I am Fire! I am FRUITY! – Smaug Watermelon Bowl

Back in 2012, I got it in my head that I’d try carving a watermelon for the first time. I had a neat idea – Caladium leaves – and just kind of winged it. I posted a bit of a tutorial from it here.

Within the following two months, I’d carve two more watermelons – one Canadian themed for Canada Day, and one “Stars and Stripes” themed, for the 4th of July. Then, I put down my paring knife and basically forgot that I’d ever carved a watermelon… until a week and a half ago.

We were looking forward to going to a friend’s house for NYE, and planned to make some fancy cheese balls.

Then, all the talk of making cheese balls prompted us to make a batch of cheeseball as a “I don’t feel like cooking” dinner… and just snarf the whole thing for supper the night before NYE. The resulting gut rot led us to agree that maybe we should bring something healthier.

So, NYE morning we went and bought a bunch of fruit for a fruit salad. As with pretty much everything we do, it “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie”-ed from that, to “we should scoop out a watermelon so it at least looks nice” to “Maybe I’ll just scallop the edges on the watermelon or something”, to “HEY, I carved watermelons before! I should do something fancy!”.

I was googling for ideas just a couple hours before we had to leave for the event, and not feeling inspired. I kind of joked to myself that I should just carve Smaug, as Smaug had been SO on my mind lately with costumey stuff.

well.. the joke quickly turned to reality, and I decided that yes, I would carve Smaug. Nevermind that I’d only carved fairly basic stuff 3 times, and that was 2.5 years earlier. I’m all about ridiculous challenges, right? Some day, my tombstone will say “Because I CAN!”, I swear.

So.. here is the result. Ignore the crappy cell phone photography for the progress shots!

First, I scrawled the basic idea all over the watermelon:

Then, I cut off the top of the melon, scooped it out, and started doing detail work on what would be the wings:

Everything kind of turned out a mess because this was by far the THINNEST watermelon I’d ever seen. Kind of mushy, too. Ugh!

First wing carved. I was kind of making it up as I went along. Probably not the best idea, but whatever:

Carved the back as a tail winding around one side. In hindsight, that should have been a bit higher – it didn’t contain the fruit very well!

Carved the shoulders and front legs:

Drew on some kind of head at the last minute. Yeah, drawing’s not really my thing, sorry! :

… but holy crap, when I washed the marker off, it really kinda looked like Smaug! I was pretty proud!

…and finally – after carving the face – we had to fill him position him on top of a pile of ‘gold’ – mango and pineapple!

How I Made That: Katniss’s “Catching Fire” Wedding Gown Wings

So, I’m going to start a new category here on the blog: “How I made that”. Not QUITE a costuming tutorial, but with enough information, photos, etc to help you on your way!

So, let’s start this off: The wings on Katniss’s wedding gown in “Catching Fire”. You all remember my adorable Mini Katniss, right? That’s her over to the right – Great kid! She rocked that costume all the way to a “Best Workmanship” win at Convergence this past summer. The wings on that gown is one of the costume elements I’ve been asked about the most, and it was actually quite easy to do!

The first thing I had to do was to gather reference images. This was easy for the front – there were some gorgeous, hi-res images online, including the magazine photo that Mini Katniss’s portrait was based on. The back was not so easy – I ended up having to put the Blu-Ray on, and pause/photograph my TV screen when it came to the perfect, clear view of the back of the gown:

From there, I opened the front and back images up in Photoshop, and sized them to a printing size that would reflect my Mini-Katniss’s actual size. That is, I used Mini Katniss’s backwaist measurement to determine the print size of the photo, by using markers on that original photo – where Jennifer Lawrence’s waist and prominent vertebra in her neck is. I tweaked it slightly to work with Mini Katniss’s shoulder measurement: She has the build of an 11 year old girl, after all: the proportions are a little different than from a grown woman!

Once I had it properly sized, I set the file to print at a lighter opacity – probably 60%? – and divided each file up into 8×10 sized sections. I printed them all out, and assembled them together with tape. This created the template for the two wings.

Using a thick black marker, I traced over all of the lines on the wing in each template. Combined with the less vibrant printing, this would allow the pattern to easily show through the parchment paper I’d use in the next step.

One wing at a time, I taped the template down to my work surface, and covered with a large piece of parchment paper. Using Instamorph (The stuff I got into more detail about in my Thranduil Crown Tutorial), I stretched hot strips of Instamorph into long “snakes”, and laid them out following the pattern I’d made. I continued this until the entire wing design was laid out, then let it cool.

Then, I went back over it with a heat gun. At every intersection of pieces, I heated the area up and gently pressed the pieces together to form a lasting bond. This is important! When laying the design out, the pieces cool too fast to bond with each other, and you really want that security.

Once everything was bonded and cooled, I had to shape it. I started with the bending at the points above the shoulder of the dress, by heating the whole area with a heat gun, and propping it up til it cooled:

As it turned out, the sizing/shaping of my dress form was pretty similar to Mini Katniss, so I covered it in foil to protect it, and used the heat gun to mold the pieces to shape:

From there, both sides of each wing were hit with grey primer:

A mirror-finish shiny metallic spray paint (that I ended up not liking):

… and, finally, with a white glitter spray that I used to tone down the obnoxious shine of the metallic silver:

At that point, the outward-facing sides of the wings were accented with crystals. Use the GOOD, Swarovski ones for maximum shine! I used E-6000 to glue them down:

At this point, the wings themselves were finished, and all that remained was attaching them to the gown. Early on, I had decided that they would need to be easily removable – we were talking about an 11 year old girl, after all. Had to keep logistics in mind!

