RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hand Lettered Chalkboard

image

Sometime around the beginning of this year, I bought a chalkboard for my kitchen wall. I had long admired the old fashioned look of hand lettering and wanted to incorporate it into my kitchen décor. While I know that chalkboard paint is all the rage right now, I wanted a less permanent solution, so I decided to buy one. I went to my favorite online “store”, EBay, to see if they had anything I liked and whoa!, did they ever.  They sell any and every size and shape of chalkboard you could ever conceive.  I limited my search to the stick-to-the-wall variety for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s going to be in a high traffic area and I was hoping to limit the accidental jostling or rubbing-up-against problem by having it be flush to the wall.  Secondly, it was going to be so much easier to find the right size and shape I wanted if I went with a stick-on variety in lieu of a standard hung-on-the-wall type of board.  And thirdly, price.  The kind I got was much less expensive to begin with and, since slate chalkboards tend to be pretty darn heavy, the difference in shipping price was pretty remarkable.  Anyhoo, I bought one that looks pretty much like this one…

image

Mine has a permanent white line running around the border, but you get the idea. Incidentally, here’s a sampling of some of the shapes that can be purchased on EBay.  I typed “sticker chalkboard” into the search field.  Again, this is a very small percentage of the hundreds of shapes available, but it will give you an idea of the breadth of designs…

image

image

Gotta love the zombie one.

My next step, after I received the thing and stuck it to my wall, was to look around online for some design samples.  Since it was late January at the time, I searched up “Valentines Chalkboard” and probably “Valentines Hand Lettering” and found this sweet one…

Aviary Photo_130218379197441205

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull off an exact duplicate of the design, but did manage to make a pretty respectable version thereof…

imageSo the original is much prettier than mine, but I thought it came out OK for a first try.  The next one that I did was for Easter, and also copied from a design I found on Pinterest.  Here is the one I found, (which is available for purchase in notecard form here ) followed by a picture of the one I made…

Aviary Photo_130219997838470146

imageIncidentally, I also found these other copycats on Pinterest  (see I’m not the only one!)

Aviary Photo_130219998575836554 Aviary Photo_130220014148956328

I’ve become obsessive about researching designs on Pinterest for my little chalkboard to the point that my “Chalkboard Designs” just might be the largest of all of my boards.  You can see the whole thing here but here’s a sample of what I’m talking about

Screenshot (5)

I know – “YIKES!”.  But aren’t they all so preeeeeeety???  I want to copy each and every one of them.  🙂

If you’re thinking of giving chalkboard lettering a whirl, I highly recommend looking at the examples that I pinned, and then search “chalkboard designs” on Pinterest and find some of your own.  If you study them a bit, you’ll notice a few common design elements that will help you to get the look of old timey hand lettering.  Here is my extremely uneducated, but works-for-me, opinion.

  • Vary your fonts.  Use some printing, some script. Add serifs to some words.
  • Vary your word sizes.  Some of your words can be super big (for emphasis) while others can be teeny tiny.
  • Vary your letter sizes within the word.  Write words with progressively smaller (or larger) letters, all aligned at either the top or the bottom.
  • Make your words “move” by giving them a directional flow.  Make your words go uphill or downhill, or form an arc.  You can even write them on the vertical if possible.
  • Add a little easy calligraphy by thickening all of the lines made in a downward motion.  So If you were writing the letter “S” like in the word Spring above, you would thicken the part of the letter that you write in a downward motion – the middle part of the “S”.  The little curl at the top and the curl at the bottom are drawn on an upward swing, so they would stay relatively skinny.
  • Add “shadows”.  Using a different color, add an outline on one side of your letters as though the sun were shining from that direction.  It gives your letters dimension and makes them look more “artsy”.
  • A few Curly Qs and flourishes go a long way.  Add them to any empty spots left after you finish your lettering.
  • Copy, copy, copy.  I file this under “Fake it until you make it”.  Once you get handy with copying other designs, your own designs (or modified designs) will start to come.

A few other ideas that will help out from a more practical standpoint.

