DIY Notepads


We have lots and lots of paper scraps in our house.  We jot lists on them (and promptly lose them!) and the Sage draws cars and practices writing on them but that doesn’t put a dent in our paper supply.  (Hello, my name is Salamander and I hoard paper.)  I love making these little notepads.  They can be made of repurposed/ upcycled materials.  All you need is a good glue (elmer’s school glue won’t cut it), paper and bulldog clips or something similar.  A stiff board (cereal box, back of a sketchbook, mat board) is a nice addition.  Knock the papers (and board if you’re using it) down so they are lined up.  Clip them together, spread a generous amount of glue (Aleene’s Tacky Glue is what I use).  Stand it up between two jars so the glue won’t drip and  (this is the hard part) leave it alone until it’s dry.

These would make great stocking stuffers or make small ones to use in place of a card on the gift.  Here are several variations:

Matchbook Notebooks from Design*Sponge.

Notepads from Chocolate on my Cranium.  I use Aleene’s Tacky Glue (the brown bottle at any big box craft store) instead of the padding compound, so don’t hesitate to try this.

Notepads with photo covers  from Photojojo.


Remembrall- DIY

A dear friend just turned 40.  Rather than poke fun at my much older friend, I decided to give him something useful:  A new and improved Remembrall.  Neville Longbottom’s problem is that while the Remembrall may tell him that he’s forgotten something by glowing red, he can’t recall what he’s forgotten.  The new and improved version includes a Magic 8-ball type answer cube to tell you what you’ve forgotten.

The ball is a plastic Christmas ball from Hobby Lobby.  It comes in 2 pieces ready for you to fill.  I added clear glitter (a 2 oz. jar should be enough, you don’t want it more than 1/2 full) and a little lump of red wool roving (dyed cotton balls or stuffing might work, too).  The cubes are 1cm wooden cubes.  I used a micropen to write “you forgot” on each side of one of them and one thing he typically forgets on each side of the other (his brother said he’d need 6 cubes with just the things he forgets).

The gold ring was the only slightly complicated part.  I took a 1/2 inch wide scrap of matboard, curled it and cut the length so that it would fit around the center with a 1/4- 1/2 inch overlap.  Carefully using an x-acto knife, I cut the matboard into a wedge at the end of each piece so that they would overlap without being bulky.  Wrap around the ball again and mark exactly where they meet.  Pull apart and glue, making sure the pieces meet exactly.  Use a clothespin to hold it together while the glue dries.  Once dry, paint gold.  Using my handy dandy online translator, I found “I forgot” and “I remember” in Greek and then painted one on each side.

As soon as all the pieces were done, I stuffed everything in the ball, put some elmers on the inside of the gold ring and slid it into place (and wiped off a little excess glue).

Little kids paint

The Sage was almost 4 when he painted this bear.  Our materials were: cheap canvas, student grade acrylic paints (in the tube, not the craft paints in the bottle), cheap brushes and rubber cement.  I put out a few similar colors (yellow, light green, off white) and let him paint, making sure the edges get painted also (which makes it look more finished without having to frame it).  Then we let it dry a day or two.  I made a stencil from a drawing of a bear he had done, placed it where we wanted it on the canvas then painted rubber cement over and around.   This masks the outline of the bear so he would only paint where the bear should be.  Remove the stencil before the rubber cement dries.  After the rubber cement was dry I gave him a few paints (brown, black and off white) and a small brush.  It’s ok to get paint on the rubber cement.  If any paint gets in an area where you don’t want it, quickly wipe it off with a damp cloth.  Waiting for the paint to dry completely before removing the rubber cement was hard.  Very hard.  But you’re more patient than I, so you won’t make a mess.  Rub your finger over the rubber cement to remove.

The King was a little older, probably 5 or 6, when he did his first acrylic painting based on a drawing he did when he was younger.  We painted the Spotted Salamander together and talked about painting styles (mostly Van Gogh).  I painted most of the edges and helped him keep the painting even but random.  We didn’t mask any areas with rubber cement.

