Baking for the Holidays

Cookie Cutters & Dough
As the weather turns colder, my thoughts turn to baking. The scent of home baked cookies wafting through the air is sure to be followed by the thumping footfalls of my family as they bound down the stairs in search of something sweet from the oven. I have to admit I love it too and have sampled more than a few of my own creations.

In addition to satisfying your family, baked goods make great gifts for guests, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Below are several ideas for inspiration.

Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread Cookies
These charming gingerbread cookies are served on an equally adorable pinwheel candy plate. They’re easy to make, or you can buy plain ones and apply your own colorful candy and icing decorations.

Gingerbread Houses
Gingerbread Houses
Everyone loves home baked goods. How about baked goods that require no baking at all (at least on your part)? Gingerbread kits come in a number of varieties, such as cookies, houses, and villages, and include all the necessary candies, icing, and yes the baked gingerbread too. The whole family will enjoy building and eating their creations.

Traditional Christmas Cookies
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Decked out in green, red and white icing, these cookies celebrate Christmas in the sweetest possible way.  If you have a long list of people to bake for, get the whole family involved with the decorating to speed up the process in this fun activity.

Assorted Butter Cookies
Gourmet Butter Cookies
Butter cookies are finger licking good. If you are pressed for time, many bakeries offer ready-made cookie platters to share with your friends and family or give as gifts.

Fancy Cookie Cut Outs
Fancy Jelly Filled Cookie
This elegant cookie looks professionally made, but it’s actually quite easy to make yourself. All you need are two cookie cutters – one large round with scalloped edges, and the second in the shape of a swan or any design you prefer. Layer two large cookies on top of each other, with strawberry or raspberry filling, to make this sandwich cookie. The bottom cookie is solid, while the top cookie has a swan cut out in the center. Shake powdered sugar on top for a beautiful bakery finish.

Iced Snowman Cookies
Iced Snowman Cookies
Snowmen are seasonal favorites. These individually wrapped cookies would make great party favors for your guests. If you have extra, they’re popular items at the school bake sales. Of course that assumes your family doesn’t finish them off first. (lol)

Holiday Cookie & Candy Platter
Holiday Cookie & Candy Platter
Homemade cookies & candy go hand in hand. This creative assortment tantalizes the taste buds. Should I have a cookie first or dive into the chocolates? There are plenty of candy mold designs suitable for any occasion, and new flavors in candy melts will please the most adventuresome candy aficionados.

Assorted Homemade Breads
Assorted Homemade Breads
Breads are delicious any time of year. With so many recipes and the ease of baking, anyone can make homemade bread in less than an hour. Crafter Tip: Many types of bread need to be fully cooled, and sometimes refrigerated before slicing. To prevent crumbling, be sure to follow the recipe instructions.

Christmas Petits Fours
Christmas Petit Fours
Petits Fours are the perfect marriage of cake and candy. Fondant icing is actually candy used to cover bite size cubes of yellow, sponge or pound cake. While the fondant is still wet, decorations can be applied using piped icing, or a sprinkling of either candy or nuts. As an added burst of flavor, jelly or butter cream can be spread over the cake prior to applying the fondant.

Snowman Cupcakes
Snowman Cupcakes
These snowman and snowlady cupcakes are almost too cute to eat. The bodies are standard size cupcakes, and the heads are mini cupcakes. Coconut is the perfect substitute for snow. Oreos become top hats for the gentlemen, and piped icing details create all the smiling faces and earmuffs for the ladies.

Hanukkah Donuts
Hanukkah Donuts
It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without deep-fried jelly donuts sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Cranberry Rhubarb Pie
Cranberry Rhubarb Pie
Cranberries play a large part in many holidays. There’s cranberry sauce as a side item with your meal, cranberry garlands and sprigs as decorative touches, and cranberry muffins and pies.

Whether you bake everything from scratch, or supplement your desserts with store-bought items, the holidays are a time of sharing, especially at mealtime. Enjoying the seasonal flavors with loved ones is something we all have in common.

Happy Holidays & Happy Crafting!

How to Make a Painted Wooden Snowman

Snowman Closeup Photo
Fall hasn’t officially come to a close, and yet we’ve already had record-breaking cold temperatures, and an unexpected snowstorm. Why not build a snowman that will never melt? This is a simple, inexpensive project for the whole family. I made two snowmen to display in my living room windows.

Unfinished Wood
It all starts with unfinished wood snowmen, purchased at AC Moore.

Snowmen Painted White
Spray paint all sides, edges and base with white paint.

Painted Details
With an artist’s paintbrush, add the details (buttons, eyes, and a smile) with black paint.  Instead of painting the details, you could hot glue round and square plastic buttons, and draw the smile with a Sharpie marker.

Hats Scarves & Carrots
Accessorize with hats and scarves. If you enjoy crocheting, you can quickly create this fashionable look with whatever color yarn you have on hand. Bright red is a great seasonal color, and reads well from a distance. If needlework is not your thing, craft stores have snowman building kits and accessories. For the nose, I created the look of a carrot by squeezing a foam, packing peanut into the correct shape, and painting it with bright orange acrylic paint.  Use hot glue to attach carrot nose.

Stick Arms
Making the arms is as easy as collecting a few sticks from your yard, and attaching them to the sides. You could glue them in place. I decided to use self-stick Velcro instead, because I wanted the arms to be removable for easy storage.

