Crafting | A winter village of little white houses

Little White Houses Winter Village

Today’s snowstorm kept me home from work and school and gave me a chance to finally finish a craft project I had started before Christmas: a mini winter village.

shelves holding little white houses with tin roofs, nail chimneys and faux snow around them

It was originally supposed to be a mini Christmas village, but since I didn’t get it done til now I’m rebranding it and leaving it set up for another month (or more if I remove the faux snow).

Mini birdhouses before being transformed into a mini Christmas village

My mini village actually started out as a bunch of tiny birdhouses.

mini birdhouses before being transformed into mini Christmas village

I was buying these little buildings at thrift stores and garage sales for a long time with no clear idea of what I was going to do with them.

mini birdhouses before being transformed into a mini Christmas village

Then as the holiday shopping season got underway, I started seeing cute little house-shaped ornaments and Christmas villages popping up all over, and I suddenly knew my birdhouse collection was destined to become its own one-of-a-kind small town.

turning mini birdhouses into a mini village

To transform the buildings from mini birdhouses into mini people houses, I pried most of the roofs off (with plans to replace them) and sketched windows onto the exteriors.

using a woodburner to burn window outlines into little houses

Then I broke out my woodburner and attempted to trace over my window lines.

little bird houses being transformed into a mini village

I’ve had a woodburner in my crafting stash forever, but this is the first time I’ve actually used it. I quickly discovered it takes a steady hand to make straight lines and even impressions in wood. I also discovered my hand is anything but steady.

tiny houses being transformed from birdhouses into a mini village

It also became apparent to me that no two mini birdhouses are made of the same type of wood. I found myself constantly applying too little pressure on hard wood, which meant I barely scratched the surface, and then too much pressure on soft wood, in which case the wood would almost melt away under the hot tip.

Little white houses in a Christmas village display

When I finished the woodburning, I patched up my deepest and most blatant oopses with woodfiller, then slathered a coat or two of white chalk paint over the buildings.

I also distressed the edges of the houses, which hopefully makes the cattywampus windows look kind of intentional.

mini Christmas village, made from small birdhouses painted white with woodburned windows

As I mentioned earlier, I had plans to make new roofs for the houses, but by the time I got this far, it was almost Christmas and I didn’t have any more free time for crafting.

I set a few of my half-finished houses out on display with some vintage bottlebrush trees and some faux snow and called the project done …

cutting corrugated tin for roofs of mini houses in winter village

… until today, when our forecast called for 5-10 inches of snow. I decided to stay safe and stay off the roads, which meant I finally had a free day and no excuse to put off re-roofing my houses any longer.

crafting metal roofs for tiny houses in a winter village

I made the roofs out of a roll of corrugated tin that I had found at a thrift store for $1.50. The tin was surprisingly easy to cut with a regular old utility scissors.

attaching a tin roof to mini house

After I cut the tin to the right size for each house, I bent the pieces in half and glued the roofs onto their respective houses with Gorilla glue.

mini white wooden house with tin roof

Ta da.

overhead view of corrugated tin roofs on mini houses

Here’s an aerial view of a few of the houses. (The house on the far left had a four-sided roof, which required a slightly different technique and a few tack nails to secure it, since the glue didn’t want to hold there.)

two little white houses in a mini winter village

I thought I was done at this point, but when I looked at the houses, I realized they needed one finishing touch yet: chimneys.

rusty nails to use as smokestacks for mini houses

I’ve been ogling driftwood cottages on Pinterest lately, and a lot of them have nails for chimneys or smokestacks, so I decided I’d totally steal that idea. I also stole a handful of the rustiest, crustiest old nails I could find in my husband’s workshop. I’m pretty sure he won’t miss them.

drilling a hole into the roof of a miniature house in order to insert a nail chimney

Then I drilled pilot holes through the roofs and into the wood …

completed little white house with a nail poking through the roof to serve as a smokestack or chimney

… so I could pound nails in with ease (and without splitting the wood).

completed little white wooden house with a nail for a smokestack/chimney

The chimneys required a lot of extra putzing, but they were worth it.

tall house in Christmas village display

The little chimneys give the houses so much more character, don’t they?

a row of three little white houses with tin roofs and nail chimneys

I put some of the chimneys on the left and some on the right, to make each house unique. I also added a few random tack nails here and there to help hold down the roofs where the glue had come loose while I was pounding the chimneys in. But the tack nails also add a little charm, too.

distressed little white house with rusty nail chimney

I ended up bending and scratching some of the roofs as I was pounding in nails, but I think that gives the houses a more weathered look, in keeping with the cattywompus-windows-and-distressed-paint theme.

shelves holding little white houses with tin roofs, nail chimneys and faux snow around them

Anyhoo, my little post-Christmas winter village is now done. If only our (real-world) snowstorm was as well …

four-sided mini house with a nail chimney

Crafting | Painting a Christmas sign

To celebrate the holidays — and the end of my first semester in my second go-round with college — I made myself a little Christmas present.

making a wooden Christmas sign
Isn’t it purdy? I’ve been crushing on the Pottery Barn JOY sign the whole Christmas season, but as a poor college student, I didn’t have 59 discretionary dollars to spend on a holiday decoration and I had consigned myself to the fact that I would have to go without it.

