Coffee heat rising

Get the mat to fit your artwork

You’ve probably noticed that framing photos, small crafts, drawings, and paintings can be muy expensive. Often the most expensive part of the process is having a mat cut to size. You could, of course, buy a mat-cutter…for a small fee. This expense, however, is none too practical unless you’re an artist who’s producing framable work all the time.

An easy and frugal solution is simply to draw or make your artwork to fit a precut mat. Shops such as Aaron Brothers and Michael’s sell precut mats inexpensively, often on sale. Get the mat and a frame to fit. At home, unwrap the mat (with clean hands!), gently lay it on the paper or other medium you will use for your artwork, and lightly outline the opening with a hard graphite pencil. Then simply draw, paint, or collage to fit the space you’ve outlined.

Be careful in buying mats on sale, because these sometimes are dirty or damaged. Inspect them closely before purchasing.

I bought these two square mats at an Aaron Brothers, at a smokin’ sale price, and also found a pair of inexpensive frames to go with them. My hobby is pencil drawing, especially botanicals. The rose and the poppy shown here were drawn to fit the size of the mat opening.


Great art, it ain’t. But the point is, you can mat images cheaply simply by sizing the image to fit the mat, rather than the other way around.

Frugal Crafts Friday: How to make upscale casual jewelry

Do you get the Sundance catalogue? Ever covet the cool, hand-crafty necklaces and earrings? Or, if you’re a guy, ever want to buy one of the things for your lady friend? Maybe you were given pause by the prices.

Here in this month’s catalogue, for example, is a strand of lapis heishi beads with a silver charm dangling from it: $118. The bead earrings sold with it are a bargain $38. A bracelet of manufactured beads and semiprecious stones sells for $188, and lo, here’s a double-strand necklace of labradorite beads for a mere $540. We must hurry out and buy them, no?


These bead necklaces are easy and inexpensive to make, with a minimum of crafting gear. All you need is a small wire cutter, a crimping tool, a stringful of beads, a clasp, and a couple of tiny metal crimps. And a modest budget.

Labradorite beads of the sort pictured in the current Sundance catalogue sell for $9.99 for a 15½-inch strand. For $12, you can buy about 160 lapis heishi beads. Sterling silver charms will set you back somewhere between $6 and $15. For $3 to $5, you can buy a nice silver clasp. A crimp tool costs $10.50, and you probably have a wire cutter in your tool box; if not, you can get one online for $7.25. The cost of bead-stringing wire and crimps is negligible.


You can make pricey-looking jewelry items for a tiny fraction of what they cost at upscale outlets. And you get a bonus: making bead jewelry is fun. Like many crafts that busy your hands without overly taxing the brain, it is relaxing and stress-relieving. So you get a double benefit: relief at the cash register, and relief from whatever is making you grind your teeth today.

Here’s how:

1. First, get the materials and gear you’ll need. Beads, wire, crimps, claps, crimping tools, and wire nippers are available online. But for your first adventure, it’s a good idea to go in person to a bead store. Look up “beads” in the Yellow Pages, or Google bead suppliers in your area. Go to a store dedicated to selling beads and bead supplies, not a more general craft store such as JoAnn’s. Craft stores carry some supplies, but the selection and quality are sadly wanting. Also, at most bead supply shops, staffers are happy to show you how to use the tools and parts. About ten minutes of coaching is all the training you need to make Sundance-style necklaces and bracelets.

2. For expensive-looking jewelry, select semi-precious stones such as lapis, coral, turquoise, iolite, aquamarine, tourmaline, and the like. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Note that Sundance necklaces are not embellished with a lot of baroque-looking carved silver beads. Save your money and purchase only a string or two of stone beads in a color you covet. For a classy look, remember: nice but not gaudy.

3. To make a necklace, measure out a length of stringing wire a few inches longer than the strand you plan and nip it off with your wire-cutter. You actually can use dental floss strung like thread on a thin sewing needle, if your beads have holes large enough for a needle to pass through. Personally, I prefer wire because it’s easier to work with and will not break. Assuming you’ve chosen wire, run one end of the wire through a metal crimp (looks like a tiny silver cylinder). Then run the wire through the connecting loop on one of the two parts of your clasp. Poke the end of the wire back through the crimp, forming a wire loop that passes first through the crimp, then through the clasp’s connection, and then back through the crimp. Push the crimp up firmly against the clasp, and use the crimping tool to clench the metal crimp down on the wire. To secure it, turn the crimp 180 degrees and clench again at right angles to your first effort. Nip off the short “tail” up close to the clenched-on crimp, leaving a single strand of wire on which to string beads.

