Thursday, April 30, 2015

Carrying Moonbeams Home in a Jar: The Christmas Jar Project

Hello, friends!

The blog detailing my mosaic adventures was so well received, I decided to write one for the jars I made for my nieces and nephews for Christmas.

It all started with a late-night Pinterest browsing session (Pinterest is the Devil. The Devil, I tell you!). I was looking for something that was super-cool and could be uniquely customized for each kid.

The inspiration came from "Teacher Thank-you Gifts", from this blog: DIY Teacher Gift in a Jar. I thought that the description was good, the pictures were appealing, the steps were explained pretty well. Each step came with pictures and I figured only an idiot could screw this up.

Here's a picture of the featured finished project that started it all:

I knew I could make them to look however I wanted, and I didn't need to follow the steps exactly. I used it just as a jump-off.

Little did I know - Pinterest LIES! - but more on that, later...

I already had five glass jars (I save them for putting stuff in: yay for recycling!). They were all similarly shaped, with about the same volume capacity. They were tall salsa jars, like these:



Before I could start decorating them, I had to remove the labels. I washed them in hot, soapy water repeatedly with little success.

I tried soaking them in hot, soapy solution (in a bucket) for several days. Most of the label came off, but I couldn't get rid of the machinated lines of glue...even after putting them through an industrial sterilizer/dishwasher.

Finally, I ended up just using a boxcutter blade to scrape it off (I was worried about scratching the glass, but this was not to be). It worked better and faster than all the previous methods I had tried.

I really wish I had done that first. 

When all the glue was scraped cleanly off, I washed them again. Then I cleaned them with glass cleaner (inside and out). I wanted to make sure that the paint adhered *very* well.

From start to finish (including all three attempted methods), cleaning all five jars took approximately 6 hours total (spread out over about a week). If I did it again, I would skip cleaning three hundred times and go directly to scrape-off method.

I would guess about half that time would be required from start to finish for cleaning, depending on your scraping speed (and if you don't watch TV while you do it, like I did).

I already had several bottles of acrylic paint (purchased at a dollar store. I had primary colors, white, black, silver and gold). You can get them anywhere. I used "Crafter's Acrylic" brand. Label and bottles look like this:

Having these colors as a starting point allows you to mix and make any color you like.

I started off eager, squirting gobs of paint into the first jar, expecting it to roll and coat easily, like this video I found on YouTube said it would:


It did not. I tapped and smacked the crap out of those jars to get the paint to move. At one point, I was worried I might slam my hand through the base of the jar.

Reflecting on it now, I think I should have thinned the paint out somehow. Perhaps it wasn't viscous (runny) enough.

I also watched this one on tinting - and considered aborting the painted method in favour of this:


Until I discovered I did not have a bottle of Modge Podge. Also, I wanted the jars to be opaque, because I was stuffing them with gift items: I didn't want the surprise ruined.

So back to the painted method I went.

I used the same method as detailed in both the videos; squirting paint into the bottom and strategically along the sides (later on) and rolling it to coat the insides. Adding aforementioned smacking. 

When I started, I didn't really have a plan. I was just painting. I was having a grand old time making a huge mess (forgetting that I would be the one to clean it up). It was very un-thirtysomething of me.

I kind of had an idea of which colors I wanted to put together, but that was about it.  I was playing, just having a good time. I layered colors on top of each other to see what would happen if I rolled them into each other or around each other.

But then I started to run out of paint. I really didn't want to buy more supplies for this project, so I had to really think about what I was doing and the colors I was using in order to use only the resources I already had.

When painting, I tipped out the excess back into a container. If the colors were mixed in an unpleasing residual, I threw it out after draining it onto newsprint.

When I was done painting, I set them bottom-up  on top of newspapers to dry and allow any extra paint to dribble out. I set it next to an open window to dry.

The entire painting process took about 5 hours, spread over about 3 days.

Drying the paint took about three days, which shocked me.

I wanted the jars to be completely dry inside (because I was filling them and didn't want paint on candies, etc). They were tacky for a very long time.

