Needle-felting Basics: Felted Acorns

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What is needle-felting? It’s the process of taking clean, carded wool roving, basically a big fuzzy lump of hand-dyed fiber, and using a long barbed needle to repeatedly poke and shape the wool into a tightly compacted 3-D shape. The compacted wool is much denser and is now what we commonly refer to as felt.

Creating needle-felted acorns is a simple jumping-off point for your introduction to the craft. Now is the perfect time to learn, as fallen acorn caps are at their most plentiful, and felted acorns are a wonderful addition to your fall and holiday table-settings and displays.

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Gathering Acorns – Look out, squirrels. You’ve got some competition.  Hunting for acorns is a great excuse to get outside and enjoy nature and fall sunshine. It’s also an opportunity to pick up some of Mother Nature’s other craft supplies: pine cones for holiday decorating, colored leaves for pressing, and fallen branches of birch or red dogwood for spruce pots in December.

Drying Acorns – Once you’ve gathered your acorns, drying them is an important step.  There are many crafts that involve using the whole acorn. But for needle-felted acorns, you will only use the caps. I throw the meaty nut part out in the yard for the squirrels. I will defer to my friends at wikiHow for a simple explanation of the washing, and oven-drying process.

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Supplies – There are many places to find needle-felting supplies. I purchase my supplies from Dream Felt on Etsy. I prefer to felt with Norwegian Wool, as it’s coarse and easier to work with. The super fine Merino wool, is so incredibly soft and perfect for fine details, but it’s not recommended for making acorns.  Dream Felt has a wide variety of Norwegian wool in gorgeous hand-dyed colors. The owner sells her wool in complementary color packs or individually.  There is also an autumn collection, which gives you a nice selection of autumn colors: burnt umber, deep orange, rich yellow, forest green,  and chestnut brown in a bundle.

Acorn caps

Wool –  .5 – 1 ounce each of 3-5 colors of wool for fall colors

Needles –  38-gauge is a medium, all-purpose needle and 40-gauge is for finishing

Foam Pad – provides a surface to felt on so you won’t stab yourself

Clear Tacky Glue

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’re ready to start.

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Felting  – The amount of fiber you pull from your roving (pull, don’t cut) will depend on the size of your acorn cap. I generally don’t use the fuzzy variety, as they make a mess. But otherwise, acorn caps come in sizes varying anywhere from a pinky nail to larger than a quarter. I’ve created a video on YouTube, which will demonstrate the process of creating an acorn from beginning to end. The video will give you a good visual of the ratio of wool to use in relation to the size of the acorn cap. I create both a medium and micro acorn, but you’ll also see an example of the large cap as well.

Once you have the loose wool, you roll it between your thumb and forefinger into a small cylindrical shape. Keeping it pinched between your thumb and finger, set it on the foam and hold it there.

Use the 38-gauge needle in your right hand (assuming you’re right-handed) and start poking. You will want to poke about ¼ to ½ of the way down into your wool. Not all the way through. Go slowly at first, until you get the hang of it. This will reduce the likelihood of overzealously poking yourself with these sharp needles. It happens. I speak from experience. They do sell leather thumb protectors, but I find them awkward, and like more control over the wool. If you’re worried about poking, you can use Band-Aids on your thumb and forefinger on your left hand. But just starting slow should do the trick.

As you’re poking, you’re also gradually poking and turning the wool into a chubby cylinder shape. It should be loosely packed at this point. Start to round off one end of the cylinder and flatten the opposite end. Keep placing the chubby little acorn nub into the cap until it’s slightly bigger than the inside of the cap.

Squeeze a dollop of clear glue inside the cap. Then squeeze the flat part of the acorn into the cap, pushing it flush with the inside. Now you poke, poke, and poke some more. It’s probably over 200 pokes. I’ve never counted. Trust me. It’s a lot of poking.  The video will give you a good idea, but once you feel more confident, you will achieve a nice steady rhythm and it will go much more quickly. Your poking now is to refine your acorn’s shape and tightly compact the fibers. You’ll notice the acorn becomes lighter the more you felt. Finally, when the acorn feels solid, you’ll use the 40-gauge needle to make shallower pokes all around the acorn to create a uniform smooth felt surface, and tame any stray “hairs.” And  you’re done. On to the next one!

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Given the repetitive, rhythmic nature of the poking and forming of the wool into the felted shape needle-felting is incredibly relaxing.  It’s the perfect craft for multi-tasking, so you can feel less guilty about spending an entire rainy day binge-watching The Affair or season six of The Big Bang Theory for the third time. At the end of the day, you’ll actually have something to show for all the couch-surfing you did.

Be sure to watch the instructional video that accompanies this blog to see the fall acorns come to life!