I also knew that she intended to spend most of her time in the gown SPINNING (who could blame her?), so I knew the attachment would have to withstand that force. The solution? Ribbon ties!

I pinned the wings into place on the dress, which had been sewn and fit, but not FINISHED (feathers). I took great care to make sure everything was in place where I’d want it to be, and this would provide the guide not only for where the ribbons would be sewn on, but where the feathers would be stitched as well:

So I pinned along where the edges of the wings were, as a guide, and made note of where ribbons should go – I think I sewed 3 each on the front and back. On the front, this was up near the top of the left side of the bodice (her left), one at the right side of her waist, and one at her left hip. This held it in place well.

I machine sewed the middle of each length of ribbon right to the bodice, then pinned the ribbons up and out of the way for sewing all of those feathers down:

To wear it, she put the gown on. A wing was positioned where it was to go, and the ends of one ribbon were pulled through to the front of the wing, one end on each side of a line of wing. A bow was tied over that dividing line of wing, and the loops and ends were carefully pulled back through to be hidden and secured behind the wing. It was a beautiful thing!

The finished product:

“Nerds” Wedding Favour Boxes – a Free Template!

Ever since posting about it a few years ago, this post about the wedding favours my husband and I made for our wedding has been one of THE most popular entries on this blog. Not only was it a cool idea for wedding favours, it would also work well for birthday parties, graduations, and more!

Since then, I’ve had a lot of requests for doing custom boxes for people (I’m not comfortable doing so, because of IP issues!), and some requests for the file itself.

Well, I’ve finally dug out one of my original files, and am making it available for download! The file is 4MB, click here to download it.

Please note: I am offering this as a free, standalone resource. I am unable to offer any design assistance or trouble shooting, beyond the information contained in this blog entry. Thank you for understanding.

Here is what you will want to do (more or less!)

1. Open it in Photoshop.

2. Change the background colour to one more appropriate to your own event. Delete the background copy layer (just left it in there as an idea of what looks good for texture). If you’d like a textured background, go for it. (Works best with a really small, fine texture)

3. Edit “Website or greeting here” to… well, a website or greeting. 🙂

4. Swap out the flowers for flowers more appropriate to your wedding, or – for other events – something else. Maybe a birthday cake, etc? Use a high res image for best results.

5. Change the colours of the dresses and bowties, if desired.

6. Personalize the Name(s) and date for your own use. Also, feel free to change the wording of the greeting on the back of the box.

7. Make sure everything is as you want it, save the psd file as is (just in case), then convert to JPG and save it as a different file. It should look more or less like

…. with your own design added, of course 🙂

8. Obtain a template for a large postcard from your choice of printer – we used VistaPrint, with their “Oversized Postcard” option.

9. In Photoshop, select all for your completed design, copy and paste it to the printer’s template. Center it, making sure to keep it within the safe space guidelines provided. Delete the guidelines layer (if applicable), flatten and save.

10. Order your prints. I HIGHLY recommend ordering 50% more than you think you’ll need – this will allow for cutting/assembling mistakes, accidents, last minute extras needed, and keepsakes.

11. Order your choice of filling. We were able to find a company that sold Nerds candy in bulk – so much easier than buying retail boxes and transferring the contents!

12. When your print order arrives, use a slide cutter to trim the postcards to the outer outlines of the box.

13. Use very sharp, pointed tip scissors to trim all of the little “v” cuts, etc. (We used small scrapbooking scissors)

14. Using the dull/blunt attachment for your slide cutter (you may need to purchase this separately), score all of the fold edges.

15. Fold all of the boxes.

16. Glue the boxes together at the side flap.

17. Glue all of the boxes together at the bottom flap. Allow to dry completely.

18. Fill the boxes about 2/3 full, glue the top flap closed.

… and that’s it! It’s a bit of effort, but VERY much worth it!

Costuming & Cosplay Tutorial : Maleficent’s Staff

Remember the Maleficent Costume I made for one of my two Convergence masquerade entry this year?

It’s since become our MOST asked about costume, with an insane amount of emails about it. It was a huge project, my first collaborative masquerade entry, and – I’m SO proud to say! – is apparently the most accurate one out there!

I’ve since sold it to a lovely woman in Florida, who will be putting it to good use. However, the nightmare that shipping was for the staff, as well as the high ticket price on the costume? I don’t think I’ll be making any more of these. SO… let’s teach YOU how to make some of the pieces! (I’d write a tutorial for the whole thing, but I’m lacking photos for a lot of it, and some of it is so instinctive to me, it’d be impossible to describe!)

Just want to see more photos of the costume? Check out our Facebook Page album for it!

