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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Spring Cleaning, Part I

By Oklahoma Farm Girl via Flickr

I

n my childhood home, spring cleaning was usually finished in time for Easter. Well, I am almost a month late with spring cleaning our apartment. Our window films (transparent insulation film that we put over our windows for the winter) have been to blame – anyone who lives in our neck of the woods will tell you that March and April here are fickle and you can expect a couple of freezing nights and chilly days to warrant keeping the window films on a little longer. At this point, be that as it may, I am washing windows and tackling other spring cleaning projects to make us breathe easier.

While there are no tutorials and how-to’s in this post, in the spirit of renewing things, I thought I’d share a couple of natural cleaning product recipes that I am using in this momentous undertaking. Plus, sharing my spring cleaning process with you might (just might) help me stay on track and finish all of it within reasonable time!

Washing the shower curtains:

Our shower curtain liners get quite grimy here – some sort of rust sediment from old pipes and salts in the water. So instead of replacing the liners, I learned that it is possible to wash them in the washing machine – who knew! Here’s how I did it:

  • In the washing machine, dissolve a cup of detergent, a cup of white vinegar, and a cup of baking soda in warm water. Let the machine fill with cold water to the brim.
  • Add a couple of old terrycloth towels – they will act like scrubbers for the curtain liners.
  • Put the liners in and let the machine finish the cycle.
  • With the liners and towels still in, set the machine to rinse cycle and add a cup of bleach.
  • Let the liners dry over the tub, back on the curtain rods – do not dry in the dryer.

Cleaning the cast iron tub:

Our old apartment has a cast iron clawfoot tub that is wonderfully deep and big for a long soak. The tub is also old and has dents and scratches here and there, so I can’t even think of making it perfectly clean. However, here is a recipe I found to be effective at making the tub look reasonably good:

  • Start by thoroughly scrubbing the tub with a brush.
  • Sprinkle the bottom of the tub with baking soda.
  • Now, add a small amount of white vinegar to the baking soda. The resulting bubbles will deep-clean the tub. Before this step, open windows and doors and make sure that the area is well ventilated, because the smell of vinegar in large quantities can be quite offensive.
  • Scrub with a brush some more, rinse thoroughly with water, and dry the tub to prevent water stains from reappearing.

These are NOT the pictures of our bathroom! Just some inspiration to get the creative juices flowing:

By StyleMakerTV via Flickr

By xJavierx via Flickr

Next up, washing the windows. What are your spring cleaning recipes? And what keeps you motivated?

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Renewed: Decoupage clementine crate

or today’s tutorial, I used a very versatile and highly recyclable material available in your nearest grocery store – a clementine crate. You know the boxes made of unfinished plywood used to store the sweet tangerine-like fruit? These sturdy little boxes are wonderful and you can use them for anything from planters a la Martha Stewart to doll beds for kids.

In our house, we plan on using them for mail management to separate the “FILE,” “TOSS,” and “SHRED” piles. Of course, it remains to be seen whether we actually follow through with the said organization scheme!

Have you used Clementine crates for anything other than storing clementines (or bananas and apples) themselves?

This quick DIY project transforms a clementine crate into a decorative box or tray with a decoupaged mosaic look. Here’s the “after” photo.

For this project, you will need:

1. Clementine crate (you should remove any labels, paper, and the plastic “net” that holds the clementines inside the box).

2. Wrapping or art  paper of your choosing. Even used or remnant pieces will work, as long as you have enough to cover the four sides of the crate. As you see below, I used a musical-themed giftwrap with the score of Vivaldi’s violin sonata printed on it – which Mike even tested out on the piano.

3. Acrylic paint in color contrasting with that of wrapping paper. Here I used the Ace-brand paint (from my favorite $3 sample jar) in cozy color called Flannel Suit.

4. School glue, wood glue, or Mod Podge.

5. Polyurethane for finishing.

The process:

1. Prepare the crate by painting it the base color. I didn’t find it necessary to sand the crate, since the plywood it is made of is unfinished and seems “grippy” enough for paint.  Make sure the paint is dry before step 3.

2. Tear – don’t cut – wrapping paper into 1” strips and then tear each strip into rectangles, squares, triangles – whatever shapes happen to come out as you tear.

3. Starting at the corner on each of the four sides of the crate, start gluing the pieces of paper onto the painted wood. I start with larger pieces and fill in most of the space on each side of the crate. Again, the goal is to make the mosaic to look random, so I don’t align the pieces in any way – I rotate them and shift them in relation to other pieces. Then, if there are any large gaps, I tear off a small piece of paper and fill those as well. Complete all four sides this way.

4. Finally, after letting the glue dry a bit, finish the crate with two coats of polyurethane. As you can see from the photos, I didn’t paint the corner posts grey, but I did coat them in poly to make the whole thing look finished.

On a different note, I was so happy to see all of your comments on my recycled yarn post – please keep ’em coming!

Happy crafting!