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Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, loves multi-tasking. On Sundays, she is watching football, her fantasy football match-up and needle-felting.

 

Fun-Filled, Budget-Friendly Activities for Kids

 

mother and her child preparing healthy food and having fun

I’m not a mom, or an aunt, a godmother, or even a person who has friends with kids. But I am an older sister – to both a natural-born younger sis and as a mentor to a 12-year-old girl in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And although my natural-born sister lives many states away for college, I am tasked with the challenge of coming up with fun and engaging activities which are appropriate for children but fun for adults with my Little Sister. Also, since I’m not about to spend an afternoon shelling out the big bucks for kid-friendly fun (Why are museums for children so pricey?), I’ve gotten pretty savvy at finding things we both enjoy – minus the hefty price tag.

Here are some of my greatest hits that are a ton of fun without breaking the bank.

Cooking/Baking:

Getting kids started early in the kitchen is a great way to teach healthy eating habits and improve important skills, like mental math and hand-eye coordination.

This one is great regardless of age. Do you have a 3-year-old? Great, have them pick out some fruits they like, put them in a blender with low-sugar yogurt and ice, and once the adult secures the lid (I would hold it down), let the kid press blend! You could also try ants on a log or a Crockpot recipe like Salsa Chicken where you just toss the ingredients in and let it simmer.

Boy eats a lot of sushi

Some kids do really love sushi!

If you’re looking for more of a challenge with older kids, Pinterest is (as usual) a great place to start. With my Little Sister, who loves spicy food and chocolate, we like to get really creative. Our last adventure in cooking was mole sauce, a spicy, savory chocolate sauce from Mexico. Spooned over grilled chicken, it took a blah dish and made it something out of this world. Our next adventure is sushi! But if sweets are more the taste of your kids or young friends, this easy éclair cake is super tasty.

Bowling:

Bowling has made something of a comeback in recent years. Gone are the days of The Big Lebowski-type establishments with dried-up chicken wings, dusty and dated furniture, broken arcade games and a vague scent of stale cigarette smoke. Though these can of course be great fun, they don’t exactly appeal to the kids these days. The iPad-and-Justin-Bieber generation thinks that’s like, totally lame, man.

Luckily, there are more to choose from these days. The website Kids Bowl Free showcases different kid-friendly bowling alleys across the US that, as the name suggests, offer free bowling for those under 18. For example, Brunswick Zone is in many states and is an updated take on a bowling alley, with video games and billiards. They cater to a hipper, younger crowd, so kids (especially those picky preteens) are sure to enjoy.

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Doesn’t this look like a day of fun?

The best part? Those that are in-the-know can join their rewards program for coupons and special offers, so you can get deep discounts. That’s a whole evening of family-friendly fun!

Crafting:

You might be surprised at how popular crafting is with kids of all ages right now. When I was a kid, we twisted pipe cleaners into knots, played with silly putty, and did paint by numbers and called it a day. Now, with crafting booming with the adult market as well, the wee ones are picking up on the new craft trends.

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From Pinterest user Craftiments.

Take, for instance, fellow blogger Melanie’s potted mini gardens from our previous blog post. This is completely doable for kids of all ages, and is a lasting gift – and teaches them the gift of a green thumb (which I am sadly lacking).

sponge tower timeAnother idea is a nature-weaving craft ornament. As we all know, kids spend way too much time in front of screens. So I plan on taking my Little Sister for a long walk once the weather is a little nicer, picking up things like pine cones, flowers, leaves, shells and twigs along the way. Then, together we can craft one of these adorable decorations to commemorate our day! The best part is most of the materials are found in nature; all you really need is some yarn or string and your imagination.

For the indoorsy type, I loved this idea: Sponge Jenga. Buy a pack of sponges from a discount store, cut them up into even strips, and then stack them like Jenga. All of the fun of the game without the loud crashing sounds.

Volunteering:

So much time it seems is spent trying to figure out activities your kids and you will both enjoy, but what about the impact your activities have? Think about it this way: If you both like cooking, why not volunteer to cook for others at a soup kitchen? If you like animals, what about volunteering to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, or at an animal shelter?

Happy siblings collecting rubbish

Volunteering can be easy as collecting trash in the park.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an organized, repeated commitment, though there are plenty of websites to help you out with finding one of those. Huge nature lovers can just pick up trash as they walk the beach or a trail with a group of their friends, or to run a bake sale or lemonade stand and donate the money to their favorite cause. Not only are you of course helping others in the process, but you’re teaching the little ones in your life that no matter how small they are, they can make a big difference. And you can’t put a price tag on that (But also, if you could…it would be free!)

These are just my favorites. What are some of your suggestions for on-the-cheap activities to do with the kids in your life?

