DIY: Scrap Paper Ironwork Letter

IMG_6993I’ve been playing with black card stock a lot lately, which deposited a nice collection of paper scraps in my “use it this week or dump it” pile. I decided to use the Diy Craft Challenge as an inspiration to use them, and play with another thing that’s been catching my eye– quilling. (Although, in typical fashion I looked up a couple of tutorials on You Tube, promptly forgot what I learned, and did things my own way.)


• A 5×7 Frame without glass, painted black to match the paper
• A print of a favorite letter, sized to fit inside the frame (I printed my letter backwards using a setting on my printer called “emulsion side up”. It works just fine to print it the right way round, you just might have to erase your tracing paper lines.)
• Black paper (I used 100# Cardstock)
• Tracing paper
• A piece of cork to pin to (A cork trivet like this works, or a bulletin board or pinning board. Styrofoam also works in a pinch.)
• Straight pins
• A few toothpicks
• Tacky glue
• A craft knife and ruler

First I measured the depth of the frame, and cut a bunch of strips of paper that width using a craft knife and scissors.

I cut the paper against the grain so that it would curl as evenly as possible. (Grain is very important, especially when working with thicker papers. For a little more about grain, and to find the grain on the paper you are using, check out yesterday’s post.) You will use less of the paper than you think, but it’s better to have too many strips of paper than too few! (I used about 15 pieces of 8″ lengths for mine.)

I used tracing paper to trace my letter onto a larger piece of black card stock,

then carefully cut it out with a craft knife.

IMG_6819Next step was to outline my letter with a strip of paper. I dipped a toothpick in a pond of glue and drew a light line of glue down the center of a strip of paper.

Then I slowly wrapped the paper around the letter, holding the piece down to give it time to attach. At sharp angles I either folded the paper (if I could) or tore the strip and started a new one there. This task is finicky, but forgiving. I found that as long as I went slow and worked with the paper, it turned out fine.

IMG_6830I made sure to outline the whole letter, then I gave it a few minutes to rest and dry.

Once it was mostly dry, I moved to my cork backing. I used straight pins to firmly place my black frame so that it would not shift around on the cork, and decided where I wanted my letter to fit in.

I applied glue with a toothpick all the places my letter touched the frame, then used pins to secure it as well. I set pins up against the letter wherever it felt like it might flex or slide.

Finnicky steps done, now to the decoration!

To make the various curls I used inside the frame, first I ran the strip against my nail to loosen it up a little. (Kind of like curling that terrible plastic curling ribbon) Then I wrapped it around a clean toothpick to get the size curl I wanted. I also played with folding then curling, curling multiple pieces, and curling different ways. I basically went curl crazy.

IMG_6867When I had a nice pile of curls to choose from, I was ready to place and glue them.

Gently I squeezed each curl in place, and used my glue-toothpick to apply glue to any place a curl touched another part of the piece. I left the space around the letter pretty open so that the R would stand out. When I had everything glued in, I let the whole thing sit for an hour to let the glue dry.

IMG_6985bI really love the way these turned out. They’re crafty, but classy, and they are now hanging in our guest room for our two most frequent guests.

I bet you can do even better! You still have a few days to enter our DIY Craft Challenge by March 30th.

TIP: Finding the Grain in Paper

I’m working on a super fun tutorial for tomorrow, and I thought I would take a minute to share a tip about finding the grain in paper.

What is paper grain?

Very simply- Most paper is made up of long fibers that align parallel to each other, which means that the paper will be more flexible in one direction (with the grain) than the other (against the grain.)

Why is grain important?

If you work with paper at all, you will find yourself working or fighting with the grain of paper. Because the paper will naturally want to flex with the grain, it will behave very differently depending on the way it is cut. This is especially true when you are working with thicker paper or cardstock.


What direction is the grain of this paper?

