Become a better crafter with handy tips and problem-solving tricks from Martha.
Plump petals can be a flower's greatest asset in the garden, but when the blooms are pressed, their natural moisture may cause discoloration and mildew. Thin and dry varieties (like violets) yield the best results. Pick blossoms in the morning, shortly after dew has dried, when they are in full bloom. Arrange specimens between sheets of blotting paper or blank newsprint inside a flower press. Set a heavy book on top for extra weight. Place the flower press in a cool, dry spot. If the flowers have thicker parts, change blotting paper daily for the first week, or until the sheets no longer draw out moisture. After the flowers have become stiff and brittle, anywhere from two to six weeks, gently remove them from the press, and store between acid-free glassine sheets or in waxed envelopes, away from direct sunlight.
We've tried decorating every kind of egg there is, from gigantic ostrich eggs to dainty dappled quail eggs. Here's what we've learned: Ostrich and emu eggs won't absorb most commonly used dyes, but the colors of their shells are so stunning they're best untinted. Try embellishing them with stickers or decoupage. To help color penetrate the thick shells of goose and duck eggs and ensure an even coat, wipe them with a paper towel dipped in white vinegar. Then use a basic egg-dyeing technique, adding an extra tablespoon of vinegar and a few additional drops of food coloring to the solution.
To keep leaves both pliable and bright, soak them in a mix of water and glycerin, which can be purchased at crafts stores and pharmacies. First wipe moisture and dirt from leaves. Mix two parts water and one part glycerin. Layer the leaves in a pan and pour in the water-and-glycerin solution. (To keep the leaves covered, weight them down with a plate.) After four or five days, remove the leaves and wipe them clean with a soft, dry cloth. Yellows will have become brighter, reds and oranges turned ruddy brown.
For this project, first use a low-moisture craft glue such as Yes paste to attach pictures to the clipboard (don't use irreplaceable photographs). With a small foam paintbrush, apply adhesive to the back of each image, and press onto the clipboard's surface. Smooth with a brayer (a small handled roller, available at craft stores) to remove air bubbles. Once you've attached all the photos and the glue has dried, use another small foam paintbrush to cover the entire clipboard surface with a water-based sealant like Mod Podge. Let sealant dry, and apply a second coat to create a durable film over the images.
With some versatile supplies at the ready, kids can keep themselves busy for hours. Choose items that are safe (no scissors) and tidy (no drippy white glue). A container with compartments, such as a tackle box, keeps things neat and readily accessible. Here are a few specific projects: Pack a pad of blank watercolor postcards, and kids can embellish them to send to friends back home. Take the mats from picture frames, and have your children decorate them; use them to display vacation pictures when you return home. Or prepare a vacation scrapbook for each child, with plastic sleeves and clear zippered pencil cases in a loose-leaf binder. Kids can start chronicling their trip in the car; ask them to make an opening page, draw pictures of animals they see as you drive, or make lists of states seen on license plates.
Milk paint is an organic material that gives surfaces a distinctive color-washed finish. As the name suggests, milk is a principal ingredient, acting as a binder for pigments the same way polymers do in latex paints and oils do in oil-based ones. People have been mixing milk paint for a long time; it has been found on artifacts dating to ancient Egypt, although it's perhaps most commonly associated with colonial-era furniture. The fact that milk paint doesn't give off noxious vapors (often called VOCs) accounts for its continued appeal within today's green building community. Craftspeople, meanwhile, value its saturated colors and translucent finish, which can be used to give wooden furniture, terra-cotta pots, and other textured surfaces an antique look.
Inexpensive ribbon, which is often partially made of plastic, is less likely to fray than a finer ribbon made from a natural material, such as silk. There's no perfect way to prevent cut ends of fabric ribbon from fraying. (Crafts stores sell adhesives for this purpose, but they can alter color and texture; avoid glue for the same reasons.) However, there are a few ways to make those cut ends look more finished. As with any fabric, you can hem the ends; this works best with wide ribbon. With thin ribbon or cord, you can knot the ends. If you don't mind having a bit of clear tape on the ribbon, try this: Adhere tape to one side of a ribbon's cut end, then snip through the tape and ribbon.
For best results, clean your rubber stamp after each use. Begin by pressing an ink-stained stamp onto a sheet of paper until the impression is faint. Next, wash the stamp -- how you do so depends on the kind of ink you've used. Water-based ink is easiest to clean: Gently rub the stamp with a damp paper towel or cellulose sponge. Alternatively, rub the stamp with an alcohol-free baby wipe, which will also moisturize the rubber, making it less likely to crack in the future. If ink remains, scrub the stamp gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush, then blot dry with paper towels. If you used permanent ink, apply a stamp-cleaning solvent. Scrub off remaining ink with a clean toothbrush, and blot surface dry. Never soak a stamp in water, as it can loosen the adhesive that keeps the rubber attached to the backing.