  • Sketch your idea out on paper before you start.
  • While you work, you will want to have a wet paper towel and some q-tips handy to act as “erasers”.
  • Start with a clean dry chalkboard.
  • Use only chalkboard chalk.  Pastels contain oil which will be near impossible to remove from your board.
  • Before writing any words, lightly draw lines for your words to sit on.  Use a ruler where you can or stand back and “eyeball” curves as you go.  When you’re done with this step, you will have a good outline of your completed project.
  • Lightly sketch your words onto your lines.  Make adjustments as needed.
  • Now comes the fun part.  Go back and fill in your final design.  Erase words, a few letters at a time, and replace them with your best work.  Don’t forget to also erase the lines that your words are standing on – unless you are leaving them as part of your design.
  • Notice how your chalk has some thinner and thicker edges and use what you need in the appropriate place.  I like to have a few different sticks of the same color going at once so that I can get the edge that I need.  If you find that you wish you could “sharpen” your chalk, find a blank spot on your chalkboard and scribble back and forth until you get the edge you are looking for.  Then use your wet paper towel to clean up your scribbles.
  • Expect to erase and redo letters, words or whole sections of your design.  A LOT.  Its the beauty of working with chalk – nothing is permanent, so its really easy to try, try again until it looks the way you want it to.
  • Once you’re done, photograph and share.  Then throw some orange traffic cones in front of it.  I’ve got lots of stories of people rubbing up against and smearing a design.  Once my husband was throwing a ball to the dog and clipped the board about an hour after I had finished it.  So traffic cones, a no-fly zone, death threats – whatever works for you would be supported 100% by me.

That’s all I can think of right now.  Next time I make a new design, I’ll photograph it every step of the way and add it here to better illustrate my tips.  Until then, here are some more designs that I made earlier this year.  The latest design that’s on display right now, is the back-to-school board that is pictured at the top of this post.

Made this when my niece came to stay with us for a few days

image

This was for (shockingly), my boys’ first communion party

image

And finally, for the end of the school year.  When Summer started and I was a full time mom once again, I just recycled this board by erasing the word “Summer” and replacing it with “Moxie” (before our trip to Moxie, Maine), then replacing that with “Winnipesaukee”, when we went to Lake Winnipesaukee later in the summer.

image

The next board design will most likely be for Halloween, my hands down favorite of all holidays.  Cant wait!

Frosted Shortbread Cookies

20130811-072509.jpg
The people who know me in a non-virtual sense, know that while I’m not very good at cooking, I do enjoy baking. It’s how I’ve managed to maintain my roundish figure for all these years. Perseverance my friends!

A few years ago, I decided to take a crack at my favorite of all cookies, the frosted shortbread cookie. The only reason I hadn’t tackled it sooner is that I had heard, through the baker’s grapevine, that shortbread was really hard to perfect. I had data to support this in that I remember my mother, a very good baker, trying to make shortbread in one of those big (maybe 10″) cookie molds and having it fall apart on her. After poking around on recipe.com for awhile, and consulting my cookbooks, I pieced together a great, easy recipe with terrific results. Delicious, crumbly, buttery shortbread cookies that perfectly held a shape when baked. It is as follows…

Scottish Shortbread Cookies

2 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3-3/4 plus 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the salt and blend in thoroughly. Mix in the 3-3/4 cups of flour, a little at a time, until combined. It doesn’t need to be perfect, as you are going to continue mixing it further by hand. Dump dough out onto a kneading board or counter. Knead in the remaining 3/4 cup of flour until you have a smooth ball of dough that is neither sticky or crumbly. Too sticky – add a little more flour. Too crumbly – keep kneading that sucker.

Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness using a floured rolling pin. Cut into shapes and transfer to un greased cookie sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 16-20 minutes, until cookies are just starting to brown on the BOTTOM. The tops should stay pretty white. Transfer to cooling racks. Once cooled, cookies should be kept in airtight containers as they are very susceptible to humidity which will make them more chewy, not crumbly like shortbread is famous for. For this reason, I rarely make these cookies in the summer months.

A few more cookies made for 1. A christening 2. My MIL’s 70th birthday 3. For a wedding

20130819-105615.jpg

Now, for the frosting, or should I say, frostings. After a lot of experimentation, I found it best to decorate with two distinctly different types of frostings. The first frosting, which usually covers the whole cookie, is soft, shiny and when dry can take a bit of jostling without “denting”, but not too much. This frosting is flavored with extract. The second frosting is Royal Icing. This dries very hard, so that it is crunchy when you bite into it. I use this for all of the details on the cookie (for example the laces etc. on the sneaker cookie above) and since it sits on top of the base frosting, it gives added protection so that you can stack your cookies onto a platter and they won’t all stick together. Be aware though – to accomplish this, you need to let them dry overnight.

So, for the base frosting

1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 Tbsp. milk
1/2 to 1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/4 tsp. extract – almond has always been a fan favorite, but I’ve also used vanilla, lemon, and anise. Basically, whatever your crowd likes.

In a bowl, mix the confectioners sugar with the milk. It should have a dough-like consistency when fully incorporated. Add the corn syrup and extract. It should be smooth and not stiff, but not too runny either. The idea is that you want it to be smooth enough to self-level on your cookie (to give the icing a smooth, shiny surface), but not so runny that it falls off the edges of the cookie. You can adjust this by playing with the amount of corn syrup you add.