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Renewed: Recycling yarn from thrift shop sweaters

come from a family of thrifty women. My grandma patched bed linens and darned wool socks when they wore thin. My mom made clothes for my sister using fabric salvaged from dad’s old shirts and jackets. As kids, my sister and I cut up t-shirts into strips to use for rug hooking. And, when I was six years old, my mom taught me how to knit using her stash of recycled yarn.

These days, I rarely buy new yarn – only as a very special treat – and instead recycle the knitted garments that I no longer wear. Those of you who know my knitting habits know that I love to knit large, long rectangular pieces that usually eventually develop into throws, pillowcases, and scarves. Since those pieces require quite a bit of yarn, you can often see me prowling the aisles of local thrift shops in search of high-quality sweaters in extra large sizes.

Recently, I made a trip to Goodwill in search of an inexpensive source of yarn to play with. Here is what I found for $4.99:

And here’s the “after” – four balls of fun, red cotton ribbon yarn:

First, some advice on finding a sweater to recycle:

1. Shape and stitch: Stick to basics – a simple pullover sweater knit from bottom up with a simple stitch will be the easiest to unravel.

2. Yarn content: While I can generally knit with wool yarn, I am allergic to the fuzz that flies around when I unravel a wool sweater. For this reason I almost never recycle wool sweaters. Also, lower quality wool tends to pile or, worse, felt. For best results, use sweaters with smooth appearance and distinct stitches.

3. Weight: Knitting with skinny yarn often yields professional looking results, but requires a lot of patience. I usually choose medium to bulkier weight to work with. In addition, thinner garments are frequently made of knit fabric that has been cut and then pieced together using a serger, which is not appropriate for recycling, which leads me to my next point…

4. Seams: This is the most important step. If you’ve ever knit a garment and pieced it together, you will have an idea of how the seams should look – each piece is knit separately, e.g. front, back, and sleeves, and then assembled.
Here are two examples of seams that work:


And here are the two that don’t:


Generally, a “good” seam’s edges can be gently separated to reveal stitching between the two parts of the garment. A “bad” seam’s edge will be finished with a serger or a zigzag stitch. This means that a garment was made of knit fabric that was cut out and then sewn together. Trying to unravel this kind of sweater will result on lots of short pieces of yarn that are pretty much useless. It is most important to check the side seams (from armpit to hem) and the sleeve seams (from armpit to cuff). .

Once you’ve found an appropriate sweater to recycle, here is THE PROCESS:

1. Undo the seams: Knitted garments are often assembled using a crochet chain stitch. Look at the either side of the seam to see if you can find something that looks like this (of course, the seam will be the same color as the garment – this is just a mock-up):

If that is the case, you can carefully cut one loop at the bottom of the garment and see if you can just pull on the end of the thread. If your sweater was assembled in some other way, or my chain-stitch-trickery doesn’t work, just use a seam ripper or small scissors to cut the threads that hold the parts together. Repeat with all other seams – sides, shoulders, and sleeves.

2. Unravel the pieces: Once you have four separate pieces (or more depending on your garment), find a loose end at the top of each piece and start unraveling. Loose ends will be woven into the knitting and therefore “hidden”, but you can carefully cut several loops and try pulling on a couple of threads at either end of the bind-off (top) row to find a starting point.

3. Relax the yarn: As you are unraveling, wind your yarn into balls to prevent tangles. If you try to knit right out of the ball, you will notice that the yarn is “curly.” For most of my projects, the curly yarn is OK as any kinks and curls usually go away after blocking. However, it is easier and more aesthetically pleasing to knit with smooth yarn. If you want to do the extra step of straightening the yarn, wind it on a board, a hardcover book, or the back of the chair, so that you have a skein of yarn to wash and dry. Here, I’ve used my super glamorous Vogue Knitting book to wind the yarn:

Take the skein off and loosely tie it in several places. Dissolve a little Woolite or your favorite shampoo in enough lukewarm water to submerge your skein. Leave the yarn in the water for several hours, making sure not to agitate the skeins too much.

After several hours, carefully remove each skein, squeeze out the water (do not wring or twist), and hang to dry. I use a weight of some sort (a can of soup works well) to straighten the kinks even better.

After the yarn is completely dry, wind it into balls and it is ready to use. Happy knitting!

I would love some comments from my readers. If you are out there, please let me know who you are and what you think!

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Renewed: Sewn Packaging

To preface this, about a month ago, I was shopping on Etsy for drawer pulls for my upcoming dresser makeover (stay tuned for that!) After searching high and low, I came across these:

I think these metal appliqués are really unusual, but I will need to be very inventive about attaching them to my dresser. Perhaps, hot glue them over the existing knobs? Any ideas?

What I want to share with you today, however, is the packaging in which these arrived. The lovely seller from recupefashion.etsy.com has sent me a wonderfully inventive envelope. The evening I received her package in the mail, Mike found me grinning from ear to ear with joy, inspired by someone else’s ingenuity.

The envelope is made of a pizza box turned inside out. If I ever have my own Etsy shop (oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful!), I’d like to follow suit and borrow this bright idea.