I always test the grain of a paper before I start planning a project or working with it. Some people will tell you that the grain typically runs parallel to the long side of a piece of paper, but I’ve found several instances where paper is cut the other way.
To find the grain of the paper:
• Take the paper in your hands and gently flex it one direction, then rotate it 90 degrees and flex it again. Depending on the thickness of the paper, you may want to flex it until it’s almost folded.
• It should flex more easily one way. That way is called “with the grain”.
• Sometimes I will make a light pencil mark along the flex, to show me which direction the grain is running.


What’s the best way to work with grain?

Here are a few activities that you might do with paper, and how the grain should be aligned.
• Book Binding – Book covers and guts should have the grain running parallel to the spine. If the grain goes the wrong way, pages will be difficult to flip, and the cover may warp.
• Folded Cards – You should always fold with the grain, meaning that your fold will be parallel to the fibers of the paper. That way your fold will happen in between the strings of fibers, rather than breaking them.
• Quilling or curling – If you are cutting your own quilling paper, it’s a good idea to cut against the grain, which means you’ll cut the fibers of the paper shorter. The paper will curve more fluidly this way, and you’re less likely to get ugly creases in your curls.
• Resistance projects – conversely, if you want to play with the stiffness of the paper rather than curling it up, you should cut with the grain so you have long strong fibers. (This is the kind of paper I was working with for my paper bird project.)
• Gluing – if you are duplexing, mounting, or otherwise gluing two pieces of paper or paperboard, you want to make sure the grain direction is the same for each piece. When paper is introduced to moisture from glue or even from the air, it will start to curl one direction. You want the grain direction to be the same on both pieces so that they don’t pull on each other.
• Tearing – Paper is always easier to tear along the grain (because you are pulling strings of fibers away from their neighbors instead of tearing them in half.)

What happens if you ignore the grain?

Terrible things! Books that don’t flip! Warped duplexed paper! Rough folds on your cards! Bends and creases where you don’t want them!

Know the grain. Respect the grain. Keep making stuff.

How do you play with paper? Does the grain effect you?

SHOW + TELL: Watch Ali Draw Words

I think that it’s one of life’s small miracles that no one has to listen to all the noises that go on in my head while I’m working. The cajoling, the reassuring, the brainstorming, the problem solving, the bickering, the promises, the compromises… you get it. It’s noisy, but generally productive (“What were you thinking, Ali?” “You can do it, Ali!”) That’s my process.

Since this month’s craft challenge is all about LETTERS, and so am I, I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into the sketching steps of my lettered pieces.

img_6405I showed you my travel kit of supplies, but my sketches rely on just a few tools. A mechanical pencil, a ruler, a compass, clipboard, lots of erasers, and some thin white card stock.

img_6411I usually have a concept that I’m trying to convey in words. Often it’s one of the mantras I repeat to myself while I’m working (which makes the whole process very meta.) I will write down a bunch of phrases, and think about…
• Priority of words (Visual Hierarchy) – The most important words should generally be biggest and easiest to read to reinforce the message of your piece. I like to think that if you only read the big words, it would be like a summary of the whole statement. As fun as it is to make a really big and elaborate THE, it doesn’t make much sense. (THE message gets hidden.) You can also use visual hierarchy to hide a message and make people really look.
• What shapes I can use in the phrase: Is there a representative shape I can work into the overall form of the lettering? If I’m writing about lemonade, should I make it fit into the shape of a glass?
• What kind of typography would best represent the words? – Some words want to be formal (“Typography”) and some want to be flourishy (“Passionate”). Sometimes it’s fun to mix those up.

I’ll also start looking at the way a word is structured so I’m sure to give it enough space per letter.

When I have a general idea of the shapes I’d like to play around with, I’ll build myself a make-shift grid with the ruler and compass. I find that I like to make mostly symmetrical pieces, so I’ll map out the middle of the page and go from there. I end up with a lot of extra reference lines, but that’s fine.