Now, you add your food coloring. A quick word about this. The liquid kind that they sell in the supermarket is fine but keep in mind that you are adding liquid to your frosting, and this will effect it’s viscosity (level of runny-ness). Also, the pigments in those brands are pretty weak, so you need a LOT of coloring if you’re trying to achieve a deep shade, especially red and black. Pastes and gels work much better since they are much more concentrated. These are readily available at craft stores like A.C. Moore, Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s. I have found that the absolute BEST food coloring are a brand called Americolor, and I get them on EBay from specialty baking sites. Here’s what my set looks like…

20130819-075757.jpg
Notice how I have the big size “Super black” and “Super red”. These two especially are AWESOME. No more watering down my icing, and still not quite achieving the color I want. A tiny grain-of-rice size dot (or less!) gives me deep rich color. The 3/4 oz. size bottle will run you around $3.00 (including shipping), and the bigger 4.5 oz. bottle goes for around $7.50. This is not a lot of money if you consider how concentrated it is.

These I made for Valentines day, but always thought the bustiers would be great for a bachelorette party. Hubba-hubba.

20130819-110612.jpg
On to the Royal Icing. There’s a gazillion recipes out there for RI. Half use raw egg whites, which make me nervous. The other half use this fabulous stuff called Meringue Powder that comes in a big cardboard can like so…

20130819-111919.jpg
I swear that the recipe used to be printed on the can, but when I just looked for it, it wasn’t there.

Anyway, here’s the Royal Icing recipe that I use…

3 Tbsp. Meringue Powder
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
6 Tbsp. water

Pour water into a big mixing bowl. Add meringue powder then mix on medium speed until frothy. Add confectioners sugar and beat on low speed for a few minutes until soft peaks form.

This recipe makes a buttload of frosting, so unless you’re frosting a ton of cookies, you may want to halve, or even quarter the recipe. Shoot me an email if you’re having trouble doing the math on either of these, because it isn’t exactly straightforward if you’re not mathly-inclined.

IMPORTANT! You need to cover the bowl of frosting with a wet kitchen towel at all times as the icing dries out very quickly.

At this point I divide the frosting into whatever amounts I’m needing and color them. You will notice that Royal Icing is harder to color than the base icing. You will need a little more to achieve the same color.

I pipe my icing on the cookies. I pipe the base frosting first, then add the details with Royal icing. Also, I like to trace around my cookie cutter with pencil onto scrap paper and sketch out the design beforehand. If its a particularly tricky design, I will take the pencil outline, put a piece of wax paper over it and pipe out the icing onto the wax paper. But that’s only when I’m feeling especially OCD. And if you’re wondering where I get my designs from, it’s a combination of stuff floating around in my head, and lots of ideas I get from looking at designs on the Internet.

One final note, I have amassed a collection of over 100 cookie cutters. I purchased them at craft stores, bed and bath stores, at yard sales and thrift stores. I’ve received a number as gifts. And the harder to find ones I got on EBay or at this great site called www.coppergifts.com They can be pricey, but they have just about every shape you could ever imagine. I got my tuxedo shaped cookie cutter there.

Here’s a few more samples of my cookies…

1. A Hockey team’s end-of-the-season party. FYI, I used the tuxedo cutter for these and cut off the pants before baking 2. Mardi Gras or Masquerade cookies 3. Made these for someone who was doing the Avon 3-day walk for breast cancer

20130819-121148.jpg
1. Valentines cookies for the kids. 2. Made for a preteen’s birthday party 3. Made for a St. Patrick’s day party. In case you couldn’t figure that out.

20130819-121721.jpg
1. Made these as a thank you to a handyman. Tough guys need cookies too. 2. Bowling party favors. 3. Made these for a young man’s Eagle Scout ceremony

20130819-122145.jpg
1. Made for a school fundraiser. 2. Favors for a little girl’s skating party 3. Grad party!

20130819-122501.jpg
And finally, (for now), I made these “munchstaches” for my family reunion. That’s my fabulous grandmother on the left, my ham of a brother on the right and my cousin’s adorable baby looking dapper in the middle.

20130819-190049.jpg
I’ll be sure to add on as I make more, so stay tuned!

My Little Mannequins

Some of the projects that I take on are strictly for my own amusement. They don’t serve any real purpose, but I like to have something to do while I watch TV, and am easily amused.

So I had one of these mannequins that artists use to draw the human form

20130806-191238.jpg
I’m not an artist, but I saw it at a yard sale and figured I could give him (or her) a good home. At Halloween, I thought that I would dress him up in costume.

20130806-191659.jpg
This I made with toilet paper and a bit of scotch tape. I liked it so much that I dressed “her” up at Christmastime.

20130806-192249.jpg
I sewed and pinned this one together using wool felt and fur trim I had in my crafts closet. Although the photo is kinda crappy, you can see how I fastened the stole with a fake diamond stud.
I had this out on my buffet when I hosted some of my old college friends for dinner (Westfield State College, class of 1989) when my old roommate Lori comment on it. She then told me that she had a mannequin just like mine in her trunk. Seriously, and what are the chances? She had gotten it from a coworker and, since she wasn’t using it, offered it to me. So now our one wooden man was a wooden couple.

20130806-193317.jpg
Shortly thereafter, I fashioned these outfits out of paper towels.

20130806-193544.jpg
Don’t they make a lovely couple? I like to think that they’re on their way to a summer Holiday here.

When I hosted Bunco (a dice game), I gave them these
20130806-194513.jpg

At Easter, I made them look like bunnies

20130806-193909.jpg
And finally, in the summer, I put them in swimming attire, again with paper towels…

20130806-194259.jpg

<a
I enjoy using the paper towels because they're inexpensive, easy to work with and can be held together with scotch tape.

I know I'll continue costuming these guys in the future, so stay tuned to see what's next! I'll add photos as I create them.

DIY Dog Bed – Part 2

So I’ve got this lovely table that I want to turn into an attractive, functional dog bed for Hazel, the 10 pound miniature schnauzer.

20130802-203656.jpg
First thing I did, after giving it a good scrub down with some Spic & Span, was to remove the doors.

20130802-203852.jpg
I briefly toyed with the idea of leaving them on so that I could close them up when I wanted to hide the dog bed from company, but decided that anyone who was invited to my house who had a problem viewing my dog’s bed, well they could just suck it. Get over yourself.

Next step was to sand off all of the varnish. In order for the new paint to “stick” and not “slide off”, I needed to get rid of all the shiny surfaces. When I was done doing that, the side table was even uglier than when I started if you could imagine.

20130802-204354.jpg
For anyone who’s interested, I used my Dremel, as well as some hand sanding on the moulding, and the little bun feet.

Now, time to start making it look pretty. First I gave it a coat of primer, to cover up the original dark walnut finish.

20130802-204812.jpg
Next, I filled I filled in the holes left after I removed the door hinges using some sandable wood putty.

20130802-205105.jpg
I put three coats of paint on the outside, a Valspar paint with satin finish called Dreamy Caramel (yum!) and three more on the inside, a Behr paint with glossy finish called Vanilla Custard (double yum!). I had the interior paint left over from the trim in our sitting room, which is why it has a gloss finish.

20130802-205721.jpg
Yeah baby! Now we’re getting somewhere!

One last addition…when I saw the beautiful four paneled interior on the cabinet, I wanted to highlight it with some wallpaper. I shopped around for wallpaper and realized that, holy crap, wallpaper is super expensive. Plan B was to buy some fabric and Mod Podge it to the walls. Here are the results…

20130802-210354.jpg

20130802-210705.jpg
I purposely chose this ultra feminine fabric that resembles a vintage wallpaper design.

OK, moving on to the cushion. I went to my local Joann store and spent a ridiculous amount of time hemming and hawing over all the choices and came up with these three fabrics…

20130802-211347.jpg
The paint chip at the top is the Valspar Dreamy Caramel that I used on the exterior of the cabinet. I should note that I actually chose the paint color after I picked out the fabrics. I do this whenever I have the option because its a lot easier than matching fabrics to paint.

I made a template of the inside of the cabinet using a pieced-together sheet of paper. Just lay it inside the cabinet then crease it along the bottom corners. Take it out, cut along the crease lines then try it out and trim if necessary.

20130802-212156.jpg
I had made a few box cushions before, but just sort of “winged it”. This time, I went on Pinterest and found a great tutorial that I used for this one. It was at Design Sponge, and it was by Amanda Brown. You can find it here…
http://m.designsponge.com/2012/01/upholstery-basics-boxed-cushion-sewing.html

Initially, I wanted to get a foam cushion, and cut it to shape, then cover it. I found however that the hexagonal shape made it difficult, and to get the thickness I wanted it would cost a freaking fortune. So I went with a fiberfill stuffing instead.

I made my own bias strips using the plaid fabric then sewed the welting for around the edges of the cushion like so…

20130803-161453.jpg
And, here is the completed cushion…

20130804-082604.jpg
Not too shabby!

I made a couple of extra cushions for the sides, because Hazel likes to sleep in a corner, then added a little extra decor and Voila! Completed doggie bed!

20130804-083908.jpg

20130804-083957.jpg

20130804-084010.jpg

20130804-084101.jpg
That’s it for my very first tutorial. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful. I think that there is a way to “follow” my blog so that you will get an email when I add any additional posts. If you can figure it out, please do.

Thanks for reading!

Update! The puppy has started settling in with us. When we first got her, she was only 2 pounds 11 ounces, but she goes to the vet tomorrow and we expect big things.

20130905-114359.jpg
The two dogs have been getting along well and much to my surprise, are sharing the dog bed. They take turns, as all civilized dogs should. When Violet is a bit older, and when I get a chance, I might make a second dog bed, but for now, we are all good.