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, not-so-secretly wants to be a little kid again eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch while reading Nancy Drew.

Simple Heartastic Valentine’s Crafts

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Have you ever heard the saying, “Valentine’s day is a Hallmark holiday?”

Humbug!

With winter raging outside, what could be sweeter than a day spent in the craft room, making pretty things, and reveling in all things heartastical? That’s a word, right? Well, it should be.

Some people dream of warm, sun-drenched escapes. I dream of a dining room table covered with pretty papers, colorful ribbons, rubber stamps, felted wool, and lots and lots of glitter.

There’s something incredibly decadent and rejuvenating about taking some time for yourself to go off-the-grid. Turn off the tech, and tune-out the noise. Make stuff. Make meaningful stuff, that you put a little bit of yourself into, to share with your Valentines.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Gift wrap from Cavallini Papers. Available at http://www.papersource.com.

Gift Wrap Valentines and Garlands

I found some really fun vintage and Victorian gift wrap at a local boutique and fell in love immediately. The texture and thick stock were fabulous. Too pretty to just wrap a package and have it torn up and thrown away. These Italian wraps can be found in 20 x 28″ sheets online at Paper Source.

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The first thing I did was use glue stick, thoroughly covering the back of  the wrapping paper and applying it to large sheets of tag board or thick card stock, to make it extra durable. Smooth, smooth, smooth with your hand and then set a couple books on top to make sure the paper is firmly adhered and your card stock doesn’t curl.

After just a few minutes of dry-time, it’s time to put your preschool construction paper cutting skills to work. I find this part remarkably relaxing.

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At this point, you can finish off individual Valentines with some additional flourishes such as red or pink glitter glue, fabric or Washi tape around the edges, or use a hole punch and adorn with tulle or grosgrain ribbon.

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I decided to make a garland, and it couldn’t have been easier. I just used a hole punch and about 4 feet of red and white baker’s twine, and voila! Now I have a darling vintage garland greeting my guests, along the length of a shelf, when they come in my front door.

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Printables from Brit & Company. Find them on the Smart Perks’ Pinterest Board.

 

Valentine’s Printables

Given my affinity for cutting and pasting, my own personal Zen, I go crazy for free printables. You can find a zillion of them on the Smart Perks Pinterest boards. Here are two projects I completed this weekend.

The first are some sweet treats, Hershey’s Miniatures candy bars, wrapped in fun 90’s pop wrappers (see above). Too cute. Love to surprise my coworkers with a little something unexpected to make them smile.

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My second Free Printable Project was inspired by fellow blogger, Super Mom. This is an awesome and hilarious idea for a non-candy related Valentine that kids with allergies can enjoy. And it won’t be forgotten any time soon.  I simply glued the printed designs onto cardstock, cut them out, and I’ll use red and white baker’s twine to affix the darling Valentine’s Whoopee Cushions that I found online at Oriental Trading to the cards. I think you might want to save these for an in-home party though. Can you imagine a classroom full of third-graders with Whoopee Cushions? OH. HECK. NO.

 

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Fun With Felt

I love felt. Needle-felting is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s extremely satisfying to take a mound of raw, dyed wool and shape it into something completely new. There are many YouTube tutorials on needle-felting. All you need is clean wool, a felting needle and a piece of felting foam. Careful, those needles are sharp. I recommend Dream Felt on Etsy for all needle-felting supplies. Their wool colors are fabulous. I used their wool roving to make the felted wool hearts and ball garland shown in the main photo.

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But if you want to do something a little simpler, you can buy sheets of regular felt at Michaels or your local craft store, along with various Valentine shades of DMC embroidery floss, and create some one-of-a-kind Valentine’s coasters with a personal touch. I used some of my favorite song titles and lyrics, such as Tainted Love, You Sexy Thing, and Love is a Battlefield, to create unique Valentines that won’t be thrown away on February 15th.

You only need to know two basic stitches to complete these simple hearts – a running stitch for the word or design, and a blanket stitch to sew the two hearts together. Just cut two heart shapes from your felt, approximately 4 inches in diameter. Stitch designs on front (and back if you want), add buttons or other embellishments. Then blanket stitch the two hearts together, design-side facing out. Easy Peasy!

Obviously I had a busy weekend, working non-stop on my crafty fun times. But with 3 weekends left until Valentine’s Day, you still have plenty of time to try one of these projects, or one of the many, many others you’ll find on our Smart Perks Pinterest board. I love shopping! But handmade Valentine’s are good for the heart, and the soul! Enjoy.

Blogger Mel B., a Smart Perks employee, has pinholes in her pointer finger and a scissor blister on her knuckle.

 

 

 

 

Five Simple Fall Home Decor Suggestions

Is your home ready for a warm and welcoming fall update? Here are some of my favorite ideas that are fun and festive.

