Love, Crafts, and the Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

Two days ago, I noticed a big red Dumpster behind our apartment complex. It looked to be empty.

That’s interesting, I thought.

Yesterday evening, my husband and I were walking Jax when I noticed the Dumpster had been filled to the brim. Looks to me like the apartment management evicted someone, sending their furniture packing as well. A red sofa extended above pieces of wood, paper, and articles you’d have to examine closely to identify.

That made me sad. Once upon a time, a bank threatened to evict my mother, my sisters, and me. I don’t think that any of us will ever forget that bleak period in our lives.

Then it made me wonder. Was there any good that could come out of this ugly situation? While I was pondering this, thinking deep thoughts, David and Jax kept walking. “Honey?” called my husband. “Come on. Leave it alone.”

He knows me too well.

Because by then, I’d decided to investigate. I climbed up on the ledge surrounding the big red trash container. I’m short so I couldn’t look deep inside, but I did see a piece of board sticking out. A big piece of wood.

Big enough to serve as a base for my dollhouse and the potting shed.

Big enough and sturdy enough that I wouldn’t have to go to Home Depot and buy a piece of plywood and pay for them to cut it to size.

Big and free.

Even freer after I tugged it out.

David, I must confess, was mortified. He started walking in the other direction with body language that clearly stated, “I don’t know that woman!”

I tugged and tugged. I had to reach in and move a couple of other boards around. Luckily for me, I’ve kept up with my tetanus shots, because that big piece of wood had nails sticking out. But once I began to extricate it (classy word for trash-picking, eh?), I was determined that it would be MINE.

David didn’t offer to help. Instead, he said, “Oh, honey…” in that tone of voice that means, “I love you, but right now, I would cheerfully pretend we aren’t married.”

So I dragged it home. I do mean drag, because it’s heavy. I put it in the spare bedroom. I waited until today when David’s at work. I hauled it out. Knocked down the nails. Pried off a half dozen small squares of excess wood that served as braces. Put it up on our kitchen island. And started making plans. BIG plans for my dollhouse.

The way I see it, I saved something from the landfill, I saved money, and I’m moving ahead with my crafts. Next time I walk past that Dumpster, I might just vault over the side and poke around a little more.

Have you ever been Dumpster Diving?

How to Make a Miniature Rustic Bench

My sister has this wonderful rustic chair outside her house. It was made with twigs (okay…BIG twigs), and I love it. Right now, rustic/twig furniture is all the small rage. This pattern will work for a real miniature setting (1:12 scale) or for a fairy garden.

This was also inspired by the wonderful tutorial by Lesley Shepherd. I urge you to check it out before you start this project. http://miniatures.about.com/od/miniatureprojects/ss/arustictble.htm

SUPPLIES:

Bendable twigs (I got mine from an Australian pine tree) in a variety of sizes (six, eight, and ten inches?)
Twigs of all sizes
Pine needles, dried (ditto that Australian pine) (or craft grasses or floral wire)
Cardstock (old cereal boxes are great)
Clothespins or clips
Wood glue or Elmers glue
Tacky glue (quick drying)
Waxed paper
Pencil
Black marker (a Sharpie)
Craft knife
Glass jar (2″ across the lid. I used a 3 oz. jar of capers. Probably a glass Coke bottle would work, too.)
A pot to boil water in (I keep an old pot for crafting. Don’t use it to eat out of later!)
Balsa wood, cut to 3″ by 1 1/2″ by 3/8″ (This will be the seat of your bench)
Floral wires (Three or four. The plain uncolored type is best.T
Brown and black paint or markers
Hedge clippers or sturdy scissors
Tongs

METHOD:

1. Choose four small twigs to be legs for your bench. These should be roughly the same size. Set these aside. Tip: If they aren’t the same length, use the hedge clippers or scissors on them. You can also sand them down to the right length. Mine are about 1 3/4″ long.

2. Bend your longer twigs so that one end touches the left and one touches the right of your piece of balsa wood. The twigs should NOT break but it might not want to bend to this shape easily. That’s okay. We’re going to help it along.

3. “Drill’ holes on the left and right to hold the ends of the twig. I used the tip of my X-acto knife and turn it around and around to “drill” the holes.

2. Fill your pot with water and start it boiling. Take it off the stove and put your twigs in the water. After about a five minute soak, use your tongs to retrieve them. Bend them around the jar. Clip the two ends of each twig together with clothespins and let them sit for an hour or so.

3. Use your piece of balsa as a pattern and trace it onto the cereal box. Cut out the rectangle. Draw an X in the middle of the rectangle, to delineate four triangles. Number the triangles 1, 2, 3, and 4. Cut them out. Using the balsa as a pattern, mark the holes with your Sharpie. Punch out holes in the cardstock to match where you have the holes in the balsa.

Learn From My Mistake or LFMM (because I make a lot of mistakes!): You’ll notice that I marked the triangles on the plain, unprinted side of the cereal box–and then I covered those markings with pine needles. DUH! Mark the printed side of the box, not the plain side. (In other words, do the opposite of what I’m showing you above.) You’ll use the plain, brown, unprinted side to glue your pine needles on!)


