Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Christmas is just around the corner... are you ready for Advent? When I was a kid I always liked how they lit the Advent Candles every Sunday at church. And once or twice I think I might have even got to be the one who lit a candle. Advent of course is the season that we prepare our hearts for Christ's birth and for the celebration of it on December 25th.

For many, a significant part of the season of Advent is the daily act of participating with an Advent Calendar. A couple of years ago I got the idea to make an Advent Calendar out of watchmaker's cases I knew I could get at Lee Valley. However, I knew it would take a lot of work and also a special person to make me want to make one for them!

Images from Lee Valley

So last year, in the midst of dating, I trouped on down to a Lee Valley store and picked up the set of 56 watchmaker's cases in four sizes. The camp I was working at had received a generous donation from an advertising firm of leftover magnet posters (vinyl posters adhered to sheet magnet) and remnants... so much so that I am not sure even in 25 years a camp could use all of them for various crafts. I only needed enough to cover the backs of each of the 25 cases I would be using for the calendar.

I ended up making templates for each of the different sizes of circles by tracing the four sizes onto scrap paper and cutting them out. Ensuring they fit on the backsides of the cases, I then traced them onto the magnet sheet and cut them out. I used hot glue to secure the magnet circles to the backs of the watchmaker's cases.

I purchased several different patterned sheets of scrapbooking paper from Michael's in reds, whites, and greens. I also picked up co-ordinating plain cardstock in red, green, and yellow; I already had white on hand. I again made templates out of scrap paper, this time tracing the front glass lids. I tested the templates to ensure that they fit inside the glass fronts. I made them just snug enough that they didn't require glue to fasten them inside, the pressure of the edges on the sides of the aluminum cases was enough to secure them.

Next, I figured out the placement that I wanted the cases to be in. I figured a Christmas Tree figuration would be cute and appropriate.

2010 Advent Calendar

Once I had the configuration settled on, I set to tracing and cutting the patterned circles. I tried to make sure the same pattern wasn't bordered by another case with the same pattern. Once I completed that step, I set to cutting out the numbers with my Slice Elite machine. A Slice is similar to a Cricut, but handheld and cordless. I switched colours and design cards to give each watchmaker's case it's own look. For Christmas Day, I cut out a special star by hand. I used a glue pen to glue the numbers down to the cut out scrapbook paper circles, and then placed the completed circles on the underside of the glass.

Overall, it was a very time consuming project. Cutting out the circle magnet pieces and paper pieces took time. It took a bit of practice to get the numbers the size I wanted and needed them to be, and more than once I had to re-do them.

To fill the cases, I knit little stockings and caps and made other little tree ornaments, and purchased a few from dollar stores as well. In the end I ran out of time and ended up purchasing a mixed box of Jelly Belly jellybeans and used the red, green, white, and yellow ones in some of the cases. I think I may have included some tea in a couple of the cases as well.

Of course, I didn't end up using all 56 cases that I had, and there was still a lot of the paper left as well. I didn't have time to make a second calendar last year, but this fall/winter I worked on one to give away this year to my sister's family.
2011 Advent Calendar
Without looking at last year's for reference, I set out and whipped up another one. This time I didn't have the sheet magnet, so I used strong circular magnets... some I had on hand from a previous dollar store purchase, and I picked up more at Wal*Mart (Elmer's Magnets "Adhesive Foam Buttons, size .75", 8 to a pack for around $4). Although, on a later trip to that craft aisle, I found you can actually get a pack of 50 for around $7! You can also buy sheet magnets from Elmer's as well if you like the idea of covering the whole backs of the containers; this style enables the containers to be flush with the surface you magnet them to (i.e. the fridge). I had saved my previously made paper templates when I stored the remaining cases the year before, which was great, it made the whole process of finishing this year's set quicker.

I didn't handmake any decorations for this calendar, but instead filled it purely with candies and those rubber band shapes that kids like. I bought a variety of candies including Skittles, Mike & Ikes, Lifesavers, etc., and used the green, red, white, and yellow ones. The cases are a variety of depths (see photo above), so you can fit a variety of candies in the different sizes.

