Saturday, June 30, 2012

So Much Sunshine!

Look!  I've gotten my camera working again!

We have now entered the time of year which can be not so affectionately named "the oven" in my little corner of the world.  Sadly, what gets baked is all the plants and animals outside.  I have heard tell of recipes for 'dashboard cookies' though, which may be something fun to try.  (The idea is that you put cookie dough on cookie sheets on the dashboard of your car and when you leave work you have fresh baked cookies.  It does actually get hot enough here for that to work.)  As much as I prefer it to be nice and warm, I'm not a big fan of being roasted just by going outside for 10 minutes.  It makes mowing the yard extra interesting, and probably makes my neighbors hate me, because I have to start mowing at like 8am when the day is relatively cool or I can get seriously sick.  Working in a lab where I have to wear a sweater in the middle of summer does nothing for heat stamina and I've been prone to getting heat sick since I got heat exhaustion as a kid.  It makes me sad because I do love being outdoors and I positively love warm weather and sunshine.  I swear I'm solar powered.  But, I have come up with a compromise that lets me spend a bit of time outside, makes a never ending chore bearable, and saves me money.  The answer is in the laundry.

Laundry and dishes are the two things which never seem to end.  There are always more to do.  Always.  Last year my laundry room got almost unbearably hot as we had a massive heat wave and my drier isn't terribly efficient which added to the heat.  One day it suddenly seemed really dumb to use the dryer at all.  Sure, it got my clothes dry, but my air conditioner was already running far more than I would have preferred  and the extra heat from the laundry room certainly wasn't helping.  In a fit of inspiration I went to the store and, upon my return, tied my newly acquired rope to my trees, opened some packages of clothes pins, and started hanging my wash out to dry the old fashioned way.  I've been doing that on warm days ever since.

There is something about hanging laundry on the line that is extremely soothing.  I have no idea why it should be that way, but it is.  It also saves a ton of work which I hadn't anticipated.  You would think that all the hanging would make it take longer, but it doesn't.  If you do it right you can greatly decrease, or eliminate all together, the need to iron.  I hate ironing and so avoid it at every opportunity but there are some things you just can't wear wrinkled.  When I'm line drying my nice shirts I try to smooth out as many wrinkles as I can and if the day is hot enough with just a touch of humidity it the wrinkles just go away.  The shirts are the hardest to get wrinkle free, but pants are super easy and sheets!  The sheets are amazing.  They get all flat and crisp and feel exactly like they were ironed but it takes none of the work and they smell like fresh air and sunshine.  I adore line dry sheets.  Towels are the only things that sometimes give me trouble.  They like to get stiff and I've figured out that it happens because of how my washer spins the water out of them.  The towels that stick to the drum get stiff, the ones that tumble about a bit more stay fluffy.  If you don't mind a towel that's a bit scratchy the first time you use it, and I'm lazy and cheap so it doesn't bother me, that isn't a problem.  Otherwise you have to put it through a light fluff cycle in the drier. 
My old clothes pin bag

My biggest problem child, when it comes to line drying laundry at least, are the damn clothes pins.  You have to use them, only towels and sheets will stay on the line by themselves.  Everything else has to be pinned down.  Last year I made a cute little bag to store them, which I thought would make life super easy.  HA!  Not so much.  I made a simple drawstring bag and it turns out that is exactly what you don't need.  It's a cute little bag and all but you have to hold it to be able to get the clothes pins out which takes almost as much time as having to grab them out of a pile.  This year I have a solution.  A bag made specifically for clothes pins, designed to hang from the line or ride along with you as laundry is hung and taken down.

It really is amazing that such a simple thing can improve efficiency so much but that is just what this little bag does.  Pin it to the clothes line or wear it around your neck or over a shoulder like a purse and clothes pins will forever be within your reach.

