Tutorials Archive

Photojojo Tutorial: How to Grow a Photo Pinwheel Garden

A long, long time ago in a land not unlike our own, I wrote a tutorial for the unbelievably fun photography site Photojojo.

00 Supplies


Pinwheel Garden

In Motion

Yes I wrote it, and no, those aren’t my hands in the tutorial photos. You totally want to make one of these pinwheel gardens and then subscribe to Photojojo‘s crazy fun newsletter. If you haven’t seen their amazing photo-accessory store, I basically wwwant all of it!

How to Make a Tiny Terrarium in a Light Bulb

Ahoy there Hipster Homers! I’m Julie and I’m the very first guest blogger on this fine site. Today’s project involves breaking stuff, plants, found objects, and miniatures. Fun, right?

Let’s get started! We’re going to go through the steps to create your very own little terrarium. I like building terrariums inside of lightbulbs because of the inherent challenge of working in such a small space as well as how the simple, industrial beauty of a light bulb complements the intricacy of natural elements. (I was inspired to try this out after seeing this post on Apartment Therapy a couple of months ago.) We’ll get into the nitty gritty of how to make one of these. But first, let’s go through some key dos and don’ts of light bulb terrariums. I assembled these tips and warnings through extensive trial and error as well as helpful advice from the folks at Flora Grubb Gardens and Hortica in San Francisco.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do use sand or small pebbles; these are good because water drains through them easily. (Wet soil will get moldy in a confined area. You don’t want this.)
  • Do use Tillandsia, also known as air plants; these are a great choice for your tiny terrarium because they take all the nutrients they need from the air and a small amount of water. No roots means no wet soil which means no mold. You can buy tillandsia at garden stores or online.
  • Do choose preserved moss instead of live moss. Preserved moss isn’t living, but it will hold moisture; this moisture raises the humidity level in the terrarium, which makes the tillandsia happy. You can find sheet moss, reindeer moss, and other preserved mosses at garden and floral stores.
  • Do keep your terrarium in partial sunlight.
  • Do give your terrarium some water. The tillandsia is alive and will need a small amount of water to stay that way. Water it by either removing it and soaking it in water once a week or, using a spray bottle, give it a small spritz of water every week or two. Pour out any excess water.
  • Do feel free to use little rocks, pieces of glass, or any other bits of things to help give your terrarium character. DON’T:
  • Don’t use soil. Again, you don’t want a soupy, moldy terrarium. That would be gross.
  • Don’t use live moss. Moss is really picky and isn’t likely to survive well in this environment.
  • Don’t keep your terrarium in the dark.
  • Don’t keep your terrarium in full sunlight, either.

How To: You’ll need a few tools to make a tiny terrarium but nothing complicated to get started.

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Scissors
  • Long tweezers or chopsticks
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Glasses or goggles

Let’s start with the light bulb. I like the globe kind that are used to light bathroom vanities. You can buy them at any hardware store, or preferably, use one that’s burned out to save resources. For those of us in northern California, one option for buying burned out bulbs (if you don’t have any on hand) is the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. Don’t use “soft white” bulbs or else your terrarium will just look like January in Minnesota. I don’t think this is what you’re going for.

We will be removing the inside parts of the lightbulb. This step involves breaking glass, so wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. I recommend doing this over a box to contain any flying pieces of broken glass. And, obviously, this is an “adults only” kind of task.

First, remove the metal tip from the bottom of the bulb. Using needle-nose pliers, carefully nudge the sides of the metal tip from the black glass part.

Then, when enough of the sides are raised to get a good grip on them, hold one of the sides with your pliers and yank out the metal tip. You will feel a couple little wires snap when you do this.

Next remove the black glass. Hold one side of the glass with the pliers and firmly twist up to snap the glass. Repeat around the other sides and pull out any remaining bits of black glass. This glass is pretty thick and will take some force to break it; so be careful and hold onto the bulb firmly.

Now you will be able to see the interior parts of the light bulb.

Using the flathead screwdriver as a sort of lever, snap the interior tube from the side. It will make a totally satisfying little sound as the argon escapes. Then twist the screwdriver around to smash the containing tube. It takes some force to do this; be careful, but also don’t be afraid of the bulb itself breaking. It probably won’t. Hold tight to the bulb while you do this.

