Archive for July, 2010

Art collages inspired by record albums

27 Jul

Six collages on floorIn America, we can judge you based on the walls of your home. Blank walls say, “I’m a boring bowl of cornflakes.” Conversely, a picture of  a bowl of cornflakes may say, “I watched too much Monty Python as a child.”

Stores everywhere (Michaels, Jo-Ann, or even Target) sell frames for record albums, which you can get for as little as $5 if you wait for a sale. These are marketed under the assumption that being able to listen to your albums is less important than having your walls say, “I like music!” If you choose obscure albums that no one likes or even recognizes, your walls can also say, “I am more cultured and knowledgeable than you! Bow before my elite taste!”

I love music, but I’d rather be able to listen to my records, so I make collages based on my favorite record covers to hang up instead. From a distance, they look almost exactly like the actual albums, but they have a personal, handcrafted feel. I make them at full scale using the actual record cover as a model; you can do the same using cover art from the web. It may help to have a printed version at the same size as your intended collage (record covers are 12″ x 12″) so you can tell how large to make each part of the image. All you need is a bunch of collage materials (magazines and cloth work well), glue sticks, scissors, and patience. The more materials you have, the easier it is to find colors, textures, and shapes that match the record cover you’re imitating. Read the rest of this entry »


Making cloth napkins/handkerchiefs/dishrags from old clothes

19 Jul

Stack of napkinsLet me begin by saying that I have nothing against paper napkins or people who like them. I prefer not to waste too much on disposable personal hygiene, though, and I’ve always bought the cheapest paper napkins I could find (Target and Dollar Tree). Still, we can all admit that cloth napkins are softer, classier, and more absorbent than their paper counterparts. They are also reusable, and I much prefer reusable products over disposable ones, which typically leads to saving both money and natural resources. I’ll admit that the environmental benefits of cloth napkins are a bit debatable, but making cloth napkins from my own scraps of fabric should be a sure winner. Using my own castoff clothing would avoid any of the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting a truckload of new cloth napkins. Plus, I like making things myself, so it’s a form of entertainment if you want to think of it that way.

You can make great cloth napkins out of old white t-shirts. I have a constant ecosystem of white undershirts in my home. When I buy new shirts, the oldest ones get turned into napkins or rotated to the kitchen for wiping up spills. I used to throw used napkins and worn-out shirts away, so making my own napkins reduces our trash output on two fronts while also saving money.

Read the rest of this entry »


UPDATE: Bottle-painting directions

16 Jul

Silver bottlesPainted Coca-Cola bottlesPainted bottles

Having recently painted some new bottles, I updated the directions for painting bottles with the new pictures shown here. This is an easy way to transform a bottle for a new use. I do this for cider bottles in order to keep out UV radiation, and it makes the bottles nice to look at, even if you do nothing but cover them in spray paint.

Painting bottles for brewing, decorating, or just holding liquid

No Comments

Posted in Updates


Aesthetic upgrade to Ikea Bekväm stool

12 Jul

Stool after finishingWe have a very simple Ikea step stool that we use to reach high shelves in the kitchen. I believe it’s an old single-step version of the Bekväm stool (the current model has two steps and costs a bit more than ours did). It came in unfinished pine, which was fine for utilitarian use but not all that handsome to look at.

It turned out to be very easy to give the stool a makeover without even taking it apart. I used a small butane torch to scorch the surface of the step, including the visible edges of the underside of the step. A little masking tape and spray paint later and we had a classy piece that wouldn’t gather so many grimy footprints. I applied three coats of spray finish to protect the wood and called it a day.  Why spend more time or effort on a $10 stool?

You could apply the same techniques to any kind of unfinished wood. This already matches all of my furniture — I like the contrast of a rich wood texture with flat black (a popular Ikea combo, too).

Burning the woodStool masked for paintingStool being paintedFinishing the stool


Specific gravity and alcohol content calculator for hard cider

07 Jul

Screenshot of cider templateHere’s the best tool you can have for planning a cider recipe. Usually, you need to use a hydrometer to determine the density (specific gravity or SG) of your cider before and after brewing in order to calculate its alcohol content. This spreadsheet does the work for you, calculating the blended SG and estimating your final alcohol content based on the sugar content of your ingredients. Fill in your own combination of juice, sugar, and additives and find out how strong the resulting cider will be. I’ve included some typical values for certain ingredients (Kirkland apple juice, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, etc.), and you can add your own if you have the nutritional information. While the calculator assumes you are letting your cider age and ferment to extreme dryness (SG = 1.000), you also determine the final alcohol content at any SG value you enter.

I rely on this spreadsheet so much that I barely take hydrometer readings anymore. Make copies of it in order to save a record of each cider batch that you make. I can flip through every batch I’ve made this year and determine what recipes are working and what ones need to be retooled. Keeping records is invaluable in good science. Did you realize you were conducting science by brewing cider?

Cider recipe template with specific gravity/alcohol calculator


Creative Reuse: Breadcrumb can from empty coffee can

02 Jul

Can labelThink about how many containers you buy and then throw away every week: shopping bags, soda bottles, cereal boxes, all the way down to sugar packets. Since I hate to throw away useful things, I hang onto coffee tins and shoe boxes and film canisters hoping to find a use for them someday. Put a new label on an airtight container and it becomes a new object entirely. The containers accumulate quickly, so you have to get creative to keep them from piling up. I’ll share several examples with you over the next few weeks.

Here’s today’s reuse project: a Trader Joe’s coffee can turned into a container for homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs. Coffee and breadcrumbs are both frequently found in cardboard canisters, so it was an easy fit. All I needed to do was scrub out the coffee tin and relabel it. My “breadcrumbs” consist of the ground-up crumbs from various packages of cornflakes and potato chips blended with costlier gluten-free breadcrumbs. Do you remember what I said about throwing away useful things? I HATE THROWING AWAY USEFUL THINGS. Read the rest of this entry »