Monday, October 26, 2009

Project #268 - Christmas Ornament Collection

I'm making a batch of ornaments to ship out with this month's Little Black Box sample shipment. I need to make 100, so to avoid the tedium of making just penguins and cardinals, I've been experimenting with making some new birds.

I'm about two thirds of the way through my task and I'm astounded by how much time this is taking me. I estimated that I could do about 30 birds per hour, but it's turning out to be about a third of that. I always overestimate my output!

I think I'm going to need a break from polymer clay for a little while. I noticed a lot of new smudges around the kitchen sink, on some of the light switches and along some of the walls in the house. It look me a little while to figure out that they all came from me. There is something about the new, softer formula of that really makes it cling to the skin on my hands after a while. Even with intense soap and water, I still retain a patina of clay and the house is starting to look once again like a steel worker lives here. I think I need to find out whatever they use to clean baby ducks soiled by oil spills, buy a bucket, and spray the whole house with it.

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posted by Alison 10/26/2009 05:08:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, October 12, 2009

Project #253 - Needle Felted Chicken

We're out in sunny, warm San Diego for the wedding of a friend. Is it just me or has Southern California improved a lot since the 1990's? Maybe I didn't know about such cultural highlights as the Vietnamese Sandwich or the Hawaiian Crepe, but they are definitely making this trip worthwhile. Magnifique!

I always struggle a little bit to find projects to do while we travel. Clark and I prefer not to check bags and it can be a little difficult to come up with something where at least one of my tools won't get confiscated by airport security.

Luckily I discovered needle felting. The needles seem to be A-OK for carry-on luggage. Of course, I missed my chickens, so I decided to make a little mini-version of one of them.

I made little puffs of wool and used my barbed needle to mat them together into one solid piece. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a matted fur-ball. Essentially, that's what a needle felted sculpture is, but I'd prefer if they didn't look it so much.

My second try involved wrapping the wool around a little wire scaffolding, which kept all of the fibers laying in the same direction. The result was much improved.

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posted by Alison 10/12/2009 04:12:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Project #234 - Baby Pengiuns

I guess wasn't done making penguins even though I ran through almost all of my black polymer clay making yesterday's penguins. Every flock needs their own little guys. I went through a few drafts trying some different beak, face and tummy colorations, but this was the better combination. Still, I think they need some work and it doesn't help that the metallic clay is a little weird.

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posted by Alison 9/16/2009 01:28:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Project #233 - Pengiun Army

I've been talking to friends of Clark who are keen at business about how they started their own companies. The best piece of advice that I've gotten is that I should only consider starting a business if it encompasses my passion, and, no, making lots of money doesn't really count as a passion. It's a cliche, of course, "Follow your passion", but they are right. I keep thinking of business ideas that would be profitable, but make me wince when I think about all of the tedious programming I would have to do just to set up a proof of concept.

Still, at the end of my fantasy of building a successful software company, I always sell it for a high price and retire to making and selling little things with my hands. Maybe I should just skip to the fun part at the end.

So, just to see if I could take hours and hours of making little things, I decided to make something big for once and put it up for sale in my etsy shop. I recreated my penguin decoration set from my wedding, but instead of making everything over the course of a few weeks I did it over two days. I think I handled my repetitive task well, but it was only for a few hours at a time.

I don't think I will be quitting my job anytime soon, but it's a nice chance to make a little extra money and get some feedback on what I'm working on.

If you're interested in buying lots and lots and lots of penguins, the Etsy listing is here.

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posted by Alison 9/15/2009 01:57:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Project #231 - Mini Mushrooms

I made tiny mushrooms for my planters, you know, because mushrooms are awesome. Though it is a little odd that the cutest mushrooms in nature are usually poisonous. For instance, I know of no red toadstools that won't at least make people violently sick when eaten. Hmm...there's a metaphor in here somewhere.

Also, speaking of eating dangerous mushrooms, I had to take these out of my herb planters immediately because the chickens thought they were food. It's like living with a backyard full of toddlers. I constantly have to chase them down yelling "What did you just put into your mouth!? Give it to me!!" Of course, the chickens are not fans of being yelled at, so I have to chase them down and hope they drop whatever little piece of plastic they were tasting.

