Posts Tagged DIY

A Handweaving Crafternoon at NYPL

This past weekend, I had the excellent fortune to attend NYPL’s Crafternoon! The topic – hand weaving –  was just one of the latest in a number of serendipitous events that seem to be pointing me in the direction of my loom, but the truth is I have been hankering to attend a Crafternoon for the last couple of years. Somehow the timing never worked out – until now.

Handmade Crafternoons are the result of the combined genius of Maura Madden, a writer and performer who started crafting parties with her friends over a decade ago and eventually wrote a book about it , and Jessica Pigza, a crafty rare-book librarian at NYPL, who was looking to expand the programming at the library.  I have admired Jessica since she partnered with Design*Sponge back in 2008 to create Design by the Book, a series of online episodes inviting various local artists to use NYPL’s vast collection of primary source material to inspire their own work.  Each episode is beautifully produced and highlights the relevance of the Library’s collection to the creative process.

Started in 2009, the NYPL Crafternoons bring the same idea to the crafting public by inviting people to participate in projects like lace-making, zine-making, stitching felt,  and book arts. Each event includes a special guest (usually an artist or “celebrity crafter” – past guests have included Ayun Halliday and Debbie Stoller, some personal favorites), a hands-on project, and a display of related resources from the Library’s collection.  Awesome, right?

So on Saturday afternoon, I made my way down to 42nd street with great anticipation.  I knew that the special guests were going to be members of the New York Guild of Handweavers and I was expecting the event to be a demonstration of how floor looms work.  With upwards of 50 guests, I wasn’t sure how a hands-on portion would be possible.  When I arrived, there were several beautiful table looms on display, along with an array of fabric samples and weaving books.

My favorite was this lovely little table loom, the Structo Artcraft.  First manufactured as a toy, I hear it is still in use at FIT to teach basic fiber classes (but that is – as of press time – still unconfirmed).

When I was done nerding out on all of the table loom models, pattern books and cloth samples, I was delighted to see tables set up with yarn and other crafting supplies, too!

And at each seat was a tiny DIY loom made of popsicle sticks, already warped and ready for use – 50 in all!

The session started with a welcome by Jessica and Maura and an introduction of New York Guild of Handweavers present  –  a group of people from all walks of life, brought together by their love of the fiber arts, as evidenced by the amazing handwoven scarves most were wearing.  The guild is the oldest in the United States, started in 1941 by Berta Frey, an occupational therapist who wrote many books on weaving.  They meet once a month during the academic year and welcome new members and novice weavers.  According to one member I spoke to, when approached with the idea of participating in a Crafternoon, the challenge was to figure out how to get people weaving themselves, rather than just holding a demonstration.  The answer was in the rigid-heddle backstrap loom made out of…. popsicle sticks! Members spent several hours constructing and warping the ingenious looms we were using, which functioned as a perfect introduction to the basic concepts of the craft.  If you are so inspired to make one yourself, the instructions are here.  After the introduction, the guild members fanned out to each table to demonstrate the use of our miniature backstrap looms.

With one end of the warp threads tied to the table and threaded through the sticks  – one color in the holes and the other in the spaces between the sticks – the other end of the warp threads were tied to my belt loop (for those sans belt loops, they had a rope you could use to tie on to your waist).  The spaces between the warp threads could be made by lifting up or pushing down the sticks – which acted as both heddle and shaft.  The first step was to spread out the warp threads tied to my waist and to do this we used two sets of chopsticks and their wrappers.  I loved the DIY and recycling aspect of this project.  One could literally make all the elements of this loom out of crap you know you have in your apartment.  Even the shuttles – used to hold the weft thread – were made out of discarded cardboard.  It took about five minutes to get up and running and was the perfect way to learn the basic tenets of how cloth is made.

There was a buzz in the room as 50 of us sat tied to the tables chatting and weaving. After awhile, I started to get curious about what everyone else was doing and untied myself to go see:

And this is what I love about weaving and fibers.  We are all working with the most basic of tools and creating such a wide variety of patterns and designs.  From here, the next step up is a basic lap loom, the kind that one of my very favorite artists, Sheila Hicks, used in the 1960’s to create a large series of small weavings that read more like paintings.

Penelope's Descendent. Sheila Hicks.

From there, you can move on to two, four, or eight-harness floor looms and the possibilities are endless!  By the end of the afternoon, I was already planning my next project and committed to using the yarn I have at home to do it.  As a lovely end-note to the event, I even won a raffle prize of two exquisite loom-woven napkins – something to aspire to when I join the Guild.  At $40/year, why wouldn’t you join such a cool organization?  Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a member of a guild.

So the Crafternoon delivered! There is something wonderful about going to the library to make something and it has inspired me to think about how I can promote the use of my own library collection in new and hands-on ways. And it was fabulous to meet Maura and Jessica, whom I had long admired through the blogosphere.  I can hardly wait for the next on on April 14th, featuring artist Noah Scalin on kickstarting your creativity through making something every day. Sign me up.  Wanna join me?

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DIY Holiday

I will be the first to admit that I’m not crazy about the holidays.  Sure, I enjoy a holiday gathering here and there and the lights all around Columbus Circle are pretty, but the imposed cheer can get to you – especially when it starts in early November.  My favorite thing about this time of year are the small gifts:  my colleague who makes and decorates beautiful gingerbread cookies each year, the lovely homemade candy that I wrote about in my last post, and the random and wonderful things my husband brings home from his work colleagues:  olive oil, clementines and even a fancy bottle of gin.

