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1  Vintage computer hardware sunburst mirror in Crafty Housewares: Completed Projects: Reconstructed by apis_melis on: February 06, 2014 12:35:36 PM

This all started with a trip a few weeks ago to a local store that handles used, surplus, vintage and just plain odd electronics. It is always an overload of stimulation: artistic, technical and nostalgic. This time was no different.

On one shelf of randomness there was a stack of CD carousels for jukeboxes. They were big - 16.5 inches in diameter, and the angle used to ease the discs into and out of the player produced an elegant swirl of fins. They were only $3, and I had set aside a sunburst mirror project before the holidays because it was getting too fussy, so this seemed like a cheap way of closing that out. This was a much sleeker look than my original design, although the matte gray of the plastic needed improvement if it was to have a happy life outside the bowels of a jukebox.

Then by the register there was a 14" copper-coated aluminum disk from a 1970s disk pack. At $5, it was probably about 99% off of the original price, and I love a good bargain.

When I saw how well they fit together, I was convinced to sacrifice the whole 18 megabytes in the name of art.

At home I scrounged a thrifted glass plate from under a plant that had a radiating pattern similar to the carousel and gave them both a couple of coats of mirror paint.

A biscuit tin lid fit into the carousel back, which was not strictly necessary but gave a nice, reflective gold surface behind the semi-transparent silver.

Then it was just a matter of gluing everything together and making a hanger from some picture wire and a couple of old screws. I also attached some soft plastic dots to protect the wall paint from the screws and so that it would lay flat against the wall.

It was really fun and easy to make. There were a lot of other possibilities: for awhile it was looking more like a clock with a beautifully hideous 1970s glass display bowl in the center, but the coppers clashed and the dish turned out to carry the clock quite well on it's own.

The disc color changes from golden orange to deep red with the light. The plate reflects a wavy image, which is a kinda fun contrast to most mirrors which have a flawless surface surrounded by a more rustic frame. The carousel could have done with another spritz of paint but I had a dread of getting drips between the fins and the work it would take to get rid of them. But overall I'm pretty pleased with the result.

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2  Natural insecticide, fertilizer, soap and art medium from used veggie oil in CHALLENGE 95 ENTRIES by apis_melis on: February 06, 2014 10:31:42 AM

Happy houseplants!

So this started out as a hot-process potassium hydroxide (KOH) soap project. I don't usually do either, as KOH is more expensive alkali than NaOH (sodium hydroxide lye) and cold process is less work. While I have not changed this opinion, I think this particular recipe is worth the trouble.

I wanted this soap to be concentrated but easy to dissolve. It was to be a dishwasher, laundry and household cleaning gel, as well as the base for an insecticidal/fungicidal soap for the garden and houseplants. Since potassium is a plant nutrient and excess sodium can harm them, KOH was the optimal choice for a base.


The usual personal safety gear (not shown):
Safety glasses
Gloves - latex, vinyl, nitrile are all fine
Closed-toe shoes, long sleeves,  sensible clothing. It isn't like the scene in Fight Club, but you still want to protect your skin.

Electric drill. If yours is cordless, fully-charged extra batteries are not a bad idea.
Paint mixer. The kind that goes on a drill.

The following items should be kept for soapmaking and not used for food. They should also be made of inert materials: glass, steel, enamel and silicone are good; aluminum and many plastics are not.

Large pot. A large crock pot is better but I didn't have one big enough. I don't think there is one big enough.
Funnel (not shown)
Bucket (not shown)
Sturdy stirring implement. Mine is not shown because the soap won. The spoon was not sturdy and went to spoon heaven.
Thermometer registering the 90 - 180 F range. Two makes things even easier.
Potato masher
A large straight steel spatula is nice but not essential
Large beaker
Small crock pot (not shown)

1520 g KOH
400 g vegetable glycerin
4210 g water
180 g used grapeseed oil
6700 g used peanut oil
Neem oil

Procedure (sorry for the lack of action photos but I did it before I thought of posting the project):

While I am fussy about the oils I use for bath soap and shampoo, used peanut oil seemed just fine for this. I don't fry much, so I used some that was posted for free on Craigslist by a family who fried a turkey at Thanksgiving. It had been sitting in my garage since then and it was time to free up valuable space for other crafty items. My contact confirmed at the time that it was just peanut oil. If you are saving your own, make sure you know what kind of oil it is and how much you have of each if there are several kinds. Avoid fast food and other sketchy sources as some use hydrogenated shortening or blends that can throw off the calculations.

