Thursday, 12 December 2013

Covering cone party hats to match your theme!

I had a huge amount of trouble finding tissue paper hats to put in my Christmas crackers this year. The party shop that I always use for these things, disappeared over night and my source of ideas and people to chat to about entertaining décor dissolved with them... Its very sad.

I tried every other party shop in the area but to no avail - they simply didn't have tissue party hats and couldn't "order them in". It was really weird.

Then I turned to the internet in my attempt to buy these hats and discovered that I can only get them from the UK or the USA and, although the price for the hats was on the high end of ok, the postage made them simply too expensive for what will be a throw away item.

I have tried making them before and despite it looking like a simple and easy thing to make, mine didn't live up to expectations... So I was reluctant to spend the time and energy to make the 20 I was going to need for Christmas day.

Whilst despairing to my neighbour about my potential hat-less Christmas crackers she suggested those party cone hats that you normally have for Birthday parties. She suggested that I put them on the table as part of the "decorations" (rather than stuff them in the cracker as I had first imagined she meant) which solved sooooooo many problems in one hit! (Thank you Gilly-Beans!)

So off to the shops I went with my new hat idea. Since I have a "mint and lavender" colour scheme this year, it didn't seem impossible that I would be able to find them in these colours and in a "shabby chic" type style (what was I thinking???)

Four days later, I had to concede that cone hats were indeed available in any colour and design except that ones I wanted... I bought these ones in the picture hoping that the red wouldn't be too bad once I got it with everything else. But of course, if like me you are one of those people who when they get their heart set on something - can't settle for anything else - and so the red trees had to go. Painting over the red didn't work. I couldn't find anything to stick over the red so I decided to bite the bullet and simply cover the whole hat with some Christmas paper...

Time consuming, but cheap and I end up with what I want!

Here's what I did...

These are the original hats. The design is perfect, the mint is perfect... The red not so!

I took out all the strings, undid the hats and put them under something heavy (a carafe of water in this case) to flatten them out a bit.

Then I selected the paper I wanted and cut a strip that fitted the flattened hat onto it. At first I used a wrinkle free glue on the shiny patterned side to stick the two together - but ended up using a glue stick as the wrinkle free stuff didn't stick the paper to the hat once it was dry!

Flip the hat over and stick firmly to the paper.

Then simply cut around the hat using it as a template.

With the wrinkle free craft glue, I got a few wrinkles. Most of them did go away once the glue dried but as soon as I moved the hat, the paper fell off!!!???

So I recommend the glue stick for sticking the hats to the paper!

When you get to the cutting out bit, pop a bin right next to you as you end up with a fair bit of rubbish and this makes it easy to clean up - this lot went straight to the worms!

Once your hats are dry, turn them over and with a knife or a pair of scissors, recut the slits and also the holes for the elastic.

Reassemble - and Voila! Hats in a shade and design that I like!

Of course once I had gone that far and wasted the better 1/2 of an afternoon on this I decided to quickly embellish them a bit further with a bit of glitter glue - just because it was too hot and sticky to move away from the table and the fan!

This was more time consuming than I thought it would be. Mainly because I started with one glue and after I had done nearly 1/2 the hats I discovered that the glue wasn't sticking and had to restick most of the hats again. I'm hoping that these could be reused for another event (Birthday for example) rather than thrown out. Its going to depend on who starts clearing the table and decides that they are "disposable" items...

I'm quite please with them and glad I chose a design that whilst is Christmassy could still be used for another event, making my afternoon spent cutting and pasting more economical!

I set up a production line for these as I find it a more efficient way of making a lot of things that are the same. I unfolded all the hats, then I cut all the strips of wrapping paper, then glued and cut out the hats etc etc rather than made one whole hat at a time. I find that I develop a technique and get faster by doing the same thing 20 times that make only one whole item at a time.

Im quite pleased with the end result and am looking forward to seeing them on the table!

Score card:
Green-ness: Hmmm... If I do manage to save them from overzealous cleaning upper-er relatives, and use them again then they would be quite green. As a one off disposable item, bought brand new - not so at all....
Frugal-ness: Not so bad for custom made hats - $10 for 20 of them all up (Paper, hats and glue)
Time cost: Lets not go there... It was a pleasant afternoon, sitting under the pergola with the radio and my scissors and glue - but I was there for quite a few hours!
Skill level: Cutting pasting and perhaps glue selection skills might be needed!
Fun-ness: Great fun once they were all done!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Quick easy christmas tags!

