Okay, this one has been on the list forever, and it was so easy it almost feels like a cop out. But the results are pretty adorable!
Buttons have a history stretching back at least 5,000 years, and are as often decorative as functional. They can be made of nearly anything – wood, plastic, shell, leather or even metal. There are several ways of attaching buttons – the sew through method is the most popular, followed closely by shanked buttons (or buttons with the loop on the back.)
Sew through buttons are also called flat buttons, and are easily replicated with a laser cutter. So, to make this post, I basically had to pick my favorite designs, and decide where the holes would go! I found that in designing I preferred the 2 hole look, while Ryan had the four hole mindset. In doing a little research, apparently 4 hole buttons are used more regularly on menswear. I had no idea! Perhaps it’s assumed men are a bit more rough on their clothing and need a stronger button attachment.
Buttons have a whole different measurement system, as any serious sewer or button collector would tell you. Buttons are measured in “lignes“. I decided to make my buttons medium sized, between 3/4″ and 1 1/4”, or 30-50L (lignes). The holes are 2mm, which just seemed to fit rationally with the button surface area.
I’ve been wanting to try making buttons for years, so I had a package of glue on shanks ready for the occasion! Find a strong enough glue, and virtually anything can be a button! I recently made a vintage camper design for a swap, and it makes a perfect button. Putting holes into it to make it a sew-through button would just mar the design.
Overall, I’m tickled with how they turned out. My favorite are definitely the anchors (a new jewelry design) followed closely by the Moroccan inspired set and the Starmen. Now I just need to learn to sew so I can have something to put them on! Any of the Isette or Beadeux designs you’d like to see at buttons?
My Instagram “following” feed is inundated with hexagons thanks to the obsession with English Paper Piecing. I keep seeing the beautiful patterns people are coming up with for quilts, which is how I stumbled across the Hexagon swirls. The swirl pattern is perfect for a trivet, and I laid out the pre-cut bamboo hexagons according to the original “1 block” plan as posted. The design takes 75 hexagons, 25 in each color. Without colors, it was surprisingly hard to keep the design straight in my head!
I mulled over various ways to treat the hexagons to create the three colors / patterns, but in the end I settled on simply staining them. I really like the natural grain of the wood, and thought a stain would help that come through better than a paint, and possibly hold up to use a bit better. From an early “experimental” phase with our laser, I had a couple odd colors of stain chilling out in the garage (literally). The redwood, dusty green and white combo was a little more “Arts and Crafts Movement” than I wanted, so I ditched the red in favor of the natural bamboo.
There was so way I would sanely sane and paint all the little hexagons individually. To save my fingers some abuse, I laid the hexagons, in groups of 25, to the sticky side of transfer tape. It held everything in place while I sanded and stained beautifully!
I knew I wanted a boarder around the hexagon pattern to add stability and protection for the individual pieces. What I wasn’t sure of was how to get the correct measurements to make the border. I was worried that the spacing between the hexagons left by human hands / glue / etc, would make the design larger than if I had cut a border based on the original hexagon vector butted up to each other. Ryan was of course the voice of reason, trusting that the margin of wood burned away by the laser during cutting (also known as the kerf) would make up for any spaces I left in gluing.
I knew I didn’t want the sawtooth edge of the hexagons on the edges of the finished project, so with a couple tweaks and an offset path, Ryan and I came up with this pretty mod looking 12 sided border. We cut it first of out chipboard, a cheap material that we bought for testing. Ryan was totally right – it worked perfectly with the laser kerfs. So I had my border and the outside shape for my base.
You might notice the final design is smaller than the original design. As I was laying out the colored hexies, I pretty much loved how it looked at every stage of building. In the end, I actually stopped a couple rounds short of recreating the full pattern, and only using 27 of the 75 hexagons for my trivet. The full pattern felt a little too large (especially with the yet unmade border) and by stopping there I could used the rest of the hexies to make a set of awesome coasters!
The base of the trivet is one solid piece, and is thicker than the 1/16th inch bamboo that the hexagons are cut from. Another bonus of setting up a vector file with the individual hexagons in it – I could engrave the design on the top of the base! It was great to have the guide there when I started gluing!
I used wood glue for the assembly, and per the instructions, clamped them together and left them to dry for 30-60 minutes. Assembly was easy because I purposely didn’t want the graining or the brush strokes to line up. The rotation is pretty random, which I think adds visual interest, especially to the unpainted hexagons. I did get a little overconfident on the last coaster, using too much glue and moving too quickly – the layers became misaligned during when I clamped it. Whoops!
After clamping them for an hour, I finished the tops. I laid the stain on a little thick when painting, thinking I would do a quick sanding of the entire piece to fill in cracks and give the piece a uniform look. Well, that was a mistake. The stain didn’t work like I had expected (I thought it would penetrate a little), and it came right off on the edges of the hexies when sanded! There was no way I could fill in the bare spots neatly, so I sanded the whole piece and the trivet has a “shabby chic” look. I finished it by rubbing in mineral oil. Mineral oil is food safe, and there were concerns about the heat resistance of polyurethane. I didn’t want the finish to be melting on my hot pots and pans!