The Clothes Pin Bag

My new clothes pin bag!
 This clothes pin bag will hold 100 standard wooden clothes pins easily and can be made to hold more (see photos below)

55 g Red Heart Super Saver (about 105 yards)
I hook

Gauge:  About 3 1/2 sc per inch

Round 1:  10 dc in first chain.  Join and turn. (10 sts)
Add more space by clipping pins to the outside of the bag
Round 2:  Ch2, 2dc in each st around.  Join and turn.  (20 sts)
Round 3:  C2, 2 dc in each st around.  Join and turn.  (40 sts)
Round 4:  Ch2, (2dc, dc 3) around.  Join and turn.  (50sts)
Rounds 5 and 6:  Ch1, sc around.  Join and turn.
Rounds 7-9:  Ch3, skip 1 st, (dc, ch1, skip next st) around.  Join and turn.
Rounds 10-14: Repeat rounds 5-9.
Rounds 15-16:  Repeat rounds 5 and 6.
Round 17:  Work as for round 7 until there are 20 dc, counting the ch 3.  Turn.
Round 18:  Work as for round 8 over the 20 dc of the previous round.  Turn.
Round 19:  Work as for round 9 over the 20 dc of the previous round.  Ch13, join and turn.
Round 20-23:  Repeat rounds 5-8.  Break off, weave in ends.

Draw String
Ch 80, break off.
You can make your draw string longer if you want to be able to carry the bag around with you, 80 sts is the minimum you need.  I tend to make my draw strings shortish because I usually hang the bag from the line instead of carrying it.

Thread the draw string through the (dc, ch 1) round that is second from the top.  Pull the opening closed and tie the ends of the draw string together.

You can use clothes pins to fence in more clothes pins if you need the bag to hold more

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DIY Bottle Cutting Projects

I've done my very first non-prop bottle cutting projects!  They went really well, all things considered.  Bottle cutting is pretty awesome, I may have a new hobby.  The prop related projects will be forthcoming when I get them tweaked out a bit better.  One of them is giving me fits, I don't think it likes me, but I may have come up with a solution to bludgeon it into compliance.  I ran into wanting to get something completely finished again; seeing all the little bits of uncooperative projects that are still in the works doesn't make you feel like you've gotten anything done.  Progress is great and all, but done things are the proof you haven't just been larking about.

One of the things that seems to be really popular for bottle cutting is glassware.  Everyone makes bottles into glasses, probably because it's really fast to do.  Glasses are also really useful.  I like the idea of having glasses that can go outside or where ever and not having to worry if it's going to get dropped and mess up your dish set.  Along those lines, it occurred to me to make some smallish glasses.  Glassware today is huge and it kinda bothers me.  I remember having breakfast at my grandparents houses and having serving sized glasses.  You know the ones, they only hold 6-8 ounces of liquid.  I'm a tiny person, I don't need a giant glass for anything other than water.  I don't drink a bunch of sweet things either so something that gives me a proper serving would work great.  I'd have just enough in the glass for a taste without going overboard.  Beer bottles were the answer.  They tend to be a bit on the small side and they fit nicely in your hand.  They're also supposed to be more challenging to work with.  Beer bottles tend to be thin, apparently, and they aren't always made of great quality glass which makes them hard to cut without breaking them.  

It just so happened that there were a number of Woodchuck bottles just sitting around waiting to be played with.  Woodchuck is a hard cider drink that I really like.  It tastes nothing like beer, which is good since I loathe beer, but it's beer-like so I don't have to feel like a wine snob all the time.  Anyway, the bottles are a bit on the short and squat side, not like Red-Stripe short and squat but shorter and squatter than beers like Corona and Miller, and they're a really pretty shade of green.  I also had 4 of them, not a perfect number for glasses but enough.

I'm going to jump ahead a bit for a second and say right now that I love Woodchuck bottles and plan to make a bunch more stuff with them.  I'm telling you that now so I can rant about the one thing that drove me out of my mind.  I don't know how they stick labels to Woodchuck bottles but it's really freaking effective.  Soaking wasn't enough.  Scrubbing wasn't enough.  Goo Gone wasn't enough.  I was working on those stupid bottles for what seemed like forever to get the labels off.  Stupid labels.  It must have taken me close to 2 or 3 hours, if you count soaking time, to get 4 bottles cleaned up.  Re-freaking-diculous.  It was especially annoying because I know what happens to anything with a paper label if you stick it in a cooler full of ice and let it sit for a few hours.  Paper, paper, everywhere and not a labeled bottle in sight.  The next batch of bottles I worked with wound up soaking for several days which was reasonably effective at getting the labels to come off easily.  I also discovered that the problem is not the glue, it's the paper. 