I thought that putting them open-end down might be hampering their drying speed, so after I was sure that there wasn't going to be any more dripping paint, I put them right side up on the windowsill.

It made no difference whatsoever in the drying time. It did, however, give me a cold.

Painted all of the lids (except one) with a "wet black" paint (that I already had, specifically for metal).

When I painted David's jar, I forgot to shake the gold paint. So I ended up with watery residue with glitter (kind of like the goo that comes out of the mustard bottle) on my paint. I squirted it alongside another color. The water caused it to wash out, so I had a painted glass look, like this:



It washed out most of the side of the jar. I was really mad about it, too, because I thought that it would mean having to start all over again.

Moral of the story: always shake the paint.

But I left it for the night and went to bed.

When I came back to it the next day, I decided that I would use comic strips that had like colours to cover up the botched paint job. It would look like I meant to do that, and my nephew would never know the difference.

I looked through a stack of discarded comics on a for-purchase table at the Public Library until I found some pictures that matched what I was going for (yes, I brought the jar with me!).

I paid 50 cents for five comics. I used what I wanted. I kept the scraps for future projects as I only used a page or two from each of the books.

I cut the pictures that I wanted and used glue to adhere it.

I used leftover "No More Nails" (from another project), by LePage ($7/tube, Home Depot) which looks like this:


Construction adhesive is probably overkill for this project, but I found that the pointed tip made applying delicate pieces easier. Also, using a stronger adhesive assured me that none of the little bits and pieces would fall off when I boxed, wrapped and transported them.

For the topper, I used a collectible toy statue of 'Thor' that I broke the base off of and glued down. I purchased it for $1 at Target. I thought it was a lot bigger than it turned out to be; I might have added a few more.

Here is a top-down shot:



For Kayleigh's jar, I deliberately incorporated colors that I knew were her favourites (as told to me by her dad): sparkly blue and a bit of green and white. I wanted it to be girly, but not too girly.

To decorate the outside, I used some lavender die-cut flowers (1' dia. and 1 1/2' dia.) that I dug out of my scrapbooking box.  I used smaller flowers (in orange and pink) in the centers of each flower, layered on with glue.

They were cut from heavy cardstock. I chose these deliberately because I didn't want them to bend or crease. I wanted them to stand in relief from the jar. Like this:


When the flowers were attached, I felt like they were missing something. I found a bag of sparkly red sequins that had spilled into the bottom of a craft box and decided that they would be perfect.

As above, I placed one sequin at the end of each petal and one in the center of each smaller flower.

The construction adhesive was too heavy for this step. It drug the sequins down until they fell off. So, for this step, I used plain white glue and applied each sequin with a toothpick.

I repeated the sequin patterning on the lid and added a die-cut as well. Here is a closer shot of the lid, from the top down:


The sequins dried quickly when I put them next to the open window.

I was very pleased with how this one turned out. I thought that it was a good match for her personality: lively and gregarious. Fun and a little bit girly.

Here is the finished product:



For Shaelene's jar, I knew that I wanted something girly and pretty and princess-y. She likes to get her nails done and wear dresses all the time, so I wanted this to be very simple but beautiful and lady-like. Like Shae.

I started with red; the bottle was almost empty and the air inside helped to create the 'flecked' look I liked so much. I added white paint, and rolled it around, then layered in some pink I mixed together in a snack cup (so I could throw it out when I was done).

When I tipped the jar upside down to dry, the running helped accentuate the red flecks; I was thrilled about that.

For the topper, I used two silk roses. I took the rose off of the stem and threw the rest away.

I tried to keep the green plastic bits on the bottom, because I liked the color contrast, but I couldn't get them to sit flat like I wanted. So I removed the green plastic.

The petals separated into layers of fabric, so I had to press them on one at a time. I held them down in the center to make sure they stuck to the base (and to each other), which is why they look as if there's a well in the center when you look at it from the top down.

For this step, I used the construction adhesive, because I wanted to make sure they stayed on. I used two disassembled artificial roses to achieve the look I wanted. Here is a top-down shot:


Here is a shot of the completed jar:


I painted the jar for Mason first of all. It was the largest jar (a pickle jar). Because this jar was a bit larger than the others, it took more paint to cover the inside.

