Zero-Spend Garden: Week 1

So the Zero-Spend Garden Challenge is off to a pretty good start. This week has focused mostly on weeding – and there was a ton of it to do! I found some pretty nice plants mixed in among the giant pig weeds, including many lily plants that are just about to bloom and 2 fairly healthy rose vines! We’ll have to see how those survive. Here’s some before and after pictures for you to enjoy:



Don’t have a before of this shot, but suffice to say it looked a lot like the one above:


And, of course, the weed pile – watch it grow!




Indie-Crafters Knit Together Powerful Social Media Communications

NOTE:  This is a copy of a story I wrote for my work blog

I’m a huge fan of the Indie-Craft Movement and I have been impressed with the way the community as a whole has embraced Social Media Marketing.

Indie-Craft – also called alternative craft, alt-craft, new wave craft, craftivism, green-craft, eco-craft, DIY (do-it-yourself) craft, etc – is often paired with the tag line “Not your grandma’s craft.” The artists and makers who art part of this movement use traditional crafting techniques like knitting, needlepoint, screen printing, felting, crocheting and more to make fashion, accessories and decor often with a punk, indie-music and urban aesthetic.



Another trend of the movement is the embrace of entrepreneurism – similar to the Arts and Craft movement at the turn of the century, these makers are exploring ways to make a dignified, self sufficient living selling things they have made themselves. In this movement “handmade” and “self-employed“ are badges of honor and many makers are dedicated to ecological and economical practices like sustainability, reuse and “up-cycling.”


The internet provides today’s makers with easy and free access to buyers across the globe. In fact, many credit the internet with the rise of the current indie-craft movement. Sites like make it possible for part-time and full-time crafters all over the world to connect with customers.


Another online trend in the Indie-Craft movement is the free exchange of ideas, patterns and resources. Sites like make it easier than ever for DIYers to share instructions on making just about anything. The Indie-Craft community has undeniably blossomed around the free exchange of patterns and how-to’s now available on the internet.


The community jumped on the blog bandwagon early and with great success. Blogs are a great medium for an individual to share photos and videos showing off projects, asking for feedback and sharing instructions. Soon blogs like and sprang up, aggregating the best projects from the individual crafter’s blogs and exploring current trends.


Lately, I’ve been noticing how plugged in many of the indie-crafters are to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. has created one of my favorite Twitter feeds through @craft_tips which watches twitter feeds of various crafters and publishes helpful tips like

craftzine48x48_bigger_bigger3.jpg“burn/melt the ends of nylon strapping or cord with a lighter to prevent it from fraying”


craftzine48x48_bigger_bigger4.jpg“A 6″ wisk broom, found with camping gear, helps to scrub the fabric bits out of your cutting mat and sweep them off. (via @sanourra)”


craftzine48x48_bigger_bigger5.jpg“Make replacement shirt collar stays by slicing the plastic fake credit cards you get in junk mail. (via @justsomeguy)“

So what lessons about marketing and creating online communities can we learn from the Indie-Craft movement?

SHARE: This community created a vibrant market out of a previously far-scattered audience by pooling their resources. has consolidated buyers and sellers and gave them all one place to meet. Contrary to common wisdom, setting up shop ”next door“ to their competitors actually strengthened the majority of these sellers businesses.

SAVE THE WORLD: Because of it’s ties to sustainability and ecology, the Indie-Craft movement gained a lot of traction with the renewed energy of the ”green“ cause. Also, the collapse of the economy in the last year has lent strength to the messages of self sustainability, self sufficiency and the trend of making instead of buying. Set against these noble causes, the products that these sellers are offering are solutions to some of the greatest problems facing America right now. Being able to put your message in the context of being part of a movement to save the world is a great way to build brand loyalty and allow you to move the conversation away from price. And in fact, some Indie-Crafters have noticed an increase in the price buyers are willing to pay for their goods in the last couple years.

BE TRANSPARENT: The members of this movement pride themselves on their ”authenticity.“ Many blogs will show the failed projects right along with the successes. There is a free flow of advice and conversation back and forth between maker, reader and buyer. This solidifies the sense of community and creates intense customer loyalty. Constant customer feedback also allows the makers to make improvements to their production methods and products almost constantly.

GIVE: Indie-Crafters are constantly giving advise, tips, links, how-to instructions, and encouragement. This both creates community and builds recognition for those who’s advice is particularly insightful or valuable. It’s a great example of brand building.

Simple Cat Bed – How-To

Mom got me a used sewing machine! I’ve never owned my own before so I was very excited to give it try! I started with a simple project for the newest member of our family… our little kitten Tucker! ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


Using some fur and a thick cotton fabric scraps I free handed a pattern like this:


  1. I cut out a matching t-shape from each fabric.
  2. I sewed up each corner of the fabrics individually.
  3. With the right sides of the fabric together, I pinned and sewed most of top of the bed together – leaving about 3 inches to flip and insert stuffing.
  4. I turned the bed right side out
  5. I put in stuffing, one side at a time and sewed under the stuffing to create a stiff stuffed side.
  6. After each side had stuffing I closed the remaining 3 inches.

Ok, so the craftsmanship of this thing is not great – the sides are uneven, I doubt that stuffing and then sewing each side was the right way to do it, and I was too excited to finish it to hand-stich the thing shut so there’s this ugly seam on one side where I closed the thing with the machine. BUT, it was super quick (took me about 2 hours), and the cat LOVES it! Plus, it was baby’s first sewing machine project, so let’s give baby a pass on this one. 😛


Zero-Spend Garden Challenge: Fun with CAD

Jake put together this plan for the back yard:


This includes, re-hinging the back gate so it swings in, pulling back the fence to the north of the building (something we probably won’t do for a year or two) and the big rectangle in the upper left corner is a sandbox which won’t come until we have kids. For now, though this gives me a pretty good start for the shapes of the planting beds.

