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.

 

Irises: A Beginner’s Guide for Late Summer Planting

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“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh, which sold for $53 million at auction

Come late summer, a gardener’s thoughts immediately turn to spring. Most likely, planting tulips or daffodil bulbs come to mind, two of my favorite flowers. However, a good friend of mine, Traci, recently moved to the area. She bought a new house and had a blank slate as far as planning her garden is concerned. She planted the idea of new iris beds for us both. And an obsession was born!

As good friends do, we fed off each others’ enthusiasm for a new undertaking. Now that both of our gardens are in, and you still have time this year to plant one of your own, I thought I’d share some of our learnings with you.

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First, a bit of iris history. The iris, famously used by the French Kings, including Louis XIV, as a symbol of power and position, was adapted as the Fleur de Lys and is now a symbol of the great state of Louisiana. Before World War II, most new iris hybrids came from Europe. But since that time they have become an American passion, and can be enjoyed in all their regal splendor, standing tall in late spring, alongside the poppies and peonies.

Although people often refer to planting iris “bulbs”, the bulbs are actually called rhizomes. The rhizome is planted right at ground level, the tops just visible, and its adventitious roots make it possible for many plants to propagate from the stem. While the rhizome grows horizontally, it rises into a beautiful fan of sword-like leaves with showy, spectacular flowers in a rainbow of colors.

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The healthy roots of an iris rhizome

I’ve compiled a couple of “Iris Newby” tips that my friend and I have learned, that hopefully will be helpful to you, too.

Where to Find Your Rhizomes. Don’t let the cost of irises deter you from starting a bed of your own. One of the best features of these hardy perennials is how quickly and abundantly they reproduce. Iris typically have to be divided every four years. So you can most likely find some neighbors, friends, family or coworkers who would be delighted to share some of their bounty with you. Gardeners are by nature eager to share knowledge and the fruits of their labor.

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An elderly neighbor of Traci’s, who could no longer garden, generously offered her as many irises as she’d like. This is what Traci ended up with, and she shared with me.

Another fantastic and inexpensive method of procuring your precious rhizomes is to find the local chapter of the Iris Society, through an arboretum, or horticulture department at a local university. Traci and I attended the annual sale of the Iris Society of Minnesota and found award-winning irises at a fraction of the price, that we knew would do well in Minnesota’s unique climate. We were also able to benefit from the experience of Master Growers, such as this lovely gentleman, who was more than happy to help a couple of beginning iris enthusiasts out.

Finally, there are many sources for high quality, distinguished irises online. Perhaps the most venerated is Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. While a peek at the 2016 edition of their Iris Lover’s catalog features resplendent Irises for $50-$60 a bulb, I shopped their summer sale and purchased several for under $10 a piece. Plus, they will throw in a bonus Iris, if you meet certain thresholds.

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Once we had all of our iris selected in the colors we favored, (both of us love the purples and blues. I also like the pinks, and yellows. Traci hates yellows and goes for some of the deep reds), it was time to prepare the beds. Irises will ship in July, August and September. They should be planted in late summer, earlier than tulips or daffodils, because they need time for the roots to get established, prior to the temps falling below 40 degrees.

Choosing a site. You’ll want to select a site where you’re going to get full sun for at least 6 hours a day. Choose a spot that doesn’t get standing water. Remember irises don’t like wet feet. You’ll need to amend the soil if you have heavy clay soil. Most importantly, choose a spot where you will be able to see and enjoy them in bloom, and hopefully, passersby will be able to enjoy them, too.

Preparing the Bed. Again, Iris do not like wet feet. You’ll need well-drained soil. Like most perennials, Iris prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil. You’ll want to use fluffy compost or aged manure, and light black dirt.

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We cleared a site, where a previous home owner had planted iris over two decades ago. The soil was compacted under gravel, so we uncovered down to the clay, turned it over, and added aged, composted manure and light, fluffy black dirt.

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Next, I set out all my bulbs, according to color and size. All of mine are Tall Bearded Iris, so mine were arranged by color scheme. You’ll want to plant them 1-2 feet apart. The closer together they are planted, the sooner you will have to divide them.

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Finally they were planted, so that the rhizomes were just visible above the soil or had a very light covering, with the roots fanned out to the sides, pointing down.