White Lights
I’m sure by now you’ve been wondering about those pre-drilled holes around the perimeter. They were made to hold a strand of twenty white lights, also available at AC Moore. Crafter Tip: The lights can only be pushed through from one side of the wood frame. You may need to secure the last light at the bottom with a piece of tape to keep it from pulling out from the weight of the electrical cord.

Lights at night
I turned off the flash on my camera to give you an idea of how these cute little snowmen look when lit at night. When the holidays are over, these snowmen can remain on display throughout the winter to bring a little whimsy to your home’s decor.

As an additional aside, I made these snowmen two-sided. Because they are standing on a windowsill, they can be seen from inside and outside. The lights can only be seen from one side, but seeing that smiling face when I walk by the window makes me smile too.

Happy Crafting!

Holiday Food Presentation

Raw Food
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends? As you know, it’s one of the most stressful holidays of the year. The house needs to be cleaned, guest rooms prepared, and recipes tested for side dishes, hors d’oeuvres, entrees and desserts.

Turkey Dinner
It is said presentation is everything. Once the food is prepared, how will it be served? Are you planning to have a sit down dinner or buffet style? Is one main table enough or do you need a separate table for the kids? Do you have enough serving platters, bowls, and utensils? Food should not only taste good, but it needs to look appealing as well. Capture your guests’ attention and stimulate their appetites with these food presentation ideas.

Dining with an Incredible View
Dining with an Incredible View
If your home has an outstanding view – ocean, lake, mountains, forest, garden, cityscape, etc. – seize the opportunity to showcase the view and your fabulous food by placing your table accordingly.

Dual Purpose Decor
Ceramic Pumpkins
This dining table centerpiece features a trio of ceramic pumpkins with matching leaf-shaped appetizer plates. Be sure to have plenty of coordinating coasters on hand to protect your fine wood surfaces.

Happy Hour – Beer & Cocktails
Happy Hour – Beer & Cocktails

Food Becomes Art
Food Becomes Art
These acorns, berries, and leaves have been artfully arranged upon the beautiful wood grain of a large cutting board. This would be a perfect setting to serve a dish of appetizers in the center.

Finger Foods
Appetizers

Fancy Appetizers
Fancy Appetizers

Natural Serving Pieces
Natural Serving Pieces
Everyone knows you can eat pumpkins, but why not use them to serve soups and dips?

Make Your Own Salad Bar
Salad Bar

Store-Bought Salad Platter
Store-Bought Salad Platter
With so many dishes to make, sometimes it’s just easier to let your local grocery store prepare a few items to save you time, while still making an impressive dish. If you want your guests to think it’s homemade, place the plastic store plate on top of a larger serving platter, and conceal the plastic rim with a vegetable garnish as shown.

Casual & Stylish Family Buffet
Casual & Stylish Family Buffet

Meat & Potatoes with a Twist
Meat & Potatoes with a Twist
Thick cuts of beef are layered over sprigs of green herbs and topped with baby golden potatoes on this hearty platter.

Food Safety for Chargers
Food Safety for Chargers
You’ll notice in this photo that a charger is mistakenly being used as a serving platter for a chicken dinner. Food Safety Tip: These resin or metal plates are for decorative use only – they are NOT FOOD SAFE. Food should not come into direct contact with the charger. Instead, set another smaller plate on top to hold the food (especially hot items), or line it with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, a paper doily, or wax paper.

Veggies Galore
Veggies Galore

And let’s not forget the most anticipated part of the meal…

The Desserts
The Dessert Table
Besides the delicious choices, there’s a lot going on in this set up. Chocolate truffles have been placed in the center of cheerful yellow silk flowers. Chocolate mousse and vanilla bean custard are adorned with confectionary sprinkles and topped with tiny yellow bows tied to spoons. Cake stands have been used to achieve varying heights. Autumn flowers in a mixture of glass jars and bowls create the perfect balance in this inviting and delectable presentation.

Multi-Tiered Dessert Display
Multi-Tiered Dessert Display
Dilemma: Which confection to try first? Solution: I’ll have one of each please!

Desserts by Mother Nature
Desserts by Mother Nature
Carved fruit is a real attention getter. Carving kits or the right knife make it easier to create a breathtaking display that’s almost too pretty to eat…almost.

Dining by Candle Light
Dining by Candle Light
Don’t forget to consider the lighting for your guests’ dining pleasure. There’s a reason why many restaurants have dimmed lighting and lit candles upon the tables. The warm, cozy ambiance stimulates your appetite and invites you to relax and enjoy.

Traditional Holiday Fare
Traditional Holiday Fare
We eat with our eyes first. With creative planning, having a dinner party can be an enjoyable and successful event for everyone, including the hosts. Choose your menu, set the stage, and let the curtain rise on a spectacular meal to the resounding cheers of your guests. You’ve got this!

Happy Holidays & Happy Crafting!

A Kid Friendly Thanksgiving

Kids Playing
From a child’s point of view, Thanksgiving dinners can be really dull. All that hugging and kissing from relatives they never knew they had, and then they have to sit at the dreaded “Kids’ Table.” Borrrring! With a few creative changes, even the kids will be thankful at your next holiday meal.

Friendly Competition – Hunting for Treasure
Speckled Eggs
For those living in warmer climates, fresh air, a little exercise, and some friendly competition could be just the right combo to entertain the kids. Everyone has heard of an Easter egg hunt. Start a new tradition by having a Turkey egg hunt. Plastic eggs are easy to come by, and tiny toys or candies can be hidden inside. If you can’t find eggs, write numbers on brightly colored rubber balls, where each number corresponds to a prize.