When it was done, I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what I would decorate the outside with. Then I found a bag of sparkly foam star stickers I had bought for another project, but never used.

I liked that they stood in relief against the jar. I also liked that the glitter on them made them bumpy and tactile.

I purchased it at Wal-Mart in the scrapbooking section for about $3. There were three sizes and colors of stars in the package and matched the colors I had chosen.

They were sticky-backed, but the adhesive would not take to the glass. So I put a little bit of NMN on the back of each one and held it until it was stuck. It bonded solid in 24 hours.

I glued three stars to the top, as a topper.

Here is a top down shot:


I did not take a shot of the completed jar, because you couldn't see the topper anyway, so it would have just been a shot of what you see here.

Hannah's jar was painted the quickest, and took the least time. I used black paint for hers (the same I had used on the lids of the others). It was quite viscous and runny (not acrylic) and coated the jar in about ten seconds.

I added some "plastic diamonds" (I don't know what else to call them) that I had left over from another project. Wal-Mart had packages of them for about $4 each, like this:


The ones I used were similar to this, but larger, with no adhesive backing. I got them at a beading and jewelry making store. There were about 40 in bag for $1.25.

The shape of Hannah's jar was narrow at the neck and in the middle, like this:

It kind of reminded me of a dress-maker's mannequin. I thought that the shape was elegant and lovely, perfect for a young lady.

Plus, I also figured that she would be the most flexible about a jar that looks skinnier...which might be perceived as less full (more on that later)!

So when I decorated it, I kind of had a fancy dress design in mind.
I used a "wet black" paint that (I already had) to coat the inside. This time around (of course the last time!), painting it was much easier. The paint was thin and viscous, coating the inside of the jar in literal seconds. I almost dropped it from surprise. I was expecting it to be much more time consuming to paint, like the others.

Because the overall color was black, I decided that painting the lid black also was too much. I chose white.

I had some wired ribbon left over from another project that I tied around the middle of the jar. I thought that this made the dress look as if it were 'belted'; like this:


I put the "plastic diamonds" in two rings around the neck of the jar (to look like a fancy necklace). In actual fact, I used two layers of jewels to disguise the uneven finishing line of the paint inside. The jewels went to the top of the jar neck, flush with the lid, concealing it perfectly.

They were adhered with NMN, as with other external decorations. I wanted the hold to be permanent.

I didn't put a topper on this jar. I tried several different options and didn't like any of them. I decided I liked it better plain, so I left it.

All told, the painting and decorating process took about three hours per jar (the detail-y pieces were very time consuming) for a total of fifteen hours, spread over about two weeks, not including paint-drying time.

Which brings me back to "Reasons why Pinterest Lies!": This was indicated as a beginner's project that could be done in one afternoon. *One*. With an adult doing everything, no small hands...no giant messes.

Beware, newbies! Beware.

Moving on. The part that had nothing to do with Pinterest:

I knew I couldn't give a kid an empty jar if I really wanted the wow factor; no matter how much time I spent making them look cool. An empty jar is definitely not as cool as a full one.

So I decided that I would fill them up with presents. Most of the things I got in the One Spot ($1) section at Target. They had some cool holiday stuff!

Some of the things were Christmas-y, like these reindeer glasses, which I modeled:

 
There were Christmas themed pencils (which I had to cut the end off of to fit in the jars). I wrapped them with a cute little curlicued ribbon.  Like this:


I found a package of silicone finger puppets that I loved. There were five in the package, which I got for $1 at Target. I was worried that the kids wouldn't know what they were for, so I took a pic that I intended to include with a letter that I never inluded. But here is a picture, just for you:



I filled the jars with candies, some I stashed from visits to restaurants, some I bought (stick candy from Bulk Barn, 5/$1):

These are my favourite after dinner suckers from East Side Mario's - before the boycott - I had about 30 of them.