I wouldn't have bothered with any of that had the Woodchuck bottles been horrible to cut, but they weren't.  They cut like a dream.  I'm not sure if they worked so well because I knew in advance to be careful with beer bottles or just what but they cut beautifully.  I did have one bottle get a hairline crack on the section I wanted to use, precluding it from being a juice glass, but I saved it to try some gluing techniques on.  From the sound of things, only 1 in 4 bottles breaking is doing really well for beer bottles so that made me happy.  A closer inspection of the cross-section showed why the bottles were so easy to work with.  Whatever method is used to make those bottles keeps the glass really even.  There were no sections that were thicker or thinner.  I don't have calipers so I can't measure it to be 100% sure, but a scrutinizing visual inspection indicated that the glass was all one thickness.  It was also thicker than I had expected which had to help.  From previous cutting experiences it seems that thickness and evenness make a big difference in how well the bottle will cut.  The only other glass that I've had crack was a matched pair of wine bottles and they were neither thick nor even.  They broke spectacularly.  There was no telling which direction the crack was going to go, even after it started forming.

Minus the one bottle mishap, and minus the time it took to clean the bottles, I had 3 cute little juice glasses in a very short amount of time.  They needed maybe 5 minutes of edge polishing, each, and they were good to go.  Of course, they didn't stay juice glasses for very long after I discovered how nice they look with candles in them!  Woodchuck bottles rock.

4 bottles was nothing like enough cutting for the day, so I grabbed a pasta sauce jar that I had finished off.  It was a good sized, nicely shaped jar that I had been looking forward to playing with.  It was time for me to play with glue.

I whacked the top off the pasta sauce jar, grabbed the top and bottom pieces of the Woodchuck bottle with the crack, and pulled out the glue.  I had two types, because I wasn't sure how well which glues would work.  Finding a glue was challenging because I wanted something that wouldn't make people sick if it had to contact food/drink.  I narrowed it down to two, LocTite Glass Glue and WeldBond.  Weldbond says right on it that it's non-toxic, the LocTite does not.  Me being me, I went online and found the MSDS information for the LocTite which indicated that it should be nice and safe.  MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet, for those of you not in the science world.  They tell you all kinds of stuff about chemicals and compounds.  The MSDS for the LocTite didn't say it was food safe, MSDS sheets don't like to say things are safe they seem to like to tell you more about the horrible things that the substance can do, but it did say that the glue is basically inert after it dries which means it should be food safe.  It also says that LocTite is "impossible to swallow" which I found intriguing.  Like I said before, the MSDS tends to tell you the bad things so for it to say that the compound cannot be swallowed in liquid form is freaking impressive. It seems that moisture accelerates the solidifying process enough that if you squirt the glue in your mouth it bonds almost instantly and becomes solid, effectively preventing it from being swallowed.  Then all you have to do is work on peeling it off and not swallowing the glue chunks.

Just to have an nice little experiment I used the LocTite on the sauce jar and the WeldBond on the Woodchuck bottle.  I glued the bottle/jar mouth to the bottom of the corresponding piece and let them sit.  Both packages said that they do best after at least an hour of cure time so I left them overnight and left decorating them for the next day.

Upon inspection the next day, both pieces were securely glued.  Normal handling wasn't a problem.  So I dug out some glass stones, the kind that people put in vases, and tried to make some neat patterns with them.  Then I started hitting snags.  No matter what I tried with the WeldBond, I just could not get the pieces to stick and stay.  I spent a good chunk of time trying to make it work and then finally gave up and tried the other piece and the LocTite.  Let me tell you, it was an entirely different ballgame.  The LocTite worked GREAT!  Now I'm going to have to figure out how to design pretty decorations.  This go didn't end badly but I feel like I can do better.

Review of LocTite Glass Glue

Pros:  This stuff dries really fast but not so fast that you can't get things positioned.  It was really easy to work with; you only have to put glue on one of the glass surfaces and then press and hold for a few seconds before it's set enough to move on.

Cons:  The bottle is tiny.  It's about the size of a normal superglue squeeze bottle. It's also really hard to get uneven surfaces to bond.  I had endless trouble with the little feet on the candle holder because I didn't grind the edge down.  2 of the 4 feet stayed just fine, the other 2 popped off frequently until I replaced them and adjusted the new feet so that they fit the cut edge better.

Review of WeldBond

Pros:  WeldBond is really easy to use and seems to do a good job gluing flat things together.  It worked really well to put a stem on the Woodchuck bottle and the bond has been very sturdy.

