Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Big-Ass Crafting

A new Christmas toy: The Big-Ass Book of Crafts by Mark Montano
We are suckers for slightly cheesy craft books and that's totally what was expected judging from this thing's 13-year-old-girl-themed cover:

Buuuut, there are tons of pretty bad-ass (and cheap!) projects in this thing that we cannot wait to whip up, including vintage kitchen utensil lamps, design-them-yourself foam stamps (oh, how we love stamps!), lots of seashell projects (again, love!), paper trees made from vintage books, and papier-mache flapper heads. Yes!
Stay tuned: with this thing in hand, this year promises to be a crafting extravaganza.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tomorrow is Halloween and you know what that means: time to have a seance! According to one of our favorite films of all time, Hocus Pocus, Halloween is the one night of the year where spirits can easily enter our world. Halloween is also the one night of the year where its ok to dress like a crazy and chant in your living room, so take advantage and follow our guide to having your own mystical seance!

Pre-Séance Check List:

- Who are you planning on summoning? This is really one of the most important things to know before hand. We recommend starting small and friendly – a nice, loving grandma would make an excellent first subject.

- What are you going to offer your Grandma’s spirit? Be sure to have an offering of something the person liked, to lure them in.

- Supplies: In addition to the offering, make sure you have the following things on hand: plenty of candles, incense, a Ouija board, tarot cards or runes, some atmospheric music (try finding some Aleister Crowley chants to play in the background), and any other spooky additions you might think of.

Séance Set Up:

- Arrange your candles in a circle. Some say this is good “protection” from evil spirits. We like to do our séances on the floor for extra spookiness, but feel free to use a table, too. The candles should be your only light source.

- Place your Ouija board, tarot spread or rune in the center of your circle/table, along with your offering.

- Light up your incense, turn on the music, and sit your guests in a circle. They should all holds hand initially.

Séance Procedure:

If you google "séance," you will get about 5,000 methods for holding a successful séance. We've boiled all this down into a few important reminders because we don't think the process is really what matters, but rather your frame of mind. Just have fun, people!

- A designated séance-leader should ask aloud for the spirit to make an appearance. You might mention the nice offering you have for them, or give them some solid reasons for stopping by.

- Now you can all stop holding hands and start using the Ouija board or whatever else you have. Ask specific questions and don't get frustrated if it doesn't seem to be working! Keep going, and if it really seems that you aren't getting anything, just try again. We don't "actually" believe you will summon any spirits, but séances are definitely an interesting exercise in the power of suggestion.

We'd like to leave you with this word of caution from a geocities website about the art of the séance: "If you wind up with a ghost or multiple ghosts haunting your house after your séance, you will have to learn to live with them, read up on how to perform an exorcism on your house, or move." Here’s to a spooky, séance-filled Halloween! Don’t summon anybody we wouldn’t!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nine Simple Reasons Why MakerFaire Made Our Weekend

What do you call a person who spends 90% of their time and expendable income building a battlebot? Or how about a harp made of lasers, or tesla coil electronic music? The easy answer for a lot of people would be ‘nerds.’ But this weekend at MakerFaire, we found out that they’re actually some of the best people on the planet. This week the Simple Sisters highlight nine things we learned at MakerFaire that we hope will inspire you to start making!

1.) Swap-O-Rama: A seamstress’ dream come true was found at the MakerFaire Swap-O-Rama. Imagine a big tent full of free clothes, sewing machines and sewing accessories. The best thing about this is that with the right mindset, it doesn’t matter if the thing you picked up was 3 sizes too large. Two hems up the side later, and it fits like a glove! If you’re a fan of thrifting, you know some of the best things come only in XXL. Sidestep this pickle by learning how to alter your own clothes and you’ll have sassy threads in no time.

2.) Austin Bike Zoo: You may have seen some of these around: tricked out bikes that require a double-take, or just plain drop your jaw and drool at how cool these things are. Like the one that’s 5 bikes hooked together with boning on the outside so that it looks like a gigantic snake is riding past your house? (This one’s especially hard to process after a late night out.)

Side-by-side tandems, giant butterfly bikes and 8 ft. giants were all a part of the MakerFaire Bike Zoo parade. While this is difficult to incorporate into student life, it’s still a great inspiration for incorporating artistry into things you use every day. Slap some LED lights on your Schwinn, or attach a light generator for more practical use. In a city full of bikes, there’s no reason yours shouldn’t be special!

3.) Sublime Stitching Embroidery: I know what you’re going to say. Embroidery is for grandmas. But would a grandma embroider a flaming skull on her tea-towel? I didn’t think so. (Unless she would, in which case congratulations. You have world’s best Grandma.) Local Austinite Jenny Hart has been making embroidery patterns and kits since 2001. With how-to’s and materials included, buying a kit from Sublime Stitching will get you closer to having that embroidered robot you always wished was on your T-shirt pocket. A crafty skill like embroidery is a way to add a personal touch to anything you want. Sublime Stitching patterns just make it easier!

