Cheap and Cheerful

Brightly coloured acrylic yarn

The other day I was faffing about in Instagram when someone posted a picture of a bulk pack of lime green acrylic yarn from Spotlight (Spotlight is a chain here in Australia selling craft stuff and homewares). “Ew!” said the comments. “Gross!”. Not so much the colour, apparently, as the fact it was cheap acrylic. “Oh do fuck off” I said to myself, and unfollowed the yarn snob.

A considerable portion of my yarn stash is, sorry yarnsnobs, cheap acrylic. Sometimes I buy it because I like the colour, sometimes I buy it because it’s cheap. Sometimes I buy it because there’s a big bag of it and I think “I.. I need that”.  As much as I’d like to be able to use hand spun hand dyed terribly expensive yarn all the time, I can’t afford to. Nor can I justify a hand spun purchase for making the small and usually pointless objects I make. The yarn above is a novelty yarn from Spotlight and the colours just bliss me right out. It’s acrylic, mostly. It’s going to look mad and fabulous once it’s worked up into a vest. I shall wear it with joy, assuming I can upsize the pattern sizing. Stay tuned.

Quick aside, but acrylic these days is a long way from the acrylics of old. There’s a ball of yarn around here somewhere from years ago which is stiff and scratchy. These days acrylics can be soft and warm and lovely – we’ve come a long way, baby. Even the $1 a ball stuff I’ve got crammed in a basket is pretty nice to handle. Sure, it’s not pure wool nice or hand spun nice, but it’s not making me weep with sadness to use it. This big range of soft, quality acrylics means a bigger range for people with wool allergy or vegan principles. Hooray!

I’m a big, big believer in crafting being completely and fully accessible to anyone who wants to have a go. Despite what the Martha Stewarts of the world want you to think, there’s no need to spend half your wages on supplies. Currently, I’m gathering the bits together to make a cape for Winter. The outer fabric will be cut from a blanket I got at the op-shop for $10. My plan for the lining is a doona cover I .. well I got it at the op-shop for $4.  Add the pattern into the pricing and you’re looking at around $30 total. Possibly some swearing and whatnot also as it’s quite a complicated pattern. Even so, buying this fabric off the bolt would probably be $30 without the lining or pattern.

If you want to spend the money on the higher end of the supplies market, by all means go for it. It’s your money and your crafting time. The supplies are there for you to buy, but it’s a great thing that price points are so varied for supplies.  It’s lovely to use the high quality stuff, I get that.

Supplies Snobbery isn’t a thing I can get behind. Use what you love, even if it’s a second hand sheet or a bulk pack of cheap yarn. If it makes you happy, and making a thing makes you happy, then grab it and love it I say. I have, as you know, the last word on this subject.

I Have No Style

We’re just going to ignore the fact I haven’t said anything since last September and move on.

Anyway. As a result of digging around on the internet, I found a Creative Community for Creative People to Connect (Creatively) and thought “Oh, cool” so I joined. I’m not particularly bold with sharing my projects. I mean, sure I have this blog when I remember I have it and I have been known to post the odd project to Craftster, which is an awesome community. Due to this lack of boldness, I quietly backed away from this new website.

A quick poke through the photos on this blog will tell you I am not a photo stylist. At best I find a background that isn’t too terrible and that’ll do. It was the styling of all the photographs on that website that turned me off, and frankly even on other blogs an over styled photograph makes me a bit “meh”. The reason is that craft, or handmade, or home made or whatever you want to call it is turning into personal brands rather than a celebration of the creative.

Perfect white backgrounds, whimsical props scattered around, photoshop brushes and stamps – photographing something you’ve made is becoming a professional effort more suited to magazines than websites. It’s no longer good enough to make something you want to show off, now you’re expected to Brand it with your own photographic style before you put it online.

Some styles are simple and designed to show off the item and I enjoy that. I want to see what you’ve made! I want to look at it, and you’ve kindly posted it online for me to look at. Then we get into “Over fussed with”. A narrow depth of field that throws one tiny line of the project into sharp focus while the rest is a blur, over exposing edges so there’s a halo of white, filters, touch ups – it goes on and on. The idea of just taking a picture that shows what you’ve made is becoming lost in the desire to show you know where the filters toolbar is.

Well, I don’t have a style. I don’t have any pure white walls, for one thing, so I can’t pose my stuff in front of those. I don’t have anything white, really, apart from some mugs and a sheet. When I decide to post a project online, it’s the project I want to show off, not my collection of whatever random items I might find to throw into the shot. I also don’t have a DLSR (yet) so my shots are only ever going to be as good as my terrible manual focus function.

It’s fine that people want to invest their time in making shiny photos, but at the same time it’s (for me at least) intimidating. And then I get cross at myself for being intimidated, because even if my stitches are wonky and my finishes aren’t perfect, I’m usually a bit proud of myself for making something. The fact that I don’t fancy fussing around for an hour taking a picture of it shouldn’t lessen my wish to share things online. So from now on, it won’t.

