Crafting to Show Gratitude

Is there anything more satisfying than giving a gift that’s tailored to the recipient? Well, when you make your gifts yourself, tailoring is pretty much guaranteed.  When you craft, you have all the power. So you can incorporate elements into your items that reflect the values and characteristics of the person those items are intended for. Poptart and I love to make hand-crafted gifts for all occasions, but we especially like to make them to express appreciation.

Consider all the organizations, groups, causes, or individuals you support in spirit or monetarily. They all probably value monetary donations because these help them continue their work. However, a gift that boosts the morale of employees or staff members is often a welcome surprise, especially for organizations that are engaged in heated or difficult battles. Work for such things as social change can be wearing on anyone, and it’s nice to be reminded that people value one’s work, one’s sacrifices, and one’s goals. A box of hand-crafted gifts can be the perfect thing to brighten someone’s day and strengthen his or her resolve.

Poptart and I chose to make a hand-made thank-you for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to show our gratitude for their work to end illegal whaling, the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, and the assault on marine life around the world. This awesome collection of conservationists often faces personal peril to ensure the survival of whales and other creatures. Though Poptart and I can’t hit the seas ourselves to join their cause, we wanted to send them a little something to show we are there with them in spirit.

We chose to make keychains to express our gratitude so that the crew and staff will have something they can take everywhere that will remind them that people care about their work. We made as many keychains as our budget would allow, which didn’t provide one for every member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but we hope what we did make will be appreciated by those who receive them.

Keychains have a lot of different elements, depending on what you choose to make. We purchased stone whale charms in bulk on Ebay. The charms turned out to be quite fragile. Several arrived broken, and a few broke during the crafting process, but we love the look of the charm. We also purchased corks from Scrap in San Francisco for the body of the keychain.  We like the look the cork provides and its tie to acts of celebration, and we figured it would allow the keychain to float if dropped in water. We also got 3 inch eye pins to serve as the core of the keychain, key rings of various shapes for the top of the keychain, and blue and pearl beads for the bottom of the keychain. We also used blue paint, and we needed needle-nose pliers to shape the eye pins.

These keychains turned out to be much more difficult to make than we anticipated. We originally wanted to paint or stamp the logo of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on the cork and dangle the whale charm underneath the cork. This turned out to be impossible. We couldn’t find any skull stencils, and our attempts to cut our own stencils failed miserably. The stencil produced a fuzzy image that was not recognizable. We tried to cut the cork into sections to provide a flat surface, but this also failed. The corks were too crumbly, and we lacked the tools to produce a smooth cut. I tried to paint the logo on the cork, but this proved too time-consuming for the amount of corks we had. Plus, I couldn’t get a sharp enough line with any paint pens or brushes to make any logo or words recognizable.

One valuable skill you have to possess to remain a sane crafter is flexibility. So after many frustrating attempts to produce our original vision of the keychain, we conceded defeat and switched tactics. We decided to leave the cork itself whole and paint it blue so it serves as an ocean. We then placed the whale charm on top of the cork instead of underneath it so it looks like the whale is swimming on the ocean. We finished the keychain by dangling blue and pearl beads underneath.

These keychains take a lot of time and patience, and the supplies were not cheap. The finished product is more fragile than we prefer, especially considering the environments the keychain will be in, but we like the result. If you would like to make these keychains, or ones similar to them, here are the steps we went through after gathering our supplies:

1. Use a darning needle with a strong cord tied on the end to punch a hole through the cork, lengthwise. Then thread the eye pin through the hole you created.

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2. Paint the corks with acrylic paint. Push them into a piece of cardboard or a box to dry. Then apply an outdoor sealant to each cork to waterproof it. We used Mod Podge. Stick the corks back into the cardboard to dry.

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3. Turn the cork so that the eyelet of the eye pin is facing down. This will be the bottom of the keychain. Thread the whale charm through the straight end of the eye pin so that the whale charm rests on the cork. This will be the top of the keychain. Use needle-nose pliers to curve the straight end of the eye pin into a loop. Before you close the loop, slide in a key ring, and then close the loop with the needle-nose pliers.

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4. Use twine to string your selection of beads on the bottom of the keychain, using the eyelet of the eye pin. We tied the twine so that two strings dangled. We then threaded on beads and tied the two threads together to form a circle. However, you can let the beads dangle or choose any look you want.

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And there you have your whale keychain!

