Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Birthday Bargains In Ann Arbor

Hello! My birthday, which was this past Saturday, is often a day that has horrible weather - as in blizzards that keep everyone home.

This year was different, though: the forecast called for sun and above-normal temps. So as a birthday treat to me, my husband planned a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a bonus, we picked up our daughter on the way so she could spend the day with us. 

Now, despite being a college town, Ann Arbor isn't exactly known for being an inexpensive place to shop. But being thrifty-minded, I went to a couple of places that do have bargains: thrift stores run by the Kiwanis and Ann Arbor PTO organizations. 

I only had a short while to shop at the Kiwanis thrift store located at the edge of the downtown area. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but when you go inside, you encounter a rabbit's den of rooms on several floors, each with its own "department". And unlike other thrift stores I've been to, you pay as you go in each department. As I was waiting to pay for two craft magazines in the book section, a woman came up with her purchase, a saw she'd found in the nearby hardware "department". So of course she was told to pay for it over in the hardware section. 

Like I'd said, this is different than the typical way of ringing up all the purchases at once, but this store is in an old building and is rather crammed full of merchandise, volunteers and shoppers. So perhaps their pay-as-you-go system is meant to prevent backups at checkout time.

One reason why this store is crowded with shoppers is its limited hours: Saturdays, 9am-noon. That's it. However, another location has been added, on the west side of town. Its hours are Fridays and Saturdays, 9am-1pm. Still pretty limited hours, but that's how they roll, apparently. 

Lots of stuff to see in this store; my meager purchase is indicative only of the little time I had to spend there. If you'd like to see for yourself, learn more here.

Fortunately, I had more time allotted at the Ann Arbor PTO thrift store. Unlike most thrift stores I've been to, there's really not a lot of housewares, and the book section is nothing special either IMO. So why would I want to spend my birthday at this particular thrift store? For me, the following photos are the reason why:

Fabric remnants
More fabric remnants
Craft patterns on the bottom shelf

And this is just a small portion of what was available - there was more fabric and more categories of sewing patterns too. There's also a selection of craft/sewing books, arts/crafts kits in various states of used/unused, rubber stamps, scrapbooking supplies, and a long wooden cabinet with drawers on each side. Each drawer is for a different arts/craft supply, like sewing notions, purse handles, dollmaking supplies, and much more. If you like to save money while stocking up on arts and crafts supplies, this is your place! 

(While looking through the sewing books, I encountered a woman who said she comes to this store several times a week. She lives only about a mile away, lucky her!)

Like with any thrift store, prices can be hit or miss. I happen to think the prices on kits are a little high, but the fabric and pattern prices are reasonable, so that's what I zeroed in on.

As you may have noticed from the two photos from the remnant section, there's a lot of digging around to be done there if you're choosy about fabric. I am, so I found it more worth my while to visit another multi-drawer cabinet - this one seems to focus more on pieces intended for, or left over from, quilting projects. Here, I found several bags of colorful remnant pieces, perfect for my own quilting project. Here's a portion of what I bought:

Colorful fabrics are great to work with on overcast winter days, although I really lucked out, weather-wise on my birthday. Not only was it sunny, but it was in the upper 40's in Ann Arbor. And,  unlike where I live, there was no snow on the ground! 

More fabric:

I think that at least some of these pieces are vintage, which is why I bought the bagful. Since they were jumbled up together in the bag, I'd though these fabrics had been cut in strips, and so I thought they'd be fun to turn into a chain to hang up. But when I got home, I found that hexagon-like shapes had been cut from the fabrics. I can still get a chain-like effect, though, if I put the pieces together like this:

I also bought a kirigami (Japanese-style paper folding/cutting)page-a-day calendar. Okay, it was from 2008, and has a couple of weeks missing from the beginning of January (maybe somebody had tried it but gave up after awhile?), but what do you want for a couple of bucks? It's still fun to do:

Above, a few Kirigami shapes grace our TV stand. Thus far, the designs have been easy to fold and cut, but it looks like the designs become more complicated as the year progresses. 

But my favorite find was this:

Circa 1975, a sewing pattern for toys. This one has a fun twist, though:

The girl's dress has a pocket for holding one of the toys; one cat-shaped toy is in the pocket and the girl is holding another cat toy. This pattern set includes the pattern for the pocket as well as for the toys, which are all sized, of course, to fit in that pocket.