Finally, I created a map of what I’d planted and where. Anyone who has ever planted a perennial garden will attest to the fact that markers tend to mysteriously migrate, or disappear, and you end up not knowing what is where until it blooms.

Traci found some darling garden markers on Pinterest that she made for both of us, using beads from the craft store. I’m sure I have the nicest garden markers on my block. But plastic markers and a Sharpie will work as well.

While I love all four seasons in Minnesota, I can hardly wait until next spring to enjoy the fruits of my labor, as well as to share with my friend yet another mutual passion that sustains our friendship. For more information on growing irises, I encourage you to check out the American Iris Society.

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson enjoys getting dirt under her nails as much as a good manicure afterwards.

 

 

Hey Ladies: Fantasy Football is Good for You

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I did it! I did it! I got the number one pick in my Fantasy Football draft. Big thanks to my personal Holy Ghost of the gridiron…Vince Lombardi, who I know is watching over me. This is going to be my year.

Clearly this is a sign the tide is turning in my favor, as I haven’t finished in the top three in the past three years. You’d think I might be dejected after three years without winning, right? Or perhaps, when I tell you I’m a Vikings fan, you think, “Ahhhhh, she’s used to losing.” But no, I am not dejected.

Even if I haven’t had a winning season in 5 years, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the 2016 Fantasy Football draft night since the final seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl last February.

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I am an unabashed Fantasy Football diehard. According to Forbes magazine, I’m one of 6.4 million American women who are glued to screens, — television, mobile or otherwise, each game day, monitoring scores from around the NFL. That’s right. One third of Fantasy Football managers are women. It’s not a man’s game anymore, baby.

And no, we’re not letting our husbands and boyfriends manage our teams. I put someone in a headlock for insinuating that once. Kidding. Sort of. And we’re not choosing players by cutest mascot or tight end.

We do the homework. We “break down tapes,” as they say. I’ll admit, before I started playing Fantasy, I was a hometown team fan, and that’s about as far as my love for the game went. I knew the basics of football, but I had no idea what a tight-end was, where the redzone was, or which running back had the most yards-per-carry.

But with Fantasy Football you not only gain knowledge of the game you never in a million years imagined you’d care about, but you can name every Quarterback in the league, the best defense, the Wide Receiver with the most receptions, and the number of yards the leading Running Back ran for.

If you love analytics, there is no better hobby for you. You’ll suddenly find yourself listening to SportsCenter on Sunday Morning, watching NFL GameDay, or tuning in 15 minutes before game time to find out who is active or on the injured reserve.

There is the maddening, nail-biting anticipation of a Monday night game, when winning or losing comes down to the 4th quarter, and three extra points by your kicker stand between you and first place in your league. The only time I stay up past my bedtime on a weeknight? Guaranteed, it’s for Monday Night Football.

Gold Guy Fantasy Football Player

So why are more women drawn to the allure of Fantasy Football each year? Well, assuming they don’t have a huge passion for the game to begin with, women love it for a lot of the same reasons men do, including:

Connecting with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors – My dad and I talk now more than ever. He plays in 3 leagues. I like to go to him to discuss strategy, proposed player trades, line-up and bye week options.  However, I learned early on: don’t ever take anyone else’s advice. You’ll have no excuses and resentment if the advice doesn’t pan out, and you’ll get all the glory for yourself if you make the decision on your own.

I play in several leagues. One is a “girls-only” league with my friends from Facebook, who live all over the country. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch on a regular basis throughout the season, and we share a lot of laughs…from team names to the most ridiculously frilly, frou-frou traveling trophy in the history of football (if Martha Stewart designed trophies, this would be it).

Social Ritual and Tradition – Every year a group of my coworkers, from all departments, IT, Finance, Customer Service and Marketing, get together after work for some appetizers, adult beverages and our Fantasy draft. People who never meet during the course of business hours have become friends over  the years. There’s more cooperation, camaraderie, and morale boost through the friendly competition. We also have a jersey day and chili cook-off during the season, and, of course, we give each other a little good-spirited ribbing during the offseason.

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It’s Good for You – Everybody knows about the psychology of winning right? There’s the adrenaline rush. The self-confidence boost. Fantasy Football is good for your health. It’s science. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself, from the author of Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators.

Bragging Rights, Trophies, Cold, Hard Cash  –  Or, humiliation of opponents in extreme cases, like the guy in the news a few years back who was the big loser in his league and had to get a tattoo of his most hated team’s logo. Talk about a diehard.