Filter out any particles in the oil. I like to do this before storing but the turkey oil was unfiltered when I got it, which is apparent from the photo. Those black spots are harmless food bits, not mold, and strain out easily.

Weigh your oils. Everything is by weight and metric makes conversions infinitely easier.

Use an online lye calculator that has values for KOH. The discount for liquid soap is usually -10% to 3% in comparison to 5%+ for NaOH cold process soaps.

The water calculation is usually about three times the KOH mass. Since I wanted this to be a fairly stiff gel and peanut oil does not usually produce a very hard cold-process bar, I replaced some of the water with glycerin. These two liquids should be mixed together in the beaker before adding the KOH (and remember to always add the alkali to the liquid, NEVER add liquid to the alkali!). Once the solution is mixed up thoroughly, monitor the temperature. As it cools, heat the oils in the large pot. The goal is to have both at about 140 - 150 F before mixing.

When they are about equalized, mix the KOH solution into the oils and begin mixing with the paint blender. This is the exhausting part, so the electric drill is the way to go. Put the pot on the stove on the lowest flame possible, trying to keep the mixture at about 150 F. It will be exothermic like CP but needs extra heat because you are driving the reaction toward immediate completion rather than allowing for the initial burst before the trace and letting the last bit to occur in the incubation/evaporation period.

It took an hour and a half of frequent stirring and constant low heat for the reaction to be visible. It didn't trace in the CP way so much as go straight to applesauce. Another three hours of intermittent attention and it was thick and translucent. I turned off the burner and let it cool overnight.

The result was a much more solid soap paste than I had anticipated. It was also very concentrated and surprisingly moisturizing to the skin. It came out at pH 8 - 8.5 on litmus paper, which is very mild. The smell, while neither attractive nor repulsive (and nothing very much like peanuts or turkey), was faint enough to be covered by a small amount of essential oil. The cooking pushes the reaction so that it doesn't need the curing time of CP soap, so it was ready to use immediately. I carved it out of the pot in chunks and put it into a covered bucket for storage.

It dissolves easily in warm water and can be diluted to 25% concentration for rich, lathery hand soap. Trials in the dishwasher produced super clean dishes with about half of the detergent compartment filled with paste. Laundry was also a success using about two tablespoons per load.

To make an insecticidal garden soap, take enough concentrate to fill your crock pot 2/3 full. Melt it with as little water as possible, mashing with the masher and spatuling with the spatula to break up the chunks. When it is completely molten, mix in about a teaspoon of neem oil for every two cups of soap. Turn it out into a wide-mouthed storage container and allow to cool.

To use, add a level tablespoon of neem soap to a liter of warm water and mix well in a garden mister. To supercharge it you can add a crushed garlic clove or two and strain out the particles before putting it in the sprayer, but it isn't usually necessary. Allow to cool to room temperature and spray plants well. Neem is non toxic to humans, pets and honeybees and has been used for many purposes for centuries. It and natural soap are generally regarded as acceptable by authorities on organic gardening. Since potassium is a beneficial nutrient for plants, it also counts as foliar feeding every time you spritz them!

A test of 750 mg concentrate melted with 100 g 80 proof vodka in the crock pot (not an open flame unless you enjoy soap flambe) produced a soft transparent soap with a warm honey color. I'm not enough a fan of transparent soap to motivate me to do it from scratch just for the prettiness, but making it from the concentrate is simple enough.

