Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: Friendship Origami

Today is paper craft day. No, I'm not making pretty things out of paper, I am diligently transferring previously published articles (sigh) from that soon to be defunct publishing web site, you know, the one that used to be a good source of passive income for free-lance writers? Alas, it was a good run while it lasted.

I've been slacking off the past couple months, but a recent RT on Twitter reminded me that I have a little over a month left to get all my articles transferred from the site to my blog. Today's session started with the migration of my (former) Helium article on where to find scherenschnitte patterns, a tedious process in that I had to edit each hyperlink and check to be sure all the examples I'd listed in the original article were still viewable on active web pages.

Once that was (finally) over (it may have taken longer because the Saints game was on...) my sojourn into Scherenschnitte was  followed by the relocation of my book review of of Ramona Jablonski's Paper Cut-Out Design Book. The next subject at hand is one of my personal favorites - origami.

This cute little book came to me one day via my aunt; I've used it in the past in my enrichment classes, both for crafting and for sessions in how to follow directions. My students loved making origami items, and when we did them as part of an exercise in following directions I never told them what they were making. If they listened carefully, they'd end up with a paper cup (one of the simplest things to make).

I've even had the kids make their own origami paper by coloring abstract designs onto plain old copy paper. Copy paper is cheap and letting the kids decorate their own (without necessarily knowing why) lets them do something they love to do - color, and it provides them with unique papers later for use in their origami projects.

And so...

Review: Friendship Origami

Filled with sixty-four colorfully illustrated pages, Jill Smolinski’s Friendship Origami promises hours of paper folding fun with over two dozen great projects from jewelry to animals to paper dolls.  Even though the book’s cover says “Girls wanna have fun,” it’s a sure bet that boys will find almost all of the included projects equally as enjoyable.
Recommended for kids aged nine through twelve, Friendship Origami begins by explaining the basic folds and forms essential to creating origami on the first two pages and then moves straight into making stuff with the “Best Buddy Bracelet.”  This accordion folded project can be completed by any child capable of making a folded paper fan.  Children between the ages of six and seven may need a little help from an adult, especially with the last few steps, but even they can make this bracelet.  (This project is a great manipulative to use in the classroom, especially as an exercise in following directions.)  Recycled magazine pages with colorful pictures on both sides produce very interesting bracelets as does gift wrap.
The only difficult fold in the entire book is the Peace Crane. Everything else in Friendship Origami is easy enough that even younger kids (aged seven or eight) could accomplish many of the folds with the help of a fold-savvy adult to clarify some of the step by step instructions.  While the jewelry and purse projects are geared specifically toward girls there are many that are not.
Both girls and boys will enjoy folding the wallet, hat, dice, dog and turtle origami projects outlined in Friendship Origami.  The folded gift box is a great way to reuse stiff paper like the perfume inserts and advertising cards in magazines as well as old greeting cards.  The “Heart of Lace” makes a great Valentine project and the pinwheel, catchall and basket make great party favors.
Many kids learn to fold paper fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers) at some point in their school careers and Friendship Origami presents yet another option for this project in using them to create puppets.  (Note: In the book they are used as a candy dish and can be found in the table of contents under Sweets for the Sweetie.)
Origami is a great activity that both kids and adults enjoy that yields hours and hours of entertainment and Friendship Origami is a great introduction for young people to the ancient paper folding activity.  All instructions are fully illustrated in simple, plain language.

Review: The Paper Cut-Out Design Book

As mentioned here previously, I have a great love for paper. Playing with paper is one of my favorite pastimes -- Paper clothes, paper beads, paper greetings, paper figures (origami)... Few things are more satisfying than taking a simple, ordinary piece of paper and turning it into something completely new.

In my previous post on Finding Scherenschnitte Patterns Online, I noted that shortly after falling in love with the traditional German paper cutting craft and writing the aforementioned article, I also did a book review that I published at Helium for Ramona Jablonski's The Paper Cut-Out Design Book. This coffee table book sized paperback volume is a paper lover's dream.

Looking at Ramona Jablonski's other books listed on Amazon, I can see I have some shopping to do in the not too distant future. Right after I go through all those boxes I took out of storage last year that are still stacked in the corner. Ah, where does the time go?

At any rate...