Here’s what she says: “I keep most every food box… from healthy snack bars, cereal, pizza boxes, whatever… I then pretty much leave the small one at the same size and sew up 3 sides about ¼ in from the side. When ready, I put everything inside and I simply sew it all up and that’s it. Remember to write your addresses and name before filling it because it’s all bumpy.”

Here are some more ideas from fellow bloggers:

Ashley from Hotbutter has her own tutorial on how to make sewn packaging:

Gabrielle from designmom.com shares her own beautiful idea, gift packaging sewn from the pages of vintage children’s books:

This is from Apartment Therapy – too bad I didn’t see this in time for Christmas:

Finally (and I think this is breathtaking) here’s an extension of an idea – paper embroidery from craftsylish.com:

Happy crafting!

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Renewed: Herringbone shelf

here are many learning opportunities in every project, for both novice and more seasoned crafters. This project has certainly provided many of those. I learned a new faux painting technique. I realized that next time I will try to only work on pieces not currently in use in the house. I learned that it is important to pay attention when working on more or less complex projects lest some amount of redoing will be in order. Then again, isn’t this a blog about redoing and recycling? And, more fundamentally, I continue to learn to accept imperfection and to bravely blaze the trails of the various crafts I attempt.

It has been three months in the making (not because this project is so difficult, but because of procrastination, making too many other things at the same time, and the above mentioned lack of attention). Mike’s patience with this project has been remarkable – from putting up with displaced toiletries for extended periods of time to observing work-in-progress pieces in the kitchen. Here are the requisite before and after shots:


This was a pressboard shelf from our grad student days. Mike used it to store his sheet music. It has seen better days, so I thought I’d repaint it and continue using it as a bookshelf. However, when we moved to our apartment in Boston, our bathroom didn’t have enough storage, and the shelf was a perfect fit for the space. At a danger of claiming someone else’s idea as mine, Martha Stewart describes the herringbone painting technique in detail here. When I saw the herringbone design and the apparent ease of its execution, I thought that it will be a fun project to work on and the resulting “after” would spice up the somewhat subdued colors of our bathroom.

Here are the supplies that I used:

1. Porter-Cable random orbital sander – this was a welcome purchase given that I used to sand all my other refinishing projects by hand.
2. Acrylic paint. I used three colors of Ace-brand paint: Carnivale (F20), Flannel Suit (D44-6), and Seal Point (D36-4). A note on shopping for paint: since I was experimenting with unusually (for me) bright colors, I did not want to have leftover paint that I would have to store in my space-deprived apartment until I could find another use for them. Therefore, I bought sample jars for around $3 each and found that two of each color was sufficient for the project.
3. Paint brush.
4. Painters’ tape.
5. Ace-brand water-based glaze.
6. Triangular rubber graining comb, similar to this one.
7. Minwax water-based polyurethane.
8. Screwdriver to disassemble and assemble the shelf.

Here are the steps:

1. After disassembling the shelf, I sanded each surface of the resulting panels. A random orbital sander is such a fun thing because the sanding disk rotates in random patterns while also vacuuming up all sorts of paint and sawdust.

2. Next, I painted all the internal surfaces solid colors – orange or grey – as seen on the photo below. Two coats of color followed by two coats of polyurethane did the trick:

Herringbone design:

3. For external surfaces – the sides and the top of my shelf – I started with two coats of orange paint and no polyurethane for now. These are the surfaces that would have a herringbone design on them.

4. Using painter’s tape, I covered the sections of the surface that I didn’t want painted, leaving one-inch gaps that would be painted in the next steps.

5. Starting with one of the panels, I painted the entire surface with the mix of glaze and grey paint. Finding the right proportions of paint and glaze took some time. Various websites suggest different quantities of paint, glaze, and water. Through trial and error, I found that one part paint to one part glaze was the perfect combination that was neither too runny nor too quick to dry.

6. Next, I dragged the rubber graining comb diagonally over the entire surface of the panel, which revealed what was to become my grey-orange herringbone design. I found that it is helpful to wipe the comb with a dry cloth after each pass. Here is what it looks like after the painter’s tape was removed:

7. After the paint is dry, apply painter’s tape on the areas that have already been painted with herringbone design to reveal the stripes painted in base color. But before you do this, please, please, PLEASE, mark the direction of the diagonals on the design that you are about to cover. I didn’t do this at first and ended up dragging the comb in the same direction as the covered sections.

8. This time, I mixed my glaze with a lighter shade of grey, and repeated steps 5 and 6, making sure (obsessively, this time) to drag the comb in the direction perpendicular to the previously created design. Once the tape was removed, here’s what it looked like (not perfect at all, I know, but extremely satisfying):

9. Finally, once the paint dried, I applied two coats of polyurethane over the herringbone pattern and reassembled the shelf.

Before using, let the polyurethane dry for 24-48 hours. This allows it to “cure” and prevents the surfaces from being sticky.

Happy crafting and recycling!

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From scratch: Geometric coat hanger

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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:

Materials:
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.

Steps:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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