Noel sign
Then one day last week I noticed a crusty piece of plywood — full of paint smears and stains and holes that had been drilled around the edges — leaning up against the side of our garage. I assume my husband must have put it there, but I decided it was a sign. Or at least it could be. A rustic, reclaimed, one-of-a-kind Pottery-Barn-inspired Christmas sign, that is.

Noel sign
With the plywood in hand, I searched my paint stash for a beautiful Christmas red. All I could find was 1 ounce (half a bottle) of tomatoey red acrylic craft paint. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I made it work by adding a couple of dribbles of black to darken it up and then mixing it with a bit of water and plaster of paris to stretch the paint and make sure it had a nice, flat, chalky finish.

stenciling a sign
Once I had the paint conundrum solved and the board bedecked in red, I sat down at my computer and played around with a few different words and fonts. Eventually, I settled on my sign saying “noel” in Rockingham medium, and I printed out the letters.

Noel sign

Then I cut away the black ink to create stencils.

Noel sign

I scooched the letters around on the board until I had them where I wanted them and stuck them down with masking tape.

Noel Christmas sign

I filled in the stencils with some leftover white chalk paint.

Noel sign

When I had the stencils all filled in …

Noel sign

… I peeled away the paper to reveal the white letters.

building a frame
Then I rounded up a few pieces of grungy lath. The lath pieces are not even a year old, but my husband had used them to stake out a path he built in our backyard last summer, and they turned that lovely weathered gray color pretty quickly after they were exposed to the elements.

Making a Noel sign

I trimmed two long pieces of the lath to fit horizontally along the top and bottom of the sign first, then drilled pilot holes and nailed the pieces into the plywood.

DIY Christmas sign

For the shorter ends of the sign, I butted the lath pieces up along the sides, marked their length with a pencil and trimmed them to fit, then drilled pilot holes and nailed them into place just like I did with the longer pieces.

Noel sign

Here’s a closeup of one of the butted corners.

wooden noel sign

After I had the frame built, I gave the sign a second coat of paint and then brushed on a couple of coats of Rust-Oleum Chalked protective topcoat.

Noel sign
I have the sign standing sideways on my back porch for now, but I can always hang it horizontally, if the mood strikes.

red Noel sign

Collecting | A vintage Christmas book

vintage Christmas book
As I was leafing through my stash of Christmas books this morning, I came upon this gem, published in 1968, that I thought I’d write a quick post about. I picked the book up at an antique store about 15 years ago.

A Holiday Book illustration

I love the cover of the book, and the inside illustrations are divine. But the real reason I bought it …

vintage Christmas book
… is because it was retired from the Lincoln School Library in my hometown.

vintage kids Christmas book
I didn’t attend Lincoln School and those due dates are all a little before my time so I don’t recognize  any of the borrowers’ names, but I love that sweet reminder of how the world used to be, before books were checked out with bar codes and scanners.

Lincoln School Library Waupun
The cards from the card catalog had also been saved and stored in the back pocket.

illustration of wreath hanging
This might be my favorite illustration from the book: a very Ward-and-June-Cleaverish couple and their 2.0 kiddos hanging a wreath on their front door.

vintage Christmas book
I also like this one, mostly because it has a “LINCOLN SCHOOL LIBRARY” stamp directly above it.

Santa Claus illustration
And then there’s this quaint two-page spread of Santa Claus delivering presents. I’d say this is one svelte Santa, but the book refers to him as “roly-poly.” Apparently our standards have changed a bit in that regard since 1968.

vintage children's book
Anyhoo, thanks for checking out my little Christmas story.

vintage library book
The end.


Collecting | Saving the snowpeople

Despite my best efforts, my little collection of snowpeople keeps growing.

snowman collectibles
I never go out looking for them, but (like a lot of other things) they just keep finding me.

snowman collection
This is the guy who started it all. He was a Christmas gift when I was kid. (You might recognize him as an Avon decanter; he’s still half full of Sweet Honesty, my signature scent in the eighth grade.)

snowmen and Gurley candle Christmas tree
Most of the rest of my little snow family have been picked up for a song at garage sales and thrift stores over the years.

vintage snowman collection
I really like the vintage ones, like this couple of cuties, who are actually salt and pepper shakers.

snowman collection
But I have a soft spot for simple wooden snowmen, too.

snowman collection
This guy even came with a name tag. (Poor Bob. What kind of a heartless monster would dump him at a thrift store???)

