Men are hard to shop for, but I’ve found that function and/or edibility are key. Here’s a fun two-for-one crafty project that makes for excellent man-gifts: bacon-fat mason jar candles and chocolate-covered bacon. For both, you’ll need:
2 pkgs. bacon of your choice (I like maple, and thick-cut is best)
6 4-oz. mason jars (if you don’t need a lidded candle, reserve the lids for three pairs of steampunk goggles)
6 waxed and pre-tabbed candle wicks
1 lb. soy wax chips/shavings
candle dye of your choice (optional)
1 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
spicy Cajun seasoning (optional)
FOR THE CANDLES
1. Fry your bacon.
I like to sprinkle a little cinnamon on my bacon, but that’s a personal preference. The thick-cut bacon is perfect for optimum fat rendering. Plus, it holds up better to the chocolate we’ll be dipping it in later.
2. While the bacon cooks, prepare your candle vessels.
Use a little dot of hot glue to secure your tabbed, waxed wicks in the center of your mason jars. Set these aside.
3. Transfer your bacon strips to a paper towel to drain, and pour the rendered fat into a can or heat-proof bowl through a mesh strainer to remove the little bacon bits left behind.
4. Melt your wax.
I used a fondue pot to melt my wax, but any double-boiler would work. You could also hold a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water (careful, please!) if you don’t have a double-boiler.
As the wax melts, slowly add in more wax chips a few tablespoons at a time, stirring along the way.
5. Add your bacon grease. The proportion of bacon grease to soy wax is completely up to you. More grease will make a softer, gooier candle, and more wax will dilute the bacon-y smell. I went with about 40% bacon grease to 60% soy wax.
6. Add candle dye. I used a mixture of green and orange dye to get a brown-ish maple color. However, I forgot that wax dries MUCH lighter than it looks when melted, so add more dye when in doubt.
7. Pour your candles.
Pour the candle wax/grease mixture into your mason jars carefully, leaving about a centimeter clearance from the top.
8. Allow candles to set up.
I was in a bit of a hurry, so I threw mine in the fridge to set up quicker. Within about 30 minutes, they were able to be handled. As I mentioned before, the color dries MUCH lighter, so I ended up with a peachy tone rather than brown. Eh, still works! Kind of looks like the fatty parts on bacon, anyway.
FOR THE CHOCOLATE-COVERED BACON
1. Let your bacon strips cool.
By now, the bacon you cooked for the bacon candles should be completely cooled and drained. Try not to snack on too many of them, because now we’re going to COVER THEM IN CHOCOLATE.
2. Melt your chocolate chips. Put about a cup of chocolate chips in a microwaveable bowl, and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds on 50% power. Stir them up, and repeat in 10- to 15-second intervals (at half power) until the chocolate is completely melted, silky and smooth.
3. Dip your bacon.
I like to leave about an inch of uncovered bacon at the end to act as a handle, as well as to inform the consumer of what they’re about to eat. It’s more attractive looking than a nondescript blob of chocolate, I’ve found. Lay freshly-dipped bacon strips on a wax-paper-lined tray.
I am a huge fan of sweet and spicy, so I sprinkled some Cajun seasoning on about half of this batch.
It adds a wonderful slight kick, mingling oh so beautifully with the sweet and salty goodness you’ve already got goin’ on in your mouth. So. Good.
4. Let your chocolate-covered bacon set up in the fridge. It shouldn’t take long for the chocolate to harden enough to be handled, but a solid hour is probably best. Throw them in a wax-paper-lined decorative tin, and you’ve got a super tasty, novelty, unexpected housewarming, birthday, holiday, anytime gift for the carnivores of your life.
Wow, it’s already March. This post was supposed to happen months ago, but I suppose it’s never too early to start thinking about homemade gifts for next season!
In an effort to stick to my budget after buying my first home on my own, I decided to give all homemade gifts this past Christmas. While homemade gifts are not foreign to me, I’ve never made ALL the gifts for my family, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. Hopefully, these may spark some ideas for you to have a greener, more thoughtful and meaningful giving season next year.
First up, a wooden clock for my dad:
Next, hand-painted mugs with homemade dark n’ spicy hot cocoa mix (dark cocoa powder, non-dairy dried creamer, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper):
A holiday polar bear plush:
Maple bacon mason jar candles for the men:
Chocolate-covered bacon (some with spicy Cajun spice sprinkled over the top):
Medal hanger, for a marathoner/triathlete:
Etched beer mugs:
Baby’s first zombie plush toy (my personal favorite):
A painted portrait:
And lastly, a pixel quilt:
All wrapped up in brown paper and twine:
What to give your totally awesome, nerdy boyfriend? I opted for something large, bold, and completely homemade: a pixel quilt. I’ve seen several of these online (some of which are EXTREMELY impressive), so there was no shortage of inspiration. Some had specific images designed in quilted pixels while others were more abstract. A true child of the ’80s, he and I both grew up playing classic video games, but I wanted this quilt to be a bit more timeless, so I opted for an abstract design. I also opted to go more monochromatic, so as to maximize future bedroom decor compatibility.
