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DIY

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.

Design

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!

Design

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

MaKey MaKey Meets Frogger – An UncommonGoods DIY

March 6, 2013

The MaKey MaKey is a unique invention aiming to change the way we connect with the internet. Banana pianos, cat controlled cameras and high five orchestras are some of the recent contraptions spawning from this odd new technology which was initially funded from a KickStarter project with over 10,000 backers.

Frogger is a classic arcade game developed by Konami in 1981. Guiding a frog across the road and the river, the player is lost in a mental state of amphibian survival. It’s a simple game, with an addictive quality rivaling that of Angry Birds.

After playing around with the MaKey MaKey for a few weeks, I realized that I could use the MaKey MaKey to improve upon Frogger. For those who have played the game, you may ask yourself, is it even possible to improve on Frogger? Konami might say no, but I say yes. My plan was to put the player in the physical realm of the frog, where your legs are the difference between life and death.

I developed this in two test phases:

Test #1 – Touch Pad
Test #2 – Floor Pad

Out of the box, the MaKey MaKey comes with a circuit board, a USB connect and several wires pinched off with alligator clips.

Frogger frogs move in four directions. Up, Down, Left and Right. (Just like normal frogs). Conveniently, the MaKey MaKey comes with the same four directions. I hooked an alligator clip to each one:

The MaKey MaKey is basically an open source touchpad. You can hack any type of controller. All you need is electrically conductive material. Paper clips, people, spoons, water, apples, paint, etc… They are all compatible. I decided to use the most complex conductive substance known to man:

Play-Doh.

I made four balls of Play-Doh, squished them to a notepad, and plugged in to the other end of the alligator clips. Almost live, all I needed was a grounding wire. At the bottom of the Makey Makey there is long silver grounding strip. In order for MaKey MaKey to work you need to “ground” yourself, which essentially completes the circuit loop. For the last step, I grounded myself to the strip with a bracelet made from heavy wire.

Alternatively, you could just hold the wire, or attach the alligator clip to a metal ring or other piece of conductive jewelry.

*Note – If you are on a laptop, unplug it while using the Makey Makey. Otherwise you may lose your grounding.

I opened Frogger and started to play. I immediately got ran over by a car. Then I drowned. I forgot how intense this game is.

My Frogger skills were way off since my days as a 7 year old, but Test #1 was a success nonetheless. Obviously, Test #2 got delayed by a half hour as I tried over and over again to beat the level. Mustering all of my willpower, I stopped playing the game and moved everything to the floor so I could play with my feet. Oops! The grounding wire is only 1 foot long. I made an extension with a 6 foot piece of hookup wire.

Test #2 – Great success!

As I considered the possibilities, I realized that by expanding the distance between the foot pads, I could create a physical difficulty level much more in line with the frog’s predicament. It also became apparent that this was going to be quite an awesome gaming experience.

To take this to the next level, I needed a big room, more Play-Doh, a projector and Swedish House Mafia. Luckily I work at UncommonGoods, an office where it’s okay to ask your boss for such things with a serious look on your face.

I grabbed a few friends from the office and we found a nice big open space to lay down foot pads. We hooked up a projector for Frogger, connected it to my laptop, and hooked the laptop to the MaKey MaKey with the USB connect. For foot pads, we used aluminum foil, a little strip of Play-Doh to help keep the wire in place and painter’s tape to seal the deal.

Once the floor pads were tested, we fired up Frogger, killed the lights in the building and blasted Swedish House Mafia. Why Swedish House Mafia? Watch this video and it will all make sense:

As you can see, we took Frogger to a whole new dimension. The next morning my legs hurt.

MaKey MaKey is an amazing invention with endless applications. If you want to try it out for yourself, you can buy one here.

