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Maker Stories

Round Up the Kindling and Light Up the Campfire Candle

July 21, 2015

Copy of Joe on Chair copy

Portland designer Joe Gibson finds inspiration at the nexus of the pristine natural world and practical modern design:

“It’s the remarkable natural beauty that surrounds us, combined with the creative culture of Portland, that drives my design aesthetic.”


Joe is the main creative force behind Revolution Design House, a small maker-space in Portland, Oregon, where he and his business partner Dylan craft handmade home furniture and accessories. It’s easy to see his nature-meets-modern-design mantra manifest in some of his most popular designs – first with the runaway success of his Boxcar Planter, and most recently with the way cool Campfire Candle.

PicMonkey Collage

He refers to his innovation of the candle as a “happy accident” – probably along the same lines as the first Homo erectus to innovate the campfire campfire . It was after the Boxcar Planter process that Joe honed in on his design philosophy – “exploration and investigation with no expectations” – but the spark was truly lit after Joe tinkered with X-ACTO knife and geometric shapes during an intensive 3-hour workshop on 3D form he and Dylan teach through Oregon College of Art and Craft.

PicMonkey Collage

“The idea of the workshop is to let go of expectations and to begin manipulating the shapes into more unique objects, not by pre-determining the shape but by responding to what is right in front of them,” Joe says. He assembled a simple form almost on impulse and took it home to contemplate what it could be. “A candle seemed be a natural fit since the forms I were making were hollow cavities,” says Joe. It was later that night – over a few beers with his team – that his wintertime longing for a camping trip spontaneously inspired the campfire candle.

Joe bow tie with bike - photo from Christine

Joe perfected the design to be “an amalgam of a long-established, traditional candle-making process with a modern design twist;” he uses old-school techniques alongside a sleek, geometric form.

“I honestly assumed it was going to be an easy, no-brainer. I was wrong! Candles seem really simple, but the science of the wax and wick are tricky. Candle making is truly an equal ratio of science and art; everything matters, from the size of the wick to the shape of the candle and everything in between.”

Despite having some serious metal and woodworking experience under his belt, working with wax initially went a bit against the grain for Joe: “I knew very little in traditional candle making, so I did quite a bit of research and tons of prototyping.” To melt the wax for the candles, Gibson jury-rigged some slow-cookers, which he still uses to this day. The wax is poured into two-piece silicon molds and cooled.


This process is called ‘gravity casting’ – “the concept is rather straightforward, and surprisingly, we’ve been able to manufacture quite a lot of candles here in our shop.”


It’s likely that Portland, Oregon will continue to kindle the flame of Gibson’s creativity for some time. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2004 to attend Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he graduated with a double major in Wood and Metals: “My plan was to move back to San Diego once I finished with school, but after a year of being here I knew the Pacific Northwest was the place for me. The creative energy and natural beauty were just too strong, and after five years of school, I jumped right into being a full-time maker.”

Joe in shop - photo from Christine

“Portland in general is a great place for creative folks to do their ‘thing.’ It nurtures craft in every aspect. We pride ourselves on craft brew to craft bikes and even the craft of sea salt!”

Maybe you don’t live in an area with easy access to grounds for tents and trails, or maybe you’re just trying to stave off the compulsion to get a fire going and roast marshmallows on your living room floor; either way, Gibson’s candle serves as a beacon of the great outdoors, the Pacific, Northwest, and the creative community of Portland no matter where you light the wick.


Gift Guides

How to Celebrate your Baby Bump with the Belly Art Casting Kit

July 30, 2013

My wife and I just welcomed our new baby into the world, but before his arrival we wanted to do something special so we would always remember that beautiful baby bump. With 5 weeks left to go – we decided that it was time to cast the belly.

Belly Art | UncommonGoods

Using our Belly Art Casting Kit from UncommonGoods, we recruited help from our 5 year old. At first glance, because of all the components and 4 page instructions, the process appears some-what complicated.

However, we soon learned that even a 5 year old could do it, literally.

The kit comes with a large plastic sheet that SHOULD be used to cover the floor and surrounding furniture – it will get messy- and a bottle of Vaseline to rub on the areas of application (don’t be shy – apply as much as you can).

Getting Ready The kit also comes with a dry plaster roll which should be cut into strips. These strips are to be dipped into a warm bowl of water (the smaller the bowl, the smaller your strips should be cut). Also, the strips should be cut over the plastic covering because powdered residue forms as you are cutting. Latex gloves are also included – highly recommended – took me a while to get the plaster off my fingers when it dried up.

Once the strips are cut, Vaseline is applied and you have your warm bowl of water, simply dip the strips into the bowl and apply and rub into the areas that you want to cast.