I began in classic OCD nerd fashion: in Excel.
I chose three shades of red and a bright orange for this project, in a gradient pattern. Once I tweaked it to my liking in Excel, I was able to determine how much of each color I would need, and headed off to the fabric store.
After laboriously cutting out 323 perfect 5-inch squares, I sewed them all together by horizontal rows, and stacked them neatly along the way.
Next, I ironed down all of the seams for each of these horizontal rows and laid them out on my bed to make sure the pattern was still looking the way I wanted.
Right on track so far. Next up, I carefully sewed all of the horizontal rows together, hopin’ like the dickens the seams line up alright.
To my pleasant surprise, they mostly did! Thank gawd.
My beau is rather tall (6’4”), so I wanted to make sure I made this quilt extra long. I ended up adding about an 8-inch panel border on the top and bottom to give it some extra length. I added a contrasting pale sage green backing fabric, and pinned some polar fleece between the two layers as batting.
And now for my least favorite part about making patchwork quilts: the actual quilting part, or as I amateurishly call it, top-stitching.
I ended up going with a Fibonacci-esque squared off spiral pattern, which worked out well and gave the back an interesting look to it.
I was very happy with the final product, as was my lovely sig. oth. I’m not sure how many hours I clocked on this thing, but when it’s for a loved one, who’s counting?
Oh, and don’t forget to add a personalized embroidered note on any quilt you make as a gift. It adds exponential sentimental value, and contributes to those warm fuzzies we all like.
All you pet owners out there know how expensive dog beds can be. How some cheap-looking fabric and poly-fill or foam could cost upwards of $100, I’ll never understand. Even the DIY dog bed kits out there cost you at least $30 for a medium-sized bed that might fit a cocker spaniel comfortably. I’d rather spend $30 on making a completely unique one from scratch—I ended up spending significantly less on this project ($5!).
Don’t even get me started on the ugly fabrics commercial dog beds are made with. Ok… I’ll start. The pet bed manufacturers out there must think all pet owners love plaid and paisley, as those seem to be at the forefront of pet bed fashion. Oh, we also only like deep forest green, tan and burgundy. That’s it.
In an effort to find a more affordable pet bed solution, I came across several products that call for stuffing the bed with old blankets, towels or clothes. Great idea, I thought, especially so your canine companion gets the extra benefit of comforting, familiar smells. Still, the aesthetic problem remained that even these eco-friendly dog bed shells were made from fairly unattractive fabrics.
I found some bolts of felt at my local craft store for about $5 a yard, and a whopping 72 inches wide! Super affordable. With only about one yard of this felt, I was able to whip up a simple, modern dog bed shell. I decided to go with an exposed seam look, similar to some Blu Dot furniture, like below:
I also dig the geometric look, so I came up with this boxy pattern:
Obviously, you could do an even easier project by omitting the headrest and sticking with a simple rectangle. My dog, Obi, particularly loves resting his head on knees, pillows, my cat, etc., so the added headrest was a must in my case. Though he’s only 35 pounds or so, he’s rather long, so I went with a 32-inch total length.
I ended up stuffing this with an old comforter that I used to keep in the back of my car. For the headrest, I simply rolled one edge onto itself, and it worked out really well. The bottom has an open slit, which makes it easy to remove and wash separately from the blanket.
The final product turned out great, and Obi loves his new bed—it sort of reminds me of a human bed, so I may add two little white pillows to drive that point home. Enjoy the ridiculous cuteness below.
I’ve long loved the dusty and desaturated. My mom enjoys reminding me of when I quoted at age 4 or 5, “I’m very antique-y, Mama.” Since steampunk fashion and culture started surfacing more prevalently a handful of years ago, I’m fascinated by all of the various interpretations of accessories, costumes, gadgets, everyday household items… anything combining Victorian style with sci-fi and tech is a win in my book.
For Halloween this year, I’ve decided to go all out steampunk. It’s about damn time. These goggles are merely a foundation that can be tweaked, embellished and built upon to create a truly unique piece of optical headgear. Here we go…
First, you’ll need to figure out what you want to use for the lens frames. My first instinct was to use mason jar lids, as they already have a built-in lip to hold the lenses. Plus, I was in dire need of some rocks glasses, so my $9 purchase of a dozen jelly jars was money well spent. Spray paint the lids any variety of metallic, whether that be gold, bronze, oiled bronze, copper, hammered metal… hardware and craft stores are full of metallic spray paint choices, so take your pick.
The temple pieces can be as big and as wide as you’d like, depending on how much you want your goggles to protrude from your face. You could even stack several temple pieces together to form a graduated telescopic effect. I’m using a corrugated cardboard for the base of my temple pieces because it curves nicely into a cylinder. Simply cut one straight edge the length of the jar lid circumference, and an undulating edge opposite, as wide as you’d like. You can see in the above photo how, when placed inside the lid, the shape wraps around the side of your face covering your temple.