LFMM Draw an arrow showing you which way to point your pine needles. They should all point in, towards the center of your seat. This arrow will go on the plain side of the box, as I’ve shown you below. If you don’t do this, you can get confused. Your pattern won’t come out right.

4. Using the wood glue, start gluing pine needles onto the triangles. Keep the needles straight and next to each other as you go. They will hang over the edge of your pattern. No biggie!


LFMM (Remember that acronym! I’ll use it a lot!) Don’t spread the glue all over the triangle. Instead, make a stripe of glue about a quarter of an inch wide. Work one stripe at a time. This will give you more control.


LFMM Cut the pine needles into shorter pieces, about two inches long. They naturally have a curve. By cutting them, you don’t have to deal with the curve.

LFMM To corral these little suckers, and to get them to line up neatly, use the tip of your X-acto knife or a plastic credit card.

5. Wrap the triangles in a piece of waxed paper. make a sandwich of them. Put something flat on them to help them dry properly. Alternatively, you could use two pieces of heavy plastic (like from a take out container) and pinch it together with clothes pins to help the triangles to dry flat. You might also want to add a little more glue to the top of the triangles. But not too much or the glue will show a lot.

6. Neatly trim the excess pine needles. Use your scissors.

7. If the bent wood is dry enough, you can unclip it. (You’ll be amazed at the wonderful bend you’ll get!) Size one piece to be the primary bent back for your bench. Test it and put it in the holes. Trim it with the hedge clippers or scissors if necessary. Insert into the holes, add glue, and use a bit of masking tape to hold them in place until they dry.

8. Using paint or markers, color your floral wire brown-black. Let it dry.

9. Reassemble the four triangles that make up the seat for your bench. (You’re going to be so happy about those numbers on the back. They’ll really help!) Adjust holes for the bent twig back of the bench. If you are happy with how it looks, glue the triangles onto the bench seat, the balsa wood. Trim around the seat with longer pieces of pine needles. See the photo below? I used a bit of masking tape to keep the longer pine needles down as they dried on the trim.

LFMM Lesley Shepherd used longer “pine needles” (she bought craft grasses) and first set down an X in the middle of her seat. Then she added the triangles. This made the whole thing look more finished.

10. Add another bent twig back. This one will be larger than the first. Glue the ends of it next to the ends of the first bent twig back.

LFMM You might want to make a tiny notch in the bench seat for the new twig back. It’ll help keep the twig stable.

11. Wrap wire between the two bent twig backs.

12. Add spindles made of more twigs to the back.

13. At this point, you’re basically done. You can add “arms” by trimming another bent twig and gluing to to one of the backs and to the seat. You can also add spindles between the legs, wrapping them with wire, if so desired.

Don’t forget to admire your work. What a clever, clever crafter you are!

If you have any questions, just put them in the comments section below or email me at JCSlan@JoannaSlan.com

Desperately Seeking OOAK

So I’m cruising Pinterest and Etsy looking at dollhouse miniatures, and I keep seeing OOAK by the listings. Wow. I was so impressed by the detailed workmanship. And so many different types of items!

I was thinking to myself, “This OOAK really knows her stuff. She must be crafting from sun up to sun down.”

Then I got to thinking, “I bet OOAK is the name of a company. Yeah, that’s got to be it. I wonder if they offer tutorials.”

In the miniature world, almost all the best artists (and manufacturers) share wonderful tutorials (or “tutes”) on their websites. As one of them explained in an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) post, the tutorials are a way of giving back. Another admitted that once someone sees all that’s involved in crafting an object, well, the viewer gets to thinking, “I could never do that. I’ll cave in and make a purchase.”

My dollhouse is definitely OOAK. Whoever made it did not adhere to 1:12. Actually he/she ignored any coherent sense of scale. And guess what? That’s been a blessing because it’s forced me to make stuff myself. For example, I decided to make these sliding screen doors for the bathroom. This attempt will be scraped for a variety of reasons, but I learned a lot while crafting these doors. I don’t mind that they are OOAK, but I do mind that they make the rest of a pretty room look squatty.

Many of the tutorials are in languages other than English. Thanks to modern technology, you can often hit a button and a tutorial will be instantly translated. Even if the translation isn’t very good, when added to good pictures, the information is still useful.

So I searched through foreign sites and what do you know? My old friend OOAK kept popping up! Over and over.

Then one night as I was indulging in my new favorite pre-sleep ritual of cruising tutorials, I spied a phrase “one-of-a-kind.”

You’ve probably already sussed out that OOAK is an acronym for “one of a kind.”

That got me thinking. We’re all OOAK. Everything handmade is OOAK. OOAK has wonderful, intrinsic value, because it’s so uniquely human. Even when our work is slightly wonky or imperfect or just plain weird, it’s utterly delightful and perfectly imperfect. It’s OOAK, a quality worth searching for.

Have you ever misinterpreted an acronym? Or am I the only idiot out there?