summer, but until then you can check out their most recent television appearance here.  If you are on the lower mainland, I recommend checking Re-Up out!

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The dog stencils I got off the internet and stretched a bit to fit the glass diameter.  I used a cutout for one and then produced a “negative” using the bit I cut out and by frosting the rest of the glass.

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These ones are for Rusty, who is living the life in a bachelor pad with another dude and an enormous television set.  I figure these glasses, which I made out of some fancy Italian water bottles, will hold beer and also a Rusty-sized serving of milk or juice.

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I figured he would like to know how much he’s drinking. I like the slightly blue tint of these glasses, though the thinness of the bottle meant that I did crack two attempts by overheating it. That’s why there are only three — I cracked two bottles and then the grocery store stopped stocking that brand of water, so I couldn’t get any more.

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And these ones are for Kristopf, who moved in with his fiancée, Atlas, this year.  I figure the glasses are grown-up enough that both male and female members of this household will approve.  They are made out of Perrier bottles, many of which I broke while learning how to cut on a curve.  I think the little sprout pattern is well-suited to the green glass.

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Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake – Day Two

First thing to do this morning is take the white chocolate frosting and the fondant out of the fridge to come to room temperature.  Don’t forget!

Right.  So when we left off, we had just set the gum paste ivy leaves out to dry overnight. Fortunately for me, they didn’t completely dry, so I was able to cut tiny sticks of floral wire and stick them into each leaf as a stem.  Had I known how rigid and brittle dried gum paste got, I would have done this the day before, when the leaves were still flexible.  Also, the thicker the leaf, the better it worked.My plan was to wrap these new “stems” around my green licorice whip “vine” and then drape the whole thing over the cake.Of course the leaves were pretty heavy and the licorice was pretty delicate so of course the vine broke.In any case, I got all the stems in and flipped the leaves over to dry completely.My next idea was to simply drape the licorice vine over the cake, pin it in place with a few concealed floral wire “staples”, and then stick the leaves directly into the cake in strategic places.  Of course I wouldn’t get to see if my plan worked until the following day.  The tension starts to build.The worst part of decorating the cake today was that I had a medical procedure scheduled for late in the afternoon, and I wasn’t allowed to EAT ANYTHING until after it was over.  You try icing a cake and not licking your fingers.

Now, when you make a tiered cake you need to give it support so it doesn’t sag.  Not to mention the fact that a three-tiered cake is tremendously heavy, so everything has to be strong and secure.

The entire cake rests on a cake board, which you can buy at any cake or craft store.  My lovely father decided he’d make one for me out of plywood, as a cake board is essentially just a board wrapped in foil.  In addition, you need cake circles, essentially made of cardboard (though my dad used matting board here) that are exactly the size of each of your upper tiers.  They will go on the bottom of each upper tier so that you can move them around and so cutting one tier won’t result in cutting all three tiers.  It’s really amazing the amount of hidden structural material goes into a wedding cake.Now, you want to keep your cake as cold as possible, so I worked in shifts, putting each tier back into the fridge when I was finished each step.  A cold cake is stiffer and less likely to come apart on you.  Of course, the fridge I was using was downstairs in the basement and I had to negotiate several hallways in between.  As the cakes became more and more complete, my mantra became “Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …”

First you need to level the tops of your tiers.  Use a long serrated knife to remove the round bit at the top.  To ensure a perfectly smooth top, I flipped my tiers over so the natural “pan line” was the one that showed.  I had to work super hard to get the 16″ tier to come out level.

Use some royal icing or other stiff-drying frosting (which I also purchased) and plaster some on the surface of each cake circle.  This will be your glue, and will prevent the tier from sliding off when you move the cake.I did the same with the cake board, and placed the tiers on their respective surfaces, cut-side down.Then I wrapped up the ones I wasn’t using and put them back in the fridge. Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …I’m sure I’ve spoken to you before on the importance of a crumb coat.  It is what it sounds like: a coating of icing designed to freeze all your crumbs into place so they don’t show up on the surface of the finished cake.  So, smooth a thin layer of white chocolate frosting all over the cake and try to keep it as even as possible.  Then chuck the tiers back in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes so the frosting can firm up.

I found the smaller tiers easier to decorate if I placed them on an upside-down plate on top of an inverted bowl.  Of course, if you have a rotating cake stand then you’re ahead of the game.And a handy tool like a fondant smoother is useful when you are trying to make your sides uniform.  And on your second coat of icing, be generous.  This stuff can hide many mistakes.  Chuck the tiers in the fridge again after the second coat.  Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …As I mentioned earlier, this cake is no lightweight.  In order to avoid a Leaning Tower of Pisa thing, we have to provide adequate structural support for each tier on top of the bottom one.  We are going to create hidden support columns for our tiers, putting them inside the cake itself.  This next part is a little weird, but you gotta trust me on this one.