How cute is that? I wish I'd had this pattern when our daughter was young; I think she would have liked it and the sewing is easy too. This would be a good gift: just buy a top or dress in the child's size, sew on the pocket, and add one of the toys. 

Admittedly, the toys look a little funky today, like the cat:

I think I'd shape the body a little differently, and sew on mismatched buttons (or do swallow-proof eyes for a young child). But overall, I do like the concept!

If you'd like to check out the Ann Arbor PTO thrift store yourself, go here here for more info. 

And if you go on your birthday, as I did, there's another bonus: a birthday discount. I didn't happen to see it posted at the register, but figured there was no harm in asking if such a discount existed. By doing so, I saved 25% on my bill.

Of course, we did more spendy things on my birthday, such as lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor (expensive but very good sandwiches) and dinner from El Azteco in East Lansing (where I sometimes went for birthday dinners when I lived there.) 

I returned home, tired but happy - a snowless, sunny day in Ann Arbor, the bonus of seeing our daughter again, great meals and thrift store bargains. It had been a great birthday!


Monday, February 1, 2016

It's Use-It-Up Month Again!

Hello! A year ago I declared February as a "use-it-up" month, which I detailed in this post. It worked so well that I've decided to do the same thing this year. 

As I'd done last year, I'll try to do as much "shopping" as I can from our pantry, refrigerator and freezers. That pancake mix my husband got as a gift? Time to get out the griddle. That farmer's market winter squash I'd cooked up and frozen? Time to get out some cookbooks and look up some recipes for using that stuff. Maybe I can add some to the pancake mix pancakes! 

And it's a good time to focus on using up some of my art and craft supplies, rather than cruising the aisles of thrift stores in the hopes of picking up yet more fabric remnants and back-issue craft magazines. (Admittedly, I made purchases from both categories at thrift stores this past weekend, but hey, it wasn't February yet.)

Last February I labored over a relief-effort flannel quilt as a way of using up some fabrics (mentioned here). Since I have some big interior painting projects coqing up, perhaps I'll use some of my fabric stash for other relief efforts, such as the ones discussed here.

And of course, February means Valentine's Day, so I will dig into my card-making supplies to craft greetings for families, friends and the Valentines for Vets program. 

Sounds like using up, instead of buying, will keep me plenty busy this month! But I think of it as another form of creativity, which makes it fun!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Made It: Fabric Crafts Fast And Slow

Hello! Sometimes I'll do a craft that takes a long time, sometimes I'll do one that's very quick. Both kinds of projects are satisfying in their own way.

An example of a slow project is this: 

I've written about making these scrap fabric wreaths before, here.However, this time I wanted a wreath to cover a large expanse of newly-painted family room wall, so of course I needed a bigger wire wreath form than the 12" ones I'd found at thrift stores. 

No larger wreath forms surfaced secondhand, so I was forced to buy a brand new version. Still, with a coupon I only paid a little over five dollars for a wreath form about 30" in diameter. 

Naturally, it took a lot of time to cut up the strips needed to fill in such a large wreath form, but at least I had plenty of fabric scraps ready! I keep generating these from working on a very slow, ongoing quilting project (which I'll show off if when I get it done.) This wreath project used a LOT of scraps, but the actual tying wasn't as tedious as I'd thought it'd be. Being much bigger than the 12" wreath forms I'd used before, there was more room to tie the strips on, so that helped. 

I was pleased with how the wreath turned out; such a fun way to use a variety of fabrics bits and pieces:

(close-up of some of the fabrics)

It looked fine on the family room wall, but after awhile I wanted something to hang up in the middle of the wreath. Found a nice Waverly fabric remnant at the thrift store, which I coupled with a 10" white plastic embroidery hoop that was also a thrift store find. 

All I did was put the fabric in the hoop, cut the fabric a bit larger all around, then glued that excess to the back of the hoop. Very fast! 

Hung it up "inside" the wreath:

Hmm, looks like I could have centered it better, but it'll be easy to move since I hung the hoop up with a removable sticky thing. 

Close-up of the print:

May have been a fast craft, but I still like how it turned out. Of course, I could have turned it into a slow craft by sewing on buttons, adding embroidery or other embellishments. And I could still do this sometime if I want. 

Fast, slow - there's not right or wrong in doing craft projects. The main thing is to enjoy the process - and the finished results!


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Get Carded: A Blizzard Of Birthday Greetings

Hello! My husband's birthday was yesterday, which means I had to come up with a card for the occasion. The past few years I've been making his cards with specific themes, often based on something we'd been talking about lately.