The Paper Cut-Out Design Book by Ramona Jablonski

The beauty and history of folk art paper cutting traditions is thoroughly and adeptly explored through four cultures in Ramona Jablonski’s The Paper Cut-Out Design Book from Stemmer House Publishers.
The book begins with a look into the history of paper cutting in China, which Jablonski notes dates back at least fifteen centuries (as of the book’s publication in 1976). She gives no official name for the Chinese craft, unlike the included traditions of Mon-Kiri (which later evolved to Kirigami), Scherenschnitte, and Wycinanki, which are Japanese, German and Polish traditions, respectively. (She briefly mentions Scherenschnitte being practiced in Switzerland as well.)
Examples of incredibly beautiful and delicate designs, intricately cut and resembling heavy line drawings, illustrate the pages throughout the book along with silhouettes, cut outs embellished by hand painting and carefully cut stencils used to embellish textiles.
Once readers have marveled over the illustrations and gleaned some of the history of this elegant folk art they can move on to learning the tools and techniques of the craft itself with the information given for working with both flat and folded papers.
Paper cutting enthusiasts can begin by trying their hand at a Chinese style flat paper design of a flower cut-out and then move on to German fold and cut techniques. Instructions for the German techniques (Scherenschnitte) begin with simple symmetrical designs that are achieved by folding a piece of paper in half. The book then moves on to show repeats in multiples of two from a fairly simple design where the motif is repeated four times to a more intricate one with the motif repeated sixty-four times for cuts resembling snowflakes and doilies.
Scrapbook enthusiasts and other paper craft hobbyists will find the border design and paper doll tutorials useful in creating embellishments for their layouts, while hard core admirers of paper cut design will appreciate the section on how to break down an existing design and find the repeat to copy the motif.
Jablonski shows readers step by step how to reproduce some of the classic designs displayed in the book and prepare them for mounting and framing. She also gives readers examples of how to use paper cuts for other crafting including needlework projects and includes a section on paper cutting with children.
The Paper Cut-Out Design Book is an excellent reference for historical information as well as design and cutting how-to, containing a wealth of information to enthrall, entice and inspire.

Finding Scherenschnitte Patterns and Templates Online

Anyone who knows me, is aware that I have a thing for paper, and that I've got it bad. I'm a huge fan of origami, making paper beads is sort of an obsession, and a few years ago, I discovered Scherenschnitte, a traditional German paper cutting craft.

I won't get into an explanation of the craft here, there are plenty of sources online for that, and you could easily spend an entire day trolling Pinterest looking at images like this one:

The pin doesn't take you directly to the post for this image, so I'm not including it, but here's the link to the Keeper of Tradition blog article, Falling Between the Cracks:

As the great migration continues, I have two Helium articles related to this topic to share. The first, which you'll find below, is about where to find Scherenschnitte patterns online. The second is a book review of The Paper Cut-Out Design Book, a wonderful resource on traditional papercuts, by Ramona Jablonski.

Originally published in July of 2010, here it is...

Where to Find Scherenschnitte Patterns Online

Scherenschnitte is the German folk art of paper cutting that can be used to create beautiful and sometimes elaborate designs in paper. These designs can be cut from either a flat or folded piece of paper to achieve everything from intricate silhouettes and stencils to pretty snowflakes and doilies. 
Just about any type of paper can be used to create Scherenschnitte designs. Many people have probably folded paper to cut and make a Valentine in elementary school, or even a snowflake, without realizing the simple craft had origins in Germany and has been practiced for hundreds of years. 
Similar paper cutting craft traditions exist in other countries as well, including China, Mexico and Poland. These designs require a little time and patience to execute but they are well worth the effort it takes.
Creating folded Scherenschnitte paper cuts such as snowflakes only requires paper, scissors and a design.  You can use embroidery or manicure scissors or purchase scissors sold specifically for creating Scherenschnitte.  Detailed designs such as silhouettes and stencils may additionally require a craft knife and mat to complete.
The following is a list of web sites that contain how to instructions and patterns for creating Scherenschnitte paper projects:
On this site you’ll find a set of step by step instructions on how to create Scherenschnitte projects with a design template: How to Do Scherenschnitte Paper Cutting
Here you’ll find a cute design, pattern and video with a brief explanation and demonstration for cutting the design: How To Scherenschnitte
The following site uses rubber stamps to create Scherenschnitte designs: Technique: Scherenschnitte with Your Stamps
This blog entry from Maggiecat shares a set of vintage Scherenschnitte designs for Christmas papercuts: Meggiecat: Christmas Papercuts/Scherenschnitte Patterns
Here you will find step by step instructions for cutting a heart shaped Scherenschnitte Valentine:How to Cut a Heart-Shaped Scherenschnitte Valentine
The following is a Scherenschnitte lesson plan for use with high school students: Scherenschnitte/Silhouettes
On this site you’ll find step by step instructions for creating a Scherenschnitte Wedding Certificate: How to Make a Wedding Certificate by Scherenschnitte or Paper cutting Crafting
Here you will find a variety of Scherenschnitte templates available for purchase: Papercutting Frames
Scherenschnitte is a beautiful paper craft with a very long history. It is ideal for scrapbooking and card making, and can stand alone on its own for matting and framing.
I have painstakingly checked each link and updated where necessary. Unfortunately, a few of the links in the original article were for pages that no longer exist. The good news is, that with Pinterest it's easy to find new resources for templates and tutorials. (Check out the link below to see what I've already pinned.)