4. Slide beads onto the wire, one at a time, until you reach the desired length. You can add decorative metal beads, contrasting semiprecious stones, or pearls to give variety. I like to put one to five contrasting beads about ¼ of the way down the strand. You also can place one or more charms along the length of the strand or up near the clasp.

5. When the necklace is as long as you like, run the end of the wire through another crimp, then through the loop of the remaining part of the clasp, and then back through the crimp. This is the only “hard” part-and it isn’t very hard. Pull on the “tail” and of the wire and work the crimp, the clasp part, and the beads together so they fit together snugly. Now clench the crimp tightly onto the wire, as you did before. Nip off the spare “tail.”

And voilà! A fancy necklace for about a fifth of what you’d have paid for it in a tony shop!

You can make earrings to go with it-bead suppliers sell earring wires (ten will lighten your wallet by $1.49) and an incredibly handy part called a “headpin.” A headpin is a strip of wire with a decorative or flat head at one end, onto which you can string beads. Then, using a small pair of needle-nose pliers, you bend the free end in a loop through the loop on the wire, and that’s all there is to it: bead earrings.

None of these products look like they came from Tiffany’s. But they certainly can look like they came from Sundance. They’re perfect for wearing with jeans and sportswear. They also can go to the office with certain kinds of business wear. And they make great gifts.

Frugal Crafts Friday: How to make a cozy heating pad cover

As part of the decluttering in progress, I’ve done a few repairs & improvements to various possessions. This one worked especially well.

Heating pads these days come with cheesy fabric covers onto which the manufacturer has slapped a shiny synthetic patch bearing the “do not do this at home” message. In the course of protecting you from yourself, said patches get hot enough to burn your skin-though possibly not before the cover itself falls apart. With two straight seams and eight back-&-forth sewing machine tacks, you can make a much happier cover that will last the lifetime of the heating pad.

You need

  • A length of “fleece”-type fabric long enough and wide enough to fold over the heating pad lengthwise
  • About 48 inches of ribbon (fabric, not the paper kind made for wrapping presents)
  • A spool of thread
  • A sewing machine or a sewing needle
  • A pair of scissors
  • A package of straight pins

The soft, felt-like fabric known as “fleece” does not ravel, so it doesn’t have to be hemmed. Because it’s extremely comfy, it’s perfect for a heating pad cover. Find this stuff at a fabric store or a fully stocked craft shop, such as JoAnn’s. About ½ yard will do.

Remove the old cover. Spread your new fabric on a table or bed. Lay the heating pad down on the fabric so that the fabric fits lengthwise; the cord should come off one cut end of the fabric. Fold the piece of fabric over the top of the heating pad to form a simple envelope, with the cord sticking out one end. Push one long edge of the pad up against the fold. Carefully pin the two layers together down the other long edge and along the edge opposite the cord. Pay attention! Do not stick a pin into the pad! The line of pins should be about an inch away from the edge of the pad.

You will sew a seam just inside this L-shaped line of pins, leaving enough room to drop the heating pad back into the envelope after it is sewn together. It’s OK for the pad to be fairly roomy-don’t feel the cover has to fit the pad tightly.

Remove the heating pad. Trim any extra fabric to within about two inches of the pins.

Take the ribbon and cut it into eight six-inch pieces. Set them aside.

If you have a sewing machine, thread it–any color will do. Run one straight seam along the long open edge and one along the pinned-together short edge. Remove the pins as you proceed, being careful not to hit a pin with the machine’s needle.

If you are sewing with needle and thread, thread the needle, tie a knot in one end, and stitch a plain, straight seam down the two pinned-together edges. The stitches do not have to be tiny but should be close enough together to hold the fabric together firmly.

Trim the extra fabric to about ¼ or ½ inch from the seams. Turn the cover rightside out, so the sewn seam is on the inside. Place the heating pad inside the cover.

Now take four pieces of ribbon and place them along the top open edge, where you would like to tie them to hold the cover closed. One should be fairly close to the cord, to hold it snugly. Pin these in place, again being careful not to poke a pin into the heating pad.

Remove the pad and pin the other four pieces of ribbon along the other open edge, directly across from the pieces you have already pinned in place.

Set your sewing machine for a zig-zag stitch as short as you can make it and still have your needle move forward. Stitch each ribbon in place by running a zig-zag back and forth six or eight times.

Or using a needle and thread, stitch each ribbon firmly in place by stitching a square box at the end where the ribbon connects to the fabric.

If you’ve used grosgrain ribbon (which ravels), tie off the loose with a single tight knot.

Now place the heating pad in its new cover and tie the four sets of ribbons together to secure the cover to the pad.

Store the rest of the fabric for future projects. You can use it to make a coat for your dog, to turn decorative tiles into coasters, and for any other project that would ordinarily use felt.