Making Notes: Little Boxes

A while ago I bought some photo frame bracelets.  I like the idea and I am hoping that other people will too, as I plan to sell them.  But they looked very uninspiring in their original packaging, so I knew something would have to be done to make them more appealing.

I immediately thought that replacing the stock photos with patterned card would improve their look, and knew that a gift box would help too.  So they got thrown into the “random craft things” drawer to await further action.

Then yesterday I was putting away some new purchases including this pad of patterned paper, acquired last week from my current favourite shop, Tiger.  And I had a Eureka moment.  Not only would this paper be great for the frames, but I could also use it to make matching gift boxes.

Making a box from a square of paper is relatively easy once you get your head around it.  And much cheaper than buying a gift box.  So here’s my short guide to making little boxes:

1.  Take your square of paper.  I used A4 size paper which I squared off by simply folding one corner to the opposite side and trimming off the excess.

While you are at it, fold the square diagonally in the other direction as well, and the point where the two folds cross is the centre of your square.

2.  Fold each corner of the square into the centre.  (ignore the fold you can see on the top right of the photo – that’s there because I was reusing some paper that had been folded in an envelope, and isn’t part of the design.)

Then fold again so that the edge of your fold meets the centre line.

Unfold each corner before moving on to the next one.

You should end up with a piece of paper which has lots of little square fold lines marked out on it.

3.  Make four cuts, two sets of two at opposite corners.  Use the fold lines as a guide, cutting in two squares long and two squares wide.

4.  Fold up the corners you haven’t cut, bringing the point into the centre.  You now have two sides of the box, plus some support for the other two sides.

5.  Then fold in the other two corners, so all of the points meet in the middle.  And you’re done!

It shouldn’t need any glue to stay together, but free free to add a little dot under the corner points if you like – sometimes they just don’t want to stay put!

This white box was actually the base of my boxes, and the lids were made using the coloured paper.  To make the bases and lids fit together, the square for the bottom needs to be slightly smaller – I chop off about 1/4 inch from each side before folding, and that seems to do the trick.

So here is a finished box:

And one with its matching bracelet:

I think this is definitely an improvement on how the bracelet looked at the start, and it didn’t cost much money or take much time.

Now all I need is someone to buy them!

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Making Notes: Bath Bombs

I had seen instructions for making bath bombs before.  But I was always put off by the danger of premature fizzing – the part in the instructions where you have to spray on just enough water to make it all stick together but not enough to set off the reaction that should only happen in the privacy of your own bathroom.  So I was delighted to come across this variation.

Ingredients:
– 180g Bicarbonate of Soda
– 60g Citric Acid
– 3-5ml Essential oils
– (optional) flower petals
– (optional) a few drops of food colouring

Equipment:
– Ice Cube Tray – the bendy sort
– Mixing bowl (one you won’t want to use for food afterwards)
– Spoon (ditto)
– (optional) Plastic Dropper/Pipette

This makes enough to fill a normal sized square ice tray, with a little left over.  I mostly use one from IKEA which has 16 holes that are a flowery shape.   I’ve also done star shaped ones, although they were a bit trickier – it’s best to choose a shape without thin parts which could break off.

The ratio of bicarbonate to citric acid is a straightforward 3:1 so you can increase or decrease quantities to fit different size moulds so long as you retain that ratio.

And all you do is mix the two powders together before adding the essential oil and the food colouring, if desired, a little at a time (which is where the pipette comes in handy), stirring it in well.   You can also add dried flower petals such as lavender or rose, if that is appropriate for the oil you have chosen.

Then just press the mixture into the moulds, very firmly.  You will be surprised at how much you can fit into those tiny holes when you press it down really hard.

Leave it for a good few hours – I normally wait overnight – then carefully turn them out.   They will have taken on enough moisture from the air to make them stick together without starting to fizz.