Pull out any remaining wires with the pliers.

If there are any last bits of glass around the interior edge, break these off with the screwdriver.

And now you have an empty light bulb! That is definitely the hardest part of the endeavor. Next, put adhesive silicone bumpers on the side of the bulb to keep it steady.

We’ll use sand as a substrate for the terrarium. You can buy it at a garden store or collect it from a beach. If you use beach sand you will need to thoroughly rinse it to remove any salt. The sand in this tutorial is from the beach, so our first step is to rinse it.

To dry it, either spread it in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and leave it sitting for a few days, or dry it in the oven at 300 degrees. Be careful taking it out, because it will, hopefully obviously, be pretty hot.

The sand should be completely dry before continuing.

Once it’s dry, put a couple tablespoons of sand into the lightbulb. Make this easier by either using a funnel or a folded piece of cardboard.

This terrarium includes preserved sheet moss, reindeer moss, and tillandsia.

Cut off a small bit of sheet moss and put in the bulb. Position it using a chopstick or long tweezers. Tear off a few small pieces of reindeer moss and add this, as well.

Put a tillandsia in the bulb, pushing the smaller end in first. Position the different elements to look nice together and add more moss or rocks if you’d like. It might take some poking to get everything in the right place; be patient and experiment with different arrangements.

For extra fun, tiny toy animals can enliven your terrarium. I used a miniature horse for this one, and stuck a piece of gold wire in its head to make it into a makeshift unicorn. Any other found objects, like rocks, sticks, marbles, etc., would also be fun. And voilà! You have a lovely terrarium. More of my lightbulb terrariums are online at tinyterra.com and for sale on Etsy. I’d love to see your terrarium creations! Contact me at juliette@tinyterra.com.

A NOTE OF CAUTION FROM APRIL: Wise THH reader Shadus recommends using gloves when extracting the bulb guts. (S)he says “I would add– wear gloves while performing the delicate work on the bulb, they’re stronger than most people expect but a slip with the screwdriver could lead to a hand full of glass shards which is no fun and also doesn’t make for a nice evening at the hospital. Better safe than sorry!”

(All images Copyright Juliette Melton)

Behind the Scenes: Making a Bike Chainring Clock

Without writing a full-on tutorial, I thought I’d give you some information on how to make your very own bike chainring clock. I’ll admit that my original inspiration came from the talented Etsy seller 1 by Liz but being that I’ve got way more time than money at this juncture in light-employment, I decided to try my hand at making one. If you’ve got the cash, 1 By Liz clock’s are pretty fantastic so support a maker of great things.

How I Made a Bike Chainring Clock

1The first challange was to find a free or inexpensive bicycle chainring. (Ok so the REAL first step was researching and figuring out exactly what the spiky circle  that the chain goes around was called. NOW YOU KNOW TOO.) Since we’ve got a handful of bike shops in the mission, I first tried Valencia Cyclery. While the guy was extremely helpful when I asked if they had “any junk box busted bike chainrings”, they didn’t have the any laying around. I tried again at Pedal Revolution and BINGO! There was a stubborn metal peg stuck in a hole but it ended up being a great clock 12 o’clock marker. If your chainring is greasy, give it a good wash to start.

Next, you’ll want to find a craft store with a clock kit. I found a gold version of this at Joann’s Fabrics. For about $10 you can make a clock out of ANYTHING! Just imagine the possibilities.

Now you’ll want to figure out some sort of clock backing and what color cloth you’d like to use to cover it. I found some thin cardboard and cut out a circle small enough to not stick out behind the chainring spikes but large enough to cover the various holes in the rim. Using a pen and ruler, find the center of the circle and cut a hole big enough that will snugly fit the clock backing through it.

As for the fabric choice, there was a nice dark gray fabric of dubious origin in my craft cart. It was heavier and seemed plastic backed which meant when I glued it over the cardboard, there was minimal wrinkling in the finished back. Sorry I can’t tell you exactly what fabric I used. Get something heavyish.