4.) Urban Roots & Green Corn Project: Do you know what a carrot seed looks like? How about a spinach seed? When we approached the Urban Roots table, we didn’t either. After playing a game of “Guess the seed,” we realized how out of touch we were with the food we eat every day. Urban Roots is a program held at an East Austin farm used for developing self-sustainable ideals in youth participants. While they always need volunteers, and we hear the farm is beautiful (we’ll visit soon!), the Green Corn Project of Austin is also helping to get us closer to our roots by planting gardens in impoverished Austinite’s yards for better self-sustainability. Apply for a garden to be built in your backyard, or volunteer to build one while learning the basics of growing your own food! (This one may be a particularly good idea to prepare yourself for the pending economic apocalypse. Would you rather live off of Kraft singles or homegrown veggies?)

5.) Arc Attack and their singing Tesla Coils: We weren’t expecting to walk into the Tesla theater to find an electronic DJ setup hooked up to 7 ft. tall Tesla coils playing the Doctor Who theme song, (Andrea’s personal favorite moment of the day. Don’t laugh!) Singing tesla coils weren’t the only things on the floor though. A midi-controlled drum kit started off the show. This was basically a drum kit playing on it’s own, controlled only by a laptop. A PVC pipe organ was off to the side, doing the same thing. It was easily the most innovative musical performance we’d ever seen. Hacking and creating electronics was a big part of MakerFaire this year. If you’re interested in electronics, the best bet would be to start small. Buy some cheap toy instruments and play with circuit-bending. Or buy a soldering iron and some beginner’s electronic kits online. Think of how proud you’ll be when you wake up via your own hand-soldered alarm clock!

6.) DIY Jewelry a la The Naughty Secretary Club: Naughty Secretary Club's design maven Jennifer Perkins is one of our favorite craftsters in all of Austin. She turns vintage bits and pieces into adorable, one-of-a-kind accessories and even has a book out that will show you how to do the same. Info on jewelry making on a budget as well as on a schedule can be found at her blog!

7.) Laser Harps: Youtube it. They will change your life. There are some particularly nice videos around of French musician Jean Michel Jarre playing one. They are beautiful and if you make us one, we might just marry you. This is another electronic piece that’s simple in design and heavy on the creativity. It was a Faire favorite and very inspirational!

8.) Locally Made Fine Chocolates: There is something uniquely satisfying about a piece of quality chocolate, and several Austin chocolatiers were on hand sampling their blissful wares. Some of our favorites were Cocoa Puro's chocolate covered cocoa beans – layers upon layers of milk, dark, and white chocolate heaven. They won our hearts by keeping it simple and sweet.

9.) Maker Kits: Maker Faire is founded and sponsored by Make magazine which features amazing and weird how-to projects. They also sell incredible little all-inclusive project kits that can be purchased on their website, many between $15 and $20, giving you the power to make solar-powered Theremins and mini cars, animated ghosts, LED hula hoops, and much more. Hula hoop and Theremin party anyone?

So here you have our top picks of MakerFaire 2008. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out this year, be sure to go next time around! There are always new and exciting things popping up in the DIY world. Subscribing to Make or Craft magazine is also a great way to stay in touch and get inspired. Now stop sitting there and go make something!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Down to Business

In lieu of going to Maker Faire, we thought it would be appropriate to get some business cards together for all of the lovely people we would meet today. So we rushed home after the press party to get our act together.

Personally, I'm a photoshop retard, so I opted for the blur effect on this image that I hurriedly drew in mspaint, added some info, personalized said info, printed and tah-dah! I was suddenly more official than I was before.

As much as I don't like doing 'business,' having a business card is a good idea for a lot of reasons. 1.) It's an entirely personalized way to share your contact information. 2.) No more writing your name/number on scraps of paper so that people can just lose them two seconds later and 3.) People usually keep these suckers around - especially the creative ones. (I know I have a wad of them in my wallet.) People keeping your contact information around is a good thing, especially if you have a skill or trade to share.

I'm reminded of a clip from the movie American Psycho where the business-boys are discussing the crisp minimalism of their boring business cards. Black centered times new roman font with no pizazz. If you work in office furniture retail or accounting, perhaps this approach is for you. For everybody else, give it a little more gusto.

You can keep a business card simple and readable while at the same time giving the person a better idea of what you're about. Fonts, colors, pictures and design of your card can clue a person in to the little things about you that are memorable and unique.