So what theme to use this year? I was stumped, until finally the day before his birthday it hit me: we'd been following the progress of the East Coast nor'easter, so there was my theme!

Having lived in the Philadelphia area in the 1990's, we are all too aware of the impact these monster storms can have. In fact, the Weather Channel referred to two past nor'easters that had hit the region worse than the weekend storm did - both occurred while we were there. One of them, the early January 1996 weather event, produced 31" of snow! But of course, this most recent storm still caused plenty of trouble.

But how to tie in a nor'easter with a birthday card? Here's how:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • snowflakes images (upper right-hand corner and middle left) cut from paper company sample booklet
  • image of child out in snowstorm photocopied from 1960's children's science book
  • "No nor'easter here!" cut from newspaper and 1960's parochial school magazine that had belonged to my husband
  • "just a blizzard of birthday greetings!" -  a combination of rubber stamping and vintage dictionaries
  • "In the city snow is a bother to most people. It makes walking and driving hard." cut from vintage children's dictionary
  • "It snowed all day. Everything was covered with snow." cut from vintage children's dictionary
  • "Snowstorm" word cut from newspaper article about the nor'easter; the first letter "S" was covered up with another "S" from the paper company sample booklet
  • "birthday" in upper right-hand corner from vintage children's dictionary
  • "Snow comes down" cut from same vintage science book that the accompanying image of a child in the snow had come from. 
  • a few random rubber-stamped snowflakes images
My husband enjoyed his card! Yes, it may seem that its theme came at the expense of our former friends, neighbors and co-workers, but we don't really feel too sorry for them. No matter how much snow they may get from nor'easters, spring still comes there before it shows up here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Thrift Store Scores

Hello! Hadn't been to a thrift store in awhile; I tend to hibernate when the weather turns cold and snowy. But conditions have improved over the past couple of days (we actually have sun today!), so I visited one of my favorite thrift stores yesterday. 

And I'm glad I did, for I scored some good stuff. Magazines and books are always fun to scoop up at thrift stores, and I was happy with a book about Tasha Tudor's gardens and some recent issues of Country Living magazine. But what really made me happy was this:

An 18"x24" oil painting of a Ye Olde Dutch scene. I live in a town settled by Dutch immigrants and so have begun to collect old-fashioned images typical of that country.

A close-up:

I love the vivid oranges and greens in the painting. 

This work had been signed and dated by the artist - W R Hudgins, 1978. I looked online for more information but didn't find anything in particular. Thus, like most oil paintings I see at thrift stores, this was likely done by a hobbyist. I think this windmill scene is a cut above the usual secondhand oils though.

When I spied the painting at the thrift store, it was lying on its side near the back room where the pricing is done. It was near that part of the store because it hadn't been priced yet. A staffer stopped by and asked if I needed help, so I pointed at the painting and asked if it would be priced soon. He asked me what I would be willing to pay for it. I volunteered five dollars but figured he would want more. 

The man picked up the painting to examine it more closely. "Hmm, it looks homemade", he announced, and further determined that the framing needed to be repaired. That was true, but I didn't tell him I didn't care about the frame, thanks to what I'd learned in this post. I just agreed with him about the framing, and was rewarded when he offered to price the painting at $4.00. Sold! I have a feeling that left up to other staffers, it would have been marked up higher than that. 

On a much smaller scale, and with a much smaller price, was this find:

Vintage guest book. The "Our Guests" title barely shows up on the cover, even when seen in person. But I liked the illustrated page inside:

Very sweet! I don't know how old this guest book is, but judging from the graphics, perhaps no newer than the early-mid 1950's. 

All in all, some good thrift store scores - just the thing to get me out of wintertime hibernation!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Made It: Recycled Mini Journals

Hello! Checked out some Greencraft magazines from the library recently. If you're not familiar with the magazine, it's dedicated to arts and crafts projects created with materials that typically would end up in the recycling bin or garbage can. There's a lot of cutting up of old t-shirts, jeans, packaging and so on to create decorative items, gift packaging, jewelry and more. 

I'm a sucker for journals, so I decided to give Vanessa Spencer's "Recycled Mini Journals" (Summer 2015 issue) a try. I had the materials called for on hand and it looked easy and quick as well.

The project begins with cutting the journal covers; Spencer used food box sections. For the pages, cut paper to a size that's approximately 1/4" smaller than the cover around the entire edge. 