My papercraft pinboard: For the Love of Paper

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ideas For Making a Fish Costume

It's the season for Costumes and although I'm a little late, I have a few articles in the can from my Helium days that now need a new home. If you still haven't settled on a costume, or if you've been too busy, you might find the following post useful, particularly if you've recently seen and been inspired by Mozart and the Whale, or if you just like fish.

I've already migrated my article on making a quick and easy Mardi Gras Costume from items you likely have on hand at home, (any of those ideas could also work for Halloween as well) and the article below on making a fish costume (the first of it's kind I did for Helium) will soon be followed by my article on creating a Nicki Minaj costume.

How to Make a Fish Costume

In making a fish costume there are as many possibilities as there are varieties of fish in the world's fresh and saltwater populations. The simplest way to make a fish costume is to draw a fish shape in the desired size on paper or cloth and attach it to supports that would make it wearable. The best materials to use will be based on how simple or elaborate the costume will be and whether it is to be used only one time or again and again, as well as if the costume will be for a child or an adult.
The Simple Method
For a quick, one-time-use costume the best material is paper. Butcher paper, brown package wrap, poster board and even newspaper are all good economical choices. Paper grocery bags are also a good option and there are books available such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "What Can You Do with a Paper Bag?" that can provide you additional with inspiration.
If time is a factor, an even simpler fish costume can be created by making a fish mask and wearing simple clothing such as a T-shirt and pants or dance tights and a leotard in a single coordinating color.
To make a fish costume from paper, decide first whether the fish body will be horizontal or vertical. Cut two lengths of paper long enough to accommodate the fish body. Lay both sheets on a table or on the floor stacked on top of each other so that both the front and back of the fish can be cut simultaneously. Save the scraps and set aside.
Cut an additional length of paper that can wrap around the torso of the person who will be wearing the costume. This will be used as the base for the fish body. Leave enough room so that the costume can be slipped on and off easily and then staple the base closed. Next, measure the person who will wear the costume across the shoulder from front to back in order to get the appropriate length for the shoulder straps. Cut two strips from the scraps left over after cutting out the fish body. (These scraps can also be used to cut fins if a 3D affect is desired.) The scraps can be attached immediately or as a last step in order to get the proper fit once the costume is assembled.
It can be extremely helpful to first sketch the desired fish on paper and plan the decoration for its body. Pictures of tropical fish or characters from children's books and movies such as The Rainbow Fish or Finding Nemo are great sources for inspiration.
Using tempera paints or other materials, decorate the front and back of the body with the desired fish design being careful to make them symmetrical and then staple the wrong sides together at the "nose" of the fish. Center the fish bodies over the torso base and carefully staple it in place. If the shoulder straps have not yet been attached they can be attached now.
The paper costume will be somewhat delicate so care should be taken not to tear it. For a sturdier costume, use poster board instead of paper or recycle cardboard from a large carton. For variation glitter, sequins, bits of colored tissue, colored foil gift wrap or "found" objects can be glued to the body of the fish as decoration.
Choosing to go with a More Sturdy Option
For a longer-lived costume than what the paper variety will provide, the same design principle can be applied using cloth. Using butcher paper or package wrap draw the body of the fish to create a pattern. Choose enough plain or patterned cloth fabric to be able to cut the fish body twice and have an additional piece to create the base (optional).
Lay the pattern on fabric that has been folded to allow cutting out the fish pattern through two layers of fabric at once. Pin the pattern to the fabric and cut it out. Fleece and felt are two fabrics that generally do not fray and are good choices for costumes. They are also warm, which is an advantage when celebrating a holiday such as Halloween in a cooler climate. Stitch the sides together leaving a sufficient opening at the top and bottom for the wearer to be able to comfortable get in and out of the costume.
If using fleece, slits can be made into the front to allow the arms to pass through. Take care to measure for all openings. It may be helpful to leave a slightly larger opening for the head and attach snaps or Velcro to be able to adjust the fit while wearing the costume.
Next, embellish the fish body with any desired decorative elements. Since most cloth is not stiff and will not hold a shape without reinforcement it may be best to plan the fish costume to be vertical. Choosing an iridescent or shiny fabric such as a satin for the fish could reduce the need for additional decoration.
For a more economical approach, an old pillowcase or bed sheet can be used instead of purchased fabric. Use the pillowcase as a base and cut openings for head and arms. Attach the decorated fish body to assemble.
These are two very simple and very basic methods for constructing a quick fish costume. With a little imagination a fantastic and fun costume can be created from inexpensive materials and even items already on hand.