So, next time your art and craft store has a sale on acrylics and canvas, stock up!

Cardboard Chair Project

My grandparents’ first table was a cardboard box.  My mom and I built innumerable dollhouses out of Pepsi boxes.  We made a kitchen set out of box for the King when we lived in India.  Sixty years later, cardboard boxes are still one of the best toys money (can’t) buy.

cardboard motorcycle

The Sage riding his cardboard motorcycle

I’m trying to give the King a larger project or puzzle to do each week, something that is interesting and thought provoking.  Last week he was told to build a chair or stool out of cardboard and glue that would hold his weight.  The Prof thought it would be too hard for a 10 year old.  Not only did the King enjoy thinking about design options, measuring everything and assembling the stool himself, but the Prof and the Sage (who turns 4 this week) made a chair, too.  Warehouse stores like Costco, BJs and Sams seem to be the best places to get large pieces of unbent cardboard, though we used some that was already cut and folded as well.  Glue (we used Elmers) and an exacto knife or box cutter are the only other supplies you need.  (Of course the Prof had to one up the rest of us by not even using glue.)

This would be a great Earth Day project.  And when you tire of the chair, simply recycle it!

3 chairs

3 cardboard chairs

Here are some other great cardboard chairs:

Cardboard highchair that can be folded flat for storage.

Of course you could always buy this chair from Frank Gehry for $984.   Oh wait, he uses screws.  That’s cheating!

Instructables has step by step instructions, but it is the collection of images that you really must see.

Book making part 2

My Luddite PDA

My Luddite PDA

Skimming the internet can provide so much creative inspiration.  Ivy Lane Designs has some great handmade books using cereal boxes.  One type of design uses 1- 1 1/2″ square sections of candy and cereal boxes pieced together in a grid to make the cover of the book.  This is a great project to do with a group of kids.  Every kid brings a bag of squares and share.  The focus could then be on design and balance.

Crown Bindery uses simple rings to bind little books together.

I know I am admitting how Luddite I am, but I needed a book to keep phone numbers (from friends to doctors), insurance info, and directions handy when we travel.  I combined Ivy Lane Designs’ upcycled pieced printed materials idea with Crown Bindery’s binding technique to create a handy little 4″ book.  The rings make it easy to flip fully open and to change the pages.


Keeping Business cards handy

Keeping business cards handy

The outside covers are 1″ squares from state park pamphlets acquired over the years.  Three rings, spaced carefully, allow me to punch business cards and insert them.  Every thing has its own section which is separated by part of a state park map.

Inside cover and section divider

Inside cover and section divider

The inside cover is a section of a Blue Ridge Parkway map.  I punched the 3 holes before painting the cover with Modpodge to help protect it because it will get tossed around and beaten up.

Lost Button also provides directions and templates for mini books.

Easy Bookbinding


I really like this book binding method for everyone from adults to elementary age kids (though the younger kids will need a little support).  For an even easier version, requiring only paper and a stapler (or needle and thread) and scissors, check out Plum Pudding’s Paper Pocket Booklets.


Mat board scraps or other stiff board (cereal boxes aren’t sturdy enough, but you could try gluing two layers together if you can’t find anything thicker).

Paper to cover the outside (60-80 pound cardstock/scrapbook paper works well.  Typing paper is way too thin.)

Paper to cover the inside (can be thinner than the outside paper, but regular typing paper is still to thin to handle the glue.)

Paper to make your pages from (Now you can use typing paper or any other thin papers.  And remember, all of the pages don’t have to be the same type or color.)


Glue (plain white glue works well but do not use ‘school glue’)

Scrap of mat board or other stiff board to spread glue with (1/2″ – 1″ wide by 3″ long works well)

Hole punch (Make sure your hole punch can punch mat board before starting the project.  I just bought the Crop-a-dile and love it.)

