Arts & Crafts

Fun with Coded Messages

August 13, 2015

by Margaret Cabaniss

This was meant to be a “how to survive the summer doldrums” post, but apparently I blinked and now everyone’s sending their kids back to school already. How did that even happen?

Anyway: Regardless of whether school’s begun or you’re still counting down the days, this is a quick and easy little project that should keep the kids occupied for a solid five minutes at least: a cipher wheel.

My nephews got into codes and codebreaking a while back, so I thought it would be fun to send them some secret messages in the mail. The cipher wheel just takes the guesswork out of it: You print it up (free download here), cut it out, attach the wheels, and go. After that, it took no time at all to write up some coded messages and create a few “Top Secret” manila envelopes to mail it all in.

And that’s it! Not exactly the Enigma Machine, but good enough for a rainy afternoon — and an easy way to brighten some little person’s mailbox. Even better for a spy-themed birthday party, I’d think…

Anyone else get into codes as a kid? Have any good recipes for invisible ink?

Image: Margaret Cabaniss


The Art Wall

December 8, 2014

Wall Art
I finally got around to creating an art wall in our living room for the girls’ masterpieces. They create so many things that I “ooh” and “ahh” over, and I’d been wanting to do something other than letting it all pile up in different corners before finally getting around to putting it in their art portfolios.

So on a rainy day before Thanksgiving, I strung up two pieces of thin twine on our old brick wall, found some miniature craft clothespins, and got to work. I chose a variety of their recent pieces and made sure I showcased an equal amount of work from both girls.

I love how it turned out, and S and H love seeing their work on the wall. It also helps them to make a connection with the art they see at the museums we visit. Art is not simply for the privileged few, and I want them to have an appreciation for the art they see and make from a young age.

Art Wall 2
The toughest thing is always trying to figure out what to display, what to toss, and what to save. The giant portfolios I bought to store their art are already bursting at the seams. I don’t keep everything, but I store what I think shows how they’re developing creatively, as well as anything I think would be fun for them to look back on.

If you have kids, what do you do with all the stuff they create? Do you toss most of it? Save it? I love some of the solutions Leah came up with for the same problem in this post from back in the day… How do you incorporate your kids’ art in and around your home?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

There’s still a few weeks till Thanksgiving… Time to get cracking! Don’t forget to make these easy mitered napkins while you’re at it, too.

place mat
Because you don’t already have enough to do to prepare for the holidays!

If it makes you feel any better, I was supposed to make these placemats as a Christmas gift for my sister last year, and I only finished them yesterday (figured I’d better get them made in time for me to start procrastinating on this year’s present). Even sadder, they were painfully easy to whip up, so I’m not sure what took me so long. Sorry, Amy!

But enough groveling. I immediately liked these simple, rustic placemats when I spotted them last year, and making them from canvas painter’s drop cloth (which you can pick up at any hardware store) means they’re inexpensive and durable to boot. The instructions are simple, too — very beginner-sewer friendly.

Figure out how large you want your placemats to be, then add an inch to the length and width for a half-inch seam allowance (I wanted my mats to be 14″x19″, so I cut the pieces 15″x20″). You’ll cut two pieces of drop cloth for each placemat. The only other supplies you’ll need are coordinating thread (for the hidden seams) and a contrasting thread for the top stitch.

Pin the two pieces together (there’s no right or wrong side with the drop cloth), then stitch all the way around with the coordinating thread, leaving at least a four-inch opening in the center of the bottom edge so you can turn the mat right-side out. (I also did a zigzag stitch around the outer edge to keep the fabric from fraying, though you can’t really see it here.)

Trim the corners…

…then turn the placemat right-side out, feeding the fabric through your opening. Push out the corners and press the seams flat.

I added a small strip of hem tape to the seam around the opening and pressed that flat, too, just to make sure it held (in case the top stitching didn’t catch it):

Then simply add a zigzag stitch in your contrasting thread about half an inch to three-quarters of an inch from the edge.

