Monday, May 31, 2010

Vintage Wallpaper Crafts ROCK

In nature there is no waste, nothing that is not deemed useful to some form of life, but in the very recent history of life on earth new substances have been created (by one very naughty organism) which can take millions of years to decompose or to degrade enough to be nomnomed by something. Until an organism evolves to eat massive amounts of Styrofoam there can be little doubt that all this junk will fart around being a nuisance at best, and life-threatening at worst, until we make a commitment to use materials which are sustainable.

But until we get there, there is a special variety of human being which has tapped into the potential of this immense pile of stubborn junk transforming it into everything imaginable from the useful to the work of art. We call them:

*cue electric guitar*

Coming from all walks of life, every corner of the planet, this Homo sapiens ssp. crafticus is gifted with a wealth of creativity and motivation that surpass the resources available to them. They have thus had to seek out unconventional materials and invent new ways to use them. In fact it can be said that they thrive on the challenge of finding uses for things which most of us would not hesitate to deem 'useless'.

Today I'd like to show you what these total badasses can do with freakin' wallpaper. If you've ever had to strip atrocious wallpaper from a new home it can be hard to accept that there could possibly be a use for it now other than feeding a fire but I am convinced that after seeing the amazing items below you will have developed an unnatural fascination for it, the tackier the print the better.

Draw flowers has an entire shop of handmade items ranging from jewelry to lamp shades all made using wallpaper from 60's 70'.

From delilah devine cute brooches and wall plaques.

Amazing interactive magnetic wallscapes made from upcycled vintage fabric and wallpaper by hjrd Design

Pretty vintage and upcycled items from ladies and gentlemen

Brilliant integrated wallpaper paintings by Mary Richmond designs

From the gorgeous crafty art blog Such Pretty Things. There's a whole section on amazing things you can do with vintage wallpaper.

From hope and joy studios comes a plethora of vintage inspired folk art including these pretty accessories.
 made from vintage wallpaper and sheet music!

Functional and fantastic! From the Naughty Secretary Club blog on fun things to do with wallpaper as well as a tutorial on giving new life to old tins.

From the beautiful shop monkey puzzle press made with the bestest vintage wallpaper ever!

Wallpaper as gift wrap - why didn't I think of that? From the lovely jardin de papier made with upcycled wallpaper samples.

From Fondue where you can shop by theme - I recommend the mid mod/uber kitsch category!

From the groovy marsupial mouse, keeping time vintage style.

I can't wait to get my hands on some old wallpaper to make some more gift bags!

Other useful nibbily tidbits:

Such Pretty Things blog posts on vintage wallpaper projects
The vintage wallpaper Flickr pool
Book: Wallpaper Projects: More than 50 Craft and Design Ideas for Your Home, from Accents to Art

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mike - More than Meets the Eye

Meet Myrmecodia tuberosa, or Mike for short. He is a vegetable, a hermaphrodite, and one ugly bastard. Despite his visual shortcomings he is my favorite plant - I germinated his seed in a makeshift terrarium and watched him grow into something grotesque but all the while knowing what a special organism he is. After my boyfriend, two domestic rats and maybe my sweet vintage milk glass pedestal bowl, I would definitely grab him if our house was on fire, the little frilly flowered plants be damned. So what's so great about Mike? It's all on the inside.

 He's got...personality

You see Mike is an ant-plant or Myrmecophyte: a plant that has a mutually beneficial relationship with one or several species of ants. In this case Mikes large misshapen base is full of hollow galleries and even a state-of-the-art compostable lavatory designed for ant habitation. In exchange the ants produce lots of poopies and promise to go postal on any bug, animal or stray dust particle that dares to alight on the plant.

Fig. 453 from E. Gilg and K. Schumann, "Das Pflanzenreich. Hausschatz des Wissens.", ca. 1900

Before you freak out Mike is not in fact carrying a colony of ants and perhaps that was not the best way to endear you to him so how about I take out some pictures and turn to some happy thoughts?

 Mike and siblings as babies - aren't they cute?

His first ant door awwww!
Starting to hit that awkward phase

puberty - Mike's first flower
yes, that tiny white thingie is a flower bud

Mike's first pregnancy
that is a fruit, not a nipple

Where it all began. One or more of these is/are Mike's parent(s) at an certain US University greenhouse which shall remain nameless (less I be charged with child abduction) where Mike, uh, jumped in my pocket along with some of his siblings:

From the last pics you might surmise that there is something slightly odd about how Mike's species grow. Another great reason why he's *awesome* is that he's an epiphyte: a plant that grows on (larger) plants usually for the purposes of getting more sunlight, which is especially important in tropical forest where trees can grow to huge proportions and very little light reaches the bottom. Although they can sometimes cause damage the epiphytes are not parasites and don't derive nutrients from their hosts.

