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.

Playing with Resin

An Alexander Henry owl and Amy Butler dots preserved beneath resin become stylish necklace pendants.

My sister-in-law loves fabric, so when I saw a post on Craft about how to use fabric and embroidery in jewelry, I knew I’d found the right birthday gift for her.

Lisa Pavelka Magic-Glos really is magic when it comes to quickly making a pendant or earrings.

Instead of using a frame pendant used in the Craft post, I used a double-sided pendant from Hobby Lobby and two single pendant frames from Rio Grande. Then I employed Lisa Pavelka’s Magic-Glos UV Resin. This stuff is so easy to use and it cures in the sun in 5 minutes! Who could ask for more (except for maybe a sunny day).

On episode 4 of Sticks & Stones, the collaborative video podcast I’ve been working on, I talk about how I created the pendant. Below are the official directions:

  1. I found fabric my sis-in-law loves, in this case Alexander Henry’s Spotted Owls and a classic dot pattern from Amy Butler. Then I embroidered parts of the design with sewing thread and embroidery floss. After experimenting a bit, I found it’s better to  embroider a few areas of the design rather than all of it. The resin mutes the texture of the stitching, but the stitching brightens the pattern a bit. It’s also a good idea to cut a template the size of the inside of the pendant, so you can move it across your fabric to decide which part of the design you want to use.
  2. Iron fusible interfacing to the back of the fabric and then cut the design to the size of the pendant. Use the template you created to cut out the design.
  3. Place the design inside the pendant.
  4. Use Magic-Glos to finish the pendant. Several thin layers of Magic-Glos work better than one thick layer. Cure each layer in the sun before applying the next layer.

The original owl pendant.

Truth be told, I messed up the pendant I showed on Sticks & Stones so I had to make another pendant for my sis-in-law’s birthday. I ended up making her two pendants so she can choose which one she wants to slip onto the necklace.

Magic-Glos covers photos, metal, found objects, just about anything you would want to collage onto a pendant. You can also use it for inclusions, such as sprinkling in glitter between the layers of resin. This maybe be my new go-to birthday present for friends and family.

See Episode 4 of Sticks and Stones


Wrapping Paper Beads

My little holiday gift to you: an idea for all that post-holiday wrapping paper you’ve accumulated.


  • Wrapping paper, catalogs or any colorful paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue, such as Elmers
  • Wooden skewer, or other thin rod


1. Flatten the wrapping paper and cut out a long skinny isosceles (equal on two sides) triangle.

2. Place the design-side of the paper on the table and fold the widest end of the triangle back on itself about 1/4 inch.

3. Roll the paper around the skewer, beginning at the shortest side of the triangle and ending at the point of the triangle. Don’t let go or the whole thing will unravel.

4. Place a dab of glue at the point on the wrong side of the paper and press firmly to the rest of the paper. Your first bead! Carefully slide the bead off the skewer and allow it to dry.

5. Repeat with more paper until you have enough beads to make a bracelet, a necklace, a skirt, curtains for every window in your house.

Not only can you have fun, you can get your geometry in the for the day. Experiment with different widths and lengths of triangles to see how the beads turn out.

If you don’t manage to make all your wrapping paper into beads, see if you can recycle it at your local recycling center.

Happy Holidays!


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!

Canning Jar Bling

Sparkle and shine from canning jar rims.

Sparkle and shine from canning jar rims.

My canning jars needed an upgrade. They’re hand-me-downs from my mom, so after years of pickles and preserves, it was time for new rims. But what to do with the old rims?

Turn them into dress-up bling!

They have all the necessary ingredients for 5-year-old jewelry bliss: jangly noises when worn together, shiny metallics, and sparkly beads.

My helper got creative and wove wire in and out of the holes, string beads along the way.

My helper got creative with the bracelet at the upper left. She wove wire in and out of the holes, string beads along the way.

Here’s how my 5-year-old and I made old canning jar rims into fun new bangles.


  • old canning jar rims
  • block of wood
  • safety goggles
  • hammer
  • center punch
  • pliers
  • metal file
  • non-toxic spray paint
  • latex gloves
  • newspaper
  • Postion the center punch on the inside of the rim.

    Position the center punch on the inside of the rim.