The big guy in the center of this video clip is solar-powered. When I first saw him at the St. Vincent de Paul, I thought he was a broken clock or kitchen timer. I bought him anyway. After I got him home and held him up to the light to inspect him, he started to shimmy, and it dawned on me that the panel on his base was actually a solar cell, not a broken LCD screen.

snowmen on a shelf

Most years, I set my snowpeople out on this three-tiered shelf before Christmas. This year — as part of my ongoing quest to put off studying for finals and writing the three papers that I have due next week — I decided to document the process.

red metal plate
On the bottom shelf, I started with this chippy red metal plate.

making a Christmas display
I propped an evergreen branch (trimmed off the bottom of our Christmas tree) up against the plate.

ceramic tree
Then I put a ceramic tree in the center of the shelf …

vintage snowmen and tree
… and added a couple of larger snowpeople to the right. (I used a few checkers and poker chips as risers in order to vary the height a bit.)

snowmen on a shelf
I filled in around the big pieces with smaller snowmen and added a few more random pieces of greenery to hide the risers and fill in the gaps.

creating a Christmas vignette
For the middle shelf, I started with this green metal plate.

green tray and evergreen branch
An evergreen branch went in front of the plate again.

Creating a Christmas vignette
Then I added a couple of cocoa tins and a vintage battery-powered light-up Christmas tree in the center of the shelf.

snowmen and tree
I added Bob and another wooden snowman on the edges …

snowman collectibles

… and then I finished up with some other random smalls.

evergreen branch on shelf

The process was pretty much the same for the top shelf, except I skipped the plate in the back and just started with some Christmas tree trimmings.

Gurley Christmas tree candles

A couple of vintage Gurley candles went next, with one of them on a riser.

snowmen and candle Christmas trees

Then I placed a couple of bigger guys …

snowman collection
… and filled in with some smaller pieces.

vintage snowmen on a shelf


Crafting | Making a woven wreath

sisal rope wrapped around metal wreath frame
This week’s project — a DIY woven wreath — has been on my to-do list for about a year and a half.

wreath base
That’s when I dragged this wire frame home from a garage sale. Actually when I dragged it home, it was green, but I forgot to take a “before” picture until after I had spray painted it tan. The reason I painted it? Because I was going to weave some rope around it, and I knew parts of the frame would end up exposed.

woven wreath
The weaving process was pretty straightforward: I went over one wire and under the next, then wrapped around the inside (and outside) wire to start over again.

woven wreath
When I reached the end of the rope, I tucked it into the back of the wreath and glued it down to keep it in place. Then I started with a new piece, keeping the same over-under pattern going.

woven wreath
Here’s what it looked like when I had the entire wreath wrapped.

sisal rope wreath
If you look closely, you can see the wire peeking out in some spots, but since it’s the same color as the sisal rope, it’s hardly noticeable.

Christmas bell ornaments
Next, I hung a few metal bells from twisted pieces of twine. (I applied a little Mod Podge along the length of the twine to set the twists in place and keep them from unwinding.)

rope wreath
Then I attached the bells and a few trimmings from the bottom of our Christmas tree to the back of the wreath.

sisal wrapped wreath
I also wired a couple of rusty jingle bells to the top of the evergreen branches …

sisal wreath
… and wrapped an old leather strap around the top of the wreath as a hanger.

sisal rope wreath
After Christmas, I figure I will throw out the branches and pack the bells away, but the wreath itself can stay hanging up year round.

sisal Christmas wreath


Christmas | Silver and gold

silver and gold Christmas decorations
One of my favorite things to decorate at Christmastime is the hutch in my dining room.

Christmas storage
Mostly because I get to open this suitcase…

vintage suitcase
 … which contains all of this.

Christmas decor
Nothing says “Christmas” like a suitcase full of shiny baubles.

hutch decorated for Christmas
A few of them end up on our tree, but most of them go into the hutch …

hutch decorated for Christmas
… nestled among the dishes and glasses there.

hutch decorated for Christmas
I try to keep the hutch looking classy …

hutch decorated for Christmas
… but sometimes a little kitsch creeps in.

hutch decorated for Christmas
… because, ceramic deer and faux snow.

hutch at Christmastime
I love white dishes and shiny ornaments …

Christmas decor in dining room
… but not nearly as much as I love ceramic deer and plastic snow.

silver and gold ornaments
So the hutch ends up being a marriage of classic …

Christmas decor in dining room
… and kitschy.

glass Christmas tree jars

Christmas | Making a miniature farm scene

model barn
In honor of our first measurable snowfall this winter, I decided to put together a miniature winter scene in my dining room.

vintage wood barn
I started with this little thrifted barn.

toy cows and horses
Then I pulled out my small herd of secondhand livestock. I’m not sure if any of them are truly the right scale for the barn, but I thought the second and third cows from the left looked like the best fit.

battery-operated mini lights
 To give the scene a Christmassy look, I bought a set of miniature lights.