This year I am making some Christmas biscuits to give to workmates and various friends as Christmas Gifts. I have found clear bags to put them into and then decided that I needed a small gift tag to go with it.

Its probably quicker to buy 40 gift tags for $2 from a cheapy shop but it seems silly to me to give a handmade gift and then to attach a shop bought tag to go with it.

So after a quick look in the craft room - I decided that I was good to go and had enough bits and bobs to make a few super easy Christmas-y gift tags for my homemade hand made presents!

Here's what I did...

(Please excuse the bad photos. My phone does not take good photos and the camera battery goes flat 1/2 an hour after it is charged up...)


I found 4 pieces of red and green A4 card and chopped them in to 12 pieces to give me a tag base to work from.

Using a piece of last years wrapping paper that went with the tag colours, I cut some 2cm wide strips from the wrapping paper.

And stuck them to each tag. I decided to go for an offset strip but there is no reason why you couldn't put them in the middle, across the middle, at the bottom or anything that looks good to you!

Then I trimmed up the edges
And cut them into tag shapes by cutting the corners off one end.

Then I put holes in the small end with a hole punch...
 And gilded the edges with a gold stamp pad.
 I found some wrapped candy canes at the Cheapy shop (15 for $2)

And they threaded perfectly through the holes giving the tag some weight, texture and another yummy to eat all at the same time! The string will tie onto the sealed biscuit bags and I can write a message on the back of the tag, as in this case, the back of the card is white.
You could print a message out on your computer and stick it to the back of the tag if you wanted to as well.

Nice and easy! Cheap if you have the bits already. Quite quick and can be adapted to any colour scheme that you desire. You could write the persons name on a bauble in glitter pen, thread that through the hole instead of the candy cane and then they could put it in their own tree for a calorie reduced version!

Silver tags with a patterned silver paper with a silver bauble would be very classy (as would gold) or you could use your wrapping paper to make matching tags. There are lots of Christmas decorations that you could use instead of a candy cane like snowflakes or hanging Santa's, it depends what you are in the mood to create!

Have fun!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using left overs from another project and not buying a commercial product! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending more than $2!
Time cost: Maybe about 20 minutes to make 30 of these...
Skill level: Cutting and pasting - oh and threading this time!
Fun-ness: Great fun - and people love home made stuff so much!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Tips for making your own christmas crackers or Bon-bons!

I like making my own Christmas Crackers!

I like being able to get the colour that I want to match the rest of the table as I rarely got for the traditional colours. I also like to be able to pop my own "surprises" in the crackers instead of getting a piece of plastic rubbish that just get trashed immediately.

Some years I get excited and go all out with my crackers- other years, its pretty basic and laid back.

Over the years I have developed some short cuts (and long cuts) for making crackers and thought I would share them with you.

Here's what I do...

This year I am going for a lavender and mint colour scheme and I can not find any crackers in those colours. I thought about white or silver for a while and then when I looked through the various papers I had in my craft room - and I found the lavender!

The white Fleur-de-lys pattern actually came from the wrapping from a bunch of flowers that I had saved. I cut the plastic up into strips that happened to fit very well onto the cracker bases and taped them at the back with sticky tape. The pearly bits are just pearlised white paint dobbed onto the plastic and left to dry. I painted them once the cracker was almost finished as it was easier to stabilise the cracker than paint the pieces of loose plastic. 

I used cracker bases this year from Spotlight - $2 for 10 - but have used toilet rolls and paper towel rolls in the past as well. The Spotlight ones are bigger so if you want to put a bigger gift in them, then this is the way to go. I usually make the cracker to this point before I stuff it. Its much easier to tie one end closed with the insides resting on the tied bit than to wrestle the ties on and keep the gift inside.

Before I stuff the cracker - I put the "snap" inside. Thread it from the already tied end (much easier to get it through the hole) and then pop a small piece of tape on one end to hold it in place on the open end. Then you can slide the gifts inside without loosing the snap out the other end. I got these snaps for $2 for 10 at Spotlight as well - have a look in the Christmas section.

I like to pop lollies in with my crackers. I find that chocolates melts in our Christmas heat and can ruin the cracker if the temperature get too high. I also now use wrapped lollies, as when the cracker gets pulled, the contents can go any where - including the floor! I found wrapped fudge in a variety of flavours at my local Woolies. These were 10 for $5

This year I have "Thong" key rings and those plastic bracelets with Christmas messages on them - Love, Joy, Peace etc. I also popped in a couple of Christmas wine glass identifiers for the more mature members of the group and some Christmas bubbles to blow for the less than mature members of our table! Have a look in the party section of the Cheapy shops for party favours that suit what you are trying to do that year.