Ribbon (12-18 inches per book)


Heavy books or other weight

Popsicle sticks, optional

Step 1 and 2

Step 1 and 2

Step 1: Cut 4 pieces of mat board 2 pieces that are about 1 inch long and as wide as the book and 2 pieces that are about 6 inches long and as wide as the book (4 inches wide works well).

Step 2: Cut 2 pieces of paper that are 1/2 – 3/4  inches larger in each direction than the mat board (see photo).

Step 3: Drizzle glue over the back of one large piece of mat board then use a scrap piece of mat board to evenly and very thinly coat the mat board.  (I lay the mat board on a flattened cereal box to spread the glue.  I then move the box aside to have a clean space to work with the paper.)  Position the gluey mat board on the paper, turn over and rub gently from center to edges with the flat side of the popsicle stick (or another scrap of mat board).  Place under a pile of heavy books for a few minutes while you repeat the process with the other large mat board piece.

Step 4 and 5

Step 4

Step 4: Spread glue over one of the little mat board pieces.  Line a ruler up next to the big, already glued piece to help position the little piece.  Tightly wedge 2 popsicle sticks (or 2 pieces of mat board) between the large and small pieces.  This creates a necessary gap so that the cover will hinge and open without tearing your papers.  Remove the ruler and popsicle sticks and carefully place under heavy books.  Repeat with other cover.

Step 5 and 6

Step 5 and 6

Step 5: Snip off the corners of the paper, leaving a little more than 1/8 inch of paper extending beyond the corner.  If you cut off too little it will be hard to fold the paper over the corners.  If you cut off too much, the mat board will peep through on the points.

Step 6: Fold the edges over the cover, creasing them with the popsicle stick or bone folder as you go.  Then spread a very, very thin line of glue on the edge of the mat board.  Use your popsicle stick to help press down the paper as you fold it over.  You may have to glue 2 opposite sides then let it sit under your heavy books for a minute before doing the other 2 opposite sides.

Step 7

Step 7

Step 7: Cut the end pages to go inside the cover.  They should be 1/8-1/4 inch smaller in every direction than the book cover.  Spread glue on the end pages as you did above then carefully position on the inside of the cover.  Put under a weight for a few minutes.  Before it is completely dry, run the popsicle stick in the crack between the large and small sections to make a crease.  This will help it open more easily.  Press under weights until completely dry.

Step 8: Cut the pages for the book the same size as the end pages or slightly smaller.  A stack of paper about 1/2 inch thick is good for this size book.

Step 9: Punch holes in everything.  I usually make a template that I hold over the covers and each section of papers to know where to punch the holes.  About 1/2 inch from the short end and 1 inch in seems to work well.  To make the template, get a scrap of paper the width of the book, measure carefully where you want your holes then punch them through the template.  Use this to punch holes through the cover then trim it down from both ends to match the smaller size of the pages.  Make sure everything is lining up well before you punch all of your holes.

Step 10: Use bulldog clips to hold everything together in it’s right place then tie it all up.  Thread the ribbon through the cover (make sure it is smooth on the back), the papers and front cover then tie.  I usually do a double knot and then the bow.

Finished book

Finished book




Make your own Chinese Lanterns

lanterns-036The Lantern Festival (February 4, 2009) is the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year but lanterns are used as decorations long before then.   We love Stefan Czernecki’s Paper Lanterns– a story of an old master paper lantern craftsman and the young boy who sweeps the floors and desperately wants to become an apprentice.  And while we greatly respect anyone who can form bamboo and rice paper into fantastic lanterns, we chose the simple road.

There are several ways to make your own paper lanterns.  The first only requires a sheet of card stock or construction paper, scissors and glue or stapler.  Here is a step by step tutorial.  Any child who can cut a generally straight line with scissors can do this one.  We made one when The King was 3.  Next time we make these, I’ll add a piece of yellow tissue paper on the inside to help it look lit up.

