Foaming soap pump makeovers

We like foaming hand soap in our house (see the previous post for just one of the reasons why). For kids, it’s less messy than bar soap, and it pumps out, spreads and rinses off easier than regular liquid soap. We even use it in shampoo form – more suds for the hair and less running into the eyes.

Seeing two empty pump bottles laying around made me wonder if we could re-fill them with our own home-made version. And guess what? All it takes is just a portion of liquid soap mixed with water. We filled our pump containers about an eighth full of regular liquid soap and filled them the rest of the way with water. Voila! Turns out the technology isn’t in the soap formula, but in the pump itself.

I’m so happy we discovered this. Now a bottle of regular soap lasts us so much longer, and each amount of soap costs a fraction of what it did before.

Extra fun: I peeled off the labels on our used soap pumps and gave them each a makeover. See the “before” photo here. The colorful one above is for Chloe’s bathroom and the black and white one below is for ours.

Update: Even though I used “permanent” Sharpie markers, the ink actually comes off if scraped too hard. They’d probably last longer if sprayed with a fixative. I wonder what would be a better medium? Some sort of paint?

Floral designs inspired by Sandra Isaksson.


Making Appliqued Onesies

A couple weeks ago my neighbor had a yard sale where we bought four used onesies for 25¢ each. She has two boys, so most of the colors were blues or boy-style prints. I picked out a few plainer ones, just right for adding a little something “girly.”

Inspired by the many fun appliqued designs I’ve been seeing at specialty shops, on Etsy, and on Martha Stewart, I decided to try it myself. I was considering the many packages of fancy fusibles at the fabric store when a nice sales lady introduced me to Pellon’s WonderUnder, which came paper-backed on bolts at half the price. She assured me they would work just the same

Made from leftovers of this project

Made from leftovers of this fabric

Today I looked through my scrap fabric and found two prints that I thought might work. These are the result – a single pink flower (left over from this Tokyo tie bag project) and a selection of smaller flowers (from this fabric). According to the Pellon instruction sheet, the items can be washed and tumble dried on low, but I eventually decided to hand-sew the edge around the pink one, knowing just how often that might occur. An easy and almost instant face-lift.

Get directions for Martha’s Dog Appliqued Onesie here.

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Free from Starbucks – Coffee Grounds

I asked David to do the unthinkable today and stop at Starbucks. All this grey cold and rain has made me a little blue and I sorely needed a perk-me-up. Thus the power of a (decaf) caramel macchiato.

Near our house is a really cool old building that used to be a drive-thru Coffee People until Starbucks bought them out and shut them down. I’ll admit, however, they did a really nice remodel, and managed to keep the building’s original shape. Plus, the new cafe has a cozy indoor seating area that the old one didn’t. Anyway, on our way out David noticed a bin underneath the counter that had bags marked “free.” I asked David how in the world he noticed them down there and he said something to the effect that he has a sixth sense when it comes to free stuff. I think that is true. The bags contained used coffee grounds, something that I’ve heard a lot about since learning to gardening a few years ago.

Although we save our grounds to compost, we would never be able to acquire the scale of grounds that Starbucks’ must produce in a single day. We took two bags. Here’s what the label says (although their’s is written in all caps. Someone needs to tell them that they don’t need to yell):

Used Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds are a nutritional additive for your soli. During the brewing prodess most of the acidity is removed, leaving used grounds with an average PH of 6.9 and a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 20-1.

Add grounds directly to your garden…
Apply this “green” material as a side dressing to nitrogen-loving plants, including most perennials and allium plants. Balance the nutrition of your soil with “brown” materials such as leaves or dried grass.
Or to your compost
Combine with “brown” materials in your compost pile. Use grounds within 2-3 weeks of brewing to capture the most nutritional value.

For more information on usage and benefits you can also read Sunset’s Starbucks Coffee Compost Test or visit Starbucks’ Composting page.


Recycled Gift Crafts

blog action day

In response to this year’s blog action day on the environment, I thought I’d list 7 recycled craft ideas that I really like, including links to their instructions. Besides ending up with a wonderful, handmade gift (for you or someone else!), recycling also conserves energy, natural resources, saves landfill space, and most of all, saves money! So instead of throwing away that moth eaten sweater, scratched record, old candles, and empty glass jars, use them instead to create these useful recycled crafts…

Recycled Envelopes
Make unique envelopes by recycling calendars, magazines, maps, sheet music or any other unused papers that you might have lying around. There are several places where you can download templates, including here, here or here, or you can simply find an envelope you like, unfold it and trace.

Recycled calendar kitten envelopes from kimmzy’s flickr photostream

Recycled magazine paper envelopes from janick’s flickr photostream

Recycled Sweater Crafts
I can’t resist these projects made from old sweaters. Leave it to Martha Stewart (and her staff and guests) to come up with such beautiful handmade items. Here are instructions on her website to make recycled sweater mittens (including video!), pouches, pillow covers, soft toys and stuffed animals, christmas stockings and a felted knitting basket.

Homemade Gel Air Freshener
Air fresheners are a nice way to reuse smaller glass jars from baby foods, jams, and fancy condiments. You can even learn to punch fancy lid designs by adapting this project. Add a little extra flair with descriptive labels or decorative embellishments.

gel air fresheners

Pinecone Firestarters
Cozy winter fires are so fun. I only wish our house had a fireplace! Nevertheless, its nice to use all those pinecones in our backyard for something. According to Orvis’ website, pinecone firestarters are “an environmentally friendly and totally sustainable way to start a fire,” plus “there is no messy residue because the wax burns away completely.” So save those chemically treated firestarter sticks and use these babies instead! The perfect opportunity to use up the wax from old, burnt-down candle ends. Instead of paying a small fortune at Orvis or LLBean, it’s easy to make your own firestarter gift baskets. Try these directions here, here or here.

pinecone firestarters

Melted Vinyl Record Bowl
This is a project I’ve mentioned before. These bowls are so easy and fun to make, and there are a ton of old records just waiting to be recycled in this way. Because of the hole in the center, these bowls work best for larger items like fruit, or candy, or it can be used as a catch-all for keys and wallets.

recycled record

Recycled Paint Chip Business Card Holder
I’ve also written a post on these before, but I still think it is one of the coolest projects. Plus these could be used to hold more than just business cards – maybe a tiny set of note paper or sticky notes, or a miniature stack of bookmarks made of recycled greeting cards, even toothpicks! The possibilites are endless. Instructions and templates can be found at Designverb.

recycled paint chip business card holder

Plastic Bag Messenger Bag
My husband found this video on youtube for making a messenger bag by ironing plastic bags. It’s a bit more involved, but the result is SO COOL! Check it out:


"Be Green" Promotional Materials

We recently received a promotional package in the mail from a local printer. It contained a custom folder which held a brochure on sustainability, a shopping list-sized note pad, a page of 10 “Be Green” stickers and a unique bamboo pen. It was quite a good-looking presentation. Obviously, they wanted to both promote that they are an FSC certified printer and to educate their clients about sustainability, including tree-free paper alternatives, recycled content, Green Seal certification, clean wind power, and the impacts of air polution, de-forestation and waste.

But here’s the question: Did they do a good job? I’m not just talking about the graphic design itself, but the whole package. I mean, does the piece put into practice what is being preached about sustainability?

I’ll agree that the design and presentation scored points with me, besides, who doesn’t like the occasional freebie in the mail? I certainly do. However, I’ll probably use the pen and the pad, but likely not the stickers, and the brochure, folder and mailing envelope have already found their way into the recycling bin. I wonder though, how many other people will simply throw everything away? What a waste of money and resources that would be.

When we, as designers, are asked to work on a piece touting sustainability, how far is too far and how little is not enough? Gone are the days when a “sustainable” look included a muddy duotone of green and brown on grey unbleached paper. That just isn’t (or rarely) cool. Now companies want to look “environmentally friendly,” but often that is all it is, a “look” using leafy textures and nature photographs. In practice, they want no less than full color, full bleeds (regardless of the waste from trim), and fancy varnishes, even if it would be more environmentally friendly to go without. So I ask myself, was it necessary to varnish the stickers? Were all the bleeds and die-cuts necessary, considering the wasted paper that would produce? How about the mailing envelope? Did it have to be a bubble mailer? These are just a few questions that I think responsible designers and companies can ask themselves, to see if they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Maybe the best we can ask for right now is a balance – FSC Certified/100% clean wind power credits balanced with full color, bleeds, and varnishes.

Lastly, I think part of the responsibility also falls on the consumer to make the effort as well. It takes only minutes to cancel old catalog subscriptions and opt out of “junk” mailing lists (not saying this was junk mail) whenever possible. Case in point, we received two of the promotional packages, one addressed to our company and the other specifically to my husband, so it would be our responsibility to contact the printer and let them know to drop one, so duplicates will not happen again.


Pay It Forward Craft Exchange – Part 2

I finally had some time today to follow through on my pledge to send the first three people who responded to this post a handmade gift. It’s been on my mind off and on recently, trying to decide what to make. First of all, I didn’t want to attempt something too complicated, too time consuming or create a mess that would take forever to clean up. Secondly, I didn’t want to have to purchase any new supplies, instead I wanted to try to use materials I already had on hand.

I started off with one of my old standbys, making cards, but after the third one I realized I wasn’t very enthused by how they were turning out. Then one day I was inspired by one of the blogs listed to my blog surfer. Diane Aldred, an English artist, makes really beautiful hand-bound books. They are way too fancy for me to ever attempt, but I liked the idea and began to consider how I could simplify it down to something more manageable. Also, if there is one thing that our household never lacks, it’s paper. Graphic designers just love paper. We collect it, we hoard it and more often than not, what once seemed so precious eventually just sits around gathering dust.

In the end, I decided to recycle some small 3.5 x 3.5 inch Neenah Paper samples and make them new covers. First I cut out a piece of old burgundy colored cover stock that we’ve had since college. Then, using a swivel bladed x-acto, I traced out an abstract cherry blossom design for the front. To highlight the cut-out I simply sandwiched a contrasting piece of pale yellow paper between the cover layers. Et voilà, a handmade piece was complete! And lucky Anne, she’ll even get a matching organza bag that I’m recycling from here for being the first to respond. 🙂

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