Today, let’s look at making the iconic staff…

How to Make Maleficent’s Staff

You will need:

Heavy paper or newspaper
Small bucket or container for water that you don’t mind ruining
Several 4″ rolls of plaster tape (Available at medical supply or craft stores)
3″ garden gazing ball. (We ordered from here
3/4″ – 1″ diameter wooden dowel. Length will depend on height of the person it’s for – ours was around 5′.
Acrylic paints in dark browns, blacks, and grey
Variety of paint brushes
Clear polyurethane varnish
Paper towels and/or toilet paper


First, cover your work surface and the flood in front of it with heavy paper. The plaster can get EVERYWHERE. Fill your small bucket with warm water, and cut your plaster tape into manageable lengths – a foot or two, depending on how comfortable you are with it.

Generously coat your gazing ball with vaseline, set aside (but close at hand!).

Starting at what will be the bottom end of the staff, use the plaster tape to sculpt directly onto the dowel. One piece at a time, dip a strip of plaster into water, bunch it up lengthwise (to make a long, narrow piece), and apply it to the dowel. I wind pieces up almost the entire length of it, smoothing as I go – you want to get rid of the “mesh” look.

Once I’ve got the initial bunched pieces applied, I’ll go over it with un-bunched pieces, smoothing and sculpting as I go. The goal is to make it look like a gnarled tree branch.

Working quickly and carefully, make three bunched up pieces into long “fingers, attach at roughly equal distances around the top end of the staff. Secure with more un-bunched plaster, around the dowel. Position the greased up gazing ball at the top of the dowel, form the 4 “fingers” up and around the ball. Add a few smaller “fingers” to connect and create more of a branched-off design.

Allow staff to dry completely, usually overnight.

Paint the staff all over with 2 coats of a dark brown acrylic paint. Be very careful when painting up around the gazing ball, and be sure all plaster is hidden by paint. Allow to dry completely.

Using a toothpick or pointed sculpting tool, carefully scrape away any plaster spaltter on the gazing ball, and clean up the edges of the “branches” that encase it. Touch up any newly exposed plaster with more of the dark brown acrylic paint.

Once dark brown paint has dried, use a smallish paint brush and black paint to paint “shadows” in all of the ruts, etc. Take a look at movie screen caps for an idea of how much black there should be (it was a VERY dark staff!). Allow to dry fully.

Use a grey acrylic paint SPARINGLY to paint some highlights on the high points of the staff. Allow to fully dry.

Once you’re happy with the paint job on your staff, use a soft brush to coat the entire staff (plaster only, not the gazing ball) with polyurethane varnish. Allow to dry completely, paint a second coat on, and once again allow to dry completely.

Use small pieces of paper towel or toilet paper to GENTLY AND CAREFULLY polish off any remaining vaseline on the gazing ball… and, you’re done!

How to Make Thranduil’s Elven King Crown (Costume Tutorial)

Almost a year ago, I decided to dress my husband up as Thranduil for the premiere of Desolation of Smaug. It’s definitely become one of my favourite costumes of his, and seems to be super popular with the internet – I’ve gotten more emails about this costume than all other costumes, combined. It’s also the costume in my most popular Tumblr post ever!

(It also added a whole other level to the “Let’s get Porter drunk and make him rap the lyrics to pop songs he’s never heard” thing I was doing a while back. Great fun, but not really safe for work… The Twerking Video, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, and “The Fox”.)


That crown took some DOING. As pictured in that blog entry and on Tumblr.. that was our second attempt. My first one was awful. The second one – also made with polymer clay – was OK, but by no means accurate. It was also heavy and uncomfortable.

I was midway through the 3rd incarnation – A really difficult, messy, 1st ever attempt at ANYTHING made from fibreglass – when one of the people I follow on Tumblr posted a pic of a white plastic twig he’d just made for HIS new crown. I was intrigued! What was this mystery material, and where could I get some?

He told me it was called Instamorph, and I promptly ordered a container from Amazon to play with. I decided that – depending on how my first few twigs felt – I’d basically do the same base idea for the crown as I’d be doing on my earlier versions, but without supporting wires through the twigs.

It worked! The first twig turned out perfectly, even with some bark texture to it, as the result of pulling a mass of “beads” out to a long stick. It was obvious that by sculpting from plastic, I’d be able to get a lighter, more durable, and FAR more accurate crown. BEHOLD THE RESULT:


I’ve made a few for commissions, but recently decided that it’s getting monotonous – I don’t enjoy making the same thing over and over again. So, on my most recent order, I decided it would be the last I’d make… and that it would be a GREAT subject for a tutorial! Great timing, too, what with both Halloween AND Battle of the Five Armies coming up.

So, let’s do this. Instamorph is the best thing ever, I’ve had a lot of fun making a bunch of other things from it ever since, including the wings on my Mini Katniss Wedding Gown. Awesome stuff!

Please excuse the crappy pictures for the tutorial itself. My husband was at work when I had this spur-of-the-moment idea, so I was stuck taking cell phone pics while trying to work quickly with the other hand!

You will need

Heavy wire: I use 10 gauge copper THHN wire.
Wire cutters
Electrical tape
Lightweight copper wire
16 oz Instamorph pellets
Pot of boiling water
Metal Spoon
Black or dark brown spray primer (for plastic)
Acrylic paints
Glue gun or E-6000

Using the heavy wire and electrical tape, fashion a base that looks like this:

Take your time to make sure it fits well, sits where you’d like it (It does NOT have to stay up by itself, though), and that the pointed ends stop where you’d like them to at your cheek. If you have a wig, try it on WITH the wig on. The final crown will bend a bit if needed, but it’s definitely best to get the base as accurate as possible beforehand!