Cons:  I was decidedly unimpressed with using WeldBond to glue things flat pieces to a curve.  They just would not stay put and nothing that I tried would make it work.  I'm thinking this glue is better for repairs than decorating.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Science Time!

I've got a bonus post for this week.  I've done really well so far not going overly science on most of my posts, but a friend of mine posted this really awesome article about a topic that is something of a soapbox for me.  As most of you know, my degree is in microbiology.  Honestly, it's hard to get me to shut up about bacteria even though I haven't worked with them for almost 4 years now.  I LOVE bacteria.  They make me happy and they do so many cool things.  I have favorites and they're almost all pathogens.  Any time I hear anything about the plague (Yersinia pestis), listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes), or leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae) I go positively bonkers.  I can, and will if you give me half a chance, regale you with information, at great length, for all of them.  However, that is not what I mean to go on about today.

Before I go off on my usual bacterial tirade, here's the article that brought this whole thing on.  It's a New York Times article on the bacteria that live with people and it contains some of the best information I've seen outside scientific journals about the human microbiome (microbiome means the sum total of bacteria that live in and on us).  It's a really good read and it almost certainly does a better job explaining all the ways that bacteria are good for us than I ever could.  I highly recommend you read it, especially if you are a germaphobe; it might help you understand bacteria a little better and be less intimidated by them.

Just a bit of a heads up, the rest of this post will freak you out if you're a germaphobe.  Consider yourself warned.

As someone who very much adores bacteria it doesn't bother me that they are, in fact, everywhere.  There are exactly 2 places occuring in nature that are completely bacteria free (a condition called sterile in science talk).  The interior of the placenta and the circulatory system.  Microorganisms in either place is a recipe for disaster.  Bacteria in the blood is called sepsis and is nearly always lethal and infections that can cross the placenta (there are some organisms that can do that) are often damaging, if not deadly to the fetus.  Now, you can make stuff sterile with autoclaves (big, fancy sterilizers that work by using pressure and steam) but as soon as anything in an autoclave touches outside air it is no longer sterile.  There are bacteria (and fungi) in air.  There just are.  You can't do anything about it and you really don't want to.  But yeah, bleaching your counter-tops?  Not sterile.  Sanitary cycles on the dishwasher or washing machine?  Not sterile.  Using disinfectant?  Not sterile.  Anything along those lines is considered sanitized, which doesn't mean there are no bacteria.  If something has been sanitized it has had it's bacterial load greatly reduced but they are not all gone.  Which brings me to the point.

::Climbs on soap box::

I hate, HATE, antimicrobial soaps and hand sanitizers.  Hate, hate hate!

Antimicrobial soap and hand sanitizer are banned from my house and from my parents house. There are only two situations at home I can think of that I would consider acceptable for using those things and neither of them are very common.  If you have someone who is severely immunocompromised or if someone in your family has a MRSA, or similar, infection hand sanitizer starts being a good idea (antimicrobial soap never is).  At that point you're trying to protect a bunch of people and extra steps are necessary.  Other than that I feel very strongly that such things should only be used by health care workers and in hospitals.  They actually need them for the protection of patients and their own families and using hand sanitizer in a hospital protects you from other people's infections and them from yours.

The problem with antimicrobial soaps is that they contain antibiotic chemicals which kill bacteria indiscriminately and their use puts a low level of those chemicals into circulation where bacteria can get used to it and develop resistance.  When you use antimicrobial soap it kills a very large amount of the bacteria on your hands,which means that the ones that are supposed to be there can't do their job.   Unless, of course, you've used it so much that everything on you is resistant at which point there is no reason to use it anymore.  Think of your skin as a table with 16 chairs.  Normally each of those 16 chairs is occupied by one of your bacteria and no one else can sit down at the table.  Now we  add that antimicrobial soap; it kills the bacteria in 15 of the chairs.  The 1 bacterium that is left can eat as much as it wants now, so it grows at it's best rate.  Let's say it can double in 30 minutes.  In 30 minutes there are 2 chairs full, in an hour there will be 4, in an hour and a half there will be 8, and then by 2 hours all the chairs are full again.  But there is nothing holding those chairs specifically for your bacteria.  If you touch anything, and I do literally mean anything, there are other bacteria on it that can try to get at those spaces.  If you washed your hands at a gym, for instance, before going out to use the equipment anything on the equipment can infect you.  If the machine you went to use hadn't been wiped down well and a previous user had a staph infection your chances of getting that staph infection are a lot higher than it would be if you had just used regular hand soap.  What's more, pathogens can often grow faster than your own bacteria.  It's part of how they survive.  To put it back in our chair scenario, lets say we have 12 chairs which were full of our own organisms before using antimicrobial soap.  After the soap and touching something we'll say 1 seat has one of our own organisms in it and 1 seat has a pathogen.  Ours doubles it's number in 30 minutes, but the pathogen doubles it's number in 20.  After 30 minutes there are 4 chairs filled, 2 of each organism.  But in another 10 minutes (that would be the 40 minute mark) there are 6 chairs filled, the same 2 of our organism but now there are 4 of the pathogen.  At the 60 minute mark all the chairs are full but now 8 of them have the pathogen and only 4 of them have the organism we want.  You can see how that would be a problem. 