Children Love Coloring
A Child Coloring
Coloring Option 1: Instead of using a standard tablecloth, cover the kid’s table with a thick sheet of paper. Banner paper, which is sold in 24” x 75 ft rolls, can be spread across the tabletop and secured in place. Sharpened, soft-lead, colored pencils will enable young guests to doodle to their hearts’ content.

Coloring Books – Staying in the Lines…or not
Coloring Book
Coloring Option 2: Coloring books come in many themes and sizes, with age-appropriate challenges, and perforated pages for easy tear out. Crayons are great for the younger kids, while the older ones will appreciate colored pencils or markers. The finished drawings can be presented to all the guests. Prizes are optional. Crafter Tip: To ensure markers do not damage your table, use a vinyl table cover.

Video Games
Video Games
If your kids love video games, this will keep them occupied for hours. You might have to pry them away for dinner. Adults are hooked on gaming as well, so this could be an activity for guests of all ages.

In terms of food that will appeal to children, you may want to consider the following suggestions as either appetizers or as the kids’ main course.

Chicken Nuggets are a Food Favorite
Chicken Nuggets
Finger foods are so much easier to handle and no utensils are required.

Creatively Wrapped Mini Hot Dogs
Pigs in Blanket
Also known as Pigs in a Blanket, these mini hot dogs have been wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent rolls. Note the bottom row is decorated as mummies, which you may have seen on television. With a few minor adjustments – add a ketchup beak and a jagged edge above and below the face – the top row resembles baby turkeys hatching from eggs. See photo below for a simpler wrap. (Crafter Tip: Use mayonnaise for the eyeballs. The pupils can be made with pepper or mustard.)

Simply Wrapped Mini Hot Dogs
Pigs in Blanket
Pigs in a Blanket are easy to make and easy to eat.

Macaroni & Cheese
Mac And Cheese
Any kid’s menu would be incomplete without Mac & Cheese. Better make extra because as you know adults love it too!

Making dessert a memorable occasion requires very little effort… and don’t be surprised if the adults want to join in the fun.

Fanciful Ice Cream
 Ice Cream
This dessert is sure to make everyone smile, and it’s incredibly easy. All you need is a sugar cone, a single scoop of ice cream, sliced fruit and a few M &M’s chocolate candies. Mint leaves and a flower are optional garnishes, or use additional pieces of candy instead.

Decorate Your Own Cookies
Gingerbread Cookies
Kids are naturally creative. Feed their artistic ability with a basket of plain cookies, tubes of icing and candies like the ones shown below.

Mini Candies, Marsh Mallows & Rainbow Colored Sprinkles
Candies
Sweet confections, perfect for cookie decorating, are “glued” in place with icing.

Cookie Party Favors
Cookie Bag
Decorated cookies can be eaten then and there, or wrapped in plastic bags to take home. Wilton sells special bags as party favors, but simple zip lock bags will work just as well.

Dinner parties require a lot of planning, great food, and our family and friends. Don’t forget to include a few perks for the little ones. When the kids are happy, everyone is happy.

Happy Crafting!

Thanksgiving Décor Made Easy

Colors of the Season
Fall Leaves
Just about every family in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. When you are the host of this annual feast, a lot of planning and preparation is required to ensure it will be a delicious and enjoyable occasion for all. The party starts upon arrival and ends when the last hugs are exchanged and tearful waving as the cars pull away with promises to come back again next year.

What kind of atmosphere do you want to create for this celebration? A few decorative items can really set the stage for your family feast. Let autumn’s colors, red, orange, green, and yellow, inspire your Thanksgiving décor.

Outdoor Decorations
Outdoor Fall Display
Seasonal gourds, corn and apples can be artfully arranged by the front door, or in a corner of your deck or patio. To ensure longevity, be sure to keep produce out of direct sun and away from fire pits.

Autumn’s Bountiful Harvest
Autumn’s Bountiful Harvest
Give those left over Halloween pumpkins new life in a Thanksgiving display. Mother Nature provides the fallen leaves, or substitute with handfuls of straw for a festive look.

A Colorful Welcoming Entrance
Outdoor Decor
Don’t miss an opportunity to create a festive entryway to your home. Decorate an existing bench or cozy front porch with attractive pots or baskets of chrysanthemums, pumpkins, and cabbage plants.

Seasonal Fall Wreath
Fall Wreath
Greet your guests at the door with a lovely fall wreath. To make one, start with a grapevine wreath base. Tie or glue on gourds, pinecones and berries. As an added burst of color, glue red and green silk leaves on poster board and secure it to the back of the wreath.

Holiday décor differs based upon many factors: geographic location – beachside versus mountaintop; venue – urban loft apartment versus rural farmhouse; your personal style: traditional versus contemporary or something in between, etc. Below are several design ideas to spark your creativity.

Traditional Thanksgiving Cornucopia Centerpiece
Traditional Thanksgiving Cornucopia Centerpiece
A few candles and a set of mini lights add sparkle and ambiance to this festive centerpiece. If burning candles makes you nervous, you can opt for the flameless variety. New technological advances have produced a very realistic appearance of flickering flames. Many are made with scented wax, have been molded with lines of “dripping” wax down the sides, and operate via remote control.