Need a Costume for Mardi Gras?

Once again I am sitting in front the computer trying to whittle away at the plethora of articles posted to Helium. A friend asked this past week if I'd written anything new. Ha! I've let this go for so long now that I'll be lucky to finish migrating everything without having to make a mad dash to download and save it all before turning into a pumpkin.

Even though it's mid October and everyone is getting their Halloween costumes together, I'm thinking of costumes for a different time of year. The next item up for migration is a title on making Mardi Gras costumes on the quick. Of course, if you needed a simple Halloween costume quickly, any of these could serve that purpose as well.

Read on to find out how to make up a quick costume at the last minute, even if you don't actually have the time to make something from scratch, or the budget to shop at a thrift store. All it really takes to come up with something suitable is a little ingenuity while you shop your own closet.

Making a Quick Mardi Gras Costume

Making a costume for Mardi Gras can be as simple or elaborate an undertaking as you want it to be. There really are no rules and it is the one day of the year where practically anything goes. On Mardi Gras morning thousands of people will emerge from their homes garbed in their homemade garb made from old clothing, newspaper, card board and all sorts of other materials. To be in that number merely takes a little imagination.
Last year's left over beads and throws can be used to create wigs, embellishments and even complete outfits. If you don't have any swag from a previous Mardi Gras and you're not particularly gifted with a needle and thread, you can purchase a few simple items or possibly even shop your own closet to come up with a quick costume. Items such as hats, bandanas and scarves can easily be used to create an instant costume.
Tie a bandanna around your neck and put on a Stetson with jeans and a white T-shirt for an instant cowboy costume. For a quick pirate look tie a bandanna on your head and put a huge earring on one ear. If you're even remotely crafty you could add a simple eye patch using string and construction paper. Ladies can tie a scarf over their heads and wear hoop earrings and bangles for an instant gypsy or fortune teller costume.
One of the simplest costumes around is also one of the most popular, especially among college students. Simply take a white bed sheet and drape it Greco-Roman style for an instant toga. The wearing of some ethnic clothing could also stand in for a costume, especially if the aim is to dress as a particular figure in history or a well-known celebrity.

A quick trip to the thrift store can yield a used wedding dress or evening gown that can serve as the basis of a debutante or beauty queen costume. Many shops also have simple tiaras or you can make your own crown from paper or cardboard and or aluminum foil. A thrift store is also a good source for Tuxedos and other clothing items that can be reinvented quickly and easily. Pair a black suit and hat with dark sunglasses and in an instant you're a Blues Brother.
Literary figures, news headlines, politicians, even consumer goods often serve as inspiration for Mardi Gras costumes. Mardi Gras in New Orleans also means King Cake time to the locals and dressing as the baby from the cake by revisiting the bed sheet as costume is simple enough if you don't mind walking around in a diaper all day.
With a little creative thinking you can easily turn what's readily at hand into a quick and easy costume to wear out on Mardi Gras day while you're partying at the parades or taking in the sights up and down Bourbon Street.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creative Ways to Save Money on Jewelry Making

Do you make your own jewelry? When I was a little girl I loved to put beads on the tips of feathers I found. My mother would then put ear wires on them to make earrings. I was way too young to wear them though, and heaven only knows what she did with them. I am not sure if I even had pierced ears at the time.