Then I will start very lightly penciling in the skeleton form of letters. I do A LOT of erasing, so light lines are important. Usually while I’m working on the basic structure of the letters, I will start to think about the shape they will take in the end.

img_6421I am constantly working to find the center of a word or phrase. I can count letters in my head, but nothing beats a quick jot down of the phrase. I’ll then count (including spaces) and mark the middle. (This is also helpful because if a word has a lot of skinny letters – like Ilif – it will be much shorter than one with fat letters – MmNn)


(More penciling.)

At some I will inevitably get a “better idea” and shift a bunch of letters to work better. In this case I shifted my grid up, erased and re-lettered.


Practice makes better.

One of the best consequences of lettering practice is that I’ve started to think of writing as “drawing letters” which makes it sometimes possible to write backwards or sideways. This helps with lots of things including spacing words from the center line (see above). It is also SUPER handy when you’re a lefty who loved to drag your hand through wet ink all the time.

When I have the skeleton of the letters basically where I want them, I will make decisions about how to flesh them out. My first inspiration was the word “Letter” which reminded me of a typeface I love in my very precious American Wood Type book. (We’ll be showing our favorite lettering books later in the month!)

I love to keep printed samples of type on hand to look at. I used to try to look at inspiration on a screen, but it never translated right in my brain. I’ve started saving all sorts of printed materials (filed by style) to look at when I’m lettering.

img_6435Again using a light touch, I will start to add details to the letter using my inspiration pieces. Sometimes I make little changes in a letter form to better fit my space (hey, I can do what I want!)

Sometimes the skeleton of my letters will have to move to allow for more space for some letters

and sometimes the letters stretch outside of my borders.

Once I’m happy with the general form of everything, I’ll start erasing the extraneous pencil marks.

IMG_6443Once they are gone, I will sometimes look at the whole thing and decide to make changes.

img_6501Like for instance, I might change the phrase itself.

But that’s okay- it’s just a sketch. If I love it I’ll take it to the next level with paints and ink, and if I don’t love it I’ll put it away to inspire me another day.


What’s your sketching process? Is it anything like mine?

SHOW + TELL : Lotta Prints Book

As lucky as we all are to have Pinterest, Instagram, and the rest of the internet; every once in a while all I want to do is flip through a book. There’s something about having an idea in print in front of me…

It’s been a few years since I picked up Lotta Prints (on sale, because it was missing the templates from the back) and although it has a limited number of projects, I seem to find a new thing to explore every time I open it.

Like this simple screen printing technique. Hmmm… does that mean I should try screen printing next?

I would say that most of the projects are rudimentary, but it’s a wonderful resource if you’re interested in experimenting with printing techniques. (Yes. She prints with a potato.)

I love the way she uses simple, repeating shapes to form gorgeous patterns, and that each page is a new process to explore.

TODAY: Have a Happy Little Valentine’s Day!

love2680Put your heart into doing something crafty today, and be sure to snap a picture and share it with us!

february-diy-challengeSend us photos of your handmade valentines, crafts and treats! Hearts are the theme for this month’s DIY Challenge and we invite you to join in the fun. Submit your project for a chance to win a special award and handmade felt badge! The last day to submit is February 26th. We’ll showcase everyone’s projects on February 27th. Happy crafting! ♥

DIY: Valentine Pocket with Printable Template

Like I mentioned before, Valentine’s Day gets me pretty sappy. Sappy enough that all I wanted to do the other day was make a tiny Valentine Pocket to hide secret messages in.

I know. I know.

Well, I did it anyway, and put together a template and tutorial so you can make pockets of your very own, to decorate with all those heart stamps you made.



• Scissors
• Glue or gluestick
• Pens, pencils, markers, stamps, and anything else you’d like to decorate with
• The template below, printed (preferably on cardstock but regular weight paper will work.)

It’s easier to decorate the pockets before you cut them out, so go crazy. I used all the heart stamps I made the day before, and every valentiney color. The more coverage you get on the pocket itself, the better they look (I think.)

IMG_6008When you’ve finished decorating, all you have to do is…

Cut out the pocket template…

fold along the dotted (hearted) lines, fold in & add glue to the striped flaps, and press the back of the pocket down.