I baked the mushrooms with little twisted pieces of wire inside them to keep them upright.

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posted by Alison 9/13/2009 08:13:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Project #107 - Tooth Doodles

I had one of my wisdom teeth removed today. I hate the sound the tooth makes as it gets pulled from the socket, but the whole process only took five minutes and I was sent off without any pain killers. I took an ibuprofen and spent the rest of the day feeling weird and uncomfortable, but not in any pain. I still have all of my wisdom teeth left on my right side, so I was able to eat eggs benedict. Yep, one at a time is the way to go.

My dentist allowed me to take my tooth home saying "It's technically medical waste, but..." The dental assistant placed it in a little white envelope. I waited a little while for it to dry out before opening. It's gruesome, but fascinating. Any realistic drawings would be pretty lurid, and probably take more than I've got right now, so a few cartoon drawings of my tooth in its final moments will have to substitute.

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posted by Alison 4/22/2009 11:20:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Project #105 - Tanuki Embroidery

We had a few friends over for a late dinner and/or cupcakes on Saturday. Two of them got into a discussion about some of my projects, including a skirt with an embroidered tanuki on it. Which, is funny, because I've never made an embroidered skirt before, let alone one with a tanuki on it.


I sketched the outline of my tanuki onto my linen using some blue tailor's chalk. I finished the embroidery fairly quickly, but I'll wait to sew the whole thing into a skirt until another Make-A-Skirt Thursday.

Traditional tanukis are depicted with rather prominent...umm...huevos, so those ain't feet at the bottom of the figure. It's comical, but underestimate the mightiness of the tanuki at your own peril.

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posted by Alison 4/21/2009 12:56:00 AM : (1) comments : splink

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Project #80 - Flying Saucer Drinking Glasses

A friend requested an entire hand-drawn set of dishes for her wedding, so I thought I would do a small project that would help me estimate time for a the big one. I had a few quick sketches of flying saucers in my notebook that would translate well as a ceramic decoration.

I finally cracked open a new glaze pen after using the same old one for months. Why don't I do this all the time? Right. Because I'm a cheapskate and I have to use all of my old pens until the only thing keeping the ink flowing is constant shaking and a fluent stream of obscenities. It might be worth a few dollars to keep extras around if newer pens help me finish projects in one quarter of the time and with one quarter of the cursing.

I only let the aliens snatch one person per glass. Depending on your perspective it could be a picture of someone getting kidnapped or someone returning after a joy ride.

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posted by Alison 3/24/2009 10:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, March 09, 2009

Projects from the Past - Cardinals vs. Penguins Chess Set

I'm a bit under the weather today, so I'll be posting a project from last year. I made a bird-themed chess set as a surprise for a friend. I'm terrible at chess, but it was a little hard to give away after I spend so long crafting the pieces. Still, my birdies are in better hands now. Six months later I'm better at parting with things I make, especially because now I have more than ever before.

The queens are the taller ones with smaller crowns.


I ran out of red clay so the cardinals had to hire mercenaries.



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posted by Alison 3/09/2009 11:00:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Project #61 - Marzipan Panda

One of my excellent co-workers put together a really thoughtful fish picnic lunch at the office to today for the two of us. We had smoked salmon, salmon paste, and herring of various kinds along with veggies, crackers and cheese, and I am a fan of all cracker based meals. This is my fourth year in a row of going without meat except for fish or eggs for Lent (a.k.a the Nothing with Feet Diet); she's a pescatarian so it's the one time of the year when we eat the same things.

All of my remaining co-workers have pretty mainstream food tastes that don't include fish from a tube, so they each declined heartily. One even watched us eat with the same expression a cat wears as it watches its owner take a shower. "How can you do that to yourself?" Well, that means more herring for us, I guess.

To show my gratitude for the lovely meal I made my generous co-worker a panda out of marzipan, one of her favorite desserts.

