Friday, September 27, 2013

DIY or Bust! My Experience at Maker Faire 2013 in NYC

This guy re-purposed an old radio and mike into a karaoke machine!
Last weekend, Mr. Hippo and I went to the big World Maker Faire 2013 in NYC! What is the Maker Faire? According to their Website, it's "a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement" sponsored by Make Magazine

A rocket at the New York Hall of Science
Did you know there was a movement? I didn't! They call the movement "a tech-influenced DIY community." They focus on all kinds of innovation. Now you all know I like to try making new things. You've all seen my jewelry, the hand-decorated bibs and diaper bike I made for a baby shower, and one of Mr. Hippo's first homemade cat scratchers. I am not sure my creations are science or tech-influenced, but hey I LOVE seeing the science part of crafting (like mixing resin for my pendants!) and cooking, and Mr. Hippo IS a scientist, so I figured we would enjoy it!  The only downside to the Faire (other than being out in Queens, hehe) is that it was a bit expensive: $30 for one-day adult admission if you bought tickets online before the Faire. The whole thing goes on in and around the New York Hall of Science, which is a great hands-on science museum. 

I was worried it would be too tech-y and not include the type of thing I usually do, but when we got there and saw the "craftacular" section, I was relieved. I wish I'd taken some pictures for you; it was a section of pretty 'normal' crafts - tshirts, homemade jam, homemade jewelry, fiber and fiber crafts. Some (but not all) had a geeky bent, like the Periodically Inspired shirts and onesies, with phrases like "genius baby" spelled out in elements from the periodic table. WoolBuddy had a table about needle felting, including a huge 10-foot felted dinosaur! How cool is this guy? I've recently started needle felting and I can't imagine all the stabbing it took to make him! 

A home-made drop spindle and lovely soft wool roving
Inside the Hall of Science there was a whole needle craft section, including people giving quick lessons in crochet, cross-stich, and spinning! What luck for me, I have been wanting to learn to spin yarn on a drop spindle for ages, and Mr. Hippo and I both got a chance to try it out! (Gotta love a guy who isn't afraid to take a spinning lesson, right?) I wish I'd taken a picture of people spinning, but my hands were very full. Here is a pic of the homemade spindle they gave us (made with old CDs and a wooden dowel) and a little roving we bought to experiment with.

We also got a chance to make a 'puzzle feeder' for our cats out of cardboard! It's shaped like a little mouse with holes, and they have to bat it around to get the food out. (Those of you with sharp eyes may notice that Mr. Hippo and I put ours together inside-out because we got ahead of the instructions. oops.) That activity was sponsored by Purina One and they have plenty of inexpensive DIY ideas for puzzle feeders and some other cat projects on their website! Check out this video of Gromek using the puzzle feeder (and Peanut mostly getting in the way):


The coolest crafty thing (for me) was definitely the woman making glass beads, right there in front of everyone! She was selling beadmaking/glassworking classes, I think - definitely one of my dream DIY things to try!

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some very high tech exhibits. It was fun watching all of the 3-D printing displays, but that kind of thing is out of my price range! The cost of tools (and a lack of space) can be a barrier to trying new crafts, but the Maker movement has a solution for this, too. The people at Make magazine encourages the creation of "Maker Spaces," which offer communal workshop spaces, sometimes memberships, the use of tools that you might not want to buy yourself, and sometimes classes. (For example, check out Artisan's Asylum in Massachusetts, which offers classes, space and tools for metalworking, woodworking, bike repair, etc. Or look at the kid-friendly maker space at the NY Hall of Science! Find a maker space near you in this 
directory of maker spaces.

Metro card robot dog
There were tons of DIY computer projects using the Raspberry Pi (a tiny credit card sized computer), some of which are the kind of thing you can do at home without too many tools. If you google Raspberry Pi projects, you can find a ton of projects with it. Mr Hippo is in the middle of making a DIY nintendo emulator in an old Nintendo case with his! There were also a lot of robots and electronics projects, ranging from really small and simple (like a kid-friendly robot bug kit) to more complex (like the musical instruments below!) 

This guy made his own electronic instruments from all kinds of random objects
Check out this guy with the home-made electronic musical instruments! The materials I identified included a knife, a tennis racket, a few hockey sticks,reel-to-reel tape or film (I think), and some kind of shovel! Wow. And yes, they all actually played. 

Check out this short video of him playing a knife!