The back of the pocket, after the flaps have been glued in.

Then you can write your secret message, and slip it into the Valentine Pocket

and get started on the next dozen!

Bonus- The pockets are the perfect size for a business card, in case you want to do a slightly more professional version of the pocket. (I don’t know. Maybe?)
IMG_6102 IMG_6042
I’d love to see what you do with yours!

DIY: Love Letter Books for Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, probably because I’m a big mush at heart. I like to think of it as the Thanksgiving for love– a chance to tell the people you love how special they are, and how much they mean to you.

This year I thought I’d turn all those ideas into a keepsake– a Love Letter Book that two people can pass back and forth until it is filled with compliments, thanks, and well wishes. It’s a perfect activity for kids or adults, and needs only a couple of basic supplies (and the free templates included below.)



• A few sheets of colored card stock or scrapbook paper for your covers.
• A printer, and some basic text weight paper for your inside pages
• A pair of scissors
• A ruler
• A pencil (preferably a mechanical one, you’ll see why.)
• The template pages below

There are a couple of ways to transfer the template onto your card stock. You can print directly on the card stock (if your printer is up to that), cut out the template form and trace it onto the card stock, or (as I have done here) use transfer paper to transfer the lines to the paper you will use for your cover.

First I lined up the transfer paper under my template and over my card stock…

Then traced the outside lines with my pencil.IMG_5768
You can see that I also made a mark where the dotted line was on my template.

Using that mark, I used a the end of a mechanical pencil (lead retracted) to put a score line into my card stock. That will make for a better fold.

If you aren’t familiar with scoring- it’s a basic process that pushes down the fibers of the paper, and encourages the paper to fold on that mark. Since I am folding diagonally across a sheet of card stock, the score line makes a big difference.

After I have scored both sides of the cover, I use the smooth end of the pencil to burnish (flatten) the fold.

I then used the Page Template to cut out a total of 12 hearts, folded them in half, and made two stacks of 6. These will be the inside pages of our two halves of my heart book.

I took one stack and lined it up with the fold on one side of my cover.

I made a tiny snip in the bottom fold of the cover and pages to secure my string.

I cut two pieces of string/ribbon, 12″ each, and wrapped one around the cover and pages on each side, following the fold.

Then I tied the string firmly in a knot at the top of each heart, binding the heart books together, and leaving me enough extra sting to tie the book closed.

Once you close the pages and tie the book up you have a lovely two-part book to decorate and fill with love.


You can write all the things you admire about your best friend, your sister, your daughter…

and if you’re lucky you’ll read something just as special in the other half of the book.

Because Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romantic love- it’s time to show your appreciation of all the people around you.

But hey, if your Valentine is more of the romantic variety,  that’s okay too.


SHOW + TELL : Paper to Petals Book

Since we’re still a little ways off from real flowers, I’ve been finding myself thinking more and more about the paper version. I thought I would share this beautiful book with you.

Paper to Petals is an amazing collection of vibrant paper flowers that’s sure to impress even the most weather weary. It’s quite hefty, and packed full of tons of beautiful inspiration.

But, it’s not just a coffee table book. The back has tutorials for all of the flowers, and details about tools, materials, and methods– all so beautifully laid out that they are almost as compelling as the flowers themselves.

I’m not much for following tutorials, but the details are extremely useful for learning new methods of working with paper. 

I also sometimes use this book as inspiration for my illustrations. I love the graphic nature of the flower shapes they build.

All in all, this is a wonderful book- full of inspiration, instruction, and eye candy. You can pick it up at your local bookstore, or on Amazon (Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand)

DIY: Nearly Free Fringe Flowers


When I saw what my new Shredding Scissors could do, I started brainstorming, and pulled out my handy dandy paper flower book. (Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand)

Most of their flowers use crepe paper, but I decided to try out a basic fringed flower with catalog pages that I had nearby to make multicolored, Nearly Free Fringe Flowers. (I usually use instruction books like this for inspiration and reference rather than following their tutorials.)