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We wrapped each keychain in bubble wrap to protect them in transit. And now we just have to mail them! You can usually get the mail address for donation items from the organization’s website or by contacting the organization. When possible, email or call the organization to see if your gifts will be welcome.

We tailored our keychains to the organization we wished to thank.

Think of organizations, groups, and individuals you admire. What craft could you make to show your gratitude for their existence and work? Now, gather your supplies and get crafting!

And a sincere thank-you to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and everyone who works tirelessly to craft a better tomorrow for all who share our planet.

Having Fun while Helping Mother Earth

Earth Day is April 22, and there are many crafty ways you can participate in the love-fest for our home. One way to get involved is to participate in art and craft fairs that use and advocate the use of leftover material and tidbits that would normally be considered trash. Richmond Art Center’s Upcycle fair is just such an event. The activities they offer at this FREE hands-on event show visitors how to use creativity to turn trash into treasures.

Upcycle is still new (this year was its second go), and already it’s run like a years-hardened event. The organization, atmosphere, and layout create a low-stress, high-fun environment with activities for all age and skill levels. The event is held at the Richmond Art Center, mostly in the inner courtyard, and this year it took place on Saturday, April 12, from 1-4 p.m.

The activities Upcycle offers makes even the grownups give in to the gleeful cries of their inner child, especially when presented with the opportunity to make something like a drawing robot. Poptart, the seasoned crafter, put me to shame at many of the booths, but  I still walked away with something I was proud of. We tried most activities, and though some booths were busy and required people to wait to participate, the wait was worth it. Besides, it was entertaining just watching what everyone chose to make. It was also heartwarming to see kids enjoying learning about the value of reusing materials and giving the earth as much of a break as possible.

The first activity we did was make screen-printed patches with Joyce Shon and Monica Gyulai. They explained how screen printing works and what to do and then let us apply the ink to our patches. Poptart then made a robot that draws by itself at the California 4-H Foundation. The gentleman at the booth taught everyone how to attach markers to a paper cup and to attach the battery pack and rotor to the top of the cup. The table and the nearby ground were covered with paper, so when a robot was finished, it could be set loose on a blank canvas. This was my favorite station. I loved seeing all the robots humming away and imagining the chaos they would happily cause in each creator’s home.

We then made bracelets out of bike inner tubes with Holly Carter. There were numerous examples available to guide one’s design, and Carter was generous with advice and instructions. All of the equipment and supplies one could want were available, and we were impressed with everyone’s results. There was a young girl next to us who created two bracelets like a pro.

The final activity we did was make a metal leaf with Ed Lay. He taught us how to fold the metal, cut it, pound the side to elongate it to the shape we wanted, and then fired the metal to make it pliable enough to open and finish. He was able to tailor his instructions to any skill level and age, and everyone seemed to be happy with the result of their work.

Other activities that were a joy to observe was the creation of a garbage can by Daud Abdullah and visitors using glass shards, glass beads, and other items, the blending of smoothies by stationary bike with Urban Tilth, the weaving of small rugs with Susan Sterling, and the creation of hats with Kiki Rostad. There were many more booths and activities to choose from. While enjoying the activities, we were treated to the otherworldly yet delightful sounds of the Crank Ensemble. They had a variety of what appeared to be hand-crafted instruments that made a music to resonate with one’s inner funk and quirk.

We walked away from this event with a wonderful variety of creations, and everything was free! However, many booths had donation jars to help make up for the materials used.  All of the activities were quick and easy to complete, and visitors of all ages seemed to enjoy them. Check out the Richmond Art Center website to learn more about the booths and performances: http://www.therac.org/html/calendar.html#upcycle.

Also, check to see if similar craft events are happening in your area. With a little creativity and a big imagination, you can craft a better tomorrow for the planet, and you won’t be left empty handed.

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Warming Hearts at the Office

Valentine’s Day is great for couples, of course, but why should they get all the fun? Love, after all, has many forms, and romantic love doesn’t have to be king. For singles and those who have to work on Valentine’s Day, this holiday can not only be a little depressing but annoying. That’s why Poptart always does something special for her coworkers on Valentine’s Day. This year, she made Valentine mice out of Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses. And whose heart wouldn’t melt into a big, sloshy puddle of happiness walking into the office and finding one of these adorable little critters in the in box?

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These little guys (or gals) are so cheap and easy to make! The only materials you need are Hugs and Kisses (any flavor you want!), a glue stick, red and pink paper, a heart die cutter, and a smile.

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First, cut out a stack of hearts. Then, fold the bottom of each heart up. This gives the mouse something to sit on.