Julian 1Julian 3Make sure you layer a few times – the more layers the better it will look. Also, remember to refill water as it cools off – the warm water has a much better effect as the plaster dissolves.

Rubbing it in also helps for aesthetics on the finished product.

Once all areas are covered and layered – let dry for about 15 minutes. Then, it simply pulls right off.

Belly Art |  UncommonGoodsLet dry overnight and then use the tool included within the kit for sanding and sculpting.

Finished Belly Cast | UncommonGoodsThe whole process took less than an hour and was so much fun. We used the plaster belly for the baby shower and had attendees sign it – similar to how one would with a broken arm cast. Now it works great as a bedroom decor piece to show our baby where he lived for 9 months.


How to throw a Geek Baby Shower

July 29, 2013

How to throw a geek baby shower | UncommonGoodsA couple months ago, our staff threw a baby shower for Naomi. Hopeful for her little girl to be a tiny scientist, Naomi asked for a series of baby items with a geek theme from our assortment. We were so impressed and excited for her that we put together some crafts to throw a geeky baby shower.

Beeker plastic cups | UncommonGoodsClear plastic cups are easily transformed into beakers with the help of a marker.

Test tubes for punch! | UncommonGoodsFor those interested in taking smaller sips, test tubes are another beverage vessel choice. Plus they make the table look like a lab.

Apple Pi Cupcakes | UncommonGoodsApple Pi Cupcakes!

Geek themed cupcake toppers | UncommonGoodsWe made cupcake toppers from images we found on the web. Print out two identical images and glue with a toothpick or skewer in the middle.

Solar mobile | UncommonGoodsJust like in elementary school, a mobile of the solar system was a fun and easy project. With some paper, tempera paint, string, and cotton balls you can recreate the plants in our solar system for a colorful decoration.

Decorate with gifts | UncommonGoodsOn the tables, we used the Nerd Flashcards that Naomi requested as a gift to keep the theme going.

Naomi's Geek Baby Shower | UncommonGoodsJudging by the smile on Naomi’s face, our crafts were worth the time and papercuts!


What to do with all these flowers!

May 16, 2013

The trees, bushes, and bulbs are all in bloom and there are flowers everywhere! So many flowers! Kind of a great problem to have. Here are some of my favorite blog posts about how to take those blooms out of the garden and incorporate them in your home decor (and wardrobe!) in truly uncommon ways.

Flowers make a lovely centerpiece, but liven up each place setting with a fresh flower tied with each napkin. Use a collection of twine, jute, and other crafty scraps like Rebecca does in her tutorial on A Daily Something. It’s amazing how those peonies, pop against those neutral napkins and plates.

Speaking of found objects, I love the look of mismatched vintage bottles and jars as bud vases. I tend to collect a lot of old glass bottles and have never considered displaying them all together, tying the collection together with a matching bud in each bottle like Elsie has done on A Beautiful Mess.

The little girl inside of me wants to lay in a field making daisy chains all day and this DIY flower crown on Project Wedding can help me accomplish wearing flowers in a chicer way. A big flower crown is a beautiful replacement for a veil on a Bohemian bride, but I want one for Saturdays. I want to walk around my neighborhood like a chorus member in Hair and proclaim myself the flower princess.

I can’t stop thinking about this handmade banner by Kelly of Studio DIY. Something about the drab cardboard background, the bright white lettering, and the pops of bright, fresh color feels so inviting (peonies!). That banner can say just about anything – Surprise!, Beinvenue, Happy Birthday. This is a craft I plan on making very soon. Seriously though, what is it about peonies that is so beautiful?!*

Another craft I want to do soon is Elsie’s floral garland on A Beautiful Mess. I love buntings and garlands in all forms – pom-poms, penants, tinsel – and this is one of the most beautiful ones I have seen on the Internets. It reminds me a lot of the popcorn garlands we made for the Christmas tree as a kid and sounds just as easy (however, I don’t know how my mom will feel about me traveling around her garden with a needle and thread). What’s even better about this garland is it will only get better with age – when the flowers dry and start changing color it will take one a completely new look.

George Harrison wisely once said “All things must pass” (actually he says it a lot of times within the course of three minutes), and so too will fresh flowers so start thinking what can be done once they begin to wilt and fade. I love this pressed flower tutorial that Esther did on Pamplemousse but if you want to know everything there is to know about pressing flowers go straight to the source – Lady Martha!

What’s a better way to preserve dead flowers than potpourri!? Store it in mason jars like in this tutorial on the Free People blog. Something about the mason jars makes it look a lot less like my grandmother’s potpourri.

Happy crafting, flower children!