A few tips if you decide to make your own calendar like this:
  • Ensure your magnets are strong enough to hold not only the watchmaker's cases to a metal surface, but also whatever you choose to fill the cases with. I found the strong fatter magnets I used the same time around worked better. And they came with peel-off backs! They were definitely pricier (hey, the other ones were free), but well worth it. (If you choose to go the route of the fatty magnets, I'd recommend getting a bigger more economical pack, you can always make magnet projects in the future with any leftovers).
  • The cases are made of aluminum, and come from overseas. They kind of smelled funny. I washed out the bottoms in soap and water, and used a wet paper towel to clean the tops.
  • I tested all of my full cases on the fridge before mailing. Some of them the tops came off easily. However, it is easy to remedy this by pinching the bottom pieces a little bit to make them less of a circle... this makes the lids fit more securely.
  • If you're all cool and don't have a lame regular old fridge and your fridge is stainless steel, you can use a metal tray or cookie sheet to keep your Calendar on. I'd suggest rigging it up to hang on the wall. And you can even get a cheap cookie sheet from a dollar store and spray paint it the colour of your choice! Or, you could have them on the front of your washer or dryer too, really any metal surface that magnets stick to will work.
  • If you're including chocolates in your Advent Calendar, make sure they are wrapped in case they melt.
  • Another fun and easy idea is to include clippings of either Bible verses or the Christmas story in your cases. These can be instead of or in addition to the other goodies you include. If you use a sturdy paper they can even have little magnet squares secured to the back and be made to magnet to the fridge as well in succession. By Christmas day you'll have the whole story or 25 verses or sayings.
  • If you are rich, you can buy those bigger spice containers that are similar to the watchmaker's cases... you know the ones that already have magnets on them.
  • This calendar can be used again and again. Last Advent I told my then boyfriend that he'd have to fill the cases for me this year! My husband told me earlier this week that he's been working on it. :)
Does your family have a traditional Advent Calendar that you use? What homemade items are part of your Christmas traditions?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Business Cards!

I am already on my second set of business cards in less than a month! When I sold items at a craft fair earlier in November, I was selling both cards and jewelry. For my business card design for the show, I went with a simple owl design and the two fonts that I had used on all of my product packaging. A lot of the cards I was selling had a nature-y theme, so it seemed like a great match.

Realizing that I have a lot more jewelry in stock right now, and having only jewelry currently in my online shop, I wanted to develop a business card that matched the look and feel of the shop. The accent colour in my product packaging was a pale blue, so I decided to go with that. With limited options of graphics programs to use, and Pinterest, I found a great blue lace background. I "recycled" my previous text layout and fonts, but added my Facebook page and made the fonts larger.

What do you think? I like that this new design goes a bit better with my jewelry line, I think the look and feel match the photos and product photography.

P.S. 10% off everything in the shop for the next 72 hours! Use the coupon code "sweetnovember" at checkout! Just in time for some early Christmas shopping!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Contest Winner!

Last week I announced a contest for everyone who clicked "like" on the Mikao page on Facebook, with an extra entry for everyone who shared the contest on their wall. The grand prize is a Pearl and Pink Bracelet. Today, after a lot of stirring and mixing of ballots I announced the winner... ta da!

Congratulations Karen!

The lacy paper ballots are a peek at a project that I will reveal tomorrow! I love the way it turned out, even the scraps are pretty!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Just a few pairs of earrings currently up in my shop, just in time for Christmas gift giving!

Head on over to Mikao to check out more items just in time for Christmas!

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Make A Quilt

I was going through some old craft files on my computer tonight when I found a few funny old things that I had forgotten about from years ago. Since yesterday I shared some of my baby quilt making escapades, I thought I'd include this easy step-by-step manual that I created in summer 2005 for a friend who wanted to learn how to quilt. I created a killer quilting soundtrack to go along with it (unfortunately I don't have a copy of the playlist, although I am quite positive it was AWESOME). The instructions were a booklet that conveniently fit inside a CD jewel case (Remember those? When was the last time you burnt a CD?).

So, if you've always wanted to quilt but never knew how, this handy and informative step-by-step guide hopefully shall inspire you! Really it's a good guide on how to tie a quilt, which is a great beginner quilt. Note that you can click on any of these scans to BIGGIE SIZE them and get a closer look!