They were quick and easy, and I like the edgier look of the printed paper (compared to the bright soft dyed flowers I usually make.)


• Fringe or Shredding Scissors – You could also fringe with regular scissors, but where’s the fun in that?
• Colorful Catalog pages from the recycling bin
• Regular Scissors
Floral Wire
• Wire Cutters
Floral Tape
OPTIONAL – Some sort of base. I used a baby food jar and a square of fabric or paper.

Droopy Flowers

I cut one catalog page into a 4″-5″ strip, then folded that strip in half. (I tried to choose pages that were heavy with one color on the front and back, so that the flower had a more consistent coloring.)

I used the fringing scissors to cut towards the fold, and left about 1/4 inch of the fold uncut.

I then cut a length of wire (about 24″) and folded it half gently to leave a little loop of wire at the top.

Starting at one end, I began to wrap my fringed strip of paper around the loop…

pulling it tight as I went.

Once I rolled the whole thing up, I secured the bottom of the paper with floral tape.

(A word on floral tape- if you haven’t worked with it before, it can be a little tricky. Most typed only become sticky when they are stretched, which means as you wrap it around the stem, you will want to pull it taut. If you’re having trouble, cut the tape and try holding it a different way. I typically hold the roll of tape in my left hand, and pull it firmly while spinning the flower stem in my right hand. Also, not all brands of floral tape are created alike. this one was a recommendation from a flower pro.)

I kept wrapping the stem all the way to the bottom, and voila…

a droopy paper flower! (Instructions for the base to follow.)

Puffball Flowers

To make the fluffier flowers, I started much the same way, with a 4″-5″ strip of paper. Again I fringed it, leaving a little uncut in the center.

I left the strip unfolded, and rolled it up.

Once it was completely rolled, I secured the center with a length of wire (Approx. 24″). I twisted the wire to tighten it around the paper roll.

Then I fluffed up the paper to make a poof, and wrapped the whole stem in floral tape.

I happened to have a few clean baby food jars around, so I used them as a base. I just cut a square of fabric (or wet paper) and pulled it firmly up around the jar and flower. Then I secured the top with wire.

IMG_5416They turned out very whimsical, and I won’t feel bad about tossing them when it’s time to dust.


I especially like the way they look with these pieces by Kate Endle.

IMG_5541See! Fun, Fringed, and nearly Free!

TOOLBOX: Shredding (or Fringe) Scissors are too much fun.

My Christmas list is getting kinda boring. Well, not boring to me, but maybe to anyone who wants to get me something other than a book (on making stuff) or a tool (to make stuff with.)

This year I got a big ole pair of Shredding Scissors.

Also called “Fringe Scissors” in the crafting/scrapbooking community, these suckers are basically 5 pairs of scissors bolted together. Practically, they can be used to shred documents (without using an electric shredder). Less practically you can (and will) turn anything…

into confetti.

I got them for the ability to fringe paper quickly and consistently for my crafty projects. (Example coming soon.)

Things to love

• It’s pretty easy to get a consistent fringe by eye.
• Turns colorful trash paper into a craft supply!
• Gives you more control than a paper shredder. Plus it’s smaller, quieter and easier to store. (I’ll be using these to shred paper for paper making.)
• They seem pretty heavy duty, and the blades line up almost perfectly.
• The sense of power you get from using 5 sets of scissor blades at once. Also, Edward Scissorhands themed imagination trips.


Things to Hate

• They do seem to get plugged up pretty easily. Most of the pieces can be pushed out by closing the scissors all the way, but a few will have to be pulled out with your little fingers.
• Cutting with 5 sets of scissor blades takes as much force as cutting with five pairs of scissors. My hands got tired pretty quickly. They are also pretty heavy to hold in your delicate artist hands for a long period of time.

All in all, they are a hit! I love having another multifunctional compact tool to use, and I’ve already got another tutorial headed your way.