As a bonus, this is a pretty fun sculptural material. Since it is not caustic it can be worked immediately while it is warm and soft - I spent all afternoon playing with it without gloves and my hands weren't dry or flaky at all. It carves well when cool. The cooked paste went through an extruder well. It is lighter than microcrystalline wax and far less stiff. Use vodka rather than water to smooth without generating foam.

Since the oil was free, the cost was really just the price of the potassium hydroxide. Add in a few dollars to cover the neem oil and energy, and it comes out to about $9.50 for a batch of 12 kilos or about 36 cents per pound of paste; diluted to 25% for hand soap, that is less than 9 cents per pound. A load of laundry is about two cents' worth and a dishwasher load comes out to about a penny! Of course, my time does make it priceless </snark>.

I recommend this for other plant lovers and cheap people in general. If you haven't done hot process before, or not in awhile, doing a scaled-back batch first is probably a good idea.
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3  Cheap, fast, easy baker's twine diy in Spinning: Completed Projects by apis_melis on: December 27, 2013 08:28:30 AM
[Long-suffering mods: I don't know if this belongs here. Feel free to move it to a moore appropriate forum. Thanks!]

Love baker's twine but not the price? Or maybe the color selection doesn't match your taste? You can make your own in any color combination you like.

You will need:

Embroidery floss, twine, yarn or other stringlike stuff in colors of your choice
Cup hook or screweye
Drill (power screwdrivers and electric drills work fine; I like a manual because it makes it more kid-friendly and fun)
Cabinet handle, nail or other anchor in an open space. I like the latch on my front door lock.
Charming assistant

A few words before we start:

Tools. Fun. Dangerous. You know the story. Be careful.

Start small. At least the first few times, keep each length of string no longer than your height.

[Sorry for the lack of action photos. It isn't a visually complex or entertaining process, I'm afraid.]


1. Mount the cup hook in the chuck of your drill.

2. Cut equal lengths of string and knot them together at one end.

3. Make a slip knot on either end of your now magically double-length string.

4. Put one loop onto the cup hook and the other on your anchor. Snug them down.

5. Step back until the string draws taut.

6. Examine the string for an existing twist. The floss I use is usually left-handed, meaning it rotates counterclockwise (dunno if other brands are similar, or if textiles in the southern hemisphere are opposite). This corresponds with the reverse direction on a power drill.

7. Run the drill in the same direction as the twist. Try to keep the action smooth and even while keeping the string taut. You will probably have to move up a little as the string shortens.

8. Periodically stop and have your charming assistant snap the string at the center knot a few times to encourage even tension on both halves. This is especially important when the two halves are different materials, e.g. one cotton and one metallic.

9. Since it depends on factors including length, material, drill speed and desired pattern, it is impossible to say how long it will take. Test for tightness of twist by holding the string a foot or two from the drill and relaxing the end.

When you have achieved optimum twistiness for your purposes, give the drill a last burst and give the knot another twang.

10. Have CA hold the string at the knot while you walk the drill over to the anchor. It is a little dance to keep both sides taut, so you may want to play music.

11. Working carefully to keep the string from unwinding, slip each loop off of its hook and knot the ends together. Don't let go just yet.

12. Take both strings together halfway between the ends in your free hand. Holding them loosely, let go of your end at the same time as CA does. Hold them apart as they spin to keep them from tangling together. Stop them and tease apart any bunched portions. Check for evenness of tension partway through and adjust if needed. With practice long lengths can be made by letting it twist up a little at a time, but keeping the tension even can take some trial and error.

Voila! Next to commercial baker's twine for comparison:

It really is harder to describe than to do.

I knot the ends to keep it from unraveling each time I cut off a piece. When the end is looser than the middle, I tighten the twist and anchor it down with another knot.

Tangles can be unwound and either retwisted or used for another project.

For a look at the same technique used to make autumn leaf swags, see:

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4  Cheapest, simplest garland ever! in Interior Decorating: Completed Projects by apis_melis on: December 27, 2013 07:31:30 AM
There are beautiful trees in my town that shed gorgeous leaves in the fall. I love bringing them indoors and decorating with them, as I could never make anything half as beautiful from scratch.