And that’s it! Once you have your pieces cut and ready to go, you could churn out a complete set of these in an afternoon. If you wanted to get crazy, you could stencil a design on the mat, or even let your kids decorate them on Thanksgiving for a fun activity to keep them occupied while you roast that bird — but I think they’d make for a lovely, rustic holiday table just the way they are.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


DIY: How to Make Lip Balm

October 15, 2014

by Kate Newton

Lip Balm Favors
When I hosted my last brunch for a group of my girlfriends, I decided to make grapefruit lip balms as a party favor. I first saw these lip balms on SouleMama last year. I decided to use her directions but tweaked them a bit, leaving out the lipstick and using less essential oil. I chose grapefruit essential oil (instead of peppermint) since I was throwing a citrus themed brunch, but a slew of different oils could work.

These were a cinch to make — except for the tins; those were hard to track down. But I now know there are many bath and body care online companies that deliver quickly: Mountain Rose Herbs is a great place to start for U.S. residents, and for Canucks like me, I recommend Voyageur Soap and Candle. They’re super helpful and carry a wide selection of products.

Just thinking about all the possible flavors and scents here make me tempted to do another batch. I still have all the ingredients; just need to order more of those darn tins!

Lip Balm Ingredients

So here’s what you’ll need and how to do it:


  • Double boiler or saucepan and heatproof bowl
  • Large bowl
  • Spatula
  • ½ oz tins
  • Round stickers to fit tins


  • 8 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 Tbsp beeswax *
  • 1.5 Tbsp raw honey
  • 25-30 drops of desired essential oil

*I’m going to admit something embarrassing here: I made a little mistake with my first attempt at these: I thought I could switch up paraffin wax with beeswax. Don’t do this! You’ll waste a whole batch of lip balm when you realize that beeswax and paraffin wax are two totally different substances. Live and learn.


First, set up your tins (lids off) on some paper towel close to your stove for easy access.

Lip Balm Containers
Using a double boiler or a small saucepan and heatproof bowl, stir the oil, beeswax, and honey over low heat until completely melted. I found chopping the beeswax into smaller pieces helped it melt faster. This entire step will take about 5-10 minutes. (Side note: I bought a large heatproof bowl for a dollar at the local Salvation Army because I didn’t want to use my regular kitchen bowls. I figured I’d use it again for more making other body care products — which I already have — so it was a dollar well spent, I think.)

Making Lip Balm
While the ingredients are melting, fill another large bowl with cold water (I put in some ice to make sure it was really cold) and set it aside. Once all of your ingredients are melted, take your bowl off the stove and mix in the essential oil. Set this bowl into the large bowl of cold water and stir quickly but gently, until the mixture thickens up a bit (about 30 seconds). Working quickly but carefully — you don’t want to spill any of your precious mixture! — fill all of your empty tins.

Filling Lip Balm Containers
Fill them right to the top of the tin. I didn’t do this for all of them at first, and once the lip balm sets, you can’t correct it. They look much better if they’re filled to the brim.

Put the lip balms aside to set for at least an hour, then put on the lids. Top with your label stickers, and voila! You’ve made some yummy, natural lip balm.

Finished Lip Balm
This stuff feels great on the lips — and I think my brunch guests all agreed. They would be perfect for little holiday gifts or for a fall or winter party coming up!

Images: Kate Newton 

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The Written Word

September 8, 2014

Hand Lettering from Seanwes
A while back, I read a post at the Art of Simple about the power of the written word, and it got me thinking. My own handwriting has declined over the years; I always had good penmanship, but keyboards have beaten it out of me. I like working on my computer — I’ve grown used to the ability to think and edit as I go — but it doesn’t quite take the place of writing with pen in hand.

Studies have shown that writing by hand improves memory and creativity and boosts children’s cognitive development (which makes me wonder whether we should really stop teaching kids cursive). There’s something about the process of writing stuff down that’s edifying, even therapeutic: I still make a point to hand-write notes and cards, especially for thank you’s and birthdays. In this digital age, getting a handwritten note in the mail is almost magical. As Warren says in the post I mentioned above, writing by hand is much more personal: It connects us to the writer and makes him or her more present to us. Warren talks about discovering her mother’s letters after her death and what it meant to her. It wouldn’t have been the same had those letters been emails. I totally get that.