If you already have one and you’re looking for ideas you should start with YouTube. There are already hundreds of videos out there. Here are my personal favorites:

Top 10 MaKey MaKey Ideas:

1. Banana Piano
2. High Five Orchestra
3. Robot Boy
4. Musical Paintings
5. Birthday Flowers
6. Cheese Controlled Race Car
7. Kissing Karaoke
8. Electric Wind Chimes
9. Horse Simulator
10. Veggie DJ

For more ideas, you can check out the MaKey MaKey forum here.

If you have used MaKey MaKey to invent something we’d love to hear about it. Email us at makeymakey@uncommongoods.com.

Gift Guides

How to Repair a Wool Sweater

February 22, 2013

Getting the opportunity to try uncommon products is one of the great things about working at UncommonGoods. While many of these product-testing experiments become gift labs, every now and then we find a new good with so many uses we can’t fit them all in one “report.” The Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is an example of just such a product, AND, since associate buyer Katie and community moderator Cassie both had their eyes on this winter must-have, we decided to diverge from the traditional gift lab format and see just how many uses we could come up with for this clever kit. Four are outlined below, but Cassie and Katie agree that the fun doesn’t have to stop there!

Katie: Having spotted the Woolfiller at a major New York trade show last year, I was anxious to get such a solution-oriented product into our assortment. A fun, hands-on kit to patch up an old favorite or add some flair to a basic sweater seemed like the perfect DIY project nearly anyone could adopt.To put this product to the test, I decided to tackle two specific projects, the first was to patch the embarrassingly large (and winter chill-inviting) elbow holes on one of my favorite sweaters. After completing the elbow hole patches, I wanted more – I had seen some fun images the company provided where people used the bright colored wool to add some creative patches as flair and I wanted to try this out, which lead to Project two: adding flair.

Cassie and I decided to each purchase one kit – a match made in heaven as this green-adoring girl, could partner with Cassie’s purple-loving self and combine to make a cornucopia of rich, jewel-tone wools mixed with solid staple colors (greys, blacks, beiges) which came in extra handy for my second project. But I would also say that one kit is entirely sufficient – each comes with bright color options as well as neutral, basic colors which should cover a range of sweater needs. And to that point, upon unloading our kits onto a communal table, we were both surprised by how much wool comes in each kit – we went about tearing each ball into half and divvying up our goods.

Project 1: Bold Elbow Patches

Katie: After some deliberation, I chose to patch the elbows of my dark, gray sweater with the natural beige wool – aiming for a contrast patch look – like your grandfather’s sweater.

After choosing the color of wool, I reviewed the simple instructions and went to work. I used a pair of scissors to make the first of my ragged elbow holes into a smooth, even oval to ensure my patches would be as clean-looking as possible. Next, I ripped a decent amount (maybe the width of a lime) of wool off the main piece, turned my sweater inside out, put the provided foam piece in the sleeve, laid the wool over the hole, and began poking!

After completing the first of two patches, I turned my sleeve right-side out to inspect my work. Herein I learned one of the bigger lessons of the project – while the instructions suggest turning your piece inside-out to use the product, I found that by doing that I was less aware of the exact line of the hole (because the piece of wool covered it) and as a result I ended up with what can only be described as a “halo” effect around the patch – one sold patch, with a light ring of excess wool surrounding it.

On elbow #2 I decided to try another approach – again I cut away the ragged edge to make a smooth hole, but this time I left the sweater sleeve right-side out, I inserted the felt piece, and lined the wool up perfectly with the hole and started poking away. I found when I did it this way, I was able to guide the wool into a perfect oval while poking and overall felt much more in control of the overall work. When complete, the patch appeared much more perfect and solid.

After completing the elbow patches, I moved onto my next experiment…

Project 2: Adding a Little Flair

Katie: I decided to do a simple trio of mini circles with bright colors. Having learned from my elbow patches, I left my sweater right-side out, tore of tiny circles of wool (about the size of a quarter), and started poking away! I found my technique was much-improved, I used my fingers to expertly guide the wool and before I knew it I had my little flair added in.