A few of the "Little Bits" pieces people were experimenting with at the Faire
Another exciting thing about the Faire was the focus on including kids. I love the idea of teaching kids to try making things themselves, I always loved hands-on craft or science projects as a kid. It's fun, sometimes saves money, and it's a great way to learn about science, technology, or problem-solving! There were a lot of kits for sale at the Maker Faire and there were plenty of simpler learning projects shown for the kids and for the lower-tech adults (like me!) I personally lean towards the ones that seem as thought they would be more creativity-friendly and allow for more tweaking (instead of the "here are your instructions and this is what you will make" single-project types) One of my favorites of these was "Little Bits" which I would describe as being sort of like electronics Legos.  Like Legos, in that they are easy to snap together in multiple ways and make different things, but instead of building blocks, they are different parts of circuits: different types of switches, fans, light sensors, LED lights, motors, and of course power input. It is great for beginners because there is no soldering required. I think you could make almost anything with these little guys and some fabric or maybe legos and your imagination (or the projects on their website)! 

Does this sound like your kind of thing? It seems like there's something for almost everyone. If you like DIY or just watching other people DIT (do-it-themselves?) I highly recommend attending something like this. There is another Faire in the Bay Area. There are also independent mini maker faires and there might be one near you. And don't forget to check out this directory of maker spaces, these seem like a great way to learn new crafts without investing in all of the tools yourself first! 

What do you think you'd enjoy seeing at the Maker Faire? What kinds of 'making' or crafts do you want to try next? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Needle Felting: Just Stab it Until It Looks Cute. Wait, What?

I want to tell you all about the newest craft I've discovered, called needle felting. Felting is a process by which fibers of some kind (unspun wool, in the case of most felting craft) become matted together to form a denser form of fabric (think of what you typically picture when you hear the term 'felt'). In needle felting, this is done by stabbing a special notched needle (or a few needles) repeatedly into a ball of unspun wool roving or top until it forms a dense shape. I heard about this from Gromek's friend Dana Pixie (she's been felting a lot, see her blog here) A lot of people haven't heard of needle felting, but I am loving it because it's something you can get started with to make 3D creations fairly easily. I didn't time it, but a simple 3D critter took me about 4 hours total and I know I will get faster at it. I'm going to show you the process to making my very first creation here:

First, you start with wool roving (washed and carded wool fibers) or top (washed and combed wool fibers). The terms are often used interchangeably, but they are technically different. You can use either for felting, though! You can buy dyed and undyed roving or top from yarn stores (sometimes), online (etsy is always a good resource), and even chain craft stores like Michael's or Joann's. This is what it looks like:

Supplies: Wool Roving and Cat

As you can see here, in addition to your wool and felting needle, you also need a felting pad (either a foam one, like this, or there are some that look kind of like a brush). The felting pad lets you stab without worrying about stabbing yourself. Well, without stabbing yourself too often. You can also buy thimble-like things to protect your fingers. And I nearly forgot-you need a cat. A cat is always important for crafting, and cats seem to love fiber crafts almost as much as dangling earrings and chains! (Maybe the roving still smells like sheep to him? It doesn't smell to me!)

All needle felting sculptures start out with simple shapes. For my first project I started by rolling some black roving into a ball and felting it into an oval. All you need to do is roll the ball as tightly as you can, then stab straight into it with the needle so that the 'barbed' end part of the needle goes into the fibers. This causes the fibers from the outside of the ball to tangle with the fibers in the center of the ball. You will feel the shape getting denser and more solid as you go. Here's me working on the first step, with all of my necessary materials, including the needle:
Step one: stab roving into ball with needle. Don't forget cat. 

OK, ok-here's a closer shot. It's the best shot I was able to get at this point, but it's still blurry, can you guess why?
Stab, stab, stab
Here's that black oval first at the halfway stage and again when I decided it was solid enough (when it didn't squish too much in the middle anymore). You can see how quickly it gets to a stage where it stays in a ball shape by itself:
Halfway felted

Fully felted
Next I took long pieces of yellow roving, twisted them into a long line and felted some stripes onto my creation. The technique is the same here, stabbing the stripes until they tangle into the rest of the creation. This is the fiddly part, though, it's easy to lose control of the stripes while you stab, so go slowly and keep a close eye on what you're doing. Can you guess yet what it will be?
Adding stripes. Note helpful use of cat at this step of the process.
Please note-even though Gromek and I are messing around in these pictures, these needles are
sharp and it hurts if you stab yourself! I even ended up bleeding a couple of times, so be careful!