This is a photo of Kayleigh's finished jar, including the contents, before I filled them all:
Candies, pencils....my favourite piece was the little hand. It's a clapper that has a glowstick for a handle! Each kid got body wash..."Hello Kitty" and "Avengers". I may or may not have had to replace one I kept for myself.

Total cost for the jar fill contents was $20/$4 per jar.

Some items I got for free. Rubber promotional bracelets, etc.

I continued to pick up  little things I thought would go well in the jars (that are not in the pic) right up until I wrapped them.

When I was done, there was *no* more room for anything else.  Here are all five, finished:



I sent each of them a Christmas activity book that I put together with .pdf's and puzzles that I found on the internet. It took me about 10 minutes of searching, . I send some kind of activity book or coloring pages with each package I send them.

I put their names on each one (so that they would be able to tell which one was theirs once they got going) and put them in an envelope that I decorated with some glitter (I already had) and drew on some funky lettering.

As always, I sent a movie (usually just a copy of something cool). This time I sent "Secondhand Lions", with Michael Caine. It was a great movie. You can watch a clip, here:


I tucked it all in with a little love note and some stamps so that they could write me back.

Here is a shot of all five completed jars, with the decorated envelope:



Happy Christmas, my little love muffins! Pay no mind that I wrote this in April!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mosiac Madness

Hello, my dear sweet followers:

I haven't blogged in a long time, and I thought that now was a good time to start. The fog is lifting after the sudden, shocking death of my DSH. I am coming back to myself.

I'm starting to feel better in my skin. 

I've started cooking again, finding joy in the nourishment that creating dishes gives me and the nourishment that eating them gives others.

In November, I started a crafty project. I decided that I would make some mosaic tile mirrors for my three nieces for Christmas. Something that they could keep forever: that would be cool at age five or twenty-five. My mom always made hand-crafted gifts for us, and I wanted to do something like that for my five favourite kiddos!

I gave myself just over six weeks to complete five mirrors: 2 small ones that I eventually gave as a Christmas gift, and one large mirror for each of my nieces, ranging in age from nine to five.

I figured that six weeks would be enough time, that it couldn't possibly be that hard - the people on Pinterest and YouTube make it look so easy that a monkey could do it - I could do it, too!

I started with five mirrors, all found at the Goodwill, and luckily all the same size (3 large, 2 small). They were all Ikea mirrors with a large wood framing, like this:
This mirror is called the "Rakuten". It came in a package of two, and was unopened. I paid $2 for both. I used this model for the smaller ones I gave to my co-worker.

The three larger ones were decorated already and I had to spend a bit of time cleaning off the old stain and some stickers. But I was thrilled to find three the same size. I paid $4 for all three large mirrors.

I used recycled dishes (20 plates @ $1 per plate, purchased on 50 Friday. I paid $10) in shades of blue, green, red and yellow. I purposefully chose plates with texture - I thought that they looked cool and added some interest to the pieces.

I broke them up with a hammer. I folded an old shirt over the dishes as I was breaking them to keep shards off of the floor (and your eyes and other bodily orfices Pinterest fails to mention.) I discarded the shirt when I was done.  I suggest using a stainless steel bow to keep your pieces in, as I have done here.
 I used LePage "No More Nails" construction adhesive, which can be purchased for approximately $7 per tube at any construction store. The product I used comes in a tube, so it's good for applying to tight spaces, or precision application. I used 2 tubes.

I used this because it seemed like a stronger option to plain white glue, which the professional and well-spoken web videos suggest. I was worried about having pieces of tile fall off knowing it would be going to little kids. It held rock solid after 24 hours. I was very impressed.

If you are a person who shops by what labels look like, this is for you, in solidarity (the people at Home Depot certainly don't shop that way...so they were no help):
I pre-planned the design on each of them, drawing directly on the frame with a permanent marker. I drew over a design if I didn't like it, and just darkened the lines.

I deliberately used a dark color contrasting to my tile color scheme. I found it made following the pattern easier as the mosiac got fuller.  Someone suggested using a design program, but that seemed kind of technical to me, and a lot less fun.