I used about 1/3 of a stick of marzipan. It's best to have everything at a uniform level of texture and moisture, so I always knead it for a few minutes and remove any stubborn lumps.

I dyed a little more than half of my lump of marzipan black using about 1/4 teaspoon of food coloring. Flatten out your piece to maximize the surface area and pour the dye on top and give it a few minutes to soak in. Knead until it is a uniform color and use a paper towel to soak up the excess dye.

Black food coloring will stain almost anything it touches, so work off of a surface you don't care about and wear gloves if you need to have your hands and fingernails looking nice in the near future. I washed my hands 4 or 5 times and may hands are still gray and my fingernails make it appear that I've been mining coal by hand.

I formed the body and legs from the black marzipan and saved a little extra for the ears, nose and eyes. I washed may hands (again!) and made the head and tummy out of the remaining undyed marzipan. I assembled everything while the marzipan was pretty moist. The black dye is pretty aggressive, so I left a few smudges.

Lastly, I had some of the white marzipan left, so I colored it green to make some bamboo. I let the stalk the panda is holding dry out for a few hours so that it would hold its shape.

I don't know if I would be excited about eating something that has so many fingerprints on it, but at least I washed my hands. I hope my co-worker likes it. Too bad I didn't think to dip it in chocolate ahead of time.

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posted by Alison 3/04/2009 09:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Project #47 - Stuffed Bunny

I was a little stumped about what to make today. I racked my brain on my drive from work, at dinner, and during the drive to my house. I had some ideas, but nothing that I really felt like doing. I ended up rooting through my office and flipping through my Japanese craft books until I found something that I could live with.

This book of stuffed animal patterns won by a mile.

There were many, many sickeningly cute animals to choose from. Ultimately, I adapted a pattern for a dog into a bunny pattern. Though I enjoy cats and dogs I love bunnies just a little but more. They munch things so carefully (cute!) and they won't bark at my friends.

This is my bunny from the back. I had some issues with the fabric unraveling, so I might make my next one with felt.

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posted by Alison 2/17/2009 11:14:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Project #33 - Penguin Cake Toppers

I've made penguins like this at least a few dozen times now. They're one of the things that I have no problem selling in my Etsy shop and they're pretty fun to make. I also had a whole flock of them on my own wedding cake. Today's set is the largest so far. I made them for someone who requested penguins of a certain height.

These penguins are easy if you want to make a set for yourself. Just start with two spheres of polymer clay, one about four times as big as the other. Shape the larger sphere into the body by rolling it and narrowing a little bit at the top. Now, stick the head to the body; it doesn't take much to make polymer clay bond, so you can add it without scoring or pressing too hard. Next, roll out two spheres of equal size for the wings. For penguins 3.5 inches tall I used two marble sized pieces. I flattened them both into wings and attached them to the side by pressing gently.

I always take a few minutes at this point and wash my hands. The black clay will usually stick to you and make the beak and tummy look dingy. No matter what I do I always leave a slight residue, but it's much better after soap and water.

Next, I rolled out a ball about half the size of a marble and flattened it into an oval to make the white tummy. I pressed this to the body taking care to press the edges into the penguin body.

Last is the beak. If you press your thumb, pointer finger and middle finger together you'll get a natural three-sided pyramid shape. I just press a marble sized clay into the space created by my three fingers to form the beak. After I pressed the beak to the head (I like to angle them so the penguins are looking at each other), I used a ball point pen and simply poked in two dots for the eyes.

Following the directions on the polymer clay, I baked the figurines for 30 minutes. Done!

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posted by Alison 2/03/2009 11:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Project #31 - Stuffed Bird of Tackiness

This morning I walked from the Lower East Side and across the Brooklyn Bridge with Clark and rejoiced in the sunshine and luxurious non-freezing temperatures. On the other side we met up with friends for brunch. Afterwards, Clark and I went our separate ways. Clark returned to Manhattan to visit high-end stereo stores. I met up with my friend Laura and attended the Church of Craft at Etsy Labs.