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Now, take the Kisses and rip the paper tag off the top (this will be the mouse’s nose). Then glue the Kiss to the front of the heart, with the bottom flap pointing up.

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Now you’re ready to put the back on. Take the Hug and glue it to the back of the heart. Don’t rip the paper tag off the Hug (this is the mouse’s tail!). Your mouse is complete and should be able to stand up by itself!

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Don’t forget to add a cute note to the mice you hand out. Poptart and I made about 50 mice, and it only took us 30 minutes. Imagine all the smiles you’ll create at work by handing these out. Crafting a better tomorrow means crafting a happier work environment. So get crafting! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Volunteering those Crafting Skills

So far, Poptart and I have written posts about creating things and donating them, but time is one of the most valuable donations anyone can make. And crafters make valuable volunteers. Many organizations need craftspeople and their skilled hands to help with projects. That’s why Poptart and I signed up to help with Alameda’s construction of a community garden at the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park as part of the Alameda Community Garden Day of Service .

Organizers began the event by thanking us, explaining the day’s agenda, and reminding us of the history of the open space we stood upon. Jean Sweeney became a community hero and legend when she uncovered documents that allowed the city of Alameda to purchase old railroad land owned by the Belt Line for less than $1 million. The city named the property after her and has dedicated it to the residents, both human and animal, by earmarking the space for a park and nature preserve. The community garden, built by volunteers and sponsored by local businesses and figures such as Supervisor Wilma Chan, is the first of many projects planned for the site.

Volunteers could work half or full shifts on January 18, 2014, and could choose from a variety of projects: painting, arts and crafts with children, planter box construction, weeding, mulching, and tilling.

Poptart and I chose painting, and our task was to whitewash the border wall for the garden in preparation of the mural being painted by another group. The painting was more fun than work, and we fully enjoyed the opportunity to get dirty. By the wall’s completion, Poptart and I had paint on our clothes and shoes, in our hair, and on every exposed piece of skin. And we handled the appearance of insects escaping the activity with grace. Poptart even saved a spider from committing suicide in the paint pan, and I rescued a snail caught in foot traffic and sun.

Once our part of the wall was complete, Poptart and I helped remove some very thorny and overgrown blackberry bushes by carrying their branches away for disposal after brave souls had cut them down. We also joined a group trying to haul away a giant rock. Physics were discussed, leverage was agreed upon, and hypotheses were tested. Finally, the rock was maneuvered into a wheelbarrow and carted away, leaving us to wonder how many Alamedans does it take to… 🙂

Although we volunteered our time to help create this wonderful addition to Alameda, I think we were and will become the beneficiaries. Working outside in the warm weather and blessed sunshine and watching all the volunteers working hard and having fun made us both feel like kids again, and that’s priceless. It also warmed our hearts to know that we were helping to build something that will be a cherished and useful part of the community, providing fresh fruit and vegetables for the food bank as well as educational opportunities for residents.

The organizers for the event (ARPD, Project LEAF, and more) thanked the volunteers by providing a generous breakfast and pizza for lunch, but I’m sure I speak for many other volunteers in offering a big thank you in return for the opportunity to come together and build such a wonderful thing. By allowing us to help make a community garden, they became our partners in crafting a better tomorrow for the city of Alameda.

If you want to learn more about Jean Sweeney or the open space named after her, visit www.alamedaopenspace.com. You can also learn more about Project LEAF by visiting www.projectleaf.blogspot.com.

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Creating Care Packages for the Homeless

Poptart and I were appalled recently by what, in our opinion, could be called the War on the Homeless. Ignorant and cruel memes flooding Facebook, newspaper editorials from citizens complaining about having to “put up” with the less fortunate, and downright abuse and assaults like what happened to Kelly Thomas make it seem that America is a country that delights in kicking someone when he or she is down. People call the homeless lazy as if this is a worthy excuse for their hate and neglect, and they make their judgment without even knowing a person’s story. With the economic downturn, rising costs of living, and loss of quality jobs, it’s not as hard to become homeless as many assume. And it’s time people started bravely posting statements of love instead of hate.

Poptart and I live in the Bay Area, where there is a large homeless population. We’ve met a lot of homeless people. Frankly, they are some of the nicest people we’ve met. People are too complicated to put into a category, to be given a label, to be forgotten. And people should be ashamed for passing judgment as casually as they order a latte.

Poptart and I wanted to work against this antipathy toward the homeless by creating care packages for as many as we could afford so they know that there are still some who care and who have the capacity for love.  We’ll walk you through the care package and how we dispersed them in case you want to give to the homeless as well.

First, we came up with a list of items we would love to receive if we were homeless. The recent cold spell in California that has resulted in the deaths of some of the homeless reminded us how important things like blankets and socks are. We also thought vitamin and mineral deficiencies and hydration would be a major issue for someone with little access to food and water. We also wanted to include a little luxury item just for the lifting of spirits. Keeping all of this in mind, the list we came up with includes a quilt, socks, fruits and vegetables, chocolate, and a drink.  Poptart had the wonderful idea of using a 5 gallon bucket to place the items in so their recipient can protect them from the elements and use the bucket for personal hygiene or as a chair.

The quilts Poptart made by hand and used freshly laundered but worn out t-shirts for the filling.  We found nice, warm fleece on sale at a craft store. This was, by far, the most expensive item in the bucket ($60 for four quilts), but it was also the most important item, we felt.

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Poptart knitted the socks. She made them thick and big to be worn at night.  She made them from existing craft supplies, so this item cost nothing.

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Poptart also went to our local farmer’s market for fruits and vegetables. This allowed her to get a lot for a low cost and support local vendors. She got apples, but she also got oranges in case the recipient doesn’t have the teeth to handle the apple. She also got carrots because they are durable and last a long time. She got enough fruits and vegetables to fill four buckets for only $14. We washed and dried all of the produce before putting it in the buckets so it’s ready to eat. Keep in mind that recipients of the care package might not have easy access to clean water to do these basic things.

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For a drink, we chose PowerAde. We were going to go with water, but we decided on a sports drink instead because it hydrates while restoring electrolytes. A big pack of PowerAde bottles cost us just $5.

For the special luxury item, we got bars of Belgian milk chocolate (of course) for each bucket.

This time, we were able to put together four bucket care packages. Each bucket contained three bottles of PowerAde, a quilt, a pair of socks, a bag of fruits and vegetables, and a bar of chocolate. Finally, we put a content list on the lid of the bucket with pictures in case the recipient can’t read and a note wishing the owner a happy holiday season.

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We drove into San Francisco to hand out the buckets. We gave one away to a man on Fisherman’s Wharf. He seemed to be most excited about the fruit, and it warmed our hearts to see him sorting through his treasures as we walked away. We gave two more buckets away on Haight to a couple. They thanked us, and the lady told Poptart she’s pretty. They also said they would have to volunteer at the Salvation Army to repay the kindness. When we drove away, the man was going through his bucket and seemed happy.  The last bucket went to a man outside the Posey tube in Oakland. He was a little wary at first but took the bucket once we explained it had fruit inside. He seemed to think we were playing a trick on him but thanked us once he realized the gesture was genuine.

I’ve heard people say that some “homeless” are con artists and that people who give to them are suckers. Well, we’d rather be suckers with the chance of helping one person genuinely in need than to be scrooges making the world a colder, more hateful place for everyone. Altogether, the buckets cost around $100, but they brought smiles to four people. I consider this a worthy investment, and it was much more fulfilling than wasting the money on something we don’t need. If you make your own care packages and distribute them, consider what items would be most useful but also include a treat. What would you want to find in your bucket? Remember, crafting a better tomorrow for those around you crafts a better world for you and future generations.

A Low Cost, Big Heart, Handmade Christmas

As big box retailers push Black Friday madness deeper into Thanksgiving day, as stores stock shelves with holiday merchandise earlier and earlier until the whole year feels like one big holiday shopping spree, and as retailers continue to pay workers less than a livable wage to protect large profits for the few at the top, it becomes ever more important for people to shop small, shop local, and shop smart. We are given titles like “shoppers” and “consumers.” We are told our worth, our identity, is tied to what we own: the latest device, the luxury car, the designer labels. We are told our economy’s survival depends on our hard work and loyal spending even as credit card debt increases, quality jobs are outsourced, and quality of life tanks. When did we lose our humanity? Why do we insist on conforming to the labels pasted on us?

Poptart and I made a pact this year to reject the mindless consumerism that cheapens the human spirit and have a small, handmade Christmas, and you can too. For decorations and gifts, we made as much as we could by hand with materials in the craft closet and from local stores. Gifts we couldn’t make we bought at craft fairs or local shops.