Between our colleagues, neighbors and teachers, there are a lot of people to remember this season and the challenge is to make something either beautiful or delicious .   Our go-to gifts are biscotti and truffles, but this year I decided to go in a different direction.  I love forcing bulbs in the winter, but since buying 50 amaryllis bulbs would exceed our budget, I decided to go with paperwhites – which are a nice reminder of spring in the middle of winter.  Paperwhite bulbs + mason jars + colorful stones = fun Saturday afternoon with our daughters.   For what child doesn’t love to put rocks in jars?

Because paperwhites don’t require chilling in order to bloom and can grow without soil, they are the perfect choice for a project like this.  Just fill the jar 3/4 full with stones, add the bulb, and secure with the jar-top:

Dress with raffia, greenery and instructions and voilà: Happy Holidays!

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Kitchen Cosmetics: Honey Lemon Body Butter

It all started innocently enough… with an article about the Environmental Working Group’s study on kids and sunscreen.  As I possess both of those things, I was curious.  One thing led to another and soon I was looking up ALL our products in their extensive database, Skin Deep.  I am a big fan of the EWG and their efforts to demystify information about toxins in our environment. I’m also a big fan of databases, so Skin Deep was perfect for me.  Maybe too perfect.  Down the rabbit hole I went, tossing out shampoos, lotions, and makeup along the way.  This is not to say I went “no poo” or started wearing patchouli, but over the past year I have radically changed what we apply to our skin and hair in this house.  Thanks in part to an excellent book, No More Dirty Looks,  that outlines the history of the cosmetics industry, the primary toxins in our products, and how to avoid them, I streamlined what I actually buy and started making some things myself.

There is a wealth of information and recipes on the web for DIY cosmetics, but let’s face it – many of them are either too complicated (calling for ingredients more suited to science experiments than organic beauty products) or result in the cosmetic version of clothes you sewed yourself when you’re just not that good at sewing.  They do the job, but are a little off. Or some just don’t do the job. Like DIY mascara.

But lotion is a different story.  I had a hard time finding something I liked that rated lower than a 3 (moderate hazard) and was game to try a recipe. For awhile, I was just using coconut oil –  which I loved –  but left me feeling like a macaroon. Lotion is something you use almost every day and your skin is your biggest organ, so it seems logical to try not to slather chemicals all over it on a near constant basis. Just sayin’.  Plus, my youngest daughter has sensitive skin and I wanted to try making something she could use, too.  The answer came from Pure Natural Diva, a website devoted to non-toxic living.  This recipe uses only 5 basic ingredients and can be made in 20 minutes.  Here’s how:


STEP 1:Gather your ingredients.  You will need:

2 Tablespoons of Beeswax (You can buy cosmetic grade beeswax from Amazon – the pellets are easier to work with than the blocks).
1/2 Cup of Grapeseed Oil
1 Capsule of Vitamin E Oil
2-3 Tablespoons of Distilled Water
10 Drops of Citrus Essential Oil – or to preference

STEP 2: Combine the grapeseed oil, beeswax and vitamin E oil and heat until the beeswax has just melted.  You can either do this in a double-boiler on the stove, or in a pyrex bowl in the microwave (2 minutes).

STEP 3: Aerate!  Using a hand mixer, beat the oils on high while adding the distilled water a little bit at a time.  After a few minutes, a curious transformation will take place:

The mixture will turn from oily to milky!  You can control the thickness of your lotion by how much water you add, but the recommended amount is 2-3 Tablespoons.  Once you have achieved your desired consistency (after about 5 minutes of beating) add 10 drops of whatever essential oil you choose (I tend toward lemon).  Turn off the mixer and let the lotion sit for 15-20 minutes before putting it into the container of your choice.

It’s that easy and makes roughly 1 cup of lotion.  Although it is recommended to store the lotion in the refrigerator (which is nice in the summer), I have kept it in my bathroom for up to 2 months without it spoiling. This winter, when it is really dry, I suspect we will use up each batch in well under a month. It’s cheaper than any lotion I like and I know exactly what’s in it.

I must add that the success of this endeavor has been somewhat of a gateway drug for me.  Just last week I was boiling up flax seeds to squeeze through knee-high panty hose on my way to making a hair product that didn’t turn out so well on the first try – more on that later.  And my friend, Alexa Wilding, who has her own alchemical kitchen of potions loaned me her copy of Pratima Raichur’s book, Absolute Beauty, which is chock full of recipes made from ingredients you should have in your kitchen (if you don’t already). “Hurricane weekend” was spent mixing up powders and oils – the perfect thing to do in your kitchen when you don’t actually feel like cooking.

Lotion is easy.  Believe me, it’s the hair products that are a challenge!  Any advice?

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DIY Cooking

I was delighted to see the New York Times Dining section this week devoted to one of my favorite topics:   The DIY Kitchen! 16 completely accessible projects for ingredients you most likely would by psyched to have on hand in your kitchen.  As chronicled here, we are big fans of transforming milk into butter, yogurt and cheese, but there are a lot of recipes on their list that I have never made (Hello, Tesa?).  I’m starting with Kimchi, and I will let you know how it turns out.  I can’t get through all 16 in short order, so I implore you to choose one, make it, and let me know if it’s delicious.

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