You will need:

Jute twine
Leaves, seedpods, moss... just invite the forest in!
Drill or electric screwdriver
Cup hook
Knob, hook, nail or other anchor (not shown)
Charming Assistant (also not shown)

There is really nothing to the process. Just go to my tutorial for cheap, fast, easy baker's twine diy:


Just use a single strand of jute twine about 2.25 times the length you would like your swag to be. It is a little heavier and springier than embroidery floss, which makes it easier to handle long lengths. Two people still make it easier, though.

Once you have a nice, long, twisty string, just separate the strands and insert the stem of each leaf between them:

Smooth twists give you even spacing automatically. If there are multiple kinds of leaves, I like to start with the ones I have the least of and put one at each end and the middle, then halfway between, dividing the spaces evenly each time. I don't measure, just fold each portion in half and guesstimate. That ensures even coloring and is faster than using a ruler. This one is just maple leaves:

The leaves will dry, of course. I think they are just as beautiful. If you are planning on having yours up for awhile, you may want to make it extra full because it will thin a little. This is the same one after five weeks:

This one is over a year old:

This would also be nice with flowers as wedding or party decor.
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5  Flowers from cupcake liners (tutorial and way too many photos) in Paper Crafts: Completed Projects: General by apis_melis on: April 14, 2013 07:31:21 PM

These are super easy and offer tons of customization possibilities! Make them from tiny candy cups for cards up to jumbo coffee filters for party decor. They are good for wreaths, garlands, gift toppers and mobiles.

What you will need:

A selection of cupcake papers and/or candy cups in various sizes and colors
Small, sharp scissors
Glue (see notes below)
Buttons, cardstock shapes, thumbtacks or other roundish thingies to use as centers
Paint marker (optional)
Doilies (optional)

The basic method is to flatten and accordion-fold each paper into a wedge of one-eighth of the circle. Take the ends and fold them once more; this gives a center line to use as a guide. If this makes the thicker side too difficult to cut, just fold the ears flat and use the crease.

Next, cut a petal shape on either side of the center line. I like to use curved nail scissors because they give a smoother edge. If you are making a bunch to match, it may be useful to mark a point on the blades to make all cuts the same length.

Unfold and decorate. Because of their coatings, some baking papers like glassine and greaseproof are difficult to color with ink pens. Nail polish works well, as do many oil-based paints like Decocolor pens. Sharpie has water-based paint markers that do not have the toxic fumes, but the color range is limited. They can be a little goopy, but any mess cleans up with a little denatured alcohol on a swab.

Layer the papers from smallest to largest. Usually I assemble the main body first and hold off on the center until mounting in case I need to conceal a wire or other attachment (many of those pictured below are shown without the centers because they have not been mounted yet). As with markers, some glues are ineffective on baking cups, so do a test. Ecoglue is pretty good but can show through on some papers. Experiment with your design before you glue. Aligning the petals and offsetting them can give very different looks:

Different petal shapes can give very different effects, from funky to elaborate.

Get a variety of looks by edging some or all petals, or by just coloring the tips:

Patterned papers can make a very nice effect:

This center can be a punched cardstock shape, a thumbtack or button. Punch a circle from another cupcake liner to match the center to one of the petal layers (if you are careful, you can still use the rest of it in another flower).

You can also take a small candy cup and make a daffodil corona. These are very delicate, so definitely leave these until final assembly if you can.

Try adding a doily:

Mount them as appropriate for your project. Wired buttons are versatile:

Decorative upholstery tacks and on the wall are instant decor (I am planning to add a vinyl tree):

A handful strung on baker's twine makes a garland

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6  Cheap pendant lamps made classy with cupcake liners in Crafty Housewares: Completed Projects: Reconstructed by apis_melis on: March 15, 2013 11:00:39 AM

I discovered a chain of dollar-and-a-half stores called Daiso Japan a few weeks ago. They are like crack: unlike a lot of dollar stores, they have quality goods. They do seem to share the drawback that they do not have the items I run out of when I go back, but I think that just adds to the druglike aspect: I feel the urge to hoard the things I like and return more often than necessary just in case new nifty things have shown up.

Anyway, I bought some paper pendant lampshades in various shapes and colors and little glassine muffin liners/candy cups. Glassine is wonderful stuff: I love the translucency and gloss. The crinkly noises it makes when you fold it is also fun. The cups are pre-corrugated, adding a nice texture.

For the teardrop-shaped lamp, I began with a round shade. The cylindrical one started as... a cylinder. Though making a pendant lamp out of bits from the hardware store is fun and super-easy, it was actually cheaper to get sets from Ikea. Total cost was about $21.50 for two lamps, not including the glue or scissors: $7 each (lamps) + $1.50 each (shades) + $4.50 (liners).

The petals are done two different ways: those on the cylinder are just opened flat and then folded across about 1/3 of the way down to create overlapping arcs.

The teardrop petals are made by folding the flattened circles into wedges. Though this design is pretty forgiving, I got the best results by accordion-folding into eighths, then taking each end and folding it in half again.

Then take curved cuticle scissors and cut petals in the rounded edge. Straight scissors will work too, I just like slightly rounded petals.

Unfold and do the 1/3 overlap.

The teardrop took about 200 cups and the cylinder 100. It's pretty brain-free, so I just did it while watching movies and listening to podcasts.

The glue-up was pretty fast. Start at the bottom and go to the top. The papers overlap more on the teardrop, so it and the frilliness of the cut petals conceal the fact that I just aligned the folded edges with the wire on the lantern and followed it in a spiral. If I were to do it over again, I would take the half minute to pencil evenly spaced lines around the cylinder, as it looks a little wonky on the bottom edge. Luckily, none of my friends inspect the lighting fixtures too closely when they visit.

A note on paper: Glassine, grease-proof, freezer and some other baking papers can be a little pesky with adhesives. It is worth it to do a test with your glue or tape if you use a coated paper. Similarly, it is difficult to color. Sharpies, art pens and similar items don't usually take, and the best thing I have found so far is nail polish. If you want to embellish yours, either use regular paper baking cups or experiment to find a coloring method that will work.

That's about it. Install the lamp while the glue is drying, hang the shade, and - Ta da! - luminary gratification!

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7  Cordless heated kitty throne in Pet-Related Crafts: Completed Projects by apis_melis on: March 14, 2013 11:49:03 AM

So I'm way too easily manipulated by my cat. He likes to sit on my lap, especially in cold weather. When I disturb him to do crafty things or make tea, he complains bitterly. I should just let him curl up on the sofa - I mean, we don't live in Siberia or anything. But I can't listen to the plaintive mews.

The plan was to make him a heated bed. I hate the tangles of electrical cords so necessary for modern life, and leaving a heating pad unattended for long periods of time seemed like a bad idea, So I just expanded on the idea of those little rice-filled pocket handwarmers people craft in those areas where it really does get cold enough to complain about. The pillow is made from a linen skirt I got in the dollar bin at the thrift store and five pounds of rice. There is a faux fur pillow cover because Mr. B has a thing for faux fur. Under it is a folded blanket for bulk, a sheet of Styrofoam cut down from some packaging, and some aluminized bubble-wrap insulation that was left over from a home improvement project.

The box was secondhand from a very nice wine shop. Classy as it was, it still needed something though, and the brown in the pompom trim matched the pillow cover. Besides, it's really not a craft project unless the glue gun comes out at least once...

The legs were old balusters that I got at a really neat architectural salvage yard. I painted them to match the trim, then screwed and glued them to the box.
Once everything was assembled, the rice pillow got six minutes on high in the microwave.
Mr. B approves!

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8  Everyone has a camera phone - try a camera lamp! in Crafty Housewares: Completed Projects: Reconstructed by apis_melis on: December 31, 2012 09:31:42 PM

Awhile back I saw a photo of a camera that had been converted into a lamp. I think this is the one:


I knew my father needed one for his desk because he is a photojournalist. (It turns out that the photography gene skips generations, so sorry for the quality of my pics.)