What's worse is that anything that survives the antimicrobial soap can easily get resistance to it and then it never has to worry about it again.  Hand sanitizer is safer in that respect because of how it works.  The active ingredient in hand sanitizer is usually alcohol.  Some have other antimicrobials in them, and so should be doubly avoided, but most anymore are typically just alcohol.  When alcohol hits a bacterial cell it sucks all the water out on contact and makes the cell die (think of it like alcohol poisoning in a person).  It kills indiscriminately, just like antimicrobial soaps, but it isn't something that bacteria can get used to so the resistance problem is greatly decreased.  However, the alcohol sucks the moisture our of our skin too, and that makes the skin more likely to be dry and cracked which provides a point of entry for anything that can infect us.  So that's both empty chairs at the table and a door to the party below that we didn't even know was there until it opened. That presents a new problem because some of the bugs that live naturally and happily on skin and protect you will be pathogens if they can get under your skin.   A large portion of what lives on people is a strain of staph, Staphylococcus epidermidis (it means Staph of the skin in Latin) to be specific.  It's pretty benign, but where one type of staph can live, so can others.  Like Staph. aureus.  That's the one that causes staph infections.  Hence the problem.

So, what do you do to protect yourself if antimicrobial soap and hand sanitizer can cause more problems than they solve?  The answer to that is laughably simple.  Rub your hands together under running water for a solid 20 seconds.  Sing "Happy Birthday" in your head twice if you need a timer.  You don't even need soap, though soap does help and should be used if it's available and not antimicrobial.  I wish I had pics of the experiment we did in microbiology lab where I proved just that to my students. Then I could show you real evidence and you wouldn't have to take my word for it.  What we did was this.  One student pressed a finger onto an agar plate (read-bacteria food) without doing anything to their hands.  Then they washed their hands without soap and pressed that same finger onto another agar plate.  Another student washed their hands with soap before putting a finger to an agar plate and a third student used hand sanitizer before touching their agar plate.  We labeled all of the plates and put them in an incubator until the next class period, 2 days later.  You know what we saw after those 2 days?  The unwashed finger plate was covered in bacteria, as you might expect.  The water only and soap plates had maybe 1 colony each (that means 1 cell made it to the agar plate) and the hand sanitizer plate had 3 or 4 colonies (meaning that 3 or 4 cells made it to the plate).  We had cold, hard evidence that plain old hand washing was just as effective as using something designed to kill bacteria.  You don't need antimicrobial soaps.

DIY Mutant Plant Specimen #2

It looks like my next few posts are going to be Halloween related.  Why?  Because I have, once again, lost my camera battery charger.  I'm sure it's in the house somewhere, but as of right now it's MIA.  Without my camera for new pics I can only post based off what I already had done and photographed.  Hence the extra Halloween prop posts.  With luck I'll find my camera charger soon, but after the week I had (everything broke at work AGAIN and I've been monitoring a potentially sick kitty) I may just lay about and be a lazy person.  I haven't decided yet.

The prop that I have for you today is very similar to the Mutant Plant Specimen #1 but it differs on a few very key points.  Firstly, it doesn't glow.  I had wanted it to, but that didn't work out when I was looking for parts.  Secondly, it takes a bit more work than Specimen #1.  Don't let that worry you, it takes more work to make but it's still really easy.  The original plan was to find some colored glow in the dark paint, the kind that dries mostly clear but have a color when it glows, but when nothing meeting that description was forthcoming the plan got altered a bit.