I really miss the Pittsburgh Church of Craft, so I was really happy to visit its still existing cousin. The Brooklyn chapter is a lot more laid back than the Pittsburgh version; instead of having an organized craft lesson everyone just does their own thing. The rooms dedicated to the meeting had lots of supplies, especially generous helpings of fabric scraps and buckets of buttons. Everyone was pretty laid back and welcoming. I could see myself visiting this place weekly if I were a new transplant to New York. Plus, it's no charge to use the facilities and there were free cookies. Score!

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to make until I sat down. I rifled through the fabric scraps and decided to make a stuffed bird. There were multiple sewing machines free to use and in a rare fit of foresight, I brought my portable sewing kit, so I didn't need to search around for thread.

There are only a few pieces that you'll need to make your own bird. You'll need to cut out two pieces for the body, two for the tail, four leaf-shaped pieces for the wings and a piece for the beak, a bit of stuffing, and two buttons for eyes. Laura picked through a cereal box sized container to find the right two eyes for this little guy.

First, sew the body together, leaving openings for the beak and tail. Next, sew the beak piece into a cone and then insert it, being careful to tuck under raw edges. Hand stitch the beak in place. Stuff the bird, filling out the beak and body.

Stitch the tail pieces together, right sides together and leaving the side that will be attached to the bird open. Turn. Insert the tail in place, tucking in raw edges and hand stitch.

Position the eyes on either side of the head and sew them into place. Next, sew the wings, right sides together and leaving a little opening where the wings will be attached to the bird. Turn. Topstitch. Tuck the raw edges of the opening in and stitch the wings to the bird. C'est Fini!

The dimensions weren't perfect, but not bad considering that I was without my proofed bird pattern. I finished almost the whole thing at Etsy Labs and then sewed the wings into place while watching the Super Bowl with Clark. (Yay, Steelers!)

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posted by Alison 2/01/2009 10:18:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Project #24 - Secret Lives of Sugar Cubes

I've always liked sugar cubes. I like the fact that the sugar is already precisely measured out into one teaspoon increments and pressed into a precise geometric shape. I like the perfect cube cubes best, much better than the squat, unpredictable rectangular ones. On my last trip to Hiroshima I managed to keep a friend's two year old busy by stacking little towers of wrapped sugar cubes and knocking them over. So, they're both a toy and a sweetener. Were I to keep a sugar bowl, it would be filled with sugar cubes only.

So, today's project honors sugar cubes and their complex inner lives, appropriately enough on a white ceramic sugar bowl.

The mustachioed sugar cube

Sugar cubes gossiping about Splenda

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posted by Alison 1/24/2009 12:24:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Project #13 - Capacitor Bugs

I have a lot of electronic parts sitting around my house, mostly as a result of several Radio Shacks closing in our area. I ended up getting a big discount on leftovers from the parts drawer(about 90% off, the first time I ever got a real deal at good ol' RS). I brought all of it home and spread it out on the floor. I knew what to do with all of the LEDs, switches, battery holders and resistors. However, I wasn't sure what to do with the capacitors. The one time I built something complicated enough to necessitate a capacitor I ended up shocking myself accidentally. So, I wasn't ready for capacitors as an electrical component, but I did think that they were pretty. Plus, they're perfectly safe if they aren't charged.

My capacitors became a crafting item and I've been using them ever since, probably the same way a magpie would. "Hmm...don't know what this is, but it's shiny. I'll just glue it to my nest."

There are a bunch of different kinds of capacitors and today's bugs are made of mylar capacitors (the square ones that that are the shape of chiclet gum), electrolytic capacitors (the drum shaped ones), and ceramic capacitors (the orange, disc shaped ones). I used those pieces to form the head/antenna, thorax/legs, and abdomen of each bug.

The legs were the trickiest part and I used a binder clip to hold the three thorax pieces together while they dried.

After that, I added a head to one end and the abdomen, always an electrolytic capacitor, to the other. After everything dried, I bent the legs to help the bug stand on its own.

I'm going to keep one on my desk for some anti-bug voodoo. Out of the three computers in the house only the one in my room is working right now. Arg.

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posted by Alison 1/13/2009 11:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

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