Send us your business card designs, and we'll post them up!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

CCB: Chocolate-Covered Bacon, The Saga

Salt and chocolate has got to be one of my favorite flavor combinations - think about it, chocolate covered peanuts, the chex mix that has bits of chocolate worked in, the trail mixes where you pick out all the salt-crusted chunks of chocolate out first - its just a really good combo.
Which is why chocolate covered bacon, as ludicrous as it sounds, has been haunting my dreams for the past month. I saw the stuff on a random food network challenge show and have not been able to stop salivating over it. And now, at last, the dream has come true. And yes, it's really, really delicious. Its also really, really messy, so here is a photo that some other, obviously less clumsy, bacon lover took of their product. Mine did not turn out nearly so pretty, but it all tastes the same anyway.

Chocolate Covered Bacon: The Recipe

-however much bacon you feel like enshrouding in chocolate - I used the applewood smoked kind that is slightly sweet
-semi-sweet chocolate chips or pieces - I used 1/2 a bag for 1/2 lb of bacon.
- some sea salt

1. pan fry the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels to soak up all the extra grease
2. in a medium sauce pan, boil some water. when its boiling, put a small saucepan into the boiling water, and add the chocolate, stirring constantly as it melts. (this process is basically a poor man's double boiler - if you have one of those, please it use it instead!)
3. dip the bacon in the chocolate! you can neatly and easily just do half the slice like in the picture above, or you messily (and more deliciously) drench the whole piece like I did. Put your dipped bacon on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
4. sprinkle your still-warm bacon pieces with sea salt for extra salty-yumminess.
5. stick the cookie sheet in the fridge for 15 minutes so that the chocolate hardens up.

Be sure to share your new favorite food with others - they'll think you're super clever for making such a weirdly wonderful treat!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crafty Hallucinations

Because sensory deprivation tanks are awesome in theory, but expensive as all get out in practice, I'm so excited about this. Consider the Ganzfeld Effect the college student's key to sensory deprivation, hallucination and meditation without the risk of a schedule I drug sentence! This is for the days when you get home and feel like melting into your couch. The practice of sensory deprivation is basically a productive, introspective nap. A real day-dream and the key to deep relaxation.

The Ganzfeld Effect works by creating a blank screen for your mind to draw on. To start, you'll need two ping pong balls, a comfortable place to lie down and some optional mittens/gloves. The goal is to get rid of all the sensory input you can, so for instance if your home has an obnoxious smell, maybe buy some nose plugs (or clean your room?)

Cut the ping pong balls in half so that they easily fit over your eyes without letting in any light. Before you use them, make sure to wash them out with some water. (Apparently ping pong balls have camphor oil inside of them so you'll know when they break. Fun fact.) Some basic knowledge of meditation is helpful, but not necessary. Playing some white noise in the background can help too (or if you want to fall into a mind vortex, play some binaural beats for yourself - also known as the first digital drug! welcome to the future future future future future.)

Try focusing on your breathing in a comfortable position for as long as it takes to get into a relaxed state. Try not to actively think about things, but if things do come to you, think passively. With any luck, or with some practice, you'll enter a dream state. Jot some notes down, keep a journal, or just enjoy it for what it is!

eta: If you think cutting a ping pong ball with a sharp knife is a good idea, don't. It is not a good idea. Repeat, not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More on Liqueurs

On the subject of liqueurs (see below), I'd like to add this label that I made for my Patented (ok, not really) Coffee Nostrum:

Slap your own crafty label on the bottles your infusion-fun liquors come in, and voila, instant cuteness.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

Austin's a great place to put this phrase into effect. These three actions can help you declutter your life, feel better about the world and take your eco-footprint from about a size 12 to a size 7. (And if you're at all questionable about the impact you have on the environment, take this quiz. The results will probably surprise you!)

Here's a list of our favorite shops around Austin that will help you make the step towards reducing, reusing and recycling!

Reduce: Donate! (And not just your crap!)

To us, this is most importantly about the haves and have nots. But it's also about you and your things. Do you own them, or do they own you? Do you still have a CD collection the size of a small music store, but are too nostalgic to part with them? If you find yourself developing a relationship with inanimate plastic objects, chances are it's time to part with them.

1.) Goodwill! With over 9 locations in Austin, Goodwill's a good place to gain independence from your things. Put it in a bag, drive it to a donation location and you'll be feeling a little more free and de-cluttered in no time.

Donations can also be given to: Savers, Treasure City Thrift, and pretty much any other local thrift store you can spot. But be sure to check in ahead of time, just to make sure.

Reuse: New things can bite me. Go Vintage or Used!

Who needs a new Ikea couch when you could have a plaid sofa with a skirt? Or a clawfoot loveseat with some history to it? Here are a couple of places that consistently have some beauties (sans stains and weird smells! we promise!)

