Things I Can’t Make: Ichibana Vase by Don Lawson + Tiny Stencil Tutorial

I’ve recently decided to expand the scope of my blog with a category that features “things I can’t make.”  Since evenings are my favorite time to work on arts & crafts, my work hours often preclude me from creating much during my work week, but I figure that shouldn’t stop me blogging.  The “Things I Can’t Make” feature will share some the interesting pieces of art I buy or am gifted because, frankly, I couldn’t make them myself.  I think it will be a great way to introduce my readers to some awesome artisans I’ve discovered.

I can’t do woodworking, for example.  I recently admired this Japanese-style ikebana vase while window shopping with my mom in Auburn, CA, and on her last trip to San Francisco, she surprised me with it as a gift-for-no-special-occasion (my mom’s the best!).  The vase was crafted from maple wood by Nevada City artist Don Lawson.  The metal dish that rests in the wood is known as a kensan — a component of flower arranging that features densely packed metal spikes that can support individual branches or flowers.  I encourage you to look up ikebana; it’s a very beautiful art form that can be both minimalist and very elaborate.

Tiny Stencil Tutorial

I’ve stenciled a few rocks recently because it’s a very quick and easy craft.  They make nice paperweights, pretty little decorations, or gifts.  You’ll need:

  • contact paper and sharpie
  • x-acto knife
  • spray paint
  • rocks

Draw your tiny design on the contact paper with a fine-point sharpie.  Carefully cut out the design with your x-acto knife and stick it to the rock.  The contact paper will likely only adhere to one side of the rock, so before you spray paint, hold a piece of paper or card stock over any exposed areas so the spray paint will only get on the stencil-design. Spray your design.  After allowing the paint to dry a few minutes, remove the contact paper and enjoy your tiny design.


Merry Christmas!: Decorating Small Spaces

I’ve spent three Christmas’s now in San Francisco in a lovely little apartment where the kitchen is our “living room.”  Each year I lament that, aside from Year One when I strung some lights in my room, I have never really decorated.  So this year I decked the kitchen shelf in an exercise in frugality, holiday spirit and working with small spaces. Here is our merry little San Francisco Christmas.

Our little Christmas tree from Hortica in the Castro

Vintage winter photos from Mystery Mister in the Haight

These photos are from the 1940s.

Yes, I carved this snowman out of styrofoam. He was supposed to live in a homemade snowglobe but he didn't like the water.

This paper chain was made from strips of an old calendar. I felt like a kindergartner again, but with more wine.

Origami "water balloon" boxes: Another craft involving roommates and cocktails.


I hope this will inspire you to think outside the (living room) box when it comes to decorating.

Happy holidays to all my friends and family!

DIY Postcards

When it comes to holiday shopping, I’d rather stay home.  This year my hunny and I are filling homemade stockings for each other, so I’m trying to get crafty and make some fun stocking-stuffers.  I’ve had this old San Francisco map sitting in my laundry room, so I decided to make him a set of postcards for Christmas.

The Method


  • Paper of your choice (old map, wrapping paper, recycled holiday cards, etc.)
  • cardstock or cardboard
  • Spray adhesive
  • x-acto knife
  • pen and/or stamp to decorate

Cut equally sized rectangles from cardstock and use spray adhesive to join them to the paper of your choice.  Let the adhesive dry and cut your postcards out with an x-acto knife. Decorate their backsides with lines and/or homemade stamps (I made a stamp stamp — silly, I know — but if you’re interested, you can read more about stamp-making here).

Easy peasy! If you don’t have any time left for holiday crafting, these would also make great thank-you cards.  I bundled a few together for my hunny’s stocking and kept a few for myself.

DIY Stamps and Monograms

I get cheap around the holidays.  My hunny and I usually have a $25-30 gift limit, so I’ll spend a lot of my free-time making things.  Though I’ve been making my own stamps for a while (last year I gave my roommates personalized monogram stamps and stationary), I’ve never posted a tutorial on stamp carving.

The Method


a cutting mat

rubber printing block (I use Speedball printing blocks — available at Flax or your local arts & crafts store)

scrap paper and a pencil

an exacto knife and a lino-cutter

ink pad

If making a stamp with words or letters, write them in pencil on a separate piece of paper. Im using tracing paper here, but plain paper will work as well.  Place your stamp on top of the printing block.  Hold the paper in place while rubbing a pencil eraser over the words to transfer them to the block.  You are making a reverse image of the words, otherwise your stamp will come out backwards.

Here is how the block will look after your have transferred your image.  Now, follow your writing with the lino cutter to cut out the words.  You don’t have to make the scores very deep for the stamp to work.

When the words are all cut out, use the exacto knife to cut the edges of your stamp to whatever size you want it.


With this stamp, as with the monogram stamps I have made, you are using the lino cutter to remove the design you ultimately want to see.  In other words, the background will be colored and the design will be blank. Alternately, you can make stamps by using the exacto knife to carve away the negative space, leaving only the design.  This is easiest to do with simple pictures or big block letters.

Here are examples of the monogram designs I used last year, followed by my roommate Alona’s stationary.

Happy holiday crafting!

Happy Halloween, Part 2: Alice

This year my hunny and I dressed as the Mad Hatter and Alice in Wonderland.

My roommate was getting rid of this Marie Antoinette costume, so I took it off his hands.  Here’s how it looked:

To start, I removed the sleeves and bows, fixed a couple holes in the skirt, and used hem-tape to make the dress sleeveless.  Then, I covered a lot of the existing trim with a black ribbon trim I found at Fabric Outlet.  I cut the synthetic lace trim out of the neckline and replaced it with a cotton-eyelet lace trim.  I hand-sewed a delicate lace trim, some chain, and two clock buttons to the bust.

I made a belt by gluing black flower trim to a thick black ribbon.  And with several yards of blue and ivory tulle, I made an Alice tutu with an elastic waist.

Finally, I made a giant bow from a wide black flower-embellished ribbon and glued a hair comb to the back.

The Mad Hatter

Mike bought a hat at Cliff’s Variety and we embellished it with ribbon, butterflies, a snail and a skull hat pin.  I used this tutorial to make the hat pin.  I also made him a mushroom “corsage.”  We found all of the accessories in the arts & crafts side of Cliff’s.

Happy Halloween, Part 1: Bjork

Last year I decided to go crazy with my Halloween costume.   The two previous years I had worked in a children’s music studio where “Halloween week” was a big production.  I’d dress up for my classes, six days in a row, and by the end of the week, I’d be so burnt out on Halloween that when the actual day arrived I’d stay in.

So, after too many years of dressing up as Cruella De Vil, I needed a new costume to remind myself that part of me still loves Halloween. My friend Joy inspired me to make the Bjork swan dress and she gave me tips on how to execute it.

The Tutorial



  • A base for the tulle skirt (I bought a petticoat at a local thrift store and cut it so it hits a few inches above the knee)
  • Lots of tulle (I used 8 yards extra-wide ivory tulle and 4 yards regular-width gold tulle)
  • A top (I used a vintage slip)
  • White feather boa
  • White wings (optional)
  • Styrofoam cone and paint for swan head
  • Glue
  • Wig (optional)

For the top of my costume, I bought a nude slip with lace embellishment around the neck.  I cut off the bottom and sewed on a fringe upholstry trim that peeks out of the finished garment.

The tulle skirt started as a high-waisted petticoat. I cut it a little shorter than the slip I’d wear underneath it, and then started adding tulle.  I cut the tulle in 4-5 inch strips. Then, I individually “bunched” each strip and sewed them to the skirt.  I didn’t worry about being too precise during this process, because the idea was just to cover the skirt with an insane amount of tulle.

I carved the swan head from a styrofoam cone (using a couple pictures for reference) and then painted it with ivory, black and orange paint.  After it had dried, I glued the swan head to one end of the feather boa.

Putting it all Together

The swan head feather boa wraps around the shoulders and tucks into the skirt.  I pinned two white wings to the top of the skirt to hide the part where the boa tucks in.  I wore a short dark wig (model # “emo”) from Cliff’s Variety.   I also made a hair fascinator using white feathers, gold tulle, and a hair comb.

I received sooo many compliments on this costume, making every effort to create it totally worth the time spent.  But I also think it could be made quickly with little to no sewing involved.  A white tutu with loose white feathers glued on, for example, could look just as fancy.

I’m starting to work on this year’s costume and I’ll post it here in Part 2.  Happy Halloween!  To be continued…

Furry Tank-Top

I found this awesome fur trim while fabric shopping recently and picked up 3/4 yard with nothing specific in mind.  I grabbed an old tank top I never wear and added the trim to the shoulders to make cap-sleeves.  I cut the trim in four strips (they are not equal in length — the top strip is slightly shorter than the one underneath it on each side) and sewed the ends to the edges of the tank top, 2 strips per sleeve.