For this summer, I’ll probably keep the planting bed all along the fence as it currently is, but when we add the sandbox, it would make sense to put down grass in the corner so it’s friendly for little bare feet.

Zero-Spend Garden Challenge – The Rules

So Jake and I have an amazing back yard that is an absolute wreck and a whole summer to work on it. Thing is, we have zero money to spend on it. So I’ve decided to give us a Zero-Spend Garden Challenge.


  1. We can of course use any tool we already own and move around plants that are already on the property.
  2. We can barrow tools from friends and relatives, but we cannot rent them from stores.
  3. “Found” items (a.k.a. stuff in the alley) is fair game.
  4. Trading and swapping for plants, materials, tools, and help is cool as long as we don’t buy something just to swap it.
  5. We will accept gifts toward the project (but not from each other – that’s cheating!)

There are a few caveats to the “zero-spend” rule – including a few large safety-related projects we have to hire contractors for:

  1. We can spend up to $10 a week on things that would get used up like nails, screws and garbage bags.
  2. We can purchase herb/food plants, but only if it there is left over grocery budget at the end of the month.
  3. We can purchase a replacement if a tool gets broken beyond repair.
  4. If monthly home-repair budget allows, we will hire a gate contractor to repair the side gate, a masonry contractor to repair loose bricks on the garage and buy a new door for the garage service entrance.
  5. In the fall, we will purchase grass seed, fertilizer & straw for fall grass planting.

So here is our yard (photos from Oct. 2008 when we first looked at the house – weeds are currently much higher! EEK!):


View when standing on back deck


View when standing at back gate – that’s Scott Curcio – best realtor in Chicago!


This is from standing at the garage looking down the side of the house toward the front.

That fur ball in the center is a neighborhood tomcat we call Chewbacca…


…if you were feeling generous you could call him an “asset” 🙂

A quick assessment of the assets and challenges of the yard:


  1. Awesome Magnolia tree perfectly positioned to shade the deck
  2. Pretty, single-car, brick garage
  3. Fence in mostly good shape
  4. Beautiful Ivy growing on the garage
  5. Decent sized deck in good shape
  6. Tons of giant lily plants
  7. A couple nice (if overgrown) bushes under the magnolia tree
  8. Tons of plain green hastas (front yard)
  9. Fun purple powder puff plants


  1. The majority of the yard is covered in sand and gravel from where the previous owners had an above ground pool.
  2. The rest of the yard is covered in weeds.
  3. No one has given the yard any love (not even mowed) in about 2 years, so it’s pretty overgrown.
  4. Posts to Side gate have rotted and need to be replaced (contractor level job)
  5. There is a large section of loose bricks over the service door to the garage that are in real danger of falling out (contractor level job)
  6. The service door to the garage needs to be replaced.

I’ll be posting regular updates on my progress! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

How to: Wedding Card Keepsake “Book”


The wedding was about 2 months ago and I’m finally recovering (though still working on those Thank You Notes – Oy!)

We got a ton of wedding and shower cards and I’m so not the sort of person to keep cards around, but pitching them just seemed wrong and I didn’t want them to just sit in some box so I decided to turn them into a book that I can flip through and enjoy memories whenever I’m feeling sentimental (so about once ever 4 or 5 years).

It was pretty easy to do. Luckily, my 2 largest cards were about the same size so I used them for the front and back “covers” of the book. Also fortunately, one of the large cards was my wedding color – powder blue – so it worked out as a great front page!

I sorted the cards by size and then purposefully mixed them up so that there weren’t too many small ones together or large ones together so there weren’t any “holes” in the book:


I carefully arranged the “spine” and bottom of the book so it was as flat as possible then vice-gripped them together. Then I just took the magic Sobo (or craft glue) and applied a thin layer of glue to the spine – about 1/8“ thick – about as thick as you can get and not have it dripping down the sides. Then I just set it as level as possible and let it dry for a couple days until the glue was completely clear.



Then I took some rice paper in the dark purple that was our other wedding color – cut it just a smidge wider than the spine width so that it would wrap over about an 1/8” onto the front and back cover. Put a little more glue on the spine and smoothed the paper down.

IMG_0144.QnydtU4mvfVD.jpgIMG_0145.OEULScCxsaVf.jpg ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Since not all the cards are the same height you can see a bit of the paper on the inside of the cover, but the thing about rice paper is it looks pretty on both sides (I actually put the printed side of my paper to the inside so you can see it from the inside of the book – which I thought was a nice touch.


I plan to put some kind of title on the spine like “Katie & Jake, March 28, 2009” but I think I want to do it in gold rub-on lettering – which I still need to figure out.

Things I learned:
1) The vice grips will left dents in my top card that don’t seem to be going away, so I would advise you to put some sort of cardboard under the grips to protect your top and bottom cards.
2) It’s important that the spine is as flat as possible before you apply the glue. A couple of my cards didn’t get glue on them and are falling out of the book, but I just stick them in – when the book is closed, they stay put. I don’t recommend trying to glue them in after the fact… the glue gets on the card and just doesn’t work very well.

I think I’m going to try this with our reply cards as well… I’ll probably make some sort of cover page for those. And luckily, those are all the same size so it should be even easier.