1.) Room Service. This place has three locations in Austin. While the prices may be a little outside of the college budget, you can sometimes find some steals and deals. Here's a little sample of some of their items on sale right now.

Ooooooooooooooh Comfyyyyyyyyyyy.

2.) Blue Velvet - Some of you may have been here a couple of weeks ago for their $1.00 sale on the drag (a.k.a. dream come true day.) When I asked why they were doing it, the clerk simply said "We just wanted to do this for you guys." Not only are these people nice, but they now have a new location on North Loop Blvd right next to Epoch coffee shop. Now we can all immediately reward ourselves with some new kicks and threads after studying.

3.) Treasure City - Rad people, rad prices. Located on the East Side, it's a thrift store on a mission for positive change in the community. Feel good about shopping here, but feel better about donating here.

Recycle: Your trash is another's treasure!

1.) Buffalo Exchange: If you have a hard time giving up your things just for the sake of giving up your things, then here's a way to get something in return. This is the place where a sack of seventh grade tank tops could easily turn into a new pair of kicks. And good news! This place recently expanded (I'll never forget you, Yen-Ching.) so your chances of finding a new fav outfit here just doubled.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle! It's about what you need and what you don't, and how you can turn a waste of space into somebody else's smiling face! : )

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

White Brite, or, How to Replicate a $400 Lamp

An old lamp bought at an estate sale for $1:

Filthy and chipped, but promising. Especially after the post we saw on designsponge about this $400 lamp:

Which, while lovely, is remarkably similar in concept to our $1 find. So I whipped out the white spray paint and turned ours into a gleamingly white, fashionable, and adorable testament to thriftyness:

I need to find a white shade for it, but even in an incomplete state our lamp is 50% cooler than the $400 one - the base lights up! Soooo neat, yeah?

So kids, remember: ultra designer-y design does not have to cost more than a $1! And that makes us extraordinarily happy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fruit and Coffee Infused Liqueurs

There are few things in life more pleasant than a fancy drink. There are also few things so outrageously marked-up in price! So, we have taken it upon ourselves to perfect the art of homemade fancy-drinking. Step 1: Make your own liqueur.

The flavor possibilities are endless when you make your liqueurs yourself and, even better, you can use the cheapest base alcohol you can find. Flavor infusion will completely eradicate the nail polish taste of cheap liquor and when you put your creation in a fancy bottle like this, no one will ever suspect you paid $6 the stuff. Good-bye guilt-ridden trips to the liquor store!

This is our simplified fruit liqueur recipe that can be tweaked and manipulated to your hearts content!

Pick-Your Poison Fruit Liqueur

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 lbs fresh fruit - washed and chopped/sliced
3 cups liquor (the cheapest kind you can find, vodka, rum, gin all work fine)
optional: 1-3 tsp of vanilla, almond, mint, or your favorite extract

1. boil the sugar and water over medium heat until clear; stir often
2. put fruit in a large jar or bottle that can be tightly closed
3. pour sugar-water mixture over fruit
4. next add the vodka and the extract, if desired
5. tightly close the container and store in a cool, dark place.

Your liqueur will be ready whenever you are - wait three days for ok liqueur, or wait 2 or 3 months for the flavors to really meld. Once you feel you've waited long enough, you can strain the liqueur into a smaller bottle and save the soaked fruit to eat with ice cream (alcoholic deserts!). You can also feel free to leave everything in the container you aged it in for less hassle.

Here's another (even easier!) recipe for coffee liqueur. Ours is still aging, so no promises on taste, but it smells yummy.

Coffee Liqueur

2 cups hot coffee (use flavored coffee to make it even more exciting!)
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups cheap liquor
1 tbs vanilla extract

1. Mix the sugar and vanilla into the coffee so that the sugar melts; let the coffee cool
2. Pour the coffee mixture and liquor into a bottle, cap, and store away. Again, a few days will yield an ok product, but the longer you wait, the better the taste.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Declare Independence

We, The Simple Sister, hold these truths to be self-evident:

Life is what you make it.

You have the unique ability to fill your life with things that you love

Happiness isn't some complicated formula of pharmaceuticals and self-help products, no matter what the tv tells us.

True happiness is in the process, and we're here to show you how.

The gist is that we believe happiness is found in the simplest forms, in things that anyone can make and do and love and cherish and show off and give away and learn from and grow from. Sound good?

Each week the two of us will show you things that make us truly, simply happy. It might be a bottle of delicious sassafras soda, or a particularly pretty dried flower, or a silly headband.
You can make it yourself and see if its really all we crack it up to be, or you can use our instructions as jumping off points for your own creative projects to make YOU truly happy (that's what all this is about after all).

So let's make stuff!


The Simple Sisters