Cut 6 or so lengths of thin copper wire, about 3″ long each. One at a time, bend each wire over the pencil, and twist the ends to form little loops with wire ends that extend out in opposite directions, like this:

Using small strips of electrical tape, secure the thin wire loops to the crown base thusly:

Now for the fun part – the Instamorph! This is what it looks like:

Get a pot of water boiling. Yes, it’s hotter than what it actually recommends on the container, but I’m pretty sure that’s for liability reasons. You want boiling water for this, just be CAREFUL.

When the water is boiling, move it to a potholder on your work surface, and sprinkle in some of the Instamorph pellets. As they melt, they will turn from white to clear:

Once clear, scoop out a small chunk of Instamorph with a metal spoon. Pull it into a long strip, and wrap it around the crown base. You’ll want to wrap all of the wire, a bit at a time… but it doesn’t have to be pretty at this step. Just get it covered!

As the plastic cools, you’ll be left with a base that looks something like this:

Take your heat gun, and – working in small sections – melt the wrapped plastic right on the base. Once melted, use your fingers to smooth it all out. Not only will this LOOK better, it makes the whole thing stronger:

Now, to make the twigs. Take a chunk of melted plastic from the water, and stretch it out into a twig shape. I like to form dents into the lump before stretching it out, to make smaller twigs sticking out from each main twig piece:

Make a fair amount of straight twigs, pairing them off into groups of similar length ones. While the crown shouldn’t be EXACTLY symmetrical (it’s supposed to be nature, after all!), balance is a good thing! Let them all cool until hard

Decide approximately where each of these twigs will be attached to the crown. One twig at a time, heat up both the thick (bottom) end of the twig AND the spot where you’ll be attaching it on the crown base. Once both parts are clear and look sort of wet, attach the twig to the base. Smush it in and sculpt excess melted plastic so that you get a really great, coherent bond.

Hold in place until cool – running it under cold water or dunking it into a bowl of ice water speeds this up.

Continue this process with all the main twigs along the top row of the crown:

Add twigs to the bottom row of the crown, using the same technique:

At this point, your water will probably be too cool for the next step – bring it to a boil again.

One piece at a time, make more twigs.. but instead of letting them cool before use, wrap them around current attached twigs, attaching at the base of the crown. You basically want a bunch of entwined branches in the end:

You’ll notice, as they cool, that they’re not stuck on very well. Once you’re happy with what you’ve got, you’ll want to reinforce all of the connections. Working in small sections, use your head gun to melt both parts of pieces you want to attach. Once clear, smush and sculpt.

As a general rule, I make sure that I melt/sculpt each of the bottoms of this second round of twigs to either the base of the crown, or – if they’re attaching to another twig, rather than the base of the crown – the twig they’re attached to. As well, I’ll melt them together wherever one new twig initially makes contact with another twig, and usually a point or two along the curly-wrapped sections.

It should start looking something like this:

Continue adding accent pieces – not only vertically, but entwining horizonally along the bases, and even up the side of the cheek parts. If you don’t like something, you can always reheat it with the heat gun and tweak it, add to it, or remove it.

Once you’re happy with it, sit back and admire your work. (The pictures from here on in are from the first crown, not the one I made in the tutorial. I shipped it before my husband came home, AND it was just a plain white, unpainted crown commission!):

Now, paint it! I don’t actually have in-progress photos of when I painted that first one, so I’ll just describe the process.

First, give it a good all-over coat of spray primer. Spray as much as you can, let it dry fully, then flip it over and spray the rest. Make sure all the plastic is covered.

From here, I used a medium brown acrylic and a small paintbrush to MOSTLY cover the whole crown. I avoided a few places that could look like knots in trees, and deep areas that would look good with dark shadowing. Let it dry completely

Then I used a dark brown acrylic (not as dark as the primer) and a REALLY small brush to add a few extra shadows and details throughout. Let THAT dry fully.

Then I used a really light brown mixed with a small amount of gold to add sparse highlighting throughout. Let that dry.

I decided that the highlighting was too obvious, so I mixed a very small amount of the medium brown with water to make a thin wash, and sponged that over the entire crown. Wipe off any excess, and let it dry:

Finally, use a glue gun or E-6000 glue to attach your plastic leaves throughout the crown. Let it dry fully before use.

To wear, position crown on head, use bobby pins in the copper loops (I like to use 2 in each loop, facing opposite directions) to secure the crown in place.

Enjoy… and hey, if you’re interested in following more of my costuming adventures, be sure to “Like” my costuming page on Facebook, here!

DIY Tutorial: Recycled Wood Slice Garden Pathway

Adapting a “new” home (built in 1928, but new to us!) to suit your own style is usually a big ordeal… but that went doubly for us, when we were hit by the tornado right after moving in!

After the debris had settled, most of the cleanup was done, and we had a new roof over our heads, it was time to do some finer cleanup, repair, rebuild, and redo. The side yard was a PROJECT – it was where most of the debris had landed, the small amount of planting we’d done pre-tornado was trampled by the roofers… just a huge mess. Add to that the fact that neither of us had done any sort of landscaping design before? We were sort of floundering!