Fitting the pieces together was kind of like doing a puzzle. I wasn't very precise about breaking my dishes, I was just wailing at them with a hammer (which turned out to be exhausting...but still kind of satisfying. Now I know why everyone likes to smash dishes in movies!) and so I ended up with a lot of random pieces.

I did learn how to go gently with the hammer to kind of "make it" break, sort of the way I wanted it to. Here's an example of the pre-dawn pattern and piece-working it together:
When I drew the pattern the first time, I didn't like it, so I turned the mirror.

This is an example of the pre-drawn pattern on the smaller set of two mirrors:
The completed, ungrouted mosaics looked like this (these were the two smaller ones, meant to go together):


 Who can tell what this says? Little poll. See the difference grouting makes...


Shaelene loves to wear pretty dresses...every day. She's my favourite pretty princess! I wanted to make her a pretty princess mirror, so I used mostly red and gold on this one. I tried to make the corners pointy, like jewels. This one took some planning, because her name is the longest.

Hannah's was the only one I used the dark green on. The plates are textured to look like leaves. I wanted her to have something special and distinctive about her mirror. Also, I felt like the darker colors gave it a little bit of "grown-upness".

All told, the tile-laying process took about 20 hours total for all five (spread out over approximately 10 days). The adhesive I used allowed for re-placement of tiles for up to five minutes. After 24 hours, the bond is permanent.

I didn't take any photos of the grouting process because I didn't want to dirty up my camera. The crusty old guy at Home Depot who told me that it was too dangerous for a person in a wheelchair said that I would be foolish to take pictures unless I wanted concrete on my camera (which I did not), so I left it.

But I have never grouted (ever) before this project, so I had no idea what to do. I watched several Youtube videos that made it look just as easy as pie, so I figured, "okey doke, no worries. I can do that".  If you'd like to have a look at the videos I used to teach myself:

This is Karen Silton's, "How to Grout A Mosaic Piece of Art". I was very jealous of her tiling room, and wished that I'd had one. I also noted that her grout wasn't "the consistency of runny peanut butter," like the guy at HD said... 


And neither did this guy's....until the end. I wished I'd watched this one first. I actually used his method of mixing grout the second time around and had much more consistent results.

He was also joking around with the camerawoman while mixing his grout, which made me feel better.


I didn't use any of the tools recommended for the application of grout. The tiles were uneven and I found it was more effective to use my fingers to push the grout as deeply into the cracks as I could get it.

I used "PolyBlend Sanded Grout". Here is what the box looks like:

I chose "Pewter" originally, because I thought it would be dark, to make the letters 'pop', but not too dark. It actually turned out a medium grey as opposed to the metal color I wanted.

Polyblend has a range of colors to choose from. Most of them are available at HD in stock, but you can special order them if you wish. Here is the PolyBlend color chart:

Here is an example of what the grout looks dry, before it is mixed:



Here is an example of what the Pewter-colored grout looks mixed, applied and dried. These are the smaller mirrors.


I wanted to use a different shade of grout to more closely match the black finishing paint I already had. So I went with a black shade for the second round. PolyBlend - charcoal. Here is an example of what the charcoal-colored grout looks mixed, applied and dried:

It took approximately 1/4 of the pewter bag for the two smaller mirrors and approximately 1/2 of the charcoal bag (20 lbs. each; available @ $20per box.  Both of my boxes of grout were leftovers from a professional job done by a friend's dad. I got them for nothing).

It was mixed by 'guestimation' because the directions included were for the whole box, which I knew I wouldn't need.

I used plastic dishware from the dollar store, which I threw out afterward.

I applied the grout liberally in handfuls, spreading it into the cracks with my fingers. All of the videos said to wear gloves. I did at first, but found that they tore very quickly and easily. It was also just easier to apply with my bare hands.

I taped off the glass of the mirror before I started (with green painter's tape) because I was worried about scratching the glass. It turned out that I didn't have to worry about this at all.

I made sure that the tiles were completely covered. Like this:


The entire grouting process for all five mirrors took about an hour, spread out over a week or so (plus a trip to HD to talk to the tiling consultant, which turned out to be an incredible waste of time)!