In the interest of science, here are my key Findings:

Finding #1:
This kit comes with a lot of wool. I was surprised by how little wool it took to patch up my rather large elbow holes. I have a lot of wool leftover and am just waiting for a quiet Sunday to get to patchin’ my slew of other well-worn sweaters.

Finding #2:
The more you poke – the more “felted” the wool becomes. Good thing poking is super fun.

Finding #3:
As mentioned above, the kit recommends turning the piece inside-out and then using the wool filler, however, I found this created a slight ‘halo effect’ around the actual patch, and when I tested using the kit the opposite way – with the sweater turned right-side out, I was very pleased with the results – I could control the pokes more and create a clean oval with no halo.

Finding #4:
The Woolfiller is a really easy, creative way to patch.

Having now completed two projects on one beloved, well-worn sweater, I can vouch for the usability and honestly–the fun– this product provided.I passed the DIY-sweater-patch torch along to Cassie.

Project 3: The No-Show Repair

Cassie: I also had a beloved sweater with a hole in it. Unlike Katie, I didn’t want my repair job to be super noticeable. My hole was just under the arm of a multi-colored sweater, so I hoped I could blend the new wool in and make the sweater look like new. Taking her findings into consideration, I began my exercise in craftology.

I started out the same way, by finding the hole, turning the sweater inside out, and inserting the foam block. Then I picked out a couple of colors that I thought would mix nicely with my sweater’s pattern.

I placed the wool over the holes and started poking. It was really fun, and, because the sweater is 100% wool the new wool took almost instantly. I pricked at the wool with the felting needle for less than a minute before the patch was completely attached, but I kept at it for a little longer, just to make sure it was blended well.

I turned the sweater back inside in and gave it a few more pokes, just to give the wool a smoother look. The finished product looked good, and the patch feels just like the rest of the sweater.

While I agree with most of Katie’s key findings, I found that starting with the sweater inside out worked great for a small, blended patch. She preferred the look of the patch when she placed the wool directly over the hole without turning her garment inside out first. I’d recommend doing a test on your own piece, by woolfilling just a small section of the patch, before completing your own project.

Project 4: Super Star Style

Cassie: Giving my sweater a quick fix was fun and easy, but after seeing Katie’s bold patches and the little bundle of flair she added to her project, I was a little jealous. I wanted to give my own colorful creation a try, so I decided to add a little shape to an old cardigan.

First I drew a star shape on a small piece of scratch paper. Then, I cut out the star, leaving an outline. Next, I placed the outline over the elbow of my sweater. (Remember to insert the foam block first.)

I didn’t turn the sweater inside out this time, since I wasn’t actually making a real “patch,” I was just covering up the existing material with new wool.

I put a little ball of bright pink wool in the center of the star shape, then started stretching it out to fill the cutout as I poked it with the felting needle. I didn’t secure the star before starting this process, which made it a little trickier than it had to be. Next time I’ll hold it in place with some fabric tape or a safety pin.

I gradually added more wool and pulled it into the shape of the star as I worked at it with the felting needle. Once I had the outline filled in I removed the paper and then poked carefully around the outside edges of the star to give it a sharper shape.

Since the cardigan isn’t entirely wool (it’s a blend also containing nylon and cotton), it took a lot longer for the woolfiller to adhere this time than it did with the 100% wool sweater I’d used it on before.

The star turned out well, but there was one problem. I was so focused on creating my shape that I forgot to move my foam block the whole time I was poking. The wool (and the sweater) got stuck to the block, so It was somewhat difficult to remove when I was done. Make sure to readjust the block several times during your project to make sure this doesn’t happen!

I’ll definitely try this again next time I want to give an old sweater a new look. Next time, I might try a heart, a triangle or square, or maybe even a letter.


Through our multiple sweater patching projects, we learned that the Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is a great way to repair a damaged sweater, give old wool a new look, or add a personal touch to your favorite pieces.

And, bonus, it’s not just for sweaters. It works on any pretty much anything made of wool!