Enter the Slurpee straw.Let’s ignore the fact that I had to purchase a Slurpee in order to make off with all these straws.  The key to Slurpee straws is that they’re incredibly wide, which makes your support column all the more strong.  Another plus is that they come in lurid colours, so you are unlikely to mistake them for the substance of the cake and consume them by accident.

So, you take your bottom tier.  Rest the edges of the pan of the next tier on top for a second, just to leave a wee mark in the frosting where you want the next tier to go. 

Insert the straw into the centre of your guideline, pointing straight down, press it all the way to the bottom, and remove it.  You will remove a tiny plug of cake while you do this, but don’t worry, you’re going to put it back. 

When you pull it out you can see the line that the frosting has left on the straw.  Cut the straw at this point, then cut four more sections of straw to match this length.

Return the centre column to its original position in the cake and insert the other four columns around the centre one to evenly distribute the weight.  Repeat this straw process for every tier except the top one and put the cakes carefully back in the fridge.Now we are going to start on our fondant embellishments.  Slice off some fondant with a sharp knife and knead it with your hands to make it more malleable.I used a small amount of the icing colour we used to make the ivy leaves to create this pale green.I rolled it flat and used a pizza cutter and a metal ruler to cut long strips of the stuff.These are going to form bands at the bottom of each tier.Working carefully, so as not to stretch the fondant strip, place them along the bottom of each tier.  Because my fondant was a little on the dry side, I found it easier in the end to cut the fondant strips into sections and handle them with a fondant smoother.  You can see that I’m wearing gloves in this shot to avoid putting fingerprints on the fondant.

I used the smoother to provide support as I pressed the strip portions onto the cake.

Then, with a soft paintbrush, I gently brushed on some green lustre dust for texture.Not bad, not bad.  You won’t notice all the imperfections from a distance, once the ivy is in place.Next I rolled out some white fondant and got out the French curvesI traced the edges with a sharp pointed knife and pulled away the excess fondant.

Then ever so carefully transferred the shapes to the cake.  I used the biggest curves on the bottom tier.On the top two tiers I used used the smaller curve.Now put those all in the fridge and leave them there.  More on Monday, when we put this baby together!

Chocolate Moose Cake

My siblings-in-law Rusty and Mags are arriving today for a couple of weeks.  It’s Rusty’s first time on a plane, so something tells me he’ll need some chocolate when he gets here.  And possibly booze.

I borrowed the actual cake recipe from here, but everything else I made up on my own.  Make sure you’ve got some time when you make this cake, or at least a list of other things to do.  There’s a lot of waiting around for things to cool.

First, you need a springform pan.  Mine here is 10 inches.  Anywhere around that size should be fine.  You see how it has a little lip on the bottom?

Well, flip that so the lip is facing down and lock it in place.

Now butter it like there’s no tomorrow, making sure to fill in all those wee squares, and then dust it with flour.  Knock out the excess and set that sucker aside.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl, sift in and whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup water and 3 large eggs.

Chop up about 8oz bittersweet or dark chocolate (or milk, if you prefer, it’s your cake — who am I to tell you what to do?).  Melt that in a double boiler with 3/4 cup butter.

Remove that from the heat and whisk in the egg mixture until it’s smooth and feels like pudding.

Then whisk all that chocolate goodness into the flour mixture and get out all the lumps.

Add in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and keep on whisking.  Make sure to rest your whisking hand often, as this is a very whisk-heavy recipe.  How many more times can I say “whisk”?

Pour that glop into your prepared springform pan.

Make sure to rap the pan on the counter to get out all those pesky air bubbles.

Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the cake is starting to pull away from the side of the pan and a wooden stick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove the ring and let the cake cool completely, about an hour.  Once the cake is cool you can carefully remove it from the bottom of the pan.

At this point, I brushed the cake with the contents of a wee bottle (50mL) of Grand Marnier, an orange-flavoured liqueur, to keep the cake moist while it awaits the arrival of its consumers.

While your cake is cooking and cooling, you can work on your fondant covering.

We’re going to do a cocoa-mocha fondant today.  So, in the bowl of your mixer, plop in 3/4 cup butter, softened, 3/4 cup corn syrup, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  Mix that until creamy, then add in 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder, and, slowly, so you don’t start an icing sugar mushroom cloud, about 5 cups icing sugar.

You may need to adjust the level of icing sugar until you get the appropriate doughy texture.  You can always knead in more icing sugar with your hands.  Set that aside.  Possibly in the fridge to firm up a little.

Now we’re going to make the decorating fondant.  In a clean bowl, mix together 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup lily white corn syrup (because otherwise it won’t turn out as light as you want it to), and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Mix that until it’s creamy, then add in about 2 cups icing sugar and mix until doughy.  Set that aside.  Again, you can put it in the fridge.  Or next to an open window to catch the cold Newfoundland breeze.  Of course if you live anywhere else at this time of year you probably have your air conditioning on so you could always use that.