Later, as an adolescent, I made a few things by stringing seed beads (I actually still have one or two of those items around someplace). As an adult, I started making jewelry again, but found myself working with very little budget most of the time, which meant a limited supply of tools and supplies.

I started collecting costume jewelry and beaded necklaces from people clearing out their clutter, as well as salvaging findings and beads from thrift stores. Repurposing old items is a great way for crafters on a budget to get material for new projects, and it saves stuff that isn't biodegradable from ending up in landfills.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to create an article for Helium on how to save on Jewelry Making supplies back in June of 2010.

Simple Ways to Save on Jewelry Making Supplies

Jewelry making is a pastime that can quickly lead to an obsession.  Even with simple beaded jewelry there are so many possibilities and so many beautiful things you can create that once you start with the craft you will want to buy everything you see in order to make jewelry from it.
Buying jewelry making supplies can add up, especially when it comes to tools, semiprecious stones, gems and precious metals.  The hobbyist could easily spend a fortune on all manner of items they may never even use.  Below are five simple ideas for saving money on jewelry-making supplies.
Be Selective
It’s really hard to resist the wealth of beautiful beads and stones you find in stores and at gem shows but you have to ask yourself are you buying an item for its appeal or because you are definitely going to make something with it.  Also, if your jewelry making activities are for selling you have to ask yourself if the item is something that is going to be cost effective for you.
If you buy a large amber bead, will you be able to slice it down into smaller discs and make multiple things from it?  If you buy a lovely jasper pendant will you create a special necklace or present it on a simple chain or chording?  When looking at items you have to ask yourself if you have the necessary tools and equipment today to turn the items into finished jewelry pieces.
A strand of jasper beads that are each between a half inch to an inch will go a lot further than a pendant when you are making jewelry to sell at craft shows and you can keep two or three beads from the strand to make something special for yourself.
Clearance Sales and Coupons
Many craft stores and even bog box stores like Walmart have lovely items for jewelry making that they occasionally put on clearance at great prices.  Some of the major craft retailers such as Michael’s, Joann and Hobby Lobby also offer coupon specials of forty or fifty percent off of one item and sometimes will offer a percentage off an entire purchase. 
Shopping online and subscribing to newsletters from craft and jewelry making supply retailers is not only a way to save, it is often a way to access more variety and retailers will keep you informed of new products and special offers.
Discount Stores
One might not think of places like Big Lots or Dollar Tree when thinking of jewelry making supplies but on occasion each of these stores carries beads, tools and other findings suitable for at least creating attractive beaded necklaces, bracelets and especially earrings and with prices often being a dollar or less, hobbyists can stock up and not break the bank.
These stores are also a good source of fiber supplies such as yarns and ribbons which can also be used to make jewelry.  Not all locations of the same retailer carry the exact same selection of merchandise so be sure to check around at different stores.
Thrift Stores and Yard Sales
Shopping at thrift stores is a great way to locate interesting beads and findings for making jewelry.  If you visit often and in different parts of town, or when traveling to other cities, you can find a treasure trove of lovely, unique and unusual items waiting to be reinvented and given new life at a fraction of what it would cost for new items at the craft store or gem show.
Yard and garage sales are another great way to find items that can be reworked into attractive pieces of jewelry at very little cost.  Quite often the person holding the sale just wants to get rid of their clutter and will sell old jewelry in bags or boxes for just a few dollars.
For hobbyist jewelers, buying jewelry making supplies at the thrift store is ideal because the investment is never more than a few dollars per piece so you can experiment without having to worry about cost.
Sometimes there are great jewelry making supplies right in your own home.  Many people have boxes or even drawers full of old costume jewelry and trendy items that are no longer in fashion that could easily be taken loose and used to create new jewelry pieces.
Friends and family members are a great source for reusable items as well and when you let them know they should talk to you before getting rid of anything you will find yourself showered with all manner of materials on a regular basis, especially if you agree to make something for the person giving you all of their old stuff.
No matter what kind of jewelry you are making, there are always deals to be had on supplies if you take the time to hunt them out.  Being selective and keeping supplies organized so that you know what you have will help insure that you get the most out of what you have regardless of the cost.