I have a neighbour who know the most wonderful jokes and has a great source of really good Christmas themed jokes that he supplies me with each year. I just print them out and cut them up into sets of three, fold then up and add them to the bits to go inside the cracker.

One year I found a supply of snowflake pocket watch necklaces on e-bay that I managed to pick up for 99c to $2.50 each (by being online each day and haunting the sellers site and swooping in at the last second to add a few cents to the last bidders price. Somewhere in China is someone who never want to see my e-bay name again - I bought 15 of them all up over 2 months... with free postage too!)

If you wanted to get very professional, you can use a rubber band to hold all the items together before you drop them into the cracker.

When you have added all the bits that you want to put inside and you have tied up the ends, store them in a place where they wont get crushed. I have a basket that happens to fit mine in perfectly. Mine are never as robust as the shop ones as mine are made of paper on the outside, not cardboard like the shop bought ones.

This year I am not putting my Christmas hats in the crackers... Why? Simply because I can not find any to buy in my city! I have tried making them out of tissue paper in the past and it hasn't been so successful so when a neighbour suggested cone hats on the table - my problem was solved. The hats will now form part of the table settings and be a bit more robust and possibly used next year as well...

I'm not so enamoured by the red on these hats and are considering covering them with mint or lavender trees, if I can find them! (How hard can that be after all??)

Try putting "home made crackers" or Bon-bons into a search engine set to images and see what comes up if you are low on inspiration. I have a post on making crackers from scratch that might get your creative juices flowing too! 

Could be a great project for the kids to get stuck into over the holidays if you want totally unique handmade crackers for your table!

Score card:
Green-ness: If you made these from materials that you had or saved - its probably quite green but as it all ends up in land fill anyway... maybe not so green after all. 
Frugal-ness: This is not a frugal way to put crackers on the table at all!
Time cost: Fair bit of time - maybe only an hour to make an assemble 20 - if you have the gifts, lollies and hats ready to roll that is!
Skill level: Cutting and pasting - I don't have the patience for anything to fancy!
Fun-ness: Great fun to make and have them match what you are trying to do!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Making a home made, hand made watch strap...

I'm really rough on watches!

I wear them all the time and they often get immersed in water, banged and scratched and generally worn out! I buy them for $10 from the local Big W/K Mart but its not the watch itself that gives up the ghost. Its usually the watch strap that breaks.

Its very frustrating to have a collection of watch face's - albeit a little dinged - but not be able to wear them. I went through a phase of buying new watch straps for them and ran into that old age problem of the strap being more expensive to replace than the whole watch...?! The cheapest watch strap I could find was $12 and it lasted about two months.

I did go and buy a proper leather strap for $25 and reckon I might have got an extra three or four months out of it...

Its been an ongoing problem for me for a while now and I think I have finally I solved it!

Here's what I did...

This is the $10 Big W special watch with the current broken strap!
(Sorry photos are bad. My camera's battery goes flat 1/2 an hour after I charge it - these are taken on my phone and are really bad - sorry)

What I did was get some 'hat' elastic. Its about $2 at one of the cheapy shops.
Make sure it will fit between the watch and the bit that the strap was attached to. (Its called a spring bar according to my husband)

I measured out three strands about three times the length of the old watch strap.

And then folded them in half and attached them by running the ends of the elastic through the loop and pulling it tight 

At this point I experimented with various patterns and knots (a la macramé) but found it to difficult to make sit nicely for my level of experience (and patience)

So I put some decorative (and very simple) knots randomly along each strand of elastic.

On both sides. The idea here is to disguise the knots that I'm going to have to put in the elastic to tie it together underneath.

I tied four strands together but you could tie one on one if you wanted smaller knots.

Ta dah!

One you have adjusted it to be the tightness you need - take into account that its going to stretch a bit - just cut the ends off

Like so...

And there you have it - A badly photographed, $2 handmade/home made watch strap!

I have been wearing this for a week now. A few of the knots came undone and I ended up anchoring them with a dob of glue.