Christmas farm scene
I strung the lights all the way around the roofline and snaked the excess inside through the back door.

Christmas farm scene
The battery pack is hidden inside the barn.

toy wreaths
Once I had the light situation squared away, I dug all of my miniature wreaths out of storage.

miniature winter barn scene
I decided to put one of the medium-sized ones on the front door.

miniature winter scene
And I put one of the tiny wreaths on the front bumper of my white Chevy pickup (another thrift-store find — it’s not old; I’m pretty sure it ended up at the thrift store because it’s missing a headlight.)

toy Chevy truck
I tossed a miniature tree in the bed of the truck.

toy barn
I stole one of the copper stars from my star collection for the end of the barn.

miniature winter farm scene
And I hung a couple of brass bells from the roof on the other side.

miniature winter farm scene
I added a couple of deer and some faux snow and trees outside.
toy barn with cows
And I put a battery-operated votive candle inside the barn so it would be lit from the inside at night.

toy barn with cows
Here it is lit up at night.

toy barn with cows
 And here’s the barn during the day.

toy barn and cows
I love the chippy paint on the roof.

toy barn and truck in snow

Collecting | Secondhand stars

star ornaments
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll collect almost anything. Except for stuff that’s made specifically to be collectible. Hummel figurines? I’ll pass. Precious Moments? God no. Those faceless Willow Tree people that everybody else loves? Not my thing.collection of stars

But turn me loose in a thrift store or at a garage sale and I guarantee I will find some random castoff that has absolutely no monetary value that I will just HAVE to have.
And then I’ll find another one. And another one. And another one. Case in point: my collection of secondhand stars. Most of them cost next to nothing.
Some of them I’ve given makeovers, like these two. The star on the left was unpainted cardboard when I bought it. The one on the right was one of those plastic glow-in-the-dark models. I gave them both a coat of copper paint and now they look like they’re metal.
These were all basic pine stars that I’ve picked up one or two at a time. Most of them were unfinished wood when I bought them. One was bright blue. I painted them all white, glued a little newspaper on them and grunged them up a bit.
collection of stars
This one was obviously a cookie cutter that someone had drilled holes in and turned into a Christmas ornament before casting it off.
star Christmas ornaments
Most of these were bright shiny gold stars, which I didn’t love, so I brought them home and painted them silver.
collection of stars
I tend to put out a star or two here and there occasionally, but most of the time, my stars live in a box.collection of stars

With Christmas coming, I decided I’d pull them all out and give them a chance to shine.
They’re still just a bunch of random, discarded, picked-up-at-a-thrift-store-for-a-quarter-each stars.
collection of stars

But all together, they make a lovely collection.

Crafting | A stenciled Santa

I love stenciling. It takes time and patience but absolutely no special skills. Anybody can do it. And you can make almost anything. Say, for instance, you wanted a dish towel with a retro black-and-white Santa image printed on it. You probably wouldn’t find one in a store, but you could stencil one.

vintage Santa graphic
You’d just have to download an image you liked from The Graphics Fairy.

vintage Santa graphic

And if you didn’t like that the finger on his left hand was pointing at nothing, you could redraw that hand to have a mitten on it.

vintage Santa graphic on parchment paper

Then you’d want to print out the image on computer paper and trace it onto parchment paper. (Or if you were smart, you would cut the parchment paper down to size and feed that into your printer so the image printed directly onto the parchment paper.)

parchment paper stencil

The hardest part of the whole project would be figuring out what to cut away from the image (the parts that you wanted to paint black) and what to keep (the parts that you wanted to remain white).

cut out parchment paper stencil

You’d have to cut the silhouette out with a sharp craft knife.

parchment paper stencil

Then you’d want to go back in and carefully cut away all of the inside pieces. (All of the pieces on the left side above are waste. The pieces on the right side are the stencil.)

iron stencil onto flour sack dishtowel

You’d have to iron your stencil onto a towel. (Parchment paper will stick to fabric when it’s ironed.)

textile medium and acrylic paint

You’d want to mix a little textile medium in with some acrylic paint to prevent the paint from cracking after it dries.

pounce paint onto stencil

You’d want to pounce the paint onto your stencil.

peel stencil off fabric

Then you’d get to the fun/nerve-racking part: peeling away the stencil to reveal the final image.

remove stencil

If you did it right, you would end up with nice crisp lines of black paint on all the edges.

vintage Santa stenciled on dish towel

And Santa would be smiling at you.

Then you’d want to run a hot iron over the back of the towel to heat set the paint, and you’d be done.

black and white Santa on dishtowel