Soap Molds from Homemade Items

Three years ago I created an article for Helium on making soap at home from glycerin cubes that you melt and pour into a purchased mold. These simple soaps can customized by adding coloring and scents of your choice. One of the other ways to make melt and pour soaps is to create them in your own homemade molds.

Interestingly enough, my article on homemade molds for soaps was published in May of 2010, a little over a year before the one on the basics of melt and pour soap. Of course I can't remember now if I suggested the title or if Helium posted it, but nonetheless, here it is:

Five Homemade Soap Molds

Making homemade soap can be a lot of fun especially when using melt and pour glycerin.  You simply break apart a few cubes, heat according to instruction and carefully pour the liquid into a waiting mold.  Just about any thing from a sea shell to a baking pan can serve as a homemade mold for your own custom soaps.
Some household items will be easier than others to turn into molds based on their flexibility.  Ice trays with fun party shapes would make great homemade molds for fashioning small sized custom guest soaps and there are a variety of shapes available on the market for doing so.  For more variety in appearance add soap colorant or powders.
Small food storage containers can easily serve as home made soap molds particularly those that are somewhat flexible or have sides that could be squeezed slightly to help in gently removing the soap after it has completely cooled and hardened.  Dried herbs in whole or ground form make a nice addition (and can add color, fragrance or both) to these simple soaps.
Baking pans such as muffin tins and tiny loaf pans are handy as use for homemade molds for individual round or rectangular shaped soaps.  Larger loaf pans could also be used to make a soap log that could then be cut into individual sized bars if making large quantities of soap.
Empty milk and juice cartons can be washed and used as makeshift homemade soap molds as well.  Cut the carton a few inches from the bottom to make a simple square mold when using smaller cartons.  Larger cartons will make much larger bricks of soap that will need to be sliced after cooling.  The waxy paper can be easily peeled away and discarded after use.
In a pinch disposable plastic or waxed paper cups (not Styrofoam) could be used as homemade soap molds.  In reality, pretty much any removable form that could be used to make candles could also be used to mold soaps as long as it is somewhat flexible.  (Do not use plastic cups for making candles however.)
Melt and pour soaps will start to harden on the top first making it somewhat hard to tell if they have completely solidified.  Be sure to let them cool completely and give them a little extra time to cure before attempting to remove them from their molds.

Working with Melt and Pour Soaps

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated at the idea of making my own soap. As I grew older, I forgot about that desire for a while, and then along came that magical entity we all know as the internet. It took a while for the net to become populated with enough links and resources for soapmaking, and there was also the issue of recipes that used lye.

Eventually, with the rise in DIY and the renewed interest in crafts that had long faded from popularity, I lucked out with the discovery of the melt and pour kits at Walmart. I had a lot of fun for a while, especially when I experimented with some dried basil as an additive.

Once again I had a new interest in making soap, and though the melt and pour kit was fun for a while, I still wanted to make soap from scratch. After discovering soap lilies, I'd hoped to grow some of those, but life often gets in the way of one's passions and pastimes and I haven't had the opportunity as of yet.

As an avid crafter, I was excited to share what I had learned via a Helium article on soapmaking basics, as well as an additional article (to be posted to this blog shortly) on homemade molds for soapmaking.. Originally published in October of 2011:

Basics of Melt and Pour Soapmaking

Melt and pour soap making is a gratifying hobby that is easy to do and allows for the creation of custom soaps that can be personalized to any preference. At the basic level, all a person needs to be able to do is melt the soap cubes and pour the liquid into a waiting mold. It’s as simple and as basic as that; though there is some essential equipment needed to get started.
A good way to get started with melt and pour soap making is to purchase a kit. A basic prepackaged kit will contain glycerin cubes, a mold, coloring, and fragrance. Of course, there’s no rule that the coloring or fragrance provided has to be used in making the soap, and candy molds could be used to make small, decorative, guest soaps.
Because the glycerin cubes in the kit break apart easily, much like chocolate, melting is much easier than buying glycerin in bulk and having to cut it down into smaller pieces. Also, the smaller cubes make it easy to create as much or as little soap as desired at one time.
Though melt and pour soap can be heated in the microwave, the best way to melt the glycerin soap cubes is in a stainless steel bowl that has been placed in hot water double-boiler style. Once the soap is completely melted it is time to add the fragrance and or coloring. The best fragrance to use will be a pure essential oil, though dried herbs can also be used for fragrance as well as color. Gently stir in a few drops of oil, or add the herbs a little at a time until the desired color is achieved.
The melt and pour soap will have to cool over several hours before they are completely hardened all the way through. Once it is completely cured, the glycerin bar should pop out easily from the mold. Using individual molds, while not necessary, eliminates the need for cutting the soap into bars once it has cured. A variety of household items can be used for molding soap in addition to the plain molds that come with melt and pour kits, from ice trays to mini muffin tins.
Once the basics of melt and pour soap have been mastered, a variety of fun, fanciful or decorative soaps can be created with a little imagination and experimenting (much like cooking and creating recipes). Any additions used with the glycerin, especially for color, should be those proven to be safe for the skin.