Choose a surface material, and cut out pattern pieces about a quarter-inch larger all around than your cardboard pieces. I’m using a faux-leather vinyl material. It’s easier to work with than real leather, not to mention less expensive. Let me take this opportunity to say that super glue is my friend. While bits of this project could be done using the sewing machine or even hand stitching, I opted to adhere my pieces together for a speedier process. I don’t actually plan on fighting mechanical octopi in the steampunk wilderness with these, so super glue will be plenty secure for my purely aesthetic purposes. Note that I cut slits around the curves, as I would if I were sewing them, to avoid unsightly bunching. Wrap your cardboard pieces with the leather and glue down the edges. You can see above how these are starting to take shape!
I took this opportunity to add a bit of detail work. I lined the inside of the temple pieces in an embossed felt. It looks like a much more expensive fabric, but was a meager $0.30 per 9x12 sheet. Can’t beat that! This lining is something only the wearer will appreciate, but I find these details important. I also used picture frame buttons (those rubber dots used on the backs of frames to prevent wall damage) as faux rivets. Again, spray paint them any metallic you like, preferably a slightly different metallic than your mason jar lids, before sticking them in place.
These adorable distressed hinges were half-off at the craft store, and I couldn’t resist picking them up. I immediately thought they would be a perfect transition piece for the temple pieces. Like this…
At this stage, nothing is really glued together (except the hinges onto the temple pieces). I like to leave the majority of the permanent adhering to the end, just in case a random spat of creativity surges mid-project. You never know when you’ll happen upon another material to incorporate. The lenses are merely clear plexi that I’ve tinted with Sharpies—I used a medium green tone. Once they are on the face, they look much darker from the outside, but are still easy to see out of.
The nose piece can be a great many things. I was more concerned with stability in this case, as aesthetic details can always be added later. I used a strip of thick leather to connect the two eye pieces. Again, super glue is a gift of the gods. This is a situation where I’m glad I hadn’t glued in the temple pieces yet. I think the nose piece is substantially more secure sandwiched between the metal ring and the temple pieces.
After the nose piece is in place, it’s safe to glue in the temple pieces permanently.
Straps. I happen to have a pile of leather scraps, which come in handy for this sort of thing. Cut two thin strips, about 10 to 12 inches each in length (depending on your head size). I’m using metal snaps as the back closure, found any any sewing notion or craft store. As shown in the bottom right photo above, I determined the leather was too thick to install the snaps, so I added a section of the faux leather to one end of each strip.
Now, it’s time to connect the straps to the temple pieces. Oh, those hinges were perfect! Once I determined the proper length of each strap and trimmed accordingly, I super glued the raw edges of the straps to the hinges.
There you are, ladies and gentlemen — a simple pair of steampunk goggles. From here, the possibilities are endless. I plan on adding a scope-type apparatus to one of the lenses, in addition to a slew of tiny gears, wires, maybe even some tubing. Check back soon for the final product!
Sock monkeys have an interesting history that includes heightened popularity of exotic animals during the Victorian era, the innovation of seamless red-heeled industrial work socks in the late 1800s, and the resourcefulness of the Great Depression. Aside from all that, sock monkeys are an iconic play thing of my childhood. It occurred to me recently that I had never actually made this traditional toy. I know, embarrassing. It’s high time I get down to <monkey> business.
One pair of substantial socks of your choice (red-heeled Rockfords, if you’d like to keep the traditional look).
Here we go…
Turn the first sock inside out. Flatten so the heel is facing up. Cut a quarter-inch strip length-wise from the top of the sock to about an inch away from the heel.
These will be the legs. Round the “feet” and whip stitch the seam, leaving a couple of inches open at the crotch.
Turn right side out and stuff with poly fill, beans, or a combination of the two. Tuck in the raw edges and use a zig-zag stitch to close it up. I realize this is looking a bit phallic, but bear with me.
Take the second sock, cut the top off right above the heel, divide in half longways and round the top edges. These will be the arms. Turn inside out, whip stitch around the seam, turn right side out, and stuff. Tuck the raw edges in, and whip stitch the arms to the body.
Cut the heel out of the second sock, leaving a slight edge of brown. Fold the raw edge under, and stitch the top half in a crescent moon shape to the face. Stuff with poly fill and stitch the bottom half of the mouth closed.
Now for the tail. Cut a long strip down the top of the second sock, to a point at the toe. Turn inside out, whip stitch the seam, turn right side out. Stuff with poly fill, tuck the raw edges in, and whip stitch to your monkey’s arse.
For the ears, cut out two elongated half-circles from the remainder of the sock. Roll the outer raw edge in (to create a bit of “cartilage”) and whip stitch to secure. To make the ears curl in a bit more, run a loose baste stitch through the rolled area, and cinch like a coin purse. Secure the thread when it is cinched to your liking. Whip stitch to the sides of the head.
Pick out some buttons for the eyes. This is where you can definitely get a bit more creative. Choose one type of button, mismatched, bright colors… whatever suits your monkey. I chose two layer two differently sized and colored buttons for bigger, buggier eyes.
Voila! Your very own sock monkey. This is the absolute basic variety, and can be infinitely customized for a completely unique simian sensation. Check back soon for some sock monkey accessory ideas.