So far so good!
(Gosh - was it that early...?)
As a watch wearer, this has been a long time coming for me. The guy at the local shoe/watch repair place and I are quite good friends as I have been buying watch straps off him for years (I hope he doesn't go out of business now!?) I needed a waterproof alternative that was cheap enough but more importantly worked.
I have bought more expensive watches in the past but haven't found that the bands last much longer for the extra money. It is a lifestyle thing. I am rough on my hands and I don't take my watch off for anything but showers as I lose them once I start doing things like that. So partly its a choice.
The advantage of the multiple strands is that if one breaks or comes undone, the others will hold it on until you get a chance to fix it. But considering that simply taking it off and tying a new knot is all it takes to "fix" it  - you can fix it on the run.
I would like to have put some beads on it where the knots are but none of the beads I had would fit over the elastic. So I will have a look out for beads that do fit and resurrect some of the other watch faces I have and maybe make myself a fancy going out watch or an outfit coordinating watch or maybe I'll make 'em and give 'em away to some kids I know!
If you have the skills, you could make a friendship bracelet and slide the watch face onto it. I think it would wear pretty quickly though and there is always the issue of how you take it off for a shower or a swim, unless you attach the old clasps to it. The elastic just stretches and slides off. The cotton wont do that.
I tried string and macramé techniques but couldn't figure out how to attach it to my wrist and be able to remove it - but there maybe other people out there with the know how!
At any rate - its working for me so far!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for not supporting Big Industry with the planned obsolesce of cheap manufacturing for ever! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for being able to replace up to 5 watch straps for $2 with the same purchase of elastic 
Time cost: Probably about 20 minutes from who to go
Skill level: Just knotting (lots of internet instructions for knots if you want to be fancy!)
Fun -ness: great fun to fix my watch for an inth of the cost of replacement!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Sorting computer cords in drawers!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who does it....

I either have a desk full of cords and leads that connect various devices to the computer or I stuff them all into the drawer and pretend its all good!

Of course the problem is when you want to connect the camera or maybe the phone, or even the other camera or some other device to the computer to download/upload/reload/unload some files.... Then you seem to spend for ever untangling a cord, plugging it into the computer and then discovering it doesn't fit into the device!!??

I found a way to stop that happening in my computer desk drawer!

Here's what I did...

Its a variation on what I did to work out what cord was plugged into the power board behind the couch - I used the bread tags to identify which cord is which!

Not the most stylish method in the world - although some crafty people might colour code them with matching paper, paint or icon decals...

 Now all I have to do is find the right tag - and that's the cord that I'm looking for! No more untangling the wrong cord, no more trying to identify the cord by the connector or even knowing if its in the tangle that live in the top drawer of my computer desk!

They are fairly loose on the cord by they don't fall off the ends as the plugs are bigger than the tags. I wrote the name on one side of the tag and drew and icon of a camera/phone/ipod on the other side with a permanent marker pen. Super easy stuff that has saved me so much hassle since I did it!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for reusing something that was going into landfill! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a cent extra!
Time cost: As long as it take to identify the cord (which can take a while I admit!)
Skill level: Being able to figure out your camera cord from your phone/s cord/s and your ipod cord!
Fun -ness: So much fun to reach  into the drawer and pull out the right cord the first time!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Things to try when your chickens arent laying...

From time to time chickens go off the lay for many reasons and it can be very frustrating for those who want or rely on their eggs. As my husband puts it - they become feathered free loaders! All that love, attention and grain and no eggs!


 As I have become more experienced with chicken owning and a touch obsessed with egg production I have figured out a few things the hard way about what puts chookies off the lay and how to get them back on.

Here's what I did...

The first thing I think about was when was the last time that they got wormed? Pretty basic stuff. If the worms are taking all the goodness then they cant possibly produce and egg each day! I have a few different wormers and rotate them so that the worms that do survive one worming get blasted by the next wormer that goes through the chookie. I also use a different system to the usual "replace the drinking water for a day" as I have discovered that even with 34 degree heat in the height of summer, my chookies would rather dehydrate and die than drink chicken wormer. What I usually do is make up a smaller amount of the mixture, dip some bread in it and feed it to the chookies. That way I can see who got the wormer and who didn't. Check out this post for more detail.

Some people put garlic in the chooks water to fight worms - it doesn't matter wether you use natural methods or chemicals - the worms need to go. They will kill your chookies if they get to high enough levels. Wild birds in the chook pen feasting on spilt grain can also reinfect your flock.

Also have a look at the food you are giving your chookies. Again, the same principal applies. If they are not getting enough goodies in they simply cant produce an egg full of goodies for you each day. I was feeding mine the cheapest grain I could find at between $16 and $18. Once I changed to a profession breeder mix, I had egg production double! They don't eat as much of it and so in the end I was paying the same amount for grain over the course of a year. I ended using pellets as I got less waste than the mash - but its down to what works for you and your chookies. Also make sure they are getting greens on a daily basis. The chlorophyll is what gives you the lovely orange yolks and extra bits and bobs too!