We started working on the side yard last summer, one year after the tornado. It was around this time that we were also trying to figure out what we would do with the remnant logs from our downed black walnut. We’d taken the biggest logs to a mill, and had some smaller (too small for the mill) logs milled in our yard. After all of that, we still had some more logs that were either too small in diameter, too short, or too irregular for the portable wood mill. It had been such a gorgeous tree, and the wood was WAY too beautiful to let any of it go to waste.

After the tornado

With the bulk of the wood being processed and spoken for already – mostly for rebuilding the kitchen – these few leftover logs were something we could play around with a bit.

I had the idea of slicing them all up into disks and using them to redesign the side yard. We’d already decided that we wanted it to be lush with edibles, but hadn’t really come up with a solid design, or even really tossed around ideas yet. I thought it would be a pretty, rustic looking walkway to separate gardens on both sides of it… and the idea looked fabulous in my head!

Porter was a bit hesitant, and needed to be talked into it. He wasn’t sure we’d have enough wood, and wasn’t able to picture the outcome like I did.

So, I did the math – I measured out the ideal pathway, and figured out how many square inches we were talking. Then, we figured out the average diameters of the logs we had left, and worked out how many square inches of coverage we would have, when slicing them into 3″ disks. There would be enough, so my husband agreed to go ahead with it.

While this looks like a huge project, it took about a day and a half of work, with the two of us doing it ourselves. We love the results, and here’s how we did it:

This is what we started with at the beginning of the weekend. The bulk of the tornado debris had been cleared, but we still had some construction debris in there. We had already planted 3 or 4 raspberry bushes along the side of the house, and had covered the soil in that area with cedar mulch.

As a first step, we completely cleared the area of any debris, garbage, and any large pieces of broken glass.

Next, we pulled up the sod from the entire area, aside from the section with the raspberry bushes.

Once all of the sod was removed, we raked and trampled the ground to ensure a level base for what we were doing.

With a flat work surface to start laying everything out on, I started laying out the various garden sections, creating a wavy path with cement edging pavers.

Once the main pathway was established, I filled in the outer sections with fresh topsoil, and planted the gardens. I planted strawberry plants across from the raspberries, and basil and mint just beyond that in the next “wave” on that side.

The strawberry section

We planted two types of hops – 1 type each, on either side of our air conditioner – and ran twine up to our second level deck for them to grow up. Beyond the hops, we planted blueberry bushes (which ended up failing 🙁 )

As I was building the pathway and gardens, Porter was busy in the backyard, cutting the logs into 3″ disks (larger ones), and 2″ disks (the smaller diameter ones, as filler). What a badass!

(As a note: He says it would have been nicer to use a large band saw for this, as some of the cuts – smaller logs – got kind of dangerous)

AS he finished batches of log slices, he would cart them out to me, and I would place them. I started by placing the largest disks evenly throughout the space, to create the main stepping stones. I’d work my way down the sizes of logs, finally filling everything in with the smallest disks.

This is what it looked like when I’d finished placing all of the wood slices.

Another view.

Once all of the wood slices were placed, we had to carefully fill it all in with dirt. We shoveled on clean dirt, and swept it into all of the voids between the logs.

The filled-in pathway.

A year later, this is what it looks like. Gorgeous! The wood has weathered a bit, and those 3-4 small raspberry bushes filled in like CRAZY, providing us with a ton of insanely delicious berries.

The strawberries have also filled in, and we’ve been transplanting the runners to the next garden wave (took out the basil and mint), for even more berries.

The hops have ALSO grown like crazy, and are threatening to take over our upper deck! Love it!

Not only do we love the look of pathway, but it has the added benefit of making our whole side yard a NO MOWING area!

Because we used a high quality hard wood, this path will look great for many years to come. Even as it degrades, it will only gain character!

So there you have it. Not a TON of work, with such great results!

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Craft – How to Sew a Cute Toiletry / Makeup Bag Travel Set

Back in the beginning of May, I posted a very long, very detailed post of the various ways that I trained and prepared to compete on MasterChef. While we all know how THAT went, I did walk out of the experience with a bunch of awesome new friends… and the super cute toiletry set I’d made mention of, near the end of that first post!

You see, I never – ever – sew for myself. I like to think of it as “I can’t afford me!”, but it’s usually more a case of a bastardized version of “The cobbler’s kids go barefoot”. Either way, I own pretty much nothing that I made for myself, save for my wedding gown.

This set was a rare thing for me. I took a bit of time out to make something pretty – albeit HIGHLY useful – for myself. The idea as inspired by a well-loved 4 piece set of a similar basic design that my friend Karen had made me for Christmas a few years ago – hers quilted from various different fabrics, embellished with ric-rac, and made from a Atkinson Designs pattern (thanks for letting me know who to reference, Karen!). They were super cute, and I loved the stand-up nature of the two little bags in the set.

For my trip, I had so much STUFF to organize, that I decided to make a big set of custom sized ones for myself. (I have a pretty OCD need for everything to match, when we’re talking things like suitcases, travel sets, etc!). The basic idea for the bags came in handy, as I was sharing a bathroom with another woman – so I made a bunch, in a bunch of different sizes. One bag for hair dye, bleach, gloves, etc… another for accessories, another for hair accessories, another for ALL my makeup, a smaller one for “day of” makeup in my purse, etc. Plus, the bright print just made me happy!