After some fumbling trying to take apart an old film SLR that my husband had from a previous geologic era, I found that the innards were cast as one piece and could not be removed to make room for a standard lamp base. So I drilled a hole in the door, glued the shutter open, and fitted it with a bracket cut down from a $2 thrifted Ikea lamp (one of those little three-light wheeled desk models, I think - it was missing some parts so it was hard to tell). Attached the socket, glued a rubber o-ring on the lens bracket to cushion the shade, and stuck it on a mini-tripod I got for $5 off of Craigslist. Then I soldered the base into a 12-volt power supply salvaged from my mom's defunct Netbook (DH's brilliant idea!). It was pretty straightforward once I stopped trying to make it into rocket surgery.

The bulb is recessed in the shade to make a nice, tight spotlight. It holds the shade in place, so they pull off and push on together for easy bulb changing. It takes a standard 15-watt, 12-volt bulb; the DH and I just happened to have rescued several cases of these from a debris box outside a restaurant that was being gutted a few weeks ago. (They were still in their boxes, unused and pristine, but it seems that commercial property owners prefer to junk everything over donating perfectly good materials to Habitat for Humanity. Because we need bigger landfills, and because poor people should have to pay top dollar to bring their houses up to code.)

Cord and plug were appropriated from a much uglier lamp, but I paid for a new inline switch to make it all matchy-matchy. All told, the cash cost was $11. I have seen old 35 mm cameras for $10 at the thrift store, and many e-cyclers are happy to give away random power supplies, so it is doable for under $30, minus tools and time. Most of my time was spent finding parts. The construction probably took all of three hours, and most of that was waiting for the glue to dry.

Dad loved it! He thought it was much harder than it was, and I didn't even tell him it was so cheap.

I recommend this as a project for anyone with basic wiring skills and a passion for scrounging!

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9  Spiff-ify your vases (or other objects) with foil duct tape and a border punch in Crafty Housewares: Completed Projects: General by apis_melis on: December 30, 2012 07:22:43 PM

These dollar store vases are beautiful cobalt glass that were fine as they were but I can never leave well enough alone. Stained glass artists' copper tape is great for trim but it is too narrow to work in any of my border punches. It is also nice to have a blue/silver scheme. An elaborate pattern in copper can be a little overwhelming.

These are the supplies you will need: Foil duct tape, a border punch with a pattern narrower than the tape, a craft knife, a burnisher of some sort (a smooth, rounded wooden tool handle works well), a pair of sharp scissors, isopropyl alcohol or other residue-free glass cleaner. I used a paper cutter to divide the tape lengthwise. If your design uses the whole width of the tape or cuts both edges, you will not need this. You could also cut by hand with a craft knife and ruler but it is kind of slippery and delicate, so I find it challenging. You will also need a vase. Straight sides are a lot easier than curved shapes.

An unaltered vase in action.

As you can see, this tape is $5.99 at the hardware store. I bought it to make embossed gift tags for Christmas presents and had plenty left over to play with. (Ulterior motive? Me?) There are many names for it: HVAC tape, foil duct tape, metal repair tape, aluminum foil tape. It is not the fabric duct tape that ingenious people use for wallets, purses, costumes and car repairs. It is very thin, springy aluminum with a paper backing. It is easily kinked and bent, so the flatter you can keep it, the more you will thank yourself.

The first step is to measure the circumference of your vase and cut a piece of tape with a little extra. Squaring the ends is a good idea. Measure the length of the pattern of the punch and divide the vase circumference by this; if you want it to match at the seam, the result must be a natural number. There is a tiny bit of stretch in it, but not much. Even though these vases are mass-produced, there is enough difference that one has a continuous pattern and the other is mismatched by 1/4" or so.

Punch the border design. The best results usually come from starting with the pattern centered at the midpoint of the foil and moving the tape to each side. I punched both sides before cutting it into two strips because it is easier to handle a wider tape.

A bonus: depending on the pattern of your punch, the cutouts can be great for other projects. Mine produced lots of little fleurs de lis which are perfect for cards, votives and many other things that desperately need fleurs de lis.