The Uncommon Life

How to Style Agate Centerpieces

June 11, 2012

Whether you are throwing a backyard dinner party or planning a wedding, centerpiece ideas are sometimes a daunting task. They are the focal point of your sit-down meal and can really bring a room together if they are styled right. Although the Agate Cheese Platters are great for serving up snack, they are also versatile and could fit into a number of decor schemes. On the bottom of each platter are three rubber bumpers which creates a nice platform. The jewel-tone platters also have a natural shiny finish so they will glow in the dim light of a party.

I was interested in seeing how the Agate Cheese Platters would work in a centerpiece design, I took them home, put my decorating hands to work and came up with three different ways to style them.

Some of the cutest centerpiece ideas out there are composed of found items. Make your centerpieces personal with a craft touch. Create a small penant banner with washi tape and neon twine and string it between two tall sticks. I used wooden knitting needles but another great option are painted twigs. Personalize a mason jar by wrapping it in colored yarn or twine. Lastly, I pulled some guitar picks and a harmonica from our collection to add some personality to this table decoration.

These eggplant platter just scream glamour to me so I wanted to see a sleeker look. I pulled out some crystal and glass candle holders that would reflect nicely when the lights get low. Around the platter, I sprinkled some white flower petals to soften the entire look. I only wish it was dark enough to test the glow of the platter in candlelight but was pleased to see the reflection of the crystal on the platter.

I thought it would be an interesting contrast to add some rustic charm to the polished platters so I started with an old honey jar of white flowers tied with natural twine. I set the jar in a bed of dried moss from the craft store and scattered small twigs and stones. I was so happy with the little enchanted forest I created.


Handmade Paperback Valentines

February 1, 2012

There is nothing more special than a handmade gift from the person you love, especially on Valentine’s Day. I wanted to get especially crafty this year and upcycle a valentine. I found some great inspiration in Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing and Reimagining the Book by Jason Thompson of Rag & Bone Bindery. Equipped with scissors, a glue stick, double-stick tape and a couple of old books my neighbors were throwing away, I got to work!

I loved the idea of making my own envelope. Why not make the package as special as the card? We take so much care when wrapping a present and cards can be given with as much excitement. Instead of opening up an envelope to use as a template as the book suggests, I found a template online. I resized the image in Word and was able to make as many different sizes as I liked.

The Origami flower was so much fun to make and turned out to be so pretty. I think they would be great to tuck away a bunch of these flowers in small corners of your home with sweet messages for your Valentine to find throughout the day.

Since I usually plan a present for my beau, I also decided to craft a bow from an old book. After my first sloppy attempt I realized this craft really needed double-stick tape like the book called for instead of my glue stick. I used pages from a colorful catalog and I am so excited with the way it turned out.

Are you planning a handmade Valentine’s Day?

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: iMitt DIY Mitten Kit

December 10, 2010

Product Name: iMitt DIY Mitten Kit

Background Research:

I can knit in stockinette all day long, but can I actually knit a fitted mitten? I’m not just testing out this knit kit, but also testing my skills. The real challenge will be, can I finish these mittens in time for cold weather?


Using the iMitt DIY mitten kit, with everything I need included, I can teach myself to knit mittens before winter really kicks into gear.


I was a bit nervous when I laid out all the materials in front of me. Two balls of sage green yarn, a pair of circular needles, stitch markers, a yarn cutter and a daunting set of instructions. And these weren’t normal mittens; they had openings for my fingers so I could operate a smart phone in the cold. What had I gotten myself into? I’d just tweeted that I’d be finishing these mittens soon, so I had no choice but to get started.

Check out some of the work in progress photos.

Well it took a few tries, and the help of some friendly YouTube vloggers, but I did it!


The mittens were knit! And the weather reports are calling for snow. I finished just in time.

This kit did have about everything I needed. I grabbed a ruler to check my measurements and kept my laptop on so I could get a second opinion on some of the instructions. The pattern was pretty daunting for a self-taught knitter like myself. I consulted YouTube and frequently, restarted a few times, but it all came together. And the challenge was definitely worth it.

One thing I learned was that the woman’s small still ran too big for my tiny hands. I adjusted the pattern to start with 36 stitches and that worked much better. If you’re knitting for a child, or like me, you have ridiculously small hands, be sure to adjust the pattern before you get started.


When I first saw the shape of a mitten emerging from my needles, I knew I’d done it. And there is nothing like that feeling of accomplishment. I couldn’t recommend the iMitt DIY mitten kit enough to all your crafty friends.

The mittens are super cute, warm, and have a perfect sized opening for my thumb and pointer. Now I just need to get an iPhone!

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