I’ll walk you through the types of decorations we made and the materials we used to give you ideas for what you can do in your own home with your own supplies, but I won’t be showing how each item is made. Many items you should be able to figure out on your own. For the rest, we plan on doing tutorials in the future. We simply want to show here that you don’t have to buy the pre-packaged Christmas on sale at big box retailers and advertised in holiday magazines. This is YOUR holiday season, and you can do it any way you choose.

Poptart and I love to put a nice, holiday wreath on our door. Poptart makes the wreaths out of all kinds of materials. She uses the plastic rings left over from industrial packing rolls, although you can use Styrofoam loops, wooden hoops, or even bend branches into loops for the frame. She uses organza, tying it in strips around the frame or twisting it around the loop. She also uses left-over wrapping paper.

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For the tree, Poptart bought an artificial one she reuses each year so she doesn’t have to buy a new one, but she also makes trees from various materials. She makes one tree from a cone of thick paper, a Styrofoam cone, or old vegetable frames (especially tomatoes) scavenged from materials stores like Scrap. She covers them with either looped, left-over wrapping paper, or if they’re wire, she wraps garland and ribbon around the frame.  She decorates the tree with homemade ornaments.

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For ornaments, you can really get creative. Let yourself return to your preschool days. Think popsicle sticks, glitter, paper snowflakes, and macaroni. Because we live near wine country, Poptart loves to use wine corks for ornaments. She makes Santas, reindeer, and carolers from wine corks. She also uses a small knitting loom to make miniature knitted wreaths. Chenille sticks (otherwise known as pipe cleaners) can be shaped into Santas, Grinches, and reindeer. You can use wooden beads and felt to make little elves to decorate shelves and table runners and paper towel rolls and foam to create adorable carolers.

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Gifts take quite a bit of work, but your attention and care will not be lost on the recipient. Making handmade gifts for loved ones requires you to pay attention, to know their interests so you can make something to surprise and delight them. And if you just don’t have the time, local crafters and artisans will have amazing, unique items for anyone on your list. If you live in the Bay Area, festivals and craft fairs are plentiful. I suggest the Patchwork Show, Renegade Craft Fair, Alameda’s Art and Wine Festival, Half Moon Bay’s Art and Pumpkin Festival, and Sundays on Telegraph. See the links below to find out more about these venues. If you want to shop online, I suggest buying from Etsy.

The important thing to remember this holiday season is that YOU have the power, and change starts with you. If you hate rude, pushy shoppers, don’t be a rude, pushy shopper. Be polite to employees, many of whom sacrifice their own holiday celebrations to help you prepare for yours. Be patient, wait your turn, and be courteous. If you make a mess while shopping, clean it up. Don’t buy something simply because you’re told to do so. This way, you won’t feel awful for weeks after getting your credit card bill. And let family and friends know that you want a wholesome, heart-felt Christmas, and that’s the type of Christmas you’ll be giving. Remember, if you support crafters and local artists, you support diversity of products and help business stay in the hands of the many instead of the pockets of the few.

Spreading Holiday Cheer with Handcrafted Ornaments

To continue the random acts of kindness started with Poptart’s tiny turkeys, Poptart made a bunch of handcrafted ornaments to give away with no strings attached (except for the ones that hold the ornament on the tree, of course).

Please remember that many are suffering financially this holiday season, and a smile and kind gesture from a stranger can not only brighten a person’s day but help him or her survive. And you don’t have to spend a lot to show you care. Poptart made all of the ornaments you see in these pictures from existing supplies in her craft closet. Most of these supplies were bought at local shops like Scrap for very little money.

Poptart decided to hand out ornaments because wherever they are placed, they will remind their owner that others care. The ornaments Poptart made include picture frames; Santas, reindeers, and carolers from wine corks; crocheted wreaths; and chenille stick Santas. She also made adorable carolers from paper towel tubes and elves from wooden beads. Literally, your supply list if you want to make similar items is as follows: yarn, a few pieces of felt, chenille sticks, wine corks, metal hooks (for antlers), paper towel rolls, a couple pieces of foam sheets, wooden beads, pom pom balls, cotton balls, googly eyes (yes, that’s technical crafting jargon), and hot glue sticks.

We will be handing out these cute bits of Christmas Cheer at the Oakland Children’s Parade on Saturday, December 7th. If you happen to receive one, you can post your picture with the ornament on Twitter with #craftingkindness, and we will post your picture below! Most importantly, please pass on random acts of kindness so we can all craft a better tomorrow!

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Update: The parade was amazing! And we had a blast distributing the ornaments. We witnessed many of them find new homes, and people have already started posting pics with their discoveries!