If none of this is working try probiotics - especially if you have some dirty bottoms in your flock. Its not a magic cure if you have not sorted out any worm burdens or quality of food issues but if you have then it might just seem like magic! Worming my chookies bought a few more chooks back on the lay, increasing the quality of the food sorted out a few more and increased the quality of the eggs and for the two who still weren't laying, the probiotics worked the miracle. I got mine from the local produce place for about $20 and simply added a spoonful to the feed every morning. If you know which chookies aren't laying separate them out for a small part of the day and make sure they do get some high quality food and some probiotics and see if that makes a difference.

If you cant see why they aren't laying as you have done everything - there is a chance they are but you don't know where. They need a place to lay that is secure, darkish and comfortable. I find if I free range the girls all day, everyday they will find wonderfully impossible places to lay 1/2 a dozen eggs before I figure out where they are! Keep 'em locked up for a few days and have a good look around the pen if you think they are laying but don't see the eggs.

I have had crows figure out where the eggs are and raid the nest before I could get to them each day! I got a huge fright to have a big black crow fly our of the nesting box when I went egg collecting one afternoon! if you don't collect regularly you could be raided by snakes, goannas, crows or even your dog!

You may have an egg eater in your midst as well! One of my chookies was eating the eggs as fast as they could be laid by the other girls. We put golf balls and fake plastic eggs in all the nests and simply spent all day watching for eggs and collected them as soon as they were laid. This meant that pecking at the eggs became fruitless for her and after a month (it was such a looooong month for us) she finally gave it up.

Broody chooks don't lay eggs either. They sit on the nest all day everyday for about a month, come out to eat and drink once a day, loose lots of weight and generally look like they have had a life time of abuse! If I notice a chookie sitting around for a few day - and more to the point, there isn't an egg from her, I move her into the other pen for a few days. it can take some of my chookies a week to get over the broodiness and for that week they take an incredible dislike to me! If you don't have two pens, you will need to move her away from the nests somehow to break the broodiness. Maybe an isolation pen? Maybe free range her in the garden? Maybe pop her in an old childs playpen within the chook coop? If she can get back to the nest that she has decided her babies are in, she will stay broody for the month (and possibly a bit more) and you will be without eggs from her for a few months. I used to let my chookies just go through the cycle thinking it was "natural" but it takes a lot out of them and they look tired and sick for such a long time. But since chooks have been bred and mucked around with for centuries now, I'm more interested in keeping mine healthy and happy (and laying!) as there is nothing natural about a chicken with no "husband" trying to hatch babies! So now I move them into another pen and the sorting out of another pecking order gives her something else to think about and usually breaks the brood in 3-5 days. If I let them out of the bottom pen and the broody chook heads straight for the top pen and puts her self in the nesting box, she is still broody! If she is nesting rather than roosting at night she is either unwell or broody also...

I find storms put my chookies off the lay for a day or so. A child getting into their pen and chasing them for extended periods of time can also upset them. Building them a new coop, changing the pen around entirely or even introducing a new chicken to the flock can upset the more sensitive flighty chooks. As the eggs are about 25 hours in production they will lay the morning after the event but sometimes not the few days after. My more stoic, placid chooks only go off the lay if its something  physical (worms, food) rather than environmental (Storms new coop).

The more you watch your chookies and get to know them, the sooner you will spot what is wrong and what is not normal for your chook and be able to treat it. An isolation pen that can be moved in and out of the main pens is a real boon in times like this. You can have the chook in with the others and maintain her place in the pecking order and still make sure she gets the right food and or medication that you want to give her.

The higher in the pecking order your chicken is, the healthier it is likely to be. The top chooks get first peck at the food, the best places to sleep and are generally feeling good about themselves. The chookies further down and at the bottom of the ranks are likely to be the ones missing out on the really good food, the treats that you throw in the cage and the medication that you could be dishing out - thus remaining at the bottom of the pile as they are simply not as healthy as the others. the more chooks you have the more likely this is - but it can still happen with three chooks!

Let me know if you have anymore ways that you use to bring your chooks back on the lay when they stop laying. It can be so frustrating to have seemingly healthy happy chooks and simply no eggs!

Score card:
Green-ness: Depending on what chemicals and what grain you use will depend on your green credintials for this one! 
Frugal-ness: There is nothing frugal about owning chickens!!!
Time cost: Lots and lots - but it is soooo worth it!
Skill level: Mainly observation, trial and error.
Fun -ness: Owning chookies is right up there in the fun states! We wouldn't be without them!
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