So now you’ll actually want to use some craft glue, a ruler and a piece of your cloth big enough to cover one side of the cardboard. Your fabric should also be big enough to fold over and cover the other half of the backing. I spread glue on the cardboard, laid down the fabric, used the ruler like a squeegee to ensure even glue coverage and eliminate air bubbles. Flip the cardboard over, spread glue again, fold the cloth over and flatten again. To make sure the cardboard doesn’t curve while drying, I set a few heavy books on it and allowed a 24 hours dry time.

If you take more time to find the clock components than I did, you likely won’t need this step. Since my clock hands were gold but the chainring had silver features, I had silver enamel to get them to match. If you need to do this, take your clock hands  outside and sprayed two coats of silver paint and let the dry according the the enamel dirctions. No need to spray any of the nuts or other clock parts since they’ll be mostly hidden. When your fabric disk is dry, cut the fabric off around the circle! You should also check that there are no loose un-glued fabric around the edges and use a glue stick to fix any flaps.Using an exacto knife, make an x in the fabric where the cardboard hole is.

Time to assemble! Because I was in a hurry, I used a little bit of hot glue to adhere the chainring to the fabric covered cardboard backing. I’m sure you could use another type of glue to make it prettier.

Attach your clock as instructed on the clock kit packages. Stick the clock backing through your hole and tightly (but not too tightly or it’ll warp the fabric) screw on the washer and nut with pliers.

Now comes the hour hand. Then the minute hand with a little nut and finally the second ticker. They hands and clock mechanism on the back all need to point to 12 o’clock.

Presto. You’re the proud owner of a classy chainring clock for any of your favorite bike enthusiasts. Pat yourself on the back. And go wash your hands.

A Tutorial: The Upcycled Christmas Ornament

Good gracious I LOVE getting mail. But dang it if there isn’t a spoilsport in the mailbox here at The Hipster Home. Of what do I speak? Ohh you know, those junk ad bundles with the coupons to Anna’s Linens and LensCrafters! Those things are made out of the cheapest paper, are just terribly designed and don’t arrive without being a half crinked, wrinkly mess. And I’m always a little worried that there is other perfectly good mail caught in them since these ads pass swiftly from my hands into outbox: recycling bin. I’ve always thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to use those terrible ads to make something? They’re free, we get so many of them and it’d be almost profound to make something useful out of such waste.” And so my Freshly Blended ornament swap inspiration was born. While it is true that I used a holiday Target catalog for the ornaments I sent to my swap-mates, you can make these little guys for your home tree out of any colorful junk mail you receive. Oh sweet Hipster Home, where even mail spam is craft material!

What you’ll need:

  • junk mailers or a catalog
  • festive ribbon
  • ornament shape template, printed
  • paper clips, 4 per ornament
  • scissors
  • a threaded sewing machine
  • a ruler
  • a pencil

Directions: Print (or create) a shape template for your ornament. I’ve got a PDF of my shape available to you, but you can make your own. Since you want the ornament to be even all around, you only need half of a template. If you opt to make your own shape, I recommend folding a piece of paper horizontally  then vertically. You can cut along the open edges and when its unfolded you’ll have a perfectly symmetrical shape that would probably look rad. The remainder of the instructions below are for my ornament shape but if you can use this as a guide if you decide to try a wackier shape.

Cut an approximately 2.5 x 5.5 inch strip of stiff paper. You’ll use this rectangle as a guide for cutting out 8 pieces of junk mail and 1 stiff rectangle (like a catalog cover) per ornament.

Make an ornament sandwich: 4 lightweight rectangles, 1 stiff paper rectangle in the middle and another 4 lightweight rectangles. Secure on 4 corners with paperclips.

Cut a 4-inch ribbon. Fold it in half and slip the ribbon ends into the ornament sandwich. You’ll want to put one end in front of the stiff paper in the middle and the other ribbon end in back of the stiff paper. Secure it with a paper clip. The stiff paper base in the middle of your ornament makes it easier to fold and fan the lightweight paper when the time comes.

Using a ruler, eyeball where the center of the paper is and trace a line from the top of the ornament sandwich to the bottom lengthwise.