So ladies, this is your year. Beginners luck is REAL. Trust me. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes on more than one occasion. Give it a go. It’s good for you!

To form a league of your own, check out Yahoo Fantasy Football…it’s my favorite.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to reveal her team’s name in this forum.

Enchanting Miniature Gardens

use2Springtime is the season of cute! My mind is full of bright colors and baby animals. I want to smell green grass and fresh dirt. I want sunshine, even on the days when the temperatures are still struggling to hit the mid-50s.

Spring can’t come soon enough for me and I need to do something green and creative. That’s why I love mini gardens so much. Even in the dead of a Minnesota winter, I am lucky enough to  have two amazing garden centers nearby with large greenhouses, featuring elaborate fairy gardens or gnome villages, like the one pictured above in Tonkadale Greenhouse.

Since I can’t start planting my garden until the danger of a hard frost has passed (in mid-May), a good alternative to full-scale immersion in outdoor gardening is to create a potted or miniature garden indoors.

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You don’t have to live in a cold climate to enjoy miniature gardening. Container and terrarium gardening can be done anywhere and is simple enough for anyone. They require very little space. In fact you can create a tiny garden in a mug or teacup.

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Here are some quick tips that I’ve learned after several springtimes making mini gardens.

  1. Pick your container & your plants at the same time. Tiny, small-leafed plants, mosses and succulents are perfect for tiny gardens. I love to use Irish moss for ground cover. Most greenhouses now feature a section devoted to small plants for fairy gardens. These plants won’t get too big and crowd each other out. Check the tags on the plant for size guidelines. Or ask your nursery expert for some good suggestions for companion plants, given the size of your container. I like to mix it up with a couple of different small varieties of moss, ivy and ferns. Or, I’ll do all  succulents. Succulents are among the most forgiving of plants, and if you’re a plant newbie, they are harder to kill (I kid). use 8
  2. Plan for drainage. Remember, plants don’t like wet feet!  If your pot or container (you can use anything from a wood crate with a liner, a big bowl, a tin bucket, an old coffee can; I’ve seen some really cute mini gardens in repurposed containers) does not have a hole in it, providing adequate drainage is crucial. What I like to do, depending on the size of my container, is layer small stones or pebbles at the bottom of my container, with space for water to seep through. A thin layer of activated charcoal wicks moisture and absorbs any stagnant water odor. Dried moss can be used at the pebble layer to absorb excess moisture as well. 945239_657248600967981_589083094_n
  3. Use good soil. Choose a fluffy potting soil that is not too dense or too wet. I typically use Miracle-Gro, but any fluffy potting soil that allows air, moisture and nutrition will do. Depending on the size of my container, I use odd numbers of plants, based on the old decorating rule. For a medium-sized container, I will use three. I space them evenly, giving them room to grow, and tease the roots a little before nestling each little plant into it’s soil. Once the plants are in, I use extra fine sand, finely shredded bark, shells, or decorative moss as ground cover over the soil.
  4. Imagine and play. Then comes the fun part! Play time. I always start with a vision. I have little Zen gardens, cute gnome gardens, animal gardens, spring themed gardens, gnome getaways. Let your personality be your guide. I have a friend who loves the ocean and made a darling container garden using fine white sand, shells, and beach glass. use9
  5. Sunlight and water. Save the tags that come with your plants. Most miniature plants make good partners, requiring the same amount of light and water. I have always enjoyed my mini gardens indoors and then brought them outside, to the deck or patio, once the weather warms up.
  6. Enjoy! Caution: Creating these miniature vignettes with plants, and tiny little things that make you smile, is addictive. You start to see every small object as something that could serve a purpose in your miniature garden, from an acorn to agate or marble.

The miniature garden is the perfect March treat to tide you over until your warm weather plants can go in. But if you simply can’t wait, violas, or johnny-jump-ups, are a good cold-hardy plant that you could probably enjoy outside out today. Happy planting!

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Blogger Melanie B., a Smart Perks employee, is a Zone 4 gardener who believes in fairies and gnomes.

 

Simple Heartastic Valentine’s Crafts

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

The Furniture Refurbisher: Willett Table

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Refurbished mid-century modern console table from Willett Furniture

If you’re in the habit of writing off every piece of furniture you see at a garage sale, auction, estate sale or at your local second-hand store, then this post is going to make you think again. Just the other day I was out deal-hunting at an estate-sale for something that I could put in my entryway for holding keys and such, when I stumbled upon this beauty tucked beneath a pile of worn-in children’s clothes and a blender:

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Experience the thrill of the FIND!