Happily, I came across some tiny pots of neon paint.  $1 at JoAnn's no less.  Neon may not glow in the dark, but it does respond to blacklight.  The plan became to paint select parts of the plant with neon paint and hopefully keep the plant looking reasonably normal in the process.

DIY Mutant Plant Specimen #2

The process for this is the same as for Specimen #1 except for the flower painting process.  I'll go through a quick review of that but for full instructions see the other post (linked above).

Step 1:  Prep work
Paint your jar lid and trim your flowers/plants so that they fit nicely in your jar.

Step 2:  Check you plants for blacklight reactivity
Do a quick check of your plants under a blacklight.  It's possible that they will already have parts that respond to blacklight.  If they do you'll see it and you can plan your painting accordingly.

Step 3:  Paint your plant life
You'll want to be careful with painting these plants.  Unlike the Specimen #1, you aren't going to slap on a layer of spray paint and call it good.  Instead, use the paint as an accent decoration.  Try painting greens with neon green, pink sections with neon pink, and so on.  If you use a very thin layer of paint, dry brushing is a good way to start, your plants will still have a realistic look but with neon accents.  When you put them under blacklight the bits you painted with neon will glow brightly.  It takes a bit of practice to get your flowers looking good after painting.  Using really small amounts of paint helps.

Back into the bag of rejected plant parts!

I'm not sure what plant these were supposed to be, they look almost like water plants, but I liked them.

These are obviously supposed to be dogwood flowers.  The added bonus is that tree flowers on something that looks like a water plant will throw off anyone who knows a bit of botany.  I had a bunch of other flowers that I sorted through and I picked the dogwood flowers because they already had a bit of pink on the petal tips.

Paints under UV.  The CFL black light puts off a lot of light so this doesn't look quite as awesome as it does in person.

Step 4: Build your arrangement
Stick your clay in the jar lid, as per Specimen #1, and poke your plants into the clay.  Cover any remaining clay with mossy bits.

Step 5: Assemble jar (and label it if you want)

Flower close up

The neon pink didn't turn out looking quite as natural as I had hoped, but the greenery turned out really well.  You can't really tell that the leaves have been painted at all, which was the goal.  Having the plant look normal under regular light gives you some fun options when it comes to lighting, too.  You don't have to display the plant under black light the whole time, you could have it on a switching mechanism or something along those lines.  You could even put a black light spot on it so that it only looks neon when directly in the light.  Options are fun!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

DIY Mutant Plant Specimen #1

Work has been progressing nicely on my Mad Scientist crafting binge.  I've got a number of things in the works at the moment, but I haven't gotten much completely finished.  I tend to get distracted or to do too many things at once.  I think I've got maybe two or three other props going and I'm trying to get the yarn crafting back on track.  So many projects!  It really got to the point where I needed to have something that I could call finished. There were a couple of ideas floating around in the back of my brain so I picked the one that seemed easiest and went from there.

Any good mad scientist is going to have bizarre samples and specimens all over the place.  Since I intend to go heavy on the blacklights for lighting the most logical thing is to do something that will glow in the dark.  Just getting something that glows wasn't enough, I wanted something that would look real until the lighting changed so that it would look real and eerie when put in that lighting change.  Small changes, big effect.

A quick rummage netted a suitable jar and some paints.  Then a bit of poking around in the garage uncovered some old silk flowers that I had bought years ago for a belly dancing headdress.  This is why crafters never throw anything away.  I had completely forgotten about those particular plant bits but they were there when I needed them.  (-:  Queen of the pack rats wins again!

Armed with fake plants and my jar I set out to make a mutant plant of some sort.

DIY Mutant Plant Specimen #1

This will probably be the easiest of the mutant plants, that's why it's Specimen #1.  It's a good starter/practice because it is so easy to do.  It's also fast.  You can make it in the time it takes paint to dry, literally.

