Dyeing for a Change

A little food coloring yields a brand new lunchbox.

By now you probably heard that I’ve been working on the video podcast Sticks and Stones with my friend Julia of Wee Sheep Knits. We share our creativity with the world by giving insight into projects we’re working on and providing a DIY segment for the folks at home to try.

In Episode 9, Julia taught us how to dye wool yarn using food coloring. It was right up my alley. (Truth be told: we may have burned out my microwave setting the dye, but it was still a blast.) It’s one of those projects that leaves you hunting around for other objects you can dye. And find something I did: my kid’s lunchbox. I decided to give dyeing whirl beyond the yarn when my daughter and I dyed her lunchbox.

The original light pink lunchbox that’s about to get a makeover.

The lunchbox began life as a pink LL Bean nylon lunchbox. My daughter got it when she was in Kindergarten and after 4 years of use it shows no signs of giving up (go LL Bean!).

The problem is that my now 4th grader is not the pink princess she used to be. We decide to pour on the food coloring and see if we could give it a makeover. I’m happy to report that it was a success! Here’s how we did it.


  • Wilton icing colors, available at craft stores or online
  • Popsicle sticks
  • rubber gloves
  • boiling water
  • towel
  • vinegar
  • heatproof container large enough to hold the lunchbox
  1. Preparing your supplies: Boil the water and have it waiting in the wings for Step 3. Rinse the lunchbox so the nylon is completely saturated.
  2. Dyeing the nylon: Wearing rubber gloves (so you don’t dye your hands), use a Popsicle stick to spread the icing dye across the nylon of the lunchbox. We did this procedure in our kitchen sink to keep the dye contained so it wouldn’t color unsuspecting bystanders like the kitchen counters. We found that rubbing the dye on directly gave a brighter color. You can also dilute the color in water. Sticks and Stones Episode 9 gives more insight into this process.

    My artist painting food coloring on her lunchbox.

  3. Setting the dye:Pour boiling water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio into the heatproof container and then place the lunch box in the container as well. I used an aluminum cake pan, adding vinegar until the pan was about 1/4 full and then adding hot water until it was 1/2 full. I poured warm water inside the lunch box so it would remain submerged. Put the lid on the cake pan and wrapped the whole thing in a towel so it stays hot longer. Once this mixture cools, I emptied the cake pan and add a new batch of hot water and vinegar to the cake pan and flipped the lunch box over to submerge the lid, as the whole lunchbox didn’t fit in the pan. Again I lidded the cake pan and wrapped it in a towel.
  4. Rinse cycle: Once you’ve set the dye with hot water and the water has cooled, it’s time to rinse out the excess dye with running water. Hang the lunchbox on the washline so it dries completely.
  5. Laundering: Finally, I washed the lunch box in the washing machine with regular detergent to make sure all the excess dye came out.

I let my daughter apply the colors to the lunchbox. She chose sky blue and leaf green Wilton icing colors. The butterfly patch did not dye at all, but the nylon lunch box did. And laundering the lunchbox removed the bits of dye that got inside the lunchbox. So now I have a happy kid and a few more years before I have to buy new school supplies.

Studio Complete?

The fabric area of my studio complete with brand new bulletin boards. This Ikea shelving and orange boxes are perfect for this area.

My custom bulletin boards are finally hung!

I feel like my studio might almost be done. My husband and I started redecorating our third floor over a year ago with new paint, carpet, shelving…the works. It’s been a very slow process because we did most of it ourselves.

The bulletin boards are at the top of the stairs, so it's like an art gallery as you enter the room.

The chunk of it was done last spring but organization eluded me for a long time and it took a while to find the right shelving. Bulletin boards were my last big push and, of course, I couldn’t just buy cork from Staples. They had to be fancy-pants bulletin boards I made myself from stuff I found here and matching fabrics. I chose three Ikea fabrics and then made a mosaic using those fabrics and some Laura Gunn scraps that Kristen was so gracious to give to me.

And finally they are on the wall.

It’s sad that both my husband and I have grandfathers who were carpenters, yet neither of us can hang a coat rack without worrying it’ll fly off the way and whack us in the forehead.

Luck for us there are people like Chris Fairchild from In Order to Organize.

All my jewerly supplies in one area neatly labeled. I need one more piece of furniture to marry the beading area to the sewing area. Coming soon!

Chris owns a personal organization and personal training business right here in Easton. Not only can he put holes in my 100-year-old walls without worry, he can organize, build, plan and create. Chris organizes any aspect of your home, business or work flow.