Normally, you would create a buttercream icing to go under your fondant, a nice solid glue to hold everything together.  But since when do I obey the rules?  We’re going to go with a ganâche, and that’s all there is to it.

Chop up another 8oz chocolate (your choice, of course), and melt that in a double boiler.

When it’s completely melted, whisk in 2 cups whipping cream until smooth.  Chuck that in the fridge to let it cool completely and thicken.  Stir it around every once in a while.

As this cake is a welcome-to-Newfoundland dessert for my siblings-in-law, I thought I would put a moose on the cake.  The moose, in case you didn’t know, was introduced as a hunting species to Newfoundland at the end of the 19th century and, having no natural predators other than man (because introducing species to island ecosystems is a bad idea), has proliferated and is now one of the province’s biggest pests, wreaking havoc on people’s gardens within the city and accounting for high numbers of traffic fatalities for those unfortunate (or stupid) enough to drive across the island at night.  The moose is an extremely dangerous animal, for all its vegetarian-ness, but Newfoundlanders have adopted the moose as a cute symbol of what makes Newfoundlanders a bit different than everyone else.

What I’m saying is that it’s entirely appropriate to put a moose on your cake when you live in Newfoundland.

I printed out a stencil of a moose from the internet and cut it out.  I rolled out the white fondant onto a piece of waxed paper and laid my stencil on top.

I traced the outline of the stencil with a thin, sharp knife.

Then I peeled away the excess fondant.

And thar be me moose.  I set that aside to dry a little.

When your ganâche is cooled and thickened, you can slather it on your cake.

Like that.  Holy crap does that ever look good.  Chill that in the fridge to let the ganâche set a bit more while you roll out your coffee fondant.

The Pie and I used a rolling pin to ease the fondant onto the cake.  Because the ganâche is soft and squidgy it didn’t provide a very good base for the fondant and so you can see we have some cracks.  But we’re okay with that.  Plus the moose will cover up the worst of it.  For more information on dealing with fondant, check out my Raspberry Trifle Cake experiment.

Trim the excess fondant from the bottom and smooth the sides.

Lay that moose on down on top of the cake and smooth it down as well.

We used Cadbury’s chocolate covered raisins (like Glossette’s) as “moose poop” around the edges of the cake at the bottom.  And of course one big one, just behind the moose in question.

Keep this cake in the fridge to firm up the fondant and to keep the ganâche from spoiling.  Once you have cut into it make sure to keep it covered with plastic wrap, and eat it within a few days.

Crayola Payola

I went to high school with a lovely girl named Paola.  While we generally pronounced it the boring North American way (“Pollah”), we would occasionally say it correctly (“Powla”) or even go crazy and hyper-phoeneticize it (“Payola”).

In grades nine and ten she and I used to colour pretty much everything we owned.  We used a lot of Crayola products, especially the stamp-y markers.  She had way more artistic skill in her little finger than I could ever hope to have.

We’ve since lost touch.  I think she’s a nurse or some form of medical practitioner now, and I wish her all the best.  But this little project made me think of her.

I was on MarthaStewart.com the other day, looking for ideas for re-purposing objects into practical items, and also for Christmas gift ideas that could be made on a budget (stay tuned for those DIYs).

In passing I found this little project (just skip the ad and you can see it), and I thought it might be fun and easy to do.   It not being Valentine’s Day, I probably wouldn’t make any hearts, but a rainbow of circles might be nice in the kitchen window.  And if that worked, I thought I could make some more for my nephew and goddaughter in Sweden as a ‘just-because’ kind of present that would fit easily in the mail.

For this you will need wax crayons, a pencil sharpener, waxed paper, kraft or brown paper, an iron (and ironing board), scissors, and a needle and thread.  Maybe a stencil or cookie cutters as well.

Using the pencil sharpener, make some shavings of the crayons of your choice.

Lay a sheet of kraft paper on your ironing board.  This is the crucial step or you end up with melted wax all over your ironing board.

Put a sheet of waxed paper on top of that and fold it in half.

On one half of the waxed paper, sprinkle the shavings of your choice, evenly but thinly across the area you want covered. 

Refold the sheet and fold up the other three sides as well to hold in the shavings.  This is a pretty important step, so don’t forget it.

Place another sheet of kraft paper over top to protect your iron.

With your iron on medium, make a few passes over the paper pile, checking each time, until you are satisfied with the melty results.

Mix up your colours and alter the size of your shavings

Remove the shavings sheet from the pile and allow to cool.  Repeat.  Experiment with the width of the shavings, the density on the page, and the colours you mix together.

Draw or trace, using a stencil or cookie cutters, the shape you wish to create, and cut it out.  I chose circles for me, then an astronomy theme for Arun and a garden theme for Maya.

I noticed the sheets were starting to curl (and I was losing the light) so I put the cut-out pieces under some heavy books overnight.

Thread a needle with the desired colour of thread and carefully poke it through the top of your shape.  Tie a loop for easy hanging.

Final step: Hang!