Due to the infrequent rainfall in the apartment Mike is happy growing in premium New Zealand sphagnum moss in a hanging planter. Looking out from the third floor patio door windows is the best I could do to simulate a Southeast Asian forest canopy. Fortunately Mike doesn't have a central nervous system so it's all the same to him ( whatever).

Funny how unveiling the mysteries of how something works can make it so much more precious than it was before. Even though Mike has some pretty high class frou-frou relatives like the gardenia and coffee plant, I still think he's the bestest ever!

I hope to introduce you to more quasi ugly but interesting plants living with me - and maybe some pretty one if we get bored.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cute - the natural high

Need a dose of small, furry and spherical? I present to you the awwww-someness of Bird on Wire Studio!
Teeny tiny handmade anatomically inaccurate needle felted animals made from hand-dyed 100% pure Vermont wool.

This guy is my favorite. All that chubb and only 2 inches high!

Holy cajones! Not only is this elephant palm sized but she's wearing a teeny tiny crown of flowers. *drops dead*

Not small enough? That's weird but ok, how bout this? This little feller was made for the artists husband - he's (the elephant, not the hubbie) the size of a stamp *squeals*!

If James Brown were a tiny hedgehog:

Looking for something a bit more exotic? How about a tiny narwhal from the cold Arctic oceans. This one must be extra cold because he is without a doubt the fattest narwhal evar! *belly bump*
Plumpie narwhal - does not sink

Think Walruses are terrifyingly huge skin-bags of blubber with fangs? Well there exists a much smaller subspecies known as the 'Weebly Walrus' located in Vermont:
will not eat your children

Need more?
Visit her lovely blog

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Coral - animal, mineral or vegetable?

It's been a while since I've talked about marine invertebrates so booyeah, here we GO!

Coral! I wrote a previous piece on coral on for my now deceased blog but I have a few more things to say about these most excellent of marine invertebrates.

Heinrich Harder - Ancient coral reef

Horsies, lumps of rock and grass fit easily in our neat "animal, mineral, vegetable" categories, but some things...not so much. The great watery oceans where life evolved has lots of fun creatures like that. One such family of organisms are corals. You'll see coral being sold at the gem show one week and at the exotic animal show the next. We seem to have come to a compromise in calling it a 'natural gem' although it's actually a full fledged member of the Animalia kingdom. Thought to be a kind of mineral, then surely some kind of plant, until the microscope revealed thin cell walls like that of animals instead of the tough cell walls characteristic of plants.

You might be forgiven for thinking they're vegetables though. As animals go they're not exactly the engaging kind, little more than tiny tentacled eating and pooping machines (polyps) that secrete hard mineral shells. The coral structure we see is not a single animal but actually a colony composed of many of these tiny eating, pooping, condo-building polyps.

Layers upon layer of little condo machine clones build one upon the other creating, without really meaning to, an extraordinarily intricate structure. Each species has their own special way of building, many taking on a plant appearance for the same reason plants have evolved their characteristic shapes: maximizing their exposure to sunlight. Most coral polyps have a symbiotic relationship with a species of algae which allows the polyp some free energy (courtesy of the algaes photosynthetic powers) in exchange for the polyps 'fertilizer', aka poopies, and a safe place to hang out. I find it totally unfair that we humans don't have such a relationship with algae.

mr polyp is happy to see you

The most popular condo material is calcium carbonate - a special ingredient from natures pantry also found in pearls, egg shells, marble, chalk and more recently antacids. The polyps collect the trace amounts from the water and deposit it a varying rates and in different patterns depending on the species giving each a unique appearance. The ratio of hard exoskeleton to gelatinous polyp flesh is what differentiates the 'soft' from 'stony' corals. If humans were corals we'd definitely be the soft kind...

like a Seuss wonderland, Lisianski Island coral reef

Charles Darwin observed how corals, lacking in the smarts department as they may be, eloquently exemplified the constant cycle of renewal and destruction inherent in nature when he described the wave and wind battered coral reefs surrounding small lagoon islands:

"The ocean throwing its waters over the broad reef appears an invincible, all-powerful enemy; yet we see it resisted, and even conquered, by means which at first seem most weak and inefficient.(...)