Another bonus: cutting foil is a method of sharpening punch dies. Before putting it away, put some waxed paper sheets through your punch and, where possible, lubricate the mechanism with a silicone grease or whatever the manufacturer recommends. Then feel virtuous for caring for your tools.

If you are halving the tape lengthwise, do that.

There are several ways to get an even line around the vessel. One is to secure a pen to a platform so that the tip is at the height where the straight edge should be, then rotate the vessel against the pen. For translucent vessels, you can also cut a band of graph or lined paper with a very even bottom edge and tape it inside, with that edge flush against the bottom. A flashlight inside can help you see the lines through colored glass. Whatever method you use, clean the glass first. It will help the tape to adhere.

Tip: When removing the backing, hold the metal taut while peeling off the paper, not the other way around. This will help to keep the foil smooth.

Starting with the center on a seam (if your vase has one), follow the line around each side to the other seam. The adhesive is very sticky and the tape creases easily, so try to handle it as lightly and as little as possible. Burnish the tape down smoothly, beginning at the middle and going toward the ends. Aluminum is pretty soft, so the rounded wooden handle of the burnisher produced a better surface than the steel. The back of a spoon also works.

Wipe down again, add flowers, and you are done! Enjoy your work!

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10  Mercury glass and newspaper origami wreath with mini-tutorial in Winter Holidays by apis_melis on: November 20, 2012 01:31:15 PM

This is a wreath I made for my stepmother for Christmas. She is an amazing woman who has spent her life helping immigrants adjust and succeed: learning English, finding work, accessing health care and schools, avoiding the many scams directed at new Americans. She is inspirational.

She also gave me some old Christmas ornaments for my art stash a few years ago. The colors were dull and the glaze cracked, but not in a fun way. I was going to bead covers for them and give them back as a surprise but never got to it. They leapt out when I was unpacking after a move and reproached me for my flakiness. I had to act (and I will use any excuse to avoid unpacking).

The color glaze on the outside soaked off in isopropyl alcohol (cheaper than denatured and not as stinky). To accentuate the wear on the inner silver coating, I added sand to the alcohol and swished it around randomly for a few minutes with my thumb over the opening (I don't recommend doing this, as the rim is sharp. I like living dangerously.).

The origami flowers are known as carambola, or tropical star fruit. They are the amazing work of origami genius Carmen Sprung. I learned to fold them from this video:


The audio is in German, but the video is so clear and well done that you don't need to speak it.

The paper is cut from various newspapers, mostly from the Los Angeles area. There is Cantonese, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Urdu, Arabic and Japanese. I like to look through them and see which stories I recognize from English language media, the kinds of products advertised, the puzzles and photos. It is also fun to see what words appear in Roman script: One of the Russian flowers has a story of dense Cyrillic, interrupted every few paragraphs by "PriceWaterhouseCoopers". An economics story? Employment? A finance scam? Dunno. The scripts are beautiful art by themselves, and they seemed an appropriate way to honor a person who has devoted her life to helping people understand each other across cultures and languages.

Carambola centers are pretty delicate, so I reinforced them with sew-on snaps to keep the wires from tearing through. (Even so I blew out a few, but the glue gun is my friend.) Each wire is bent into a tight U shape with the radius of the inside rim of the snap. This arc is then bent at 90 degrees so it lays flat; going over the top of the nipple will result in wobbling. Insert the wire in the top half of the snap and snug it down with the bent U in place, poke holes in the flower center of the same distance as the U, thread the wire through very gently and add the bottom half of the snap. I tried snapping first and then threading the wire but it was too difficult to line up the holes. Pinching the wire under the snap steadies it. The wires are longer than they need to be because I had originally planned it as a wall hanging, then found the ornaments and a steel hoop diverted from a chandelier project, and the project morphed as these things do.

The wreath is pretty self-explanatory: I took the hoop and wove on a bunch of heavyish floral wire, including a hang loop at the top. I tried to make it look like tendrils.

Then I just twined the origami and ornaments on this base and tried to make it pretty.
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