Clever patchwork letters, hey?

I quite like that lovely little tomato pincushion I've drawn there! Although, I've never actually owned one of those tomatoes, I do have a neato Chinese pincushion... but usually I keep my pins in a magnetized bowl. And #8 on that list, very essential to have snacks!

That note at the end of Step 2 cracked me up!

Have you ever made a quilt? If not, have you ever wanted to? What's stopping you? What items do you consider essentials when crafting?

Oh... and SPECIAL BONUS! Here is a stellar photo of me showing my friend Amanda how to yarn-tie a quilt. She had this rad Strawberry Shortcake flannel that she wanted to make into a blanket. I think this was that same summer... so 2005.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oh Baby!

Over the years, I have made a few quilts. Baby quilts are awesome for a few reasons:
  • They're small (everything smaller is cuter than it's bigger counterpart!)
  • They don't have to take a ton of time depending on the techniques you use
  • You can use up scraps and stuff you already have, or they don't take a lot of new fabric!
  • They often turn into heirlooms... people are afraid to get rid of handmade things.

I believe this is the first baby quilt I made. I say believe because there were quite a few babies born around that time and I can't remember any more who was first. The design I conceived was composed of various lengths of fabric in a somewhat "brickwork" pattern. I LOVE these colours. I'm not sure I should admit this, because the recipient might some day see this blog, but the only new fabrics in this quilt are the plain chocolate brown broadcloth and the blue pattern. But, all of the fabrics I already had on hand, the only thing I had to purchase specifically was the batting (I used the thin stuff, polyester for washability, it worked out great). The brown patterned fabric and the white with pale brown and blue floral pattern fabric actually came from some twin-sized duvets I had purchased at a thrift store a few years earlier. They were in great condition, and made it into quite a few craft projects. The plain white fabric was a heavy sheet that my landlord was giving away. It was a number of years old, but a lovely thick cotton and perfect for quilting.

For the back of the quilt I didn't have enough of any of the patterned fabrics to do a solid back, and I wanted to do something fancier than just a white back. I ended up using some of the leftover pieces from the front, pieced together with two larger pieces of the white sheeting. The binding I made from the chocolate brown patterned duvet. You can see for the actual quilting I used a straight stitch.

The only catch with this quilt was I made it before the baby was born. The surprise shower actually ended up being the day before wee little Tessa was born a month early! As you can tell by the name, the baby was a she. While many might consider the quilt to be done in "boy colours," the fabrics have a floral theme which I thought lent a nice feminine touch.

Now this is definitely a quilt for a boy! I found a lovely little cars and traffic-themed poplin at Fabricland. I wasn't too keen on poplin with it's wrinkly texture, so was pleased to find a note with the bolt of fabric advising that a manufacturer's error caused the poplin wrinkles to wash out in regular washing. Yah! After laundering and ironing, it was just a regular cotton fabric. I matched some plain cotton broadcloth in various colours to the car pattern and was ready to go.

With access to limited design programs on the computers that I used, I improvised and used Microsoft Excel to assist in conceiving and designing this quilt. I figured that I wanted to use a two inch grid and implemented shapes off of that basis.

I kept a list of how many of each sized pattern piece in each colour I needed and cut them out. It might be tricky to see in the Excel image, but there are darker lines around the main sections that I stitched together after the smaller pieces had been stitched together within those outlines.

I've ended up making a couple of the car quilts for friends who've had boys, but for each the quilting has been done different. For this quilt pictured, the quilting was done by stitching around the inside of each pattern piece. You can see some of the detail on this photo of the back of the quilt:

I think quilts are always a fun gift to give because they are an heirloom made with love.

Do you have any handmade cherished baby gifts or other heirlooms?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Art Around The House

I'm not one to really make any serious New Year's Resolutions, especially since I don't see a whole lot of people pulling through to complete their resolutions by year's end. However, a couple of years ago I made it a resolution to purchase some "real art" at some point over the next 365 days.