  • screwdriver (for removing spray paint cap)
  • beading or craft wire
  • round nose pliers
  • beads
  • messy workbench (optional)

1. Place the side of the rim on the block of wood. Position the center punch where you’d like the hole and hit with hammer until you punch through the rim. Punch hole from inside to outside of rim. If a smidgen of metal remains in the hole, pull it off with a pliers.

2. After you’ve made as many holes as you’d like, file each hole with a metal file to remove sharp edges.

Filing the burrs.

Filing the burrs.

3. Spread newspaper in well ventilated area, don latex gloves and spray paint inside and outside of each rim. We used gold and silver and gave each band two coats.

4. After the paint has dried, add beads. Cut a 2 inch piece of wire. Grab the end of the wire with a round nose pliers and roll the pliers make several loops in a row. Thread wire through hole in rim, so the loop is on the inside.

5. Thread bead(s) onto wire. Cut excess wire so you have 1/4 to 1/2 inch of wire above beads. Grab the end of the wire with a round nose pliers and roll the pliers back toward the wire to make a series of small loops.

Little spirals of wire hold the beads in place.

Little spirals of wire hold the beads in place.

6. Although you are finished, allow the bracelet to cure for 7 days to a month so that the paints are non-toxic to the skin. Rust-oleum said its spray paint is nontoxic within 7 days. Krylon suggested waiting 30 days for paint to cure fully to a non-toxic state. If you’re not sure, call the manufacturer.

Safety and other notes

  • Always wear eye protection when hammering, filing and spray painting.
  • Be sure the paint you use can be worn against the skin and that it does not contain lead.  If you’re unsure, call the manufacturer. I used Krylon silver crafter’s paint and Rust-oleum metallic paint.
  • Spray paint can be removed from your forehead with nail polish remover.


Who says life is boring if it’s vanilla. Frankly, vanilla is a pretty nice flavor. So I decided to make my own.

A few friends went in on bulk vanilla bean buy a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to making my vanilla extract. Here’s how you do it.

1. Start with some good Bourbon Vanilla Beans. You can also use Tahitian Vanilla Beans or whatever else you can get your hands on. Too bad they don’t have Smell-o-blogs so I could give you a whiff of how great my kitchen smelled today.

Vanilla Beans

2. Split the beans down the middle with a knife, except for the last inch so they stay intact.

Split Vanilla Beans

All those moist seeds inside, plus the outer pod, are what make the yummy vanilla taste.

Split Vanilla bean closeup

3. Pour vodka into the bottle with the beans at a ratio of 6 beans to two cups of vodka. Hedge suggested adding a tablespoon of rum to make it a tad sweeter. You can also use brandy or rum instead of the vodka. Remember, all extracts retain their flavor because they’re preserved in alcohol.

Pouring vodka into vanilla beans

4. Cap off and store in a dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. The darker the liquid, the strong the vanilla taste.

Bottled Vanilla beans

Just a few hours after I bottled the vanilla it was the color of weak tea. There’s a batch of chocolate chips make with this extract waiting for me in mid-June (if I can wait that long).

This really is as easy as it sounds, which probably leaves you wondering, “Why haven’t I tried this?” A bottle of vanilla can be pricey. And so can the beans. A local grocery store sells beans for about $5 for a package of 2. Find a good place online to order in bulk, and you can get beans for less than a dollar a piece. Keep in mind that a pound of vanilla beans equals about 100 pods, so sharing is good.

By the way, this bottle held a double batch of 4 cups of vodka and 12 beans. If you don’t put in enough beans, you end up with vanilla vodka instead of vanilla extract. Either way, you win!

******Update: My vanilla is dark, dark, dark and it looks great. I can’t wait to bottle it and give it as gifts to everyone! ******

A Toast To Spring

Toast To Spring Opener

Raise your glass to spring! The first day of spring was on Thursday and now it’s Easter (already!). Time to look forward to planting seeds and being outside 15 hours a day.

To help you with your toast, I have a wonderful Peach Wine recipe that’ll give you a taste of the summer to come.

Recipe:Toast To Spring Wine Making

Add 15 to 20 ounces peaches in simple syrup to any white wine. Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Drink. Yum!

In summer I freeze peaches in simple syrup (sugar boiled with water). Adding the peaches to the wine gives it a sweetness and a reminder of all the good fruits and veggies to come. If you don’t have frozen peaches in your fridge, I’m sure canned peaches in light syrup will work just as well.

Toast to Spring CookiesEnjoy the day!