How to Sell Your Handmade Crafts on Consignment

Crafting for many is more than just a casual pastime. The ability to earn money from crafting can mean a dream come true that is a means to extra income or even the development of a full-time business. While there are a number of approaches to earning income from crafting, one of the simplest means of doing so is selling on consignment.

The article below was originally published on Helium in January of 2011.

How to Sell Crafts on Consignment

Selling your handmade crafts on consignment is a great way to make a little extra money. With the investment of some considerable time and effort, it is an enterprise that can even be developed into a full-time business.
Consignment is the process of placing things for sale with a retailer, such as a boutique or gift shop, that agrees to sell your items for you in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds. The consignment terms are generally set by the retailer and the percentage generally starts at around 30-35% of the sale price of the craft item, though it can be as much as 50%, depending on the business.
For large scale items, such as quilts that can be retailed for hundreds of dollars each, the fifty-fifty split isn’t that bad.  While a crafter has to look at the amount of time spent in creating their craft items as well as the cost of the supplies used, a retail shop has its own costs of maintaining a storefront from rent to utilities to employees to consider.
One disadvantage to the crafter setting out to sell by consignment for the first time is lack of experience. Because retailers generally purchase their inventory for resale, they often look at items on consignment much in the same way as items purchased wholesale, and therefore they set a retail sale price based on what they perceive to be their per unit cost of the item.
In actuality, the only thing an item on consignment costs a retailer is shelf space. Selling items on consignment is actually more cost effective for a retailer than having to purchase inventory outright. In addition, a purchased inventory item may or may not sell; in the instance where it doesn’t, it will have to be reduced later and sold at a clearance price in hopes of recouping at least some of the money spent purchasing it.
If inventory on consignment doesn’t sell, it can simply be returned to the crafter at the end of the consignment period. This is an advantage to the retailer since s/he doesn’t lose any money in the process. It can also potentially work out for the crafter as leftover inventory can be rotated around to different markets or even recycled to create something new that can in turn be offered for sale.
When setting out to establish a relationship with a retailer to sell items on consignment it is important to purchase an invoice book to keep track of inventory and to establish a formal agreement. If the retailer doesn’t have a document outlining the consignment terms already, a hand-written agreement can be drawn up and signed by both parties at the time the agreement is made. (A second copy should be made so each party has one.)
The consignment agreement needs to detail the time period for the arrangement (30-90 days) as well as the terms by which the retailer will pay (once per month, within x amount of days of sale, etc.). Many small businesses prefer not to pay as soon as an item is sold. It is better for them to tally up all sales once per month and to pay at a designated time in the following month.
Once an agreement has been established and inventory delivered, it is important to visit the venue every month to take inventory and check on sales. Consignment agreements are a great way to get started selling your crafts without having to open up your own business.

How to make Paper Bag Puppets

A recent notification about a Twitter update being retweeted reminded me that I have been seriously slacking in migrating my articles from the soon to be defunct Helium web site. The update in question was an article on how to build a puppet stage from cardboard that was retweeted by LSP @puppet_school, It's a small thing, but I'm grateful for it, since I published over 300 articles on Helium and in December they will disappear if I don't do something to preserve them. 

I've just transferred the puppet stage article, and since this one was related, I wanted to transfer it at the same time.