In spring, Chris talked me through how I use each section of my studio and what would make the most sense in terms of storage and organization. He helped me decide on shelving, and I plan to have him make shelves for a closet and a wall shelf above my sewing machine.

That’s his other great talent. Chris can design and build custom pieces for your house.

He hung my bulletin boards for me and I am eternally grateful. I assisted him as he figured out the spacing (does holding a level count as assisting?). If I’d hung them they’d be crooked, and I’d have to lie that uneven spacing is art at its best.  Instead he measured and drilled and they look beautiful.

So is my studio finally done? I suppose as done as it’ll ever be. I have a few boxes to unpack and I still can’t find my rotary cutter, but that may just be a casualty of reorganizing.

The kids supplies and crafting area is on the left side of the table. It's not as tidy-looking as I'd like, but it's functional. Once everyone can read, I might transition to more orange storage boxes.

Weekend Recovery

My treasure hunters trying out their new cargo-pants-turned-field-bags.

My treasure hunters trying out their new cargo-pants-turned-field-bags.

What better way to recover from a weekend than a creativity binge?

Instead of cleaning my studio and re-shelving all my props from the Powwow this weekend, I’ve been sewing up a storm. At last count I had 2 field bags, 6 bibs and a bunch of cloth napkins.

The Powwow was a good time, despite the weather. Saturday the sun showed up, and therefore, so did the crowds. I demonstrated porcupine quill, wrapping a rawhide medicine wheel with dyed quills.

Sunday saw a stead rain ALL day. Honestly, in the 5 years I’ve done this festival (3 times a year, at that) this is the first time it rained for an entire day. Rather than be miffed by the fact that rain keeps the crowds away, I took it as a vacation day. It’s all in the attitude, right?

I sat under a dry tent, worked on an easy quillwork project and listened to the rain. No kids to entertain, no laundry or cleaning to distract me. Just drinking coffee, listening to the drums and the music of the weather, enjoying my craft. During the especially slow afternoon, my neighbor the flintknapper and I traded secrets; I showed him some quillwork, he let me bang rocks together.

Although the spectators were few, the Native dancers were still out there dancing in the rain. In a day and age where rain equals holing up in front of the TV, it’s great to see people who aren’t scared off by a bit of weather.

Come Monday morning I didn’t record my sales for taxes or put away quills. Instead, I set to work on some treasure-hunting field bags for the kids. I saw this idea on some one’s blog (if it was you, let me know so I can give you credit!) to turn turn old cargo pants into a kid bag with lots of pockets. I cut off the legs, sewed up the bottoms and added new fabric to make the strap and flap. The kids were so excited. A great place to stash all their dandelions and rocks from neighborhood walks. My pockets will be so empty!

Bibs and napkins will keep everyone clean!

Bibs and napkins will keep everyone clean!

The studio is still a mess, maybe even a bigger mess. But the way I look at it, I am cleaning up my studio by using the fabric crowding the space. It’s all in the attitude, right?

Box o’ Birds


There is a woman up north, in New Hampshire to be exact, who is about to pop.

She’s tall and slender, so at this point, as she patiently awaits the arrival of child #3, she probably looks like a lollipop– long, thin legs and a very round belly on top.

Her due date is not far off, which means the phone calls will start. If you’ve ever been pregnant and made it to your due date, you know what I’m talking about. When folks call up and say, “Did you have the baby yet?” or “How are you feeling?” Both my kids were late, so I got a lot of these phone calls. I had the urge to be sarcastic: “Yeah, I had the baby three weeks ago and just didn’t tell you” or “Hey, strap on a 30 pounds cat food and tell me how you feel.” But I was never that rude, even though I secretly wanted to be.

So rather than call with inane questions, I decided to send her a box of birds. She loves these birds (as do I!). I sewed up all colors and patterns, stuck ’em in a box and mailed them north. Hopefully a box of birds will bring a little sanctuary to the days of waiting for baby while chasing around two other little ones.


Who would you send a box of birds to?

But wait…there’s more for me to give away! That’s right, it’s April 1, and I have some prizes to give away from the March Happy Birthday Giveaway!

Thanks to all who left comments over the last month. I wish I could send all of you prizes! But the random number generator picked #2 and #12. The lucky winners are…

Gina will be getting the adjustable horse hair bracelet and…

Kristi will get the art journal.

Congrats, ladies. Your prizes will be in the mail shortly!

Work of Art

The outside of the journal cover featuring bird and cherry tree silhouettes.

The outside of the journal cover featuring bird and cherry tree silhouettes.