OK, maybe it doesn’t look that beautiful in the picture, but this is a classic piece from the Willett Furniture Company which, until it went defunct in 1962, made and sold some truly amazing furniture. Back when this solid-cherry rarity was made in 1957, it cost $105 and would take weeks for it to be delivered because of the company’s special seven-step finishing process. Today though, original Willett pieces can be worth over $1,000 to collectors. And now, right there before me, was an original Willett.

When I recognized the piece for what it is, I broke into a sweat and tried to subtly inquire the nearest seller about the price. I hid my excitement by casually commenting about the weather and verbally noting how high gas prices are getting. THEN I asked about the table. Even though I’m not planning on flipping the piece, if the seller caught onto my excitement then that could spell trouble. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake!

The price I ended up paying for it was far below $250 and I happily took it home. I remake of this same piece would cost around $2,000, so I was reasonably happy. I didn’t want to flip it because I love the look of it and am probably going to hold onto it for a while. However, the piece did need to be refurbished, which quite frankly, I dreaded. I had never done so before, but after spending an hour or so researching and then a weekend doing the actual project itself, I was ready to go. Turns out it was easier than I thought it would be!

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The ubiquitous before shot. You may want to put down a tarp before setting to work.

  1. First, I removed the hardware, and then I had to get all that dust off of there. I cleaned every inch of it with Murphy’s oil soap which gives the piece a natural shine and most importantly cleans it without damaging it.
  2. Then I sanded the tops of the shelves with very light sandpaper (100, 150, and then 220 grit) to get it ready for refinishing. The rest of it I sanded with the 220 grit sand paper.
  3. After cleaning off the dust, I sanded it once more over with 400 grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool. It’s very important to use light grit sandpapers to avoid scratching the wood.

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  1. We’re almost there – I then used a rag to apply one generous coat of boiled linseed oil. After letting it dry for an hour, I wiped off the excess with a clean rag.10953203_10152843603883589_1605594965250306073_o
  2. Finally, two days later, I repeated step 4 and then let it dry for two more days. Now it lives here:

Looks pretty nice, right? Not bad for $250 from an estate sale. If you’re looking to do this for yourself, it’s very easy. Everything_But_The_House_Online_Estate_Sales_in_Cincinnati,_OH,_Columbus,_OH,_Lexington,_KY,_Louisville,_KY,_Indianapolis,_IN,_Nashville,_TN,_Atlanta,_GA,_and_Fort_Myers,_FL_EBTH_-_2015-05-20_11.26.39Take an afternoon and shop around garage sales, auctions, Grandma’s attic or other places where you might stumble upon something with potential. There are even websites such as eBay and Everything but the House which sell great furniture. Then you have to figure out what needs to be fixed or how to refinish it. Google is pretty good for that, but if you’re internet averse there are always plenty of people willing to help out over at your local hardware store.

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-Jack

As devilishly handsome as he is clever, Jack is the excellent copyeditor for the Smart Perks team. A passionate music-listener, writer, and all-around great guy, Jack is going to help keep you in the know on fun trends and interesting ideas. 

Fun with Photo Books: The Lost Art of Real Live Albums

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When it comes to the latest in reading technology, I have the Kindle, an iPad, an iPhone 6 Plus. But nothing will ever replace the feel of a hardcover book in my hands.

I crave the intimacy of holding a book, its weight, an unbroken spine, the smell of fresh pages or of an old book, its antiqued pages rendered almost transparent by time, the satisfaction of anxiously flipping the page to see what the next will hold.

These are the things I can’t give up.

But photo albums are a different beast, right?

It’s nothing short of revolutionary to have all of your photos available in just a swipe or a keystroke online. Years of photos are stored in chronological order on Photobucket, Flickr, Facebook, or Instagram, out there in the ether for eternity…never to be lost to fire or flood. Plus you can share them instantly, in real time, with everyone you know, plus strangers, too.

Then last week, I ordered yet another camera online. It was Best Buy’s Deal of the Day and it was an offer too good to pass up! To my surprise, because it wasn’t advertised, I got a FREE Shutterfly 8×8, 20-page, hardcover photo book with my purchase (a $30 value.) A digital download just appeared in my cart, which was really nothing more than a link to the Shutterfly site where I could create my book.