After receiving a bunch of compliments on it, I figured I should post a bit of a how-to, so you can all make them for yourselves!

So, yesterday I drafted up a few patterns – and an outline on how to make your own – and made a second set, pictured here. We documented the whole process as I went… yes, that’s a dinosaur print. I’m an adult, I can do whatever I want 🙂

So, here we go! There are three main pieces / patterns to this set – the bags, the tissue holder, and the coin purse. The bag pattern is simple to make, the the sewing procedure is the same for each, no matter what size you make. The tissue holder and coin purse use the same pattern piece, with the tissue holder requiring one other (simple!) pattern piece.

Fabrics & Notions

How much fabric you’ll need will depend on how many/ what size items you’ll be making. As an example: to make an entire set as pictured, I used 1 yard each of two different print fabrics, and one yard of very thin cotton quilt batting.

Each bag / coin purse requires a zipper that is approximately the width of the bag (more on that in the bags section!), and you’ll want thread that either matches/contrasts with the two fabrics you choose.

As for the fabric, I like to choose two prints that go well with each other, while still providing a bit of contrast in colours/ patterns. I used basic printed cotton, the kind you find in any fabric or craft store – usually with a HUGE selection to choose from!

Tissue Holder

Let’s start with the easiest piece – the tissue holder!

For this, you need:

– Three rectangles of one print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two squares of the other print fabric, 4″ x 4″ each
– One travel sized pack of tissues (the kind that opens on the largest surface of the pack, NOT at one small end!)
– Pins (optional

First, iron all your pieces if you so desire. I’m lazy, and usually don’t bother 🙂

Next, you’ll be folding and laying out your pieces.

Take one of your rectangles, and lay it with the right side up – this is your base. All four of the remaining pieces need to be folded in half, the long ones folded to create 6.5″ x 4″ strips.

Position one of your long strips on the base piece, lining up the two raw edges with one of the long edges of the base. Then, position one of the smaller strips overlapping it, lining up with the short edge of the base piece… like so:

Position the remaining long piece, overlapping the small piece you just put down, and lining up with the remaining long edge. Position the remaining short piece to overlap that piece, but to go UNDER the first piece you placed, lining up with the remaining short end of the base, like so:

(You can pin the corners down to make things easier, as shown!)

Stitch all the way around the edge – I like to keep the right side of my presser foot on the outer edge of fabric, as my seam allowance guide – back stitching at the beginning and edge of your seam. Trim threads, clip corners:

Finish off all sides with either a serger or a zig zag stitch, and turn everything right side out:

Slip a back of tissue in there, and you’re done! Cute, eh?


Ok, before going any further, I should detail how I do the zippers for these – it’s the way I do them for all the bags, and the coin purses.

First, pick a zipper that is about the same length as the top edge of the bag you’re making. It can be longer, but you don’t really want it to be much shorter.

Cut a strip of fabric to either match or contrast the fabric that will be on the outside of the bag you’re making. (I prefer to match, as shown throughout this tutorial!). It should be at least 5″, by the width of the zipper you’re using (usually an inch or so). Cut that length into two roughly equal pieces:

Open the zipper a little, and place it face down on the right side of one of your fabric strip pieces. Stitch them together with a straight seam, just beyond where the actual zipper ends (immediately to the right of the metal ends, in this picture):

Flip the zipper over, and pull the fabric back so that it is resting over the very end of the zipper. Stitch it down with a straight seam, like so:

Position the other fabric strip face down on the right side of the zipper at the other end, just before the actual zipper ends. Depending on the length of the original zipper, I like to leave 1/8 – 1/4″ before the metal end doohickey, as shown.

Stitch the strip down with a straight seam, and trim the excess zipper away, including the end bit:

Flip the fabric over and stitch it down, as you did with the other side.

Center your zipper across the top of the bag that it will be sewn into, and trim the edges to fit:

Place zipper face down on the right side of the bag (see bag instructions first!), and sew a straight seam down the length of it. Repeat with the other side of the zipper, and the other bag piece:

Flip the bag over and top stitch a straight seam near the edge of where the fabric folds back, on both sides. This flattens everything out and makes it look cleaner/more finished:


Wow, this is getting to be a long entry, sorry about that!

Coin Purse

Of the bags, the coin purse is the easiest, so let’s do it first! For this, you need:

– Two rectangles of one print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two rectangles of the other print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two rectangles of thin quilt batting, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– 1 prepared zipper, as described above.

First, lay out your pieces. Place one set of fabric (both the same print!) down on your work surface, with the right sides facing down.

Place a quilt batting piece over each, and top with the remaining pieces of the other print fabric, right sides facing up. Line everything up well!

You can pin everything together and zig zag around the edge if you’d like – I usually don’t bother. I do recommend serging or zig zagging one of the long sides of each piece, though – it makes the zipper installation easier / look more finished!

Apply your zipper, as described above. OPEN YOUR ZIPPER BEFORE CONTINUING (!!!)

Fold the bag in half so that the right sides are facing each other, and stitch a straight seam around the three raw edges.

Finish edge with a serger or zig zag seam:

Turn it right side out, and you’re done!