I failed to understand that you are not to allow grout to completely dry.  Because when it does, it dries as hard as concrete.  It is impossible to 'wipe off'...went to the bathroom...had a snack. Bob's your Auntie and it was dry. So I went to bed.

I figured that the grout wouldn't get any harder now, so I left them. It was exhausting and I was tired of looking at it. I needed a break from mosaic-ing. But I had nowhere to put them, and didn't want to spread the mess around. And so they sat, monopolizing my kitchen table for several weeks. I lived around them. The bustle of Christmas came and went; I was absorbed by other projects.

Shaelene's birthday came. And I decided I was going to get them done...come hell or high water. I wanted these things out of my kitchen. I wanted them gone.  The plan was to give it to her for her birthday, along with a box of Easter care packages for the other kids. You may have seen it on my facebook page:




I was very motivated. But the grout was very stubborn. It was hard to get off. So I used the photo of the pre-grouted design to clean each singular tile, individually with a paring knife and a toothbrush.

It took hours; I was exhausted. Shaelene did not get the mirror for her birthday and I was crestfallen: I was never going to get these done....

Then, I went to "Google" and searched 'remove grout from tile'. And I found this video...he talked about the cup brush and I nearly cried with relief:


Then I watched this second one. He talked about not being able to find the Nyalox brush at any hardware store.


I had no idea where I would get this brush - I didn't even have a drill. And what was I thinking? I was going to drill something? Yeah. Okay. But, it seemed that this was the only way that these mirrors were going to make it off my list.

I borrowed a power-drill and ordered the brush from Amazon ($14, shipping included). The guy in the video  was right. None of the big guys (Home Depot, Home Hardware or even Wal-Mart - shock of all shocks! - ) had this brush.


Then I had to wait for it to arrive. So they sat on my table for another three weeks while I waited for this brush.

And then it came. I nearly shrieked with joy - I was going to finish these things! The end was near! - I had waited so long. And I just wanted my table back. I was not giving up...

I got the drill, an N95 dust particulate mask, and went to town.

I got the mask from the dollar store and strongly suggest you don't go rogue like I did. Buy it. The cold/sinus infection you get from breathing the dust is not worth it. Here are some photos of me, using a power drill for the very first time, ever, in my whole life:

Grout removal underway! I plugged in my headphones and went to town. It was actually kind of fun! I learned the hard way to tuck my headphones into my shirt. I lost a pair of purple earbuds that way. Lesson learned.
There was a lot of kickback from the drill. My arms were very sore afterward (and still are). It was quite awkward positioning. I was constrained by the cording. It didn't allow me the flexibility of movement that I wanted, but a cordless drill relies on batteries, and I wanted to get this finished. The thought of waiting for a battery to charge between rounds was enough to help me get over the annoyance of the corded drill.
License to drill, baby!
All told, the process of using the drill to remove the excess grout took about 4-5 hours for the three large mirrors.  Here are before and afters, for the buffed mirrors and the unbuffed mirrors:


Finished buffing

Mid-way through.
Completely un-buffed
When the mirrors were finished, I cleaned the mirrors with a tile haze remover.  I used AquaMix Professional Tile Haze Remover. Purchased at Lowe's for $4 (who also had the cup brush you apparently couldn't get in Canada!). It looks like this:

It's easy to use and took no time at all. Worked like a dream. I have more than 1/2 of the bottle left after using generously to clean all of the mirrors well.  The entire process took half an hour.

I painted the edges (of the frame and any exposed tile) with a "wet black" water resistant paint. I got paint everywhere. Like this:

Wear something you don't mind throwing away when using waterproofed paint.

It was also my first time using solvents to remove paint from my hands. Varsol. My house still stinks.

Once they were dry, I signed them all with a silver Sharpie and took photos to remember.  I wrapped them generously with star-patterned paper and stowed them in the car for delivery. I felt like I was sending my babies away.

Here are the photos: I wrote personalized notes on the back of each of them, for each of my special girls.







I gave them to the girls today. I literally did a happy dance, walking out of The Market.

They're done. I did them, and they are beautiful. I am so proud. Here is a shot of all three, together: