The Joy of Cardboard Boxes

Boxes, the workhorse of the efficient move. I've spent so much of this year assembling boxes, packing boxes, just looking at boxes. Sadly, they are not that attractive. But you know who doesn't care that they aren't pretty? Who views each new box as an exciting land of adventure?

These guys! Boxes are a chance to escape the dull routine of windsowsill, couch, carpet; a place to play hide-and-seek with a brother; a castle that needs defending from invaders. Once my move from Philly was complete, I just didn't have the heart to take the boxes away from my little explorers, but I was also sick of staring at cardboard.

That's when a silly notion entered my head. With a half hour's work and an old pumpkin-carving knife, I turned four old boxes into this:

That night while shopping, we made a detour to Home Depot for bit of paint, and if my mom hadn't stopped me, I would have been outside, spray painting in the dark. Instead I woke up early (7:00 a.m.!) and got straight to work painting. While the paint dried, I crafted the shield, banner, and flags.


I was ridiculously pleased with it and I just couldn't stop giggling! It was the purest fun I'd had in a very long, very sad and lonely time. I didn't care if anyone liked it and I didn't make it for any reason other than my own amusement. If the cats chewed it to bits the next day, what did it matter?

This silly kitty castle acted as the catalyst I needed to get me making things again after an eight month dry spell, unleashing a tsunami of startitis. Within a day I began a half dozen other projects, glitter shoes, a knitted shawl, various Christmas gifts. I had my groove back.

All it took was a few cardboard boxes. My cats conquered a castle and I recaptured the simple joy of creation.

Make Cool Stuff Halloween Competition: Our Winner

Thanks so much to everybody that entered! It was so exciting to see new photos show up in the Flickr pool. You made my week tons of fun! And thanks to the lovely Emily and Mandy for your help! I didn't want to choose on my own.

Let's do a review of our entries! We have some crazy pumpkins:

The first entry I'll highlight has a literary flair: a Cthulhu pumpkin from our friend pixiepanther (a_lovecraft on Flickr). Look at those tentacles! Also, I think the red glow stick imbues it with an added eerieness, don't you agree?

This pumpkin is what inspired me to start the contest, as pixiepanther sent me a few photos of the work in progress. It made me so happy that I wanted to see more Halloween project photos. MORE! MUAHAHAHAHA!

*Ahem.* Sorry.

Next up, we have PhotoKnight77's Flame Pumpkins. I most love the expression on the pumpkin on the left—he's very suspicious of the two to his left. I picture him as a lackey who got in a bit over his head; a yes man who suddenly realizes he's about to face a federal prison sentence for doing what his boss told him.

Nick explains how to achieve this fiery look here. (Hint: accelerants are involved.)

Next, check out this candy corn-themed My Little Pony from sfd_art! She's very goth, don't you think? I want boots and a necklace like that! Also, check out sfd_art's (I'm sorry, darlin', I don't know your real name) other sculptures on Flickr. I love the Cinnamon Roll Mickey!

Now for our costume submission from Corey (@corforks), which is both adorable and yummy (contains Reese's Peanut Butter Cups—the best candy ever)! Look at the brick detail! I always like costumes of unusual or inanimate objects. It takes a little more imagination.

And now, friends, I present to you our winner! The lovely Emily and Mandy helped me make the choice, but I really wish I could give each submission a prize!

Walt Keegan's (@Avant1963) crazy Alien-themed haunted house blew all of our minds! The attention to detail on the chest-bursting alien truly rises to nerdy levels AND it incorporates electronics!

Frankly, it scares the heck outta me, and I think that's the point. Walt, if you ever make a Gremlins-themed haunted house, NEVER SEND ME PICTURES! I know they're cute, but the image of the nasty gremlins laughing haunted me for years.

Join me in congratulating all our friends for making fantastic Halloween projects! Remember, friends, keep making cool stuff and don't forget to share pictures!

Make Cool Stuff Halloween Competition

Hi friends! How often am I telling you to make cool stuff? All the time, right? Well, enough talk! It's time for...

The 2011 Make Cool Stuff Halloween Competition!

The rules are simple: 

  • Take a picture of a Halloween item (costume, pumpkin, decoration, food item) that you made.
  • Upload it to
  • Please, no more than two entries per person (because sometimes your stuff is so cool that you can't pick just one!)
  • Enter by 9:00 p.m. EDT Wednesday, November 2, 2011.

Your entries will be reviewed and adored by me and two lovely ladies, Emily and Mandy*. We will pick a winner, using the following as our guide:

  • Is it handmade? (As in, not store-bought. Use of sewing machines, RepRaps, CNCs, power tools, etc. is legit...too legit to quit, hey hey!)
  • Is it Halloween-y?
  • Bonus: Is it nerdy?
  • Bonus: Did it make us laugh?
  • Mega-super-bonus: Did you write up a detailed tutorial and link to it in your Flickr picture description?

While all participants will win my undying affection, the winner of our little competition will also get a $50 gift card to either Target or Amazon (your choice) and a rockin' set of pirate notecards (20 large, 20 small, with envelopes) from JenniBick stationery.

Check out that sweet pirate booty!

We will announce the winner on Friday, November 4, 2011 on this blog—don't forget to check back to see if it is you!

*These ladies have serious maker-cred of their own! Check out Emily's Zombie Apocalypse Survival movie (for class credit, no less!) and Mandy's photography on her Tumblr.

Question: Any Tips for Learning Embroidery?

Needlecraft Projects for the Nerdist Hosts

The lovely Nicole (@nlentine) asked if I had any tips for learning embroidery. I sure do, as long as you promise to remember that I, too, am a beginner. The sum total of my embroidery and needlepoint work (minus two small kits) is up here; you'll note it totals five projects. I am not speaking from a point of authority on needlecraft here; however, I am a serial self-teacher of craft. That, I know.

Here's a general piece I wrote over on the Nerdist site about the methods I use when learning a new craft.

The Best Way: Find Someone to Teach You

Obviously, finding someone to teach you is ideal, but where do you find such a person? I lucked out big time, in that there is a lovely needlecraft boutique, Rittenhouse Needlepoint, a block from my work. My lucky streak continued; I happened to stop in on a Friday after work, when they had an open project "happy hour." I bought a small kit and one of the owners sat me down with a lovely cup of tea and taught me the basketweave stitch. It was all I needed to execute the project vision I had in my head.

Now, I recognize that most people won't have access to a needlecraft boutique with a patient owner, but all is not lost. Here are some places where you may have luck finding someone to teach you:

  • Craftster City Guides: Craftster is a fantastic website for finding and sharing project ideas on any craft you can imagine. Besides hosting boards for each craft, they have city guides organized by country (and then by state). Put up a post asking if anyone knows of organized classes, or if anyone is willing to teach you one-on-one.
  • Local craft store: The big box craft stores like JoAnn's and Michael's host classes on different crafts. Even if they don't have an embroidery class posted, ask at the customer service desk. They are in touch with local craft teachers and may be able to recommend someone (likely one of their employees). Avoid asking questions on Saturdays around noon when they are full of coupon-shoppers that need 9 yards of fabric cut from 6 different bolts. I've found that I get great service on weekday evenings when they aren't busy.
  • Ravelry message boards: Ravelry is an online knitting community with fantastic, responsive message boards (you need to register to access the content). While it is a knitting and crochet community, most of the users are into multiple crafts. Find the message board(s) for your city and ask for help finding a teacher.
  • Skillshare: This is going to be a big-city option, but Skillshare is rapidly spreading across the country. Dedicated enthusiasts (like you!) teach classes. If you don't see a class on embroidery, send a tweet to @Skillshare and they'll send the request out to that city's followers.
  • Craigslist: This is a crapshoot, but Craigslist does have a crafts section under the discussion forums. Good luck and may the crafty force be with you on that one.

But I'd Rather Teach Myself

Me too. Learning a new craft is problem-solving at its best: I have a vision in my head that I want to create and I have a vague idea of the materials involved—now, go! If you've elected this route, I'd like to refer you back to the methods article on the Nerdist site.

YouTube is full of videos on crafts. I looked through a handful before settling on Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread videos. The videos are clear and her instructions are detailed. It gave me the knowledge necessary to make The Walking Dead project for Jonah, which is a mix of the back stitch and the stem stitch.

Needlepoint-For-Fun has a good video on the basketweave stitch, which is the only stitch I used for the Doctor Who/007 project. She has a good set of diagrams for basic stitches on her website.

I'm a big fan of learning crafts from books, but I don't have any embroidery or needlecraft specific recommendations. If you do, or have any resources, please post in the comments below.

A Few Miscellaneous Tips

Pay attention to the stretchiness of your fabric. Proper needlepoint fabric like Aida cloth isn't stretchy, but knit material like t-shirts is very stretchy. It's easy, as you're working on a t-shirt, to accidentally stretch the fabric. Your design will end up skewed and puckered, and it will make you sad.

To avoid the sadness, use a piece of fabric stabilizer on the back side of your project. I draw my project in reverse on the stabilizer, then pin it in place, making certain my t-shirt isn't stretched out. This helps minimize the puckering. You'll find the stabilizer behind the cutting counter at the fabric store. There are a dozen different kinds; just ask the lady cutting your fabric for advice on which one to purchase. (I didn't use iron-on stabilizer because I was lazy, but it might be a good choice to hedge against puckering).