I’ve been wanting to keep a regular journal for my daughters, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know why; it’s almost like there’s so much to say, and so much to catch up on, I get paralyzed. But I still want to do it because I think it would mean a lot to them when they’re older — when handwriting may have officially gone the way of the dinosaur.

Do you still hand-write? Has your penmanship suffered at the hands of your keyboard? Do you prefer to get handwritten notes, or does it matter to you?

PS — A few tips to help get you in the habit of sending handwritten notes.

Image: Seanwes 


by Margaret Cabaniss

How to Mend a Sweater
Earlier this week, an article popped up in my Facebook feed that I just couldn’t resist clicking: “11 Skills Your Great-Grandparents Had That You Don’t.” (Gotta love some good old-fashioned “kids today” moralizing under a snappy BuzzFeed headline!) And, sure enough, I don’t have most of those skills: I have never foraged (unless you count mystery pantry meals on days when I forget to go grocery shopping), and I wouldn’t have the first idea where to begin making lace. Duly noted.

But! I was pretty pleased with myself when I got to No. 6:

Darning and mending. Nowadays if a sock gets a hole in it, you buy a new pair. But your great-grandparents didn’t let anything go to waste, not even a beat-up, old sock. This went for every other article of clothing as well. Darning socks and mending clothes was just par for the course.

Yes, and they had to walk uphill, both ways, for those beat-up old socks, too. We get it: We are not hard core.

How to Mend a Sweater
But it just so happens that I recently learned some mending techniques from a very 21st-century source: YouTube. I had a practically brand-new sweater with a small hole near the neckline (that was getting progressively less small with every washing); exasperated that I had only worn the thing three times, I figured I had nothing to lose by giving this darning thing a try.

I ended up combining the tips in this video with some instructions from Martha Stewart and wove a (very imperfect) basket pattern over the hole — first making parallel stitches in one direction, and then the other — to close everything up and provide a little stability to the fabric. After a brief 3-minute tutorial, I was able to do a serviceable job on my sweater:

How to Mend a Sweater
Ok, so possibly not as elegant as my great-grandmother could manage, but not bad for a first go! It’s definitely motivated me to practice on some other items of clothing that have been languishing in my “mend it or toss it already” pile — and I have to admit, it was pretty satisfying to tackle the job myself. Next up: butchering my own meat…

Are there any old-timey skills out there that you’ve been wanting to learn, or that you’ve recently taught yourself? Share in the comments!

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


DIY: Growth Chart

June 19, 2014

by Margaret Cabaniss

DIY: Growth Chart
My sister had the cutest idea for a Father’s Day gift for her husband: an oversized ruler growth chart for their two wee babes. I apologize for not sharing the how-to in time for you to make one for your own Father’s Day gift, but alas, secrets had to be kept. Still, it’s an easy project that you can definitely whip up in time for birthdays (or Christmas, or next Father’s Day).

What you’ll need:

  • a 6″ wide x 6′ long pine board (or longer, if you grow ’em tall)
  • wood conditioner and stain
  • vinyl decals
  • sandpaper
  • rags
  • hanging hardware

Start by prepping your wood: Give the board a once-over with some sandpaper, to smooth out any rough spots and round off the edges a bit, then wipe down with a rag and repeat till everything is smooth to the touch.

DIY: Growth Chart
Next up: Apply the wood conditioner. Jen was somewhat suspect that this would be useful at all, but it actually made a big difference in how evenly the wood absorbed the stain. Fortunately, it’s an easy step: Just use a rag to apply it in the direction of the grain (making sure your board is free of sanding dust first), let it sit for 15 minutes, then wipe off the excess.

Within two hours of applying the conditioner, apply your stain. Again, use a rag to wipe it on in the direction of the grain (try to blend your edges a bit as you go), let sit for 15 minutes, then wipe off the excess and let dry completely before applying another coat. (Jen did two coats of that cherry color above.)

DIY: Growth Chart
Now for the decals! You could certainly paint on numbers and hatch marks if you have a steady hand, but Jen’s job was made easier by simply buying a complete set of vinyl decals from the “Little Acorns by Ro” Etsy shop, which were super easy to apply. There are tons of other options on Etsy, of course — and if you have a vinyl cutting machine, like a Silhouette or Cricut, you could probably make these pretty easily at home.

Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to start by measuring out where the hatch marks will go. Jen knew her board would hang 8 inches off the floor, so she took that into account and put the 1′ mark four inches from the bottom of the board. Once you have your spacing figured out, peel of the backing to the vinyl pieces, then carefully line them up and attach to the board; smooth the backs with a credit card to make sure everything is good and stuck, then (very carefully!) peel off the top layer to reveal your decals.

DIY: Growth Chart
Then just hang and you’re good to go! Jen added a sawtooth hanger at the top (hung on the wall with a screw and drywall anchor) and some velcro Command strips to the bottom, to make sure the kiddos wouldn’t accidentally knock it off the wall. All that’s left is to start adding the kids’ heights and wondering how they got so big so fast…

Did you have a growth chart when you were kids, or did you go the ol’ pencil-mark-on-the-door-jamb route?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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by Margaret Cabaniss

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
I love the look of upholstered headboards, but not necessarily their price tag. I’ve bookmarked tons of DIY versions on the web over the years, but because I never want to do anything too hastily (ahem), it’s taken me this long to actually get around to trying one. Fortunately, a friend of mine was looking to do some home improvements and volunteered to be my headboard guinea pig — and in one afternoon, we had knocked out the whole thing. Remind me again why I waited so long to try this?

We followed these basic instructions at Young House Love. There are more elaborate and heavy-duty versions out there, but if you want a quick fix for a bare room, or a placeholder while you save up for something big, I can definitely recommend this one.

What you’ll need:

  • wooden canvas stretcher bars (you can find these at a good art supply store)
  • wood glue
  • heavy-weight fabric
  • batting
  • staple gun and staples
  • hanging hardware

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
First, figure out how big you want your headboard to be. For a queen-sized bed, we went with 60 inches wide (the width of the mattress) and 36 inches high — tall enough that we could have plenty of height above the bed, as well as a good bit hiding below the top of the mattress. Stretcher bars come in all lengths, so you can make yours exactly the dimensions you want.

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
Once you’ve figured out the size of your frame, you’ll need a piece of batting the same dimensions, plus 3-4 inches on each side. Obviously, the thicker the batting, the cushier your headboard; we went with a medium thickness (only a couple of bucks with a coupon at the fabric store), and it worked out great. For our fabric, we used an old heavy-weight linen curtain from Ikea, cut to the same dimension as the batting.

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
Now for the fun part! Assemble your stretcher bars by putting a little wood glue on the tabs and sliding the corners together. These were a snug fit at times, so you might want to use a rubber mallet to gently tap everything into place. Check to be sure your frame is square before letting it dry (the glue called for 12 hours of drying time, but since the stretcher bars fit so snugly to begin with, we just waited a couple of hours for it to set before proceeding).

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
When you’re satisfied that the glue is dry, clear a large area on the floor where you can lay down your batting, then place the frame on top. Next, wrap the batting around the frame and staple, using the same method as that coffee sack bulletin board I made way back when: Start by stapling the middle of one side, then cross to the middle of the opposite side and staple that down, too, making sure to pull the batting relatively taut — then do the same on each end. Once you have it tacked down, work your way around the frame, filling in between your previous staples (ours were about 2-3 inches apart by the time we finished). Do a hospital-corner style fold where the edges meet to make everything look nice and tidy.

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
After the batting is finished, do the same thing with the fabric: Lay your material right-side down on the floor, topped with the frame, then wrap and staple on opposite sides, being sure to pull the fabric tight as you work (if you have a patterned fabric, check it periodically to make sure it’s lined up correctly). The more staples you use on the back, the smoother it’ll look on the front, so just go to town on it.

Lastly, we added picture hanging hardware to the top edge of the frame on the back, then used a level to make sure everything was straight as it went up on the wall. The frame itself is so light — even one this big — that it only took a couple of nails, and we were done!