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Growing up in sunny South Florida, I never got to experience the changing of the seasons. For the majority of the year, it was sticky, humid heat, with a few short weeks of low-40s temperatures which necessitated nothing more than a light coat. How I longed for what fall is for the rest of the country: vibrant golden leaves, a brisk chill in the air, roaring fireplaces and chili on the stove! Instead, I settled for decorating my house for fall with my mom. If I couldn’t experience the real thing, I could at least feel like I was.

Starting when I was around 7 years old, every September we would break out our boxes of wreaths, garlands, and centerpieces. Though we couldn’t collect fallen leaves or pretty twigs from the ground outside to incorporate, we did use our standby plastic and fabric imitations, which did the trick. We even have a miniature decorative autumnal-themed village we set up on our living room table, complete with a ceramic general store, thatch-roofed cottage and little red-topped trees!

Even if you’re not the kind of person to go all out, here are some simple ideas that are easy enough to do but have a big, welcoming impact for any visitors your home might have this autumn.

With no further delay, here are our top five ways to decorate your home for fall:

Statement Centerpieces

photo from countryliving.com

photo from countryliving.com

Let’s start with the basics. Nothing says “warm and cozy” like soft candlelight. Your options for candles are nearly endless, but there are some classic styles—candlesticks, pillar candles, tealight and votive candles—we think work particularly well for building a fall vibe.

A fancy candelabra, complete with candlesticks in shades of burnt orange, pale yellow, and soft cream, makes for an elegant talking point at a dinner party, while a glass pedestal with various-size pillar candles on it also does the trick.

Personally, I’m a fan of placing a mix of these kinds of candles in the center of the table, somewhat willy-nilly, and then arranging mini pumpkins and tealight candles around them. The overall effect is just the right amount of sophisticated and fun.

Door Wreaths

Another simple choice is a decorative, fabulous fall wreath. Whether store-bought or homemade, crafted with burlap or boughs, a wreath on the front door is an excellent way to welcome friends and family to your home.

Here’s a great tutorial for 7 DIY fall wreaths. Their suggestions are so creative; one is made from coffee filters, of all things.

photo from wayfair.com

photo from wayfair.com

However, if you’re like me and don’t have the patience for crafting your own, there are great options out there, like the one pictured above.

Glamorous Garlands

Garland RM house of boys

No, not like Judy! Come fall, I like a good garland decorating my sideboard in my dining room. However, if I had a fireplace that would definitely be my go-to garland placement. Garlands strung around a door frame look beautiful, too.

Threaded in between picture frames and votive candles, garlands with gorgeous fall leaves, pine cones and vibrant red berries go a long way in adding fall flair to any setting.

One of the great things about garlands is that you can choose one based on your individual style and home décor, thanks to the wide variety available. From loud, full garlands with bright orange leaves and glitter strands throughout to woven burlap garlands with delicate muslin flowers, there’s really something for everyone out there.

Pumpkins and Gourds, Of Course!

If you have kids, you know there’s nothing they like more than a messy craft when they’re stuck inside on a rainy afternoon! And, really, who doesn’t like playing with glitter once in awhile?

With the corn and tomato crops of summer fading out, we have the autumn harvest of pumpkins and gourds to look forward to…and decorate with! These yummy plants can and should be used for more than just spiced lattes and latticed pies.

photo from thefrugalhomemaker.com

photo from thefrugalhomemaker.com

Since they’re so plentiful in fall, you can get them very cheap, making them an easy solution for arts and crafts. All you need for a fun-filled afternoon is some colorful paint, kid-safe glue, glitter and sequins. And don’t forget the googly eyes!

No kids in the house? No problem. Just arrange the pumpkins in your hearth and on your front porch with an assortment of differently shaped and colored gourds, corn stalks, hay bales or baskets of mums around them to add visual interest.

front door decoration

Decorative Display Cases

Yet another thrifty solution to fall decorations is glass display cases filled with fall-themed trinkets.

Pick out any old glass vase, and then show off things in it like baubles and beads, acorns you’ve found, and fallen leaves. You can even use a small tree branch from outside (just make sure there aren’t any critters on it).

photo from thebudgetdecorator.com

photo from thebudgetdecorator.com

We like this decoration because it’s something you can truly customize. Think outside the box (or vase) and create your own displays with goodies like ripe apples, potpourri with dried pumpkin, or even just cinnamon sticks!

What are some of your favorite fall decoration tips?

photo from tidbitsandtwine.com

photo from tidbitsandtwine.com

Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys hiking, traveling and cheese, but not necessarily in that order. In her off time you can catch her at a brewery, happily playing a board game or begrudgingly watching sports.