Ever make something so gorgeous, so just beyond the skills you know that you don’t want to give it away?

Here it is! A new journal cover made with Japanese import bird fabric and Amy Butler prints from the Belle and Lotus collections. I’m so excited with how it turned out.

The inside of the journal cover.

The inside of the journal cover.

Over the weekend my friend bestowed this journal cover on her sister as a birthday gift. I told her if she doesn’t like it, to give it back because I’d keepin’ it!

The sister had requested this a bit ago and asked for a zipper closure rather than the loop or Velcro I’d been using. In my mind putting it a zipper was INCREDIBLY hard. So I put it off.

My first zipper!

My first zipper!

As the deadline approached, I finally fished out my sewing machine manual. And I fished out the zipper foot. Who knew I even owned such an animal?

And guess what? It wasn’t hard at all. In fact, I figured out how to sandwich one side of the zipper inside the seam and the other side of the zipper in a flap of fabric.

Along the way, I discovered the other sewing machine feet that I never used and all the cool things I can do with my sewing machine. Part of my machine slids off to sew sleeves! And I can drop the feet for darning and freehand sewing!

Now my sewing machine manual, along with Amy Karol’s Bend the Rules Sewing are by my nightstand for before-bed reading. I’m so excited by all the techniques I can try with my sewing machine. If only I’d read the manual when I got the sewing machine 13 years ago!

But back to the birdie journal cover…

Velcro allows you to keep the top open and slide in a side-fold journal or keep the side closed and slide in a top-fold journal.

Secure the Velcro along the side and you can slide in a top-fold journal.

Attach the Velcro along the top and you can slide in a side-fold journal.

Attach the Velcro along the top and you can slide in a side-fold journal.

Not only does it have a zipper closure, but I used Velcro to develop a pocket that accommodates both top- and side-fold journals or art pads. I have another idea to improve upon this, but that’s for the next batch of art journals.

A little fancing stitching on the business card and sticky-note pockets.

A little fancy stitching on the business card and sticky-note pockets.

My friend’s sister also requested a business card pocket. I included another pocket below it and a pen and pencil pocket.

I’m secretly hoping the receiver of this gift doesn’t like it so I can keep it. But apparently my friend might snag it first. I guess I’d better get back in the sewing room and make a few more.

********Only 3 more days to leave a comment so you can be entered in the drawing for great prizes from Red-Tail Designs! ***********


Fun prizes you can win!

There is still time to enter the Birthday Giveaway! Just a leave a comment between now and March 31, 2009, and you’re automatically entered to win one of these Red-Tail Designs creations.

My newest product: adjustable horse hair bracelet

1. Adjustable Horse Hair Bracelet: Brown and white horse hair are braided together to create a swirled effect. Copper rings accent the bracelet and make it adjustable so it will fit any size wrist.


This horse hair bracelet is my newest product and I’m hoping to make some more of these this spring.


2. Galloping Horses Art Journal: Horses on the outside and pencils, paper and stickers on the inside. Take along art supplies where ever you go. My son and I were drawning while waiting at the DMV the other day.


The watercolor pencils, plus a paint brush, let you scribble away or add some water to create watercolor effects. The journal closes with a leather strap and magnetic clasp.

prize1Good luck!

Happy Birthday!


An art journal I made for my niece.


The outside of my niece's journal. I hope this funny dog fabric makes her laugh, because it just cracks me up.

Birthday season has arrived!

From February 11 through June 26, 75% of the people I know celebrate their birthdays. Much of spring I’m buying, making, sending, planning or celebrating birthdays and birthday gifts.

For  Hannah Montana fan I had to conjure a little bling. Silver speckled denim married to some pinkness seemed to do the trick.

For a Hannah Montana fan I had to conjure a little bling. Silver speckled denim married to some pinkness seemed to do the trick. The little sis got the floral motif.

This year I’ve been cranking out the art journals as birthday gifts for all the kids we know. By year’s end I need to come up with a new idea for birthday gifts.

The inside of the flower journal

The inside of the flower journal

We kicked off birthday season early this year on February 7 with two birthday shindigs on the same day: a rollerskating party and a gymnastics party. I had one tired kid at the end of that day.

Bling on the outside and busy on the inside. My daughter insisted on the flower and fruit background.

Bling on the outside and busy on the inside. My daughter insisted on the flower and fruit background.

Red-Tail Designs is also celebrating: One year of of blogging! Yeah, me! I was a little hesitant to start blogging, but it’s been an exciting year of sharing all the craftiness I whipped up this last year.  