We need to celebrate the non perfect. Us “mere mortal” crafters need to appreciate and understand that perfectly styled photos of perfectly made items are personal branding as much as sharing. We need to understand that some people feel the need to preserve their brand by photoshopping out wonky stitches, and by only posting the very best of their craft.

While we’re on the branding of handmade, can I just for one moment say “ugh” about the word “Make”. I don’t mean in the usual sense of the word, like “This is what I make” or “I think I’ll make that”, I mean as a description of what’s been done. Instead of “This is my project from today” or “I sewed this today” people are starting to say “This is my make from today”. “Here’s my make from the weekend!”. No. It’s horrible. Stop it. We have so many descriptive words for crafts – we can sew, knit, crochet, weave, dye, create, carve, paint, cast, sculpt, cut, spin… to squish all these down into a clumsy phrase like “This is my make!” is awful. Cut it out.

Canvas Photo Thing

It’s time for another round of the Pintester Movement! This time it was a case of finding a pin, and doing that pin. The rules are complicated, are they not? Anyway, I decided to try my hand at the DIY Instagram Photo Canvas from Savvysugar. I chose this for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being I already owned Mod Podge, foam brushes and a printer and knew where I could get square canvases for $2.50 each. In the spirit of truly doing the pin properly, I even did this with a couple of Instagram photos, even though I tend to treat those as disposable throw aways (unlike some bloggers who are apparently selling theirs. For real. Mad old world).

I didn’t take any photos of all the steps, so you’ll have to tap into your shiny imagination. Bold indicates the actual directions from the link above.

1. Select a picture that you’d like for creating the print. Resize the image using your computer until it is 6 by 6 inches and then print, using the best printer settings
I did this, but I added a step of increasing the DPI on the image too – they were 72 originally which is sort of Internet standard (even though I yoinked them straight off my phone). I don’t honestly know if it makes a difference once you’ve resized it, but I felt better about it being print quality. I pumped them up to 300. Which considering they were taken with an aging phone camera was probably overkill.

One of the first things I thought might be an issue was the water based ink, which was about to get quite wet. I wasn’t far off with my prediction, but it wasn’t as terrible as I expected. Read on to resolve that cliff hanger!

2. Use a paper cutter to trim the image, creating a perfect square. You can position the print over the canvas to double-check its size, trimming as needed.

Cutting the picture

As it happens, I do have a paper cutter. I saved it from a skip at a previous job. It works in that it cuts paper, but it has a slight slant to the blade which makes it hard to cut a perfectly straight line, so I avoided it and went with a craft knife and steel ruler. I don’t know if you can tell that the colours in the picture I’m cutting there are slightly off – the printer decided not to use all of the available inks and instead stamped its own interpretation on the picture.

3. Give the front of the canvas a quick sanding with fine sandpaper, which helps the Mod Podge really adhere to the print and canvas.
There’s no photo of this step, but I did do it.

4. With a foam brush, coat the front of the canvas with a layer of Mod Podge and then position the print, smoothing gently. Don’t worry if there are any bumps or puckers, they will smooth out once the glue is dry. Let rest for an hour before the next step.
Pictures stuck on canvasSo here are my photos all stuck down to the canvas. I smoothed out a few bubbles and ripples, but as instructed I didn’t worry about them too much, as they would smooth down when the glue was dry. Wouldn’t they?
I left them to dry for a couple of hours and went and did other things which mostly involved swearing at the sewing machine.
When I returned, I discovered that the “lumps and bumps smoothing down when the glue was dry” was a big fat filthy lie. I smoothed, prodded and poked and the sewing machine picture stayed as bubbly as ever. If you’re trying this pin yourself, smooth the bubbles out, or you’ll be stuck with them. Also you’ll stop trusting random tutorials on the internet, and then where would we be?
Since it was now 10pm, I decided to soldier on regardless.

5. Now coat the print with a layer of Mod Podge, working first horizontally with the foam brush and then vertically. Once again, don’t worry about any bumps; they’ll disappear as the canvas dries.
LIES UPON LIES UPON LIES. Of course they didn’t, I’m not even sure how they’re supposed to. I did come up against the other issue though, namely the smearing of water based inks.
Top CoatingI did the crochet picture first, and ended up with a pink tint to my picture and also to the Mod Podge from all the red inks. The sewing machine needle picture ended up with a blue tint and also there’s a couple of patches where the ink just plain disappeared or rubbed off. I’m not overly bothered, but if you were wanting your colours preserved it might be better to use a spray on top coat rather than a varnishy brushy on one (look at me, throwing around all these technical terms). Or you could laser print your picture I suppose.
These top coats may have gone on too thick. I found a thin coat of Mod Podge was nearly impossible because it just picked the ink right up and pushed it around – a thicker coat meant the foam brush wasn’t in so much contact with the print, but did mean a streakier finish.
I left the whole lot to dry overnight while I went to bed with a James May DVD and some hand sewing to do.