You will need:

A jar with a screw top lid
Fake flowers
Craft scissors
Brown clay
Black paint
Krylon Glowz Spray Paint

Crafting Tip:  Unless you're going for something really specific, don't waste time and money on super fancy flowers.  Sure, you can get really nice, pretty flowers and you can even get them on a sale or with the ubiquitous craft store 40% off coupon but there is absolutely no reason to do so.  You're making a mutant prop plant so for all intents and purposes it doesn't matter what the plant looks like.  It might even be better if it is a little ugly or misshapen.  To that end I suggest you do what I do and rummage through clearance racks.  You won't find the best colors or latest fashionable flowers; you'll find the uglier ones that no one wants or the pretty ones that are missing bits which is absolutely perfect. You'll feel better about whacking a floral bush to bits if it's not terribly attractive or is already missing pieces.  It also helps to keep your crafting projects affordable.  If you have space, save whatever parts are leftover because they may come in handy again.   

Step 1:  Get your jar all cleaned up and paint the jar lid.

It will take at least two coats of paint to get good coverage on the lid.  A trick I've learned is to do one coat in one direction and the second coat on a 90 degree angle from the first.  That way anything you missed the first time is obvious and easy to get the second time.

Step 2:  Prep your flowers.

I had an assortment of flowers to pick from, so I brought in the ones that looked like they would fit the jar the best.  I wanted the plant to look mostly normal so it was important not to have an exaggerated jar.
I picked out a little yellow flower because it had the most interesting leafy bits and it fit the size of the jar really well.  To cut the sprig to the right size, cut through the plastic coating with your scissors but don't try to cut the wire.  If you have wire cutters you can use those. Otherwise use the scissors to clamp the wire where you want the cut to be and bend the wire back and forth. This isn't particularly good for your scissors so make sure you're using craft scissors that you don't mind getting banged up a bit. It will only take a few bends until the metal breaks.  Check back on your jar lid to see if you can put that second coat on.

Step 3:  Make your flower glow!

Gently pop the flower off the stem.  Be careful doing this because some flowers are more firmly attached than others.  If the flower won't come off easily don't force it, just try another one.  It's also possible that you got a type of flower that doesn't disassemble and reassemble well, so being gentle with it is the way to go.

Give the flower a nice coat of glow paint.  By taking the flower off you make sure that you only get paint where you want it.  You could, if you wanted to, paint the greenery instead and leave the flower normal.  I'll be doing something like that with later props.

Step 4:  Build a base for your plant.

Take some of your clay and roll it into a ball.

Check the jar lid to make sure it's all the way dry.  If the lid isn't dry wait until it is.  Then place your clay ball in the middle of your jar lid.  Press the clay into the lid leaving a high point in the center.  You do have to make sure that you don't get clay where the jar and the lid connect.  I grabbed a jar lid where that edge is easy to see so I could show you.  

Look on the inside of your jar lid and should see an inner circle that has a  ridge around it.  Stay out of that ridge, it's where the jar and lid seal.

Here's what your clay should look like, with a nice clear space around the edges.

Step 5:  Plant your plant.

Stick your main plant sprig in the center of the clay.  Since it looks a little sparse you need to dress it up a bit.  There are a couple ways you can do this.  You can pluck some of the leaves off the plant you've been working with and trim them up to stick in the clay.  If you have a bunch of random flower bits to choose from you can hunt for something that looks mossy and use that.

I had another thing of flowers that had a mossy bit on it so I pulled off some of the moss pieces and pressed them into the clay.
Fussy moss bits
Minus fuzzy moss bits

The mossy bits make a big improvement to the overall look of the thing.  Once you get everything set the way you want it, try the jar on for size. If you're happy with the look go on to the next step.

Fuzzy moss bits neatly arranged, it actually looks like a real plant!

Step 6:  Attach the glow flower to the plant, and cover.

Check the edge of the lid to make sure none of the original color is showing up and retouch as necessary.

And here you have it!  You can slap a label on it if you like.  I'll try to get a label making post up in the next week or so for those who need ideas.

Under normal light
Just plan glow in the dark with lights off

Under the blacklight

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Circles Scarf

It looks like I'm slowly starting to get my creativity back.  I'm still having a hard time coming up with fun pattern ideas but my prop idea levels are coming up again so I have hope on the yarn crafting front.  I even got some awesome Knit Picks yarn on a really good sale (and it's really pretty).  With a bit of luck it'll help me come up with something cool.

The latest scarf start as me playing with circles. I really like how it came out and I'm thinking of trying to do a bit of free form with it.  The circle pattern is great and all, but I bet it would look really neat if I made a bunch of the circle motifs and attached them at random.  Of course, that would require that I sew the circles together and we all know how much I like doing that.