Farmhouse Chic Centerpiece
Farmhouse Chic Centerpiece
This display creates a more casual atmosphere. The wicker basket and two hammered metal tankards set amongst a mixture of fruit and veggies are the focal point on a picnic table with plenty of room for the extended family and friends.

Fruitful Harvest
Fruitful Harvest
A sculptural glass bowl of fruit serves as an artful centerpiece and it’s edible.

Elegant Traditional Place Setting
Elegant Traditional Place Setting
Place settings can impress even the most discriminating family members. If you have a metallic gold sharpie marker, you could write each person’s name on the tiny white pumpkins, which become party favors for your guests to take home after enjoying a delicious meal.

Chargers, such as the gold one shown in the photo above, are decorative plates typically used as colorful accents for laying dishes. There are two types of chargers sold at craft stores. The first tends to be round plates in solid colors, metallic finishes, or vintage prints. The second type is very decorative, including embellishments such as rhinestones and hammered metal finishes. Food Safety Tip: Chargers are for decorative use only – they are Not Food Safe.

From Vineyard to Table Decor
From Vineyard to Table Decor
If being non traditional is more your style, choose a different color scheme to celebrate the bounty of the season. How about blues, purples, and greens from the vineyard? Wine is typically a part of every big celebration. Why not use it as the inspiration for your holiday décor? Knock tradition off its feet with this colorful twist.

Contemporary Urban Glam
Contemporary Urban Glam
Are you passionate about having a lot of bling in your holiday decor? How about this sequined tablecloth, deep orchid napkins, silver plates, and bejeweled napkin rings? The table cover could be an expensive item, but a trip to the fabric store will save you a bundle. Little details make such a difference. Embellish plain napkin rings with rhinestones, beads, berries or flowers. If time is short, Pier 1 has a large selection of ornate napkin rings.

Exotic Blue Peacock
Exotic Blue Peacock Place Setting
Using peacock feathers for inspiration, this table setting features a matching runner and chair sashes. If you are comfortable with sewing, both items can be easily made for use with an existing white tablecloth and dining chairs. The sashes are tied to the seat backs in simple bows, turning standard folding chairs into fashionable seating. Brown wicker chargers beautifully offset the bright blue napkins. Green glassware and a few well-placed peacock feathers complete the design.

Combining Old & New
Combining Old & New
Transitional is a blending of traditional elements, such as the floral arrangement and orange-rimmed dishes, with a contemporary flair – maroon napkins creatively folded to create an exotic flower and wrapped in gold leaf-shaped napkin rings; matching placemats; and coordinating gold and maroon glass beads scattered upon the table.

Beachside Centerpiece
Beach Centerpiece
If you live at the beach, the bountiful harvest focuses upon the ocean, and your celebration may look something like this. Fire and water is always a mesmerizing combo. Place floating candles in clear glass containers with attractive pebbles or sea glass in the bottom. Set in a tray with sand and a few seashells for a lovely seaside centerpiece.

Traditional Thanksgiving Table with Wine & Flowers
Traditional Thanksgiving Table with Wine & Flowers
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, may it bring you and yours a very happy, and love filled holiday to be remembered fondly for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving & Happy Crafting!

Chocolate – How Sweet It Is

I have a confession to make – researching this article made my mouth water, and I realized it should probably contain a warning, so here it is: If you don’t have a craving for chocolate right now, you will by the time you finish reading this post. You might want to have some chocolate on hand before you continue reading. Grab some Hershey’s kisses, or break open a bag of chocolate chips – anything will do – just in case!

Assorted Chocolates
Assorted Chocolates
Chocolate is a worldwide obsession. Everybody has a favorite. The purists prefer their chocolate free of any added ingredients. Some crave nuts, caramel, or coconut with chocolate, but others passionately insist peanut butter and chocolate make the ultimate combo. While the debate continues, candy makers tantalize the chocolate-loving public with their latest creations. It all starts with a seed…

Seeds Growing upon Cacao Trees
Cacao
Turning cacao seeds into the delicious chocolate treats, we have come to adore, is time consuming. For the DIY candy makers, manufacturers have simplified the process by creating small chocolate wafers called candy melts, which are available in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and assorted flavors, such as peppermint and strawberry.

Milk Chocolate Candy Melts
Milk Chocolate Candy Melts

Melted Milk Chocolate
Melted Milk Chocolate
Chocolate is melted in a double boiler. When it reaches a smooth, creamy consistency, it can be poured into molds similar to the one shown below.

Milk Chocolate Hearts
Milk Chocolate Hearts
After refrigeration, the chocolates are unmolded and ready to eat. The solid milk chocolate hearts in the above photo are the easiest, beginner-level of chocolate candy making.

Assorted Gourmet Chocolates
Assorted Gourmet Chocolates
With practice and a little creativity, you can graduate to the next level.

Chocolate Truffles
Chocolate Truffles
Do you have a gourmet sweet tooth? Chocolatiers, such as Lindt, and Godiva, are excellent choices, but can be expensive. Making these decadent truffles takes a little more effort, but it’s still an easy process. Instead of filling the mold all at once, it is done in layers. The first layer forms the outer chocolate shell. Coat the mold with chocolate. Next the filling is added. Popular favorites are hazelnuts, butter cream, peanut butter, caramels, chocolate liqueurs and cream fillings. A piping bag can be used to make filling easier. Refrigerate the mold to allow the filling and chocolate to solidify. The last step is adding another layer of chocolate to fill any remaining voids and seal the top of the mold. Refrigerate and carefully un-mold. Your candy making skills will be the envy of all your friends and family.