6. Place a piece of scrap paper under the canvas, and coat the sides with black acrylic paint, which really makes this DIY look professional. Touch up the black paint if needed.
Finished Canvas
“Professional” might be a stretch. I did alter this step in two ways. Well three, I didn’t bother with the scrap paper because protecting work surfaces is for wimps. I used the foam brush instead of a paint brush. This was to create a deliberate overlap of paint around the edges of the pictures. The canvas had a slight curve where the edges started and the picture edges just wouldn’t stick, so I painted them. Shortcuts for everybody! Also I used Paynes Grey instead of black. Yes there’s a difference.
They look.. fine. They look alright. Quite lumpy and a little bit smeared, but aren’t we all?

Now the idea behind this pin was to save money on canvas photo transfers which tend to run at $20 or so apparently. It just so happens that I have a canvas photo print, so I can offer you a side by side comparison:
Canvas Prints
The Mod Podge being thick does give the printed one a bit of texture, but nothing like a genuine thing. I’d say if you had a photo that was really important to you, or that you wanted to show off it’s probably worth spending the money on a proper canvas print. Otherwise this is a quick and cheap wall decoration, but smooth out your bubbles.
Can you see the pink through the one on the left? I can. If you can’t then you’re wrong.

Lamp Facelift

Today was hot, too hot to do things that involved a lot of thought. Mostly it was too hot to do anything but silently curse everyone I know who happens to have real aircon. So today’s project was simple, quick and turned out pretty well actually (you do detect a note of surprise). Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my bedside lamp.  As it was this morning, anyway.
Lamp, BeforeIt was a lovely lamp, that cast a warm light even with the white energy saver bulb in it, but as you can see the paper shade was a little (by which I mean a lot) worse for wear. This is actually the good side, the other side was more water stained. This is due to a persistent roof leak which is over my bed. Also the paper was torn from being dropped a lot, and what you can’t see is enough pin holes to render the side perforated. I have a terrible habit of keeping my pins and needles nice and handy in any available lampshade.

So on to the makeover! I started out by removing all the “lamp” bits – not so much for safety, but because they would be in the way. Though safety is probably a decent reason too, now I come to think of it. I cut around the top and bottom of the shade, just beside the support hoops. Once I’d done that, I unpeeled the paper from the join. It came off in one piece, and I’m sure I can think of something to do with it later. Then came the hard, boring part:

Glue Everywhere

Hard, nasty glue all over the support hoops. In theory, I could have left this on. However I knew I’d look at it later and think “Should have scraped that off”. This was really the hardest bit, it took about an hour of scraping, poking and peeling using fingernails, craft knives and butter knives. Soaking the stuff in water helped a lot, making it soft and peely and kind of oddly satisfying to remove.

Now to the materials chosen. Something you should know about me is that I’m partial to brown string. I love the look, feel and smell of the stuff. Actually I like most kinds of string, but brown string is my favourite. This meant I had quite a lot of brown string about the place, which I used to wrap the shade. I did this in front of the DVD of “Love, Actually” however you can choose any movie you like, there’s no rules here.

Wrapping the string

I don’t know if you can really tell, but I wrapped it by going from the top, around the front side of the bottom hoop, up around the back and then to the front side of the top hoop. It works out to an elongated figure 8 shape – there’s probably a ton of other ways to do it, but I like the even top and bottom this way. My string is the cheap stuff, so it’s full of lovely knobbly wonky bits, which I left alone. If you wanted a smoother look, you could do this with yarn, or expensive smooth string. Up to you. Actually variegated yarn would look pretty cool, I’ll remember that for later (no I won’t).

Squeeze

Once the sections got full, it was a case of squeezing the ball through – just push the string you’ve already wrapped out of the way. You can even it out later. You’ll be surprised how many more wraps you can squeeze in this way, and it goes a long way to covering the support bar things too, if you pop an extra wrap in and push it over to hide the bar.

I did the whole shade in one kind of string, but changing it up would look really nice. Stripes! Everyone loves stripes. I also chose to go vertically,  but a horizontal wrap would work. The only thing is that the sides wouldn’t curve, so you’d end up with a straight sided shade. If that floats your boat, by all means do it that way.

I just did plain old knots to hold the string in place. Once it was all wrapped up, I dabbed some glue on the knots and when that was dry, cut off most of the tail. The “internal” knots where I joined the end of a ball of string to the start of a new one I just pushed to the back and didn’t worry about.

Now, once you’ve got your lamp all wrapped up, all that remains is to reassemble the lamp bits, plug it in and switch it on.

Lit Up

It’s a good deal less bright than the old shade, but it’s plenty bright enough to read by. I’d suggest using a cool LED or energy saver bulb if you’re not already. If you do find the lamp too dark to read by (assuming you’re doing this to a lamp you read near) you can always push the string around on the side you sit on to let more light out.

Sometimes, a project comes out looking exactly like it did in my head. I’m just as surprised as you are, seriously.