Toiletry and Makeup Bags

Finally, the makeup and toiletry bags. These are slightly more complicated to explain, but are easy to make!

For each bag, you need:

– Two pattern pieces cut of one print fabric
– Two pattern pieces cut of the other print fabric
– Two pattern pieces cut of thin quilt batting
– 1 prepared zipper

First, you need to decide what size bag(s) you’re going to make. As an example, here’s what I use as the “final dimensions” measurements:

Large Toiletry Bag*: 12″ x 8″ x 5″

Makeup Bag: 10″ x 6″ x 4″

Sunglasses Bag: 9″ x 3.5″ x 4″

* I made a large one in the MasterChef set, but not in the set pictured throughout this tutorial. Was short one zipper, whoops!

When looking at each set of measurements, this is what they’re going to translate to, in the order mentioned above:

A = Intended length of the bag

B = Intended height of the bag

C = (One half of) the intended bottom width of the bag. Measurement above is final size, but when drafting the pattern, use half of that measurement as “C”!

Using the measurements and the letters I give above, use a ruler to draw a pattern like this:

(This pattern is made to the proportions of the makeup bag I listed above. Different sized/proportioned bags will look a little different, but still this basic shape!)

Then, draw a second set of lines around your original pattern – these will add your seam allowance. I like to add 1/4″, all the way around:

Go on and cut out the pattern pieces that you’ll need, using the outermost set of pattern lines as your final pattern.

Now, lay out your pieces. Place one set of fabric pieces (both the same print!) down on your work surface, with the right sides facing down. Place a quilt batting piece over each, and top with the remaining pieces of the other print fabric, right sides facing up. Line everything up well!

You can pin everything together and zig zag around the edge if you’d like – I usually don’t bother. I do recommend serging or zig zagging one of the long sides of each piece, though – it makes the zipper installation easier / look more finished!

Apply your zipper, as described above. OPEN YOUR ZIPPER BEFORE CONTINUING (!!!)

Fold the bag in half so that the right sides are facing each other, and stitch a straight seam around the the side and bottom edges – NOT the “C” edges, though!

Finish edges with a serger or zig zag seam:

Now, go to one of your “C” corners, and open it. Within that opening, fold it in half to line up the side seam with the bottom seam, like this:

Stitch a straight seam across the new edge, taking care to stitch through ALL layers of fabric – they’ll want to move! Trim the edge if it becomes uneven at all, and finish off with a serger or zig zag seam:

Repeat on the other “C” corner. Trim all thread ends, and turn bag right side out.

Woo hoo! You’re done! (Now go make several more bags, so you have a complete set!)

Sugar Cookie Decorating – Dalek Cookies

So it’s been a week since I returned from Convergence… probably about time to make good on that Dalek Cookie Decorating tutorial I was promising, huh?

Ah, Convergence. 6500+ geeks under one roof, amazing costumes, messed up conversations… and more than one reminder that I am getting OLD. I was in bed by 10 pm the first night, and was barely able to walk by Sunday. Yikes!

My husband had an AMAZING time in his Weeping Angel costume, posing for several hundred photos (Conservative guesstimate, it was likely over 1000!), sneaking up on people, photo bombing some … he was kind of a rock star 🙂 Click here for photos!

For my part, I taught cookie decorating for my “Cooking with an Overlord” activity.

If you were at Convergence and had NO idea what “Cooking with an Overlord” would entail, you weren’t alone – *I* had no idea what it was going to be until about 2 weeks before the event, which was LONG after the program guide description was due, LOL! (That was right around the time I was up to my eyeballs in MasterChef stuff.)

At the last minute, I decided that I wanted to teach people how to do cookie decorating, using Doctor Who themed cookies. A quick Google search brought me to Warp Zone Prints on Etsy, a company that was using 3D printers to make cookie cutters – Brilliant! I immediately ordered the three cutters pictured above, and planned the logistics for such a large class.

Note: I did a trial run of all three cutters, only the Dalek one was really suitable for this type of cookie decorating. The TARDIS and Weeping Angel ones were so cute, I’d recommend dyeing your cookie dough and only doing outline decorating on them, however.)

At my cookie class, I got to see Idris serve Carmen Sandiego with a warrant, so… there is that. 🙂 My friend Michelle is sporting the Idris costume I made her – check out my costuming site, I’m back in the custom fashion design business! – and Carmen Sandiego is my friend Samantha, a local writer who reports on Eurovision at her blog, ESC Insider.

We also had the pleasure of meeting the famous Pink Dalek herself, Alanna… who was excited to EX-TER-MIN-ATE some cookies!

Me decorating some cookies to demonstrate to the class… let’s get to it!

Rolled Sugar Cookie Recipe for Decorating
Makes about 55 Daleks

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5+ cups all purpose flour

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in eggs and egg whites, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Add vanilla extract, and mix until well incorporated and smooth.

Mix remaining 3 ingredients together, carefully mix into wet ingredients until fully incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic film, chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, line cookie sheets with parchment paper

On a floured counter, roll cookie dough out to about 1/4″ thick (can be slightly thicker). Use cookie cutters to cut out whatever shapes you’d like, place cookies 2″ apart on greased cookie sheets.