Making Paper Bag Puppets

Making puppets from paper bags is cheap, quick and easy and is just the kind of activity that will keep your wildly imaginative kids entertained for hours on end. What's more, the fun doesn't stop with the creation of the puppets themselves. Once your kids have a nice collection of paper bag puppet characters they will have to come up with stories to start their own puppet theater to entertain the rest of the family.
Kids love pretend and puppets are a great way for them to explore storytelling and imaginary adventures. With a little help from you they can even create their own puppet home movies. Animals, storybook characters, monsters and even alien creatures will be invading your home, righting wrongs and battling the big bad wolf for the amusement of friends, relatives, classmates and anyone who will listen.
Getting started is as simple as assembling a few craft essentials. All you need is a package of brown or white paper lunch sacks, glue and an assortment of paper or fabric scraps. For puppets with more detailed features pencil, markers or crayons would be helpful. Scissors are handy for older children who are good at cutting but you may want to cut shapes for hair, eyes, noses and mouths, etc., ahead of time. This will make things easier for your junior puppet master.
The bottom of the paper bag will serve as the puppet's face and the flap created by the fold of the bottom against the upper portion of the bag will serve as its mouth. Your child will make the puppet "talk" by inserting his or her hand in the opening for what would normally be the top of the bag and working the flap up and down with their fingers.
To make a puppet simply add eyes and other facial features by cutting geometric shapes from pink, brown, white or black construction paper and gluing them onto the paper bag. To see an assortment of cute animal puppets you can make simply and quickly using very few materials visit Enchanted Learning's paper bag puppet craft page at: A number of other web sites have instructions and templates online for creating all sorts of puppets from animals to holiday themed characters including First SchoolABC Teach, and DLTK.
If crafting from scratch is just not your forte it's okay; all hope is not lost as there are a few great craft kits available for wonderful paper bag puppets from Martha Stewart that come with everything you need included. These are available through com, Walmart and local craft stores.
Paper bag puppets are so simple even the most craft challenged adult will have no trouble completing several of them in a manner of hours. The best part is at a cost of just pennies a piece, your child can make as many as he or she wishes.

Make a DIY Puppet Theater from Cardboard

I've been lagging behind the past few months as I've been busy with Speed Dating event management, but now that the year is winding down and Helium is about to go away forever, a Twitter retweet notification from LSP @PuppetSchool this morning has reminded me it's time to resume migrating all my articles before they disappear!

The original article, titled How to Make a Cardboard Puppet Stage, first appeared on Helium in July of 2010.  I also did a related article for them on making paper bag puppets, and another on finding resources for making paper mache. I want to thank LSP @PuppetSchool for digging up that Twitter update and sharing it with their followers.

How to Make a Cardboard Puppet Stage

Building a cardboard puppet stage is a great weekend activity to do with the kids, especially on rainy days when playing outdoors is out of the question. If you have a large cardboard box, paints and a bit of fabric you have everything you need to create your very own family puppet stage.
The best box to use will be a tall rectangular one such as the wardrobe boxes for storing clothing during a move or a large appliance box. These will make great free standing puppet theaters, but medium sized boxes could be used just as easily to create tabletop stages.
If using a tall box, carefully remove the top fold-down flaps with a box cutter or very sharp scissors. Next you will need to remove one full rectangular panel from one side of the box. (Leave the bottom intact.) This will serve as the back of the puppet stage.
On the opposite side of the wardrobe box, across from the panel you removed, cut out a rectangular piece of cardboard to serve as a window. This will be the audience side of your puppet stage.  Take care not to make the front window too large or too small.  It should be just large enough to allow viewing of two or three hand puppets (perhaps twelve inches tall by fourteen inches wide).
The height of the front window from the bottom of the box should leave room for the performers not to be seen during a puppet show.  The actual placement will depend upon the size of the cardboard box used to create the puppet stage.  By leaving the “floor” of the box intact the puppet theater will be able to stand on its own without any support.
The next step is to decorate the stage to make it performance ready.  To transform your humble cardboard box into a magnificent puppet stage (after cutting) begin by either adding a coat of black poster paint or by covering the box with black fabric.  Actual fabric curtains can be added on to the front of the puppet stage or painted on.  If using fabric curtains you’ll want to create ties to hold them back during a performance.
Creating a cardboard puppet theater is as easy as cutting a few pieces from a large enough box and decorating the outside to your liking.  If using a smaller carton, such as one that has held several jugs of water or reams of paper, cut the window from the bottom of the box and turn it on its side to be used as a tabletop puppet stage.