I’d just gotten a new puppy in December. I had literally 100s of photos sprinkled liberally throughout Facebook and Instagram. I decided it was worth my time to sit down and create a book.

The fact that Shutterfly let me upload all of my photos directly from Facebook was a huge time-saver. I didn’t have to hunt through all the December folders on my PC to find the photos from my Puppy Shower. All my best (no outtakes, blurry images, etc.) photos were stored by event in Facebook.

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Yes, I had a puppy shower. What? You mean everyone doesn’t do that?

Having created a couple of photo books in the past I knew that I wanted to pay the up-charge for glossy pages, and no black backgrounds. Matte, black pages show fingerprints! However, I did like the matte cover. So I paid an additional up charge for that.

Before I started laying out the individual pages, I uploaded all of my best photos to Shutterfly first. Once you start a project in Shutterfly, it creates a gallery for you to upload photos to, and as you use each photo, it disappears from the gallery. That way you don’t leave out any of your favorites.

Then rather than simply inserting the photos chronologically, I tried to tell a story from beginning to end. As you can see from the title page, the photos are somewhat chronological, newborn puppy, the puppy shower, the first day home. But I also used specific photos that lent themselves to the template I chose. All the photos fit a square format. And the colors complemented each other.

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My little fashionista – her big fashion spread.

After that, I had pages that were themed, Weezy playing in the snow with her brothers, Weezy’s favorite toys. Weezy’s most adorable outfits, sleepy puppy, and so forth.

Once I was finished, the book was so cute, I couldn’t help but pay for expedited shipping. So the whole project ended up costing me about $20.

The end result, however, is PRICELESS! I love it. I have to admit, I swooned a little bit when I opened the package, removed the plastic and smelled those fresh glossy pages.

Unlike old-school photo albums, I now have a thin, hard-cover book, that’s no thicker than a children’s book, and sits neatly on my bookshelf. Nothing cumbersome, like the Mead Trapper Keeper of yore, with photos falling out, or flimsy cellophane pockets. Plus, Shutterfly also supplied an electronic link to the entire book, including front and back cover, so I could share it electronically by email, or Facebook if I wanted to.

There are a number of photo book sites available online. I’m just very pleased with the quality of Shutterfly’s. I think a lot of people think photo books are just for baby pictures, wedding albums or family vacations. But they’re not!  I love creating photo books for out-of-town guests when they come to visit. I send the book to them weeks later after they’ve returned home. And I know how much it’s appreciated because a fabulous friend of mine chronicled our entire trip to Louisiana in a gorgeous photo book, capturing everything from my face covered in powdered sugar from my first beignet, to our up-close and personal encounters with alligators roaming Avery Island. I cherish it! I can relive the whole adventure.

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Gnomes and other little creatures frolicking in my fairy garden.

If you’ve ever fancied the idea of publishing your own book, whether on a hobby, like gardening, birding, embroidery, or writing a children’s book, creating a photo book is a great way to get your feet wet. For instance, I love needle-felting and creating little gnomes and other creatures, and placing them in miniature vignettes. My friends look forward to seeing my posts on Facebook, (or at least they pretend to) so last year I put together a photo book of my miniature scenes as a personal holiday gift.

If you have online folders full of photos from your garden, or your hikes through the woods, or boating adventures, take an hour or two and drop them into a photo book. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a book comes together, and how satisfying it is to see your memories come to life in a story, one that you can pull down from the shelf and relive again and again.

For more ideas on using your favorite photos in the real world, be sure to visit www.smartperks.com next week for tips on decorating your home with your photography and personal artwork.

-Melanie

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life include her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

 

Addendum: I received this information on the duration of the free photo book promotion from Best Buy Customer Care.

After research, I would like to let you know that most of the cameras we carry come with a free shutterfly photo book. Best Buy regularly includes Shutterfly Photobook codes as promotions for purchases of Digital Cameras, DSLR, Computers, and other products. These codes are a great value to the customers, and are extremely popular. If a specific camera comes with it, the free shutterfly photo book is marked as free bonus item however, we are not certain when this promotion is going to last. This is a partnership between Best Buy and Shutterfly and, I believe the promotion is continuously good until advised by Shutterfly otherwise.