I made loads of these for Christmas and can’t believe I don’t have a photo of any.  I made them in the shape of stars, with some cosmetic-grade glitter sprinkled into the moulds first so they came out sparkly.  Then I put them into a (clean) coffee jar, decorated it with gold glass painted stars, and added a ribbon and a label.    I used a ready made christmassy oil blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, orange and pine, which saved me having to work out the right mixture myself.

I’m not sure if this no-added-water method would work for big bath balls, but it’s certainly simple and effective for these smaller ones.  My four-year-old can even make his own, with just a little supervision and plenty of blue food colouring!

Making Notes: A Load of Balls!

I first came across this method of making balls at the Latitude Festival last year, where Cambridge Community Circus were running workshops for kids. They were making juggling balls, but the finished product also works quite well as a stress ball, and I even used one to go with a set of skittles I made.

Skittles made from yoghurt drink bottles and Kinder Egg middles, with bird seed balloon ball and washing up tablet box

You will need:
– balloons
– bird seed (the small round kind – I found it sold as budgie seed)
– scissors
– a jug
– a tray with sides, or a roasting pan (optional)
– dustpan and brush (almost certainly)

Begin by tipping some seeds into the jug. I tend to do this, and the next few steps, over a roasting pan or high-sided tray, to catch any stray seeds.

Cut the necks off a couple of balloons (don’t throw the necks away).  You can use balloons of the same colour, or different colours, depending on what effect you want.

Carefully pour seeds from the jug into one of the balloons. If you can recruit a helper to hold the balloon upright for you, the process will become much easier. When it’s full, take the other balloon and put your seed-filled ballon inside it, facing the opposite way, so that the second balloon covers up the neck hole of the first balloon. You might need to trim a little from the neck hole on the second ballon so that it fits snugly.

You now have a basic seed-filled ball.

If you just want a simple juggling ball for practising your own circus skills, then you can stop there  (although if this is your plan you might want to add an additional step: put the seeds into the corner of a small sandwich bag and tie a knot in it, before adding the first balloon layer – that way you are less likely to get any spillage).

But in my experience, a ball made with just two balloon bodies like this has a tendency to settle into a sort of lemon shape, and that bugged me enough to make me fiddle about with it in search of improvements.

I have found that using the leftover neck pieces as further layers helps to make a much more robust (and spherical) sphere. Cut off the very end part of the neck, which has the little rollover, and simply stretch the remaining tube over your ball, covering up the baggy ends that cause the lemon tendency.  You might need to trim the ends of the neck further in order to get a snug fit.  You can add as many layers as you want, until you are happy with the strength and shape of your ball.

To make up a  juggling ball kit I put three balls inside an old tea bag box which I covered in patterned paper, and added a set of instructions printed from the internet.

Juggling Kit

Making Notes: Sock Monkeys

This is probably one of the more ambitious items on my Christmas present list, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected, and I quickly got hooked.

I first saw a sock monkey just a few years ago, although apparently they have been around in America since the 1930s. It was love at first sight, and I couldn’t wait to make one of my very own. I looked around for patterns and instructions and hints and tips, and finally decided I was ready.

This is the pattern I use for cutting the socks*:

Sock Monkey Cutting Pattern

*Other methods of cutting are available. In particular some (possibly more authentic) versions make a longer tail by using the full length of the sock, but that must also make the arms thinner. Personally I think the half tail length is sufficient, particularly when using adult sized socks, but it’s an option to bear in mind.

Now some clever people could no doubt work out exactly how to put their monkey together just using the diagram above. But I am not that good at sewing, so I searched some more and found this excellent step-by-step tutorial. There is a tremendous amount of detail here, which I found extremely helpful. Even after making a number of pretty successful monkeys I still went back to the tutorial every so often to double-check things like the positioning of the nose and arms.