The second method is more involved.  You’ll need balloons, white glue or mod podge, a sponge brush, tissue paper or crepe paper and a string or wire to hang it from.  Cardstock, ribbons, paints and glitter glue are optional.  Look at this step by step tutorial first.  I’m leary of fire close to flamable objects, so we will light ours with a string of patio lights, but a friend is going to try a babyfood jar with a tea light in it.  The battery tea lights are not bright enough for this.  A small, but bright flashlight tied at the top might work, too.

Red layer finished, yellow started

Red layer finished, yellow started

You need to use 5-6 layers of tissue paper or crepe paper, torn into strips.  I used mod podge watered down to about half strength, but white glue could work as well.  Use a sponge brush and lightly cover the paper with glue- it is fine if you miss spots.  Try to use as little glue as necessary to make it stick together.  You want at least 2 layers to be red, including the top layer.  I found that alternating the colors made it much easier to keep track of what area still needed to be covered.  Yellow, white, orange, pink would all work well for under layers.  Leave about a half inch to 1 inch around the top of the balloon that isn’t covered in paper.

The King's secret message lantern

The King's secret message lantern

The King's secret message lantern lit up.

The King's secret message lantern lit up.

You can add a secret message by gluing red opaque paper (like cardstock) designs, words or Chinese characters (links below) before you add the last layer of tissue paper.  The message won’t be clearly visable until you add a light inside.  The King did this and decided that it was super cool.  We also did one with black paper so the design shows up when not lit.  You can also paint the lantern after it is fully dry.

After you finish the last layer of tissue paper, brush an even, not to thick layer of mod podge over the entire lantern.  If you start tearing the paper while doing this, let it dry a bit then add the last layer of glue.

Depending on how much glue you used, you’ll have to let it sit an hour or more to dry enough to pull the balloon out.  I put a string on my dinning room light and clothespin the balloon to it.  When the balloon is no longer sticky (it is ok if it is a little cold still), cut the top of the balloon with scissors.  Do not be alarmed if your lantern begins to look like an overgrown raisin as the air is released.  Pull the balloon out and trim the top of the lantern so you can fit your hand inside (about the size of a soup can).  Hold the lantern in one hand and put your other hand inside to help reform it as needed.  Let it sit and finish drying.

When it is dry and firm, you can continue to decorate.  If you paint a design on it, I suggest using a somewhat thick paint like acrylic and not runny watercolor.  Simple Chinese lanterns usually have a small cylinder at the top and bottom (these would both be openings but not in ours) rimmed with gold fringe.  To make the small cylinder, cut a piece of cardstock an inch or so wide and long enough to fit the circumfrence of the opening.  Fold the long side over about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Then snip this side with scissors about every 1/4 inch.  Doing this will enable the paper to bend more smoothly.  Make two pieces like this for each lantern.  The top piece should be bent so that the snipped tabs stick outward then overlap the ends slightly and glue the ends to make a circle (a clothespin will hold it).  The piece for the bottom should be bent and glued so that the tabs stick inward.  Glue the tabs to the bottom center of the lantern (you may need to keep a hand inside the lantern a few minutes to help it stick).   Put glue on the tabs, then work the top cylinder into the top of the lantern.  Press the tabs against the top inside of the lantern, with the top of the cylinder sticking out.

cylinder for the bottom, cut, folded and glued

Cylinder for the bottom, cut, folded and glued

Once this dries, you can add ribbon, fringe or paint to the top and bottom.  To make a handle, I simply sewed a piece of twine through both sides and tied it.  You could also glue a cardstock handle in the top.

YouTube video: making paper lanterns with folded and stapled paper.
YouTube video: making traditional lanterns with bamboo and paper, step 1.

Chinese characters: coloring pages
Chinese characters: good luck characters
Other Chinese New Year coloring pages
Other Chinese New Year crafts
A good overview of some Chinese New Year activities

Wonderful lanterns made by two young friends.

Wonderful lanterns made by two young friends.