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until bottoms look lightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheets for at least 5 minutes before moving. Cookies need to cool completely before decorating.

Royal Icing Recipe

4 egg whites
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4-6 cups powdered/confectioner’s sugar

In clean stand mixer, whip egg whites until foamy. Add lemon juice, whip for another minute. Slowly add powdered sugar until cookie icing reaches desired consistency. You will want a fairly thick frosting – but still smooth and workable – for piping details and borders.

A good way to figure out if your frosting is the right consistency is to pull a spoon through the middle of the frosting bowl.

– If the frosting settles out in less than 5 seconds, it’s too runny. Add a little more powdered sugar.

– If the frosting settles out in 5-10 seconds, you’re good to go!

– If the frosting takes longer than 10 seconds to settle, it’s too thick. Add a little water or lemon juice and try again.


First, take about 1/4 of your frosting and dye it black. Personally, I like the Americolor line of food coloring gels.

Cover the remaining frosting tightly with plastic wrap – have the wrap sitting right on the surface with NO air pockets, vent holes, etc. The frosting dries out FAST.

I recommend using a frosting bag with a coupler and tip (#2 or #3 round tip), so please take these photos as a “do as I say, not as I do”. It was after Convergence, I was tired and burnt out, didn’t feel like messing around with tips and couplers. Also, I used pre-Convergence frosting – which was too thick for outlining – so my cookies are kinda ugly. LOL!

If you don’t want to use a tip, cut the very end of the frosting bag off to leave a fairly small opening – 1/8″ diameter or so.

Holding the tip / end of your frosting bag about 1 cm away from the cookie, carefully pipe out your outlines and design details. These lines will eventually contain the flowing frosting, so make sure you don’t have any breaks in the piping, or the icing will flow out to areas you don’t want it!

Once all the outlines are piped, allow the cookie to dry for about 10-20 minutes.

Next, you’ll want to tint your first color of frosting – about 1/3 of the original batch. I used a few drops each of gold and warm brown to get a sort of bronzey colour for the main body of the Daleks. Daleks come in many colours now, though, so use whatever colour you prefer!

Once you’ve gotten the right colour mixed up, you’ll need to thin the frosting so it will “flood” the decorating area. Add a few drops of water and stir well. Use the end of your spoon to drizzle a bit of frosting back into the bowl. If it smooths out and disappears in a count of 3, you’re good to go! If not, add a couple more drops of water until it’s the right consistency.

Carefully pipe a bit of the liquid frosting into the areas you want – you’ll probably not even need to squeeze the bag, just carefully guide it, nudging it into corners, etc. This can be messy to start, just practice!

Generally speaking, flood piping is done from the outside perimeter of an area inwards, but on these cookies there’s so little room to work with, just do whatever feels right!

Sit back and admire your work. (Yes, these examples are sloppy. Sorry!)

Following the past few steps, dye about 2/3 of the remaining frosting gold (or whatever colour you’re looking at for these sections, thin it for flooding, and have at it!

Dye about 1/2 the remaining frosting bright turquoise blue, and flood the appropriate circle. (I have no idea if “the one on the forehead” applies, given that the forehead of the actual creature would be more like 2/3 of the way up, inside what is seen. Maybe I’m over thinking this…)

Dye remaining frosting pale grey and thin it. Pipe to fill in the … whisk?… area!

Allow the cookies to dry overnight before packaging or serving.


(Or, if like me, you are less than impressed with your own work after a loooong weekend at Convention… you can go over all of your original outlines with some more black frosting to make them stand out a bit more and “clean up” the overall appearance! Bonus points for claiming that you emant to di it that way, for extra definition!)

Btw, the following picture sums up my Convergence weekend nicely, I think:

Gymnastics: How to Make Grip Bags

Grip bags are quick and easy to make, and a fun way to personalize a gymnast’s equipment. You can use pretty much any kind of fabric for them, from fun printed quit fabric, to glitzy metallic spandex.

Sizing of grip bags is completely up to you… the younger gymnasts will usually use smaller bags, while older girls tend to have more stuff to carry – butt glue, tape, etc in addition to their handgrips. As an example, this grip bag demonstration used two pieces of fabric that were cut to roughly 8 x 11 inches.

To begin, serge or zig zag around each edge of both pieces of your cut fabric. Place the piece with right sides facing each other. If you’d like to, pin the two pieces together.


Figure Skating: How to Make Soakers / “Flingies” (Blade Covers)

With summer skating season coming up soon – or having already begun! – I figure it’s a good time for a quick, easy, and fun tutorial: Learn how to make your own blade covers!

These have different nicknames, depending on where you live. At my old rink, we referred to them as “flingies”, because we would amuse ourselves by flinging them at each other during the floods. Nowadays, they seem to mostly be called “soakers”

There are two main ways to make these, Basic – all terrycloth – is the most common style for purchase. For this blog, I’ll be showing you how to make the other style, which my favourite kind. These ones use two fabrics – a decorative one for the outside, and terrycloth for the inside.

My beloved custom Rose boots have uh.. seen better days!

First, you’ll need to figure out what size you’ll want for your pattern pieces. The size of the pieces of fabric you will use depend on the size of the blade. If you have an old pair of flingies hanging around, you might want to take them apart as a pattern. Feel free to play with the sizing, but as examples: (more…)