There’s not much I can add, but I do have a few tiny tips:

  • You don’t need a sewing machine to make a sock monkey. I sew all mine by hand, it doesn’t take long.
  • Stripes can be a bit intimidating when you are just starting out.  Although it might help you to line things up it also means you can tell when they don’t!
  • Don’t forget that any patterns on the sock will be upside down once you make it into a monkey. I have made one monkey (see below) using patterned socks, and I did manage to work out how to amend the cutting out in order to stop the flamingoes from standing on their heads, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
  • I think it’s worth using decent quality socks. They tend to make the finished article feel softer and cuddlier and are also more forgiving of any little stitching slip ups.
  • In fact, it’s worth using decent quality everything. Your sewing experience and your finished article will be so much nicer if you have sharp scissors, good quality thread and specialised soft toy stuffing.

My Sock Monkey Gallery

Sock Monkey the First
My first ever Sock Monkey

This was my first ever attempt at a Sock Monkey, and the fact that it came out pretty well says something for how easy it is to do. I went for spots rather than stripes, and a contrasting heel and toe. This wasn’t top quality though, made with cheap socks and some stuffing I pulled out of a cushion on my sofa because I was too impatient to wait until I could get to a haberdashers to buy the real thing.

Stripey Sock Monkey
Stripes

There were a few more monkeys between the first and this one, so by now I felt able to cope with stripes. This was made for my teenage niece so I used brightly coloured socks from one of her favourite shops. It does look a bit on the thin side – I have a tendency to under-stuff – but in this case it helps stripey monkey to fit into my niece’s suitcase while she is off travelling.

Mini Sock Monkey
Baby Sock Monkey

A tiny sock monkey made using baby socks, for 12-18 months I think. This was made for an adult, but would also be great for a baby (although for safety you would have to use something other than buttons for eyes – small pieces of felt can work well.)

Our Wedding in Sock Monkeys

The ultimate sock monkey creation: our family as sock monkeys. This represents our wedding, and the groom monkey is actually made out of the socks my husband wore at our wedding. The eyes are buttons from the cuffs of his wedding jacket. (The hat was a misguided attempt to lighten it up a bit, and has since been lost.) The bride monkey is patterned with flamingoes because we were married at the Flamingo Hotel (that’s the one I had to reverse the cutting pattern for.) And the baby monkey is our little boy, who was at our wedding too (oops!)

Now it’s time for you to give it a try – but be warned, once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

Here’s Some I Made Earlier

Last Christmas a lot of the presents we gave were handmade (by me.)  In fact, most of them were.

I don’t quite know where the idea for giving only handmade gifts came from.  It might have been that I was feeling disillusioned with the whole Christmas shopping experience.   In the run up to Christmas, shops are full of things that no-one really wants or will ever use, many of them specifically created to fill non-existent gaps in people’s stockings.  Much as I love shopping, I can’t get excited by spending money on something that will end up gathering dust in the back of someone’s cupboard.

It may also have been partly prompted by a desire to keep our credit card bill at a manageable level.

But mostly it was because I enjoy making things, and I kept coming across good ideas.  I won’t deny that it was a massive undertaking, beginning in August and only completed – in a bit of a panic – just before the day itself (by which time it had become clear that making my own wrapping paper was probably a step too far.)

It was hard work, very time consuming, but ultimately quite satisfying, and – I think – appreciated.

Behold the fruits of my labours:

Presents
Handmade Presents Christmas 2010

In traditional left-to-right, top-to-bottom fashion, you should be able to see: skittles, colouring books, photo calendars, story books, a cookbook with spice mixes, puzzle books, bath fizzers, flavoured vodkas, marmalade, cupcake flannels, juggling balls, taggie blanket, jingle cube, handmade cards, photos, paper wallets, pen pots, apron, car seat tidy, “moment of calm” bags, seed paper shapes, cookie mixes, mobile phone holder, book safe, sewing kit, handbag bra, folding bag, pints of socks, curry mixes, shortbread, fish seeds, stress ball, record bowls, sock monkeys, surprise balls, and a ring pull bracelet.

If you feel inspired and want to get started early for Christmas 2011, keep watching.  I’ll be posting links, photos, instructions and ideas for some of these creations anon.