To celebrate, I’m giving you gifts. Leave a comment between now and March 31, 2009, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win one of two prizes: an adjustable horse hair bracelet and an artist journal.

I’ll post pictures of them soon. My computer cord fizzled out so I grabbed the pictures above off my laptop before the battery ran dead. Hopefully Mr. Postman will deliver my new cord this week. 

Happy Birthday!

Off to the Snail Races!

Aren’t these the happiest snails you’ve ever seen? When I saw this pattern for snail races a month ago, I knew this was the perfect gift for my nephew’s first birthday. It’s so cute!

The snails are made from the same sweater I used for the handwarmers. I think i have just enough sweater left to make my 2-year-old a snail racing game, too.

I made a few modifications to the game.

The snails advance on the racetrack by color rather than number, using a big colored dice I “borrowed” from another game. The color blocks on the racetrack are 13″ by 4 1/2″ pieces of fabric, stitched together and surrounded by blue bias tape.

The top of the racetrack is open so the snails can nestle inside for storage. I stitched between the green and yellow color blocks so the kids can’t shove the snails all the way to the bottom.

Snails going to bed.

Snails going to bed.

Snaps (yeah for Melody’s new snap setter!) keep them snug.

Snapping the snails into bed. Yet another 30 minutes of entertainment for the kids beyond the gameplaying!

Snapping the snails into bed. Yet another 30 minutes of entertainment for the kids beyond the gameplaying!

Snug as snails in a racetrack.

Snug as snails in a racetrack.


Last Christmas my mother-in-law crocheted me a pair of handwarmers, or fingerless gloves. They’re perfect for this transitional season when it’s too cold to go gloveless and not cold enough for the whole mitten.

I needed an extra set to keep in my car when I forgot my favorite pair. Alas, mom-in-law has been on a sock-knitting frenzy. Not wanting to mess with her heel-toe mojo, I decided to make a pair of handwarmers myself out of a fulled sweater sleeve.

So here’s the tutorial on the sweater-sleeve hand warmers I promised. I’ve been using these a lot, and they’re so cozy!

1. Full an old wool sweater. Find a fun wool sweater in the depths of your closet or at a local thrift store. I got my sweater for $7 at the Quakertown, PA,  Salvation Army. (Awesome thrift store, by the way. It’s HUGE.) Run the sweater through the washer and dryer with other clothes, preferable on hot to shrink and full the sweater.

2. Cut the sleeves off. I thought the stripes were funky and decided to go with whole-arm-warmers. These reach to my elbows, so I cut them to a length of 15 inches.

3. Cut holes for your thumbs. The cuff of the sleeve is the top of the handwarmer, by your fingers. Measure 2 inches below the top of the cuff. Cut a hole 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch, through both layers of fabric. The 2 inches allows me to fold them down a bit when I need more dexterity and fold the cuff up to my knuckles when I need the warmth.

4. Machine sew around all the cut edges.

5. Blanket stitch with yarn around all the cut edge. Blanket stitching entails putting the needle through the fabric, then taking the needle back through the loop you just made before pulling tight. Repeat, repeat, repeat…

6. Be cozy!

Recent Projects

Some projects I’ve been working on:
I shipped this bracelet off to its owner this week. The first project completed from the recent batch of horse hair the mailman brought me.
This custom horse hair bracelet includes sterling silver star beads. They really make the bracelet glow.

This custom horse hair bracelet includes sterling silver star beads. They really make the bracelet glow.

 More birds! I finally got a decent picture of the bird mobile. I have about 5 more birds flying around here that I’m going to make into a mobile for me. 

The bird mobile for a baby shower last weekend.

A bird mobile for a baby shower last weekend.

In addition to the mobile, the babies (yes, babies) have some snazzy homemade bibs. The farm and bug flannels mix it up a bit.

Bibs for the babies, too.

Bibs for the babies, too.

The babies’ dad is a big Yankees fan. I cut the Yanks logo out of the main fabric then stitched around it. For the future: a Yankees baseball. 

These bibs were more for the dad than the kids!

These bibs were more for the dad than the kids!

These handwarmers should come in handy (ha!) this weekend at the powwow. The weatherman says it will barely reach the 60s. That’s going to feel cold after these last few sunny days. Next week I plan to post a tutorial on how to make these handsocks out of a felted sweater.

Stripe-edy handwarmers I whipped up this week.

Stripe-edy handwarmers I whipped up this week.


 Hope to see you this weekend at the powwow. I’m off to dig some warm sweaters and long johns out of the closet to supplement the handwarmers. Enjoy the fall weather!