Because coasters need to be less heat resistant, but much more water resistant, I did a coat of polyurethane. Even my mugs of tea are unlikely to be over 200 degrees, the recommended heat limit of the finished surface. The coating has a bit of a gloss, which looks quite nice. As I’m writing this post, they are doing a wonderful job of holding my glass of water beside me!
Looking back over 2014, I am quite impressed by how well our projects went off. Not everything went off well, but that’s a learning experience too. Here are the top three fails of 2014:
1. Week 21: Laser Engraved Bricks – while the brick (oddly, as I have come to find out and am working on a post about it) wasn’t a failure, my ignorance over the concrete paver could have been a laser destroying disaster
3. Week 43: Starman Coasters – Engraving cork was just not meant to be, unless the goal was a crispy sooty mess. Ryan salvaged this week by cutting them out of wood.
Why am I bring this up? Well, I have the dubious honor of the first fail of 2015! Whoo!
At a trade show many moons ago, after complaining about the garish colors available in opaque acrylic, another artist confided in me that they used RIT dye to color their plastics. I filed that information away until last weekend, when I stumbled upon new bottles of liquid RIT at the thrift store, priced perfectly for my “experiment” budget. Score.
Having never used RIT dye before, but taking every single warning to heart, I prepared a work surface in a tray and covered every nearby surface in plastic. In order to minimize the damage to any of my pots and pans or buckets, I dyed in small disposable plastic cups. To dye fabric, the manufacturer suggests 4oz of liquid dye to 3 gallons of water. Scaling it back to my 1 cup container size…admittedly, I eyeballed it. Mathematically, it would be less than a teaspoon per cup of water, I went more for tablespoon per cup with the first batch, the green. For hot water, I just filled it up with water from my teakettle.
I dumped some white acrylic in the green bath, and waited for a half an hour. After rinsing them off, It honestly didn’t look like anything happened. Until I put it next to an undyed piece. Then it took on a weird barely greenish cast.
Try two: let’s make the dye stronger. For the “Violet” I mixed it roughly 1 part liquid dye to 2 parts water, and the blue I mixed half and half. I put in white acrylic, clear acrylic and opal acrylic, and waited about an hour. Results were quite lacking, so I actually decided to leave them overnight. And the results didn’t get any better. The “violet” (I put that in quotes because it way more red) colored better than the blue, and the edges picked up more color than the flat fronts.
Verdict: hot water + RIT does not dye cast acrylic satisfactorily, no matter how strong or long the dyeing is.
So, the dye was already out, and I had some lovely bamboo ready to go. In an attempt to salvage the week, I threw them in the dye. The bamboo pieces colored quickly and really nicely. One bad thing – they float. To get an even color, you need to flip them regularly. I had the most fun partially dip dyeing them, but had to make sure they didn’t float and make the dye line all cockeyed. A quick search on RIT’s website actually gives a how-to on dying wood!
To recap: hot water + dye is not cast acrylic friendly. Clear seemed to work marginally better than the white – perhaps because you see more surfaces? Some internet sources suggested mixing acetone with the dye to help it penetrate, but I was not game at all to heat acetone in my kitchen. And as for the bamboo, it picked up the dye quickly, but I should probably seal the finished pieces. If they get wet, would the color run? Not sure.
Recently, an old friend got in touch and said he wanted to get a new wallet. Brenn wasn’t interested in the same flap of leather or cloth that we’ve all been using for a few decades. Instead, he was interested in a simple flat wallet similar to something seen online. Simple and flat are things I regularly enjoy making with the laser, so we took his existing design ideas and iterated quite a few times to determine how best to make a wallet out of two pieces of material and a rubber band nicked from Etsy credit card reader promotional material.
We started with 1/8″ thick bamboo and later 1/16″ bamboo. The thicker bamboo was just a little too much overall thickness for the style Brenn was looking for. We adjusted the upper “manila folder tab” several times to make it easier for fingers to reach the credit cards nested inside. We knew there would be a rubber band holding the two sides together, so we added some engraved text that would go underneath the rubber band with extra details about the owner in case the wallet got lost and his ID wasn’t present.
The biggest change while iterating happened when he on a whim asked if the design would change much if made from acrylic rather than bamboo. We immediately recognized the functional value of the change: his credit cards had much less friction against their container and were easier to remove from the acrylic version. While it didn’t have the same renewable appeal that bamboo brings, the easier use sealed the deal.
I’m giving him a few weeks to play with his new wallet. If things work out for him, I could see myself ditching the giant leather wallet that has been denting my right cheek for years. Sorry for making you a guinea pig, Brenn!