Here it is again with all 3 stripes felted on:
Stripes fully felted
Now, here's the part where I forgot to take pictures at every stage because I got too excited . . . (Sorry about that) I felted a small piece of white roving into 2 small flat round shapes, leaving a bit of loose roving at one side of each one. I then attached the shapes by felting the loose roving onto the back of the main creation. Then, I sewed little black seed bead eyes onto my creation. When sewing on eyes, I was advised to start from the bottom or back of your creation to hide the knots. If that's not good enough, you can also felt a patch over the knots.
And here's my creation in it's final form! (Yeah, I'm sure by now you'd all guessed it was a bumblebee!)

Finished bee, with wings and eyes added!
So, what do you think? I bought my materials as a starter kit on etsy-there are many kits you can buy for specific animals, but I used a more general kit and a book called Wool Pets that I got from the library. I highly recommend the book for more detailed instructions than I gave (though still not perfect). I also recommend The Complete Photo Guide to Felting if you want more tips on needle felting or want to learn about wet or nuno felting! You can buy your materials at Michael's or Joann's although I love supporting the indie peeps on etsy! (Plus, they have kits!) Just make sure any kit you buy includes a felting pad, needle(s) and enough roving for at least one project to get you started.
We found this to be a fun, cozy, and relaxing craft to do!

A relaxed cat makes a great work surface.
Here is my second ever creation. It took longer but it's much more complex. But it just goes to show, once you've got the basics, you can make anything! 
Felted penguin
I love the science-magic aspect of felting (it's amazing to watch loose wool turn into something!) I am thinking of adding these types of things to my shop. I'm also experimenting with needle/wet felted beads! So, what do you think? Would you buy something like this? Would you like to try it yourself?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Homemade Ginger Ale!

Hey everyone! Ever since we got a sodastream as a wedding present I've been wanting to make homemade syrups for it. Their syrups aren't great (though I do like the root beer) and I knew I would be able to find plenty of recipes online. The recipes for ginger ale syrup caught my eye. Why? Because they were super simple (3-4 ingredients) AND you end up with a 'byproduct' of ginger candy! How could I pass up giving that a try? I looked on several websites, but mainly got my instructions from this one: I won't restate their recipe here in detail, because that doesn't seem fair. I just wanted to share how it went and show you some pictures. Maybe you'll get inspired to try it yourself! 

The basics: You boil together equal amounts of sugar and water, and a whole bunch of sliced ginger. I added lime peel, which I saw mentioned on another blog that I can't seem to find anymore. I also used coconut sugar, which I bought on a recent trip to the store. The sugar was ridiculously expensive but claimed to be more sustainable than cane sugar, so eh, I thought I would give it a try. I will have to look into their claims, but the sugar had a tasty caramel/molasses flavor to it. 

 After the sugar, ginger and water have boiled together for long enough, you can remove the slices of ginger and bits of lime peel, coat them in yet more sugar, and lay them out to dry. I turned the oven on really low to help them out a little. I let them dry overnight (mostly because I forgot about them, oops) and they came out delicious! They are VERY sharp, though. I might cut them smaller next time, to see if it helps. The candied bits of peel are tasty, too! 

Here's how they looked before drying: 
And after drying overnight: 

The syrup was tasty, too (yes, I licked the spoon). It was a really dark color, I think because of the color of the coconut sugar-it might be lighter if you used white sugar. I have been adding it to my seltzer for days now-it's really good! You might be wondering about the clean-up from all of this. I was a bit worried I'd be stuck with a sticky mess, but actually the pot cleaned up quite easily with a little soap and water. This was a winner all around!

Have any of you ever tried making homemade soda syrups? What should I try next?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Custom Bowenite Choker

 Just showing off my latest custom creation! The customer specifically requested a choker length necklace with bowenite. I had never worked with (or even heard of) bowenite before. Bowenite is a form of serpentine, and sometimes sold as 'new jade,' I assume due to the color. It comes in a range of shades of olive green. At the customer's request, I paired it with aventurine. I added pewter accent beads and a sterling silver chain and clasp.

I think the customer really liked it-she's ordered a similar one for a gift! I absolutely love green stones, so I'm excited to have discovered bowenite! Do you have a favorite stone?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Crafty Biker Baby

Hi everyone! I threw a baby shower for someone over the weekend, and it was so much fun (and hard work!) make decorations and setting up games!! It was quite a crafty shower. I made the invitations, some decorations, and signs and instructions for various games on my computer, We even had the guests get crafty and paint little bibs and onesies. Here's a picture of my favorite: 

Of all the things I made for the shower, my favorite was a 'diaper bike.' What's that, you ask? Have you heard of a diaper cake? It's shaped like a multi-tiered cake but made of diapers, baby washcloths, and other baby items. Well, that didn't seem like the guest of honor's style, but as she used to ride a motorcycle, I went with a diaper bike instead! I found a tutorial here: ttp://

It surprised me by only taking a couple of hours to make. Although the shopping took a long time, because I was really picky about what I wanted to give the guest of honor! I love the penguin rider. We had a bit of a penguin theme for the decorations, as the guest of honor just loves penguins! I like the cute little frogs on the blankets and bibs, too!