I don't really have much else to say about the Circles Scarf, but that could be because I've been outside a lot today.  The summer heat is starting to blaze and the humidity is getting unbearable.  Even breathing outside takes far too much effort.  Even the squirrels seem to agree with me.

I'm not a fan of tree rats myself, normally we off the vermin, but I almost felt badly for this one when I saw it.  I've never seen a squirrel do anything but scamper up a tree, this one looked like it was dragging itself to that branch with the a lead weight tied to its tale.  After he pulled himself to that spot he laid there for a really long time watching me hang my laundry.  Anyway, without further ado here's the pattern.

.Circles Scarf

50 g Vanna's Choice (85-90 yards)
I hook

Gauge:  Small- 1 inch
              Medium- 2 inch
              Large- 3 inch

I did mine as a join as you go, but you can make all the circles and then sew them together if you want.  If you hate sewing as much as I do, I joined each circle on the last round by using a slip stitch to connect it to the last motif.

Small, make 15
Ch2, 8sc in the first chain.  Join and break off.

Medium, make 16
Round 1:  8sc in the first chain.  Join and turn. (8sts)
Round 2:  2sc in ea st, join and turn. (16 sts)
Round 3:  (Sc1, 2sc) around.  Join and break off. (24 sts)

Large, make 4

Round 1:  8sc in the first chain.  Join and turn. (8sts)
Round 2:  2sc in ea st, join and turn. (16 sts)
Round 3:  (Sc1, 2sc) around.  Join and turn. (24 sts)

Round 4:  (Sc 2, 2sc) around.  Join and turn.  (32 sts)
Round 5:  Sc around.  Join and turn.  (32 sts)

Joining pattern
(3 small, 2 medium, 1 large, 2 medium) Repeat until all pieces have been used and end on 3 smalls.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Radioactive Props

Ok, so this wasn't exactly what I had in mind for my next post, but as it was something that was actually finished it will have to do.

I have come up with a safer way to do fun things with glow sticks.  By safer I mean not cutting them up.  Instead of whacking them into bits, I'm incorporating them into props whole.  I made all those radiation signs, after all. It stands to reason I should have something about that looks like it might be radioactive.  This is what I came up with.

So to make these lovely little tubes of glowingness, you don't actually have to get all that much in the way of materials.  You'll need at least 2 tubes of glow stick bracelets, the kind you can get at craft stores for $1, a bit of paint, and model magic or something else soft and clay-like.  I had all of those things laying around from other projects (yay! $0 prop) and that included something like 4 tubes of glow bracelets.  This is why I hate throwing things out.  Also, this is a great way to use glow sticks that have already been used.  The dyes in them will fluoresce with the black light, you don't actually need the chemical reaction to make it work.  The glow sticks you see above haven't been activated and I checked an old used glow stick to see if it would react and it did.

The caps are made from the tubes that the glow sticks came in.  Just measure off about an inch and slice off a bit!  Keep the end caps of the tube so you don't have to make a substitute.

Then slap a bit of paint on it.  To the surprise of no one (I'm sure) the painting method is another of Dave Lowe's methods.  Instead of black, brown, and orange I used black, copper, and pewter on top of a black primer coat because I wanted it to be more like a tarnished precious metal than something that had really rusted.

Painting on warm days is awesome because the paint dries so fast.  In no time at all I was ready for the next step. Stuffing a bit of Crayola Model Magic in each base.  ::STOP HERE UNTIL YOU DISPLAY YOUR PROP IF YOU WANT TO ACTIVATE THE STICKS SO THEY GLOW ON THEIR OWN:: Model magic dries overnight and if you bend the sticks to activate them after the model magic dries they'll all pop out and you may or may not be able to get them back in again.  Besides, you should activate the sticks one at a time for optimum glowing anyway.

I found out that this is the best way to secure your glow sticks.  I tried just stuffing a bunch of glow sticks in the end caps but it used all my glow sticks and would only have made 2 props (and they wouldn't have matched).  Then I tried putting the glow sticks in around a wine cork.  I found out quickly that the only thing that was good for was activating the glow sticks, which wasn't what I was going for.  

Then all that remains is to gently stick the glow sticks in a ring around the inside edge of the bottom cap, gently press the top cap on, and wait for it to dry (or put it on display if you're activating the glow).