My friend Natasha Lawyer is an artist in Seattle, we went to college together. She has a great blog called Pretty Sketchy. When I saw her awesome green typewriter print in this post, I knew that was what I wanted. It has travelled with me across the country to Manitoba and now makes it's home in the entryway to my home, to the right of the arched doorway outside of my kitchen in the little mini-hallway to the living room.

It's framed in a Ribba frame from Ikea. Beside it you can see a papercut I did for my Honeybun based on this awesome free Squirrel Valentine Template from the blog Little Acorn. I did modify it slightly to my taste by switching out the top cloud design for more acorns and branches, and I used scalloped scissors rather than the pinking shears-type design she has in the original. I found it easier to cut through just one sheet of paper so I cut out half and then reversed the template before cutting out the other half. I think it looks great! The frame for that is one I got at a thrift store 5 or 6 years ago. For the longest time it had a square photo taken by my great grandfather of a really neat tree, but the mat was beginning to fade and I needed something to frame the papercut in, so now the tree is taking a break and waiting for a new home.

Back to art and prints... I also found a cute owl alphabet print on Etsy that I looooved, in the shop Gingiber. I just found out recently that the artist, Stacie Bloomfield, has a blog as well, gingibersnap... lots of cute things to see. Here is her print in my old apartment in the dining room above our "work table":

The puffy tissue paper flower was a wedding trial run (it was spring... there was a lot of wedding stuff going on before July!). The awesome owl vase was a $12.49 find at Winners Homesense. The little shiny owl was from BouClair a couple of years ago. The frames are aluminum, also Ribba, from Ikea. The two squares have some scrapbook paper in them. In my new home it actually hangs in my living room above the TV and between two towering shelves of DVDs. Gingiber's site calls her artwork "nursery art," but I think it goes great in a dining room or living room too!

"Real art" doesn't have to be expensive. Especially when wonderful artists' showcases like Etsy exist nowadays. There are hundreds and thousands of artists who have wonderful blogs and shops online where you can procure your own art pieces (whether originals or prints). Do you have any prints or art up in your home?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nuts About You!

This past spring, in the midst of wedding planning and wedding shopping, I went to The Paper Place in Toronto with a few lovely friends. I had already purchased print-your-own invitations kits, but was looking for some paper to switch out some that came in the kits to go more along with our colour scheme and taste.

While I didn't end up finding the paper we ended up using in our invitations, they did have all kinds of FABULOUS stuff. Case in point, these awesome squirrel paper clips:

I can't find the paper clips in their online store, however you can buy the same clips on this Etsy site.

If I had been to this store before purchasing the invite kits, I probably would have had a completely different invitation design in the end, they had all sorts of lovely clips, not just squirrels but a few different animals and these cute little birds.

In the end, I couldn't incorporate paper clips into my invite design, but I did manage to still craft a fantastic card for my fiance. I started with one of the clips, as well as a piece of olive-y green cardstock and a matching envelope that I purchased at The Paper Place. I used some tan, beige, and chocolate-coloured cardstock that I already had, as well as a brown felt pen.

I searched out oak tree leaves online to find a suitable silhouette to base my design on. I didn't have a printer available, so I freehanded a template on some scrap white paper whilst looking at my laptop screen. Once I was satisfied with my design, I cut it out with scissors. The acorn design was freehand drawn onto the two separate cardstocks and cut out with scissors. I test-drew "nuts" onto some white paper and transfered the design with pencil to the backside of the acorn. I cut the text out with an x-acto knife, then used an acid-free glue to adhere the acorn together. I used pencil to write the text onto the leaf, then traced over it with the brown felt pen. Being sure to let it dry first, I then erased the original pencil with a super duper white eraser. Good as new! Once that was completed, I positioned the oak leaf onto the tan cardstock and glued it down with a glue pen, being careful to leave appropriate space for the paperclip to secure to the top of the leaf. Once the gluing was done, I fastened the acorn to the leaf with the paper clip, and secured the bottom and mid-parts of the acorn to the leaf with double-sided acid-free scrapbooking tape to prevent the acorn from shifting during mailing.

Voila! I always feel a homemade card is a bit more heartfelt than a store bought one. What do you think? Do you save cards you receive? Are you more likely to keep a homemade card than a store bought one?