I had to tweak the design a little bit to work with what I found. The receiving blankets I bought were longer than in the tutorial, so I had to wrap and fold them a bit more to get them to fit. I also used a smaller plush, so I folded down the handlebars-poor little penguin couldn't reach them before! I also used a few extra diapers (20 per wheel) just because I bought a pack of 40, and it seemed silly to leave the 6 extras! 
I also added my own little touch: a little tailpipe made out of the most adorable penguin socks that I found! I didn't want to stretch them out by using them for the handlebars, but I really wanted to include them. I think it works!

Have you ever made a diaper cake? Or had a crafty party or baby shower? Please share!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Plenty of Fish in the Freezer-Making Halibut Ceviche

We have several pounds of fish in our freezer from the fishing trip my fiance went on when he was visiting Alaska. I'm determined to use it up before we end up with more-ack! To that end, last night we made a halibut ceviche. It's basically my own recipe made from cobbling together several recipes I found online.
For those of you not familiar, ceviche is a fish dish found in South American cuisine. I personally had it for the first time in Peru. Ceviche is not cooked-raw fish or seafood is marinated in some kind of citrus (lemon or lime) juice, usually along with other ingredients (such as onions, chilis. For more info see: Obviously, as with sushi or any other raw fish dish, you need to be careful that you use very fresh fish, and there is some risk of food poisoning from raw fish. Ingredients: 1lb of Halibut - cut into 1/2 inch cubes juice from 5 lemons juice from 5 limes 4 jalapeno peppers, diced and seeded 1 sweet onion, diced 1 bell pepper (we used orange), diced 3 medium tomatoes (we used some pretty purplish ones), diced fresh parsley and cilantro-diced salt and pepper-to taste, if desired
Cube halibut and dice jalapeno peppers and mix with lemon and lime juice in a non-metallic bowl (glass or plastic will work). Cover and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.
Dice onion and bell pepper and add to mixture. Stir well and refrigerate for about 1/2 hour.
Dice fresh tomatoes, parsley and cilantro, salt and pepper. Add to mixture and serve.
You can serve this with corn and potatoes (which is how I saw it done in Peru), or rice, avocado, tortilla or plantain chips, or whatever you want, really! We had ours with a whole grain rice 'medley' and sweet potato tortilla chips (both from Trader Joe's!) This recipe is really a lot of fun to make-and easy apart from all the waiting. I love how it got more colorful as we went along. I tried this once before-several months ago-with a mix of halibut and salmon, but never got around to writing down what I did. I really preferred the halibut over the salmon. You could easily make this with most other white flesh fish, I think. 

 Do you guys like ceviche? Has anyone tried making it? It's really easy, just a lot of time marinating. What would you add? How would you serve it? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beading Made Portable

I've always been jealous of knitters and crocheters. Their craft seems so portable. You see them working all over the place-waiting rooms, coffee shops, trains. I've always wanted to be able to do that with my jewelry making! I've always thought it would hard to organize bringing a lot of beads, wire, and tools with me. Not to mention I wondered if I would get funny looks.

So, I set about looking for a way to carry my beading with me so I could give it a try. Here's what I came up with:

Basically, I stole two smallish boxes that my fiance had been given with some fancy tea for his birthday. They have tight fitting lids so they wouldn't fall open while traveling. One would easily fit in a large purse. I removed all the packaging from inside and just started wedging things in. I carry a beading mat in one, so I can put things out on a table without them rolling around.

When I travel, I always wrap my pliers so they don't damage anything. I turn some duct tape sticky side out and wrap it around the ends of each pair of pliers, with the pliers in an open position. Then I wrap another layer of duct tape (sticky side in) over the first layer so it doesn't stick to everything.

So far, it's working pretty well. I've used them to work while waiting for my father to have a procedure in the hospital, and on an amtrak train. I find making rings to be one of the easiest projects to carry with me. The tea tins don't fit a ring sizer or hammer, but I can carry those separately pretty easily, or leave the hammer at home. I've also got an old biscuit tin I bought at a yard sale for when I need to fit more/larger items in. The problem with that (at least the one I have) is that the lid doesn't fit tightly and needs to be rubber banded on.

I'm working on a few other ideas for ways to carry my beading projects around. I'd love to hear about your ideas. Is your craft portable? What's your favorite way to carry it with you?


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