Spencer used 8-10 sheets of paper per journal so that she could sew the pages and cover together on her sewing machine. Before sewing, she folded each sheet of paper in half (do the same with the cover), then sewed cover and pages together. The finished journal now had 16-20 pages. 

Spencer folded the food box section so that the printed side was inside and the blank cardboard side was out. She then embellished the cover with cloth tape along the spine and a rubber-stamped image. 

Easy and quick indeed! I dug out boxes from the recycling bin that had held tea or candy canes and got to work. I found the process to be fun and addictive. Here's how some of my recycled mini journals came out:

This journal is 4"x2 3/4". It has red duct tape along the spine and embellished with a scrap from an Italian tourism guide and a stamped heart.

3 1/4"x3 1/2". Decorative tape, stamped image of grid and dots, stamped eye image. The letter "A" is from a set of vintage file folder labels. 

The two previous journals didn't have the usual plain cardboard color but the last two do:

3 1/2"x5" Blue duct tape, paint chip piece, calendar page scrap, "sail" stamped in black ink. 

A close-up of the sailboat image:

I love that image, especially as a reminder of summer on a typical cloudy, wintry January day in these parts. 

Last journal:

This journal measures 3 1/4"x4 3/4". It's embellished with red duct tape, a heart image cut from serendipity paper (paper made by a friend in an art class we took together years ago), the word "YES" (cut from a vintage magazine mail-in offer) and rubber-stamped images. 

Although Spencer used a sewing machine to bind her mini journals, she suggested one can also use a stapler, twine or hand-stitching. I decided to try the sewing machine method. I wasn't sure how the cardboard/paper stitching would go, but I used a heavy-duty needle and all was well. 

Spencer mentioned using vintage graph paper for her journal pages. I dug through my supply of vintage papers (purchased at thrift stores for DIY journal usage), and here's some of what I used:

Some sort of ledger paper.

Vintage penmanship practice pages. 

Of course, you can use any sort of paper you want; it doesn't have to be vintage. And if you don't want to embellish the front cover, just use the printed side of the package for the outer covers. (and you don't even have to use packaging - the above journal's covers were made from a scrap of watercolor paper that I'd stamped and colored. 

These small journals are a good size to carry around in my purse or a pocket, and I'll enjoy using these simply-crafted items. I think I'll start with the "sail" one - so I can pretend it's a sunny summer day!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Made It: DIY Coloring Pages

Hello! I've been enjoying the adult coloring trend, which I previously discussed in this post. I'd mentioned buying a page-a-day calendar, which has a 3"x3 3/4" design to color in. Here's a recent design, which has a kaleidoscope effect:

I also bought a coloring-page calendar for the kitchen, which has much bigger designs. Consequently, they took much longer to do. Luckily I bought the calendar about three months in advance, so I had time to fill in the images before the new year began. Sure, I could have just worked on the pages one month or whatever in advance, but that would have meant taking the calendar off the wall to do that. I figured it would be less hassle in the long run to just get the whole thing done before we began using it. 

Anyway, it looks pretty nice on the kitchen wall, as you can see below:

It's great to color in others' designs, and there's certainly loads of coloring books out there, but I thought it'd fun to try my own designs. Since I also enjoy rubber stamping, I wanted to use them for my first DIY coloring page efforts.

I decided to start with some of my larger-scale rubber stamps, just to experiment with design placement:

Detail from the second piece:

Yes, the designs on both pages are a little rough around the edges, but I didn't want to spend a lot of time on my initial effort. I've got lots more rubber stamps in my studio (like all the ones shown above, many were cheap secondhand purchases), so I can experiment with many more images. 

And since I also do a lot of papercrafting, I can use my "coloring pages" when creating greeting cards, collages, etc. 

Other hands-on possibilities include stencils, the vintage Spirograph kit I bought years ago (to make up for not ever owning one as a kid), and, of course, drawings. And I haven't even explored any computer-generated design possibilities, as I'm rather low-tech in that area. 

This DIY activity doesn't mean I won't buy any more adult coloring books; I'm just trying to see what I can come up with on my own.

Edit: here's another example of my DIY coloring page efforts: (I drew in the stems with a fine-tipped marker)
Not bad, I think - at least it looks somewhat more like what you'd see in a commercially-produced coloring book. Or at least I can tell myself that! Still, it was fun to use some lively colors on a cold, snowy day.