DIY: Easy Upholstered Headboard
Sadly, the low light and small room made it tricky to get a good shot of the finished product (not to mention the fact that I’m missing the Martha Stewart–approved mountain of pillows) — but trust me, it’s awesome in real life. My friend says the new headboard is great inspiration for keeping the bed made and looking nice; it’s kind of amazing the difference it makes in the room, for such little time and effort (and cost!). I may need to make one for myself eventually…

Anyone else tried their hand at making their own headboard? Have a bed in your home that could stand a little face lift?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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by Margaret Cabaniss

How to Make Silhouettes
I made these little paper silhouettes of my nephews as a Christmas present for my sister a few years back — but it wasn’t until she asked me recently to update them (and include one of the little guy who had come along since then) that it occurred to me that they’d make a great Mother’s Day gift, too. It’s the perfect thing to give to moms (or grandmothers) who say they already have everything they want — because honestly, they always want more pictures of their darling children.

There’s a high-tech way to make silhouettes in a photo-editing program, but I like the slightly more three-dimensional, hand-cut look — and it’s still pretty simple.

What you’ll need:

  • a photo of said children
  • computer/printer
  • 1 sheet each of heavy black and white card stock
  • a bold-colored pen
  • tape and a glue stick
  • a fine-tipped craft knife (and cutting mat) or very small scissors
  • a frame

Paper Silhouettes
To start, you’ll need a photo of your child in profile from the shoulders up. This is, hands down, the trickiest part of the whole project: Trying to get very little ones to sit still and stare straight ahead and not wiggle or try to eat the camera turns out to be a bit of a thing. (Try playing a video — or holding some candy — just out of frame; they’ll be as still as statues.) You want to do this against a well-lit, light-colored background, like an empty wall — even use your dreaded flash to really get a good, high-contrast photo. Don’t worry too much about making it perfect, though: As you can see, Thomas didn’t quite get the “close your mouth — and don’t smile” idea, but it ended up adding Thomas-y character to his little silhouette.

Once you’ve snapped your photo, upload it to your computer, resize it to the final dimensions you want for your silhouette, and print out a black-and-white version on regular printer paper. This will be your pattern for cutting the final image out of the black card stock.

How to Make Silhouettes
Next, outline the head and shoulders with a dark pen or marker to make the edges really clear, so you can easily see where to cut. The trick to silhouette-making is including enough detail so that the faces are recognizable, but not so much that you’ll be cursing all the tiny cuts you need to make later. (This is particularly true with girls’ hair: I definitely recommend pulling it back — or at least brushing it well — before taking your picture.) Remember, you’re going for stylized here, not a perfect anatomical rendering. To finish the image on the bottom, I drew a slight S curve, starting somewhere around the shoulders, from back to front.

Paper Silhouettes
Once your image is traced, cut it out slightly outside your tracing line. At this point, you can attach it to your piece of black card stock by either taping all the edges of your image (making sure to cover your tracing lines) or simply gluing it straight down. (But remember: If you glue the image to the card stock, you’ll have to use the back of the image for your final display — which means they’ll be facing in the opposite direction.) I’ve tried both with about equal success, but one method might work better than another for you, depending on your cutting tools; just try experimenting a bit.

Paper Silhouettes
For cutting out the photo, this little craft knife turned out to be perfect: The tiny blade swivels in its mount, making it much easier to trace the curves of the image. (My attempts to do this with a standard Xacto knife were…not pretty.) If you don’t have a cutting mat, a piece of cardboard or a stack of old newspapers will work, too — or just use small scissors, being careful to move slowly.

How to Make Silhouettes
After you’ve cut out your image, mount it to your white card stock (using your glue stick or some other adhesive), frame it, and you’re done! These get even cuter with time, as the kids grow out of their younger features; I can’t look at that cowlick on a three-year-old Thomas without melting all over the place. The mother in your life will love these.

PS — Other handmade Mother’s Day gifts to try: a memory boxchocolate macaroons, and chocolate truffles — or go for broke and make them all!

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


Internet Menagerie

April 29, 2014

Seven Smooches Bird Purse
It’s time for our monthly trip around the web. These are some of my interesting finds over the past few weeks; please add your own in the comments!

  • Now this is good storytelling (and a great story). (YouTube)

Image: Upcycled little girls purse from Seven Smooches by Zoe Saint-Paul