Set your sewing machine stitch length to 5.0. If the stitch length is too close together, the paper will perforate right up the middle and you don’t want that. Starting opposite your ribbon loop, sew up the traced line, reversing your stitch a little once you reach the top. This will prevent stitch unraveling. Be careful not to stitch the paperclips and take them out when the paper is secure.

Line up your template with the center stitched line and trace your half ornament template onto the paper. Flip the template over the sewed center and trace the other half of the ornament. You should now have the ornament outline traced onto the top paper of the ornament sandwich.

Cut out the ornament along the traced line. When you’re done, your ornament should look like the above ornaments!

To fold your ornament so it fans out from the center, hold the sturdy middle sheet and use your fingers to fold the first sheet of paper into itself, over the sewn seam. Keep folding the sheets until you reach the middle and repeat on the other side of the ornament.

Chances are that the fans will be uneven but you can bend until evenly spaced.

Repeat until you’ve got a tree full of ’em!

As you can see, I mailed the ornaments in the calendar envelopes from my first post ever. I don’t think it gets more festive than this! If you make these ornaments yourself, be sure to show me your results. Happy holidays, ya’ll!

A Tutorial: The Anything Banner

There’s more food than crafts on here lately. Here’s why: one must eat every day but one does not have to craft as frequently. I’ll do my part and keep this here blog up to date with a good mix starting now. Here’s a tutorial for something I’ve made for probably 10 years* and has been my go-to birthday gift for just as long.

(The Anything Banner in the Wild. A Hog Island birthday for Dean!)

I’ve modified and tweaked this project so many times that at least 50 versions of it exist in dumps and keepsake boxes alike. The most recent version was made using a slug of outdated business cards I’ve hoarded. If you’ve got extras laying around, good for you. But for the rest of you, there is an extra step or three.

This project is called The Anything Banner. I’ve only ever made Happy Birthday signs but doesn’t mean that there are many other ways it can be used. I’d like you, fine reader-people, to explore the other uses and phrases possible with our fine English alphabet.

But first, here’s how you make one.

What you’ll need:

Card stock and a printed alphabet template, cut out OR old business cards with a blank backside Stapler Pencil Markers, colored pencils or other decorations 3 ft or more ribbon Scratch paper

Directions: One. Determine what you’d like to say with your banner and who you’d like to say it to.

Two-A. Use the rectangular business card to freestyle cut the letters you need for your phrase. Try to make them even and don’t cut out the holes yet (it makes them easier to color). Skip to step 3.


Two-B. If you don’t happen to have a surplus of old business cards, you can make yourself a template and trace letters onto card stock. In Microsoft Word (or something similar), open a new document. Make your page orientation horizon and select a large bold font to use. I’d recommend Helvetica Neue Black Condensed, size 325 or so. To save on ink, I recommend making the letters outlined. Remember, you only need one of each letter.

When you’re happy with the look and size of your letters, print. Then cut ’em out. Now you’ve got letter templates.

Using a pencil, trace the letters onto card stock and cut out each letter, leaving the letters with a hole intact. What do I mean? Don’t cut out the paper inside Ps, Bs, Rs and the like. Ok, whew. All caught up to the fools with biz cards!

Three. Using markers or colored pencils, massacre each letter differently. I try to remember ROYGBV and check that I’ve use the colors in some sort of use rotation and in various combination. Try different patterns, illustrations. Get inspired by who you’re making the banner for and draw to your heart’s content. Or keep it simple, whatever you’d like. I prefer chaos.

Four. NOW you can cut out any excess paper inside the letters.

Five. Lay out your ribbon and your letters to make sure the spacing is right.

Six. Staple, helter-skelter, letters directly to the ribbon. To make it wackier, experiment with where you staple the letter: the right/left corner, higher/lower than the letter next to it, lopsided etc.

Seven. Hang that sucker up for all to admire.

Sends a message, don’t it? The fantastic thing about this banner is that it’s super easy to do, has endless variations and it, in my opinion, really effin’ thoughtful! Sure it wasn’t a lot of money to make, but it was time well-spent for that certain special someone.


-Trace your letters onto old photos to make a memory banner
-Use your plain letters on patterned or multi-color triangles to make a pendant banner
-Experiment, experiment, experiment

*10 years? OOF.

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