Embroidery floss is really cheap, so buy a bunch in your color even though you won't use much (I only used two skeins for The Walking Dead picture). The Doctor Who/007 piece used yarn from the needlepoint shop. Sadly, I don't have a much advice on picking Aida fabric and yarn; the nice folks at the shop talked me through my entire purchase.

Good luck! If you make anything, send me a picture! If you have experience with embroidery and needlepoint, I'd appreciate any advice you have to offer; share it in the comments.

Podcast Recommendations: Crafts

I have a challenge that needs your help. I intended to post this week about my favorite craft podcasts, but when I reviewed my iTunes list, I realized that ALL of them are on hiatus or haven't put out an episode in months, with no indication that they'll start recording. (This not including the two favorites I mentioned last week—wait, yes, it includes one of the two.)

Bummer! I hadn't really noticed (except for Sticks and String) because I have so many shows I listen to each week. It's easy to overlook.

This means I need recommendations from you! Which craft podcasts do you love? I'm crazy about all crafts (except scrapbooking—it really brings out OCD tendencies in me and I have trouble enjoying it).

I'll still mention one show, as he's only on hiatus:

Sticks and String with David Reidy

This this the Australian knitting podcast I mentioned on the Nerdist. David's accent is absolutely mesmerizing, and hearing about the reversed seasons of the Southern Hemisphere—like Christmas in summer—never gets old. David talks about regular life; his knitting, his job as a schoolteacher, and periodically gives glimpses of nerdy little hobbies (which I love to hear about). I've learned so much about Australia from the little bits he includes—apparently Sydney has GIANT BATS—and consequently the Blue Mountains are at the top of my travel wish list.

Most episodes include an essay, a bit of music, and a recommendation of some sort. Periodically he will interview sheep farmers or wool producers.

David's on hiatus right now to care for his mother, but there are plenty (166!) back episodes, all worth a listen.

Podcast Recommendations: Exploring the Creative Process, Part II

When we last met, we examined three comedy podcasts that delve into the creative podcast. I'll continue today with four non-comedy podcasts that similarly explore creativity.

First, two in the craft genre. Non-crafters, there is some good small business/side business advice to be found here.

Craftcast with Alison Lee

All crafters and small business owners need to listen to this show. Alison alternates her interviews between higher level discussions on running creative businesses and in-depth explorations of a particular craft. On more than one occasion I've thought "I have no interest in this craft," only to find that Alison's interviews stick in my head—and two months later I'm stocking up at the craft store.

Here are a few recent interviews that struck my fancy include Holly Becker from Decor8Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up coach; and Jo Packham, who discusses the changing industry of craft book publishing.

Bonus points: she interviewed Todd Henry from the Accidental Creative, whose podcast appears at the end of this list. Get introduced to two great podcasters at once!

CraftyPod with Sister Diane

This is another podcast for the crafters and small business owners in the crowd. The podcast officially ended in July, but Sister Diane is planning to bring it back in some sort of subscription basis (details not yet determined).

Regardless, the back catalog is an excellent resource for inspiration on running a sustainable creative small business. I particularly enjoyed this episode:

Episode #87: Creative Cross-Pollination with Margaret Roach: Get some fascinating insight into life at Martha Stewart Living, as well as leaving a great corporate career to follow a passion.


Now, two podcasts that focus more broadly on the creative process.

Studio 360

You're correct, this is a public radio show; in fact it's one of the best public radio shows on the air. Unfortunately, in many markets, their timeslot is terrible (Philadelphia included—I wouldn't wake up at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday if God himself stopped by for tea); that's why I'm including them on the podcast list. I find it to be a particularly good show for me—I'm a crafter, I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination—and this show has taught me a lot about art in an accessible manner.

The series Science and Creativity may particularly appeal to my fellow nerds.

The Accidental Creative

I'll bookend the discussion on creativity podcasts with the other site I contribute to. Todd Henry from The Accidental Creative podcast explores staying "prolific, brilliant, and healthy" over the long term. The tone of his podcast is more serious than the others I've highlighted above, but the advice is unmatched—practical, actionable, and inspiring. It has been one of the primary drivers to pull me and my writing out of a mythical dreamland (where I was a writer only in my head) and into the real world.

That I sit down in my chair every night to write is largely thanks to episode #194: Chasing Vapor. If you need a kick in the butt to get moving, this one's for you.

#205: Be Accidental: This is a good overview of the podcast.

If you are a manager of a creative team or if your job requires frequent problem-solving, this is a must-listen.

Todd's also got a book that I whole-heartedly recommend; hit up the Writing tab on this site for the series Becoming an Accidental Creative where I further discuss the impact the book has made on my creative process.


So there you go. Those are seven of my favorite podcasts that focus specifically on the creative process. Next Sunday: my favorite crafting podcasts. We'll talk before then...and you can always hit me up on Twitter. I'm still trying to catch up with all the lovely messages I've received since the Nerdist podcast—thank you, thank you all for being so kind!