If gourmet chocolate isn’t your style, there are simpler options…

Chocolate & Vanilla Fudge
Chocolate & Vanilla Fudge

Assorted Chocolate Barks
Assorted Chocolate Barks

Crispy Chocolate Caramel Bar
Crispy Chocolate Caramel Bar
Have you ever eaten a 100Grand candy bar? It’s a delicious combination of crispy chocolate with a gooey caramel center. Making your own is simple: Melt milk chocolate wafers and stir in Rice Krispies. Spread half the mixture in an 8×8 pan. Pour caramel sauce over the top, and then cover with the remaining chocolate mixture. Refrigerate to harden the chocolate and cut into bars. Don’t be surprised if the pan magically empties.

Chocolate Covered Cookie
Chocolate Covered Cookie

Chocolate Covered Marshmallows
Chocolate Marshmallow

Chocolate Covered Cake Pops
Chocolate Covered Cake Pops
Undecided whether to have chocolate or cake? Have both with chocolate cake pops.

Chocolate Covered Apples
Chocolate Covered Apples
If soft, gooey, caramel and decadent chocolate were people, they would be best friends. For gourmet apples, dip fruit in caramel first, followed by chocolate, and roll in sprinkles, crushed nuts, or anything else your taste buds desire.

Chocolate Caramel Popcorn
Chocolate Caramel Popcorn
What more do you need on movie night?

Hot Chocolate & Red Velvet Cake
Hot Chocolate & Red Velvet Cake
Perhaps beverages are more to your liking? There’s no need to wait for cold weather. Crank up the air conditioner, we’re having hot chocolate!

Chocolate Fudge Pie
Chocolate Fudge Pie

Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mousse
Who could resist the rich, creamy taste of chocolate mousse?

Brownie a la Mode
Brownie a la Mode

Solid Chocolate Cell Phone
Solid Chocolate Cell Phone
No phone plan is needed here. Hold all my calls! This is going to take a while.

Happy Crafting!!

Who’s Behind The Mask?

Red Feathered MaskIt’s hard to believe the month of October is half over. Thoughts of my favorite time of year, Halloween, come to mind. I suppose I’m just a big kid at heart. Dressing up was so much fun. Deciding what to be for Halloween was a major accomplishment. Sometimes the costume was store bought (e.g. Snow White, Peter Pan), while other times we made our own (e.g. Gypsy, Witch).

Purple & Gold Mardi Gras Mask
Purple Gold MaskAll you really need is a great mask. Craft stores sell a variety of white masks to decorate any way you please. In terms of comfort, the quarter masks are an easy solution, as opposed to latex masks, sold in Halloween stores, which can be very hot to wear.

Red Sequined Mask and White Floral Mask
 Red & White MasksMasks can be decorated with a particular theme in mind or for holiday celebrations, such as Carnival, Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, and the Chinese New Year. Each finished mask is a beautiful work of wearable art.

Turquoise & Gold Feathered Mask
Turquoise & Gold Feathered MaskI look at this mask and think of Aqua Man, the Marvel Comic’s super hero. It is also reminiscent of the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade. The rich details and vibrant colors are real showstoppers.

Red, Black & Gold Long Nose Joker Mask
Red, Black & Gold Long Nose Joker MaskThis mask has a devilish quality about it. Practical jokes are sure to follow.

Black & Gold Opera/Theater Masks
Black & Gold Opera/Theater MasksMusical notes and gold braided trim adorn these fanciful masks.

Antiqued Cat Mask
Antiqued Cat MaskPerky ears and delicate patterns make this mask a favorite among cat lovers.

Blue & Gold Asian Mask
Blue & Gold Asian MaskA lovely combination of two arts – mask making and fan decorating.

Assorted Feathered & Bejeweled Masks
Assorted Feathered & Bejeweled MasksThis assortment of masks is ready to be worn in celebration or displayed as artwork and party decor.

Black & Gold and All White Feathered Masks
Black & Gold and All White Feathered MasksFeathered masks tend to be the most flamboyant.

Red & Black Harlequin Mask
Red & Black Harlequin MaskThe visual impact of this red, black and gold mask is enhanced with light catching glitter and thick gold trim. A few faux gemstones are the perfect finishing touch.

Ornate Venetian Masks
Ornate Venetian MasksMasks made to celebrate the Carnival of Venice are among the most elaborately decorated with lavish brocade fabrics, ribbons, crystals, intricately hand painted designs, and touches of gold or silver leaf. This centuries old technique has influenced artists world wide, and is highly valued among collectors.

For a more practical, down-to-earth approach, below are the instructions to complete your own decorated mask.

How To Make Your Own Mask
Your project starts with a visit to the craft store. The mask you choose will be the most important decision because it determines the range of decorating possibilities.

Plain White Quarter Mask – Ready for Decorating
Plain White Quarter Mask – Ready for DecoratingMost craft stores have several style options. Because this was a first attempt at decorating a mask, this simple white quarter mask was chosen.

Mask – Painted Blue and Outlined with Rhinestones
Mask - Painted Blue and Outlined with RhinestonesThe mask was spray-painted royal blue. Fabric stores have beaded and rhinestone trims perfect for mask decorating. The rhinestones twinkle in the light, calling attention to the wearer’s face with an emphasis on the eyes. As shown, the mask is ready to wear, but let’s take it to the next level.