Let the hurricane tear up its thousand huge fragments; yet what will that tell against the accumulated labour of myriads of architects at work night and day, month after month? Thus do we see the soft and gelatinous body of a polypus, through the agency of the vital laws, conquering the great mechanical power of the waves of an ocean which neither the art of man nor the inanimate works of nature could successfully resist." (The Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 20 -  Keeling Island - Coral Formations)

Coral in jewelry:

Unfortunately, as workaholic as they are, polyps can't keep up with humans and their quest for more shiny pretty things. Admired since prehistoric times the precious red and pink corals in particular have been collected to the brink of extinction for the sole purpose of making jewelry. Add the superstitious nonsense that red coral has mysterious protective powers (not for the coral mind you) and you're in trouble.

Red corals, primarily Corallium rubrum, are one of the few corals able to live without the need for algae side-kicks and thus are able to live in much deeper areas of the ocean. They used to be found in shallower depths mind you but we got all those and not being not especially fast growing they have not been very good at playing hide-and-seek from humans in the deep either.

The collection of red coral was banned worldwide in 1992, but sadly, in 2007 the ban was reversed for blatantly financial reasons. With red coral becoming rarer and thus more valuable since the ban it was just too tempting for those who stood to gain. As of yet there is no farmed sources of coral for jewelry use although the industry has been working on it. The only farmed coral out there are the live corals used in fish tanks for the aquatic hobbyist.

Why do we not over-collect things like sea urchins or dandelions? It's always the slow pokes! How 'bout making jewelry from an animal that would probably survive a nuclear holocaust - the sea urchin:

To make it even more enticing I suggest we start a *Church of the Sea Urchin* in honor of their mysterious protective powers. What you didn't know they had these abilities? I swear a sea urchin SAVED MY LIFE just the other day!
spread the word....

OR, you can use the plethora of antique and vintage sources of coral, not to mention all the faux coral out there. I have had no difficulty in finding high quality vintage coral jewelry and loose beads for re-use in my jewelry. Exhibit A:

Made with real un-dyed red coral from the 1930's.

For more excellent information on the corals used in jewelry: 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DIY Paper gift bags - upcycled, cheap and pretty darn cute

Packaging is the bane of my small business existence. It's expensive, mostly boring and mostly made of cheap or un-recyclable materials (packaged in yet more crappy non-recyclable materials) which is especially painful considering most of it will end up in the trash on arrival.

I was going to go with wrapping the items in tissue paper and placing them in simple brown paper bags stamped with my logo but apparently they don't sell paper bags in Montreal anymore. So in an effort to, as proposed by, 'DIYour-own-damn-self' I made my own. They turned out so cool I've horded some of the cuter ones for myself (to, like, look at and squeal or whatever..)

Books or magazine pages are the perfect size and shape (rectangular) for making these: you can find lots of used ones for cheap and chances are you already have lots at home, some of which would greatly benefit mankind if they're used for anything but reading (Reader's Digest condensed novels anyone?). My favorite is vintage childrens books with their colorful illustrations. You can be really cheap and buy the sad broken ones in the bargain bin which is where I found this one which is ironically about an injured chipmunk. Don't cry little chipmunk, I will save you! And make a gift bag out of your paper corpse...

Other materials:
*Tape (glue stick if you also happen to have it)
*Finger nail, butter knife, or other hard flat stick thingie to make those folds extra crisp.
*Best of all, no template!

Note - It's better to avoid reading the instructions I provided which barely make sense to me and just focus on the pictures, much less confusing :P

1 Fold your paper to join both short sides in the middle. I use tape on the entire length but you can also use a glue stick if you make sure to have one side overlap.

2 Folding what will be the bottom of the bag. The size of the tab folded will be equivalent to the size of the bottom of the bag. I like to fold the bottom 1.5 inch since anything smaller tends to be difficult to work with once you get to the smaller folds.

3 What's going on here? Basically you want to fold open that tab you just made and end up with two triangles at either end. You want to make sure to align the crease in the middle of the triangle with the fold made previously. Here's one fold completed:

4 Both folds completed:

5 This is where it starts looking familiar. Fold the top and bottom edges to meet in the center making sure all the creases are perfectly aligned.

6 I prefer not to overlap the pieces which tends to distort the shape of the bag so I use tape along the length of the completed bottom. Make sure there isn't any space between the edges so you don't end up taping the bottom to the inside of the bag.

7 The next step is getting the neat folds going up and down the bag. Fold one of the outer edges inwards making sure the points align and the width is constant (perpendicular) on the entire length or your bag may become a 'work of art'.

8 Turn the bag over and fold the same edge you've been working on in the opposite direction. Repeat with the other edge.

9 Now gently pop open the bag. You will have to play around with the creases to get them folding in the right directions. The center crease should fold inwards.

 Once completed you should be able to fold it like this. Neato!

Voila! Cute paper bags with retro woodland animals.

Here's another version with a slightly different bottom:
Here's another version that skips step 1 by using envelopes: