Category Archives: From scratch

From scratch: Beginner’s luck

Do you like discovering a whole new area of DIY/crafts that you haven’t tried before? Sometimes I am reluctant to get sucked into a new area like that because I’m afraid of how much time and money it will take from my already busy crafting life. But this one – oh, this one is a good one and I’m glad I tried it… Curious?

I made my first mini-quilt. And loved it. Here it is:

And I feel especially self-congratulatory because I actually got to use the scraps of fabric that we already had, and didn’t have to buy new fabric (as much as I was tempted every time I visited fabric stores in our town).

Being thrifty on the fabric side allowed me a guilty pleasure of buying and enjoying some of the quilting “gadgets.” A rotary cutter, a self-healing mat, and a quilting hoop, for example, made the process of putting together this quilt a little easier.

I pinned this as an inspiration a while ago – it is a zig-zag quilt from liltulip on Etsy:

And here’s the inspiration for the quilt above (by the way, The Purl Bee is an awesome blog full of inspiration and how-tos for sewers, knitters, and crocheters):


Because I’ve never attempted anything like this before, I expected a couple of detours and wrong turns along the way, but everything seemed to have gone very smoothly. Of course, the fun part was putting together the colorful top. It’s amazing to see the colors and the white parts coming together to form a zig-zag pattern. But when I got to hand-quilting the three layers together (the colorful top, the batting and the backing), I found the process particularly meditative. In fact, lately I’ve been finding myself attracted to rather monotonous, repetitive and painstaking processes in crafting – this coming from a usually impulsive and impatient person – who whoulda thunk?

Here’s the backing of the quilt, a cute butterfly print that I embellished with some embroidery details.

Working with the thread and needle like that reminded me of a piece of old-timey advice from a crafter and designer who never stops to uplift and inspire me:

Hold the doubled thread between your thumb and index finger, and run your fingers along it from the needle to the end of the loose tails while saying, “This thread is going to sew the most beautiful garment ever made. The person who wears this garment … will wear it in health and happiness; it will bring joy and laughter.” Continue loving  that thread, wishing it all the good that you can think of, and running it through your fingers again and again.

– Natalie Chanin, Alabama Stitch Book

I want this quilt to bring warmth and ease to the little baby who I made it for.


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Wire hanger ivy topiary

Sometimes the craftiest creative ideas are also the simplest. Enter the old-fashioned and super-easy ivy topiary project.

I’ve been settling more and more into my job here and recently decided that my small office space needs to be spruced up. I cleaned up and consolidated various storage containers and uncovered a lot of empty space on and around my desk. What could be better to occupy it than plants? There is very little natural lighting in the office, but the fluorescent light should provide enough light for a non-fussy plant. Our local supermarket had small pots of ivy and I thought that it might be interesting to try growing an ivy topiary in the office.

Now I only hope that my brown thumb magically turns into a brownish-green one and the plants survive.

To make this topiary, you will need:

1. A potted ivy plant (or ivy you are going to repot, potting soil and a flower pot).

2. One or two wire hangers (the kind you can get from a dry cleaner), like this:

3. A pair of pliers or a pair of your own work-gloved hands.

4. Green heavy-duty thread or floral tape.

5. (Optional) 8 inches of steel or copper wire.

Here’s how to make the topiary:

1. Using pliers or your hands, straighten the hook part of the hanger to form a straight piece.

2. To achieve a “tulip” shape, bend/fold the horizontal bar of the hanger out, so that you get a diamond connected to the straight piece of wire that you created in Step 1.

3. Now kink each of the two sides opposite the straight piece in toward the center of the diamond.  This is very difficult to describe in words, so here’s the picture of a complete “tulip.”

4. Insert the straight piece down into the center of the pot. If the straight piece is longer than the height of your flower pot, you can cut it or bend it to the correct length.

5. (optional) Cut two 4-inch pieces of steel or copper wire and bend each in half to create a U- or V-shape. Insert one of the U-shaped wire pieces into the soil, crossing the wire hanger at a 45-degree angle. Now insert the second U-shaped wire perpendicular to the first. Contrary to what you might think, this step doesn’t require any knowledge of trigonometry – I am simply trying to support the hanger topiary structure and prevent it from falling over. A picture is worth a thousand words.

6. Take the longest branches of the ivy plant and decide which ones are going to go onto which side of the wire structure.

7. Loosely wind the branches around the corresponding side of the wire hanger, making sure to always wind in the same direction. Tie loosely with thread or floral tape in several places along the wire form (if using floral tape, carefully stretch it as you wind it around the branches to make it stick to itself).

So here you have it – the beginning of an old-fashioned ivy topiary with a modern twist. As your ivy grows, keep winding the branches around the wire structure and attaching them to it. When the branches are long enough that the two sides meet at the top, continue to wrap them in the same direction, i.e. overlapping the two sides and letting each side grow down towards the pot.

Be sure to prune your topiary regularly – you want the wire to be completely covered by the plant yet still have the “tulip” shape. When pruning, use sharp scissors and cut just where the branch meets the stem.

I am not providing any advice about caring for the plant itself, since, as I’ve already confessed, I have been known to kill even the hardiest of them. We’ll see how this one will do…

P.S. My absence from blogging is inexcusable. And while I even have some real excuses for not posting, I’ll spare you the details… Please forgive me, my dear readers – I hope you keep reading and keep crafting.


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From scratch: Geometric coat hanger


efore launching into “hardcore” renewing and recycling projects, I thought I’d share with you a project that was done almost from scratch – a coat hanger made with a piece of pine board, some twine, wood stain, and store-bought hooks. The coat rack was first designed to hold jackets and hats in our space-challenged entryway in North Carolina, but between the move and Mike’s graduation, I was only able to finish and hang it after we moved to Massachusetts. Here it is (above), gracing our entryway with its presence :)

Here’s how I made it:

1. Leftover piece of lumber – of the size that you want your hanger to be.
2. Water-based wood stain.
3. Thick thread, yarn, or twine of color that contrasts with the color of stain you will use.
4. School or wood glue.
5. Hook and screw kits available from major home improvement stores.
6. Your choice of varnish or polyurethane for finishing.
7. Your choice of woodworking tools to carve shallow grooves in the wood.
8. Mounting self-leveler aka sawtooth hanger, like this or any other mounting hardware.


1. I started with an unfinished pine board (it was a leftover piece from another project).

2. Using a pencil, I sketched out the design that I wanted to appear on the rack. Since I’ve never attempted anything of this kind, I opted for a simple geometric design because I thought it would be easier to work with.

3. Next, I followed the lines and cut shallow grooves in the wood. I used a Dremel rotary tool with emery cutting tip. It is certainly possible to embellish the coat hanger without cutting the grooves if you use high quality wood glue. I wanted to carve the grooves simply to practice using the rotary tool.


4. I then stained the board with two coats of cherry stain. So far, for all my woodworking projects I have been using various shades of Minwax water-based stain. I like that the cleanup is so easy and that there are no noxious fumes to contend with during application and drying.


5. For the next step, you can use rope, twine, yarn or even thin wire to fill the grooves that you’ve carved. I used off-white cotton string similar in weight to crochet yarn. After placing a dollop of white school glue on a piece of scrap paper, I dragged each length of the string through the glue and carefully pushed the string into the grooves. Pushpins were used to hold each piece of string in place as the glue dries and to define the corner in my geometric pattern.


6. My coat hanger was finished with two coats of polyurethane to give it a shiny finished look and to secure the string in case the glue alone wasn’t enough.

7. Finally, I attached chrome hooks into the center of each “square” design.


8. A note on mounting: I used sawtooth hangers to mount the coat rack. At Mike’s wise suggestion, we found the wall studs before attaching the screws on which the sawtooth hangers were to rest. That extra step was well worth the effort since the coat hanger now successfully supports the weight of all our heavy winter coats.

Happy crafting!

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