Black Feathers on a Foam Backer
Black Feathers on a Foam BackerThis mask was made as a wall decoration, so the back will not be seen. (If you plan to wear your mask, simply glue the feathers directly onto the back of the mask, and line it with felt for comfort.) To make the wall art, trace the mask onto a sheet of black foam, which is used as mask liner to hold and support the feathers. The eyes and lower shape of the mask are cut out using an Exacto knife.

The Opposite Side of the Foam Backer
The Opposite Side of the Foam BackerThis photo shows the wrong side of the foam sheet used as a liner or backer board for the feathers. The bottom of the foam and eye openings line up perfectly with the blue mask, but the upper portion of the foam extends upward like a crown to support the feathers.

The Finished Black Feather Mask
The Finished Black Feather MaskLuxurious black feathers and sparkling rhinestones stand in sharp contrast to the rich royal blue on this completed mask.

Take a walk on the wild side. Dress up, stay in character, and most importantly have fun. Mask making isn’t just for kids. It’s for the child within all of us!

Happy Crafting!

Halloween Magic – How to Make a Bewitching Centerpiece

Witch Flying Across Full Moon
The movie Hocus Pocus is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, inspiring witch themed costumes and decorations. Whether you’re having a Halloween party or simply decorating for the fun of it, a centerpiece is a must for the coffee or dining tables. Below are step-by-step instructions and photos for building your own, one piece at a time.

Close Up: Witch Boots
The Inspiration – As with all creative projects, the first requirement is a source of inspiration. This pair of witch’s boots is sold at Michaels. Although smaller than expected, it still has a spooky vibe. The style varies slightly, but all are black with a silver spider painted on each side. Having a pair of boots is nice, however it’s one piece and can’t be separated. If you prefer a more humorous impression, many stores sell individual witch boots painted in bright, fanciful colors and patterns.

Witch Boots
Step 1. Witch’s Boots – Centered upon this coffee table, these boots look quite sparse, but we’ve only just begun.

Boots with Floral Stems & Owl
Step 2. Floral Stems & Owl – For color and texture, the key to this design is choosing strange looking plants in autumn, Halloween colors. Here we have added leafy vines with plush mini pumpkins, and orange lanterns. Bend the stems as needed to adjust the height. Crafter Tips: Do not cut the stems because you may need to adjust the height at the end when the arrangement is complete. (You may not need to cut them at all, simply conceal the bent stems inside the boots). The owl, made from twigs, was already mounted on a long stick for easy placement.

Boots & Pumpkin
Step 3. Jack-O-Lantern – Orange and black – the perfect color combo for Halloween. This resin pumpkin includes optional lighting. High contrast and a brilliant punch of color lend visual interest to this asymmetrical composition. Instead of a pumpkin, you could use a round platter or globe, resembling the full moon, or a light color witch’s broom to contrast with the dark boots.

Boots, Pumpkin & Owl
Step 4. Ceramic Owl – Contemporary details with an eerie presence make this owl a perfect addition by contributing color, light, and texture. Moss green and tan coordinate with the autumn vines and leaves. Feather-like half moon slits in the body of the owl allow light to pass through and the opportunity to insert mini lights inside with the battery pack underneath, wrapped in black fabric. Crafter Tip: Ensure the battery pack’s on/off switch remains accessible.

Witch's Potions Decanter
Step 5. Decanter – No witch-themed display would be complete without a few unknown potions brewed with magical spells. The clear glass decanter, with four separate chambers and claw-like stoppers, provides much needed height and color on the left end of the display. A little food coloring and water becomes a scary cocktail of witch’s potions. The green color was chosen to coordinate with the other green elements. Alternatives: You could create a grouping of different size bottles or apothecary jars with strange contents inside; or add a book of “spells” and candles to capture the spooky aura. Crafter Tip: Experiment with various objects and colors, being sure to balance the composition.

Rat & Snake
Step 6. Rat & Snake – Now we need a few creepy crawlers to stir up our primal fears. A rat on top of the pumpkin seems like a natural choice, and the snake has the added bonus of implying movement, as it appears to slither along the tabletop among the objects in the centerpiece. A trip to a Halloween or craft store is sure to have plenty of options, including spiders, worms, skeleton bones, and the like. A few spider webs might kick up the spooky factor another notch.

Orange Candle
Step 7 Orange Candle & Metal Candleholder – To add height and a pop of color on the left end of the centerpiece, add an orange candlestick in a dark metal candleholder. Although the base of the holder is plain, it provides an opportunity which we will take advantage of in the next step. The candle had been stuck in a box for years, which caused the wax to curve. This works great in a Halloween project, where crooked lines are more desirable than straight ones.

Orange & Black Spider
Step 8. Orange & Black Spider – I never thought I would say these words, but this spider is actually quite beautiful. The camera flash tends to wash out the brilliant colored stripes upon the spider’s body, which is covered in tiny orange and black glass beads. The large size and imposing ready-to-strike posture are just what this display needed.

Witch's Hat
Step 9. Witch’s Hat – The pumpkin’s toothy grin becomes the witch’s face by the simple addition of a classic black hat, which frames the pumpkin’s face, adds character, and ties all pieces together into a unified Halloween theme.

Illuminated Pumpkin & Owl
Step 10. Illumination – This is the finished centerpiece with optional lights turned on inside the owl and pumpkin. It’s spooky fun just like the movie, Hocus Pocus.

Designing a Halloween centerpiece is an enjoyable process for stretching your creative muscles. Start with one piece as an inspiration and decorative items you may already own. Find different ways to use existing items by looking at things in a whole new way with your theme in mind.

Happy Halloween and Happy Crafting!

Halloween Decorating Tips

Pumpkins by CandlelightOne of my favorite holidays is Halloween. It brings back such happy memories of dressing up as a child, and the excitement has continued as an adult. Apparently many people agree, because Halloween has become the second biggest holiday of the year. Decorating your home is a fun activity for the whole family. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:

Halloween Wreath
Halloween WreathGreet your guests at the front door with a boldly decorated Halloween wreath. The humorous witch’s legs were the inspiration for the purple and black color scheme with accents of orange and white. The wire wreath frame was wrapped first with tissue paper to add bulk, and then fabric for color and texture. The witch’s legs came mounted on a dowel, which was secured to the frame. A metallic garland conceals the dowel and an owl was tied in the center using matching ribbon. The witch’s hat, ghosts, pumpkins, and spiders complete the design.

Spider Web Placemat
Spider Web Placemat

Pumpkin Placemat
Pumpkin PlacematSetting a Spooky Table – Whether you are having a Halloween party, or want to spice up your breakfast table, an inexpensive solution is layering placemats. Laser cutting technology has produced beautifully detailed, lace-like products with both style and durability. A Spider Web placemat (from Wegmans) was layered with a Metallic Finish Pumpkin placemat (from AC Moore) to create this lively place setting. The blue tablecloth peeks out from underneath like a midnight sky and creates great contrast to the orange and black. As alternatives, you could use a yellow tablecloth (think full moon) or green tablecloth (think forest).

Arachnophobia? No Problem with this tablecloth.
Spider Table CoverHalloween themed tablecloths can be difficult to find and pricey, especially for large dining room tables. There’s an easy alternative. Measure your table, and go to a fabric store, such as Jo Ann Crafts. It’s amazing to see some of the scary patterns that have been developed over the last several years. The semi-sheer fabric in the photo above is layered over a gold tablecloth I already had. If you prefer an opaque table cover, there are ghosts, skeletons and witches. Oh My! Some fabrics have entire haunted scenes emblazoned across the surface suitable for covering tables, or as wall hangings. There’s no need to hem the edges. It’s Halloween – a few ragged edges only adds to the haunted house vibe.

Inside Out Pumpkin
JackolanternGlowing Illusion Pumpkin – We are all accustomed to seeing the typical orange pumpkin with an interior that is either candlelit or dark & shadowy. That color scheme has been turned inside out by painting the outside black and the inside fluorescent orange. When placed near any light source (lamp, ceiling light, or sunlight), the result is a scary glowing pumpkin without the need for electricity or batteries. I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning co-workers have warned me about the company’s strict no candle burning policy, until they see for themselves that it’s completely empty. It’s easy to fool the eye with this illusion.

Pumpkins for All Seasons
Craft PumpkinCraft Pumpkins – If you have ever decorated your yard with live pumpkins, you probably lost a few, if not all, to squirrels, slugs or other hungry critters. Craft pumpkins look like the real thing, but are made of foam or resin, which is not on the menu for wildlife. These pumpkins are ready to display as is, or they can be carved or painted with exterior paint. Craft pumpkins are for indoor and outdoor use, inexpensive, will last years, and are nice for Thanksgiving too.

To the Bat Cave! (which in this case is a Chandelier)
Bats & OwlBats – A cluster of bats hanging over your table will surprise and delight party guests. The faux fur bodies are a simple tube shape with a slightly larger, rounded end and ears for the head. The owl in the center is from Pier 1, and the pumpkin garland is from AC Moore.

Bat Making Instructions:
Supplies:
Brown or black faux fur (from Jo Ann Crafts)
Shiny black fabric (for wings)
Fishing tackle
Sewing needle and black thread
Foam filler or batting
Cardboard (for pattern making)

Bat Wing & Body Patterns
Bat PatternsMake patterns for the body and wings as follows:
Draw a thick capital letter “T” on cardboard – vertically 6” x 2”; top of “T” is 4”x 1” thick.
Carefully cut it out. This will be the pattern for the bat’s body.
Draw a bat wing on cardboard, approximately 9”x4. Cut out wing. Now flip it over, trace onto cardboard, and cut it out for the other wing.

Finished Bat
Finished BatUsing the body pattern, cut out two pieces of faux fur for the front and back of each bat.
Sew the fur by hand, leaving the bottom open for filling later.
Trace each bat wing pattern onto shiny black fabric and cut out both wings.
Hand-sew the wings on either side of the body; fill it with foam or batting and stitch closed.
Remember bats hang upside down, so add fishing tackle on the bottom of each bat for hanging from a chandelier or wall sconce.

Happy Halloween & Happy Crafting!

Designing Beaded Jewelry

Beaded Jewelry in Fall Colors
Making beaded jewelry is a fun activity for the entire family. There’s an incredible selection of gemstone, glass, crystal, metal, and mixed media beads, which can be strung upon wire, leather cords, ribbons, or any other material of your choosing.

Strands of Gemstone Beads
Most beads are sold in strands, which are pre-strung on fishing tackle. You cannot keep the beads on this temporary strand because it is not durable for every day wear and tear, and will eventually break.

When working with beads, having a jewelry maker’s tray (like the one pictured below) is extremely beneficial for laying out your designs. The numbers along the perimeter are for measuring the length of bracelets and necklaces. The grooves in the tray are multi-purpose: enable experimentation with different beads; create a necklace and bracelet at the same time; design a multi-strand necklace. Compartments in the tray hold additional beads while you finalize your work.

Black Onyx & Carnelian Beads
Black Onyx & Carnelian Beads
Using the same beads produces two different looks by simply changing the pattern – both are in seasonal fall colors. The large, reddish orange, Carnelian nuggets have a raw but luxurious appeal, while the smooth, round, Black Onyx beads are cool and sophisticated.

Black Onyx, Carnelian & Silver-Plated Metal Beads
Black Onyx, Carnelian & Silver-Plated Metal Beads
The addition of precious metal beads provides rich texture, eye-catching contrast, and the all-important sparkle.

Rain Forest Jasper & Mother of Pearl Beads
Rain Forest Jasper & Mother of Pearl Beads
These two photos demonstrate the effects of using shape and color to create necklaces with very different styles. On the left, a pear-shaped, Rain Forest Jasper pendant takes center stage with Rain Forest Jasper and Natural Mother of Pearl beads. The result is a fancy necklace with warm rich earth tones, suitable for a night out on the town. On the right, Aventurine alternates with dazzling, White Mother of Pearl beads in a soft palette and casual style for everyday wear.

Rain Forest Jasper, Mother of Pearl, and Gold-Plated Metal Beads
Rain Forest Jasper, Mother of Pearl, and Gold-Plated Metal Beads
The same beads are shown here with the addition of gold-plated, round spacer beads on the left, and gold-plated, filigree bead caps on the right.

When you are satisfied with your design, the beads can be strung one at a time onto wire. Be sure to place a piece of scotch tape on the end of the wire before you start stringing your beads. Once you’re satisfied, the clasp can be attached. There are many videos available to show you how to attach each of the different types of clasps.

Here are a few photos to get your creative ideas flowing:

Necklace – Lampwork Glass Frog & Glass Beads on a Cord
Necklace – Lampwork Glass Frog & Glass Beads on a Cord
This striped glass frog is a fanciful addition to any wardrobe. Cords are easy work with and comfortable to wear. All it takes are a few beads and a focal point to complete this piece of jewelry. You could also use a pendant you already own. Cords can be made of leather, rubber, or woven fibers.

Necklace – Large-Hole Resin Beads on Ribbon
Necklace - Large-Hole Resin Beads on Ribbon
Stringing large-hole beads on ribbon is an easy way for beginners to learn about jewelry making. Children and those struggling with arthritis or any other dexterity issues can easily handle these over-sized beads. Stringing on ribbon or a cord can be done quickly and beads can be interchanged until the desired look is achieved. Best of all, there are no special skills or tools required.

Large-Hole Glass Beads
Large-Hole Glass Beads
Large-hole beads are for use on cords, ribbons, thick chains and wire. Crafter Tip: With these beads, you can achieve the same fashionable look as seen in Pandora stores, but at a fraction of the price. The best selection is available at Fire Mountain Gems.

Bracelet -Large-Hole Glass Beads and Metal Beads on wire
Bracelet -Large-Hole Glass Beads and Metal Beads on wire
Stringing beads upon wire is easy to do, but requires the special jewelry making tools to attach the clasp. Bead stores will typically offer shoppers the chance to select beads, and string your own necklace or bracelet. A staff member will then attach the clasp, or can give you instructions to do it yourself using their tools. These stores periodically have classes, and offer private jewelry making parties for your family and friends.

Earring & Bracelet – Crystal & Glass Seed Beads
Earring & Bracelet - Crystal & Glass Seed Beads
When you think of crystal jewelry, the name that most likely tops your list is Swarovski. The rich, colors and light reflecting facets of crystal have been featured in memorable jewelry designs ready to wear anywhere from the super market to the high fashion runway.

Necklace – Glass & Metal Beads
Necklace - Glass & Metal Beads
Glass blowers create beads one at a time, and each one is a unique masterpiece. All the colors of the rainbow and a few Mother Nature never considered can be found in glass. Solid colors, striated, and two tone beads are but a mere few of the possibilities with matte or high-gloss finishes. Glass pendants make interesting focal points, while tiny glass seed beads can be woven into intricate spiral patterns in necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Bracelets – Gemstones, Metal Beads, & Bells on cords
Bracelets – Gemstones, Metal Beads, & Bells on cords
There’s a bracelet style to match every person’s fashion needs – cords, cuffs, stretch, charm, bangles, and many more. Genuine gemstone beads are available in an amazing array of colors and sizes. Beads can be purchased from craft stores, beaded jewelry stores, bead trade shows, and from online retailers, such as Fire Mountain Gems. Because genuine gemstones come from the earth, the colors and patterns will vary. If you are planning to make a bracelet and matching necklace or earrings, make sure you have enough beads to complete the set. Each finished piece of jewelry will be as unique and individual as you are.

Jewelry making is an exciting and rewarding craft. Enjoy the process. Learn from mistakes. Experiment as you follow your inspiration to create the perfect design to express your personality and style.

Happy Crafting!